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[ Last update May 12, 2020 ]

Chapter 3: England

After my father returned from WWII he worked in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C..  This would have been from around 1946 through the spring of 1950.  I started first grade in Abingdon, Va in 1945 and finished first grade in a Catholic school in Falls Church, Viginia in 1946.   At some point (probably 1947) we moved to Fairlington, Virginia, (1536 S. 35th st) near the Pentagon.  I was there for all of 4th and 5th grade, and probably most of 3rd grade.

In 1950 my father received orders to move, with his family, to England.  He would be working on the creation of JAMAG in London.  I now believe this was, to some extent, the beginning of what later became NATO.  I could find little about it with Google.

So that year, 1950, I finished 5th grade in Fairlington and in September of that year my family (Mother, Father, Sister and me : Madge, Emery, Madge and Harry) boarded the “USNS General Maurice Rose” ship in New York City and sailed to Southhampton, England.  I had my 11th birthday that summer.  Before boarding the ship we spent a few days in U.S. Army quarters in Ft. Hamilton, near the water in Brooklyn, NY.

USNS General Maurice Rose
Less than four years later we would board the “Santa Rosa” in New York to sail for La Guaira, Venezuela.  Both times we spent some time in the New York area, in Army housing in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, before boarding the ships.  I have memories of being in New York before boarding the ship, but the memories do not clearly distinguish between the two times.

For my own clarification I want to note that our viewing of the SS United States on its maiden voyage was on our return from England, not when we were going over.  She sailed from New York on July 3rd 1952.   That means that the September, 1950 date that my son Matt found for my name going through British passport control is correct for our trip to England.

Prior to sailing (as it was called even though it was not a sailing ship) to England we spent time with the Bayas in Tampa.  My grandfather, and namesake, had died the previous December, so we were staying in 2009 Bayshore Blvd with my grandmother, Jessie Baya.   Uncle Harry and his family lived in the house just behind 2009 Bayshore, on DeSoto Ave. 

A good friend of my father's, Gage Spies ( pronounced to rhyme with bees), from the Pentagon had the same orders as my father and he and his family were on the ship with us going to England.  Both my father and Gage Spies were Lieutenant Colonels in the U.S. Army.  There were two children in the Spies family, daughters, Margie and Mimi, around the same age as Madge and me.  Though they lived near us in Fairlington we had only met them once or twice.  We became friends on the ship and then the two families often visited on weekends as we both lived South of London.
I loved the week on the ship. There were movies every day, great food, and kids activities.  I remember that we played shuffle board on the deck.  I was in a room with 4 or more other boys around my age.   I was a little messy and this annoyed the other boys.  I remember that at one point I had left a sock on the floor and they threw it out the porthole.   Mother was not sympathetic. 

The officers and their families lived on the upper decks of the ships and always had access to the passenger areas on the outside deck.   There were enlisted men on the lower decks and they were only allowed on the outside decks a few hours each day, and only in restricted areas.

We arrived in Southhampton and my family and the Spies family went immediately to the Richmond Hill hotel outside of London.   We were near the Thames river and also within walking district of a good size public park.  We arrived in September, early fall in England.  The days were warm and pleasant.

Our fathers began work in London and both they and our mothers began the process of finding a house to rent.   This meant that the four children were often left to play on our own.  We went on walks along the river, visited the park, and played in the gardens of the hotel.   I remember walking along the river and seeing rowers ( singles, doubles and crews) rowing racing sculls on the river.  There were various kinds of river boats.   I had turned 11 in July, Madge turned 13 in May.  I think Margie was close to a year younger than me and Mimi was probably 12.

Also,  the English money at that time was still in the peculiar denominations of pence, shillings and pounds.  There were 12 pence (pennies) in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.  The commonly used coins included farthings ( 1/4th of a penny),  half-pence (“haypenny”), pennies (the largest coin), threepence (pronounced thrupence with up as in “up”, octagonal sides I think), 6 pence (AKA a tanner),  a shilling coin (aka a “bob”), a two-shilling coin (Florin),  a 2-1/2 shilling coin (Half crown), , and a 5 shilling coin (Crown).   Each coin had several slang names.  Apparently there were other coins in existence but the above are the only ones I remember.   I am less familiar with the paper money. I remember Pound notes ( one Pound/20 Shillings) and 10 Shilling notes.   Prices were sometimes given in “Guineas”.  Each Guinea was 21 shillings.  So far as know there were no coins or notes associated with Guineas.  I recall that algebra problems were often given using British currencies.

The coins and currency were all new to us and fascinating.  Also the papers, magazines, and candies were all new.   There was nothing quite like a comic book but there were illustrated children's magazine.   Candy was still rationed and we had ration books.   All of this, and the accents of the people we dealt with at the hotel and outside, were of interest and amusing.

The hotel served three meals a day and had a tea time very afternoon.  I remember that kippered herring was available at breakfast and I developed a taste for them.  “Bangers”, a uniquely flavored English sausage that had a lot bread in it, was served for some meals and I also grew to like those.

