James Wilson (No 93)
Jim was born in St. Stephen’s Hospital, Fulham Road, London SW10 on 3rd March 1933.
In May 1940 his widowed mother wanted him to be away from possible bombs in London, so sent him to Fegans. Jim had no brothers or sisters for his mother to consider, and as a result of this, he arrived at the home, alone. His one outstanding memory was being huddled together with 190 other boys; this must have been quite a shock after seven years of being an only child. However, Jim felt sad when he left Fegans because it had been his home for nine-and-a –half years. Jim left Stony Stratford in October 1949.
Jim’s food memories: Rissoles on Mondays and Shepherds’ Pie on Thursdays. This seems to follow a theme, that the menu was repeated weekly!
He remembers playing football, hockey and table tennis and did get into mischief! He remembers rearranging the beds in a dormitory because the housemaster had deliberately jammed them together.
Proudly Jim told me he was five times top of the class at Fegans and he then transferred onto Wolverton Technical High School. Jim tells me that the internal schooling at Fegans was good. To this day he remembers the twenty songs they used to sing in music classes, and the excerpts from Shakespeare which he learned in poetry.
Mr Mitchell, the maintenance handyman stands out in Jim’s memory as a friendly member of staff. As a boy, his chief job in the home was ‘boiler boy’, which he really enjoyed so didn’t find it a chore. Mr Mettham taught him rather a lot about church music, and Jim recalls him as a very competent musician. Under him he remembers learning anthems such as ‘I waited for the Lord’, ‘He Inclined Unto Me’ by Mendelssohn, ‘Sing Alleluia Forth in Duteous Praise’, and ‘Awake Thou that Sleepest’ (Wesley). The boys also learned alternative tunes to some hymns such as ‘Brother James’ Air’, a version of ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ and ‘Repton’ to ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’
He has fond memories of trips out at Summer Camps in Kent. They slept in Bell Tents and washed in the open air. The Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway was a popular trip, and Jim recalls watching a farrier at work on the village green at Horsemonden. On one occasion all the boys stood on a grassy mound to watch THE GOLDEN ARROW speed by, en-route to Folkestone and Paris. The Golden Arrow was one of the special locomotives like the Flying Scotsman.
When he left Fegans he took an engineering apprenticeship at The Express Lift Co in Northampton, where he gained his Higher National Certificate in Electrical Engineering.
Two years of National Service saw Jim in The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and he was posted to a Royal Air Force establishment in Farnborough. He worked on guided missiles. After National Service, he worked in several firms, and was then appointed to the academic staff at Reading University. He has a Polytechnic Diploma and a Master of Science degree.
In 1962, Jim married his landlady’s daughter in a church in Belfast.
Andrew, his elder son is 53 years old and Clive is 46. Andrew has an honours degree in French and works as an editor/translator, and his younger brother followed dad, gaining an honours degree in Electronic engineering. He is working currently as a software engineer and has two daughters.
For me the biggest demerit was probably the stigma which would be attached to someone being brought up in a Boys’ Home or Orphanage. When I was in post at Reading University I used to chuckle on Graduation Days that nobody in the assembled company in the Great Hall, knew, that underneath my academic robes, was a former ‘Orphan Boy’! You will be amused when I tell you that in my first department at Reading University I was occasionally at loggerheads with the building porter. On one occasion, when we were arguing he said to me: “It’s all right for you, I was brought up in an orphanage!”. I just kept tight lips!
You will see that I have enclosed one of my business cards. As a Scientific Officer I used to design special electronic instruments which researchers needed to undertake their experiments. For example, if a physical geographer wishes to measure the height and force of waves on a beach, he can’t buy a piece of equipment off the shelf which will do that. Similarly you couldn’t buy a piece of equipment which would measure the volume of lushness of grass in a meadow. One of my best achievements was to invent a water flow monitor and alarm which was manufactured by a firm near to Southend. I received an annual Royalty for this achievement for twenty five years.
I liked the cyclic nature of life in the University; term, vacation, term, vacation. A Scientific Officer had the same status as a Lecturer which meant he was on the same pay scale, had membership of the pension scheme, had the same holiday arrangements, membership of the Senior Common Room and so on.
Reading University was in a congenial environment, since the campus is 300 acres of parkland with trees and lakes and a wooded area, shrubs and blackberry bushes. Almost every day, I thank the Lord that this pathway was opened up for me. I should add that I used my initiative to gain the post at Reading. I wrote to the Professor of Electronic Engineering, giving my qualifications and work experience and asking if there might be a vacancy for someone like me. The professor replied saying that I would fit into a new Research Unit which he was just about to open. That was in August 1969. After my interview I was offered a post as Scientific Officer which I filled for twenty nine years.
I’ve written this down to give you a fuller account, because I’m a great believer in striving. There are probably very few former orphan boys walking around who have an M.Sc. Degree.
Jim is currently living in Reading, Berkshire