Peggotty ponders: Is our local history taught in schools?

MAIN PIC = ARMS BEARER: a Great Yarmouth Corporation bus with the heraldic shield in the diamond on

MAIN PIC = ARMS BEARER: a Great Yarmouth Corporation bus with the heraldic shield in the diamond on the side. The bus, on the Gorleston Cliffs route, is a 1949 Leyland (EX6566).Picture: EAST ANGLIA TRANSPORT MUSEUM - Credit: Archant

In my far-distant schooldays, an occasional extra subject was civics – unless, that is, my recollection is awry. If we were taught civics at Great Yarmouth Grammar School in those post-war years, it explains why I had at least some basic knowledge of citizenship, rights, duty and local and national government when I embarked on a career in provincial journalism.

PLACE OF RECORD: Great Yarmouth Grammar School hall in 1936. Honours and “in memoriam” boards were d

PLACE OF RECORD: Great Yarmouth Grammar School hall in 1936. Honours and “in memoriam” boards were displayed on the walls.Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

That was essential, and some pre-knowledge was advantageous when we trainee reporters were required to study central and local government as part of our course.

Our history lessons at school were sometimes tailored to cover Great Yarmouth’s past.

But, once or twice recently, I have wondered if today’s pupils learn about that important aspect of our lives. Have civics and associated topics been banished as non-trendy, non-cool, even unnecessary, from schools’ curricula?

Seldom do I wear a tie in retirement, having worn one throughout school, National Service and my working life in the newspaper profession, but I did get one out of the wardrobe recently for attendance at a funeral. The tie I invariably wear for serious occasions is plain blue, relieved on the main part by a small reproduction of our Yarmouth coat-of-arms – the heraldic half-lions and herring tails above the Latin slogan Rex et Nostra Jura (“The King and Our Rights”).

At the post-funeral gathering for refreshments and recollections, a teenage girl of my acquaintance inquired about that motif on my tie. Surprised, I asked her if she had not been told about it at her Gorleston school, which she left a couple of years earlier, but she assured me that she had never come across it. That also surprised me.

I explained briefly about the significance of the half-lions and half-herring, and the Latin motto.

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Her school, Lynn Grove, was once Gorleston Grammar, having evolved from Yarmouth High School for Girls. I am jumping to the conclusion that civics are old hat in education nowadays, and that curriculums have altered considerably in the intervening years.

There was a time when the borough coat of arms was often seen, if only on the sides of all our many Yarmouth Corporation blue-and-cream buses until that public undertaking was privatised in 1987. The symbol was also part of Yarmouth Grammar School’s insignia.

Last month the Mercury’s companion newspaper, The Advertiser, published an informative two-page feature on the history of our coat of arms as a forerunner to a conference at the St George’s Theatre.

This year sees the significant anniversaries of wartime events from 1914-18, 1939-45...and even the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. I wonder if schools have been participating, or disregarding that aspect of our history, because a recent survey published in a national newspaper revealed disturbing findings – for example, that more than half the young people questioned had no idea of the significance of VE Day commemorating Victory in Europe in 1945!

Forty per cent could not identify Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister who declared that the Allies had won that victory in Europe; some believed it was US President John F Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. The lack of awareness by young Britons of a war in which a total of 60 million died on both sides was described as “astonishing”.

Earlier this year, I wrote here about a Gorleston teenager who joined the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War but soon died in a flying accident over Hampshire. His funeral, with full military honours, took place here in his home town in 1916.

The 19-year-old had left Yarmouth Grammar School for only a year or two when he volunteered for active service. As a my copy of his school’s official history listed the victim – John Sleeman Reed, a doctor’s son – as being named on its Roll of Honour board, I telephoned to ask if the boards recording the 109 ‘old boys’ who died in the two world wars were still displayed in the hall of what is now Great Yarmouth VA High School for scholars and staff to see.

Whoever I asked was unable to give me an answer. When information was forthcoming, it was that the boards were “in storage”. What a shame that pupils are deprived of seeing them, and hopefully appreciating their significance, in this very important year of wartime anniversaries.

Mind you, that was back in February and it might well be that those Roll of Honour boards are now rightfully back on display. I suppose that although the school inherited the bricks and mortar of the buildings, it does not necessarily follow that it would automatically inherit its long-held traditions and ethos.

Incidentally, when I looked at the school’s website recently, I was pleased to see that the full-colour Yarmouth coat-of-arms with Latin motto blazer badge is still in use – indeed, an improvement on my postwar years there when the heraldic symbol was in simple gold thread.

My regular correspondent from Canada – ex-Yarmouthian Danny Daniels – read here that the commemorative Roll of Honour plaques at his old school had been consigned to into storage and wondered if the old Victor Ludorum (Winner of the Games) boards had been hidden away somewhere and are no longer on show.

His name was recorded on one because in 1947 he shared the sports title with either Peter Bayles or Mike Browne. “It was the only time I made it into the hallowed memory of Great Yarmouth Grammar School when I shared that award,” recalls octogenarian Danny who is still an active sportsman.

Yarmouth Grammar’s history was detailed in a book by deputy headmaster John Whitehead in 1951 to mark the quatercentenary of its foundation. He also listed school captains from 1910; these included Danny’s rivals, Peter Bayles (1946) and Mike Brown (1947).

Being pessimistic, I doubt if sporting honours are still displayed whether or not the names of former pupils killed in two world wars remain in a storage cupboard.

I remember Peter Bayles playing football for Gorleston after the war, a belief confirmed by Greens’ archivist, Brian Bunn, who says he scored a total of 27 goals during the five seasons from 1947 to 1952.