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Reminiscences of Companies and Houses

Editor's note

Occasionally, voices from the past are so compelling they are worth recording for posterity on which readers might wish to reflect. Whether or not they reflect on the enormous changes that have taken place since the writer of the following memoir was at the School from 1923 to 1928, Dan Kirwan of B Company has much of interest to record. His elder brother Eddie joined in 1916 and was a prefect by the time Dan arrived, which gave him certain prestige and protection as a newchie. Here is what he records.

Now about the Hibs. There is not much I can tell you, but the main thing I remember I don't think you want to print. We knew something was happening [in 1923] as two wooden buildings were built, which we later learned were to be barracks for boys coming over from Ireland. This was the first we knew of the Hibernian School. I don't remember any formal announcement being made. There was little contact with them. I believe the two new companies were J and K, but I could be mistaken. Anyway, we didn't know boys in other companies unless one happened to be on a football or cricket team with them.

I do remember one Hib, Tim Feeney. I probably met him in a class room. In any case, we became friends. I learned some Irish songs from Tim.

Dan Kirwan

The one incident with the Hibs that I remember and I don't think you want to print for prosterity was of the two Hibs who were caught stealing from the small shop in Guston. They were expelled and, in front of the assembled School, were caned. By caned I mean pants down and stretched over a table and caned ten times I believe; a horrifying experience for everyone and I don't believe any one thought of stealing after that.

After the older Hibs left I believe they [those remaining] were absorbed into other companies. The two wooden barracks might still be there as Judy and I saw something that looked like them, as I remembered them anyway.

No, I don't remember any names except Tim Feeney. In fact, the only names I remember in my own company, B Company, were my five or six close friends and a few on the under 14 cricket team with me. You just never mingled with [the boys of] other companies or, for that matter, with more than a few of your own. So that is all I can tell you about the Hibs except there were a lot more Catholics.

As to my five years from 1923 to '28 and my arrival at the DYRMS, I have a strange memory, it has the habit of blacking out at certain important periods of my life. For instance, I don't remember how I travelled from Sunderland to Dover. As I found out later, I would have gone to King's Cross in London, then crossed London by the Underground to Victoria Station and then to Dover. I have a hazy memory of being met at Dover by my brother Eddie, who was a prefect then.

The first actual memory is the first evening after being assigned to B Company, and that was watching boys practicing high jumping on the grass in front of the day room. My CSM was Arbuckle. I believe he died in 1943 according to the history Play Up Dukies 1803-1986. It is a brief history - very brief as he missed a lot while I was there. Arbuckle was a nice man. He made me captain of the company cricket team over the objections of a sergeant, and he used to put on company concerts and I always sang in them. He played the flute and we learned songs by going into his office and he would play the tune on his flute. All simple melodies and, for me anyway, easy to pick up, mostly music hall songs. I sang Alexander's Ragtime Band and, during the chorus, about ten boys would march around the stage beating on pots and pans. And we'd sing My old man's a football fan - He's only a working man. I still know all these songs and can sing them at a moment's notice. We had no toys of course and read a lot. We had two papers in the day room: The London Times and the Dover paper and, of course, a well-stocked library.

I was at B Co. when they changed to houses and B Coy became Wolfe House so I was the last B7 and the first Wf7. On Saturdays we had to lug out all out equipment on our beds - in approved order and one pair of boots had to be placed upside down and the soles of the boots had to be polished. Why? Discipline, I suppose. Then on Saturday morning we marched down to Dover out of the Guston Gate, down Rocky Hill in route step, then through Dover with the band playing and back up Castle Hilll again in route step. Then we had Saturday afternon and Sunday off after church parade and if you weren't on CB [confined to barracks] you could get a pass. When you went 'on pass' you had to draw a cane and carry it. The purpose, I was told, was to keep your hands out of your pockets.

Everyone had to box according to age and weight with small prizes for the winners in the different weights and ages. I never won my class but in 1924 I was 11, I guess and won two 'good loser' prizes - 3d [three pence] each. I fought a semi-final and lost but I got a good loser's prize for that, too. I was fighting a boy from E Coy and my brother Eddie, who was a prefect, was his second. They used to get in the ring at the end of a round and wave the towel in front of you. Then a week later I fought again for 3rd and 4th prize - LOST AGAIN, but I got another 'good loser' prize, so maybe I wasn't a good fighter, but I seemed to have been a good loser. "You could look it up" as the old Yankee Manager Casey Stengel used to say when he made a statement.

In 1927 or 1928, I believe they broker Wolfe House up. Anyway, whatever happened, I was transferred to D Coy or Wellington House. I think maybe CSM Prescott may have asked for me because he was Head of Signals and I was head signaller with 'crossed flags' on my dress uniform. He made me L/Cpl then Cpl so you got extra money for the crossed flags and being a cpl and the service good conduct stripes I was doing all right. At that time, corporals used to do gate  duty at Dover and Guston gates. You drew a cane and answered just any questions and directed people where to go. I was very surprised when we went this year and drove right through the Dover Gae. It seems any body could just drive then.

In 1924 we went to the opening of Wembley Stadium. The occasion 'The British Empire Exposition of 1924. We camped in tents somewhere and all I remember about it was marching into the stadium. We went to numerous tattoos doing torchlight manouvres.

In 1928 we went to London for the Royal Tournament at Olympia and put on the Toy Soldier display for three weeks. The gym squad was also there. I was one of the drummers, toy drums of course. After that we were invited to France for a week along with the gym squad. In 1976 I wrote to the School to ask if they had a copy of the program. They said they had three copies that went on sale with pictures. They sent me one, which I still have. If I get to the reunion next year [the bicentenary year] I'll bring it with me. It will be 75 years old then.

Our Colonel's name was Johnson. He had a wooden leg and was a good cricket player, but of course couldn't run so opposing teams let him bat with a man to run for him and play in the field. His successor was Lt. Col. H. S. Poyntz and I believe the chaplain was Semple.   Photograph, courtesy of Ben Burd, of the Duke of York's at the Royal Tournament, Olympia, in 1937. This was typical of the display about which Dan Kirwan writes in his memoir.

One thing that sticks in my mind was the Christmas I didn't get to go home. If your parents or guardians didn't send the [train fare] money you didn't go. I guess things were hard then. I went to a party with the staff in uniform and their ladies in gowns and it was quite a sight with the dancing - something we had never seen. I've always remembered that. Hope you can read this and that it is of some interest.

I've just thought of something you might find interesting. Maybe it still happened in your day. When we got holes in our socks they had to be darned. You didn't darn your own socks. There was a group detailed to do that and I did that for a while and learned to darn, but fortunately when I got into signalling it took me out of darning. Everyone had an extra duty [such as] tailoring. I became a good darner if I do say so myself - who shouldn't, to use a favourite expression of my eldest sister May, aka Mary Jane. She was 12 years older than me and remembered running for the doctor when I was born. She had vivid memories of India. She was born in Ireland. We found where she and my mother were born during a trip to Ireland once.

Dan (see also Voices from the past and Olympia 1928)

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