Spirit Quest

 

With the Nazi war machine plundering Europe

becoming a Dollar Boy or Girl was a fair trade

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

 
  The author in uniform as a "Dollar Boy" circa 1938-1939.

08 June 2012 — It was mid morning, a Sunday in November 1938, as our bus rumbled up the parkway to a castle-like mansion on this last leg of our flight from Nazi terrorism. Our group of women and children had left the night before from London, England where we had arrived by freighter from eastern Europe.

This was the end of the thirties and there were no M 2 fast highways connecting the country. After stopping for breakfast in Carlysle on the English-Scottish border we arrived at our destination to be reunited with our husbands and fathers. They had arrived weeks earlier and were now living at Dollarbeg, “the castle,” a rather posh refugee camp for antifascist Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia.

By the end of November some 200 of the most endangered men had been spirited to Britain out of reach of the Gestapo who were very much interested in meeting them. My father belonged to that group. Now we were about to be reunited.

Two of us children, Ruth and I, were privileged to become pupils at the prestigious Dollar Academy near our castle in the town of Dollar, ten miles east of Stirling. One day we were taken to Henderson’s Outfitters, the official  haberdashery for the academy. When we emerged from the store we were fully clothed in the tunic of the school and shortly thereafter began our daily bus rides to the academy. We had become a Dollar boy and a Dollar girl although we could not speak their language.

On June 2 this year about 20 former students and some of their spouses gathered at the beautiful home of Bruce and Eva Buck in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. Very few of us knew each other having been pupils at the academy at different times and ages. They had been sent to Dollar for their education by their parents who often lived abroad, and an excellent schooling it was. Ruth and I were enrolled in the fourth year of the prep school.

 
The Playfair Building at the Dollar Academy. Image from Wikipedia.
 

We brought with us pictures and memorabilia from our time at Dollar, but best of all were the stories that were shared. Teaching at that school, the first co-educational private “public” school in Britain, was not beyond physical enforcement of discipline and learning. One told of a teacher who could not resist pulling her hair frequently because “she annoyed him.”  Another recounted setting off a stink bomb that quickly filled the class room with the smell of rotten eggs. She recalled to her surprise not being  expelled but severely reprimanded by the rector Harry Bell. Everyone seemed to know a certain disciplinarian, a female teacher, who had little hesitation using the strap. I should note that my refugee status had excused me from physical punishments. But then I have always been a good boy. Nevertheless all of us believed that we had received an enormous benefit being students at this school.

Our initial luncheon at our recent gathering was a chance to meet and get to know each other. At supper we met at the beautiful golf club overlooking Lake Ontario to toast our alma mater.

We were involved in untangling a skein or relationships, remembering what residences, “houses” we lived in and when. Mine was the shortest tenure at the school, only three months, but long enough to acquire a working knowledge of English by total immersion in the language. It seemed to me that the whole student body was united in this task.

The rector was very interested in my progress. On one occasion I recall him watching and listening while I tried to explain a Czech way of playing allies to a number of my new friends. My teacher, Miss Henry, was a tall, very kindly, red-haired woman who usually had tears in her eyes as she sent some miscreant out to meet with Miss Falconer, the prep school principal, who was less emotionally inclined.  Some of the FPs, former pupils, admitted to having been under her less than tender care.

My worst time at school was each day during mid morning break when we proceeded to the refectory to be served a mug of warm milk which invariably had a thick scum on it, enough to make a scholar out of me. I hated milk in the first place but somehow managed to cope without retching too often. This did influence my attitude to Scottish education in an uncomplimentary way.  It is my understanding that corporeal punishment as well as scummy milk is a thing of the past at Dollar Academy.

At our meeting at Niagara on the Lake it was interesting to discover where fate had led us. I was constantly amazed at the paths taken and their surprise crossings. One of the ladies came all the way from Prince Edward Island where she now lives close by where my spouse was born and knows some of her relatives.  Bruce Buck, our host, had worked for the Bata company and knew many of my friends with whom I had worked. Eva, Bruce’s spouse, a tall elegant lady, was born a short distance from where I entered this life in Czechoslovakia. There was another preacher in our group. Though educated in Scotland he had come to Canada and was received into the ministry at my ordination service in Brockville in 1956.  And so it went on for much of the afternoon.

It was “school spirit”  but not of the “rah rah” kind that one finds at gatherings of university alumni. It was evident that something had happened to us in our formative years . Not only had we received an excellent grounding in education but also a sense of belonging. We were Dollar Girls and Boys.

As I peruse Fortuna, the annual school publication, I am impressed with the student body and their activities, the sports and arts, drama and music, bagpipes, of course. I envy them for their opportunity and would love to make it possible for my granddaughter to attend although that is beyond the possible, it ain’t cheap. Indeed, I discovered that virtually no Canadian came to Dollar but the graduates found their way all over the globe later in their lives, some obviously to these shores.

Us humans make a tangled web. As we seek to untangle our individual strands we become powerfully aware that there is a community of spirits that holds us together.

For me, long ago, under strange and difficult circumstances, having lost my home and separated from the extended family, my stay at Dollar was too brief a way station on this odyssey. Nevertheless, meeting with my fellow FPs gave me a real sense of being a Dollar Boy.

Will we meet again? Possibly. In all likelihood we will produce a periodic newsletter to keep us in touch. Undoubtedly there will  be an “In Memoriam” section.

Once again I have been made aware of a spirit that pervades the human family. At special occasions such as that at Niagara on the Lake that spirit becomes unmistakably palpable.

As I climbed out of that bus with my mother many years ago, crumpled and tired, I was intensely looking forward to being reunited with my father. Little did I know what other events and people awaited me. As Bliss Carmen wrote “We know not what the future has, of marvel and surprise.” Undoubtedly that's a good thing.

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