Received: 2021 (by email)
In summer 1939 with my younger brother T. Frank W. Benson (editor Esmeduna Sep ’43 - July ’44), I attended the school camp in Glen Mooar in the Isle of Man, near Kirk Michael; previously we had never been further from our Liverpool home than Loggerheads in Flintshire near Mold. I remember nothing of the crossing or getting to the camp site, save that the bell tents were already pitched and we had to fill our palliasses with straw to sleep on. A posse of old boys helped the staff with the running of the camp, among them Doc Smerdon, Jerry Logan, Vordy Kinnish, himself a Manxman. Logan eventually became principal of UCL., Smerdon did become a doctor, (he was an Oxford medical student at the time).
A stream ran through Glen Mooar with a waterfall Spooyt Vane (White Spout) further up. We obtained our drinking water from the stream and I remember we used to have to top up the water tank from the stream by means of a chain-gang of campers passing buckets up & down the hill and there were also potato peeling chores for us to help with. There was a hired cook who dealt with the catering, no doubt supervised by the school staff. I don’t recall ever feeling under-fed at the camp and certainly the fresh air sharpened the appetite. The masters who supervised the business were Tubby Holgate, Sid Chalk (swimming & P.E.), Sergeant Johnson (tuck shop), Biddy Jennings (who looked after the campers’ pocket money), Gussie Bowman, Mobe Mansell & Bertie Bowden; Don Garrow, the secretary of COBA, was there too with his ancient car.
The latrines were trenches dug about 5 feet deep topped with a framework about chair height capped by a surface pierced with holes suitable for their use. There was one for staff, one for the pupils, which could accommodate 12 seated, and one for the Old Boys with 6. On top of the bluff, where they had their tents the old boys had dug theirs, at right angles to the shore but rather close to where the bluff descended to the beach. One day when two of them were engaged there, one at either end of the six-seater, the cliff fell away under the one at the sea end and while the other balanced him, he had to crawl back till he reached safety. They rebuilt it in a better position, for sure.
Sing-songs seem to have been a regular feature and I remember many of the words, some produced by the fertile imaginations of the old boys, who usually led the singing. One of their songs, sung to the tune of Widdicombe Fair was (as far as I recall it):
Don Garrow, Don Garrow, please lend me your old can;
Although it’s ancient it will go quite far.
It’ll go to Glen Wyllin to meet my old Ma,
With Tubby Holgate, Biddy Jennings, Sergeant Johnson, Gussie Bowman, Sid Chalk,
And old Moby Mansell and all, and old Moby Mansell and all
It got to the road and it started to sway,
Old Biddy Jennings went green with dismay.
The tyres they went flat and the springs they gave way,
With Tubby &c &c
There were more verses but they evade my recall. I vaguely remember a request to Mr Chalk for permission to play on his raft, the swimming aid moored near the beach, which ended something like ….but please do not make me look daft.
Another, to a tune I know but can’t name, ran:
We are the boys who used to be
Swished by the Head and the old VP,
Up the old Collegiates,
Swish, whack, swish, whack, Ow!
“Crouch down, form fours”,
Old Chalky roared as we’re doing PT .
We are the boys who never shirk,
Any scientific work.
Up the old Collegiates,
How old are you now? (Seemingly a regular question of Mr Jennings’)
Again there were other verses like We are the boys who scoff pea-whack, Look at the way we knock its back, lost to me I fear.
A firm favourite was the Darky Sunday School, to be found in the Oxford Book of Light Verse and no doubt nowadays totally unacceptably non-PC. Regardless of the chorus which alone might unsettle the sensitive listener, the tales were wonderful travesties of or skits on real Biblical tales ― Adam, Noah, Esau & Jacob, Pharaoh’s daughter & Moses, Joseph, Gehu & Jezebel, Solomon & the Queen of Sheba, David & Goliath, Jonah & the whale, Elijah, Salome ― I still remember most of them, but I have since collected a list of 128 from the internet, some being variants of one theme but most of them different . Here are a few, if you haven’t met any before:
Adam was the first man and he lived all alone,
Till God made Eve out of Adam’s collar bone.
