Memories of War
In August 2011 Tamsin Astbury, Publications Officer, put out a call for alumni wartime memories.
"Earlier this year I received a letter from Robert F. Clark (m. 1943) in which he explained that his time at Cambridge, although precious had been short: ‘At the end of the war I tried to return to complete my course. I was told that there was a 5 year waiting list. I had to move on with my life.’ Robert’s experience was like so many, the course of whose lives the War resolutely diverted. This letter inspired me to gather the recollections of those who matriculated at Christ’s in the years closely preceding, during and following the Second World War. The resulting article in Pieces, Issue 21, reflected only a small sample of the memories we received. On this webpage you will find all the memories in full, plus images and photos from the time and extracts from alumni publications.
If you like to contribute your memories to the project please send them to the Publications Officer at email@example.com. I would like to thank all the alumni who kindly contributed to this project.
Tamsin Astbury, Publications Officer"
View of Christ's roof, covered with ladders in case of fire, taken by Jim Long circa 1942 (provided by William Goodhugh Dawson)
Christ's Cricket Team - from Dennis Buckland
'Christ's cricket team from 1941, which also included players from the Catholic theological college (which we think was called St Edmund's House):
Standing: [Groundsman], unknown, unknown, unknown, Dennis Buckland
Seated: unknown (from St Edmund's House), unknown, Sidney Grose, Maurice Wiles, Sargeant On ground: unknown (from St Edmund's House), unknown'
R. F. Clark and George Kemp - Royal Engineers Short Course
Christ's College Rugby Team- donated by Ray Crabtree who writes:
"David England was a blue and later played for England. The team was strengthened by members from St Edmunds House (Owen, Shepherd and Manion) who were then attached to the College. Geoffry Baldwin was my best man in 1959 and I am in infrequent contact with Norman Dennis ..."
The memories can be accessed by clicking on the names below:
'Lying in bed in the early hours of the night, hearing wave upon wave of heavy bombers flying over to targets in Germany. And then in the early morning, hearing them returning, distressingly in far fewer numbers...'
'It was the first May Week in 1946 after the end of the Second World War. I was asked by the Master, Canon Raven, to entertain Lord Louis Mountbatten in a private room in College. I did not entertain him. He entertained me. I poured the College sherry. I remember it well...'
'My stay in Cambridge was brief - late September 1943 to end of March 1944. It was a part of my training for a short service commission in the Royal Engineers and the War Office decreed that I should have some knowledge of civil engineering...'
'1 1940: My London school evacuated to Somerset, but my parents were allowed to send me to Midhurst, West Sussex, where my father had relatives. So I went to Midhurst Grammar School.
2 It was not just a day school, it was also a boarding school. The headmaster secured me a scholarship, so I stayed on in the sixth form, which I could not have done in London…'
'My first year at Christ’s in 1942-43 was in the middle of the war and the college was largely empty apart from a large contingent of RAF cadets. My two best friends were Peter Baelz who was a conscientious objector and Eric Heaton who was meant to be medically unfit. The most obvious symptom of war was food rationing: we had to have all our meals in Hall and I became very tired of Herrings for breakfast...'
'Phone conversation with Cecil Gleaves:
Cecil joined the Army in 1943 and served in the Far East where he got Malaria and Dysentery Consequently missed Michalemas Term of 1946 so came back to Cambridge second term 1947. His friend who had got back earlier because he was wounded leant him his notes..'
'70 years ago meetings between Master and undergraduate were less frequent in most Colleges than they now are, and for us Charles Raven was a remote and rather austere figure.
In the 1940’s and after there was an additional Long Vac. Term of six weeks, mostly for scientists and engineers. In the summer of 1945 I occupied one of the attic rooms in the Fellows’ Building (the term ‘kept in’ was falling into disuse)...'
'I was at Christ’s College from October 1941 till July 1942 aged 18-19 having been recruited by Captain Cave of the Rifle Brigade while at Charterhouse where I was in the LDV Home Guard and trained in the Officers Training Corps for half a day every week and obtained certificate A...'
'‘At ten o’clock every night I will lock the outer doors and securely fasten with a locking device approved by the Syndicate the windows of the ground-floor rooms occupied by members of the University in statu pupillari’...'
I went up to Christ’s under the ‘Y’ Scheme which was designed to give an educational opportunity to a few fortunate men who, at the age of 18, would otherwise have been fully conscripted. I assume there must also have been a desire to keep the Colleges functioning with a steady stream of undergraduates. Those chosen were deemed to show ‘OLQ’ (Officer-like qualities) although there were many more hurdles to clear before that goal would be achieved.
