Plumtree School - Old Prunitians


During my years at Wits University I had been led astray by O.P.ís (unnamed) and had actually asked to be posted to Plumtree School possibly in an idealistic hope to reform young Prunitians before thy became O.P.ís. Arrived at Plumtree station from Johannesburg, in January 1958, with one Welsh Springer Spaniel, who from the start nearly put the blight on my career by being sick on the Headmasterís (Patterson) carpet. Other arrivals at this time were the Westwoods and son Tony, Eric and Margaret Crush, Angus and Madge Burns and one Sue Todd, newly married to Neil Todd, who had just completed his first year at Plumtree.

When I was shown the Dem lab in which I had to teach General Science and Biology and the Chemistry lab I had to share with Angus Burns, where my Prep Room and store for very ancient equipment consisted of two clothes cupboards, my immediate impulse was to pack up and return to Johannesburg, where I had just vacated a new and modern Biology laboratory. Happily, I saw the Physics and Chemistry Labs being built and the foundations for the Biology lab being dug so I stayed. In my first year at Plumtree I was quartered with two other bachelor masters, in the Hammond Huts (also know as the "Compound"). The hut I occupied had seen duty as Plumtreeís first chapel. I also discovered at this time that I had been proceeded by a relative, one Great-aunt Anne Musson, the first head of Plumtree School in 1902. I did not broadcast my precedence over the Hammond family for I felt that Plumtree was still embarrassed about their first Head (person) being a woman.

Being aware that cricket was the major sport at Plumtree, I carried in my satchel a copy of "Teach Yourself Cricket Coaching". Headmaster Patterson must have been surprised at my swift response to his request to fill the vacancy of Master i/c Tennis. I presented the book to another Housemaster, when Lloyd won the House cricket. I had no such qualms about coaching the Under thirteen and fourteen rugby teams, thoroughly enjoying those years I had with the youngsters who were a joy to coach. I even had a shot at coaching hockey but that I had to do on crutches.

An inkling what life at Plumtree as a Biology master was to be, came during a morning break when a fellow master, with an evil grin on his face, told me that the Field and Museum Club wanted to show me some of their specimens. In the Dem lab I had to fake enthusiasm over an Eggeater, Leguaan and a small python, exhibited with pride by one Ken Wells. At the same time, repressing a revulsion I had to snakes, I also learnt to my horror that my predecessor, Barney Meara, was a keen herpetologist and I was inheriting his enthusiastic disciples. My happy existence as a Plumtree schoolmaster hung on this spurious display of interest. Nevertheless as President of Field & Museum Club I had a great deal of fun organising trips to Seven-Mile Kopjie and other areas, collecting specimens and setting up exhibitions in the Biology lab at Sports Weekend. As new member of staff, I was expected, like my predecessor, to organise the annual Oakvale camp at Rhodes & Founders. I managed to escape that fate by being involved in a trip with Cliff Coventry, boys and famous lorry to the pools near the Pandamatenga. The following year I joined him again in a combined Chaplin / Plumtree expedition to Makgadigadi Pan and Maun. Compiled a slide, film and sound show on this expedition which we showed at different schools and as a result I became Plumtree Rep on the Matabeleland Schools and Science Expeditions, going on four of their expeditions. I was official photographer on three of them and put together film and slide shows of them. I made my own private 8mm sound film of the last one.

The second year at Plumtree saw me quartered at the Lloyd House end of Grey, where I spent five happy years with the Goodburns at the other end. I also increased the number of Springer Spaniels to three, all of whom took a strong dislike the Turnerís Golden Cockers (Sally and Gina), in Lloyd. The Lloyd and Grey spaniels had to take non-intersecting circuits during evening walks. In 1964, spaniels and self moved across the road to Lloyd to begin ten very happy and fulfilling years (as Housemaster). It also continued the lean period for Lloyd in their Athletics but they scored in all the other sports. I was fortunate enough to have Mike Clarance and Neil Viljoen to assist me and an absolute gem of a House matron in Mrs. Clarke. I was extremely fortunate with matrons and Mrs. Du Plessis, who followed, was in the same motherly mould, even making koeksisters on a Sunday for the whole house (including Housemaster). I also had the luck to have Mike Mountain, Ant Lovell, and Rowan Phillips as resident masters in Lloyd with Bob Sheppey, Dave Candler and George Gibson as visiting masters.

