Old Boys’ Stories – Peter Martin-Smith

Our thanks go out to Peter Martin-Smith for submitting his contribution to ‘Old Boys’ Stories’

Peter’s Story

My indelible memories of CVTHS are of the most magnificent workshop complex of any school, probably in the world. The plating shop, the foundry, and the thermodynamics shop where I learned so much about engine performance. Of F Bird, the gentle man who tried and failed to teach me French. Of SAS Cowell who taught me maths with an iron fist, and whom I disliked and feared until I saw an insight into his sense of humour and who had, not so many years previously, escaped from the beaches of Dunkerque and, thereby, had a reason to be a bit angry. Of Leo Walmsley and his Art Room, with that cast iron printing press in one corner. Of Reg Mayo and John Kingsland, of course, who taught me a lot about teaching. Of R Burgess the flute playing science teacher, and CC Crabe who tried to teach me to play the piano. And, I remember the staff of the craft department… John Parsons, John Gale, “Ted” Ray and particularly of Reg Wincott, who nurtured my love of woodwork, and whom I have met again recently at his home near Hastings.

I also remember so well the day Colin Cadle and I slid off to Biggin Hill, on school Sports Day, climbed into a red Tiger Moth, and flew over the school doing steep turns and photographing the events below. Colin has told his story of his Air Force career, so I am persuaded to ‘step up’ and tell mine.


My fascination with aeroplanes and flying led me to ‘hang out’ at Biggin Hill in my spare time and to join the Air Training Corps. It was through the ATC that I was awarded a flying scholarship. It was also at Biggin Hill, at the Vendair Flying Club, that I was first introduced to the 15-year-old girl who was to become my wife. But back to flying! I consider myself extra lucky to be assigned to Marshals at Cambridge where, instead of receiving my pilot training on the new Pipers and Cessnas which were becoming popular, there was a fleet of five silver De Havilland Tiger Moths. It took about three weeks to complete the required thirty flying hours and, low and behold, on 13th September 1963, thirty-four days after my seventeenth birthday, I was a qualified pilot. I suppose my application to join the RAF was the logical next step, but my acceptance to attend the RAF College at Cranwell was beyond my wildest dreams. I know that Colin Cadle followed on, but I don’t remember seeing him there, and this mystery was only solved when he revealed that he withdrew himself from Cranwell and went, instead, through a different entry procedure.


Even now, fifty years later, I judge the two-and-a-half years spent as a flight cadet as probably the most significant life-changing period of my life. Suffice to say that on 18th August 1967, I marched off of the college parade ground with the Queen’s commission and a pair of brand new wings on my chest. From Cranwell, I went on to Anglesey to fly the Folland Gnat. Little did I know that circumstances were to change for me and eighteen months later I was to swap my pilot’s wings for a navigator’s brevet.


I married Jackie in 1970, and rekindled the use of my family name, introduced by my paternal grandmother, so whilst at school I was known as PRM Smith, henceforth I was PR Martin-Smith. My operational flying career also commenced in 1970, with my posting to No 214 Sqn, at RAF Marham in Norfolk, flying the Victor K Mk1. The Victor was the last of the V-bombers, built by Handley Page as a bomber but converted to a tanker in the mid-sixties. The Mk 1 could carry about 13,500 gallons of fuel, all of which we could use ourselves, or give away through three trailing hoses. Logically, our ability to pass fuel in-flight enabled us to extend either the range or the endurance of other aircraft. Thus, our roles involved either deploying military aircraft around the world to discharge the UK’s responsibilities under various defence agreements or, less glamorously, accompanying air defence fighters in the far northern ‘Iceland – Faroes gap’, intercepting and accompanying intrusions into the UK’s airspace by ‘visitors’ from the air and naval forces of the Soviet Union.

