'And finally, not everyone’s being doing topical. In fact, here’s the rather lovely 6 Oxgangs Avenue devoted to the history of the development of the area, this week highlighting how the block of flats came into being. Could have been prompted by Who do you think you are? Or just a timely reminder that not everything worth blogging about is in the here and now.'

Kate Higgins, Scottish Roundup 26/08/2012

Friday, 7 December 2012

Adolf Hitler Kept Me Out Of The Hunters Tryst School Football Team!

This is a more difficult and sensitive blog to write.

At Hunters Tryst Primary School I had three main teachers - Mrs Berwick; Miss Sulley who I've written about; and Mr Hoddinott. And also for a short while we had an interesting young teacher called Miss Bateman. Miss Sulley was the most interesting and influential, yet it is Mr Hoddinott that I recall most immediately.

Miss Bateman (right)

Over thirty years after leaving Hunters Tryst in 1968 I came across an article in the Edinburgh Evening News about Mr Hoddinott's wife, a lady called Jenny (Jan).

She was about to embark for a very special funeral to be held in the Dutch town of Wins for three brave airmen who had gone down with their RAF Bomber plane over wetland in the Netherlands thereby avoiding hitting the local town. The plane had been returning from a bombing raid over Germany. On the flight was Mr Hoddinott. I came across the under-noted remarkable story:

HODDINOTT, Howard, Harvey, Flt Sgt, 1344173 - Served in WW II with the RCAF. His aircraft was shot down over Holland May 5, 1943, when the Vickers Wellington ([9]) bomber he crewed in was intercepted and hit by a German Messerschmitt Bf 110 ([10]) fighter aircraft. After the crash he was captured by German soldiers and survived two years as a POW. Freed at the end of the war he recovered in a hospital in Britain where he met a Scottish nurse (Jenny (Jan)) who became his wife. He then enjoyed a career as an educator in Edinburgh, Scotland.

This story stopped me in my tracks.

I was completely unaware that Mr Hoddinott had been a war hero, fighting for Canada and therefore Britain as a young man. I am full of admiration and gratitude for what he did for Britain and the future generations who have been able to enjoy a life free from Nazi Germany suppression.

It was fascinating to discover that he came from a well known family in Newfoundland where he was raised; several of the young men from the island signed up.

It's strange the way life pans out - if there had been no Adolf, then Howard Hoddinott would never have gone to war, never met his wife, never have come to Edinburgh and perhaps never have trained as a teacher and of course never taught at Hunters Tryst Primary School.

Unfortunately, at best I had a very mixed relationship with Mr Hoddinott; at worst, one where I suffered under him.

He was our class teacher in P6 and P7.

In some respects I really enjoyed his classes, particularly during P6.

For example, the class would regularly listen to the Schools Radio Religious Service BBC Broadcast first thing in the morning. Immediately after the broadcast he would facilitate a class discussion for half an hour or so. He would take a point from the broadcast and with contributions from the class skilfully develop the particular to the universal - the point to the principle. This was a fantastic approach to education, because it's what education is partly about - drawing out children rather than just informing them. The discussion could end up going in any direction and I found it very stimulating.

I loved these sessions and ironically may have been the biggest enthusiast in the class. I had my hand up most of the time and was a very willing contributor. And young as I was, I understood what he was doing and appreciated the maturity of the approach which he was taking to education - in some respects he was ahead of his time, particularly reflecting recent developments in Scotland under the new Curriculum For Excellence.

I generally enjoyed the rest of the lessons, whether it was English, Arithmetic, etc. 

What I didn't enjoy was that he had to teach taking cognisance of a class of very mixed abilities. 

There were ten or so very able pupils in our class and then some significant gaps to the more middling students and an enormous gap to the less academically able pupils. 

This often meant that a lot of pupils had finished their work well ahead of others. 

As this was often the case, sometimes I got a bit bored and would get up to some low level mischief - usually it was just talking to others; surreptitiously eating Sports Mixtures, Black-Jacks or Fruit Salads; or mucking around; sometimes I would actually be trying to help out some of the bad lads who tended to struggle.

My relationship with Mr Hoddinott deteriorated because of this. 

Today, I can understand how annoying and frustrating low level disruption can be for teachers, however I would have been too feart to engage in any serious misbehaviour. 

Mr Hoddinott was a tall, balding man; he had a very serious disposition and was an imposing figure. Those were the days of the Lochgelly - the leather strap and he could dish that out with the best of them as I know only too well to my cost. He was not someone who I would step over the mark with.

My relationship with him changed dramatically for the worst in P7, after a particular incident. Thereafter, it deteriorated and from then on I felt I was a marked man.