'I remember parading in naval uniform at St. Cats I disliked it very much and avoided it as much as possible, and tried at the same time to be keen. One had to exhibit the maximum amount of “O.L.Q’s” in the hope of graduating with a commission. “O.L.Q.’s” were “Officer Like Qualities” I’m afraid I was singularly lacking in them, and failed my commission at the first opportunity'
Memories of Christ’s College for 10 September Reunion 2011
Seven terms during the war. S.T.C (Senior Training Corps) was expected of everyone.
This involved “playing with” gelignite and guncotton to blow things up. Under instruction of sergeants from various Regiments of the Guards. And marching in step- which some found very difficult. But we were lucky. A sad letter from home told me of a school friend lost at sea in HMS Penelope.
Several things seem to me to have been very special.
All the graduates were put to follow the methods of trying to deal with looking after the roofs in the Colleges to try to put out and to send for help...Others joined the Home Guards. I joined the CAMS group many of which are at the time not very young...
'In October 1943 I travelled by train from London to Cambridge University to join No. 7 Royal Engineer six months short course. I had orders to present myself to the Porters’ Lodge at Christ’s College. After reporting I was then taken to my room that was in the Master’s House situated in quadrangle 5. The room was on the second floor and I would share it for the next six months with a fellow student named Nobby Clark...'
As a medical student studying Natural Sciences (m.1935) I knew Tibby (F.H.A. Marshall) rather well. During my year in College I lived in Third Court on the staircase adjacent to and overlooking the Fellows Garden on the fourth floor. Below my rooms were the rooms occupied by Tibby Marshall (second floor) and a Geologist Fellow named Rastall (third floor). [ Perhaps he could have been a relative of Richard Rastall whose article is on page 13?].
Our feature ‘Christ’s at War’ prompted the following letter from Dr Ian Milroy (m’56). Ian retired from the University of South Australia as Professor of Contro Systems Engineering...
'Members of the College may not be aware that the late Lord Louis Mountbatten was one of a select group of military officers who were resident at Christ’s during or shortly after the Second World War. They did not read for a degree, but attended an intensive series of short courses run by University staff. '
'I came to Christ’s in the Easter of 1945 to sit for my scholarship exhibition in History, resulting in the award of an Exhibition leading to entrance to the College in October 1945!
Perhaps therefore, my recollections are outside the particular ... of reference but I should like to record some of them in any case. The ... immediate post war experience reminds me of the unique blend of ex, servicemen and eighteen year olds fresh from school. This blend was truly beneficial to all...'
'Although the war had ended, even in the Pacific, rationing was still strict, and there were other remnants of the war days, and the rules that had been made then.
I joined the Boat Club, one of my better decisions, and at that time there was an agreement between the Colleges, and I think maybe also with Oxford, that rowing practice would be for three days a week only...'
'My own years at Christ’s (45’-48’) began just after the war ended but the after effects of the war lasted for a long time.
In the autumn of 1945, after the grey years of the war, the general mood was still one of austerity, products bearing the “utility” mark rationing etc. but now tempered with a hefty portion of optimism, fresh energy and confidence in the future'
'One night a bomb fell on Regents Street - the bomber flew up and down at low level, clearly looking for its target - rumours were that the pilot had been a student at Emma and was looking to bomb that college!'
'Since I matriculated in 1938 and War was not declared until Sept 1939, the beginning of my second, and regrettably, last year because of the accelerated emergency medical course, my wartime memories of Christ’s only comprise the pre-war year and the so-called phony war year 39-40, violently terminated by the Dunkirk evacuation. I remember seeing exhausted, disshevelled troops passing through Cambridge after the evacuation...'
'My Cambridge years were sandwiched between the war and immediately after. However, both experiences were very much affected by the war. I went up to Christ’s College as part of the fleet Air Arm recruitment program for pilots and observers.
Being only 17 and relatively innocent I was amazed when my gyp, when explaining the routines and customs, advised me that if a young lady stayed beyond 10:30 pm curfew, she would remain for the night and he would serve tea in the morning. Today women play a much more important role at Christ’s.'
'I came up to Christ’s at the age of 17 ½ in 1943 to study Mechanical Sciences. This was facilitated by a State Bursary which supported me handsomely in those days of austerity. It was a three year course crammed into 2 with the long vacation spent in work experience...'
'When war was declared on September 4th 1939 I was in Canada for a brief holiday and my return crossing was cancelled. An alternative trip on a neutral American ship was obtained but it made me late for Term. I arrived in Cambridge after dark on October 9th to my digs on Alexandra Street (now under Lion Yard complex)'
'In 1942 Cambridge seemed a million miles from war torn London. The train huffed and puffed out of a very tired looking Liverpool Street station and after an hour or so we were there. There was virtually no traffic on the streets of Cambridge and the people were mostly in uniform – many Americans and groups of RAF aircrew, their medal ribbons indicating feats of courage being performed daily...'
