Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Upper School

Response to Toast "Staff and Students of 1955" by Malcolm Oliver

Thank you, Bob, for introducing me.

First let me say that it is a great honour to be invited to respond to this Toast which I accepted - let me say - with some trepidation. However, it does give me the opportunity to express - and this is on behalf of all of you - a really BIG THANK you to Bob Hutchings, Keith Hart, John Hall and Bob Dowdell for organising this re-union. They have done a magnificent job in locating everyone (with some help from others, I know) and arranging this venue and dinner. The meal was splendid and - again on your behalf - I thank the catering staff for the fine meal.

Before I say any more about the past, how nice it is to see the ladies here tonight. You've all taken a lot of trouble to look great and we're very proud of you. More perhaps later about yourselves.

Now apparently Churchill once said "Things get done by those who turn up!" And you all did. However there are those who cannot be with us this evening - for various reasons - and I'd like to pay tribute to them all, namely:

Pete Schembri (in Malta), Ed Owen (in Belfast), Len Vincent, Mike Bray, Dave Perryman. Also, we understand that Peter & Jean Reed, Tom & Laura Wells, Dave & Joy Gilbert and Keith's wife, Margaret, are affected by health problems. We send them our very best wishes for full and speedy recoveries.

And I'm sure you know that Alan Holding, Charlie Bruce, Dave Wright, Lou Daniells, George Walker and (we believe) Jack Bates, have sadly passed away. We are of course especially indebted to Alan who arranged the IVth Year Dinner in 1955 and the Re-union in 1985. We remember them all with fond memories of times past - and I include here Pauline who sadly died in the early 90s from an asthma attack, leaving Alan a very lonely and unhappy man until he met and married Dione. We salute you; you are all sadly missed.

Now this occasion should not pass without remembering also with great respect and nostalgia our Dockyard School Principal and lecturers. I refer, of course, to people like John Goss, Howard George, Alan Haigh, John Crowder, Harry Jones, Stan Kaye and others who had such an influence on our lives and development. Sadly, I think they have all passed on. But anyway, in absentia, thank you, gentlemen for all you did for us and the memories we have of you.

50 Years Ago

So it was 50 years ago that we completed our 4th Year at the Portsmouth Dockyard School. How times have changed! Then was a time of post-war Britain; rationing barely finished, the Cold War, B & W tellies. No decimal currency, computers, microwave ovens, video recorders, digital cameras, or DVDs. No mobile phones, fax machines or emails. How DID we communicate? Actually, we spoke to one another! And putting man into space, let alone on the moon, was still science fiction. Our daughter took one of my slide-rules into her teaching class the other day. The children thought it came out of the ark. None of the teachers knew how to use it! In the old days, we didn't lock up our homes like Fort Knox, need house or car alarms, our parents could walk reasonably safely about the streets after dark - and there was no terrorist threat to speak of. It was quite pleasant to drive a car around in those days, too. And families stayed fairly close together; many of ours now live on the other side of the world! We also hadn't heard of prostates, cervical smears, triple heart by passes, Alzheimers and so on!

STORY 1 (Forgetful!)

But, hey, mobile phones are a marvellous invention, aren't they? Using one from a Car Park, an old lady dialled 999 to say her car had been broken into. Hysterically she explained that the thief had stolen the stereo, the steering wheel, the brake pedal and even the accelerator! She was told to stay calm and a policeman would be with her shortly. Some time later an officer radioed in. "Disregard," he said, "She got in the back seat by mistake!"

On a more personal nostalgic note, Do you remember those evenings at the Dockyard School? We'd been there since 9.00 am, breaking off around 4.30 pm to walk round the shops in Commercial Road, getting some tea in Littlewoods or Marks & Spencers then returning at 5.30 pm for 2 more hours of lectures from Howard George ("Oliver, don't talk such rot!") and John Crowder ("Doesn't ANYONE remember Ohms Law from last week?"). On Thursday evenings some of us would go to the Majestic cinema to be enthralled by Flash Gordon's latest planetary exploits and on Saturdays we'd meet for tennis on Southsea Common. Remember that John, Den, Len, Ken and Tony? And those end of school-year dances at Kimbells and the night Jenny and I announced our engagement and were presented on stage with a baby's bottle and packet of nappies! Friday the 8th July 1955, believe it or not - and I have the ring to prove it!

