When I took possession of some personal possessions of my Dad I was intrigued to find details of a life that I had never known or appreciated. This really shouldn’t have come as a great surprise because there are many dimensions to a life but the only one that I was fully familiar with was in his role as my father. In what many would describe as an ordinary life this was a task that he excelled at I have to say!
But beyond the responsibility of being a parent I wonder what else he was like. I have been looking at his old employment records and these have revealed some interesting and important clues.
He was educated at Wellingborough Grammar School in Northamptonshire (Sir David Frost is a famous old boy) during the years of the Second World War and I can only imagine that this must have been a huge distraction for the country with a corresponding lack of attention paid to educational standards. This must have been good fun if you were a pupil then but it didn’t lead to a fistful of GCSEs to help you set out in life. The school in line with the custom of the time, was selective, which meant that an entrance examination had to be passed to get a place. Until 1945 the school charged fees for attendance but following R. A. Butler’s great Education Act of 1944, all places became free of charge. The eleven plus exam and secondary education obligations were also introduced in the Education Act.
According to school records, in summer 1947 Dad was in the fifth form remove (the school tried at this time to push the brightest boys for School Certificate in four years, Dad was clearly not in the bright boys form and took the usual five years). This extra time didn’t help a great deal because in summer 1948 he was in 5B (unexamined fifth form class) and sadly he didn’t manage to get the School Certificate. The School Certificate was not like GCSE but was a group certificate and you had to do well in five subjects, miss on one and tough, you got nothing, this is what must have happened to Dad because no school certificate is mentioned when he left in the Autumn of that year. The following term, he left to join his father’s business, a grocery store at 110 Higham Road, Rushden.
After Wellingborough Grammar School his own CV tells us that he did more studying at the South East London College of Commerce and the Leicester College of Art and Technology. None of these educational establishments exist any longer and although there is an interesting old boys web site for the Wellingborough Grammar School I can find nothing about the other two.
His first real job was as a Film Librarian working at Jessops in Leicester and then in June 1950 when he was eighteen years old he started his National Service in the Royal Air Force at the Air Ministry in London. This sounds awfully exciting but I suspect that it probably wasn’t. From 1949, every healthy man between the ages of 18 and 26 was expected to serve in the armed forces for a minimum period of eighteen months. Men were exempt from National Service if they worked in three ‘essential services’, which were coal mining, farming and the merchant navy, so not film librarians then! I’d like to tell you that he was a fighter pilot or a commando or something thrilling but the plain fact is that he worked at the Air Ministry in London in the office as a clerk/typist whose job was ‘the compilation and maintenance of officers’ and airmens’ records and documents’. I can only imagine that this was exceedingly dull but it prepared him for life in the public service as a local government officer.
He must have enjoyed it however because he completed over two years and his discharge paper of 13th July 1952 says that his conduct was exceptional and his ability was very good, he was described as ‘smart’ on a scale of ‘very smart’, ‘smart’ or ‘untidy’ and he was summed up as ‘a very reliable and efficient clerk who has done good work and helped in the tuition of others’. I can understand that because he was always the most helpful person with lots of patience when dealing with other people, sadly I didn’t inherit that characteristic.
The records now reveal that he was doing a bit of moonlighting because if he was discharged on 13th July 1952 it is interesting that he started work with Lewisham Borough Council in South London two weeks earlier on 1st July 1952 as a general clerk. I think Mum’s Aunty Glad got him the job because she worked in the staff canteen and was good terms with some of the senior staff (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and she put a good word in for him! He stayed there for six months and when he left the Town Clerk, Alan Milner Smith, wrote of him “I found him to be an intelligent boy…and a thoroughly satisfactory officer”, I wonder how well he knew Aunty Glad.
He left Lewisham and a week before his twenty first birthday and took up a new appointment at Leicestershire County Council as a general clerk in the Common Services Section of the Education Department where he stayed until May 1957. In that time he got married, I was born, and he bought his first two houses. I think he must have been a sociable chap because he was enthusiastic in running the County Offices football and cricket teams and he kept meticulous records of games and performances from 1953 until 1956. From my own experience I know that he was a well liked man and the Supplies Officer F E Collis wrote in a reference in March 1957 “ he is very popular with the staff and an enthusiastic member of the office football team” he also said, in an old fashioned sort of way, “I have found Mr Petcher’s work perfectly satisfactory and he brings to it an enthusiasm which is all too often lacking in junior officers today”. I imagine F E Collis was about a hundred years old and remembered what administration was like in the days of Dickens and the Raj!
In May 1957 he left Leicestershire County Council and took a job at Hinckley Urban District Council as a Land Charges and General Clerk. He bought his third house, Lindsay, my sister, was born in October and he cycled to work and back every day, a distance of about ten miles, later he got a moped but I seem to recall that it wasn’t especially reliable and sometimes he had to push it all the way home so he went back to the push bike. This wasn’t sustainable of course so in 1959 they sold up and we sensibly moved to Hinckley to be close to his work. That didn’t last long either and he left Hinckley on 31st December 1960 and moved to Rugby Rural District Council and that’s how we came to move to Hillmorton. I especially like his reference from F J Warren the Deputy Clerk of the Council who described my dad as “a useful, promising and reliable member of staff… I cannot speak too highly of his integrity and desire to give satisfaction” and he added in a quaint sort of way that you would never find today “he is of pleasing appearance and courteous to all with whom he comes in contact”.
That’s how I remember him too!