The tea time was an event we looked forward to.  In addition to delicious teas there were pastries and things like little cucumber sandwiches with the crusts sliced off.    Sometimes it was just the four children, but our mothers were often there.   Our fathers were home for dinner most nights.   The Richmond Hill hotel was not super elegant, but it was rather classy.  They had a piano player many evenings, fresh flowers and polite workers in appropriate uniforms.   The maids and waitresses were like something out of a movie     I visited that hotel when I was in England in 1965 and it was still quite impressive.  My guess is that it accommodated between 75 and 100 guests.

The nearby Richmond Park had live deer and we had never been around anything like that.  We sometimes took sandwiches and/or candy bars in bags to the park.   I remember at one point being pushed down by deer who wanted a candy bar I had.  I was not hurt and we learned to be more careful, but it was a little upsetting.

I think we were in that hotel for at least a month, possibly two, and the weather began to turn cooler.  The hotel did not have central heating.  However, in my room (I don't think Madge and I shared a room) there was a little gas heater that could be lit in the morning.   First you had to put a sixpence coin in the heater and this would give at least 30 minutes of heat.

Eventually my parents chose a house in Purley, Surrey.   Our landlord was a Mr. Bing who lived a block or two away.  I remember that when we called him on the phone he would answer “Bing Here!”.  The house was not immediately available and my parents rented a small house/cottage on the grounds of a hotel in Purley.   My sister and I were enrolled in nearby Catholic schools.  My school, John Fisher, was in Purley about a mile from our future home (Copperfield – houses had names rather than numbers at that point).  Madge's school (St. Philomena?) was a little further away.

While we were in the small cottage mother took us out to buy our school uniforms.   I wore a blue blazer with the school logo ( a fish) and a shirt and tie every day.  I also wore school socks and, in the winter, a school scarf.  We also wore a school cap, kind of like a baseball cap.   Everything was in the school colors, blue and yellow, except short pants and trousers which were gray wool.   All of this was very different for me after having attended public school in the U.S. for the previous 3 years.

I visited the school when I was in England in 1965 and again in 2014 with my wife Phyllis and my son Paul.   Each visit brought back many memories.  I found our house, on a side street about two blocks from the town library, and 3 or 4 blocks from the train station and the center of town.  I will put in the address if I find it.

Raincoats were “Macintoshes”  and I sometimes wore a “duffle coat”, heavy winter jacket with knobs for buttons.   I had rubber boots like fireman wear and they were called “rubbers”.

I have written several pages of memories of my experiences at the John Fisher school and they are included later in this document.


In the U.S. Our family had a 4 door Chrysler car for all the years that I can remember before England.  My father ordered a new car, a Willys Jeep station wagon, to be delivered in England.  It was not available till a month or two after we arrived and while waiting my father rented a little Morris Miner car (at least that's what I recall).  There was barely room for the four of us and was part of our introduction to a new culture.  Of course the steering wheel was on the right side and driving on the right must have been a challenge.  I remember being in that car on our way to visit the Spies family who lived about 45 minutes away and we had to stop at an intersection so that my father could get out and read the street signs.  This was during what was called a pea soup fog.

We were delighted with the new car when it arrived and it was much larger than most of the cars in England.  Also it had the front end of a war time Jeep and this was only 4 years after the U.S. Troops who had been stationed in Europe during WW II had left so it had a kind of U.S. Army cachet.  My English friends were excited to ride in our car the first time.   The picture below is of a 1951 Jeep station wagon and I think this was close to color of the one we had.

At that time cars in England were required to have little signal arms that would rise out of each side of the car to indicate turning and “Willy”, as we called our car, had to be modified to add this feature before it could be driven.   There was a lot of room in that car and I enjoyed our trips.  Looking back I see that it was boxy looking thing and probably not the smoothest or quietest vehicle to ride in.

I was in that school from some time in the fall of 1950 till the summer of 1952 and for various reasons have very strong memories of that experience.   In summary, it had a lot of overtones of Harry Potter's first year at Hogwarts.  I did not adjust well at first and was pretty unhappy for at least a month or two.  However, I eventually became fully assimilated into the school and was indistinguishable from my classmates.  I had their accent, mannerisms and behavior.   We did a lot of sports, including every track and field event, and gymnastics.  We took boxing and I ended up as one of the weaker members of the school boxing team.  We also had a small, often very cold, and not to clean, outdoor swimming pool.  I can remember jumping through ice to go into the pool.  We had no choice.  The teachers were Catholic priests and, I thought, fairly strict.   Offenses were punished by“the strap” (on the palm of both hands) and the cane (on the bottom – I never got caned) .  I will write more about this eventually.

