I joined Lancing in January 1943 in Ludlow and entered Second's House at Caynham Court. The school was in evacuation from its home at Lancing which had been taken over by the Navy to become HMS King Alfred. The school was spread between four, rather splendid, country houses to the south and east of Ludlow. The Headquarters and Gibbs’ and Olds Houses were located at Moor Park, which had been a school and had appropriate facilities, Field's was in Overton Lodge nearby and Sanderson's enjoyed a riverside setting at Ashford Court. Second's at Caynham was the most distant at about five miles. Each house was made up of about 32 boys.
We were instantly a bicycle-based society. Moor Park had sufficient space for the whole school to assemble there for school work in the mornings, five days a week. Then we all went back to our own houses for lunch. Afternoons were mostly held under house arrangements for school work, clubs and maybe some sort of sport. Away from Moor Park sports facilities were very limited. Senior games were generally played at Ludlow Grammar School, which also made laboratory facilities available. The means of connecting all these activities was the bicycle, endlessly criss-crossing the area. For those of us at Caynham this could easily be 200 miles a week, with perhaps more for recreation at weekends
In Second's House we felt Caynham Court to be the centre of our world. Lancing College was five tedious miles away where we just went for work and then got out again. Our House Master was the dedicated E B Gordon (Gordo) who worked for us in the widest sense and far beyond the call of duty. We became semi-autonomous and fiercely self sufficient. Gordo extended great trust to us over movement and general activity. We could and did roam everywhere on our bikes. Apart from our insensitive reaction to a major air crash late in the war, we did not abuse that trust and were the stronger for it.
Then suddenly our almost surreal school world at Caynham was over. In May 1945 we were reoccupying the Lancing College of mythology that few of us had ever seen. It was a shock and gone for ever was the extraordinary freedom we had enjoyed. Our arrival was coincident with VE Day and my recollections of that are merged in the general explosive expansion of our world. We knew it was coming and the heat was already off. My father was back from the Atlantic War and was in Scotland in an appointment that took on the further training of the output of HMS King Alfred at Lancing
I had loved the little town of Ludlow that had been my home town at a time when my family didn't have a home, and I still regard it as such. I had loved its castle with its gory history, its wobbly streets and the riverside bridges. I had been in awe of the great St Laurence's Church where, with knocking knees, as a New Boy I had read the first lesson of our Christmas Festival of Lessons and Carols. I remembered De Grey's Tearooms when my Mother came, and buying my first books when I had a few shillings. I had explored endlessly the surrounding countryside of A E Houseman. I had been to Wenlock Edge and known Summertime on Breedon. I was an honorary Shropshire Lad.
But now we were back at Lancing. The buildings were almost overwhelming. The Chapel was magnetic and with the clock it soon established an order and rhythm for our lives. The school quickly resumed its corporate identity from the loose federation that it had obtained in Ludlow. The school now met collectively two or three times a day. The facilities seemed endless. From almost nothing now there was plenty. For work, sport or hobby everything was close at hand and the useable day seemed twice as long. For clubs some of us spent hours knocking down the brick blast-walls that protected the ground floor windows. For Second's House woodcutters the felling axe was succeeded by the sledge hammer as we happily bashed away with no protective clothing, but we were experienced and no one got hurt. There was much clearing up after the Navy and I had an interesting job as a gofer during the rebuilding of the organ.
The Chapel was a wonderful enigma that immediately cast its spell. I was co-opted into the choir where Jasper Rooper's enthusiasm sparked the life long love of music that is with me to this day. There were two services on weekdays and three on Sundays. It demanded much of my time and established a rhythm that was almost monastic, and I loved it. Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears were occasional visitors who helped the choir and even sang with us.
I progressed in the Corp (OTC). I helped reclaim the jungle from the full-bore rifle range in the Ladywell and joined the shooting squad. I played squash, tennis and Eton Fives, but I never excelled at team games. There was endless cross country running and my first experience of the annual five mile with its amphibious, dyke field finish There was swimming in the pool and athletics. There was even a school dance where we came face to face with --- girls! This was an essay in awkwardness. How times change.
Gordo, ever the eccentric, had a Caxton Mark I printing press installed in the southern tower of the Chapel, about sixty feet up. It must have taken divine assistance to get it there. He recruited me to fetch and carry all the supplies. Walking at night along the triforium with a winter gale rattling the temporary green glass and only a feeble torch, would have scared Quasimodo. It certainly did me. Gordo turned out such beautiful printing that the words did not matter; the printing alone was a work of art.
I soon became so involved with all my activities that I came not to miss my former freedoms quite so much The winters were evil and the heating a constant problem, but I earned the privacy of a pitt under Great School and I was happy. I enjoyed the duties that senior boys did and managed to qualify for Sandhurst. I enjoyed a unique and varied education and was well set up for life. But to this day if I hear 'Lancing' the first response that pops up in my head is Second's at Caynham Court.
06 May 2020