Reminiscences of Broadfields Primary School 1947 - 1953

It is about 60 years since I was in Broadfields Primary School. As a result of this large interval of time, it is possible that all my statements might not be completely accurate. Often I will write an expression such as “as far as I can recollect”. However, in general, this paper can be considered as an accurate description of my stay at Broadfields Primary School between 1947 and 1953.

Until the mid-1950s there was no Jewish School in Edgware (which is situated just outside north-west London) and as a result, the large Jewish population there had to send their children to either the State School, Broadfields Primary School, or to a small private school called Holland House. I was sent to Broadfields.

It was in the autumn of 1947 at the tender age of 4 years and 10 months, and from then on until the summer of 1953, I studied at Broadfields Primary School, first in the infants department and later in the junior department.

This school is situated off Hartland Drive and close to Broadfields Avenue and hence the name of the school. To reach the school one went up a slope at the end of Hartland Drive. When I began in 1947, the entire school consisted of one building built around a quadrangle. In addition, a corridor open on one side jutted out and and the end of this corridor was another classroom for the reception class and this classroom had its own cloakroom where every child was allotted a peg on which his name was written. It seems that there were more children than pegs, since I had to share my peg with another pupil. In front of this classroom and corridor was the playground for the infants department. There was also a sandpit in this playground close to the reception classroom. At the other side of the quadrangle was the junior department’s playground.

As time went on, the number of pupils at the school obviously increased, since there was insufficient room for all the classes. As a result, two of the classes, one of them being mine, had their lessons in a hall, about ten minutes away from the school. However, on two afternoons during the week, this hall was in prior use and so these two classes had to fit in somehow within the school building. To accomplish this, the big hall in the old school was used with a partition to separate the two classes.

Meanwhile, an additional building for the school was in the course of construction. It was on the same campus, and about two minutes walk away. Although this new building looked nicer than the old one, I remember the Headmaster telling us that the materials for the original buildings were superior. This was often the case with buildings built after the Second World War as compared with those built earlier.

To get to the school from my house was about a ten minute walk, which involved crossing several roads, and so in my first years at the school my mother would take me and bring me home. This involved her in 8 journeys each day – 4 each way - since I came home every day for dinner. Despite the relatively large number of Jewish pupils, there were no kosher dinners at the school. On one of my first days in the reception class, the teacher called out the names of the pupils. I must have thought it was a list of pupils who would stay for dinner and I remember calling out “I don’t stay for dinners”.

When I began learning at the school in 1947, there were open fields all the way from my house (which was then the last in my street) to the school and if one did not mind crossing fields it was a short cut to the school, and occasionally, when my neighbour’s children, who were then in the junior school, took me to school, we crossed these fields. Since there were no buildings between my house and the school to absorb the sound, it was possible to hear the school bell from my house, and indeed on one occasion when I was very late in going to school, I myself heard it ring!

The school had a uniform which was (as far as I remember) in green. For boys it consisted of a cap, blazer and tie. I cannot remember what the girl’s uniform consisted of.

Children at primary schools often have childish jingles showing how their school is superior to other schools in the area and sometimes derogatory jingles or “wisecracks” about their own school. Broadfields was no exception and it had a jingle about the local private school Holland House. It went, to the best of my recollection, as follows: “Wash ’em out, wring ’em out, hang them on the line, we can beat Holland House any old time.” In contrast there were pupils – I don’t know if it was the same ones - who said that the letters BPS stood for Broadfields Pig Sty rather than Broadfields Primary School.

In the middle of both morning and afternoon school there was a break, known in a primary school as “playtime”. One would often see a chain of boys, the arms of one of them over the shoulders of his neighbor walking around the playground singing “all ee in for Cowboys and Indians”.

To summon the pupils to class at the start of school or at the end of break, the duty teacher would first shake a bell held in the teacher’s hand (this was before the days that schools had electronic bell systems). The pupils then had to stop what they were doing and stand still. The teacher then blew on a whistle. Each class in turn was then told to go to their classroom.

