The Baby Boomers

The 1950s grew from a shaky start. Some of the pupils who had been evacuated to Cheltenham returned to their homes, but the the years of the baby boom, the late 40s  and early 50s, promoted an expansion of housing in and around Cheltenham and this, together with a greater feeling of security and settlement, helped to keep up the pupil numbers at Airthrie.

Twins Harry and John Malone moved to Cheltenham from Holland and attended Airthrie during 1955 and 56.  Regrettably, John passed away in Canada in July 2014 after a short but aggressive illness, but when his daughter was sorting out his effects she came across a school cap. She did not know where it was from but sent a photo of it to her uncle, John's twin brother Harry (who lives in Queensland, Australia) and this act opened a new chapter on 'Airthrie in the 50s'.  Harry was able to tell her that the cap was from Airthrie in Cheltenham which was their first UK school after leaving Holland.  Although their father was British, a Colonel in the Indian army educated at Edinburgh and Sandhurst, their mother was Dutch.  They had met in Singapore after the Second World War, following her release from a Japanese camp in (Dutch) Indonesia where she had been interned for the duration of the war. When her husband was re-posted, she returned to Holland, but later moved to the UK.  At the time that Harry and John arrived in Cheltenham, they did not speak English, but like most 7 year olds they quickly assimilated and their rapid progress was documented in their 1955 Spring school report signed by J N Browne (Joey).  “Harry is overcoming the language difficulty.  We are very pleased with his progress”.

Although their mother’s address at that time was Lypiatt Terrace, Cheltenham, just a ten minute walk from the school, Harry believes that they were weekly boarders; not unusual at this time for army families and borne out by the advice at the bottom 'Boarders return May 3rd'.  At the time, Airthrie was a pre-preparatory school, so both Harry and John later went on to attend both Dean Close Junior and Senior Colleges.  After establishing a career in the UK, Harry made the decision in September 1973 to emigrate to Auckland, New Zealand with his wife and young sons. There they founded and ran a very successful bar code labelling business. They are now retired in Queensland, Australia.  John went to the International School in Brussels where he gained the necessary qualification for entrance to UBC in Vancouver Canada. Later, based in Edmonton, he became an excellent motor mechanic and spent many years working in Brazil, Korea and other 3rd world countries.

Harry writes "My memories are of a warm, friendly house with a wide staircase. There were hardly any pupils and it was literally our home since our mother, although living not far from us at Lypiatt Terrace found it more convenient to have us boarding.  Don’t ask why, I've got no idea.  I also remember the garden at the back being very pleasant. It gave us the love and understanding that we needed whilst away from our parents".  Letters home, an old boarding school habit that increased in value during the war years, continued on a weekly basis. 

John and Harry's story illustrate the subtly post-war shift towards increasing mobility; brought about by improvements - namely increased availability and affordability - both in general travel and in personal transport.  Both other resources were slow in coming and by comparison with the availability today of information through technology, classroom resources were scarce and expensive.  Many raw materials were rationed (sweet rationing continued until 1949) and printed educational materials were equally difficult to resource.  There was a shortage of all manufactured goods as factories found it difficult to re-establish the markets that allowed them to change back from producing war materials to producing everyday goods.  The teaching staff were used to wartime shortages and placed great emphasis on home-made teaching aids - and re-cycling materials for writing, drawing and painting.

Another of the biggest differences was the garden, which would be unrecognisable today.  Much smaller then, and without any of the garden structures or slides, the children had to invent many of their own games.  In the area now occupied by the large tree-house and slide was a great tree (sadly killed by the severe winter temperatures of the late seventies) around which the children played a game called “I Scream for Ice-Cream!".  One of the memories of John Bate-Williams, a pupil from 1956-1960, is of the fun they had in the garden, belonging to gangs, identified by which way you wore your cap - peak to the left, or peak to the right!  (It was from the garden that the pupils watched the Total Eclipse in 1954). There were, of course, no large areas of paving and, during the winter months, patches of lawn were scuffed away and the resulting large muddy depressions filled with water, giving an impression more of the battlefield of Passchendaele than a school lawn.  The remedy to this was the construction of the 'Boot Room' where long tiered wooden racks were constructed in the old coke-fired boiler room. The boiler, with its massive two inch iron pipes surrounding the room at low and high level was still there in the early 1980s, when one particularly cold Christmas, as the school lay empty, the huge feeder tank in the roof burst and the resultant flood brought down ceilings and lifted floors in most of the rooms below.

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