'I matriculated in October 1945, having secured deferment from call-up at the end of hostilities.
The notable memories I have are of being one of a sprinkling of young men straight out of school surrounded by a majority of ex-servicemen, some of whom had only seen a few years of conscription, but some of whom had been on active service in senior operational commands, in some cases for the whole of the war, and returned decorated with awards for bravery...'
'I arrived at Christ's at the beginning of October 1944 rather tenuously attached to my right arm. I had earlier suffered a serious pre RAF training accident, which led to a stay in an RAF emergency hospital followed by a lengthy convalescence. In fact, my injuries caused problems for the next few years.
Sadly my first days at college were scarred by the loss of my friend, Flying Officer Ronnie Naif, RAFVR who was killed when his Pathfinder Mosquito was shot down over Berlin on the night of 15/16 October 1944, ironically flying from an airfield near Cambridge.
Otherwise Christ's was a joy...'
'I was now coming to the end of school days and my father had registered me as a student to be in residence at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Somehow or other he organised this so that I need not join the forces as I would have a “reserved occupation” as an engineering student. Much as I would have liked to have gone up to Cambridge in October 1943 I was not happy to be “joining up”. It was then that I became aware of “Y Entry” into the Navy and that this would begin with university courses. I eventually got an interview at Downing College, Cambridge, which was chaired by the Master, Admiral Richmond...'
Memories of Christ’s College for 10September Reunion 2011
For me the ‘gap’ between school and university was five years spent on active service in the Army; it ended in Oct, 1945 with a very abrupt demobilisation, attending my first lecture just 48 hours after ending my military duties. The undergraduate constituency which joined was an astonishing amalgam of ex-servicemen and young ‘lads’ straight from school matriculating with me or in the second or third years. I am amazed (as I was then) that we all ‘gelled’ so naturally and happily, in all aspects of College life.
'I have now been here 24 hours so I will try to give you some idea of what I have done during my first day as an undergraduate.
My trunk arrived safely on Saturday morning. I have not seen my bike yet. You would not be surprised at that if you could see Cambridge Station. All the platforms are crowded with trunks and bicycles, especially the latter. I have never seen so many bicycles in my life. I have been up twice to see if I can see it but with no result. They are not delivering any bicycles until all the trunks have been disposed of...'
In 1943, RAF and other Short Courses spent half a year continuously in College- dipping into a world of ancient ways, an privileges as mysterious an unknown to some of us as Xanadu. It was a short and precocious joy: our names painted white on the stair head; the oak-panelled hall, and being looked down upon my Lady Margaret and all her noble dead; fathered by the Porters and mothered by my kindly Gyp, and being called “Sir” for the first time.
'I came to Christ’s overnight in December 1942 and Spring and Summer Terms 1943 to take the four parts of 1st MB Examination.
My first year from September 1943 including the wartime vacation term of 1944 was with Mr and Mrs Feetham at 12 Emmanuel Road. My second year with vacation term was in rooms H5 of 1st Court. The long vacation terms were to try and compress the normal 3 year Natural Science Tripos into 2 wartime years.'
A Code-breaker’s Tale
Larks Press, ISBN 0 948400 70 6
'I never intended to learn Japanese, or go out to the Far East. Come to that, I never intended to join the army. My main interest was in aeroplanes and flying, and that indicated the Air Force. In 1942 I was eighteen and in the sixth form at Whitgift School, Croydon. The war had been going on for two and a half years and the royal Air Force had lost a lot of pilots and aircrew...'
Riding The Tiger - The Life of Brian
'This is rum, I thought, as I plunged my bayonet into the body of the Nazi swine. Was a Nazi airman inflicting the same on some English swine on a seaside strand in Germany?
My own bayoneting was taking place on the leas at Torquay, beside the sickle of the bay and close to a shuttered pavilion where in the days of peace ice cream and Kodak film and buckets and spades were sold to the holidaymakers ...'
Stick and String
Buckland Publications Ltd.
'It was 1939, I was seventeen years old and there was just enough time for me to take an entrance exam to Cambridge to gain a place there before I was called up. Armed with enough credits in school certificate and a pass in the exam called ‘Little Go’. I applied to Christ’s College and was accepted for a place in the engineering school of the university...'
The Pelican in the Wilderness
Gracewing, ISBN 978085244 6218
'After a few weeks of homesickness, I began a love story with Cambridge and especially Christ’s College which has never ended, although modern developments have dimmed my affection...
Seventy years ago it welcomed a different kind of undergraduate from the present grown-up adults who arrive today after a wealth of experience in the wide world...Cambridge was an ideal place for growing up in the care of college authorities and especially of a senior tutor who exercised a parental concern for all his flock. It was amazing how our smallest indiscretions became known to him ...'