After that happening he had no cause to grieve,
For he rose in the
morning and went to bed with Eve!
Solomon & David led most wicked lives;
They flirted with the pretty girls & other people’s wives.
When they grew old & grey their consciences had qualms,
So Solomon wrote the Proverbs & David wrote the Psalms.
Samson was a husky guy, as everyone should know.
He used to lift 300 pounds as strong man in the show.
One week the bill was rotten, all the actors had a souse,
But the strong man act of Samson’s, it just brought down the house.
There was too, sung to the tune I’ll sing you one oh!
Twelve for the joys of camping, Eleven for the tents whose poles are bent, And ten for the physical training, Nine for the tea that chokes you & me, And eight for the potato peelers, Seven for the pop in sergeant’s shop, And six for the tam o’shanters, Five for the rafts that are so daft And four for the prunes & custard, Three the lazy O-o-o-old Boys, Two, two for Tubby’s shorts all in velveteen-oh, One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so.
Another to the tune D’ye ken John Peel? had the chorus:
For the sound of the whistle brought me from my bed,
And the smell of the kippers, which were not quite dead.
And you stand in the queue and wait for your bread,
With you knife and your fork in the morning
But what other verses there were I cannot now recall.
Another sung to the then current song Little Sir Echo (I remember two verses only) was:
Please Mr Jennings can I have two bob?
Oh no! Oh no!
I want to buy something to fill up my gob.
So no! So no! So No! so no!
Why don’t you go out & play?
You might get two bob when you go into town
But that’s ever so far away.
Please, Dr Smerdon, I’m feeling low,
Oh oh! oh oh!
It must be the duff we had two days ago,
Oh oh, oh oh, oh oh, oh oh!
Please, can’t you make me all right?
I’ll take some cascara or two number nines,
But see they don’t act in the night.
We did make organised trips from the camp, one to Ramsey, one to Peel, I believe. We may have glimpsed the great Laxey wheel but I can’t be sure. Naturally there were camp activities and sporting events organised promoting friendly rivalries and keeping us suitably occupied and out of mischief; my favourite was that hilarious variety of cricket, tip & run. My brother, then an ex- fourth former, spent a lot of time with his friends sliding down the bluff in the reddish soil, so much so that his white shorts became dyed by the iron oxide of the soil and my mother never was able to get them white again. Our time was spent mainly in Glen Mooar itself amusing ourselves or being amused by the activities provided, but I did go with my him into Kirk Michael for tea, something we had rarely experienced at home, and being non-plused at what to have, the kindly lady suggested baked beans on toast, something we had never tasted before, and which we both really enjoyed. It may seem strange our not having them until then, but we lived in the home of our blind grandfather, who couldn’t have managed to cope with such slippery customers at the table.
What I especially remember is my joining a party of hefty upper sixth formers and hiking from the camp to the top of Snaefell & back in a day, at least 10 miles all round as the crow flies. As probably the least tall of the group I had to stretch my legs to keep up with the pace they set, but the result was that I did end up with a lengthened stride. It was certainly the furthest I had ever walked anywhere, and since then I have done much hill walking with cadets on Arduous (later Adventurous) Training in Snowdonia, The Lakes, The High Peak, Dartmoor & Brecon.
Our return to Liverpool was not destined to be a return to normal, of course, for the Second World War was looming ahead and the even greater adventure of evacuation to Bangor, which we both really did enjoy not only because we were taken in by a splendid old Welsh mother & her daughter in Upper Bangor, with whom we remained on visiting terms for many years, but also because we took full advantage of the wonderful countryside into which we had been plunged.
© Liverpool Collegiate Old Boys' Association (2018)