Carmel College was a boarding school. As such the boys were separated from their parents except for holidays, half terms, infrequent visiting days and special occasions such as speech days and sports days. Even the use of the telephone required special permission. There were no cell-phones, faxes, e-mails in the days I was Carmel!
On my first morning at Carmel, Rabbi Rosen called all the new boys into his study. He told us that we are going to be homesick at first. He related that the first time he went away from home he was fourteen years old and he cried himself to sleep that night. I was homesick for the first week or so and not only in my first term. For a number of terms when I returned after the vacation, I was homesick at the beginning of the term.
The only way of keeping in contact with one’s parents was by letter. After I had been in Carmel for about a day, I wrote my first letter home. My parents were excited to receive it and whilst in Carmel, I developed a system where I would write home three times a week and my parents would likewise write. Letters only took one day to go from Carmel to London. I would write one day, my parents would get the letter the next day, answer it and post it on the same day and this would go on throughout the term (with of course a break for Shabbat and Yom-Tov).
My father who was an accountant was very strict and methodical on filing and when I replied to his letter, I would return his letter for filing. Every letter was carefully filed. Unfortunately they were eventually destroyed. Otherwise they would have provided excellent material for this book.
After I had been in Carmel for a few terms, I suggested to my father that he write and post me a letter on the day the term begins. This way I would receive a letter on the first day of term, which was when one felt the most homesick,
Our schedule of sending letters to each other was strictly adhered to. On one occasion, a letter from my parents went astray and arrived half a day late. In order not to upset our schedule, I immediately answered it, went off to North Stoke (a village close to Carmel), - even without requesting an exeat! – so as to catch the post at their post office. On another occasion, my father didn’t get my letter on the appointed day. He accordingly telephoned Rabbi Rosen to ask if everything was in order with me. Rabbi Rosen then came to me to ask why I haven’t written home, which rather surprised me, as I had as usual. The next day the “mystery” was solved! The letter had gone astray and was delivered a day late.
How did we send our letters? During my first weeks at Carmel, the letter box which was in the corridor of the main building was of a white colour with “letter box” written on it in Hebrew. However it had no lock and any Tom, Dick or Harry could thus open it. This was soon replaced by a red letter box - the colour of the GPO letter boxes - with a lock and this was attached to the wall in that corridor.
The postman would come at least once a day, take the post and deliver the post. Obviously, he didn’t deliver it individually to every boy. It was all deposited in the school office. After dinner each day, they would call out who had post and we would then go and receive it.
Although I and almost every other pupil mastered the homesick problem, there were a few who obviously found it difficult and rather than sweating it out, left permanently after just a few days at the school.
For the first term at Mongewell, there was no travelling home for half term. That half term was all in all, a Sunday visiting day at the school. This was during November 1953, and in the letter telling the parents about half-term, was an invitation to go to a meeting that afternoon in Rabbi Rosen’s study to hear a statement from him. (I have often wondered whether this was the reason for having half-term at the school rather than the pupils going home.) I asked my father what was said at the meeting and he said something about the Governors resigning.
[The boys did not know what was going on at the time between Rabbi Rosen and the Governors. I only really learned, and even only then, in general outline, from “Memories of Kopul Rosen” about the “tug of war” that had been going on between Rabbi Rosen and the Governors. Since 1951 there had been disagreements between them and at the beginning of 1953, the Governors gave Rabbi Rosen an ultimatum - either you resign or we resign and withdraw the money we put in. Rabbi Rosen told them that he had no intention of resigning. So the Governors resigned. Rabbi Rosen then found new Governors who put in money.]
As the end of my first term approached, the boys’ trunks which had been stored sky-high in a red-brick outhouse about fifty yards behind the main building were brought into the corridor of the main building. We then knew the holidays were near - jolly good! At the end of the first term, the matron helped us pack our trunks. The carriers came, off went the trunks and a few days later, tally-ho, the holidays.
The following term we went home for half-term. However in the summer term, instead of a half-term, the school allowed the parents to visit on three of the Sundays during that term. It was on the first one that my parents hired a taxi, whose driver they were friendly with, to take the family to Carmel. On other occasions they would take a coach from London to Crowmarsh, which was fairly near the school, and then a taxi to complete their journey.