STORY 2 (Nelson)

Even longer than 50 years ago is the celebration this year of the Battle of Trafalgar and I thought this evening should not pass with out some reference to that great victory over the French. (We've just had another - 2012 Olympics!) How custom and practise have changed over this time. Imagine, if you will, how an exchange between the main characters just prior to the battle would go today.

Lord Nelson: " England expects every person to do his/her duty , regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion, What gobble-degook is this, Hardy?"

Captain Hardy: "Admiralty policy, I'm afraid, sir. We're an equal opportunities employer now. We had the devil's own job getting 'England' past the censors, lest it be considered racist."

Nelson: "Gadzooks, Hardy! Hand me my pipe and tobacco."

Hardy: "Sorry, sir. All naval vessels have been designated smoke-free working environments."

Nelson: "In that case break open the rum ration. Let us splice the main brace to steel the men before battle."

Hardy: "The rum ration has been abolished, Admiral. It's part of the government's policy against binge-drinking."

Nelson: "Good Heaven's, man. They all need flogging!"

Hardy: "Sorry, sir. Corporal punishment's no longer allowed."

Nelson: "Egad, Hardy! I suppose men cannot be - er - gay any more!"

Hardy: "Actually, not so, sir. Coming out, as they say, is quite commonplace these days."

Nelson: "Well, thank Goodness for that. Kiss me, Hardy!"

(Allow for rapturous applause to die down before continuing)

I found a 1954 diary recently and in it I'd recorded my weekly dockyard wage and how I'd spent it. I received the princely sum of £3 6s 8d. I gave £1 5s to mum for my keep, paid 2s 6d into a Christmas Club, spent 10s on clothes, 1s 0d on chocolates (presumably to win some Brownie points from Jenny), bought a set of tennis balls for 2s 0d and put 6d on Littlewoods pools! This left me with 15s 8d to put in the bank. Nearly 25% banked! That's more than most of us can put away from our pensions these days.

Some of you may have noticed I've been holding a small shield in my hand. How many of you, I wonder, made one of these during your apprenticeship? I made this in my 1st year on the filing bench in the Electical Fitters Training Centre to remind me of those around me. The names on it are:

Geof Paler, John Riley, Ed Owen, Charlie Bennet, Ray Robbins, Dave Money and Charlie Muscat. And the ChargeMan : Mr Len Allan. It's wonderful to see one or two of you here this evening.

STORY 3 (Not Getting Any Younger)

Another way of saying we're getting older! One day a chap rushed in to see his doctor (that's a joke for a start!) looking worried and strung up. "Doctor, look at me. When I looked in the mirror this morning I saw my hair all crinkled, my skin all wrinkled and pasty. My eyes were bloodshot and bulging out, and I had this corpse-like look on my face! What's wrong with me, Doc?"

The doctor looked him over for a couple of minutes, then calmly said " Well, I can tell you one thing - There's nothing wrong with your eyesight!"

Now, time, I think, for me to wrap up or there will not be time for you to talk to each other - and get another drink. And shall we do this again, I hear you wonder? Well, we have a fine organising committee, so we're in with a fighting chance. I certainly hope to see you in 2015 - and whilst we're about about it, we can celebrate the Battle of Waterloo!

So, in conclusion, there is a group I need to say a special Thank You to on behalf of all ex-apprentices here this evening - and that's our wives, partners and families, of course. After all, for what we are today - we can blame them! No, seriously, for all the love, support, encouragement and just being there for us day in, day out, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Gentlemen, let's be upstanding and raise our glasses to them all.

"To our long-suffering wives, partners and families. God bless you all!"