Our house was a nice one with four bedrooms upstairs, a kitchen, breakfast room, dining room and living room.  It did not have central heating and could be fairly chilly in the morning.  I had a small gas fire heater in my room in the back of the house.  We had a nice back  yard with a level area where we had a badminton net.   This was a popular game, especially when Margie and Mimi visited.  About 50 feet from the house in the back yard we had a small one room (maybe 8' by 10') child's house that we liked.  

The family behind were white people from South Africa.  They had a daughter, Jill Hoyle, about my age and we became friends.  I was just becoming aware that girls could be attractive and this friendship was the first in which I had even a vague awareness of sexual desire.  We were not close friends and I am guessing she lived there for less than a year.

The kitchen and breakfast area was heated with a pot-belly stove and the living room had a large fire place.  I was kind of in charge of the fires most of the time.  The main part of this was to bring coal from the storage area next to the garage.  I remember that we used a kind of coal called anthracite. Sometimes I had to break the coal into smaller pieces.

Mother spent a lot of time planting and tending the garden in front of and behind the house.  I sometimes mowed the lawn with a push mower.   We also had a gardener who came many Saturdays.  He had what sounded like a cockney accent and I spent time with him.  Sometimes he brought his son who was my age.  We became friends and I would sometimes go with him to roam around Purley.  I rarely did this on my own.  I tried to learn his accent and way of talking and can still talk a little bit like that.  We got along well and I was not consciously aware of any class difference, though I think he probably was.


When we were in Fairlington we had a dog, Rip, a black Cocker Spaniels that we loved.  The quarantine laws in England were brutal (6 months or a year) and we ended up giving Rip to my father's uncle, Ed Bending.   We saw Rip with Uncle Ed in Florida when we returned from England.  Rip Van Winkle Bending Baya. 

After we got to England we got a pedigreed wire haired terrier (I think.  Madge would know) and named him Surrey after the county in which we lived.  I was responsible for training Surrey and took him to training classes.   Within a year or so Surrey developed a disease called “hardpad” and died.  This was hard for me.  We then got another pedigreed dog.  This one was a beautiful white & gray English setter.  We named him Chipstead after the town, also in Surrey county,  he was from,  Once again I trained him.   We took him back with us to the U.S. when we returned in 1952.

My memories of our two  years in England are a mix of school memories, time with Margie and Mimi, family trips (one to France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, at least two to places in England) and spending time at our house in Purley.    I also remember the local library about two blocks away, and the dentist on our block who would put me to sleep with gas – which scared me.

At one point I went into London on my own for a day.   I took the bus, bought fish & chips, and strong tea, and was quite proud of myself.

There was a local movie theater in Purley within walking distance of our house and Madge and I, and sometimes Margie and Mimi, would go.   I remember that at the start of each movie the entire audience stood up and sang “God Save the King”.   And then, one day, we stood up and sang “God Save the Queen”.  King George the 6th died while we were there.   Queen Elizabeth the second was crowned after we had returned to the U.S.


While in Fairlington I had learned to ride a bike, and how to take it apart and clean it.  My first bike was an old thin wheeled, one gear, red bike.  I was somewhat ashamed of it.   I wanted a big tired American bike with big handle bars and panel with a horn  button between my knees.   I was counting on Santa Claus (I still believed) bringing it to me for Christmas of 1949.   My father's father, Granddaddy Harry, died shortly before Christmas that year and we drove through the night from Fairlington to Tampa.  On Christmas day I got a telegram from Santa Claus telling me that my bike was in Fairlington.  I  (naïve little idiot that I was) was amazed that Santa knew where I was for Christmas.  I loved that bike and was very proud of it.  We took it to England.

When I got to England and, eventually, rode my American bike to school it was the object of much derision.   I was ashamed of it and wanted an English bike with gears.  I eventually got a 3 speed Raleigh bike and became proud of that, even after we took it back to the U.S.

My parents had both grown up riding horses.  I think my father got into that at V.M.I.   They, and the Spies, thought it would be good for us to learn.   As a result we took riding lessons every Saturday morning for at least a year.  I loved it and was a decent student.  I remember that I was sometimes given the biggest horse, 16 hands high.   We learned to trot (English style, posting, no saddle horn), canter (whatever that is) and gallop.  Galloping was fairly exciting.  I fell off a few times but was never hurt or that frightened.  We also learned to jump over bars set at increasing levels as we progressed.  A couple of time later in life, once at the Meadows in Abingdon, and once on a farm with a girlfriend, I was offered a chance to ride and did so.  I have always felt good about having learned that skill in spite of using it so rarely.


While my father was in London plans were made for he and others to move to France.  I think they were going over to work with Nato.   For that reason and because French was at the point considered to be the most important international language, and the language of diplomats, my father wanted all of us to learn French.  Madge and I were taking it in school anyway (I also took Latin.. and for a while Greek).  Daddy hired a tutor to come in weekly (or so) and eventually arranged for us to have a French au paire live with us for a few months (4 to 6 I think).   Her name was Pierette and I think she was about 18.  She was short and plump and Daddy said that her father owned chocolate factory and that she was from the same class as us and should be treated with respect.  This was made especially clear to me when I had to give her my bedroom and move into what we had referred to as “the maid's room”.  She got a bigger bedroom than me!  

