I started school in 1943, halfway through the war. I was 5 yers old. From then, until 1950, I attended four different primary schools in two different cities. None had a specified uniform, but all boys dressed more or less similarly. At the age of 11 or about 1948, I joined the Boy Scouts. We had Baden-Powell hats, drilled with staves and boys wore their school shorts, while the leaders wore khaki shorts. At the age of 11, I sat the eleven-plus exam and passed for the local grammar school for boys. This was a long-established and prestigious seat of learning in a northern city with a grim but imposing appearance. I well remember going to buy my new uniform armed with a very detailed list supplied by the school.
We moved a bit when I was a boy. We first lived in Warwickshire and then Cumbria. we eventually moved to Birmingham. My father was in Royal Air Force (RAF police). My mother was a housewife.
I remember air raid warnings, but they were just part of normal life. Nothing was said at school because we had known nothing else but war. I knew nothing about evacuees. Everything was rationed. Our diet was very basic. There were no sweets. ice cream etc. We queued for broken jam tarts once a week at a local shop. But we children at the time did not know that life could be otherwise.
I started school in 1943, halfway through the war. I was 5 yers old. From then, until 1950, I attended four different primary schools in two different cities. None had a specified uniform, but all boys dressed more or less similarly. My usual attire was a pullover, grey shirt and grey flannel short pants; called shorts in Britain. I can also remember wearing a tweed type of jacket for school on most occasions. I had a very limited wardrobe, for clothes were rationed and money was scarce. I wore normal shoes, but some boys had black boots that covered the ankles. I never liked these. However, all boys wore shorts; there was no thought of doing otherwise. Even in the winter of 1946-47, one of the worst of the century, we wore shorts all the time. I cannot remember being aware of any hardship caused by this; it was just normal. Nor did we think of them as shorts, they were trousers. Also, from an early age, I walked to school four times a day with a friend, or sometimes alone. At one of my primary schools, aged about 7, this meant walking 4 miles a day. Apart from the first day or two at a new school, my mother never came with me. In cold weather, I wore knee-length stockings, held up with garters, but in spring and summer and away from school, I wore sandals with ankle socks or no socks. Often my friends and I would discard shirts and roam through wooded copses, where we climbed trees and, Tarzan-like, swung bare-chested from the branches. We often got scratched of course, but paid no heed. I also remember having a short-trouser suit, which I wore on a holiday in Scotland when I was aged about 10, and for other formal occasions.
I was never a Cub, but at the age of 11 or about 1949, I joined the Boy Scouts. There was no particular reason for not joining Cubs, but we relocated to a street where the Scout leader lived nearby which is the main reason I joined. The Scout troop was not associated with the Grammar School, but there were one or two boys from the School in our troop. We had Baden-Powell hats, drilled with staves and boys wore their school shorts, while the leaders wore khaki shorts. We learned about knots, semaphore, flags and camp fires. In summer, on troop evenings, we might have a wide game. Away from scouts, we played football, cricket and other games on the street, and roamed over fields and by streams. On dark nights, undeterred by frost or snow, we played on the streets, there being fewer passing cars in those days. It would have been unthinkable to wear long trousers in these circumstances. Apart from being restrictive, they would not have lasted 5 minutes.
At the age of 11, I sat the eleven-plus exam and passed for the local grammar school for boys. Doing well in the 11+ was a very important matter and I remember being quite pleased with myself. My new school was a long-established and prestigious seat of learning in a northern city with a grim but imposing appearance.
I well remember going to buy my new uniform armed with a very detailed list supplied by the school. There was a cap and blazer with contrasting trim and grey stockings with bands in school colours at the top, plus the ususal sports gear. The uniform was a black blazer with yellow piping. The cap was black with a yellow band, tie black with yellow stripes. The occasion warranted a new pair of grey shorts; although the school did not specify short trousers. Everyone in shorts wore the school grey kneesocks with black and yellow trim. My previous school shorts would then be used for play. We wore black shoes. While sandals had been worn in primary chool, I don't recall any of us wearing sandals with our grammar school uniform. There was still rationing in Britain, but school uniform items seem to have been readily available. I don't think rationing applied to school uniform. I was very pleased with myself for making into the grammar school and very proud to wear the uniform. My parents were likewise pleased. I remember at this time that jeans were beginning to appear, and one of my friends had a pair. They were of a stiff material with wide turnups. I thought they looked unsightly and had no desire to wear such an uncomfortable garment.
On my first day at grammar school, I walked down the road, rather self-conscious in my new uniform, to call for a friend, also moving up from junior school. Arriving at my new school, I found that all the first year boys wore shorts except one. This person was regarded as being rather odd, and not boyish, but not grown-up either. From then on, school uniform became my normal attire for all occasions, for I had no other clothes except some rough ones, including my older shorts, for play. We were supposed to wear caps to and from school until the end of year three (now year nine). No one complained about wearing a cap and some boys preferred to wear them, some did not. I did not wear a cap out of school. I've never been a 'hat person'. Although the uniform was prescribed in detail, the school did not go to great lengths to enforce it. There was no need to, for most boys conformed anyway, and I cannot remember punishments ensuing for infringements.
In the second year, aged 12+, about 60 per cent of boys continued to wear shorts. When I needed a new pair of trousers about half way through the school year, I chose to have shorts again.
In the third year, only a handful of boys were in shorts, but there was no peer pressure towards long trousers. However towards the end of the school year, I did finally change to longs, 4 months before I became 15; I was one of the oldest in my year. It felt very strange and uncomfortable going to school that morning and anticipating the comments. However, hardly anyone showed any interest. It was not important. In fact I was glad to get home and change back to shorts again. This continued for some time, longs for school and smart occasions, shorts otherwise. One advantage of having long trousers available was that I was able to get into X-rated films aged 15, for which one had at least to appear to be 16. I was well over 16 before my last pair of grey shorts became unserviceable.
A small number of boys continued in shorts for school into fourth year and it was not unknown, although rare, for a boy to be sitting his leaving certificate still wearing grey shorts.
There was no special sports kit at junior school, apart from a football strip for matches, supplied by the school, and we never had PE as such, just the occasional stretching and bending exercises in the classroom or hall. At grammar school, we had different sets of sportswear. Rugby kit was hooped shirt, white shorts with pockets, hooped stockings and boots with hard toecaps. We had all-white cricket gear with long flannels; cricket afternoons being the only time I wore long trousers up to then. Indoor PE kit was white t-shirt, white shorts and plimsolls. The shirt and plimsolls were optional, but most boys were happy to wear only the shorts in the gym. This simplified the carrying of kit, for P.E.shorts would fit into a blazer pocket. We did not have the roomy sports bags seen today, only leather satchels with limited capacity. Outdoor athletics and cross-country wear was PE shorts with either rugby shirt or singlet and plimsolls.
My impression of boyhood was that we did not bother too much about clothes, probably because there was not the variety available, nor the commercial pressure that we have now. I preferred the freedom of shorts. Boys wore shorts because it suited their lifestyle. I never remember feeling cold in shorts, and I had no desire to look grown up. It was much more fun being a child. Grown ups did boring things. We had no television or video games to huddle over, we walked or cycled to school and, apart from being in the classroom, were active from dawn to dusk. I was lucky to be a child of the 1950s.
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