I was born in 1941 and family legend has it that it was without benefit of electric light under the kitchen table of a farm in Tunstall during an air raid. My mother named me Alfred in memory of her father, a trawler skipper recently torpedoed off Iceland, and from early childhood I aspired to follow in his footsteps.
At the age of ten, I took the ’11 plus' exam and then, whilst waiting for the results, achieved a more important ambition by embarking on a 21 day trip into the Arctic Circle on the coal burning steam trawler Lord Rowallan. I returned to the news that I had been awarded an East Riding Scholarship to Hymers. That pleased my mother but it did not please me as I had hoped to follow my elder brother to the Nautical School. However, the woman who lived next door to our terraced home, Mrs Dickens, consoled me with stories of how her son Geoff had been to Hymers and was now Pro Vice Chancellor of University College Hull.
That was confirmed when I arrived at Hymers in 1952 and discovered the name A G Dickens on the honours board immediately above ‘A 8’, which was to be my ‘form room’. It recorded that he went from Hymers to Magdalen College Oxford. Later, he became a very distinguished academic historian, holding a professorial chair at Kings College London before becoming Director of the Institute of Historical Research.
I didn’t understand what ‘Pro Vice-Chancellor’ meant but it sounded quite important and stuck in my memory as a possible fall back if I failed in my larger ambition to become a trawler skipper.
My earliest memories of Hymers include the celebration feast held in the flag bedecked main hall to celebrate the coronation of HM The Queen, at which we were each given a suitably engraved silver spoon.
I remember that every day at Hymers began with morning assembly and that Saturday school - we attended six days a week - began with extended rehearsal of the hymns chosen for the following week. I also half remember that the unofficial version of the school song included a verse with the words “… now way back in history, this town was called Wyke … there were just a few mud huts called Hull Grammar School … “.
All boys were required to join the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) and we wore military uniform on Fridays, undertook weapons training on Tuesday afternoons and regularly participated in live firing on the school rifle range. We were schooled in such important martial arts as how to approach and ‘eliminate’ an enemy sentry silently from behind. In later life, I often warned difficult colleagues that, thanks to Hymers, I became a trained killer at the age of thirteen.
From time to time, the CCF was divided into rival companies and, having drawn British army rifles from the school armoury, we were transported in a fleet of double decker buses to Beverley Westwood for manoeuvres.
During our battles, Major ‘Sally’ Lund, who taught English and had served with the Chindits in Burma, and Captain ‘Mo’ Mitchell, my French master and organiser of the Hymers sword dancing team, strode around the Westwood pronouncing people dead and ordering the corpses to walk back to the buses.
For my first battle, I choose a Bren gun rather than the standard British army rifle. My reward was to be ordered to bury myself in a deep thicket of thorns and await the attack. Every one else then had fun firing the ten ‘blanks’ with which they had been issued. But, as a Bren gunner, I only got to wave a large Hull City football supporters rattle over my head in simulation of machine gun fire.
My interests included the Debating Society where I achieved the distinction of winning a ‘balloon debate’. That owed little to my oratory and more to the fact that I had been chosen to impersonate Elvis Presley. I also appeared in the CCF concert, impersonating a much feared master, for which purpose I goose-stepped onto the Memorial Hall stage dressed as a storm trooper complete with swastika regalia. Those were the days before political correctness.
In more serious vein, I spoke in a debate about Britain's Suez military adventure in 1956 which was recorded in the minutes with the words ‘Morris also spoke, but said nothing of any consequence’.
In my day Hymers was ‘for boys only’. There was briefly just one female ‘master’. I remember that the headmaster ordained that ‘to avoid confusing the boys’ she should be addressed as ‘Sir’ but that on meeting her we should doff our caps, as we did for his wife, rather than merely ‘tipping’ the brim as for other masters.
The headmaster was H R Roach (HRR), a former Eton housemaster who lived with his German wife and daughter in the long since demolished School House and whose imminent arrival was invariably signalled by the advance appearance of his labrador Dinah.
The ground floor of the School House served as the ‘tuck shop’ and also as the school dining rooms which provided a discipline free environment in which chaos often reigned. I remember the arrival of a new master who attempted to introduce order by making copious use of a whistle. The attempt failed in the face of the school’s traditional indication of disapproval by the loud and vigorous stamping of feet under the tables.
The use of physical punishment was embraced with enthusiasm. Indeed, I suspect a staff vote on appropriate punishment for boys like me whose names appeared regularly in the weekly detention and imposition book might have produced a majority in favour of the introduction of capital punishment. The authorities also condoned forms of torture imposed on younger boys by senior boys with the status of prefect or corporal or above.
I remember that once I was sent to stand outside the headmaster’s study and await a ‘caning’ and that after what seemed like an eternity he called me in and said “ …Morris, I find you a perfect gentleman … and those who know you better tell me I could hardly be more mistaken … bend over ! “.
I continued to harbour my ambition to be a trawler skipper until one day, struggling to read the blackboard, I realised I would not be able to pass the eyesight test necessary for a ‘skippers ticket’.
That was the moment at which it dawned that I might have to settle for a lesser career, possibly even as a Vice-Chancellor but I realised that I had neglected the need to demonstrate outstanding academic ability. So, having rejected the idea of becoming a statistician as likely to prove too exciting, I decided to ‘take articles’ with a local Old Hymerian firm and train for five years at a salary of £156 per annum to become a Chartered Accountant.
I think the headmaster was less than impressed with my career decision as he recorded in my final school report that “ … Morris has wasted his time here … “. That final verdict rather spoils the report book which I still treasure and in earlier years includes such gems as “behaviour - good, with lapses - frequent”. However, on reflection, HRR was right.
The last act of my time at Hymers involved a midnight expedition with others in which we scrambled over the Sunny Bank perimeter fence and climbed the school’s main hall roof to decorate its pinnacles with the uniform berets of most of Hull’s girls’ schools.
The next morning, at the end of year assembly, the headmaster expressed his displeasure and remarked that at Eton the boys had usually presented him with an appropriate gift such as his treasured walking stick whereas at Hymers he was presented only with a bill for roof repairs.
At this distance, I remember Hymers with affection and the story of John Hymers endowment “… to train intelligence in whatever rank it may be found amongst the population of the town and port … “, with gratitude. In particular, I delight in the successes, attributable to the efforts of both staff and pupils and to the leadership of the present and previous headmasters, which allow me to claim an association with what has become recognised as one of the finest schools in Britain.
I am sure that much of that success reflects the wise decision to admit girls.
Editor’s Note: Alfred Morris, having qualified as a chartered accountant, went on in his late twenties to enrol at the then very new Lancaster University, without support and paying his own fees. His professional career progressed in London with Deloitte Haskin and Sells before he switched to
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