A register of attendances was of course kept. Such a register is a legal document since schooling is compulsory by law and the truancy officer would need to check which pupils missed going to school. Such a register was called each morning and afternoon and the form teacher would mark those present with a straight line, which as I remember pointed in different directions depending on whether it was morning or afternoon school. Absences were marked by the letter “O”.

Most teachers would tediously read out each name in the register and the pupils would answer that they were present. One of my teachers, however, had an idea to cut down on this process, and he gave every pupil a number in the order they appeared in the register. The first pupil would then say “1” and the teacher would mark him present, the next one would immediately say “2” and so on.

In order to encourage a good attendance by the class, the headmaster said that any class who had a 100 per cent attendance throughout the week, could go home a bit early - about quarter of an hour - on Friday afternoon. On one occasion my class had a perfect attendance from Monday to Thursday, but on the Friday morning one girl did not turn up. Someone said that she did not feel well and the class groaned. A few minutes she did turn up and the class started clapping. The teacher related this incident to the headmaster.

School ended each day at 4.00 p.m. However, in the winter, Shabbat came in at 3.30 p.m. for 7 weeks (about 2-3 of these weeks were during the end of the year holiday) and on several weeks before and after this period of the year it came in at 4.00 p.m. In order to arrive home before the commencement of Shabbat, Jewish pupils would leave school one quarter of an hour before these times. However, the “present” mark in the register of the Jewish pupils for those Fridays was changed to an “O” even though they were present for almost the entire afternoon.

An aunt of mine once wanted to give me a treat and she bought tickets for me and a member of my family to go to some suitable theatre performance. However due to a misunderstanding, instead of buying the tickets to correspond with the school half-term holiday, she bought it for a week earlier (or later). I missed school that afternoon and went to the performance. The following morning, my father gave me a letter to take to the school explaining the misunderstanding regarding the dates. Nevertheless, the form teacher informed the headmaster and I was summoned to his study for an unpleasant meeting.

On Monday morning, after calling the register, the teacher would collect dinner money for those pupils staying to dinner. The pupils were encouraged to have National Savings with the Post Office and those pupils participating would bring money on Monday morning and would be given stamps to stick in their National Savings book. When the saving stamps reached a certain amount, I think it was one pound, the stamps were exchanged in the Post Office for a Savings Certificate. These certificates gained interest and the school suggested that the school authorities take them to the Post Office, since in such a case, the school told us, they would be backdated nearly a year thus gaining more interest. Some children brought six pence a week, others half a crown (as I did) and I assume also other amounts.

At the beginning of morning break, all the pupils were given a small bottle of milk to drink and naturally it was drunk using a straw. I had never seen a straw before going to school and did not know how to use it! On my first day, I began by dipping it into the milk and licking the end of it. The teacher saw what I was doing and taught me how to use it. I thus learned something on my first day at school.

Milk for the pupils was also available during the school holidays. At the end of term, the teacher would ask which pupils wanted milk during the holidays and the pupils would then turn up at the school each morning to drink their milk.

There were medical inspections of the pupils at the school. One of these took place soon after I joined the school. At this inspection they decided that I had flat feet, but at the time this was not followed up, although they wrote this “ailment” on my school medical card. About four years later there was another medical inspection and they saw that they had written that I had “flat feet”. It was arranged for me to be examined at some clinic. When I got to this clinic and they examined my feet they said that there was nothing wrong with them, although, as I recollect, they gave me some exercises to do with my feet – walking on the sides of my feet.

In the junior school, the pupils had desks which were shared between two pupils. In at least one class that I was in, in the infants, there were four low tables arranged in a square and, I think, two pupils sat at each table.

On one occasion, a boy brought an American comic to school. The teacher saw it and said that such comics were forbidden in all schools in that County and the headmaster could get into trouble if it were found out that it was in the school. The teacher added that the question of these comics had even reached Parliament.

An important worker at any school is the caretaker and sometimes he has unpleasant jobs to perform. On a number of occasions, when especially infant pupils sick up over the classroom, the caretaker has to clear up the mess. He would bring along a bucket of sand and pour it over the sick and would then shovel the whole mixture up together. Young pupils would sometimes flood the washrooms and he would then have to mop up the water.

