Tuesday 21 September 2010

School Name Tapes, Stuke Bombers and Quakers

My school had a later start for the autumn term than others - and no matter that we enjoyed an extended two month summer holiday, it was always on the day before the new school year that I began the rather tedious (and rushed) job of stitching name tapes on my uniform, though the tapes had been in the workbox all summer. This is how I remember Cash name tapes. That and trawling through lost property baskets hunting for the misplaced gameshirt or sock - yes, each last and lost sock had to have its own name tape! There was a short time when we had a male teacher for music in school - just a term. One of his responsibilities was to play the piano for daily assembly when the whole school of girls and female teachers trooped into the hall. One day there was quite a pained sound coming from the piano and just as we had all arrived, he jumped up from his piano stool and in a fit of rage opened the top of the pianoand pulled out - girls' underwear. We didn't see much of him after that.....and we never knew to whom the underwear belonged as it had no name tapes. You would have thought someone would have missed them though, wouldn't you?

So what has that to do with Stuke bombers. Well, just one Stuke bomber pilot who we met one year while mountain climbing near Mittenwald. He was an old, ill man who we had heard coughing the whole night through where we were staying, and in the morning we could see he wasn't well at all. Though we always chatted with everyone at breakfast in a mixture of German and English, he never spoke a word to us - until the morning we were due to leave. Then he told us in broken breath that he had piloted a Stuke in that terrible raid which reduced the city of Coventry to rubble overnight in the war. He ended by saying he was 18 at the time and very frightened.
And Quakers? John and Joseph Cash, were born to a wealthy Quaker merchant in Coventry and joined the manufacture of silk ribbons for which the city was famous. Over 45% of the people, many descended from refugee Huguenots, earned their living in some form of ribbon making in the 1840s. The Cash brothers were enlightened manufacturers and had a system which allowed people to weave in their own homes while harnessing power and technology to speed their work - they built Topshops for people to live in the lower stories and weave in their lofts, where gears driven by local steam power ran through the whole terrace to drive the looms. By the 1860s the industry had crashed and many became paupers. However, the manufacturers worked hard to create other niches - they wove commemorative ribbons, bookmarks, pictures and personalised name tapes and still a little of that industry survives today.

Maybe if I had known all this, I might have set to my name tape stitching with a little more gusto....and if I had known that our music teacher had been a pupil of Messaien, how I would so not have giggled, and had we known about the frightened young boys in bomber planes, who knows?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this sweet and poignant piece. I enjoy reading all your posts. This one was most lovely.