logoPORTADOWN COLLEGE IN CORONATION YEAR. By Derek Walker (Class of 1953)


The year 1953 began in the traditional way, with the Reunion Dance, to which alumni were invited along with the Sixth and Upper Sixth. I went early to the Assembly Hall, to take up my post as doorkeeper, and found that 'Baldy' Anderson, the French teacher, had borrowed the fairy lights and and half the Christmas tree and had not returned them on time. My taller friend, Edgar Page, and I managed to get the decorations up again before the first guests arrived.

We were always interested to meet alumni because they were now in the wider world which we would soon be entering. It was then a world in which Churchill was Prime Minister, Eisenhower was about to enter the White House, the first hydrogen bomb had recently been exploded and the Korean War was in stalemate. Nearer home, young Derek Bentley was about to be hanged for a murder committed by his younger partner in crime. No one was interested in the plodding and predictable politics of Stormont. Sweets were still rationed, and I sold some chocolate bars given me by kindly aunts to my sweet-toothed friend,Brian Gordon, the Head Boy.

School resumed on January 6. Next day the frozen ground was too hard for Rugby practice and we played Soccer instead. In mid-January we said goodbye at Assembly to Albert Matchett, who was joining the RUC.

There was an outbreak of petty theft in the Boys' Locker-room and the prefects organized patrols to keep watch. We crawled under the roof across the ceiling of the Girls' Locker-room to the Boys' ceiling, and through the cracks we could watch what was happening below. We didn't catch the culprit, but the stealing stopped. And I don't think anyone took more than a passing peep through the cracks in the Girls' ceiling.

On Friday afternoons the Record Society met. History teacher 'Bud' Graham provided a gramophone and a selection from his record collection. It was my introduction to classical music and I still remember it now when I'm listening world famous orchestras at the Festival Hall and the Barbican.

The Film Society, organized by Biology teacher Bobby Greenhalgh, met in the Assembly Hall on alternate Thursdays. The films shown that term included: The Happiest Days of Your Life; The Four Feathers; Blue Lagoon; David Copperfield.

Most important for me were the meetings of the Debating Society, which was discreetly overseen by the Head of English, Cyril Abraham. Ron Spathaky and 'Baldy' Anderson were active members and several other teachers took part occasionally. Motions debated that term were:

That the prefect system should be drastically amended
That modern youth is spineless and spoonfed
That Britain should become a republic

Two years later I remembered how debating in PC had given me confidence. I was then in Dublin, representing the University of London at an Inter-Varsity Debate in the Trinity Historical Society ( reputed to be the oldest debating society in the world ). The other speakers came from St Andrews, Aberystwyth and Queen's, Belfast. Afterwards I had a chat with another PC alumnus, Louden Ryan, then a lecturer and later to become Governor of the Bank of Ireland.

At the end of January a drastic change was made to the House system. Logan was disbanded and everyone was reallocated among Shillington, Seale and MacCallum. House Rugby matches were played at the end of February and on March 28 the Cross-Country was run. There were seven runners in the Senior race, and I finished seventh - but only 50 seconds behind the winner. I was awarded 3 points, and Seale won the event by 3 points, much to the delight of our House Master, Jimmy Chambers. Sports Day was not until May 23, when Seale was again the winner. I was asked to be one of the judges, along with Mr Navan and Mr Graham, and Mr Ross was the time-keeper.

At Easter 'Waggy' Ross, Head of Geography, organized a brilliant 'field trip' to Lancashire. We stayed first in Morecambe, visiting the Lake District by coach and seeing a cotton factory in Preston and shrimp-potting at Morecambe docks. We then moved to Blackpool, and visited Victoria Colliery, Wigan, walking a mile along a shaft 900 feet deep by the light of our helmet lamps. Next day watching the Manchester Evening News being printed wasn't quite so exciting (though I remembered that three years later, when I became a journalist). The programme ended with a visit to the Symbol Biscuit factory in Blackpool; and there were also trips to see 'Kiss Me Kate' at the Opera House and the film 'The Cruel Sea'.