After nine years at Marham I returned to Cranwell for a year’s postgraduate training which prepared me to enter the world of research, development, evaluation and testing of avionics systems as part of the equipment procurement process. Thus prepared, I was posted to the MoD in 1981, and bought the house in Orpington I grew up in, from my father who was retiring from the city. My job in London was to orchestrate the updating of avionics and navigation equipment in the RAF’s entire fleet of in-service aircraft. For new aircraft, yet to enter service, small armies of staff were employed in this aspect of the procurement process. But for older aircraft, the job of keeping their cockpits up-to-date fell to me. And guess what… there was no money! That was true until 2nd April 1982 when Argentine forces invaded the British Sovereign Territory of the Falkland Islands.

At that time, accurate navigation was dependent upon various VHF or UHF radio navigation aids. These have a generally accepted maximum range of about 200 miles from their transmitters, and since transmitters were exclusively land-based, it followed that very accurate navigation more than 200 miles from land was almost impossible. Two years earlier I had flown in a test-bed Britannia aircraft from Boscombe Down to the North Pole with a GPS receiver. There were, I believe, five working satellites in orbit and we had to time our flight to coincide with the availability of optimum satellite geometry at the North Pole in order to acquire an accurate fix. The GPS receiver was made by Magnavox and was about the size of a deep-sea chest. Full operational capability of GPS did not occur until 1995.

Thus it was that I spent much of the early days of the Falklands War being responsible for finding and acquiring additional navigation equipment that would allow the RAF to fly down there. In the event British Airways had a load of Carousel Inertial Navigation Sets in store, so we acquired those. And in California, a company called Litton was making small ‘Omega’ receivers for aircraft. Omega was a Very Low-Frequency system which transmitted a signal from eight transmitters spaced around the world. VLF signals travel for about 4000 miles and, what’s more, the radio waves bend around the earth’s surface, and even penetrate water to submarine depth! So in the absence of SatNav, Omega was a pretty useful thing to have. I remember contacting Litton and acquiring their next batch of Omega receivers which were actually part of a shipment to Israel, I seem to remember. But they were diverted to the UK and were fitted in our aircraft within a week.

After MoD I went, with my family, to the RAAF School of Air Navigation Training in Victoria, Australia, to impart my knowledge of avionics systems, and navigation. It was a glorious time in which my wife and two sons travelled to most corners of that fascinating land. We were there for just 27 months, which passed all too quickly. Upon my return to the UK, I attended the Royal Naval College at Greenwich to complete the Joint Services Staff College, a precursor to further advancement in the military. A tour of duty in Personnel Management was then endured before I returned, once again, to the RAF College at Cranwell, as the Director of Aero-systems and Electronic Warfare training.


In this role, more worldwide travel involved visits to research and development organizations and companies in France, Germany, Italy, Canada and the USA, as well as in the UK. By 1991, now an ‘expert’ in electronic warfare, I was posted to command the RAF station at Spadeadam. This joint RAF/USAF base was, in fact, the largest RAF station by area, covering some 9000 acres of Cumbria and the Kielder Forest. There we were able to replicate all of the electronic threats posed by the world’s anti-aircraft guns and missiles, thereby providing training to allied air force crews before they deployed to hostile environments.

By 1994, we were on the move again and went to Germany where a NATO job in the Headquarters of Air Forces Central Europe awaited me. The HQ lodged on the USAF base at Ramstein in SW Germany. As part of the American Kaiserslautern Military District, we lived amongst a 50,000 strong population of Americans, but within HQ AirCent, as it was known, we worked alongside members of the German, Belgian, Dutch, Canadian, American, and French Air Forces. We lived in a German village, but worked in an American city… we even put away our Deutschmarks and got out our dollars as we entered the base. Amongst its many facilities, Ramstein boasted one of the best golf courses in Germany!

By 1996, at age 50, I had five more years before retirement and the options open to me needed to be carefully considered. A return to MoD or an RAF Headquarters near London seemed inevitable but unattractive. We had, a number of years previously, bought a small holiday house in the Department of the Vendee, in France. We had discovered and loved our taste of rural France and, in a moment of abandonment of all logic, and supported by our determination not to impose 6 months quarantine on our border collie, we set off to southern France to find a ‘project’. In a tiny village in the south of the  Dordogne, next to the Lot border, we found a Maison de Maitre which needed a major makeover. We bought it and in March 1997 I retired early from the RAF and we moved directly to France. There began a 10-year adventure during which I put to good use all of the skills I had acquired from that amazing school on Crittalls Corner… and acquired one skill which had earlier evaded me, despite Mr Bird’s best endeavours, a proficiency in speaking French. But that’s another story!


