Doug Birch MBE

1941 Memories from Doug Birch MBE
Chairman of Brownhills Local Committee

I started at the Senior Boys school in December 1941 aged 11 and at that time classes were streamed 1a, 2a, 3a and 1b, 2b and 3b, I was placed in 1a. The first ordeal was the ‘Torture Tree’ all new starters had to go through this initiation procedure. No matter how fast new boys could run, few escaped the repeated pummelling they received while held in the fork of the oak tree situated at the western end of the playground. Despite its unhappy reputation the tree should be preserved as a local heritage feature next to the playground where Parade View now stands were the headquarters of the 2nd Brownhills Boy scouts houses in a World War 1 ex-army hut and the Civil Defence headquarters. Also on that site was the local Fire Brigade.


Headmaster ‘Harry’ Wright — a fair but strong disciplinarian, taught mathematics and used a thick cane with a curved handle on a daily basis, particularly for inattention or slowness to learn. Running along corridors was also a caning offence.

‘Danny’ Marklew — also a long serving member of Brownhills Urban District Council. A tall gangly man and a good teacher of Geography, a strict and frequent user of another thick cane.

‘Billie’ Hazard — a thick hatchet faced man with a sour disposition, wore rimless glasses , taught English.

‘Joe’ Stockley' — taught History and Science, a reasonably kind man and an infrequent user of the cane. He had a private study between the Science and History rooms and being a keen ballroom dancer he practiced his steps with an imaginary partner during lunch breaks. Naughty pupils would sneak into the science room and watch him through the keyhole.

‘Sam’ Seedhouse — A kind and gentle man respected by all even the roughest of pupils. He taught music and singing and never used the cane. He introduced us all to the beauty of music and taught us of the great composers, I certainly have a great deal to thank him for leaving me with unforgettable memories and skills I use to this day.

Mr Jones — another pupil friendly teacher who gained results without resorting the cane. His woodworking skills certainly registered with me and I still have a stool made in oak by myself in the workshop. He also taught me how to use the treadle operated woodturning lathe to a very limited degree.

The metal work room on the ground floor was not used during the war years presumably due to the scarcity of materials, however the room was well equipped with a metal turning treadle lathe, blacksmiths hearth etc.

Mr Pugh — taught art and physical education, an inspirational man well before his time, never used the cane, he led by example. He was the only man I knew who could lead his pupils on a cross-country run without getting off his bike.

Playground games - Five Jacks, Marbles, Conkers, Football, kicking around an old tennis ball. I don't recall the school having any organised football teams in the competitive sense at that time.

Possession of a leather case ball was extremely rare. Winter snow and ice resulted in pupils making long slides some fifty yards long or more, there were frequent falls, all part of the fun. Health and safety would not allow it nowadays. In the summer we played cricket using hinged wickets and bats made in the woodwork room and tennis balls.

Prior to the 1944 Education Act specifically directed toward improving the lot of the children of the war years including the progressive rising of the school leaving age firstly to 15 and then 16, the majority of pupils at Secondary Schools left school at age 14. As far as the boys were concerned the majority found work at local collieries and factories. Some, whose parents could afford the associated travel expenses, went onto further education at technical or Commercial College. It should be remembered that many of the boy’s fathers worked at local pits and during the war a fully skilled fitter, electrician or miner was on a basic wage of not more than £4 — 10 shillings per week therefore an extra wage was extremely useful to most families.

I left school at Christmas 1944 and started as a fitters mate in the fitting shop at the Wryley Grove Colliery and my wages for five days 6.45am — 4.15pm and Saturday morning 6.45am — 12.30 pm was £1 - 12 shillings and 6 pence. I worked in the industry until taking early retirement 31st March 1987.

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