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Charles Toase interview: School during the war

Can you tell us more about your experiences at school during the war?

Well after we came back from Worthing I went to Raynes Park which was then a public grammar school but it was difficult to get into a school at that time, partly because they were all short of teachers and partly because I had no basis for getting in as it wasn’t the time of year when I could pass the entrance exams. So my father got me in through the back door. He knew the deputy head at Raynes Park, a Mr Gibb, through the Home Guard. Gibb got me in but it wasn’t until later that I discovered I was never officially on the roll. Whenever a list of the boys came from county headquarters my name wasn’t on it but it didn’t stop me getting on and I ended up as a prefect. 

I was there from 1942 to 1945. The school was a fairly new one, started in the 1930s. The headmaster who was still there in my time, John Garrett, had a lot of very good ideas based largely on the good grammar school tradition but he also had a lot of friends in the arts world and he brought them to the school. People like W H Auden, Stephen Spender and Rex Warner – literary and film or documentary producers. I remember they came and talked to us – mostly the sixth form in the library. I must admit I didn’t really appreciate this at the time although as a prefect of library I was involved with them and when they stayed to lunch, they had lunch on the high table with the head master and I was sitting there amongst them. The fact that I was rubbing shoulders with W H Auden didn’t really register at the time. It was only subsequently that I realized how fortunate we were with John Garrett having these sort of friends. W H Auden actually wrote the school song.

They had a very good school library. It was well known as one of the best in the country. A teacher called R C A Oates was the school librarian, a teacher but he had trained as a librarian too. He taught me the rudiments of librarianship, classification and so on, which set me off on a career as a librarian.

This was mostly during the war. I left there shortly after the war finished. I don’t remember, apart from the bombing and having to go to – not public shelters – but under the stairs mostly where we tended to go at home. I don’t remember us having a Morrison or Anderson shelter, I think I would remember that.

What I do remember is that we had a map on the wall by the table where we had breakfast and sticking pins in it as the British forces advanced across Europe which did my geography quite a lot of good. I wasn’t very good at geography. The deputy head I mentioned, Gibb, was the geography master. I started off on a bad foot with him because he had an argument, I heard later from one of the teachers, in the staff room because he said my name was pronounced “Toes”. All the other teachers said he calls it “Toase” [To-az]. I realized why, because my father got so fed up with correcting people that he just let them call him whatever they liked. Gibb was convinced my name was Toes and he was rather miffed that he turned out to be in the wrong there. So he never liked me, plus the fact that I was never good at drawing neat geography diagrams, maps and things. We didn’t get on.