Bill Dow
Primary: 1929-35
Secondary: 1935-41
Teacher: 1951-61
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Mr. Dow’s School Days

You all shared your school days and are now telling your brethren what they don’t know - namely what you did during your working lives. You already know what I did in my working life because you suffered in my lab. So I thought I would reverse the procedure and tell you about my turbulent days as a pupil at Morgan!

It appears that there was a mystical cut-off date in mid July 1928 when I was still not 5. Morgan intake of 100 P1 pupils was already full so I was denied entry until the following year. By the time I entered Miss Donaldson’s class in the Tin School in August 1929 with 49 brethren I was 6. Recently a photograph of us was found. It was taken in 1930 shortly after we became P2 (in later terminology). As a direct result of the 2001 fire, we who still survive assembled to try to name our class-mates. It was quite a struggle.

As we entered P4, Dr Leighton intervened and transferred me there and then to Ella Garside’s P5. After 1st term I was “promoted” to Ella Rutherford’s P5. In due time I passed on to Miss Goodfellow’s P6 and P7, so I was only 6 years in primary.

The class-work was easy but life outside school was difficult. It was the “Great Depression” and the Dundee Jute Industry was at a virtual standstill. Pupils were leaving daily because Morgan was fee paying – modest – indeed very modest compared with most fee paying schools, but we had to buy our own books. Somehow my parents managed to keep me at Morgan despite serious hardship, but they made it clear that the Secondary Fees were beyond their means and I would have to pass a Bursary Exam near the end of P7. I succeeded, but used the bursary for only a little over a year by which time, late in 1936, the fees were abolished and free books were issued. Also home circumstances improved with Dad’s new job.

Throughout my secondary schooling D E Collier was rector. I liked him but he had a rough time from his staff. They openly compared him most unfavourably with Dr Leighton. Now that Leighton had retired the staff elevated him to the Gods. I thought the criticism unjustified at the time and, with hindsight, I have come firmly to the belief that in many ways Collier was better than Leighton (Sacrilegious Treason I hear some say).

My secondary schooling started in 1935. We assembled in the Hall as a “mob”. When names were called out pupils went off with their new register teachers, Mr. Howat being teacher for our class 1aBoys. He attended to all the registration details in a very short time, then told the 40 of us to “sit up and pay attention” which we dutifully did. As he strode across the room he dramatically uttered the words “Latin is the language of the ancient Romans”. I’ve always wanted a similar sentence for introducing Science!

But 1935 was important in many other ways. The Government at last woke up to the fact that Hitler was on the warpath. Re-armament meant that tents, tarpaulins, sand bags etc were needed by the hundred thousand if not by the million. The Jute Mills re-opened as did the foundries and shipyards. Unemployment was no longer rife – the Labour Exchange was no longer “the Big Shop” where almost half the working population had “Signed On”. In Dundee many regarded Hitler as the “Patron Saint of the Jute Works”.

We took to a routine where we listened to the 6 o’clock BBC news, did our home-work, then listened to the 9 o’clock news. Exceptions were at speeches. We didn’t pay much attention to our wishy-washy politicians – but we always listened to Hitler. Not that we could speak German – there was a translator - we just wanted to know how long the Storm Troopers would cheer at the speech – we sometimes timed them!

The first three years were reasonably uneventful but as we entered 4th Year we heard the first of what would become the daily harangues – “It’s only 61 weeks to your Highers” – the number got smaller as time passed and the tone became more urgent.

In August 1939 I started 5thYear. The number of weeks by then had dropped to the high twenties. The British Association for the Advancement of Science met in Dundee. A few of us enrolled as student members. The teachers were appalled – “What’s to become of your studies?” But Mr. Collier said “Go. Meet with and talk to these scientists and take notes”. We did this but it lasted only 2 days. On Friday 1st September Germany invaded Poland. On that day Bruce Warren and I were sent to Rosebank Primary School with our bicycles to act as messengers should Goring’s Bombers knock out the communication systems during the school evacuation.

The pupils who had chosen to be evacuated and their parents were in the school at 9am. Lists were compiled, checked and cross-checked. We scrounged tea somehow, saw off pupils staff and parents to Dundee East Station, escorted them “doon the Walkie” (down Dalfield Walk in Morgan speech), returned to the empty school, helped the “Jani” clean up the rubbish, scrounged more tea, Goring’s Bombers never came, it was a beautiful sunny day, there was nothing left to do but go home, it was all a bit of a “let down”.

Morgan itself was deserted like all the other schools for months. But by October the “bush telegraph” was buzzing with news that the teachers wanted to meet their 5th year pupils in houses (few of us had phones). It was true. I remember going to D B Stewart’s house in Maryfield for English, to Ali Mackenzie’s parent’s house where Mr. Gordon taught us Latin, to Miss Tolmie’s house in Dalgleish Road for French, to Mr. Collie’s house in Dalkeith Road for Science and to the empty Orphanage where Mr. (Hen) Brown taught Maths. There were 2 meetings per subject per week, one session being all morning, the other all afternoon. There was no repetition of the harangue about number of weeks left before the Highers. It was definitely all pals together including the staff. Indiscipline was totally absent.

