As part of its 150th anniversary celebrations, Oxford Brookes will be hosting two special reunion events in September for alumni who graduated from the university and its predecessor institutions. Alan Walker, who graduated in 1944 and was the first of three generations to attend, shares his happy memories of learning from a different era

It is now more than 70 years ago that I first met John Henry Brookes and my association with what is now Oxford Brookes University began.

I had won a scholarship to the school of technology, arts and commerce – known as The Tech – and at the age of 14 I set out on my new bike to start a two-year course to study art.

The year was 1942 and the war was on.

Blazers were not obligatory, caps were to be worn travelling to and from school and gas masks and satchels were carried everywhere.

On arrival at the school entrance in Church Street, St Ebbes, you had to manoeuvre your bike through the picket gate into the Entrance Hall.

Our days began at 8.40am with assembly in the Hall, which was really just a big shed.

All the pupils met here daily for prayers, hymns accompanied by the piano, and the reading out of various notices.

The headmaster presided and most of the teachers were present.

Each morning a preselected pupil would read the lesson before we were then dismissed to classrooms and other lessons began.

There were 17 pupils in our form, five girls and 12 boys, which was not a bad arrangement. In engineering it was strictly all male and in commerce the mix was about two dozen girls to two boys.

Our studies were equally divided between art subjects and general education.

Our classroom could be anywhere, but in the art department on the first floor only art students were allowed.

There were, of course, classrooms in the school but there were many more outside.

Sometimes it seemed that the entire body of students had been moved to odd corners of the city. We travelled on foot to venues in Brewer Street, the Halifax Building Society, Balliol Boys Club, Summertown School and for every Wednesday afternoon to the Sports Field, which was a large area behind where St Catherine’s College is now.

In rain or shine we plodded along, sometimes orderly, sometimes not, depending on the supervision.

Lack of supervision between classrooms did on occasion result in the loss of pupils who usually attended one of the cinemas for extracurricular activities.

Another strong memory is asking a teacher’s permission for one of the classes to leave slightly before time for the mid-morning break.

Orders had been placed, coppers had been collected and the chosen one would race out of school, up St Ebbes Street to the shop, which made the very best ‘fatty cakes’ ever.

You have to remember all of us were severely rationed and this lunch break for three half pennies was nectar to us sugar-starved kids.

The war went on around us.

We were very aware; used to air-raid sirens, shelter drills, evacuees and the many wounded service men who were being treated at Headington Hill House which is now part of the university’s campus. Current affairs lessons kept us up to date on the various places where our forces were fighting and the boys could name every allied aircraft and most of the enemy ones.

During summer terms we volunteered for various ‘help the war’ efforts.

Farms needed our help to get the harvest in. We picked potatoes, shucked corn and picked fruit.

In all, one might say, it was a very broad education but extremely happy days.

The Alumni Reminiscence Ball, open for all Oxford Brookes alumni to attend, will take place on September 26.

A special commemorative event for students who graduated from the university before 1970 will be held on September 11.

More information about both events can be found at