To his credit Mr Hoddinott ran the Hunters Tryst School Football Team. 

There was a wee team composed of P6 boys and the big team which was made up of P7 boys. 

Initially I played for the wee team on the right wing. 

When I first received my purple and yellow horizontally striped football shirt I paraded in front of my mother's full length mirror. Combined with white shorts, long white socks and my classy Adidas La Paz football boots I was like the cat with the cream!

My joy wasn't to last however. 

Mr Hoddinott dropped me from the team after only one game! 

I was devastated, because playing for the school team was probably the most important thing in my life at this time. 

Mr Hoddinott told me he didn't like individuality - despite the concept of the position of winger being to run down the wing, beat players and cross the ball into the box. I'm unsure how much football was played in Newfoundland, so each of us grew up under different sporting philosophies and cultures and therefore had different interpretations and attitudes on how the game should be played.

Football was the game at school and we played every lunchtime and break; getting dropped was a talking point in the school playground. I thought it unfair - well I would of course! However to counter my natural bias my peers regularly picked me first for teams in bounce games. I was the only boy allowed to play with the much older kids in the evenings. I worked very hard on the pitch, could out-sprint any full backs and also run all day too. 

As Mr Hoddinott ran the team and was quite an authoritarian figure there was no way to appeal his decision. 

My sense of impotence, frustration and disappointment was endlessly drummed into me each week. 

The football strips were stored in plastic bags in a long cupboard in his classroom. 

Every Friday each boy would come into the classroom at lunchtime to collect his strip. 

I may be wrong, but I sensed Mr Hoddinott noted my dissonance - this is more instinctive than intellectual but I also sensed he seemed to enjoy an element of Schadenfreude in this matter. 

I thought I would have to endure this omission in P7 too. This would have been even worse because the big team's strip was beautiful. It was purple with a yellow V on the front and back - and beyond imagination, a white number on the back to set the outfit off! 

Of a sudden, there was a ray of hope - unbelievably Mr Hoddinott announced at the end of P6 that he had decided to give up running the team  The role was to be passed on to a local man, Mr Sandilands. He was a policeman and a very pleasant individual.

Mr Sandilands must have been keen to consider his options by holding a trial. Mr Hoddinott sent Mr Sandilands a team list composed of the Probables versus the Possibles. My name wasn't on either list which I felt was unjust particularly as there were some duds in the Possibles team. 

This wasn't quite the end of the matter however. The trial was being held at Colinton Mains Park in the first week of school after the Summer Holidays. 

I turned up with my gear. 

When I was told by Mr Sandilands that my name wasn't on the team sheets, I said in all innocence that 'oh!, there must be a mistake.'

Early in the first half Mr Sandilands brought me on as a substitute and put me in to the Possibles team. 

By half time we were leading five nil and I had scored every goal. At half time I was then put in the Probables team where we managed to pull things back.

The finale to all this was played out a week later. 

As mentioned the school football jerseys were stored in a cupboard in Mr Hoddinott’s classroom. 

On the Friday lunchtime an envelope arrived from Mr Sandilands addressed to Mr Hoddinott. 

It contained the team lists for both the wee team and the big team. 

I’ll never forget the surprise on Mr Hoddinott’s face when he opened the letter and discovered my name at Number 10 - the position in the team. 

I read his mind: How had Hoffmann pulled this off? He glanced up and looked at me with distaste as I walked out to collect the number ten jersey. Unlike the Schadenfreude he had enjoyed a year earlier, mine was purely a boyish joy and innocence at being picked for the team. Thereafter, I enjoyed a full season playing for a successful Hunters Tryst team

After this in class discussions he never asked me to contribute any more, which was frustrating.

I regularly received the belt for small misdemeanours

Later in the school year he put my desk outside the class-room in the cloak-room for a period of about three months. He said I was a disruptive influence in class.

Undoubtedly I was on occasion, but the punishment felt gross and out of proportion. I was a keen pupil and always very prepared to contribute. He of course had to teach to all standards of ability. I was relatively bright and picked things up quite quickly. But I was certainly no more disruptive than many others and those often tended to be kids who were less able. It was easy to get bored if you had finished exercises early. A better approach today would be to use kids who are good at particular subjects to work with kids who are perhaps less able.

The punishment felt over the top and my interpretation, rightly or wrongly, was that it related to me getting one up on him by outmanoeuvring him by getting back into the school football team.

Thereafter, I was isolated from my class mates and lessons.

