Ronald Basil Girdler

1925 - 2017

Helene Girdler

1927 - 2020

Sixth Form

All was still quiet in London, and the London branch of Notre Dame High School returned to their home school in Southwark. The headmistress suggested that I should continue there in the sixth form whilst re-sitting the Matriculation exam in December. Inquiries were also made into the possibility of continuing my schooling at the local Grammar school, the Henrietta Barnet in, I think, Hampstead, but being a very shy 16 year old I didn't like the idea of going to a new school where I would know nobody. So I travelled daily from Golders Green to Elephant and Castle by tube, a journey which took about 30 minutes on the train. John was by this time attending the London Hospital Medical School and we sometimes travelled together. From the Elephant and Castle I walked to school, which was about 10 minutes walk away. Notre Dame High School was situated in a side road, and from the windows of the Chemistry Laboratory one could look down into the gardens of Bedlam which at that time was a Mental Asylum but has since become the Imperial War Museum.

I entered the sixth form to study for what was then known as Higher School Certificate and in my case Intermediate B.Sc. (nowadays called "A" Levels). I was doing the science subjects: Zoology, Botany, Physics and Chemistry, whilst at the same time revising all the Matriculation subjects for re-sitting in December, which I fortunately passed at a satisfactory level and was able to continue with the "A" level work.

There were only about 12 girls in the Upper and Lower Science sixth forms, doing various combinations of my four subjects as well as Geography and Mettle, but I was the only one doing all four sciences which involved experimental laboratory work. I did enjoy the two Biology subjects, especially the experimental work, but I always struggled with the other two. One of the nuns taught Botany and Zoo., and we had a number of different teachers for Chemistry and Physics. The problem was that very few girls studied Chem. and Phys. in those days and the supply of suitable teachers was very restricted. In addition, the war was still on and the younger women were in the Forces. We therefore had some rather strange teachers! One of them, I remember, had only one tooth, was rather elderly and travelled all the way from Brighton every

day. She used to "teach" with the text book open in front of her and was rarely able to answer any questions so we didn't bother to ask any. After a couple of terms she left and was replaced by a teacher who was very good and went to a lot of trouble, even going so far as to give extra lessons on Saturday mornings. It was in her class that we made some soap in the Chem. lab., with some lard brought in by one of the girls whose father was a butcher. Lard was extremely difficult to come by and we were considered very lucky. The soap was revolting as it had no perfume added, but at least it did lather! On another occasion we made some alcohol with, I think, potatoes. However, this enterprising teacher didn't last long either, as she returned to her home town of Newcastle after two terms. Our third teacher was a rather prim thin woman with glasses and mousey hair drawn tightly back in a braided bun. She used to wear a pale green quilted leather waistcoat with flower sprigs embroidered at random in the diamond shapes of the quilting. I must have spent most of the time in her classes studying the waistcoat, which was of a very unusual type in 1944, for I can remember very little of her teaching!

During this time two new German weapons appeared over Britain's skies. The first, known as the "Buzz Bomb", or "Flying Bomb", was a pilotless plane filled with high explosive. It could be heard approaching as it droned overhead, and then without any warning its engine would cut out and it would descend to earth with a whine and explode. As soon as the Air Raid warning sounded when we were at school we all went downstairs into the basement cloakrooms where we sat on the forms in front of the hanging coats and attempted to continue the lesson, all the while listening for the drone overhead and the subsequent cut-out of the engine. Then we all crouched on the floor and waited for the explosion and afterwards continued the lesson. At the "All-Clear" we returned to the classroom. This performance might be repeated two or three times a day. After some time of "Buzz-Bombing", the next weapon, the "V2" arrived. This was a type of rocket fired from the continent and arrived completely without warning. It was almost silent on approach so that its arrival was indicated only by the explosion as it reached the ground, when it was too late to take any shelter. For this reason it was particularly terrifying. At home all our beds were taken downstairs as it was thought safer to be on the ground floor.