On April 21 it was time for me to erect the Tenikoit net behind the Assembly Hall and post a booking-sheet on the notice-board for those who wanted to engage in that most informal of summer sports.

The next big event was the School Coronation Concert on May 23. The Mayor, W D Irwin (of bakery fame) and other dignitaries arrived and we stood in the Quad while the flag was raised on a new flagpole. (Some of us with keen eyes noticed that it was upside down, but we held our peace.) Then we sang the National Anthem, and the word 'Queen' still sounded unfamiliar. (Ten years later I was a guest at a dinner in Westminster when a very elderly Clement Attlee proposed the Loyal Toast - to 'The King' .) The concert was held in the Assembly Hall, and the Head told us that we were now the New Elizabethans. He had asked me to read Galsworthy's poem, 'Errantry', about tilting at windmills under a wild sky, with the lines:

For who would live so petty and unblessed
That dare not tilt at something , ere he die?

Afterwards we were presented with souvenir mugs, and lemonade and buns provided by the Borough Council.

There were, of course, a great many Coronation events in the town. In my novel 'Fond Delusions' I couldn't resist making an allusion to the splendid shambles of the over-long Pageant in Shamrock Park. Among the many participants were PC staff, pupils and alumni - including Denys Hawthorne, who went on to be a celebrated stage and TV actor.

Portadown Coronation Celebrations June 1953.
Mr. J.E.C. Abraham leading Portadown College Scouts Troup, behind J.E.C. is Marshall Matchett & Dessie May.

Now for many of us examinations began to dominate everything else. With my previous year's Senior Certificate results I had secured a County Scholarship to university, but in order to gain entrance to the London School of Economics I had to pass some of the new-fangled GCE A levels. This entailed making making five bus journeys to Belfast Tech to sit the exams - fortunately with success.

At school two tasks remained to be completed. The first was publishing the School Magazine, of which I was Joint Editor with Ann Sandford, the Head Girl. Although it had a rich variety of content it was a slightly austere publication, because our small editorial committee had decided that, since the magazine was a team effort, none of the articles would be given a by-line. In retrospect I think that was a mistake - but maybe we were still inspired by the fervent singing of 'Non nobis Domine ' at the last Speech Day. The magazines were sold for one shilling.

My second task was to pack up the hired books in the small library and return them to Allied Libraries. Users of the library paid a subscription which helped to defray the costs. I was helped with the packing by Arthur Gaiger, who was taking over from me as Librarian.

School came to an end on June 29. The Head asked me to read the lesson at morning Assembly, from Ecclesiastes: 'Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh,when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them'. Later there was a break-up concert, with community singing. After a short interval, when I was busy selling magazines, we came to Final Assembly. There was a new hymn composed by the Head, Brian Gordon and Ann Sandford read the lessons, and then the Head said generous things about those who were leaving. Finally we sang 'Lord dismiss us,' and it was all over.

The end-of-year dance that evening was, for me, an anti-climax. Afterwards I walked over the bridge and up Market Street feeling very mixed emotions. An immensely happy period of my life had come to an end. In those days before the Eleven Plus I had won scholarships to Armagh Royal and Dungannon Royal as well as to PC, and my father had allowed me to make my own choice. I had chosen the College, and it was a choice I have never regretted for a single moment. However, I was also excited by the prospect of new opportunities and new challenges.

The gateway to those new opportunities had been unlocked for me by the education I had received at Portadown College. Learning how to pass the exams had been fundamental; but the introduction I was given to a whole range of cultural, social and sporting activities has also enriched the whole of my life. Something even more important that we learned, as much by example as by precept, from teachers like Donald Woodman, Edward Graham and Cyril Abraham, is summed up in the words of the School Song; 'Add to our book-learnt knowledge Wisdom and Charity'. They taught us how to live in dynamic, constructive harmony with the people around us. I would like to think that lesson is still being taught to our successors in the classrooms at Killicomaine.

PC 1st. XV. Rugby Team 1952/53