Christopher Hugh Bohling
Christopher Hugh Bohling was born in Essex in 1931 and moved with his parents to The Park in Bookham in 1935. He attended the Parkside School, then located at Parkside just off Forest Road in East Horsley. His family left Bookham in 1945.
In August 2009 he wrote an article “Parkside Memories” for the school’s Old Boys’ Association; he and the school kindly gave permission for the article to be reproduced below.
Chris Bohling also very kindly assembled for our website some further memories, many relating to Effingham, which are also presented below.
I was encouraged in March 2009 by Graham Burgess at the Old Boys’ Dinner to write a few recollections of my time at Parkside. The predominant memory is of the excellence of both Mr. Davis, the headmaster, and Mr. Clements. Looking at book prizes they awarded, I see that one is for Summer Term 1940 (Form 2, 1st in term and exams) and another for Christmas Term 1942 (Form 4, 1st in term’s marks and 1st in examinations). I feel sure that they laid the foundations for my becoming a Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute, a Chartered Insurer, and a Marine Underwriter at Lloyd’s of London in later life. So now follow many of my Parkside experiences that may refresh the memories of some, or raise eyebrows in other quarters.
In about 1940 the old wooden gymnasium, which was reached by a long covered outside corridor from near the library in the main building, housed forms 1,2 and 3 in partitioned-off areas and – in an annexe – the changing room and toilets as well.
In form 2 we used to have a French lady who taught us the elements of that language. She was not generally popular. One day a young Austrian jewish boy arrived with a terrible cold, constantly sniffing. Soon the French mistress said sharply to him “blow your nose, you dirty German”. After a while we began to take reprisals against her. One such action was to bring in a handful of cabbage white caterpillars (which were big, green, and juicy) and put them on her chair just before she came in. Down she sat on them, and we later could see the green stains on her skirt, finding it very hard to stop exploding into all round laughter.
The changing room was not of the best, sometimes with dried cakes of mud on the floor from the large playing fields. The usual embarrassments took place in there. Gottlieb, another jewish refugee boy, was found to have silk underwear. The general chant, which continually rang out, was “Gottlieb’s got pants with frills on”, repeatedly, all over the school.
The changing room had its usual unpleasant aroma, but led to the toilets which were even worse. The No.1s department was a smelly wall, with an encrusted drain below. The usual contests of highest up the wall took place, even to the window. The No.2s department was not much better, although I recall, compared with St. John’s in Leatherhead, it was at least under cover. They all froze up in the winter. When my sons much later were due to start at a school, the first thing I always looked at were the toilets. Thank goodness things had moved on since the early 40s.
Some of the panelling from the old gym has been preserved at The Manor, bearing the names of old boys, especially those who rose in our ranks, and excelled. Around the old gym were lockers along the walls on each side, which had hinged lids. We used to sit on these for “reading hour”, after lunch, with a book, in enforced silence. A prefect would be in charge, and would rush across to any poor victim who as much as moved or looked up, grab him by the hair, and bash the back of his head several times against the panel boards behind.
Later, matters mellowed, and an old grand piano was there. As part of an improved regime one prefect named Bristowe used to stage a piano introduction to Boogie-Woogie (which I never got out of my system!) and play light classics such as the Popular Song from Facade. Years later, alas, the military aircraft he was piloting blew up over Scotland.
Our introduction to Latin was by the Shorter Latin Primer. Often boys would change the lettering on the cover of their copy to “The Shorter Way Of Eating Prime Rats”.
Standing away from, but parallel to, the gym was a brick building which housed the 4th, 5th and 6th forms. In the 4th form I began to form friendships which lasted for long afterwards. Some were model train or Dinky Toy related – Hornby or Meccano products. In the early 40s these were virtually unobtainable new, as they were metal. There was a firm called Wilson Lorries, which produced card and wood kits for scale miniature commercial vehicles. Gordon Whitworth, with whom I shared a desk, had been attracted to these as well, and from then on a lifelong friendship started. He later was my Best Man and godfather to my eldest son. He was a godfather to a son of Ian Macpherson as well. Only fairly recently did he leave us all.
