Mornings with Col. Thomas

The headmaster of Humberstone Foundation School, my secondary (grammar) school, was a war hero of World War 1, having been awarded a DSO.  He was actually a Lt-Col, but was universally called Col. Thomas.  He took up the post in 1923, and retired while I was there in 1953.  He had a tall, imposing military bearing, finding it easy to command both authority and discipline.

The scene was the same every morning at assembly.  We all took our places in the hall, whispering quietly to each other – nothing louder was permitted.  The staff, all clad in black gowns, took their places side by side at the back of the stage. 

Just before time the deputy headmaster would command us to rise and stand to attention.  Always on the dot at the exact same time, the stage door would open and Col. Thomas, in gown and mortar board, would sweep into the room.  In total silence he would reach the lectern and remove his mortar board.  Only when it touched the lectern, upside down, was it the cue to sit, and the whole school sat down to await the day's announcements.

Under his 30-year spell as headteacher, the school acquired a great reputation for excellence and high standards, such that parents considered it an honour if their son could win admission.  After his departure the school slid down somewhat, but for all the time I was there, the ethos Col. Thomas had imparted to it outlasted him by several years.  That morning assembly set the mood for every school day.