One of the reasons Pierette was there was to learn English. That kind of worked out for her.   As it turned out both my father and I either had a gift for languages or were simply more willing to put in the effort needed.  In any case Mother simply did not learn any French to speak of so Pierette did indeed have to learn English because mother was her primary supervisor and they worked together a lot, especially in the kitchen.  My mother was a great cook and was most at home when cooking.  I don't remember Madge having trouble with French, but my father and I were clearly good at it.   I felt that I could get by in halting French and used it some when we travelled in France.    I think it, and the Latin, helped me to pick up Spanish fairly quickly when we moved to Venezuela.  

However, around 2008 I went to a one week course in French at the “Ecole De France” in Sancerre, France, and discovered that in spite of my experience in England, and many hours of homework in Abingdon, I was rated a beginner and was the weakest in the beginner class I took.  I had asked to be put in intermediate and was told that the online test I took scored me as if I had answered the questions randomly.   I did work hard and did learn a lot. 

Also the other “beginning” students in my class were there for two weeks and I arrived at the end of their first week.  Also, most of them had taken at least a year of college French – so I should not feel so bad.   The bottom line included (a) Whatever French I had learned in England was pretty much gone, (b) I gave no signs of being a quick study during my week in Sancerre and (c) I worked hard and could indeed speak halting French at the end of one week.  Had I the money I would go back for another week. I loved the setting and the challenge.   That trip to Europe, including my time in Paris, Barcelona and Minorca, is a good topic for another write-up like this one.

We had a number of different maids over the years.  In England we had a woman named Violet who came in several days every week, maybe even every day during the week.  In addition to doing cleaning and some dishes she also assisted with cooking.  I believe mother taught her a number of recipes and that went well.  Mother and Violet were, I believe, friends.  Violet had her own children and also helped look after Madge and me.  I liked her and went to visit her when Bonnie and I visited England in 1965.

In 1951 England hosted the “Festival of Britain”, a kind of local Worlds Fair spread over the British Isles with many exhibits and constructions.  We went to the large London festival site. 

John Fisher School

I attended the John Fisher School, Purley, Surrey, England  from the Fall of 1950 through The Spring of 1952

I often wonder how much this experience shaped me. In looking back I am fairly sure it was one of the biggest adjustments (adaptations) I had to make in life, probably roughly comparable to the changes when Bonnie divorced me.

My parents enrolled me in the John Fisher School in Purley about 1 and ½ miles from our house.  The school was a Catholic school in which most of the instructors and staff were priests. To say that it was a big change for me to go from 5th grade in a public school in Fairlington, Virginia, to a private Catholic school in England is an understatement.  The school had both boarders and day students.  I had always assumed there were far more boarders than day students, but I’m no longer sure of that.  I was a day student.

They number their grades differently.  I think I started in the 3rd form, which would have been 6th grade in the U.S..  The forms went up to graduation at what I think would be our 11th grade and their 8th form (I could be off by a year).  There were kids younger than me in forms 1 and 2.  My best guess is that there were around 200 students in the school. 

When I read the first Harry Potter book and heard the description of his getting ready for Hogwarts and then adjusting to the new life there it sounded very similar to much of my experience.  I will add that (a) Harry Potter’s birthday, July 31, is the same as mine; (b) I am Harry P Baya, and (c) my new school even expected us to believe in magic – only they called it the Catholic religion.

We were given a list of what to buy for my school uniform and did so.  This included a school blazer (a nice blue suit like jacket with a John Fisher logo patch on the breast pocket), gray wool pants (long and short), particular shirts, school ties (blue and yellow) and a school cap (much like a baseball cap).  I think even the socks had to be grey.  I don’t know that I had ever worn a tie and now I was going to be wearing one every day. The image below is the school logo that appeared on our cap and on the left breast pocket of our jacket.

Off I went to school the first day, a complete stranger and a foreigner. I was the only American in the school, perhaps even the only foreigner in the school.

I was not happy with being at the school initially.  In fact I was very unhappy and did not want to go to school.  I remember once pretending to be sick by heating a thermometer, but mother saw through that immediately and sent me off to school.  I remember walking up the hill to school one morning and meeting another boy from our school.  I told him a joke I knew that would have gone like this:
Joke teller: My father beat me up this morning.
Listener:  Really, tell me about it.
Joke Teller:  He got at 6:30 AM and I did not get up till 7.
I got through the first line (“My father beat me up this morning.”) and the other boy said, “Oh, is that why you are crying every morning when I see you?”
I guess that was so.  I was unhappy.  One thing was that I was scared of getting “the strap”.  Students who misbehaved were given “the strap”.  At a particular time every day, maybe even twice a day,  those who had been assigned “straps” would line up in the corridor outside the office of the priest who did the strapping.  There were usually at least a handful of students in the line, and sometimes quite a few.  When a student came out of the office, after being strapped, the next one in line would knock on the door and be called in.  The door was shut behind him.  At this point the priest would ask for the student’s name, the number of straps, and who had assigned the punishment.  This was all recorded in a journal and I think we had to sign our names next to the entry. 

