Before The War - My Young Days

Mary Tolman's memories of a brutish schoolmaster

By Mary Tolman

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Before The War - My Young Days' page

This sounds amazing, I can remember my first day at school. I was a very nervous child, but to go somewhere different was exciting. My much older sister pushed the push chair with my younger sister in it. I started humming, my mum said ‘you won’t be doing that for long’  It was nice to sit among other children when lunch time arrived. I had finished my two jam sandwiches, we always had jam. Anyhow I was sitting there when I suddenly could smell  something I had never smelt before, so I got up and followed the smell and I saw these children drinking out of mugs. I went in and sat down and just enjoyed the smell. Then this lady came over and said ‘can I get you some cocoa?’  I said to her ‘I haven’t got any money, my Mum hasn’t got much money’  She said ‘alright’, then the next minute she came over with half a cup of cocoa in a black and white enamel mug, and said ‘you gave me such a lovely smile’  When Mum came to meet me and I told her, she said ‘please don’t go in there again, she will think you are begging’. So that was my first and last cocoa for a long time.

Not long after that we moved and went to live in the New Forest. It was a lovely village with two shops and one public house. We used to walk miles in the forest, we knew the name of every gate leading into the forest. To go to school each day we crossed six bridges and one station bridge .

When I was thirteen I had my worst day at school. Our schoolmaster was a brute, he scared everyone. On this dreadful afternoon he stood in front of the class with a very large history book in his hand. He said ‘we have fifteen minutes before you go home’. I always sat on the outside of the row, he started walking towards me. I sat there praying ‘please don’t ask me’. He said ‘alright miss, who is the King of England?’  I had no idea and I shook and said ‘Julius Caesar’.  Down came the very large book and he smashed it on my head. I slit my eye on the inkpot, the blood was everywhere and he just walked away, He didn’t look back. My sisters took me home and then my nerves just got worse. I was sent to hospital for six weeks, then away for a few months. So for me, school was over.

Thank goodness when I did start work I always came out on top.

Mary Tolman

To read about Mary's wartime memories of working in the Land Army please click here.

This page was added by John Cheves on 07/06/2010.

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