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Former teachers who studied during WWII finally receive their degrees

"It has been a long time coming."

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Madge Brown. (University of London via SWNS)

By Ed Cullinane via SWNS

A PE teacher whose lessons were interrupted by WWII missiles has finally been awarded her degree.

Retired teachers Madge Brown, 101, and Sheila Gordon, 94, didn't get a degree when they studied at teacher training college in the 1930s and 40s.

Teachers at the time did two or three-year courses, which were later replaced with a requirement for a graduate or postgraduate qualification from university.

So when Madge and Sheila completed studies at Nonington College of Physical Education in Kent, England, their courses were not acknowledged as the degree-level studies they are today.

Now, the University of London is awarding those who missed out with honorary Bachelor of Education degrees to thank them for decades of service.

Cake with Nonington College of Physical Education crest. (University of London via SWNS)

The university was the awarding body of the college which closed in 1986.

Madge, now living in Isle of Wight, started her three-year course in 1938, but had to suspend it for a year to work as a nurse after the start of the war.

She graduated in 1942 - despite one of her hockey lessons being disrupted by a V2 missile flying overhead and exploding nearby.

Sheila, also from the Isle of Wight, attended the college between 1946 and 1949, after the war was over.

Madge said it had "been a long time coming."

She added: “I went to Nonington to train to be a PE mistress, and I can honestly say at the age of 101, that the three years at Nonington were the happiest days of my life.

"I’m rather old to get a degree at 101, but it was the training at Nonington that has kept me going.

"It’s all the physical exercise I’ve done all my life, and still do – I still swim every week.

“I’m very grateful for this, but it has been a long time coming.

"When I left college, they always said it should be a proper graduation because of the hard work we did.

"Why they never made the diploma of physical education a degree I don’t know, because it was very intense – we did human dissection at the university, cutting up bodies, to teach gymnastics.

“Teaching has been a great advantage. I think it gives you confidence, and the teaching profession does something to you – it makes you more self-assured at everything you do. I’ve loved every minute of it.

“Whatever age you are, enjoy life to the full, and never stop exercising – and when you get to over 100, still exercise as much as you can, because it’s worthwhile.”

During the war, Nonington College was evacuated to Avoncroft, and then to Grafton Manor, both in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.

Madge took a year out while the move took place to do nursing work.

In her early teaching years during the war, she remembers teaching a hockey lesson and hearing a V2 rocket coming over.

Madge Brown, Sheila Gordon and Professor Mary Stiasny. (University of London via SWNS)
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She blew her whistle, everyone dived for the floor and after the explosion she blew her whistle once more, and everyone jumped up and carried on with the lesson.

Both Madge and Sheila were presented their degrees on February 22 by Professor Mary Stiasny, pro-vice chancellor.

Sheila said: "I became a teacher because I was always fascinated by Nonington College.

"We had family living nearby so I saw it quite often and thought ‘I wonder what goes on there.'

"I’d just come back from being evacuated the first time when I saw it, and I thought, what a good idea – none of the horrible bits of war, it was enjoyable games.

“I loved teaching people to win, and to lose – I think even today that’s very difficult to do.

"Team games were really my thing. I liked people to be able to lose and take it.

"I think it stands you in great stead for the future if you can take the knocks. It was quite a task getting some people who couldn’t lose to enjoy it!

“When I was [at Nonington College] we didn’t talk about the teaching certificates – it was whether the war was over, and whether it was going to start again, and to get everything out of life that we possibly can.

"The certificates really didn’t make much difference, I didn’t expect to get any brilliant certificate anyway – but if I could just keep going, and have enjoyable games, and pass on the fact that games are pleasant and not about fighting, I think I would have enjoyed it just as much.”

The University of London is working to present those who hold teaching certificates from now non-existent London area teaching colleges, and where the University was the awarding body, with honorary Bachelor of Education degrees.

Of the 26 former teaching colleges in London, all but seven have merged into other institutions, with Nonington College of Physical Education one of the exceptions.

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