The priest would then take the strap in hand and the student would hold out both hands palm up waiting to be strapped.  The “strap” looked like a rather sturdy soul of a shoe.  I believe it was custom made for this purpose and had a bone in it to keep it stiff. 

The minimum number of straps was usually 4.  I don’t think “2” was assigned. A “4” meant two on each palm.  The severity of the punishment went from four up to “double 8”.  “Double 8” was pretty rare, but “8” was not uncommon.  If the punishment was to be more severe than “double 8”, it would a caning.  I assume this was using something like a bamboo cane on a bare bottom and the number of strokes once again was in proportion to the severity of the offense.  I was never caned and never witnessed a canning.

I knew from the other boys that being strapped hurt quite a bit.  I dreaded it.  In fact I was kind of obsessed about it and would sometimes get pretty wound up about my fear.  At one point my father said “I just wish you would get strapped so that you would get over this.”   That seemed very cold hearted to me.  However,  he was absolutely right.

Of course there were a lot of other things that felt wrong to me.  The uniforms, the strict discipline imposed by the priests,  the fact that all the other students talked so differently from me.  It was not just the accent, they spoke English from a an entirely different culture. Different words, different meanings to some words, different phrasing.   Sometimes I did not understand what they were talking about. I knew nothing about their main team sports Cricket, Soccer and Rugby.. Also the classes were far more demanding than what I was used to.  I believe that the first semester I took Latin, Greek and French, together with much more demanding math.  By the time I left after two years I had taken algebra, geometry and some trigonometry.  All this seemed to crash down on me.

I was living in a Harry Potter world in many ways.  The desks in the classroom were old wooden desks with holes in them for a glass ink well.  Ink was kept in those ink wells and we used quill pens to write with.  I had never seen a quill pen like that.  In the U.S. we had used pencils and were just starting to use fountain pens.  Writing Greek with a quill pen was especially challenging.

Also like Hogwarts the students were organized into four “houses”.  I was in “Fisher House”.  The houses were rougly the same size and each contained students from all the forms.  The houses competed in various sports, including cricket, soccer, boxing, swimming and track and field.

I sometimes got headaches, felt nauseous or very sleepy.  I don’t remember this clearly but I’m pretty sure that is what was happening.  The result was that I would sometimes get sent out of class to see the school nurse.  She was my savior.  I suspect that her kindness and care are what got me through this phase of my life.  I went to her office many times.  She eventually gave me a note that I could give to a teacher that would allow me leave class and go see her any time I wanted. 

In her office she would talk to me and get me to tell her how I felt.  Sometimes I would cry.  Sometimes she would have me lie down on the bed in the nurse’s room, put a blanket over me and let me sleep.  She also sometimes gave me thick green liquid to drink, kind of like a cough syrup.  I think it helped me go to sleep.  I remember feeling warm and safe and I think I went to sleep fairly often.

Whatever she did, I really appreciated it.  I had a safe haven to go to whenever I felt bad.  She was kind and supportive.  I don’t know how long I took advantage of this safe harbor – at least a month or two, and maybe longer.  In any case I got where I went less and less often.  Eventually I would just drop in during a recess to say hello.  I guess I was “cured”.  She remained as my friend the entire two years I was at the school.

I was not consciously aware of adapting to the culture I was in.  In fact I was being assimilated in many ways.  After the first semester my grades began to rise and I eventually became something like the 5th best student in the class, and occasionally #1 on specific exams. I recently found an old report card from that school.  I may scan it and put it in here.

The strap problem was eventually resolved.  I got 4 (sent in for four straps on my hands)  along with all the other students in my classroom that day.  Before an instructor came into the room we were often quite rowdy, throwing things, yelling, pushing and the like.  On this day a coat was thrown across the room and hit a student just as the instructor came in.  He asked who had thrown the coat.  We knew who had done it.  No one said anything.  The instructor said that if he did not get the name of boy who had thrown the coat we would all get the strap.  Silence.  It was part of our unwritten code to never tell on anyone else.  No ratting out.   We all got 4.  I lined up in the hall with the other 15 or so boys and, scared, got my four straps.  Shortly after that we left school and walked a block to the bus stop.  I remember that my hands still hurt quite a bit.  It felt like they were swollen to be huge.  Within another ten minutes or so the pain was pretty much gone.  That was it.  I ceased worrying about it.  I think I got strapped at least three or four more times during the two years I was there.

Another time I think a group of us got the strap was a prank we played on a teacher.  The teacher’s desk was a table on a platform at the front of the room.  We moved the table so that the front legs were just barely on the edge of the table.  When the teacher put his book down on the table, it fell over.  We loved it.  We got in trouble for that.

