"'Stand tall and pick up those shoulders, Boy,' the headmaster would say, 'or we'll never make a soldier out of you!' The year was 1948 and despite the Second World War having been over since 1945, school discipline in all of the country's schools remained strictly regimented; none more than in the Roman Catholic schools where soldiers of Christ were being permanently moulded. The headmaster (you never heard of headmistresses in those days),was called Mr Armitage and I don't think I ever saw him with shoulders slumped even on the day of his wife's funeral. He stood as straight as any pencil and expected children aged as young as six to be able to do in a matter of days what had taken the army six years of war to instill into him.
Mr Armitage believed in true Catholic values. If something extraordinary happened and the recipient was Protestant, then it was sheer good fortune, but if the same thing happened to a Catholic pupil of his in similar circumstances, then that was nothing less than a miracle! He managed to infect his staff and teaching colleagues with the same degree of belief in themselves, their pupils and their God.
I recall that the school sports teacher was Mr McNamara, whom after five years at St. Patrick's School left to become a missionary. One football season, the school had a poor football team; having had all its best players leave school at the end of the previous term. Our team managed to get to half time a mere eleven goals down to nil and were on the road to an inglorious defeat. As we came out for the second half, Mr McNamara could be heard to shout from the touchline, 'Come on lads, you can still win!' And do you know, all the team ended up 'winners' that day. The other school team beat us 21 to nil and still we were made to feel proud by our coach as the team walked back to the dressing room for having given it our best shot.
I know that times were different then, but in some ways it didn't seem too psychologically destructive to the losers then as it would today, after seeing one's side sorely routed. We knew that we'd be around to play another day and were encouraged to believe that the next time 'we might win.' I'm willing to bet that the looks on our faces weren't too different than those looks on the faces of 'The Jarrow Marchers' after they'd walked all the way to London to petition the Government in 1936 and then had to walk back without having even been seen; or the looks upon the faces of the defeated miners returning to work after a disastrous year's strike in 1985.
Had Mr McNamara and Mr Armitage seen such looks on an army of British soldiers returning after the end of The Second World War instead of faces of cheer and relief by the victors, they too may have accepted on that football day in 1954 that our 21-0 scoreline represented an inglorious defeat instead of a moral victory.
But you see, they didn't really give two hoots for that particular scoreline because they knew that it represented one battle only and not a war. They believed that only true character would win out in the end and that character was formed by how a person responded to defeat and not victory. They strongly believed that strong characters of the future would only evolve by the beaten being taught to get back up on their feet after a knockdown and going into battle again. That is the lesson that Mr McNamara and Mr Armitage taught us that day; how to become a winner! God rest their souls." William Forde: September 13th, 2013.