Syd Metcalfe (B. 1910): Education & Schooling

“We were children until the day we left school.”

Syd Metcalfe, ‘One Speck of Humanity’

old typewriter keys
In later years, Metcalfe became a typer.

There is a sense that Metcalfe did not enjoy school, that it marked him as a child when he wanted to be an adult. Speaking of the day that he was allowed to stop wearing shorts and instead take cover in long trousers, he says, ‘[w]e longed to cover the marks on our knees. The scars of our childhood.’ (p33) Metcalfe left school at the age of 13, as his 14th birthday would’ve ‘come round before school re-assembled.’ (p73) Being a child meant restrictions; being an adult meant freedom – at least to Metcalfe’s child’s mind. He writes: ‘I would be free (Or so I thought). No more school-bell to goad me into getting a move on if I were running late. No more sitting rigidly in the class-room.’ (p72) His shorts were shed, stockings laid to rest, and so ‘a young man was born.’ (p73)

“This then marked the end of my childhood.”

Syd Metcalfe, ‘One Speck of Humanity’

But it was not the end of his education. In later life, he took literary criticism classes in evening class ‘conducted by a university professor who was a Doctor of Literature. An eminent title.’ (p277). He learnt French while living in Australia, and when his language skills improved Metcalfe ‘ventured into Italian.’ (p219). He also used his experiences with a teleprinter during his time in the Signals to become a typer (p285).

Syd Metcalfe, a spirited man who yearned for freedom, never stopped learning. But he did it his way, on his terms, an for his own enjoyment. Education was just another adventure. 


Metcalfe, Syd. ‘One Speck of Humanity’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:526

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