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Memories of Past Events and Past Pupils

" Leesons at The Convent of The Cross, Boscombe - 1."

My brother Tony and I remember our Convent years as a generally happy time and a completely 'natural' - one might almost say 'holistic' - introduction to the Catholic faith: learning our catechism by rote and making our First Confession and First Holy Communion which was done so beautifully in the school chapel, itself a lovely building.

Later we were confirmed at Corpus Christi where we had been christened at the age of three weeks. The feast of Corpus Christi, which usually fell in June, was always celebrated with particular fervour and ceremony at the adjoining church of the same name.

Clergy, choir, nuns and congregation would process around the grounds as the 'Blessed Sacrament' in the best monstrance was carried high by the celebrant beneath an ornate canopy preceded by six convent boys in cassocks and ermine-trimmed capes scattering rose petals from little baskets a role for which there was much competition.

When it was all over we would return to the school for a special tea. All holidays (holy days) of obligation were occasions for an extra mass, no school work and a special tea followed by games - similar to a birthday party.

I also regularly 'served' at mass which was celebrated daily at 7.30 in the morning by one of the priests from the church invariably, during my time, Father Weaver who was, I believe, the nuns' chaplain.

My years at the school included the whole of the Second World War and this had a dramatic effect on Chapel activities during the 'blackout' and Tony and I vividly remember serving mass in almost complete darkness reading the Latin responses with the aid of a shaded lantern!

Benediction, usually celebrated in the afternoon, was then a regular and popular service and one which both Tony and I especially enjoyed - quite short, no sermon but the singing of traditional Catholic hymns and incense! The spiritual head of the Convent was Reverend Mother Mary Kelly. Her sister, also Mother Kelly, seemed to act as administrator and bursar and we always had to report to her in her office if we broke something!

Head of the boy's department was Mother Howe, a firm but fair and friendly individual well liked by both pupils and parents. She was supported by a 'team' of nuns and usually two or three lay-teachers.

Names that I readily recall are Mothers Pannell, Mary Thompson, Theresa Thomson, McCurry and Sisters Imelda [refectory] Joan [matron] and Philomena [linen room]. Sister, later Mother, Gillard was not in the boys' department but was a popular teacher of piano and also the chapel organist along with Mother Pannell.

The lay teachers I remember, apart from our father who, in my early years, took us for singing, were Miss M A Fagan, Miss M Gobell, Miss Irwin and Miss Walsh who was the gym mistress for both boys and girls and easily identified by her gymslip!

During the first week of May 1941 Dad, who had just turned forty-eight, was very suddenly taken ill and, for no very obvious reason, Tony and I suddenly found ourselves having to board at school. A day or so later we were taken home to see him.

I remember very clearly standing alone by his bed in the small back room at our home, not really understanding the significance of events but agreeing to his request to "look after Mummy for me" Tony had seen him separately first. We were returned to the Convent by Miss Gobell who had become a family friend.

On 9th May we were summoned from the refectory at breakfast by an unusually solemn Mother Howe who took us into the adjacent boys' shoe room where both Reverend Mothers Kelly were waiting to tell us that Dad had died during the night and that we should go immediately to the chapel to pray for him.

The details of this bleak day in our young lives are better remembered by Tony; all I recall was locking myself in one of the toilets near the chapel and crying until a sister came to find me.

I understand we attended the funeral at Corpus Christi in the company of a family friend Mrs Melling, but not the burial at Boscombe cemetery; Tony recalls that Sister Joan showed particular kindness to us both during a sad and bewildering time for two small boys.

Tony and I remained boarders at the Convent. The war seemed to cause little disruption to life at school.

The only significant difference seemed to be the sleeping arrangements: because of the large dormitory windows, already displaying the familiar criss-cross pattern of sticky tape in the dormitories, beds were kept well away which meant that many overflowed into the lofty corridors that were comparatively safe from the effect of blast.

School routine continued, the only concession being the move out of the classrooms during the occasional air raid warning to once again 'take shelter' in the windowless corridors. Apart from Sunday walks, we rarely ventured beyond the solid, high brick walls of the establishment.

There were occasional stage productions as evidenced in the family photograph album in which I, and a number of others, can be seen dressed as knights in a production obviously associated with St George.

Some names are:

John Leeson, Tony Webb, Robin Hayward-Wills, Jimmy Wilson, John Perkins and Derek Alcock.

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