All schools have punishments and in my day, one of them was the cane. The headmaster had a cane and as I recollect, some of the teachers also had one. On one occasion I felt a stroke of the headmaster’s cane on my person. My crime was connected with handing in untidy work. Another punishment was writing of lines. For some reason, I was unable to give the definition of a “desert”. As a result I had to write out numerous times “a desert is a sandy plain”.

There were two headmasters whilst I was at the school. I only very vaguely remember the first one. Soon after I joined the school he became ill and soon after died. As a memorial to him, a sundial was erected in the quadrangle.

The next headmaster was a Scotsman and I got the distinct impression that he did not like Jews. I estimate that about a third of the pupils at the school were Jews. When he took a class in the school, a disproportionate number of Jewish pupils were reprimanded. On one occasion he must have said that a barn could be a Synagogue – I was not present when he said this. However a Jewish parent complained about this and in a subsequent lesson he gave a rambling talk to the class (I was present) to try and explain what he meant! He was obviously afraid of the complaint going to a higher authority.

The police would periodically come to the school and give a road safety lesson to the school. On one occasion, when the Jewish pupils returned to the school on the day following a Yom Tov – I am almost certain that it was Yom Kippur – they were told by the other pupils that they had missed such a road safety lesson. This same headmaster was surely aware that the Jewish pupils would be absent that day, so why did he not arrange with the police to come on a different day?!

This was not the only occasion whilst I was at the school that there was a road safety lesson given by the police. I recollect at least one other occasion, and this time it was not on a Yom Tov!

For all schools, there are Inspectors who periodically visit the schools. Broadfields was no exception and I think the following incident occurred whilst I was at Broadfields. An inspector came into the class and asked the pupils to give him the names of poets. Some gave him the names of well known poets and he told them that the answer was correct. At that period, I owned the book “The Book of a Thousand Poems”. Amongst the names of the poets in that book was one whose name was very similar, but not identical, to my name. I gave the inspector that name and immediately after I said the name of this poet, at least one of the pupils in the class called out my name!

I recollect almost nothing of the content of the lessons in the infants department. What I do recollect is singing in the reception class the words “atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down” but after all these years I don’t remember the content in which we sung it. It is very probable that the pupils were dancing in a circle, singing “ring a ring o’roses”. It is in a reception class that the pupils learn to read. I have a vague recollection of a person called “Old Lobb”. It is possible, but in no way certain, that this name appeared in a book teaching me to read in this reception class.

In the reception class, we would sometimes play in the sandpit. On one occasion, I recollect being covered with sand when it was time to go home and the teacher making an uncomplimentary remark about the sand on my person.

I also recollect that in a higher infants class the pupils writing with crayons on narrow sheets of paper. One boy tore in half the page of his neighbour. The teacher was naturally angry and in return tore that boy’s page in half.

Singing lessons form part of the curriculum in a primary school and at least in my class they were conducted by the headmaster. As I recollect, one of the songs we sang was “Early one morning, just as the sun was rising…” During one lesson he made us all hold our breaths, first for 25 seconds and then for 30 seconds. I was not the best of singers and on one occasion, we were standing in a line singing. The headmaster could obviously hear that someone was not singing in tune. He walked by the side of the line listening carefully to each pupil and when he heard my singing he removed me from the line.

We also had arts and crafts lessons and in one of them we were told to bring an empty panshine cylindrical container which had a number of holes at the top. We decorated the outside of these containers and then gave them to our mothers to use as a container to hold their knitting needles.

In another crafts lesson, the teacher explained to the class how to measure with a ruler, pointing out that the measurements begin not at the edge of the ruler, but where the markings begin. We were then each given a piece of thin card, told how to do certain measurements, and then cut and fold the card in order to make a matchbox holder. The final stage would be gluing the card which we did not do in that class. After the lesson the teacher took in our work to inspect it and on the following lesson said that only one pupil’s work was sufficiently accurate to merit gluing.