I had lunches in the school dining hall.  The food was different and fairly plain. Vegetables, mashed potatoes, weak soup and thin slices of meat.  I think meat was still rationed in England.  I remember that some days we had horse meat. It wasn’t bad. I enjoyed the meals, including the social experience.

When I first arrived at the school I had an interesting cultural mixup.  One of the boys referred to me as a Yankee.  That, and the more common term “Yank”, were used to refer to Americans.  This was only 6 years after the end of WWII and there had been a lot of Yankees there back then.  I was offended.  I said “I’m not a Yankee, I’m a southerner.”   This did not translate into their culture very well.

I remember two times when my American background helped me out.  Early in the first school year we were all tested on things like how far and high we could jump.  One of the things was a test to see how far we could throw a cricket ball.  To my surprise I was the best in my age group.  It turns out that there is not a lot of throwing in cricket.  I had been playing softball for two years in the U.S. and we did a lot of throwing.  I felt good about that.

The other was a little more subtle.  I have mentioned that England was still using its currency system with pounds, shillings, and a variety of coins.  Algebra problems were often given using amounts in English currency.  Though annoying it was not a problem once the terms were learned (“Charles had 3s and 6p and wanted to buy lollies that cost tupenny haypenny each.  How many could be buy?” – or something like that).  However, though we were in the equivalent to 6th grade and were doing math significantly more advanced than I had done in the U.S., it turned out that this was the year when decimals were introduced.  Up until then everything had been done in fractions. 

It turns out that the decimal system is actually a fairly sophisticated concept.  In fact the human race did not come with anything like the modern decimal system until around the tenth century AD and it was not in common use in Europe until after the 16th century AD.  My English friends, some of whom were quite smart, had some difficulty learning to work with decimals.  I, however, seemed like a decimal genius.  I already knew decimal math because we had been using dollars and cents for math in school for years.  I got a kick out of having advanced ability in at least one thing.

We had a sports period every day and this included swimming, gymnastics, team sports, and boxing.

I remember that we learned what seemed like an incredible number of different track and field sports.  This included running at all distances up to ¼ mile, relays, hurdles, high hurdles, high jump, long jump,  pole vault, shot put, archery, discus, javelin and hammer throw.  Everybody did it. I believe we had several competitions between the four houses.  The members of Fisher house my age competed with boys the same age in the other houses.  The houses also competed in boxing, cricket and soccer.

I was OK at cricket once I learned how to bat cricket style.  I found it incredibly boring.  As an outfielder I would often be standing around for hours out in the field and might not have a ball hit toward me more than a few times in each game.  One big difference was that we did not wear gloves like we did in softball.  The first time I caught a long hit ball with my bare hands it hurt a lot.  I then learned that when you catch a cricket ball you pull your hands back with the ball as you catch it.  This is something you learn fast. Though I tried bowling (the rough equivalent of our pitching) I found it was a fairly challenging skill and others already knew it well.

As required I bought the uniforms and equipment required by the school.  I had to buy special soccer shoes/boots.  These were not cheap, but the money was wasted on me.  Everyone my age in Fisher house was automatically on the soccer team and I practiced with the team.  However, I don’t think I ever played in an actual game against another team.  I sat on the sideline.  I had never used my feet to control a ball and the other boys had been doing it since they learned to walk.  I was terrible and even though I did try, it was not something I seemed to learn fast enough to be of any use.

There was an outdoor swimming pool in a courtyard in the center of the main building.  I think we went swimming once or twice a week for about 20 minutes.  I remember that we went swimming even when it was fairly cold.  I remember diving into the pool with all the other boys when there was ice around the edges of the pool.  The result was an instant headache – but within a minute or so everything felt fine and we enjoyed this activity.

The gymnastics coach was a very strict professional who knew what he was doing.  We began with fairly simple exercises like rings, pull ups, and saddle horse mounts.  However over the time I was there we were given more and more advance things to do- like handstands and tumbling.  I think the most challenging thing I remember learning was to dive over a saddle horse while doing a flip so that you would land on your feet on the other side of the horse.  I don’t know that we stayed upright, but if you could get around to where you landed on your feet you could roll forward without getting hurt. 

The coach was a short plump man who wore an all white uniform and carried a small switch.  He did not hesitate to strike anyone he felt was not trying hard enough or was goofing off.  He was a little tyrant, but he got results and we learned to respect and trust him.  If he said we were to try something, we did it.

Another sport we learned was boxing.  I liked that and ended up being one of the boxers for Fisher House.  I had a number of matches and won a few.  Somehow I ended up on the school boxing team and was in matches against other schools.  I think I lost more than I won, but I did win some.  We were coached and I improved a lot while I was there.  I remember learning how to bat aside a punch from my opponent and go in with a fast follow up punch while his fist was still being deflected.  I think the gloves we wore had thick padding so that we did not get hard hits.  Also, we boxed by weight and at my weight we could not hit very hard.  I remember that at one point in England I weighed “seven stone, seven and a quarter”.  Since a stone was 14 pounds that meant I weighed just over 105 pounds.

