School memories

Terry Harris

Terry Harris

First published in Pontypool news by

A FORMER Torfaen school pupil who resides in New Zealand and keeps up to date with local news through The Free Press website has written to us after hearing his former school is due to close.

Formerly from the Race, Terry Harris - who started at Pontymoile Primary School some 68 years ago - put his feelings down on page.

“On today's web, I saw of the impending closure of the Pontymoile Primary School.

When I less than graced it's walls, over sixty years since, it was known, I think, as Pontymoile Junior Mixed.

It's strange, that these many years later, I can clearly remember the day I started at Pontymoile school, just after the war's end.

How lucky we were, at the end of those war torn years, not that we realised it then though. Food was rationed, yet every family grew vegetables and many kept chickens and a pig. One thing we did have was Pontymoile school lunches that were a Godsend to many poor families in those post Hitler deprived years. Always preceded by prayers from a teacher, often Miss Stark.

Who can forget the cold ham and mashed potatoes and beetroot, and the semolina, frog eggish pudding. Wholesome food and for some, life giving food, and all for about one shilling (20p) a week.

I was once sent to the headmaster Mr Evans’ office.

To be sent to Mr Evans’ office was to know real fear and the certainty that the trip was not going to end in a forgiving pat on the head.

Mr Evans had seen the horrors of the Great War on the Somme and had come back home to Pontypool minus his left arm and some thought, his sense of humour.

Three cuts were delivered with best enthusiasm to each hand. I wasn't going to cry but the pain was hard to bear.

Hands tight gripped, I heard not a sound of what Mr Haines was teaching. As the end of class neared, three large welts had appeared on each hand.

The right hand learned to write with a pen dipped into an inkwell in those days, lovely copper script as we all did, in those times of blotting paper and patience.

Beneath the main school and next to the boiler room, looked after by the kindly old Mr Willoughby, was the woodwork shop of Mr Smith, who had tried years earlier to induce some skill into my dad. Handy, when the old man came to trim a Norway for a flat or a prop at the Mynydd Maen colliery.

Another there, who taught my dad, was Darky Davies, a tall black haired man who loved to bowl a cricket ball to the boys for fun.

My father Tom had started his schooling in about 1913 at the old stone school opposite the Pontymoile patch playfield, where I attended Sunday school, taught by Monica of the Blaendare Road shop.

All long gone now, together with the stone railway bridge over which we crossed on our once a year ride in the old saddle tank steam engine train to Barry Island, with newly whitened daps and the day's sandwiches wrapped in newspaper, which sometimes lasted until Griffithstown.

Georgie Jarvis' classroom was graced with a stuffed badger and fox in a case on the back wall. A stocky and lovely man Mr Jarvis would sometimes in the summer, take some of us in his Morris car, four in the front and six in the back, to the Griffithstown swimming baths.

Of times in summer, Ben, the long suffering caretaker, would have lost the water treatment battle which saw the liquid an uninviting green. Mr Jarvis, goggles on eyes, plugs in ears, would distance himself to enjoy a spluttering swim, while we did as we wished with not a safety nor a health inspector in sight and how we thrived.

Never a more genial and kindly teacher have I met as Mr Cuthbert Williams. Sometimes in his class, watching the top of plum pudding hill with its deep worn countless wheeled track to Penyrheol and lost in another hazy summer's dream, until Mr Williams brought me back to the living.

'I really don't know Harris, if you worked as much as you did dream, you'd be a hopeful boy, instead of a helpless one,' he would say.

Much has changed in those fifty years since I left my home and rounded the world, before air travel reduced it's size.

Though I have returned several times, in my mind's eye, Pontypool, my real home, is just as it was then.

Last time I was in Pontymoile school was the summer school holidays of 1976, I decided to have a look at my old alma mater. It was open and a cleaner was there, Mrs Douglas who I knew as a boy. I walked through it and memories came flooding back.

Goodbye then, Pontymoile School. Built by better men, in better times.

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