Fifty years is a long time and though “distance lends enchantment to the view” it also dims the details. A recollection of my days at the old School (I was an original member of Wingfield House – Mr. Bell’s – the building was wiped out in an air-raid) might begin with Galpin, the Headmaster, an able little man with an oily smile (also used when most dangerous!) and a firm belief in the just punishment of sin. Sunday evening chapel was held then in the S.E. Transept to the music of an harmonium played by Percy Godfrey, of whom more later. Galpin was a great believer in his duty to lead the singing and a stickler on the correct pointing of the Psalms. On the day when Psalm 114 came along to remind us that the mountains skipped like rams and the little hills like young sheep, we hushed our voices so as to be able to get the full value of the Head booming out: “The mountains skipped like rah-hahms, and the leetle heels like ewe-hung sheep”.
The Rev. L.H. Evans was Headmaster of the Junior School, a rather “serious” character, dour in aspect, more unapproachable than Galpin. I can remember only one instance of his revealing any emotion, during a School Concert in the Parry Library, when he sat on a chair and fixed his eye on a distant non-existent bottle and gave a recitation of a reformed drunkard eyeing his finally defeated old enemy, drink.
Among the teaching-staff, “Old Tar” (Mr. L.G.H. Mason) was quite unforgettable by reason of his enormous paunch, more noticeable by his being short. I believe he once rowed for his College at Cambridge and remember he always checked inattention by a short sharp: “Eyes in the boat”.
Mr. Edmonds was the quietest of the masters and a skilful amateur pianist who always impressed at School Concerts by playing Etudes from Chopin, which though “above our heads”, inspired respect and admiration.
Cape (Tubby Cape) came with a reputation as a Cambridge athlete and mathematical genius. My recollection of him is of his spotting a boy playing with a penknife in class. Cape told the boy to bring it to him, examined it, and put it in his pocket with the remark: “This will come in handy for cleaning my pipes; always certain ruin for a knife”.
Percy Godfrey, the music-master, was a man I liked immensely. His lessons on music to the boys not learning an instrument were held in the Old Dining Room at 2, when the room was still full of the smell of food. He told us a lot about the history of music and made his lessons an influence on later life. I remember taking notes and he must have seen me, for one day he stopped and said: “Have you been putting all that down, Saw?” I said, yes, proudly. “Well”, he said, “I thought so. I have been pulling your leg. What I have just been saying is all wrong!” That taught me to rely on my memory! He used to go up to The Buffs Depot and listen to the band practising, standing behind each player in turn to note the effect of his instrument. The result appeared in his Coronation March, which won the Musicians’ Company’s Prize for King Edward VII’s Coronation.
Yes, fifty years is a long way back, and my life has been a wonderful adventure which, despite its ups and downs, its great joys and great sorrows, I would love to be able to have all over again and “fight the good fight” as St. Paul advises us to do. What have I learned from it all? I think the final wisdom of life is this: Trust in God: leave the future in His Hands – and the past to His Mercy.
Reginald Saw (1886-1966) was at the King’s School from 1901 to 1903, being one of the original members of Mr C. W. Bell’s house in St. George’s Place. He then left to study law and was articled to his father’s firm of Messrs Saw & Sons of Greenwich, becoming a solicitor in 1913. In 1921 he went to Germany, where he took up teaching and translating, and advising on English law. He eventually became Reader in English at the University of Cologne. In 1939 he returned to England and worked for twelve years at the Bank of England. He retired in 1951 and went to Rhodesia for five years, partly for his health. He returned to Blackheath, and was elected a member of Morden College, where he became curator and librarian. He was an active antiquarian, writing and lecturing on aspects of local history. He left the School a collection of private press books and works with an Irish connection.