We also learned how to do “French knitting”. One takes an empty wooden cotton reel, puts four small nails in the shape of a square in one end, winds wool around the nails and with a crochet needle loops one row over the next. The result is a long tail of knitted material. I had also learned at home how to knit, but in a limited way – only plain and not pearl and not how to cast on and cast off. I told the teacher I could knit and she gave me some wool and a pair of knitting needles and I succeeded in knitting a small mat.

In arithmetic we were made to learn the multiplication tables. I recollect a quiz which the teacher gave to the class on these tables in which one of the questions was “what is eleven times eleven?” One of the pupils, who was sure he knew the right answer proudly called out “one hundred and twenty two” – which is of course one too many!

The teachers in the junior classes would read a fiction book to the class as a serial. I heard a number of books read by the teacher, but after such a long period I cannot remember the titles of such books. It is possible that they may have been “Tom Sawyer” or “Huckleberry Finn” or “The Swiss Family Robinson”.

There were also in the class, books of stories for the pupils to read themselves. One of these stories took place at a seaside town called Seamarches. In this story which involved children, there were caves in which a code was found, and one of the children succeeded in cracking the code and this in turn led to the discovery of a lost will. I remember this was a very gripping and exciting story.

I remember one lesson when the teacher gave the class the name of a heading such as “a country” or “a boy’s name” and then a letter of the alphabet and we had to write down, as the case may be, the name of a country or a boy’s name beginning with this letter. The object was to give a name which no other pupil had given. The teacher gave the letter “S” and I particularly remember this since one pupil gave “Scandinavia” as the name of a country. The teacher answered that it was really a group of countries. As I seem to recollect, the letter “B” was chosen for the boys’ names and a pupil gave the name “Boris” which no-one else had written.

One teacher started teaching us the Ten Commandments – and I stress the word “started”. He erroneously made the first two Commandments as just the first Commandment, which of course put out all the numbering of the Commandments. He spent some time lecturing to us about the importance of the “fourth Commandment” – honouring of parents – but actually this is the fifth Commandment! I wondered how he would continue numbering the Commandments, but he never went any further on this subject.

Whilst I was in the junior school, there had been some serious flooding in England. One of our teachers explained to us the cause of flooding and its connection with tides and a new moon. Although it was not directly relevant to this subject, I used this opportunity to tell the teacher that in the Jewish calendar, the start of a new month occurs when there is a new moon.

There was an occasion when one of my teachers began going through the first three letters of the alphabet “A for horses [hay for horses], B for mutton [beef or mutton], C for yourself [see for yourself].” I must have been quite fascinated by this and after I went home that day, I tried together with my father to try and complete the alphabet in this format. Within a very limited time, we managed to find good phrases for some of the letters. These included M for size [emphasize] and Q for bus [queue for bus]. For others, the phrases were less good. We wrote down a complete alphabet of what we had composed and I took it back to the school where the teacher read out the list to the class. I remember that some of the class immediately understood the “M for size”.

In any school, much of the pupils’ work is written work and for this one requires stationery. As with every state school, the school provided, free of charge, exercise books. In at least one of my classes we were given an exercise book for rough work and another better quality exercise book for best work.

The pupils were also provided with pencils – there was no writing in ink in Broadfields. On one occasion, the pencils arrived in a box with a hole to hold each pencil separately. This made it easy to determine if any pencils went missing by the end of any day without any tedious counting. The ends of the pencils were covered in a grayish paint and the teacher told the class that this paint was lead poisoning and it was there to prevent the pupils from chewing the end of the pencil! (I am sure that the authorities would not dare to actually put poison on pencils given out to pupils.)

In a different class, one day a few pencils were missing. Suspecting that some pupil had taken them, the teacher searched the pockets of every pupil. When I mentioned this searching to an aunt of mine, she was extremely angry, saying that the pencils could have easily rolled away somewhere.

Every class had a blackboard and the pupils would sometimes have to copy things from the blackboard into their exercise books. On one occasion we had to copy from the blackboard, as I recollect, small drawings on the subject of ancient history. Two classes were learning this same subject and on one occasion, since the drawings were already on the blackboard of one of the classes – (not my class) – to avoid the teacher having to draw all the drawings once again onto the blackboard in my class, we were sent to the other class to copy out these drawings.