VE Day

Our studies were very much disrupted during this period, but at long last the war was brought to an end in May 1945, and I remember on VE(Victory in Europe) Day, people celebrated all over the country. My family went to London to take part in the street dancing and singing in Leicester Square, But I had my exams to sit in June and I had an enormous amount of revision to do, so I stayed at home and carried on working. I was not at all happy with my lack of understanding of Physics in particular but also felt that the Chemistry left a lot to be desired, so that I was not at all surprised when the examination results showed a pass in Bot. and Zoo., but a fail in both the other subjects, Of course I was disappointed and for some time didn't know what to do next, Mum and Dad were very good about it all, and gave me the opportunity to stay on at school for another year to take the exams again. Most of my school friends were in the same situation, and the same rules applied to the Intermediate exams as to the Metric., that is that all four subjects had to be retaken. My particular friend was Mary, whose father ran a pub in Bermondsey. She was an only child and we used to spend week-ends together either at her home or mine. We had in fact spent some of  our evacuated time together in Moulton, Northampton. Her parents were Irish and her mother always wore a long black dress and a black shawl and always seemed to me to be quite terrified of her husband. Mary and I had taken to smoking "Joysticks" - exceptionally long cigarettes - and we thought we were terribly grown up. We were once caught by Mary's mother smoking in bed and we got a good telling off! At lunch time at school we sometimes had our lunch at the nearby Express Dairies Cafe, where we'd have a cigarette after lunch. Unfortunately for us the French mistress, Mademoiselle as we called her, also had her lunch there occasionally and she saw us smoking and reported us to the Headmistress, a nun. We were called to her office and severely reprimanded, being told that we were letting down the school and giving the school A bad name especially as we were in school uniform. We had never really enjoyed the smoking anyway, and we soon gave it up. Our school uniform was not very strictly adhered to owing to clothes rationing, and Dad made my outfit, which consisted of a brown wool suit with a gored skirt and fitted Jacket with "officer's" pockets, which were patch pockets with a pouched gusset like those worn by Officers in the Services. They were very much in fashion at the time.

We were 18 years old by then, but neither of us had ever had a boy-friend, although we talked a lot about boys. I was painfully shy of boys and would blush furiously when walking past them in the street. When John brought any of his friends home I would find excuses for going into another room.

Barbara’s Wedding

In March 1946 Barbara got married. I remember asking the Biology Teacher, who was also our Class mistress and a nun, if I could be excused homework for the weekend as my sister was getting married, and she asked what I thought was a strange question; "Who is she marrying?" As she didn't know my sister, I was rather puzzled as to what to reply, so I answered "A man", which brought a titter from the other girls, but no reaction from the nun. Actually, she married Leslie who had been in a "reserved occupation" during the war (he worked in an armaments factory), and so was not called up. He had taken up photography and was intending to have his own photographer's shop in due course. The small wedding reception took place at home and the drinks, which were very difficult to obtain, were provided by Mary's father through his contacts in the Licensed Victuallers trade. The ceremony took place in the Registry Office as Leslie was not Jewish. The day of the wedding was warm and sunny, and I remember the almond blossom was in full bloom. Barbara and Leslie lived at home with the rest of the family as accommodation was impossible to find. Shortly after this, Jack was demobbed and he too came to live at home so that we had quite a house-full.

I continued to travel to school on the underground, and had a train pass which enabled me to obtain half-fare on the train. I had to get a special form from the ticket office and get the Headmistress to sign it on the first day of each term. So it was that on the first day of my last term I presented the form to the Head who told me to come back later when she had signed it. Accordingly I went to her office after school had finished, but she was not there so I had to go home without it. I was very annoyed and couldn't see why my parents should have to pay the full fare for me just because she hadn't yet signed the form, so I got on the train without a ticket and when I got to Golders Green station I told the ticket-collector that I had got ON the train at Euston station and offered the money for the fare which was about half the full fare from Elephant and Castle. I was obviously not a very convincing liar, for he began to question me. "Did you go down to the train by lift or escalator" I told him "By escalator'. it appeared that there was no escalator at Euston so I suppose I should have replied "It's a fair cop" and held out my hands for the hand-cuffs. However the ticket-collector turned out to be an Inspector named Mr. Nice and he insisted on accompanying me home to tell my parents. Eventually I received a summons to attend a local Magistrates Court where I received a fine which of course Dad had to pay. The day after my brush with Mr. Nice I was able to collect my signed form from school and travel for half-fare. And I suppose I now have “form”, and a criminal record. I still feel hard-done by about that.

Next Page Previous Page