In the 5th I sat next to Basil Ede, who became a well-known artist of wild birds. He used to draw (in class!) weird fruits and way out machines such that you could hardly suppress bursting out with laughter. Mr. Clements called him the boy who spelt his name both ways, and some of Basil’s pictures we still display in our second house in France.
An end-of-term treat to which we always looked forward after the exams was for Mr. Clements to read a particular book to us in class. This was “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”, by T.S. Elliot. The star turn was always Macavity, and when the verse ended “Macavity’s not there” we recited the words all together. Little did we know how famous it all would be, when ultimately “CATS” became the world’s best loved musical.
By the 6th form time, the pranks were getting more sinister. Lumps of carbide (used for cycle gas lamps) would be put into nearby ink wells such that they frothed up vigorously. Pencil shavings from a sharpening machine would be rolled into cigarette papers in an effort to smoke. Having burned my lips a little it was enough to put me off smoking for life, and it did!
On the way up to the playing fields from the class buildings, past the stinging nettle beds, was a type of high dried-up ditch that was known as The Fort. This was used to drag off members of rival teams down to the bottom. The membership of each team was determined by whether you were a “roundhead” or a “cavalier” by prior observation in the toilets, changing room or dormitories.
Because of severe food shortages, lunch could include boiled stinging nettles. The headmistress, Mrs. Davis, would fiercely hover over you to urge you to eat them. The taste was better than the thought of it, just about. Nevertheless, consideration was given as to how we could sabotage the nettle beds. One experiment was to make out of Quink bottles a form of grenade. Water would be put in, then carbide pieces, and the cap screwed down quickly. A few of these were thrown into some undergrowth, but we lost our nerve in the end, before anyone was hurt.
Before we began to get really naughty, we became aware of certain “mysteries” which no senior boy would explain. One of these was “Cushman’s Box”. Cushman lived further down Forest Road in a partly flint house, and was a school hero. No one would tell us what this box was, or what was in it. It was a closely kept secret. Very slowly it became known as something to do with cricket, but we never really found out for a long time.
Then there was the Grey Lady. She was the school ghost, who was said to walk the upstairs rear corridor in the main house, and go right through the padded door at the end without actually opening it. On one occasion boarders had put a large laundry basket, like a hamper, across the passage. It was not the Grey Lady who fell over it in the dark – it was a younger member of the house staff, yelling “Holy Dinah!” as she hit the floor.
As a day boy for most of my time at Parkside, there were often great difficulties with transport. Earlier there was no through bus from Bookham and the connection would be missed at Effingham. Sometimes my mother and I cycled with the RAF overhead intercepting the Luftwaffe, dog fights over Effingham Common. In the end it was train to Effingham Junction, and walking from there behind the Southern Electric’s carriage sheds along the cinder path, and then up Forest Road (the Cobham Road) to school.
Sometimes I would go to tea on the way home with Julius Kovanda, whose family had fled from Czechoslovakia. His father had made him a wonderful layout of American Lionel trains. When I spoke to him in the Isle of Man more recently, he mostly remembered his goat and said that he was originally born in Belgium.
The Common Entrance Exams, sat in the library in June 1944, coincided with the first attacks of the V1 (flying bombs). They started the night before. With the general panic and anxiety, some could not get there due to disruption of transport, but things were better next day. Concessions had to be made in the circumstance.
Towards the end of my time at Parkside I became a weekly boarder. We had an old wind-up gramophone in the small dormitory, and a record with a crack in it of Glen Miller’s “Tuxedo Junction”. Even with modern recordings I still hear the click of that old 78 going round, even though such a defect is no longer present.
Wherever I am in the world, and I hear a cricket chirping at dusk, I am reminded of the one that lived in the kitchen at Parkside – it sang only at night. In the kitchen was the old servant’s bell indicator box from the time when the building was just a large country house. “Mrs. May’s bedroom” on the box referred to the Mays of Bryant and May, the safety match manufacturers, I was told.
In the larger dormitory some of us, both ringleaders and hangers on, got up at dawn one morning and clambered down out of the first floor window using bed-sheets secured to a radiator. The object of this commando exercise was to find the scouts’ hangout in the woods towards Effingham Junction on the other side of the railway line. We all carefully stepped over the live electric rails. On the way back coins were put on the running tracks so that the early morning goods train, steaming down from Horsley, would run over them. I still have my old penny, squashed to the shape of an orange by the locomotive, one of Bullied’s ugly austerity designs.
