Old friends reunited after 60 years out of uniform

Back row from left, David Lang, Barrie Ward, David Thornton, David S Thornton, Allan Kelly, Terry O'Donnell, Peter Spawforth.'Front row, Trevor Edmands, Dick Caithness, Chas Keighley, Bernard Reid and Peter Sowden.
Back row from left, David Lang, Barrie Ward, David Thornton, David S Thornton, Allan Kelly, Terry O'Donnell, Peter Spawforth.'Front row, Trevor Edmands, Dick Caithness, Chas Keighley, Bernard Reid and Peter Sowden.
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SCHOOL reunions are all the rage but few people have attended a 60th anniversary get-together with old classmates aged 75.

The “B” stream at West Leeds Boys High School between 1947 and 1952 have reached that milestone after enjoying success in their careers after grammar school.

Yesterday they laughed about the old days as they met up in an hotel near Leeds.

They all agreed their education had been characterised by discipline and hard work but they wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

All were proud of their successes in life and had nothing but praise for their long-suffering teachers.

Retired Leeds architect Peter Spawforth said 1952 was a good year to leave school.

“Everybody knew they would leave school and get a job. You just decided what you were best at and that was the field you would go into. Going to university was not the main option, only a few went.”

He credits the teachers with helping him fulfil his potential.

“The teachers were very strict; a lot of them had served in the First World War and were fairly old. If you did something wrong, such as chattering, you would get six slaps with a plimsoll by the gym master over the vaulting horse.”

Other punishments included being hit with a wooden blackboard duster or just a clip around the ear.

Of course, like anyone who suffered such punishment, the grammar school boys still swear it did them no harm.

In fact, they said it helped them focus on their work. “The teachers had the intention of getting the best out of us, which they did,” says Mr Spawforth.

Old boy David Thornton, 76, himself a former headteacher in Leeds, chatted yesterday with ex-schoolmates about changes in the educational system, confessing he is shocked what modern day teachers have to put up with.

“I had retired by 1986 but we never tolerated anything like the kind of abuse given today and there was never any attempt to assault a teacher. It was a much more deferential time. There was quite a lot of rulers on the knuckles and mild corporal punishment. There was discipline but it was fair.”

He added: “There is a lack of discipline these days, which prevents teachers teaching as they want to. In those days policemen and teachers were held in awe and respect. Manners have declined and people now shout obscenities in unison at Elland Road. In those days you would never hear the ‘F’ word.”

All the old West Leeds Boys agreed that talking with fellow 75-year-olds was an odd experience after all these years.

Allan Kelly admitted: “It was difficult recognising people at first. False teeth can alter a person’s face!”

And Barrie Ward, 76 on Wednesday, said: “To me they are all 14-year-old school kids, they are not 75-year-old men. Everyone looks super and it’s lovely to see people.”

The conversation rarely turned to careers and jobs, as if the intervening years never happened.

Instead, they focused on the teenage years.

Mr Spawforth chuckled as he remembered the strict dress code, which meant school caps had to be worn at all times.

He and a friend found themselves before the headmaster for riding home cap-less on their 99cc Corgi scooters.

“We were both 16 and were told we had to go down the road on our scooters while wearing our school caps.”

Although some of the old boys are no longer around – a couple died before the 60th anniversary – those who remain are in remarkably good health.

Terry O’Donnell puts his longevity down to sparse portions in the war years, adding: “Food was basic, we ate everything and there was no hygiene. I remember my mucky fingerprints on my sandwich.”

Teachers linger in memories

TEACHERS feature strongly in the memories of those who attended West Leeds Boys High.

As well as Miss Nutter the divinity teacher, there was “Long” John Wilson, a headteacher called Barnshaw and a much-loved music teacher known as “Basher” Bainbridge – although no-one knows where the nickname came from.

Art teacher Mr Mounsden is still remembered with affection – his influence was such that a number of his pupils went on to jobs where artistic flair was required, including architect and illustrator.

Pupil David Thornton went on to illustrate children’s books.

Architect David Spawforth said: “He had a tremendous influence on us.”