David James Kent

David has forwarded his own story. Please enjoy the read….

 

I was removed from an unhappy and unstable home by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in May 1940 at age 6. I was with the first five boys taken into Yardley when the Home was opened on 31st May 1940. By chance, my name was entered as number one in the register. In later years, at Stony Stratford, Mrs Bennett always introduced me, not as ‘David Kent’ but as ‘her number one at Yardley Gobion’.

 

In 1943, I was 9 years old, the headmaster came into the school classroom and asked which boys gained 18 or more out of 20 in the reading exam. I was one of four boys who put up their hands. He then said, “Down to the chapel, you are now in the choir. All boys can sing. I want boys that can read.”  So it was that I sang in the chapel choir every Sunday until 1950!  We sang hymns from the “Golden Bells” hymnbook every Sunday morning and evening service and also every day at evening prayers. It is not surprising that I developed a broad memory of so many of those hymns, with two consequences. When I was 15 years old, I was given the job of going to see the visiting preacher on a Sunday morning before the service to get his list of hymns chosen for the two services. I then had to check that they were well known to both the boys and the organist and then put the numbers up on the chapel board.

 

Then in all the years since leaving Fegans, I have carried the memory of those hymns such that today, as organist in a local church, I know every hymn they want to sing and many I can play from memory.

Over my period of 11 years in Fegans Homes I knew the many changing staff. However, here I list those that had some significant influence on my life.

 

Mr Ashurst was a Bible Class leader which I attended regularly, and he encouraged us to learn the books of the Bible names off by heart. This I did with interesting effect, but that is a story for another time. Before he left the Homes, he gave me a copy of T. C. Hammond’s book “In Understanding Be Men”, a book that I used frequently during my years as a lay preacher in the Peterborough area. I see on the Internet that the book is still available today and is described as “A handbook on Christian doctrine for non-theological students”. That’s me!

He then also introduced us boys to stamp collecting and duly formed a club in the Home. In recent years I joined a local club and am still active in stamp collecting. When he left the Homes, he went to India as a missionary to the Ludhiana Mission.

 

Mr A W Tozer was a good housemaster but more, he was a talented musician. He trained the choir for Sunday services and played the piano on so many occasions. In later years when he left the Homes, he married Miss Paterson, one of the Head Office staff. In 2000 after the old boys reunion I went to visit them in their home at Littlehampton.

 

Mr George Bennett, Assistant Superintendent. He was always immaculately dressed in suit and tie! He was a stern strict housemaster but very fair in his dealings with the boys. His own interest was photography, owning a Twin Reflex Leica camera with which he took photos of the boys.

He inspired some of us with an interest in photography and thus it was that for Christmas 1949 Sister Lily Scarlett gave me a Kodak Brownie box camera. From then on, I was taking pictures of the Homes and the boys, subsequently with later model cameras, and to this day I still have my collection of over 400 pictures all duly catalogued so that I can easily find pictures of events or named boys.

Finally, I later learned that he bequeathed some of his belongings to the staff at the Homes. In 1952 on a visit to the Homes, I visited Mr Norman Bennett’s wife (no relation) and she gave me a leather bound KJV Bible, telling me that it was Mr George Bennett’s. I still have and treasure that Bible and use it rather than modern translations.

 

Mr Derek Fullerton, Housemaster, was on the staff from 1950 to 1955 which means he and I were together for my last two years in the Homes. He had a great love for classical music and the organ. On Sunday afternoons and one evening in the week he would have a music group and play his records. It is from him that I learnt so much classical music and over the years I have myself built up a library of classical LPs, which I still have to this day.

Most evenings, after the boys had gone to bed, he would go into the chapel and, with only the console light on, he would play the organ. Senior boys were allowed to stay up an extra half hour, so I used to steal into the back of the chapel in the darkness and sit and listen to him. He never knew that I was there.

In 2000, after the Old Boys Reunion, I went to visit him at his home in Poole and there he had a most magnificent organ. When he played it, his lounge sounded so much like a cathedral. I then told him the above story.

All our married life, I have had an organ in our home, firstly an old pedal harmonium. Today, I have a Hammond electric organ and thus I can practice for church services, the occasional funeral and wedding as well. All thanks to Derek Fullerton!

 

Mrs Fegan left a bequest to the Homes which was to be used to award the boys with the best conduct each year.  This photo shows the four boys who won the award in 1947. They are, left to right, Derek Every, Billy Keddy, David Kent and Ron Wilmont. I recall that my book was Amy LeFeuvre’s ”Fighting the Good Fight”. Then in 1950 it was decided that, rather than the staff select the boys, the choice would be by voting by the boys themselves. I was the winner of the award and my choice of gift was a pocket watch.

 

Some years after leaving the Homes, the former housemaster Mr Fullerton wrote to me and in the letter he said, “I well remember your good self when you were in your teens in the Homes. If I may say so without embarrassment, one of the pleasantest and most co-operative of all the boys in my five years on the staff.”

In endeavouring to determine what I should do on leaving school and the Homes, Mr John Williamson, Council member and Chief Constable of Northampton wrote in a letter to Capt Martin, the Homes Secretary, “From my own observation this boy seems to be the most promising boy, from a character point of view, that I have seen at the Homes for a long time.”

 

From my arrival in 1943 to 1945, I attended the school in the Homes, as did all the boys at that time. In 1944 I sat the 11 Plus exams and several of us passed. Unfortunately, the Homes could not afford the fees at that time for us to attend the secondary schools outside the Homes. In 1945 I was young enough to sit the 11 Plus exams again and three of us passed. That year the Government introduced free education, so us three boys were the first to go to an outside school and we went to Wolverton Grammar School. We were the three boys mentioned in by Mr Ashurst (see above).

I now have from Fegan’s Head Office copies of all my school reports and I still hold my final Oxford School Certificate.

When I came to leave school in 1950, there was little, if any, form of career guidance for school leavers. Fegans did not have a problem up till then for at age fifteen, boys were sent to the Goudhurst Farm.

In March 1952, I was called up for National Service and was put in to the Royal Signals. After six months of training at Catterick Camp in Yorkshire I was sent out to the Suez Canal Zone where I served the rest of my time. There are many stories I could tell of my days in Suez, but this is not the time or space.

On leaving the Army in May 1954, I returned home to my mother in Peterborough. Then, as an accountant, I joined the company of F. Perkins Ltd, the world-renowned diesel engine manufacturers. Not happy with accountancy and wanting to do something artistic I applied to join the drawing office, for which the company wanted me to have a technical qualification. So, I studied at Peterborough Technical College and gained my Higher National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering, concurrently doing an apprenticeship through the company factory. Eventually employed in the drawing office, I worked there until December 1975 when I left to emigrate to South Africa with my family in January 1976.

 

In August 1964, I married Mary Lancaster, a girl I had got to know as we were both in the same Baptist Church in Peterborough, where the ceremony was held.

 

Now in Cape Town for 4 years, I worked as a draughtsman at Leyland the truck builders, installing imported Perkins engines into Land Rovers and trucks! There I became Chief Draughtsman. In 1980 the government here set up a licensee company to build Perkins engines and were looking for staff, so I applied and was accepted with open arms, having 22 years of Perkins experience. Finally, in July 1998 at age 64, I retired from full time employment.

 

We have two daughters, Helen born in July 1968 and Susan born in July 1971. Helen was married here in Cape Town in September 1993. They have both moved back to the UK for their own reasons and are both living close in Surrey. Helen now has two daughters.

 

D. J. Kent

(June, 2019)

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