Peter’s Story will be added to ‘Old Boys’ Stories’ on the main website very shortly.





Smaller Montage Now Ready

Most pupils who attended  Cray Valley during its 21 years and two incarnations (CVTS and CVTHS) will now be over 60 and people of our age will likely have collected art, photographs and other visually decorative elements to enhance and decorate our homes over the years. One of our problems now is probably lack of free wall space. The original Limited Edition CVTHS Montage (16 still available) is offered with dimensions of 548 x 378mm, however, following a few requests for a smaller size we are now making a further Limited edition of just 10 pieces available in the smaller size of 420 x 286mm. These prints are in a matt finish ‘C-Type’ which is photographically processed using traditional chemicals onto Fuji Crystal Archive paper and the remaining 9 copies are offered at just £28 + postage.


One of the old boys showing an interest in owning a smaller size was Graham Mitchell who has just received his copy (1/10) and writes:


“‘Very many thanks to Colin Cadle for my excellent Cray Valley School Montage which arrived today (5th January). I chose the smaller artwork to fit the space available. Ordering was very easy via the link provided and it arrived quickly in a well-packaged envelope together with the associated Limited Edition Certificate of Authenticity and hologram.

I am absolutely delighted to have this fascinating quality memento of our lovely School and my time at Cray Valley. Mine is first of the limited edition of just ten and I can thoroughly recommend getting one. The next job now for me is to attend to its framing and hanging”




For more information about the montage or to order the larger print please CLICK HERE




The Iron Curtain Club – Andy Trotter

CWS Hall – 1934 a building similar to the one used as The Iron Curtain Club.


Who remembers the Iron Curtain club in St.Mary Cray? I think it was 1966 when I heard boys from my year talking about this new and slightly scary sounding music venue. While we had  Chislehurst Caves and the Bickley Arms to hear blues and jazz as well as the usual local church hall dances, the Iron Curtain sounded very different by the descriptions given by Rob Brown and Pete Welch.

My father, a former St.Mary Cray police officer, had heard about this new club and warned me off but intrigued I went along and what a place! Bricked up windows, dark corridors and stairways, sweat pouring down the walls and fantastic music, ska, bluebeat and Tamla all played at a volume that I’d never heard before. Fridays nights had live bands for ten bob and a lot of emerging groups played there including the Yardbirds and Geno Washington. Can anyone remember the other bands?

It was a great venue, so different from anything else around and for a time very popular but after a lot of attention from the authorities the Curtain closed.

Andy Trotter – 05 January 2018

The picture above is a Georgian house in St Mary Cray similar to the one used as ‘The Iron Curtain’. I remember the club being more set back from the road and slightly raised above street level. Does anyone have a photo of the actual building? What exists there today? Any further information you may have about the club or your experiences of visiting it will be published in the main body of this post. I am expecting some interesting stories!

Richard Beer (07 Jan 18)


This is a shot of the building that housed The Iron Curtain, taken this morning on a drive around ‘memory lanes’.

This is one and the same house as the 1934 photo attached to Andy Trotter’s article. The front garden is now a small car park and the house is divided into private apartments. A plaque on the front names it as ‘Latimer Court’ but there is no visible sign of its dark history. Perhaps we should petition for a ‘black plaque’ to describe the property’s heritage in our lifetime?

Derek Nash

I’d pretty much forgotten how many live music venues we had ‘back in the day’ within a few miles of the old school.

I remember The Iron Curtain, Chislehurst Caves, Bromley Court Hotel, the Royal Bell in Bromley well and, once mobile with my own Mini, Downe Folk Club and the Black Prince in Bexley. The name of the other venue in Hurst Road, Sidcup eludes me.

It still surprises me sometimes when records come on the radio to think that I saw so many artists and groups that went on to acquire huge international careers within a small patch of suburbia.