It also meant that I fell behind with some of my lessons - particularly in areas such as maths, which use building blocks. It meant I was unaware of certain formulas or unable to tackle particular problems not knowing what some symbols meant. 

Because this was an age where there was a lack of transparency and communication my parents were completely unaware of what was going on. Looking back on the episode it was abusive and I was victimised by him. 

I was brought back into the class when we had to sit the eleven plus test. 

It was not long afterwards we all received a small brown envelope. 

For most of the class it meant they were going to the local secondary school, Firhill. However, for a good handful of us, the letter said we were going to Boroughmuir Secondary School.

I was ready to leave primary school and both excited and daunted at the prospect of going there. 

Even the thought of getting the bus to school had a certain appeal to it too. 

My father, Ken Hoffmann, must have been pleased because it was his alma mater, but he seemed to take it in his stride as if it were expected.

Reflecting on this, I was clearly a boy who misbehaved sometimes at school and should have behaved better; that needed to be addressed. But Mr Hoddinott should have included me in the list of boys interested in being considered for the team and certainly not have put me in the cloakroom for three months, which was straight out of Nicholas Nickleby!

Although Mr Hoddinott extracted a modicum of revenge in my final year at primary school, I felt  the real victory was mine. 

What remains in the memory, when we returned in the late summer of 1967 to Hunters Tryst School is that sweet moment on a glorious Friday lunchtime in late August when I discovered I had been re-selected for the school football team; and of Mr Hoddinott reading out the teams and announcing through gritted teeth, that I was playing at Number 10. 

Did one of us or indeed both of us have a Pyrrhic victory - I suspect so?

Postscript: This is of course my remembrance and interpretation of Mr Hoddinott - I'm sure others had a very different experience and in the interest of balance I would greatly appreciate any others' views.


Arnaud said...

Peter, would you know of a picture of Howard Hoddinott?
There's a collection of memories and pictures in
But his is missing.

Had you heard of this event in 2002?

Best regards,
Arnaud Insinger

Unknown said...

Mr. Hoffmann,
Howard Harvey Hoddinott was my grandmother's first cousin. Mr. Hoddinott and two of his brothers Gordon & Walter were WW II volunteers from the tiny village of Brig Bay Newfoundland. The village of some 50 residents contributed a total of 7 fine young men to the cause. Included were two of my great uncles Thomas Gardner Samson and his younger brother Bill. Uncle Tom was the only volunteer who did not make it home as he was killed in action on November 15, 1942 while serving on British Aircraft carrier HMS Avenger. Gordon & Walter Hoddinott & another volunteer returned to the village after the war with Scottish brides. As Newfoundland did not join Canada until 1949 the volunteers enlisted directly in the British armed forces (exception being Howard Harvey Hoddinott - RCAF). Your assumption that football was not played in Newfoundland at that time is 100% correct!
Go Chelsea!
Lorne Samson
Edmonton, Alberta

Anonymous said...

Mr Hoddinott was Head Teacher at Gilmerton Primary School in the seventies. I am sorry, but (as far as I am concerned) he physically and psychologically abused boys. The days of the Lochgelly says it all.

Unknown said...

Mr Hoddinott was my teacher in P7 at Gilmerton Primary School in 1972. He was also the Head Teacher. He was the strictest teacher I had ever encountered but he seemed to like me and i dont ever remember him abusing boys in any way shape or form.

Unknown said...

I knew he was in the airforce (because our teacher told us he was). I first remembered him as a scary teacher (at Gilmerton primary)and he finally became our headteacher. Yes he was quite an authoritarian figure, even got belted off him, but a good guy. My last interaction with him was as an adult, when passing through the school on a Friday afternoon, and he was chasing teenage arseholes out of the school for trying disrupt "His pupils from learning". He was less fearful, but still commanded respect. He was very chatty and a different character to an adult. Wish schools still had characters like him. His family should be very proud of what he did for kids in South Edinburgh

Gilmerton Primary Pupil said...

I was unfortunate enough to be a pupil at Gilmerton Primary School when Howard Hoddinott was headmaster. There is being strict and there is being an outright bully, he was the latter. He was a very imposing “man” who ruled by fear, I have very clear memories of his tempers, once causing a fellow pupil to wet himself after chasing him around the classroom, on another occasion bringing down his belt so hard on to his desk he damaged is telephone. He wasn’t suited to working with children and I very much doubt he would be allowed in this day and age, thankfully.

Anonymous said...

I was a victim of HHH- belted for no other reason than his sick pleasure. I can assure you he WAS a bully and DID terrorise young laddies! He ruled by fear and would find any reason to have a line of boys with their hands held out waiting to be thrashed. Total abuse…