in the garden


Aug 2006 Journal

previous article:More on refugee children in North Cornwall during the war
next article:A watershed moment in history (review)

The Other Schindler's List

'A school which no longer exists' took me back to a school in Hampstead, where, at the elbow of Maresfield Gardens, Dr Schindler's co-ed prep Regent's Park School had a handful of refugees cramming for various exams before the war.

There were only two classes, so a nine-year-old could sit next to a teenager. The main thing was to learn everything as fast as possible to pass some exam sooner than you'd be ready for it. To be pitchforked into a country whose language you don't speak is tough enough without having to grapple with nineteen shillings eleven pence three farthings, the order of Henry VIII's wives, and French irregular verbs.

Three teachers tried their best with us: an art/PE mistress who taught the girls to roll their r's ascending the steep hill from Finchley Road public baths, where the swimming pool doubled as a gym, and two male colleagues.

Mr Steele's main subject was English. Daily he led us into battle against pronunciation, punctuation and colloquialism, and never to ask 'When is he coming back?' on being told someone had passed away. His advice for instant command of the language was to read the third leader of the Times daily.

Sadly, Mr Petley's mathematical genius never penetrated me. He was a keen amateur astronomer who, in the bald area laughingly called 'the garden', had us help him build an observatory to house our home-made 6-inch reflector telescope, before that fateful 3 September '39 scattered us in all directions.

In summer, we tried to become cricketers. Pitches in public parks were heaven. The only catch was we went there to play the other schools in the area. Having hundreds of boys to pick their teams from and traditions going back centuries, they had no trouble scoring them so that these confrontations were like David and Goliath but with the wrong ending.

It was a doubtful honour to be appointed captain, though it taught me how to stop being 'Silly Mid-On' if I wanted to survive. The posting of my batting order on the notice board before matches was always a love-hate affair - you can't please everybody. Looking back on it now, I would call it 'The Other Schindler's List'.

Still, all this helped no end with exams and reports, for dear Dr Schindler wrote 'though unfortunately his paper was not handed in on time, no doubt due to his other interests like the cricket where he created splendid esprit de corps etc'. Yet, I must have got it together in that final summer before the war as I passed the entrance exam for the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture. Had it not been for Herr Schickelgruber, I might have gone on to design buildings which Prince Charles actually likes. Instead, all that remains is for all of those who remember all of that to have the best reunion ever.
Günter Guttmann (Peter Goddard)

previous article:More on refugee children in North Cornwall during the war
next article:A watershed moment in history (review)