In order to celebrate V-E Day, many went home. A school friend came with me by train as far as West Croydon. His name was Higgs, who later went on to Dulwich College, where sadly he was to lose his life on the Rugby field.
On the afternoon of V-E Day my parents took me to London, where we were amongst the many thousands who cheered the King and Queen on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, and I ran alongside Winston Churchill in his open car in Birdcage Walk. He was broadly grinning. Perhaps he was wondering what the “Pussdog” was on my blazer!
At the time of househunting in 1935, my parents viewed “Windy Ridge”, a house along Effingham Common Road, within half a mile from the village which later I recall had a terrible fire, the charred remains of the roof being visible for some time. Other houses which were thatched instead had similar problems.
More or less opposite to Lower Farm Road there is an open green, and in one of the few houses along there Yvonne Arnaud was said to have lived.
From the cinder track along the side of the carriage sheds by Effingham Junction Station one could often see the Southern’s Waterloo and City underground trains which presumably came down for maintenance.
I can still hear the porters yell “Horsley, Clandon, London Road, and Guildford”, or “Cobham, Oxshott, Claygate, Hinchley Wood, Surbiton, and Waterloo”.
The Southern Electrics coming from Leatherhead and Bookham terminated at Effingham Junction and it was quicker to walk to Parkside school from there, rather than go to Horsley and wait for connections.
Once we were excited to see a main line express steam locomotive and tender waiting at the station, by itself. It was a “Lord Nelson” in the peculiar shade that the Southern Railway had of malachite green. The line through Effingham could be used as an emergency route if the main line through Woking was blocked.
One day a very large unexploded bomb near to Bookham station had to be detonated, and it left a huge crater of clay. My train home was held at Effingham, and the explosion could be heard from there. Even the train shook and vibrated at that distance.
A school friend Julius Kovanda – who lived at “Backalong” in Surrey Gardens – and I often had tea there on the way home. His parents had fled from Czechoslovakia to escape the Nazis. He told me in more recent years (from the Isle of Man) that what he most remembered from those days was not his American Lionel Trains, but his goat. At school (Parkside) there were quite a few Jewish boys who had come to the district as refugees.
Many public swimming pools were closed for emergency water supplies in case of fire bombs. Sometimes my mother and I would cycle through Effingham via the Lord Howard up to Wisley Lake in the summer, but because of various men exposing themselves this did not continue. Long after the menace of the Blitz had passed, swimming pools were regarded as a health hazard because of the potential of contracting infantile paralysis or polio. Thus I was never taught to swim whilst young.
When the buses at last began to run through Bookham and go on to Horsley this became the preferred route to school. There was a man who got on at Effingham village who used to trap me in the long back seat and show me dirty pictures, so I tried to sit elsewhere.
We often saw a strange tall man with long hair, robes and open sandals who got on the bus at Preston Cross, and he became generally referred to as “Jesus Christ”.
Before the through buses (route 418?) the daily journey was by bicycle when the trains were disrupted by enemy action. The 408 double-decker from the east of Surrey (Warlingham) to Guildford (Horse and Groom – later bombed by the IRA) along the A246 was too distant to be convenient. There was always a worry that enemy aircraft would machine-gun a train.
Underlying the Battle of Britain (which I have referred to elsewhere) was the fear of invasion after Dunkerque. There followed the Blitz, and even sitting by the fire you could hear the horrible droning sound of enemy bombers overhead, the noise coming down the chimney. If you heard a bomb whistling down, you could dive under the table, and the usual safe place to sleep was under the stairs. Quite often an aircraft would jettison its bombs, sometimes a shower of incendiaries, but these mostly fell on common land, of which there was plenty.
The propaganda broadcasts from Lord Haw Haw on the radio – “This is Germany calling, this is Germany calling” – could easily be picked up after dark (better transmission). In the end it was listened to as a sort of a sick joke. On balance we preferred Tommy Handley (“It’s That Man Again”).