During this period, it was decided to build a Games room in the area beyond the back studies. To raise money we made an 8mm film - "School in the Bush" - depicting a day in the life Plumtree schoolboy. I tried to include as many schoolboys in it as possible so when I took it on tour as many relatives as possible would be dragged along to view their kinís brief moment on screen and of course pay to see it. I piled all the equipment into the Kombi and caravan and did a seventeen-day tour around Rhodesia and amassed enough cash to pay for the games room.

The Bluegums lining the walk from Lloyd to the hospital were a magnificent sight but the branches were always falling on the telephone lines disrupting communication. During 1968 September holidays the Post Office took down the lines while I, with the hostel staff proceeded to saw off the offending branches. I was up an extendable aluminum ladder sawing through a branch when the branch fell knocking the ladder from underneath me. I fell eighteen feet to the deck and was lucky enough only to break the neck on the thighbone. Mike Clarance hauled me off to the Bulawayo Central for repair work and when school opened took over care of Lloyd. I was making good progress when he visited me and told me that he and Peggy had cleaned and tidied my study, which sent me into an immediate relapse !

Spent the first part of the third term in the school hospital, teaching the upper Biology forms on the verandah. Hobbled around on crutches for the next three years, had two more ops and was worked over by physiotherapists assisted by Margaret Candler and Felix Westwood, who put me through a series of exercises in the Gym in a vain attempt to get me to use my leg. Despite this setback we managed to get the games room erected. Laid down the cement floor over a weekend and on one weekday a firm from Salisbury erected the prefab in a day. This infuriated a PWD clerk, who the previous week had surveyed, numbered and placed on a plan, all the buildings on the school grounds. He now found on his return another building had popped up unrecorded.

Staff and boys were most helpful during this period but I found it difficult to smile when I had once more to listen to the story of how I sat on the wrong side of the branch and to the story of the faith healer who told the cripple to throw away his crutches and his victim then promptly fell down !

The stairs in Lloyd are precipitous and it was frustrating to hear a din in Middle Dorm and know that they were up to no good. Eventually I discovered I could ascend the back stairs and the dead silence as I stumped into Middle Dorm and Middle Dorm realised that the glory days were over, was most satisfying. My progress around the studies during prep was easily detected by the smell of pipe tobacco, spaniels and the clicking sound made by my crutches. One Leon Varley, discovered that by using a pair of pliers he could duplicate the sound made by my crutches. He thereafter amused himself during prep clicking the pliers and sending all the socialisers scooting back to their desks. After three years of hobbling around on crutches my surgeons gave the option of hip replacement or a "Girdlestone Op" which removed all the metalwork they implanted in my bones. I chose the latter. It was a much-improved situation and with tables providing support I found that I could move around the lab without crutches. Examining the work of one Kemp (Milner 1970) during a lesson he asked me when I was going to walk unaided. I made some flippant remark whereupon he accused me of being "moist" about walking. "Moist" in schoolboy parlance meant I was scared. This rankled and during the free period that followed, stirred by his remark, I attempted walking without crutches between two tables and found that clumsy though it was, I succeeded. The next few days were spent practicing this long lost skill until I found confident enough to do it unaided. As I walked towards Kemp from my desk, sans crutches, during a later lesson, there was a look of shock on his face swiftly replaced by a broad knowing grin. I shall always be indebted to that youthful, concerned Prunitian, now probably a middle-aged father, who probably does not even remember the incident.

Being a science teacher I was unable to get long leave and so was feeling stale. With extended Biology syllabus, I also felt I needed to spend more time bringing myself up to date in my subject. Decided after ten years as Lloyd Housemaster to give up my housemastering and move to the staff house next to the Chapel. The house was situated next to Milner and so I started doing duties in Milner under Brian Haddon and later Mike Burton. I had inherited a wonderful garden, developed by the van der Polls, and looked forward to having a garden that would not be ruined by the Grey House types taking shortcuts across the lawns to avoid being late for meals. This was not to be. Lloyd, as a farewell present, had given me two English Springer spaniel pups, who like Grey House had scant respect for flower beds. During this period we had a visit by Grey House OP, David Farrant, who had been ordained and was member of the Community of the Order in the UK. Brother Basil expressed a wish to celebrate in the School Chapel, and after spending the night in my house left early to prepare the chapel. I was intrigued to see that he conducted the service in his brown habit but was barefoot. I dismissed this as being a traditional custom of the order and only learnt at breakfast that the pups had swiped his sandals. Rather missed not being able to wear a pink rosette, so moved across to neutral Hammond House, and so was able to support my old house again.