Morgan was re-opened for one week in March 1940 to let us sit our Highers in the big upstairs room in the south east corner of the school. We all sat English, French, Latin (or German), Maths and Science. Arithmetic was an extra Maths paper and History or Geography masqueraded as extra papers in English. Our teachers had devised the Exams and now they marked them. We all seemed to “pass” – I’ve often wondered why! The Morgan re-opened after Easter for all 4th 5th and 6th Year pupils. The entire school resumed in August 1940.

But before we learned the results, Hitler had suddenly invaded Denmark and Norway. Troops in gliders had landed at dawn on Danish beaches and in a few hours had taken the country over completely. Britain realised the same could happen here. In May the Rector suddenly announced that all senior boys would not come to school tomorrow, but would instead report at 9am at Tay Bridge Station dressed in “working clothes” and carrying a pack lunch and thermos. Senior schoolboys from all Dundee Academies assembled. A Black Watch Captain cheerily ordered all onto a train which went to Tayport. We sauntered through the town to Tentsmuir. A huge pile of tree trunks had been gathered along with a bigger pile of trenching tools. We were formed into groups of 4 pals. Each group was given 4 trench tools and one tree trunk now termed a pole. We were guided to the sand at the water’s edge to dig in the end and erect the pole. As the tide came in our journeys got shorter. We spent days covering Tentsmuir so that no gliders could land, at which point the morning train went a different route finishing now at Leuchars where we did the same to the southern bit of Tentsmuir. Throughout the weather was gorgeous and we all prospered from the thoroughly non academic exercise.

By “passing” our “Group Highers” we gained entry to the “rarefied air” of 6th Year. Mr. Collier obviously had his misgivings about the validity of our certificates and insisted that we apply to the Universities Entrance Board in St Andrews to obtain a Certificate of Fitness to enter on our desired course at any Scottish University. All of us at Morgan were granted these essential certificates. Towards the end of 6th Year, Mr. Collier summoned me to his room. “Willie, you’d be the better of a bursary at University. Now I know you want to study Engineering at Dundee. But it occurs to me that the St Andrews Bursary Competition is a fortnight before the Dundee one. I know they don’t offer Engineering at St Andrews but you could get experience at these competitions by sitting suitable subjects at St Andrews. Then you can go to Dundee better prepared. Think it over with your parents”. I took his advice and went both to St Andrews and Dundee, never for one moment realising what the eventual outcome would be. I gained a top Residential Scholarship at St Andrews and virtually nothing at Dundee. I enrolled at St Andrews with the expectation of becoming an Engineer in the Chemical Industry – once again it was not to be.

Before I even reached the University events were happening fast. The Battle of Britain had raged over south east England and even the Government realised that this new RDF stuff (later called Radar) was playing a vital role in the early detection of attackers and saving the need for standing patrols by aircraft. The Government suddenly realised it was seriously short of qualified radar staff. The Hankey Radio Scheme was hatched at extremely short notice (a few days) to enlist any potential graduates in Physics. I was suddenly offered an even larger Government Grant for the next 2 years to become a Radar Officer. The Principal, Sir James Irvine (Jimmie to all but not to his face) now wanted that Scholarship back so he could award it to an Arts Student who did not qualify for one of these new grants. He and I came to a “deal” but I’d better be quiet even now! A fellow student Bill Nicol and I became the only two science students who completed a full BSc with no wartime concessions in 2 years instead of the usual 3.

I went off to the Air Force for officer training. As was now customary there was a jinx even here. I was critically injured during training, but survived to become radar officer to No.68 Mosquito All Weather Fighter Squadron in 11 Group. Each Mosquito carried at least 6 different radar devices. This was despite me being on “light duties” while still recovering from my injuries. And also despite being seriously colour blind – yes the need for radar personnel was that desperate! I could even fly whenever I wanted – looking back it is still unbelievable. I wouldn’t even get a driving licence to use on an airfield under present rules.

Things became even more unreal, if that is possible, at RAF Tempsford – just consult its website when you’ve nothing better to do.

I finished my Royal Air Force career as Station Radar Officer at the Empire Air Armament School at Manby in Lincolnshire where rocketry was the new flavour of the day, having previously held the same position at the Empire Air Navigation School at Shawbury where the research was on pressure pattern navigation (PPF before the war) (Shawbury Research) (See also The Secret Ops after the War had Ended.).

I was demobbed to return to St Andrews where I took an MA before adding honours to the BSc. But by then I was far from my Morgan school-days and all that is now a very distant story.

Carnoustie, August, 2010