Bolton School Former Pupils

The Bolton School Ethos: what it means to Ray Doldon (1943-1951)

Ray Doldon has written very movingly about his experiences and standout memories of Bolton School and expresses his gratitude for his time here.

The Bolton School Ethos: what it means to Ray Doldon (1943-1951)

I was pleased that David Grime wrote in the Autumn 2020 edition of The Bugle about his first days at School in 1943 and had remembered walking to and from school with Eric Forsyth and Ray Doldon. Since all the boys of that era are now 88 years old, it is a joy to read letters from others who recall their Bolton School experience so vividly and affectionately after such a long interval. It seems to me that those recollections epitomise the ethos of being a Bolton School Old Boy. It is very much a feeling of being a 'family' member. With this in mind, I have written briefly about my own School career, and described several important ‘markers’ that I think illustrate my description of the very special nature of belonging to that family or group.

My second year and the death of my brother

My elder brother, Leonard, died in 1944, having entered School in 1941. He suffered from tuberculosis in his hip and spine. He needed a leg-iron or caliper to be able to walk, and he had a curved leather back support that he always wore to keep him upright. There was no cure for TB in those days, so he was in and out of hospital almost continuously throughout his childhood, and his condition continued to deteriorate. Despite long absences from primary school, he gained a scholarship entry to Bolton School and did extremely well in his first few terms at Bolton School, finishing in the top three of his class each term. He was very popular with contemporaries such as Ray Heslop, Stan Craven, Geoff Bullough and Bill Hall, who visited him as his illness became very much worse in1944 , and he could eventually no longer move independently. He was confined to his bed, supported by a plaster cast of his shape, front and back, on which he lay both day and night, alternating between a back and a front position each successive day as the district nurse came to attend to him. Having entered School on a scholarship myself in 1943, my own happy school progress was hence overshadowed by Leonard’s death in December 1944, when I was 12 years old. His funeral took place in late December 1944, and there was a very moving scene on the funeral day which demonstrated the School’s affection for one of its students. As we drove past the school at 11.00 am on the way along Chorley New Road to Heaton Cemetery, all the 500 boys and the masters of the School lined the pavement in front of School, and took off their caps as the cortège passed by. It is hard to write this now, without feeling the sadness. It was a simple and true gesture of affection and admiration that motivated the School on that sad day, and epitomised all that was characteristic of the School.

Progress at Bolton School

My second noteworthy memory relates to my second year at School, at afternoon swimming, when the captain of Blackburn House noticed that I was diving nicely, so he asked me to represent the House in the forthcoming swimming sports. This I did in June 1944, at the tender age of 12 years, and I won the diving event, with two perfect dives. From then on I proudly represented the School in all the swimming matches that took place against other schools in our own pool, as well as travelling away to Blackpool, Manchester, Southport, Lancaster and Bury, and even diving off a 5-metre board in the pool against Manchester University. In effect, I was drafted into a team of good swimmers, who became my friends from that point on. This massively increased my sense of ‘belonging’ to the School. The swimming team is shown in the photograph, probably in 1947, when I was about 14 years old. I am standing next to Mr Blakey, the Maths Master, who ran the team in his spare time.

Bolton School Scouts

Another boost to my sense of wellbeing came when I was enrolled in the School Scout group in January 1945, just after Leonard’s death. Some of my happiest memories are of my Scouting days. In the 19th Bolton School Troop we had the chance to take local weekend camps at Ribchester, camp for two weeks in the Lake District in summer, and visit Youth Hostels in the Lakes or North Wales in winter. In the Easter holidays the more senior Scouts (about 14 years old) could attend the New Forest camp in Hampshire. It was like a dream world opening up for us, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Staff members 'Pip' Porter, and 'Doc' Meyer devoted a lot of their own time to the Scouts, and deserved credit for the sense of adventure imparted and the general welfare of every Scout in the group.

Sport

Although I was always keen to participate, I never really improved at the two main School sports, football and cricket. I do have happy memories of watching sport, and there was one day in particular that made a deep and lasting impression on me. It was 1947, shortly after the war, when the Australian cricket team toured the country and played matches against the counties. Two or three of us hopped onto a bus to Manchester and went to Lancashire’s County Ground at Old Trafford to see them playing. I was so captivated by the whole occasion – the players' skill, athleticism and enthusiasm; the setting of the arena; the presence of Don Bradman, the world's best-ever batsman, in the Australia side – that I kept a liking for the game and visited Old Trafford regularly throughout my career and retirement. On some of these visits, I renewed a School friendship with my old classmate, Jack Bond, who had become captain of Lancashire during his very successful county career, and we looked back on our School days together.

University

We did, of course, have to work hard at Bolton School, otherwise the anticipated progress would not have occurred. To achieve a place at a University was a much rarer occurrence then, than it is now. It was a new pattern for teenagers, and I was the first in our family to be lucky enough to have that chance. I went up to Sheffield University, left my comfortable home more or less permanently, and settled in to a new life with new friends and a completely new style of life in the academic world, and later earning a good career in metallurgy.

Senior friendships

I struck up a great friendship that has endured for more than 60 years with Stuart Cumming (1943-1951) in our Sixth Form years, subsequently sharing several holidays in the UK and in France with him during the holidays from School and University. Our career paths eventually caused a separation of route: he to medicine, specialising in ophthalmology, and me to a career in metallurgy that took me to the UK Atomic Energy Authority, then university lecturing and then consultancy. Geographically, we were seldom in the same country at the same time, he taking permanent residence in the US (California).and me remaining in the UK. For 50-60 years we saw each other only rarely, but the friendship was renewed occasionally in the UK, and in customary fashion by card every Christmas. I was therefore surprised and delighted to get a phone call from his home at the beginning of January (2021). We had a good chat and each of us surprised the other with vivid memories of our first holiday in France, 70 years ago, shortly after the end of the war. In a small family car, with little money in our wallets, we travelled from the Channel down to the Riviera along the old pre- motorway routes, staying in village pensions or chambres d’hôtes, and generally enjoying the completely new experiences along the way. Chatting on the phone last week about School and the ensuing years was truly a marvellous uplift for two spirits that had become a bit down in the dumps as a result of the corona virus pandemic. It was a surprise uplift for both of us, and could be attributed to that indefinable School spirit effect that I mentioned at the beginning of this letter.

Summary

My formative years between 1943 and 1951 at Bolton School were a mixture of dramatic incidents and straightforward routine. I suppose I had lots of bad moments when the homework was a nuisance, or I was being reprimanded for this or that, but my overwhelming memory is of a very happy time, both at home and at School. I made many friends whom I can recall clearly even after a 70-year interval. Above all, as I look back, I appreciate that I was made to feel secure, and a valued part of a very large family.

I have been extremely lucky throughout my School days, professional career and retirement, but I count my greatest fortune as being made welcome, and at home, in the Bolton School environment.

Doldon swimming team.jpg