Put together another 8mm sound film, this time of the musical "My Fair Lady" the school took on tour of the country. It involved some tricky matching of the lip movements with the sound but was able to eventually screen it in the Beit Hall. Despite happily doing duties in Hammond with the Marshalls, was very unsettled and felt I needed a new challenge. Decided to go back to my old love of doing research, having been weaned away from agricultural research to teaching. On a holiday to the Eastern Cape I stayed in Grahamstown, found it a pleasant and friendly city and paid a visit to their Education department at Rhodes. Decided to study for a further degree leading to doing research in Education. Took retirement, packed up the caravan, pick up the dogs and headed for Grahamstown in 1978. During one of the last lessons I took I was asked what I was going to do at Rhodes and explained that I was to study for a degree in Education. I then heard a voice from the back. "After all these years here and he is only now going to learn how to teach !!"


Spent ten years in Grahamstown. On my arrival found such fellow students as Browning (Grey), Condy (Hammond), Flip van Deventor (Gaul), K. Neuhoff (Gaul), as well as Mervyn Wetmore (Hammond/Lloyd), my Student Advisor. Bill Blunt (Lloyd) I found was senior to me having just completed his B.Ed. in the Education Dept. Thoroughly enjoyed doing my B.Ed. and wished I had done it earlier. Managed to graduate and spent two very enjoyable years researching data for my thesis. During this period I spent some time part-time teaching at St. Andrews College and found that many of the Plumtree traditions had had their origin at St. Andrews. After gaining my M.Ed. I taught at Graeme College for a year. Enjoyed getting back into to the classroom but found teaching in the Cape Province, after Plumtree, disappointing and so went back in the Education Dept. taking post as Technical Officer and was involved in Science Education, though more as a lab assistant than a teacher. I had a marvellous time playing around with their audiovisual equipment. With the aid of obsolete equipment from their Journalism Dept. I was able to build up their Closed Circuit TV and sound system and developed a small TV Studio and control room used for recording debates, discussions and mini teaching practice. This very enjoyable time working at something which was merely an extension of a hobby. After two years I was able to put my audiovisual experience into practice taking the Biology teaching post at Kingswood College. I had not only a laboratory, office and prep room but a lecture theatre all to myself. I was therefore able to develop an ideal audiovisual set-up. I had a 16mm projector, a rear projection screen for slides, a video recorder and monitor on which to screen biology excerpts to illustrate my lesson. It was an ideal teaching situation. After a year I was asked to go back to Rhodes, where besides handling the audiovisual side I now became involved with computers and ran courses on computer literacy for the Education students. Did an extra year at Rhodes to finance my own computer and with it retired to Bedford, a small town nestling among the Winterberg mountains.

Bedford was chosen because it was a compact version of Plumtree village and I wanted to get back into a rural atmosphere again. Another consideration was that I was able to finance the purchase of a house I would not have been able to afford in Grahamstown. A rugby field separates the house from the local high school and this adds extra spice to retirement being able to hear the bells and sounds of educational activity and then be able to turn over the page and read another chapter. I was soon involved in education again and for the next seven years ran science workshops and holiday courses for the Urban Foundation and later Primary Science Project until they ran out of funds. It was a brave attempt to help black primary school teachers with their science teaching. Most of them were on farm schools and few had any training and had more or less come straight from school into the classroom.

I have now finally retired but am still kept involved with different activities. During a spell in hospital, after an op, I passed away the time writing my experiences as POW. On return to Bedford I completed the task and with illustrations printed my "book" on the computer printer. I had so much fun doing this that I have embarked on another project, researching and writing up POW escapes from first and second World Wars.

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