Ralph Mills




I stand at dead centre, back row.

a formal photograph of a primary school class
Me (second from left) at Enfield Primary School, 1960.

I wonder what became of my classmates. I hope that they have led happy, healthy lives, though I am sure that they will have faced the usual ups and downs that we all experience.

At the tail end of the 1950s I was a pupil at Enfield Primary School, Adelaide, Australia. It was the third of the three primary schools I attended in that country, moving from each after being bullied mercilessly for being a timid red-haired “pom”.

My first two schools were Gepps Cross Primary and Northfield Primary School.

I was only at Gepps Cross a short time, because getting there involved crossing the very busy Great North Road twice a day and climbing the long hill up to Silver Street. I only remember the school’s drum and fife band which marched us to assembly each morning, and my refusing to take part in the “Saluting the Flag” ("I love my country, I salute her flag, I honour her queen" nonsense) ceremony each morning. Pretty rebellious for a seven year old!

I have equally few memories of Northfield Primary. Another longish walk twice a day and another, slightly less busy road crossing (remember I was walking by myself). I mostly remember after-school matters, like the friend whose parents had a colour television on which we'd watch The Cisco Kid, and buying cheap sweets at the shop I passed on the way home.

The stationery cupboard

At Enfield I seemed to spend as much time out of the classrooms as in it, I think because I was a little academically quicker than my classmates. I was for a while appointed stationery monitor, a wonderful job in which I sat each break-time in a small room filled with boxes of new exercise books, text books, rulers, pencils, erasers and dip pens. It had a scent that I still occasionally come across when in a stationery store and which perhaps explains my mild stationery fetish!

Warm milk

A less desirable job was milk monitor. The milk for morning break was stored in crates in the school bicycle shed. My task was to ensure that every drinker placed his or her empty bottle in a crate, the foil bottle top in one bin and the straw in a second. In the summer the bike shed was hot, and the milk was warm. I would sit surrounded by the smell of warm, stale milk. I have disliked milk ever since, and haven’t drunk it for many years.

Apart from occasionally being appointed ink monitor, going around the classroom filling inkwells from a large glass bottle of blue ink, and blackboard monitor, the last but most stressful job was operating the school electric bell that marked the beginnings and ends of breaks. I was always terrified of either forgetting or being late, both sins that would earn the disapproval of any classmates.

The pie shop

My memories include something I only experienced a couple of times. Normally I would take a packed lunch to school, but on one or two occasions I bought a pie and a cream bun at a nearby tiny shop that seemed to sell only these delicacies. The meat pie was filled with a black coloured mix of minced meat and gravy, while the glazed bun contained artificial cream and red jam. Both delights were probably full of cholesterol and other toxins, but I remember them as being delicious. I always envied those who ate them for lunch every day.

Trivial memories

I always wanted, but never had, a Coca Cola yoyo.

The school attempted to teach us country dancing, but although the girls were enthusiastic, the boys refused to take part.

We were taught singing by an expansive lady who I remember only because I was fascinated by the flaps under her arms that wobbled when she played the piano. When she heard I was returning to the UK she expressed her astonishment that anyone would wish to live in a country that was always blanketed in fog and rain.

In March 1960 there was a solar eclipse. Despite all the warnings about looking directly at the sun, we children adopted various ways of witnessing the event. My chosen method was watching the eclipse reflected in the paintwork of a car.

Since the school didn't have a workshop, we walked to a school further south, I can't remember where. We were taught by a teacher with one leg. I always admired the way he could plane and saw wood whilst balancing on crutches. The workshop was lined with labelled examples of different timbers, and I've loved the scent of sawn wood ever since.

I would spend every PE session, which was mostly devoted to Australian-rules football, hovering aimlessly on the edge of the pitch, as no-one ever deliberately kicked the ball anywhere near me (I was, admittedly, hopeless). If ever the ball accidentally came my way, I would rid myself of it as quickly as possible to avoid the braying herd of players hurtling towards me.

Running the gauntlet

I was bullied frequently at Enfield Primary, but the worst experiences occurred on the walk home to our house in Silver Street. If I chose the shortest route, my daily journeys passed through an area of undeveloped scrub, mostly small trees and bare earth. It was usually deserted, but every now and then I would have to run the gauntlet of a line of a dozen or so boys about my own age, wielding fists, sticks and stones. No serious damage ever resulted, but it was frightening, and meant that I dreaded every trip. The area is now a nature reserve, Folland Park.

My final memory of the school, just before we returned to England aboard the MV Fairsea, is, as I walked out through the school gate on my last day, my classmates giving me a desultory farewell before returning to their game of “spit” that involved drawing a circle in the dirt of the playground and then seeing who could spit into it from furthest away. Ho hum…

a formal photograph of a primary school class
My class at Enfield Primary School, 1960.

Australian adventure

Museum memories
A clear view of Adelaide Abattoir
MV Fairsea
Back to Britain

Adventures and misadventures

My interests

Last updated 20th January 2022