It seems that my prep school, where I boarded from aged 8-13 (yes I know, I’m still trying to catalogue the subsequent privileged hangups), is 150 years old next year. They appealed for memories from old boys to be included in the anniversary book. So feeling in a slightly frivolous and provocative mood that day, I wrote this. Thought some at least might enjoy it.

Escape from Stalag Luft 54433

by Meynell ma (SF 1979-1984)

So I ran away from School. It’s quite strange looking back on it now, because I actually enjoyed Summer Fields on the whole. It’s also strange because I was informed some time later by those in the know that it was a key factor in my becoming head boy (a fact which caused me great embarrassment at my next school, but that’s of course quite another story). In fact, I didn’t run away because I was unhappy at all.

Looking up Banbury Road, in Summertown, Oxford (by Bill Nicholls, Wikicommons)

I think it must have been some time in 1982 or thereabouts, probably in the Autumn – though I can’t be sure. I remember many details vividly, though. It was all quite last-minute. A little trio of us were sitting in the Dining Room (the table at the far right-hand corner), and R. was bemoaning the fact that he was due to get the slipper that evening for some now forgotten misdemeanour in his house, Mayfield. Naturally, he decided that his only option was to run away from school (though remembering R. as I do, I can’t imagine this was either the first or last time he faced such a catastrophe). But he understandably didn’t feel like going it alone. So he asked me and A. if we were ‘in’. A. very wisely said he was not. I rashly decided I was. I’m not really sure why. I’ve never been a particularly adventurous or hearty sort, so that can’t have had anything to do with it. R. was a good friend, and even then I suppose I valued loyalty to and from friends highly. It’s pretty bizarre, nevertheless. What I do know is that it didn’t really occur to me not to go.

Of course, if we’d really been on the ball, we’d have established a Stalag-Luft escape committee weeks before “E-Day”, and we’d have timed our departure to give the maximum escape time before the next formal event or roll-call. By deciding to go at supper time, we had an hour at most before we were due at our boarding houses. We gathered our meagre supplies (3 slices of bread, I think, and a couple of Asterix books), fetched our coats and headed off into Summertown. We knew we were heading for London (and that this involved the M40 going through a big chalk cutting somewhere – one of the few landmarks an 11-year old can remember from the school coach) but the rest of the route was a little hazy. But we started walking north towards the roundabout and the ring road. Our plan was to hitch a lift.

The extraordinary (and in our more understandably paranoid times, scary) thing was that we got one. Presumably on his way home from work, a driver spotted two boys thumbing for a ride after dark. We got in, and he said he’d take us as far as one of the junctions on the ring road (I think). He clearly thought it was a bit odd when we said that we were involved in a competition to get to London, but didn’t question us further.

And so we continued walking along the hard shoulder, thumbs out. And then we thought our luck was in again. A car came screeching to a halt just ahead of us. We ran towards it pleased to be able to make up further ground. The next thing I remember was the headmaster’s booming voice, ‘You stupid, stupid boys.’ We bundled into the back, were taken back to school and quarantined in the sick bay.

But here’s the craziest thing of it all. We escaped on a Thursday evening. The following day was the start of a leave-out weekend. All in all, it was pretty pointless. Although R. did escape the slipper… that time, at any rate.

Perhaps, though, it made me the man that I am today…


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