It was during this term that boys started “running away” or more accurately “running home” from the school. It was more of a lark than anything else. One of those to do so was Jeremy Rosen. With him it was “running away,” since his home was Carmel College!
If they could, why shouldn’t I, thought I. My parents had been at the school a few days earlier on one of these Sunday visiting days and left me some extra pocket money. So I had the fare money.
I chose as my running away partner a boy from my class and after finishing lessons one day at four o’clock, off we fled. We went up the hill to catch the four thirty bus to Reading. We had heard that there was a train strike and therefore might have to get a bus leaving Reading at six o’clock which arrived in London two hours later. This would have made a very tedious journey. However, fortunately there were trains and we got the five fifteen which arrived at Paddington at six o’clock. We took the underground to Baker Street and then I parted from my friend. From there, I took the bus to Edgware and arrived at my house at about seven o’clock.
I must have called out when I knocked at the front door, since my mother thought she heard my voice. I immediately told her that I had “run away.” My parents wanted me to return that night but I persuaded them to let me spend the night in Edgware. They immediately telephoned the school to tell them what had happened. To inquisitive neighbours, we said that I had a day’s holiday.
We were in contact with the other boy’s parents and it was arranged that they would take us both back by car on the following night. Towards that evening my mother took me to this boy’s apartment which was a flat in St. John’s Wood and then off we went by car to my alma mater. We reached Carmel just as the other boys were going to bed or had just gone to bed.
The next day, Rabbi Rosen called all the boys who had run away and gave us a talking to. He wasn’t “angry angry,” but this spate of “running away” stopped. As a punishment, my father drastically cut down my weekly pocket money for nearly a month, so that I would not have sufficient money for a “repeat performance.” In contrast, I was told that the other boy’s parents refunded him the money he had spent on fares in running away.
After that term, half terms were always going home for a weekend. On one occasion that year, the half term had been fixed from Friday to Sunday. This created a problem. It was the winter and some boys had a long journey to the provinces. Because of Shabbat they had to travel on the Thursday. After that, half terms always began on a Thursday.
Before each return home for a holiday or half term, the school had to make extensive travelling arrangements. A circular was sent to all the parents telling them that there would be a special school train to Paddington. There then followed a long list of trains to the various provincial cities where the various pupils lived and the parents were informed that pupils will be escorted across London to the various terminals from where these trains departed.
A few weeks before the vacation, following supper, the master in charge of travelling arrangements would go through the pupils one by one asking for details of their travelling. For the end of term, this included the luggage they intended sending in advance.
All this was very tedious and when Mr. Epstein took over this task, he would hand out forms which pupils would fill up with the details. Once, when he had collected them in, he commented that “trunk” was not spelled “trunck”!
All the tickets were then purchased and on the night before the half term or the end of term, they were given out.
We would go by coach to Wallingford station and, after it had been closed, to Cholsey station. From there we would get the special school train. A number of teachers would be on the train to accompany the pupils to Paddington. On one occasion before the school train came into Wallingford station, the one carriage “anti-diluvium” train which ran from Cholsey to Wallingford came into the station, Mr. Schmidt got off and then joined us to supervise us to Paddington.
There were a few occasions when we travelled to or from London by coach. Whether the reason was because of a train strike or something else, I don’t remember. On one occasion, when we were returning from London, the coaches were scheduled to leave at four o’clock. There were a row of coaches waiting and the master accompanying them said the last coach would leave at five o’clock, to allow for those who are always miss trains. Some of the boys and their parents wanted the former to go on the later coach - one more hour’s holiday!- but the teacher kept telling them that they had to go on the earlier one; nu! one less hour’s holiday is not the end of the world.
There were some legitimate occasions when I went home specially. One of them was for my Barmitzvah and I travelled together with another boy who went for the same reason. On the journey, some people would ask why we were travelling. Since they were non-Jews, I could hardly say “Barmitzvah” and so I answered “for my Confirmation”!