Some of the teachers were particular that the pupils were clean and tidy. One teacher even gave marks – a maximum of 10 - each week for this. One boy who was very scruffy, particularly with his hair, would receive low marks and on one occasion I recollect him receiving a mark of zero.

Another teacher would insist that the pupils polish their shoes themselves at home. When one pupil said that his mother cleaned his shoes, the teacher replied that not only should he clean his own shoes but also his mother’s.

In the junior school, there were examinations at the end of the autumn and summer terms. There were a total of 400 marks – 50 for mental arithmetic, 50 for mechanical arithmetic, 50 for composition, 20 for reading, and 20 for poetry recitation. After all this time I cannot be certain how the marks were divided up amongst the other subjects, but I think it was as follows: 30 for spelling, 50 for comprehension, 50 for history, 50 for geography and 30 for nature study. On second thoughts, maybe it was 20 marks for writing (calligraphy) and just 30 for comprehension.

We were given two exercise books which were set aside specially for examinations and every time there was an examination during our stay at the junior school, we used these same exercise books. One of these exercise books was for mental and mechanical arithmetic and the other for composition, comprehension and spelling (and possibly also writing).

Whilst on the subject of writing, the style of writing taught at the school was without loops in letters such as “l”, “h” and “b”, or lower loops in letters such as “g” and “y”. The teacher in the top class said he would teach the pupils this looped writing just before they graduated from the school. My calligraphy was not good and my parents bought me a book in which one would write out rows of different letters. I don’t know whether this was at the suggestion of my teacher. Whilst I was at the school, some of the pupils (not me!) entered an outside calligraphy competition, in which they had to copy out a certain passage. They did this in class. One girl, after copying out the passage in her best handwriting, noticed she had omitted one letter from a word. Pupils in the school, other than in my class, entered this competition and one of them got a certificate for her writing which was handed out to her in a school assembly.

Now to return to school examinations. In many of the subjects, the teacher would read out the questions and we would have to write out the answers. For comprehension, we would be handed a duplicated sheet which contained a passage we would have to read and then answer the questions which were printed below the passage. On one occasion we received the same duplicated sheet as we had a received a year or two earlier, thus making on that occasion this exam much easier.

The reading examination was conducted by the headmaster and he warned us he was Scotsman – namely marks would not be given for nothing! On one occasion, he was very critical of a pupil who read the word “the” which occurred in a word followed by a vowel as “the” rather than as “thee”. The examination in poetry recitation was conducted by the class teacher.

The marks for the various subjects were totaled up and form positions worked out. Sometimes a few marks could make a pupil’s form position much lower. On one occasion – it was my last examination period at the school – two questions were ambiguous, and I gave the answer in non-agreement with the teacher’s. It is possible that this made a difference to my form position. It was just after the Coronation in 1953 and some of the questions in the history paper were on this event. One of the questions was: When a person says they saw the Coronation what do they mean? I wrote that they saw it on television. However the teacher’s answer was that they saw the procession. So no marks for me! The other controversial question was: Who was the last queen to be crowned without a king? Two answers could be suggested for this question, namely Victoria or Elizabeth II. I do not remember which answer the teacher wanted, but I gave the opposite one, and so again no marks!

For my first composition examination, the subject was something connected with my classroom. It was probably the first time I was writing a composition and my essay consisted of a number of sentences, each one barely connected to the previous one. Still on the subject of composition, it was at my last examinations at the school, that the subject was “the country I would like to live in”. I chose, not unsurprisingly, Israel. I wrote how the Jews had been defeated in Israel by the Romans at the time of the Destruction of the Second Temple leading to the end of Jewish rule in Israel, and I then continued with the subject of the return to Israel with the Modern Zionist Movement. I think that the teacher was critical of the fact that a person does not want to live in a country because of its history. (Actually, this is the reason that many Jews want to live in Israel.)

