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William Holden (1933-1940)

In February 2014, Year 13 pupils Isaac Scott and Nathan Brennan interviewed Old Boy William Holden (1933-1940), about his time at School and his service in the RAF during WWII.

What did the school curriculum consist of?

I remember Mr Poskitt, who was the Headmaster then. He was very keen on P.E. Every day, almost in spite of the weather, although if it was pouring with rain we wouldn’t do it, the whole school went out for half an hour to do P.E. on the lower quad. Once we had a problem on the levels with something I call ‘plantain’. It was some sort of growth which was killing all the grass. So Mr Taylor convinced Mr Poskitt into letting us dig up these plantains to make it easier to be done. So during our break times and lunchtimes, we dug them these roots out, had them counted up, and got six-pence for every twenty. I also recollect that I was Monitor, my name’s on the board somewhere!

Did you have some sort of distinguishing piece of clothing to show you were a monitor?

We had it on our cap, underneath the cock and trumpet. Then the Monitor’s Room was on the ground floor on the Chorley New Road side of the building, sort of an extension from the gateway I suppose. Of course the front wing wasn’t built until the 1960’s, we just had the back one. The Monitor’s Room was there, and we played what we called ‘progressive table tennis’. You served the ball, but as soon as you’d hit it you had to drop the bat and run round to the other side to hit it again. So everyone was dashing about hitting the ball back and forth. If you dropped the ball, that was it, you dropped out!

We were out there when the results of the higher school certificate came out and Harry [Whittle] got a university place and I didn’t, so he went to university. But he would always be the one to win the school sporting prizes, and in 1948 he was the captain of the British athletics team for the Olympics in London; his photograph is on the spirit of sport, but of course no one can possibly see it because it’s so high up.

When was the last time that you went to school?

A few years ago when I went  to the Old Boys’ Lunch, in the Arts Centre where the swimming pool used to be. We had a swimming competition every year, with one of the events being the long dive. Brian ‘Tubby’ Gallagher was able to travel the full length of the pool in one dive!

What would you say has been the biggest change? With the new buildings etc?

I suppose the buildings really. When I saw the new Riley Centre, I couldn’t place where it was. It’s in the spot that we used to play football.

Talking about the Reilly Centre, what were the interactions with the Girls Division like?

None! Non-existent. Well, only privately, after hours. Some of the older boys did go out and fraternize and got married to some of the Old Girls. Our year not so much, especially because I was away for five years with the Air Force.

I suppose it would be appropriate to talk about the war. Did you notice an impact upon school life?

After 1939 we weren’t allowed to go back to school, because they were building the shelters underneath where we used to play football. What we used to do was go home with a week’s homework and only come back once a week. This went on for nearly a whole year until the shelters were finished.

I volunteered for the Air Force in April 1941. As a volunteer, I was part of the potential air crews. The only problem was that I was in a reserved occupation, however they glossed over this. I went to collect my King's Shilling and I had officially joined the Air Force.

Where did you get to travel to with the Air Force?

I remember the training in London involved 500-600 of us clomping away in heavy boots on Lord’s Cricket pitch. This is when I got my first pay check. Our trip to America was very secret, we weren’t allowed on leave and we couldn’t tell anyone. It was cheaper to send us abroad, some went to America and some went to South Africa. We had to wear our civvies, not our Air Force uniforms and we were in America when they entered the war after Pearl Harbour.

I remember doing pre-dawn and night landings, stationed with 8 Squadron at Aden. There were no lights, only mountains. If the weather was bad, we had to fly 500 feet above the sea to be able to find the landing strips and judge our height to be able to land. We did 30 trips, 6 hours a trip. On the first trip we ran out of petrol – I had to decide whether we would bail out or crash land. I chose to crash land, we damaged the tail wheel but we fixed them and they let me off for that! There were four fatal accidents, mostly pilots hitting the mountains.

At the time they were replacing Blenheims with Wellingtons and our job was to fly the Blenheims to Cairo. We had to crash land at a native village along the Nile once. We were met by the chief of the village who had been training as an electrical engineer before the war, but his father had died and he had to return to take over the village.

The Air Force in Cairo knew where we were, but we were stuck there for a fortnight. Eventually an armoured car turned up and told us that we were in enemy territory, we got back to headquarters two days later.

I got married on 12th May 1945, four days after VE Day. I met my wife in Bolton when I was only five. She went to Rivington. The night before the CO told me that all flying was cancelled for the next day, however the next morning the CO came in and asked for cover for another airman on compassionate leave. We flew from Gent in Belgium. 

William with Nathan and Isaac

William with Nathan and Isaac