ROBIN HILL SCHOOL - A TRIP TO GERMANY
by Ray Oliver
Just eight years after the end of the Second World War, the pupils at Robin Hill (aka Junior Tech becoming HTHS 2 years later) were offered the opportunity to join a school trip to foreign parts. Apart from those elders who had been conscripted into the armed forces, hitherto travel to faraway places was mainly for the wealthy. A sign of recovery from the dark days of the 40s was the introduction of school parties heading beyond our shores, even to the vanquished and divided country of Germany. I could be mistaken but I believe the trip I describe here was the first of its kind undertaken by the school.
There was sufficient support for the trip to go ahead and child passports were organised and the itinerary provided. Coronation day had been on the 3rd June 1953 and my father and I had travelled to London, not for the crowning but a celebratory visit to Lord’s with the Northern Cricket Society. This was my first visit to the capital and our hobnobbing with Jardine, Hammond and Billy Griffith being far more attractive to Dad and me than the pomp and circumstance taking place just down the road.
The school trip provided my second fleeting visit to London later in June. I spent my 15th birthday on the 25th June in transit to Germany. There being no cheap flights from Manchester then, it was an overland journey taking two days starting, I think, by coach from the school to London Road Station in Manchester. The train journeys then took us via London to Dover where we boarded a ferry for Ostend. On arrival we were met by a coach to take us to the appointed hotel overlooking the sea in Blankenberg where the meal and overnight accommodation was a welcome break for weary travellers. The soup gave rise to much discussion, with green leafy bits floating around it was like nothing we had seen before. It was quickly christened “privet soup” and consumed eagerly by the more gannetlike members of the party, me included.
Up early the following morning we joined the coach for the journey across Belgium, Holland and into Germany. It was yet another very long day of travelling and with much relief we arrived at the town of Königswinter on the Rhine.
It will come of no surprise to ex HTHS pupils reading this when I say that the member of staff who took charge and issued the commands on this trip was none other than “Killer” Kerrigan. His approach was that of a slightly benign SS Officer who had ways of making us obey his wishes. I cannot recall any other member of staff on that trip but there must have been others.
Barge traffic on the Rhine fascinated me as did the railways along both banks of the river. Traffic was continuous on both rail and river with heavy goods vehicles pulling large trailers a common sight on the roads. My keen interest then was in all kinds of vehicles from bikes to ocean liners and understanding how they worked. I was familiar with the old and barely visible solenoid operated trafficators fitted to cars at home but in Germany I saw flashing indicators for the first time. Only some kind of “anorak” like me would remember that!
We trundled alongside the Rhine in a tram to Bad Honef where we bathed in a freezing cold open air pool; needless to say I enjoyed the tram ride best. Another trip took us to Bad Godesberg and those who have seen the now infamous newsreel of Chamberlain waving a piece of paper and declaring “peace for our time” may also recall that Bad Godesberg was where he met Hitler and signed the document which turned out to be such a con trick. I seem to recall Herr Kerrigan issuing a Basil Fawlty order not to mention the war during the visit. Further trips took us to the top of the nearby Drachenfels (Dragon’s Rock) giving a magnificent panoramic view of the Rhine and surrounding countryside and to Koblenz at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle. Koblenz was still showing the effects of the allied bombing with many buildings in ruins. Our packed lunches for these outings were provided by the hotel and were at least consistent, ham rolls every day without fail.
Wandering around Königswinter gave an opportunity to see what presents could be bought for folks back home, my mother being in receipt of a very small bottle of 4711 perfume on my return. One evening a small group of us were strolling in the streets of the town when the sound of marching feet was heard heading in our direction. Young as we were the sight of goose-stepping supporters of the Fuhrer was familiar from newsreels of the recent past and this mob looked as though they were reliving their past glories. Feeling that this was not a time for British valour in the face of the enemy we headed back to the hotel at the double. I think we probably kept mum about it as reporting the matter to “Killer” seemed unwise, we didn’t want to him to scare the marchers as much as he frightened us and start WW3.
Returning to the UK involved the long return coach trip staying this time in Bruges. Beautiful lace, quaint canals and street vendors selling chips with salad cream on them were the memories I have of that very attractive city in 1953. What a contrast to dear old smoky Oldham where the cotton industry was still holding on, fish and chips came with salt and vinegar and rationing was a very recent memory.
Altogether a wonderful educational experience which will be never be forgotten by me.
JTS/HTHS 1951 - 1957