Many people who had cars disposed of them as you could not get petrol for private purposes. You could chock them up of course, but they were in the way in a small garage as they were not mobile. We did not know how long the war would last. The only way to keep a motor mower running was to mix a concoction of cigarette lighter fuel and paraffin.
Rather than having the German Army walking up the garden with steel helmets and fixed bayonets, the tide changed, and by the Spring of 1944 the Allied Armies were concentrated in the district, with all their vehicles hidden under the trees. Then in June they all disappeared overnight, bound for Normandy. That day, all we saw were huge formations of American Flying Fortresses overhead, with their vapour trails, en route to France.
That’s sort of it – I became a Lloyd’s Underwriter – my wife became the Mayor of Woking. Rather than buy Windy Ridge, my father bought a house in The Park, Great Bookham – it was within two miles of Effingham, just over the border!
I have tried to confine my stories to the Effingham boundaries, but regarding the Canadians (English and French speaking) they were all over Bookham as well. They were mainly on the north side by the railway tunnel, and also at a previous school by The Park called Southey Hall. They churned up our road, The Park, so badly that they volunteered to pave the road as a road-building exercise, for which the residents ought to be grateful to this day. It is still a private road. I always think of those Canadians when I drive through France and see the Maple Leaf flying over the cemeteries – there is one south of Caen on the road to Falaise.
I went to Effingham recently and saw “Windy Ridge” still there. Its roof seems to be the original. Next door however there is “Phoenix Cottage”, a newer house, and on reflection it is likely that is where the fire was in the roof. Earlier in my career I worked for the Phoenix Assurance, hence these thoughts. These houses are where their side road runs higher than the main road.
Nearly to the end of Surrey Gardens there is a small cul-de-sac on the left. There are 4 houses down there, and “Backalong” probably stood there, its site having been redeveloped.
We left Bookham for the east of Surrey early in 1945, so we may have been gone by the time of the “Preston Cross” plane incident, if it happened. We seemed to be on the western side of the Doodlebugs which fanned out from Northern France, always hoping that their engines would not cut out until they had passed over. At night, you automatically got under the bed almost asleep, and back into bed again when they had gone over. These days one of the main approach beacons to Heathrow is on the old airfield at Wisley. “Ockham” is known to all international pilots. Even now, when the early arrivals fly over here at 5am, I wake sometimes with anxiety as to whether it is the Luftwaffe.
Although the following does not relate to Effingham as such, it is indicative of our fears and experiences in 1940.
Along the A246 “top road” at Great Bookham there are still shops, after the petrol station on the corner of Eastwick Road. There was an off-licence “Unwins”, formerly The Beckley Off-Licence. Half of this was once a hairdressers.
In September 1940 a sole German raider dropped a stick of bombs along there, one of which brought down the whole front of the building, another breaking the water main a little further on.
I was in that hairdressers, mid-morning on Friday 13th. I was blown into a heap in the corner, with the customer in the barber’s chair, and the barber himself. There was choking dust, walls cracking and hair cream bottles smashing on the floor. We were all dazed but unhurt.
We could not be let out as glass was dangling from what were the window frames on the floors above. My mother used to wait for me on the very spot where the bomb fell.
As it happened, being a Friday, she had gone off to get some fish at a shop nearby. She rushed back where she saw that I was still alive inside, beyond the debris.
As food shortages began to be felt, people began to help each other. We kept many chickens, well more than 100. Although our mash came from a mill near Albury, those who wanted to buy eggs would also contribute their suitable kitchen scraps. There were quite a lot of chicken farms in the district.
Rabbits were bred in captivity in order to eke out food which was rationed.
Double daylight saving was instigated, i.e. winter time plus two hours, which meant you could plant potatoes even at 11pm in the summer. You tried to plant as many vegetables as possible. The “Dig for Victory” campaign was to encourage this, especially as U-boats were sinking our merchant ships.
Even before the outbreak of war on 3 Sept 1939 preparations were being made for the “blackout”. It was an important duty of an ARP warden (Air Raid Precautions) to ensure that not even a chink of light would show to enemy aircraft at night.
The construction of Guildford Cathedral had been commenced on Stag Hill by the outbeak of war but remained at a standstill for years. Members of congregations in the Diocese contributed to the purchase of bricks in addition to the collections in church.