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go back to the last page you were on Schooldays - the happiest days of your life? Part 2

Muriel Wells

I don't remember my own first day at Paradise Infants' School, Foleshill, Coventry. It was a small old building, but had tall typical classroom windows, a sizeable bell tower and its classrooms, four in number, I think, were accessed from the central hall. The headmistress's tiny office, and children's cloakrooms completed the amenities. I think that the lavatories were outside ones, but can't honestly vouch for that.

I began my schooling at the age of 5 years old. My teacher, Miss Taylor, had her white hair pulled back into a bun and seemed very dignified and old! Our classroom was stepped and the iron framed desks were for two, with attached tip-up bench seat. Our first writing efforts were practised in individual sandtrays --- and woe betide anyone who spilt theirs. I marvel at the teacher's discipline that ensured that this rarely happened! Later we graduated to blackboards and chalk.

I am about 7 or 8 years old
and would probably have been
attending the last class at
Paradise Infants School.

I don't remember any difficulties with reading in the following two classes. Our textbooks were "Beacon Readers", based on the phonic system, and any illustrations were in black and orange, on the white paper background. Nevertheless having progressed from "the cat sat on the mat" level, onwards, we received a good grounding in folk tales and fairy stories. "Henny Penny", "The Gingerbread Man", "Rumpelstiltskin", "Jack and the Beanstalk", --- many others, and my favourite of all "Chicken Licken", soon enriched our lives and imaginations. When you reached book 6 you were able to read almost anything.

Of this period the outstanding memories are of the kindly headmistress, Miss Comley and the magnificent rockinghorse -- a veritable charger with sculptured head and body, on which we were given a ride if we had been very good, or had done some excellent work. Another memory is of my sister's first day, when she sobbed, "I want my Mum, I want my Muriel", all through assembly, and I wished that the floor would open up and swallow me! And the disgrace when I was once sent to the corner for talking in class, in my middle year! I never was chosen for the honour of ringing the bell before school, although my sister was.

Finally, and I find this very amusing, the few lilies of the valley, plants from my Grandma's garden, eventually overran the school garden and some years later had to be ruthleesly rooted out!

One year after I left there war changed everything. We weren't subject to evacuation but eventually daylight raids disrupted our lessons at Edgewick Junior School, Foleshill, and we would sit crowded together in what was a strengthened and enclosed, playground shelter, until the "all clear" sounded. The hours passed dreadfully slowly in the dim light. We all had to have a "tucker box" incase we couldn't go home on time. Mine was an Oxo tin, and contained boiled sweets, chewing gum and biscuits.

At this juncture, in October 1940, the raids intensified and our nights were spent largely in the Anderson air-raid shelter. My family decided to despatch us to Great-aunt Alice's cottage at Bulkington, 5 miles away, for a rest and Grandma accompanied us. We were enrolled at Bulkington Primary School, which was a church school, typical of its era, with gothic windows and cramped classrooms. Lavatories were across the playground and it was as well they were!

We "sophisticated" city types, found the teaching methods and routines quaint. It was all very old-fashioned! However it had its positive aspects,as we were excused the Scripture lessons, because we were "chapel". Also times tables were sung, and so no longer became a boring chore as we bellowed our way through them more lustily than sweetly! Each night we joined groups of villagers gazing at the "show" put on night after night such a short distance away! After two weeks of this other culture, when our nights were disturbed not by bombs but by the anti aircraft battery nearby, which shook the very foundations when it fired, we returned home to Coventry.

Our timing couldn't have been worse, as we were in time for the infamous Blitz of November 1940. This saw us not only homeless but our school was untenable. When things shakily returned to normal our school was temporily housed on the upper floor of Broad Street Senior Girls' School. Classes were doubled up and in these cramped surroundings, with the men teachers gradually being called up, we recommenced our lessons. It was my misfortune to be in an age-group which also shared a teacher with the "scholarship" class. In retrospect I realise that our teacher was working under almost impossible conditions.

No night was undisturbed and he probably had either ARP or fire-watching duties --- and still had to get half his class prepared for the eleven+ examination. At the time I was utterly miserable and dreaded his ill-temper and sarcasm. The full force of the latter fell upon my head as I couldn't seem to "get" long division. Luckily he was soon replaced by a very pleasant lady, and life became bearable again.

The highlight of this period was that because free school milk deliveries couldn't be guaranteed we had hot chocolate Horlicks at morning break. This was made by the senior girls, down below.

At that time we all wore "siren-suits", even to bed, or close at hand ready to don quickly when the sirens sounded the undulating wails of the alert. These were all-in-ones, some with attached hoods, and were made of durable, warm material. They were very necessary in order to keep warm in the dankness that always pervaded any type of air-raid shelter.

Edgewick School roof was repaired and thankfully we returned there to our own classrooms. The building was of the same era as Paradise, but much larger, with a central hall and classrooms opening from it, too. Pupils came from two contributing Infants' Schools, its own and Paradise. For my last year there I had a delightful elderly teacher, Miss Courts, who made learning fun and prepared us for the "scholarship" examination. Raids ceased to be so frequent and life normalised --- as did our clothing!.

Soon we were to leave the realm of Primary education for the uncharted seas of Secondary School!

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Written by Muriel Wells