Me and my school photo: David Bellamy remembers lessons in air-raid shelters and finding his vocation

Me and my school photo: David Bellamy remembers lessons in air-raid shelters and finding his vocation

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 13 April 2012

Flashback: Botanist, writer and broadcaster David Bellamy, 79, now lives in County Durham

Flashback: Botanist, writer and broadcaster David Bellamy, 79, now lives in County Durham

This is my first school photo, taken in 1939.

I was six and attending Chatsworth Road Primary School in Cheam, Surrey, a ten-minute walk from home.

En route, I could pick wild flowers and watch the butterflies. On my first day, the class teacher, Mrs Eastham, greeted me as I arrived.

But my schooldays weren’t the
happiest of my life, possibly because they started with me sharing a
desk with a girl who wet herself, her puddle ending up under me. I was
blamed and had to stand in the corner.

Three
years later, I moved to the big boys’ school, Cheam Road Juniors.

If
you got your tables wrong too many times, our teacher Mrs Gray would
force you to stand beside her desk facing the class with your head in a
net bag used for carrying footballs.

After her, I moved to Mr Hedges’ class.
He was the ultra-fit games master who whacked you with a ruler or threw
the board duster with perfect aim.

Then it was Mr Jamieson who, in winter,
tended a cauldron over a coal fire in classroom, where he cooked soup
that could be bought for lunch for a penny.

I wasn’t the greatest sportsman but
enjoyed covering the outfield in cricket, where I could take in the
countryside, especially the pond that overflowed with tadpoles.

My first fight was trying to stop one of
the bigger boys doing unspeakable things to a frog.

David and his wife Rosemary have five children and nine grandchildren

David and his wife Rosemary have five children and nine grandchildren

I came off worst
but the frog hopped away to the safety of the pond.

As it was wartime, I trudged to school with a gas mask and many lessons were conducted in air-raid shelters built outside the boundary line of the cricket pitch.

Friends disappeared from school for many reasons. We said prayers for those killed in the Blitz and farewell to those evacuated.

I followed in my father’s footsteps to Sutton Grammar School. My shining lights were English literature and history, but sixth form is where I found my vocation.

Thanks to Mr Hutchings, who made learning fun, I excelled in botany and zoology and did well enough to pass in chemistry and physics, but not well enough to get into a good medical school. But Sutton Grammar was a very good school and it was there I metamorphosed into a man.

David Bellamy is president of the Surrey Wildlife Trust, www.surreywildlifetrust.org