In one spelling examination, in order to avoid cheating the teacher gave different words to the two pupils who shared a desk. One example I remember is because I knew how to spell the word my desk partner was given, but I did not know how to to spell the word I was given; he had to spell “flower” and I had to spell “flour”. In another spelling test, we had to spell “competition”. This word appeared in bold letters on a poster in the room, but I felt it would not be fair to look at the poster and as a result I spelled this word incorrectly. Ironically, the teacher then berated any pupils who spelled it incorrectly since it was written on the wall poster!

I also recollect an amusing incident connected with spelling. I together with a friend decided that we wanted to be solicitors when we were older. We had heard that they made “pots of money”. We even decided that since we would have such a lot of money, if we wanted to speak to each other, we would use the telephone, even though our offices would be in adjacent rooms. At that period, the teacher asked the pupils to write what they want to be when they were grown-up. However, I literally did not have a clue how to spell the word “solicitor”, I didn’t even pronounce it correctly and when I came to spell it, I made just about every mistake possible – I must have spelled it something like “clissiter”! When I showed it to the teacher, he wrote out the word correctly, and asked me in wonderment whether I had never seen in on plaques outside their offices.

In my final year at the school, there was a small library in my classroom, and this included some books on nature study. When it came to set the examination in nature study, the teacher, without any prior warning, did not set it on what he had taught us, but on the content of the nature study books, arguing that we should have read these books.

Reports were issued to the pupils twice a year. In addition to the pupil’s performance in the various subjects, there was a space for conduct and the teacher’s remarks. The reports were signed by the form teacher and the headmaster. The school gave no prizes and there was no annual speech day.

There were also sports in the curriculum and each year there was an athletics competition between teams of pupils. At first, it was held in Edgwarebury Park, a park which was a few minutes’ walk from the school. However, whilst I was at the school, a large open unpaved area, which was on the right hand side of the slope going up to the school was leveled and grass planted on it, thus giving the school its own playing field. From the school leading down to the newly made playing field was a sloping bank and on this the pupils could sit to watch activities going on on the playing field. The type of races which took place at these competitions were generally not the sort found at a grown-ups athletics meeting, but included races such as three-legged races, sack races and so on. The winner of each race would get a coloured bit of ribbon, the colour being of his house team, to pin on his clothes. Parents were invited to this annual competition.

Acting also appeared in the class activities. After the Coronation, I put on a solo act in the form of a telephone conversation which I made up as I went along. The class could only hear my side of the conversation. I telephoned; “Hello …. Did you see the Coronation? … What, you were at Westminster Abbey? … What, you are the Archbishop of Canterbury? I am sorry, I have got a wrong number. Good bye.”

At an earlier period, various groups in the class put on short plays. I decided to arrange a Jewish one with the Jewish pupils in the class. It was a play which clearly showed that it was the Almighty who arranged marriages. In a meeting between a Rabbi (of which I was the actor) and the King, the latter claimed he could also do this and he would arrange a marriage for a certain Prince. However the King’s plans went wrong and the Prince ended up marrying a person other than the woman that the King had intended, and what is more, a grossly unsuitable person.

For the last two years in the junior school, the pupils had the same teacher. The one I had would every day talk and talk and talk, and would tell us how valuable what he was telling us was. I however did not remain in Broadfields Primary School for the entire two years. During the first year under this teacher, I was awarded a scholarship to Carmel College and left the school at the end of that year. Had I remained I would in about February of the following year (1954) have taken what was known as the 11+ examination. In this examination the pupils had papers in Arithmetic, English and Intelligence and from their results they were given a place at a Grammar School or a Secondary Modern School. Even one mark in this examination could have made the difference to which high school a pupil went to.

I had planned that on a day in the Carmel holidays, which were longer than Broadfields holidays, I would visit my former top class in the school. But for the following reason I did not do so. Soon after I began Carmel, I wrote a long letter to a friend of mine at Broadfields, describing Carmel. In the letter, I asked jokingly “Does Mr. …. still talk like an old woman?” My friend took the letter to the school and this teacher read it out in front of this class. When they heard this question being read out, I was told they roared with laughter. However, because of this, I felt embarrassed to visit the school and so I have never been there since I left in July 1953.

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