The Nostalgia Column with Margaret Watson: Fond memories of school days

TO CHEER readers up during lockdown I thought I would look through my old files to find pictures which will remind readers of happier days.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 12:24 pm
The happiest days of your life: This photograph of pupils of St Paulinus School taken in 1946, just after the war, was kindly loaned by Molly Biggs (nee Breheney), now living in Cornwall. She organised a class reunion in 1988 and many of those pictured were present at it. Molly is not pictured because she was off school at the time.
The happiest days of your life: This photograph of pupils of St Paulinus School taken in 1946, just after the war, was kindly loaned by Molly Biggs (nee Breheney), now living in Cornwall. She organised a class reunion in 1988 and many of those pictured were present at it. Molly is not pictured because she was off school at the time.

This one of St Paulinus School in Westtown, long since demolished, was taken in 1946 when school uniforms were not compulsory.

It was the end of the war, and people were beginning to smile again, just as we will be once we’ve all been vaccinated.

I didn’t go to St Paulinus School, but many of my old friends did, including Molly Breheney who sent me the photograph some years ago.

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Margaret Watson.

But, no matter which school you may have gone to, I’m sure you enjoy looking at other people’s old school photographs.

These young boys in short trousers and girls wearing ankle socks with their hair tied back in plaits, speak of a bygone age.

Just looking at them brings back happy memories of school days and also gets the grey cells going as we try to recall them.

But, no matter how absent-minded we may become as we get older, we never forget the names of those we went to school with.

Most of us had a special friend to whom we stuck to like glue and with whom we shared most of our childhood years.

Of course, as we grew up and started working and became more independent memories of our school days faded. But now and again we remember our “best friends” and sometimes we hear the sad news that one of them has passed away.

If I was asked to name every child who was in my class at school, I’m sure I could remember them all.

Some meant more to me than most, like Pat Donlan, Ivy Cox, Marlene Armitage, Margaret Cosgrove, Rosemary Moffatt and Bernadette Forde, all very dear friends. We all went our separate ways, but as we get older we yearn to recapture those days of childhood, to renew old friendships.

This why people like Molly Breheney, an old friend of mine was always talking about getting her old school friends together again.

In 1988 when she celebrated her 50th birthday she did eventually organise a reunion of all her classmates from St Paulinus School.

Molly, 83, now lives in Newquay where she is cared for by her elder daughter Tracey, and her son, Timothy, who lives nearby.

She often used to talk to me about her memories of St Paulinus School, and her son, Mark, tells me she is delighted I am using the photograph again.

Molly loved the school, despite the strict discipline there, and was always grateful for the brilliant teachers who taught there, especially Mother Gerard, who was headmistress.

“I never forgot Mother Gerard who always carried a big cane which the children were terrified of, but I thought she was lovely,” recalled Molly.

“She had large rosary beads fastened round her waist, and you could hear the swish of her skirts and the clattering of her beads as she dashed along the corridors. She was a stickler for discipline.”

Molly also remembered the lovely blazing open fire in the infant class, a welcoming sight to children on cold winter mornings, which they would sit around listening to teachers reading stories. She also remembered the downside of studying in a Victorian school with no mod cons and outside toilets which were in a terrible condition.

“I remember my mother campaigning for inside toilet, and going on and on about it until eventually she won and we got our nice inside toilets.”

Molly, now 83, also recalled her happy childhood living in Boothroyd lane, surrounded by good neighbours who all helped each other.

She said: “I remember one neighbour who we called Auntie Jane, but she wasn’t really related to us.

“She used to pass our house on her way to the outside toilet, and on her way back would pop in and offer to do a bit of ironing for my mother. People were like that in those days.

“They were always bobbing in and out and asking if there was anything they could do to help.”

She remembered the neighbours running into their house when the air raid sirens sounded during the war and taking shelter in their cellar.

“Nobody asked if they could shelter with us, they just ran in and went straight down the cellar and we were all huddled there together.”

Some of the children Molly remembers from St Paulinus School include: Tony Murphy, Mary Toole, Alan Wilson, Anne Jennings, Pat Corrigan, Claire Kelly, Colin Vasey, David Leadbetter, Ellen Cunningham, Elizabeth Rylah, George Webster, John Oates, John Early, James Brannan, Kathleen Taylor, Margaret Popplewell, Michael Lyons, Michael Taylor, Maureen Smith, Maureen Holdsworth, Pat Spencer, Patrick Maguire, Paul Smith, Peter Makin, Peter Ramsden, Peter Burns and Terence Morel.

The reason I include all their names is because I know it will give pleasure to them and their families to know they haven’t been forgotten.

Unfortunately, Molly is not in the picture because she was off school at the time the photographer came to take it.

Molly, who is enjoying her life in Cornwall, is delighted I am showing the picture again, and cannot wait to read the article. She sends her love to you all.