I was proud of being a boxer.  I’ve always worried about the possibility that I might be a sissy or a coward and here I was being a fighter.  I’ve carried some of that pride all my life. I invited my father to come to a boxing match against another school.  It was in our school gym and probably on a Saturday.  He came and watched my match.  My opponent was significantly better boxer than I was and his arms were longer than mine.  I tried to use all the things I had learned, but I was getting punched in the face over and over and rarely landed a punch on him. 

I think there were only three rounds in a match.  I made it through the first round.  In the second round I got mad and tried to just charge him swinging hard hoping I could clobber him.  He handled this well and kept poking me in the face.  My lip got cut from some of the punches and there was blood on my face.  The referee stopped the match and awarded the win to my opponent.  I was upset.  I think I was crying.  I wanted to go on with the fight.  Also I was embarrassed to get beat up like that in front of my father.  I think my father told me that he had done some boxing at VMI and that he was proud of me fighting as hard as I did. 

Through no conscious effort on my part I became completely assimilated into the culture of the school.  After two years I was indistinguishable from the other boys.  I remember that one semester we had a new student and I was introduced as “The Yank”. He asked why they called me that and they told him I was an American who had come over from the United States.  He replied something like “No he’s not.  He’s one of us. He doesn’t sound like an American.”   I don’t think I realized that I had acquired their accent and manner of speaking until that happened.  I think I must have had two accents.  When I was home with my family I talked the way I always had, but at school I became one of the Brits.  I also remember that there were different accents in the school.  One boy was from Manchester and I imitated some of his pronunciation “Coom on lahds!” 

I also became aware of some of the accent differences related to class.  Some kids had a very upper class accent, and few were a little closer to cockney.

At that time I had no preconceived notions of English boy’s schools.  Since then I have seen a number of stereotypes in books, including the Harry Potter books.  However I do not remember any bullies harassing me or my friends.  The priests all seemed like very religious, and strict, men and I don’t think I even knew of the possibility of homosexuality.

I eventually felt completely at home in that school.  I had friends I hung out with and played with.  One of the things we played was called “knockers”.  Each player had a chestnut on a string and we would try to break the other person’s chestnut.  I think we took turns holding our chestnut out for the other person to swing there’s at.  A good chestnut would win for a week or more. 

There was a little candy stand open during recess and I enjoyed the English candies.  Most candy was still rationed in England at that time and Madge and I got ration books and used our coupons.  Our father could go in the American PX store in London and buy all the candy he wanted.  He would occasionally bring home Hershey bars or boxes of candy.  However, the English candy, especially those with chocolate, were new to me and especially tasty. I enjoyed my ration book.

Though I was immersed in my school during school days I had very little contact with any of the boys outside of school.  I did end up with one friend.  I think we called each other by our last name and I knew him as “Petre”.  I would occasionally spend a day at his house and he would sometimes be at mine.  I don’t know that we ever slept over.

I remember one particular experience that I now look back with some shame.  Petre had a toy metal set that consisted of pieces of metal and a device that could bend the metal.  I think there were nuts and bolts with it too.  I don’t remember it very well.

I had a stamp collection.  It was a big red book with about 100 pages with little pockets for stamps.  I think some of the pages had printed pictures of stamps. I had started collecting stamps in Fairlington and used to send of for packets of hundreds of stamps that I would sort through and put in the books.  I can still remember many of the different countries and related stamps that I collected.  I had thousands of stamps in my collection, many in large transparent envelopes.  My father’s uncle, Uncle Ed, used to visit us in Fairlington and he would sometimes bring me special stamps.  I’m guessing that the stamps in that book were worth several hundred dollars, and I had put in at least one hundred hours working with that book.

Petre and I decided that we would make a trade.  He would give me his metal set and I would give him my stamp collection.  I doubt that metal set was worth $10.  We traded.  My father found out and tried to reverse the trade.  I remember that I felt this was something like a violation of my honor.  I was adamant. I cried, I insisted.  I would not listen to reason.   I’m sure this was very upsetting for my father, especially because of the stamps Uncle Ed had given me.  However, I made it a matter of pride – for whatever the reason – and the trade was not reversed.  I look back at what a stupid thing that was to do and how blindly arrogant and self righteous I was about having my way.  However, I think it was probably the first time in my life that I did stick to my guns in a difficult confrontation and I suspect that is why my father did not insist on getting the stamp album back.

I have an autograph book with autographs from my childhood. It includes some from priests at the John Fisher school. There are about 8 different autographs from those priests.  One of the priests, J. Macdonald, asked me to leave the autograph book with him for a day and when he gave it back it had the water color painting shown below.  All those years ago and I still appreciate his kindness.  I think I was in good hands at that school.

