Chertsey Tales Part Seven.
The war effort is already in full swing, in the next few weeks new classrooms were built in the playing fields, and the gardens that we used for gardening lessons were made much bigger to grow food for our canteen. Air-raid shelters were built in Tulks Playing field and in other places around Chertsey. We had lots of air-raid drill with gas masks, the boys soon found that breathing out very quickly, the gas mask made a loud raspberry. The teachers thought it was funny at first, but it soon got out of hand when the whole class were doing it.
The new classrooms were overflowing with the new kids from London. They were streets ahead of us in how to be naughty—street wise you might say. One of their tricks was skipping school. Chertsey had a very keen school board man—as we knew him. If a child didn’t answer when the register was called in the morning, he would be on his bike with the list of homes to visit. This was quite a thing to happen, a visit from him was a serious affair, it could even result in a summons for our parents, the first thing they would know about it would be when he knocked at the door with a clipboard in his hand… He became quite friendly with my mum.
Like me, some kids found it hard to grasp the need for education. This was when I and a few of my friends realised that school was a place where we didn’t want to be. Playing Truant, as it says, really was like playing a game.
When I think about the many hours that I spent up the ‘Hill’, with a good number of other children, completely unsupervised, it is a wonder that we did this unscathed. Of course, we would be found out sooner or later but during the war there more urgent things for the grown-ups to worry about.
Something my mum did worry about was our German surname; Weguelin. A man who lived up St Anne’s Hill, had an even more German name, Schlesinger. He was often booed when he was seen driving his big American car through Chertsey. Some of the jeering was for his name and some was for the fact that he could get petrol to run such a big car. It turned out that he was a wealthy stockbroker, and as English as anyone. He had served in the British armed forces in the first world war and was decorated for bravery. He must have been so angry about this.
Luckily, my mother was so fed up with having to spell our name, she told everyone it was Waglin. I was quite happy about this too; we were always known as the Waglins. God knows what we would have been called if anyone knew that our real surname was Luz Weguelin, an old German name pronounced ‘Lutzvegelin’. It must have been the same for our Italian neighbours with names like Zubiena and Placito.
There was a rumour that Italy would join Germany against us, mum was worried that some of our Italian friends would be sent to a prison camp. There were some being built up Chobham Common.