Brian Thompson Remembers Schooldays of 1942

At the beginning of 1941, a few months before my 4th birthday, I moved from London to Houghton. My mother and father were appointed as managers of the HWAC (Hampshire War Agricultural Committee) hostel. These hostels were set up all over the country to provide accommodation for mainly Irish workers who were recruited to work on the land to take the place of the local farm workers who had been called up into the armed forces.

The hostel was situated a few metres back from the road and about 200 meters from the Boot Inn on the opposite side of the road (I believe the buildings have been demolished). Immediately next door was a thatched cottage where the Brackston family lived. The hostel itself consisted of two long single story buildings adjoined by a covered walk way, plus some smaller buildings, boiler room, store room and garage.

One block contained our living quarters, kitchen and dining hall. The other contained the dormitory and ablutions’ area for the workers.

In June 1942 I started school at Houghton C of E School. I remember on that day about three older children from the village called and collected me and escorted me to the school. No cars and school runs in those days! I can’t remember who all the children were but I think one of them was Brenda Martin.

The School had just two classrooms, the infants room where you were taught by Miss Guy until you were seven, and the big room where you were taught by Miss Squires (Squigy as all the pupils called her) until you left at the age of 14, usually in those days to get a job on a farm.

Miss Guy was a middle aged spinster who lived with her mother in Houghton Lodge which is now I believe a rather posh Country Club or Hotel. Miss Guy did a wonderful job controlling many 5 to 7 year old country bumpkins and teaching most of them to read and write. She was a very kindly but firm teacher I can never remember her being cross with us, and always encouraging us to do our best.

Miss Squires was a lot younger, probably in her mid twenties. She had to teach us everything, mathematics, geography, history, English etc., and at different levels as we aged from 7 upwards. She was a good but firery teacher who did not allow inattention or misbehaviour. Her famous punishment for misdemeanours by boys was to hit you several blows across the back of your hand with the edge of a wooden 12 inch ruler. Just about every boy in the class (including me) had black and blue backs of hands! Girls were punished rather differently. They were made to bend over and lift up their skirts and were then wacked across the behind with a board pointer. The boys rather enjoyed this as they got to see what colour knickers the girls were wearing.

I spent two and a half years in Miss Squire’s class. In 1947 she left the school to get married. No replacement teacher could be found and most of the older pupils were moved to Stockbridge School. Two of us could not be found places in the correct year at Stockbridge, myself and Keith Goosey, so we were returned to Miss Guy’s class. My parents were disappointed at this and decided for the sake of my education to move back to London (they had intended to remain living in Hampshire). So my time in Houghton came to an end. The school closed down soon after that.

Who and what else do I remember about the village? Some of the children I can recall were the Gooseys, Brenda and Bill, who were twins I think, Brian and Keith. The Martin sisters Pat, Brenda and Maureen. Gordon and Michael Withers. June Brackston. Robert (Nipper) Beale. Mary Brown. There were several others whose names I can’t recall.

I remember the Boot Inn, where most of our hostel inmates spent their spare time. Mrs Wing was the pub landlady. The village shop and Post Office run by a very nice lady whose name I can’t remember. The War Memorial opposite the Boot with some convenient steps at the base where I sat to draw a picture of the pub which I entered for a competition at the village Flower Show in 1946. The Village Hall where we attended many a village concert and learnt to sing about the Turnut Fly and the recreation ground with its swings. The farm at the top of The Church Lane (can’t remember the farmer’s name) but I was great friends with Mr Pitman the cowman. I used to help him drive the cows from the meadows through the village to the farm for evening milking. He taught me to milk cows by hand. I used to drink the milk straight from the cows (we didn’t worry about pasteurisation in those days). There was a footpath which ran beside the hostel grounds called Snail Creep at the top this turned sharp left and you could follow the path to the Village Hall. At the bottom of Snail Creep there was always a large nettle bed into which we boys threw anyone who annoyed us or who we fell out with (we were very cruel lads).

Most of all I remember the River Test. The Test where we used to swim in the area around Sheet Bridge, and the secret places where I removed from the river in a variety of ways (I’m sure the Houghton and Stockbridge Fishing Club would not have approved) trout and salmon and take home to supplement family meals, and the number of times I was chased by the water bailiff along the banks (he never caught me). Watching Kingfishers flashing along the river and watching Barn Owls hunting at dusk over the water meadows. This led me to a lifetime’s birdwatching and a career as an ornithologist.

Although throughout most of my time living in Houghton the country was at war, but to me as a child it was an exciting time and it was certainly an idyllic time and a time remembered with great fondness. It seems strange to think now that if “Squidgy” had not left I would in all probability still be living if not in Houghton, certainly in Hampshire.