In looking back I think my experience of adapting to the English school and culture, and the intense academic regime, had a significant influence on my personality.  I also think it made the next five years of grade school a lot easier because of the intense academic experience in England.

I was in England in 1965 with Bonnie in our VW camping bus and we drove to the school.  I remember walking along a fence and remembering a red rubber ball that had bounced over the fence and got lost in the bushes on the other side while I was a student there.  I had spent hours looking for that ball back then.  I remember thinking in 1965 that maybe I should look again.  Strange that at the time I felt it had been ages since I had been a student there.  In fact I had left in 1952, only 13 years earlier.  I have now been in Abingdon over 15 years and that does not seem like such a long period.

When Phyllis, I, and my son, Paul, went on a guided car trip in England in 2014 we had the driver take us to the John Fisher school.  We walked around the grounds and I remembered some of the rooms.  I remember looking at the courtyard where the swimming pool had been.  An instructor, probably around 3,  saw us and spent about 30 minutes showing us around.  There was a hall with school year photographs in it and we found ones from the years I was there.  There were well over 100 boys in the photo and I was unable to figure out which one was me.

Also during the trip to England in 2014 I had contacted the John Fisher alumni association and a man a few years younger than me came into London to meet me and Phyllis and we had a good discussion of our memories of the school. He knew some of the priests I had known and I recognized the names.  In particular he remembered the name of the priest who gave the strap to the students.

During this road trip I got into a discussion with the driver of our car.  She was something like an adjunct professor in history and quite knowledgeable about both Stonehenge and Canterbury Cathedral which we visited that day.  We got talking about the John Fisher school.  She said that based our visit that day she felt it was particularly focused on sports.  On the one hand that explained why I had been exposed to so many sports while I was there.  On the other hand, thinking of the U.S. schools, this implied to me that perhaps this was not a particularly good academic school.  She explained that this was a misconception.  She said that private schools like this usually had an area of focus like sports. arts, music, or any number of areas.  However, this did not keep them from being strong in general academics and that these were indeed the schools from which many of the students went on to the top universities in England.  John Fisher was not one of the elite prep schools but her impression was that it was a fairly good school.

I don’t think I am consciously aware of how my experiences at the John Fisher School shaped me.  However, I do feel that it gave me an ability to feel fairly comfortable in a completely new situation, sort of a chameleon like persona that goes into a state of mind where I am reading all the clues I can about the context I am in and carefully analyzing how to behave.  I find the quote “Every blessing is also a curse, and every curse is also a blessing,” useful here.  I think I got a lot of positive things from that experience, along with some psychological baggage.

Here is a report card from, I assume, the fall of 1951.  I note that I was around 14th in  a class of 31.  I also note that I was indeed taking French, Latin, and Greek.
John_fisher_rep           John_fisher_ltr

End – John Fisher School memories

We had been in England for several years and my father expected to be transferred to France in the near future.  Instead both he and his friend Gage Spies were given orders to attend the U.S.  Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and both families sailed from England on the “USNS General Alexander M. Patch”, a sister ship of the one we came over on, in July of 1952.  Before leaving we stayed in a hotel in downtown London for a week or two and I enjoyed wandering around.  I remember renting a single-rower racing scull and learning how to row it at a reasonably fast speed.

We were on the rail of the ship as it left the dock in South Hampton.  My sister was wearing a charm bracelet with 20 or more charms she had acquired in the various cities and events we had attended while in Europe.  We were waving to friends on the dock and I watched as her bracelet came loose and  fell, oh so slowly it seemed, down to the water below.

The trip back was similar to the one coming over and my memories of the two overlap.  I was two years older and am vaguely aware that I was more sure of myself and independent than when I came over.   There was a band and some performers on the ship.   It's possible, but not likely, that one of them was Johnny Ray.   His successful singing career, especially “The Little White Cloud that Cried” was just beginning in the U.S.    Of course he was just another performer to us and it was only later that I made the connection and wondered if I was correct that he was on our ship.  I just read the Wikipedia entry for Johnny Ray and conclude that it is very unlikely that he was on our ship.  His career took off in 1952 and my guess he had more lucrative things to do than being a performer on a U.S. Transport ship.

Our English Setter, Chips, was on the ship with us and it was my job to feed him and walk him.  The dog area was on a fenced off outdoor area on top of part of the ship.   Once again I very much enjoyed the voyage.  It was on the this voyage that we saw the SS United States on her record breaking maiden voyage from New York to South Hampton in July of 1952.

We arrived in New York, picked up Willy (our Jeep Station Wagon), and drove to Baltimore where we spent the day ordering tailor made clothes from a tailor there.  I think my father ordered two suites and I may have ordered something.   That was kind of the thing to do in those days.  I remember that the hotel we stayed in had valets who wanted to carry our suit cases for us and it was kind of awkward because this was not something we were used to.

I assume we spent time in Abingdon and Tampa that summer before ending up living in a nice house in the Carlisle Barracks army post.