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Life as a Boarder 1958 to 1967

Tuesday, 6 June, 2017 -- Helen Wilson

I arrived together with my brother James in September 1958 aged ten and nine at The Grange. Although today it might seem strange, at the time it did not. Some of the other boarders had already been away from their parents for a number of years. Our parents and sisters left the UK shortly after and were scheduled to be away for the next four years.

Eltham College effectively became my home for the following nine years, although we had “guardians” we stayed with during the holidays. I did not really appreciate the magnitude of the change to our lives that this would bring. Being one of a number of “missionary kids”, our upbringings had often been very different from other pupils at the school. I had been brought up in the Belgian Congo. When I arrived at Eltham College, I spoke and wrote fluent French (and other languages), but could only read but not write in English. I was very familiar with the metric system (which at the time had not been adopted in the UK) but knew nothing about the imperial system. I know that there were other pupils in a not dissimilar situation. Not surprisingly we struggled with the academic studies and given that the school was originally founded for “the sons of missionaries” it was odd that no structure existed to facilitate our transition. There were a few insightful teachers who realized that some of us had arrived with severe disadvantages in our basic “British” education and who went well beyond their normal responsibilities to help us catch up.

The “day boys” returned to their families in the evenings and at weekends. The “boarders” were of course based at the school in a somewhat regimented structure, although over the years our restrictions became a little more flexible. Much of the structure of boarders’ routines was organized by the “monitors”. “Monitors” were older pupils who were appointed to support staff in “running” the boarders’ lives. “Prefects” had authority over all pupils and played a similar role during the day. Punishments for not following the rules included “rounds” (minutes running around the cricket field), detentions and the cane.

Saturday mornings were devoted to homework and writing letters to family and in the afternoons we were permitted to venture outside the school. Older “boarders” were allowed to have a bicycle, which enabled them to “escape” further away!

Sunday mornings, younger “boarders” were “crocodile walked” to Church, while older ones made their own way. Sunday evenings there was always a Chapel service.

Sports were an important activity while I was at Eltham and I played on numerous teams and was fortunate to be awarded the Eric Liddell prize in my final year.

It should be said that the vast majority of our teachers were excellent and I can now appreciate the high standards that they set and expected of us. By the time I left Eltham College, I had managed to catch up academically.

Andrew Couldridge 1967