Adrian Appley

Reading the mention of Chislehurst Caves took me back to the late 1950s when a group of us attended the Saturday night raves each week without fail. The only singer I can recall seeing there was Screaming Lord Sutch who came on stage with a toilet pan around his neck and sang “I’m A Bog For You Baby” – really! There was always a trad jazz band plus several pop groups to entertain us and we would move from one group to another. I wore a navy blue straw granny hat with small bells at the end of my trousers and would dance around for ages – they were loony days. The caves are famous for being haunted and one of our lads decided he wanted to stay in the caves overnight and I decided to accompany him. We never saw or heard any ghostly happenings but when we left in the morning we could not believe how many courting couples were leaving. It was so sad when these Saturday events eventually closed down.


Pat Acock

I remember it well since Grace my girlfriend, later my wife lived five doors down. The Beatles were just becoming famous and demanded £5000 for a fifteen-minute slot at the opening so they had The Stones for £3000 if I remember correctly and they did a longer set. Coming back with Grace one night we met two scantily clad girls waiting for the club to open, sheltering behind Grace’s hedge and up her pathway. It was the days of mini dresses with 3-6 inch peepholes. Grace was cross since we got into a conversation. I was the class oracle on popular music at the time annotating Record Mirror and passing it around the class. I still have a ten year complete run in the loft and can easily waste a day reminiscing about those golden years of music starting in 1965 and culminating with Forever Changes by Love. My son and I saw them play at the Jazz Cafe as recently as the Summer of 2016. I even sat at the bar with dear old Arthur Lee in Cleo Lane and Johnnie Dankworth’s place, The Stables, in Milton Keynes in the early Noughties.

Barry Warren

I lived in St Mary Cray (Chelsfield Lane) and this venue passed me by completely – unless dementia is kicking in! I just looked it up and The Troggs played there on May 20th 1966, the Yardbirds on Feb 25th same year. I did the caves mainly when doing local things. Didn’t Geno Washington do the Orpington venues as well?

Brian Coleman

I used to go there every weekend with schoolmates, Tony Fleet and John Burke. we saw Lee Dorsey and the Move there. The Who played there once and apparently they got 1,000 people in there, so I’m told.
If I hear “You don’t know like I know” by Sam & Dave, I’m transported straight back in there. I can even smell the damp. Spooky!

Richard Beer

The Iron Curtain was one of my favourite haunts, next time I’m in St Mary Cray I’ll take a photo – have a feeling the building is still there. We saw Dione Warwick (“War-wick”) there but cannot recall the date, probably 1965. Other venues for blues and jazz were Bromley Court Hotel – Long John Baldry introduced a very young Rod Stewart there along with Spencer Davies, Stevie Winwood, Sonny Boy Williamson, et al. Who remembers The Austral in Sidcup? It was a 1930’s cinema converted to a nightclub/disco it became the local home of Ska in the late ’60s.









A Nudge from the Grave!

A Happy New Year

As always Jan and I wish you all a very happy and peaceful New Year with an extra emphasis (as we all get a little older) on good health during 2018.

Click to view the updated Register for 2018


A Nudge From The Grave

If I have been in touch with you during the past year by direct email I will probably have asked if you would kindly consider sending us your ‘story’ so that it can be added to the others in our ‘Old Boys’ Stories’ section on the website. I am sure that Adrian Appley’s will be extremely interesting and very amusing (if not a little weird at times). However, my own nudging is starting to work but Adrian has recently been encouraged to start writing by his mother who died before he was even born! In Adrian’s words:

“I have been a spiritualist for more than 50 years and in that time I have received some unbelievable messages from many past relatives and friends – some of whom I had forgotten about until they described themselves in detail.  My mother and father often come through during medium demos and give me plenty of info from the past.  I always assumed my mother died just after I was born but a lovely lady medium assured me it was before I was born and there was a mad panic in Farnborough hospital to get me born before I also died.  When I explained this to my doctor he informed me you only have 15 minutes for the birth before it is too late under these circumstances.  She will keep nagging me until I start the autobiography and am determined to commence whilst in India during February.”

Adrian Appley – 30 December 2017

Adrian Visits Maggie The Medium






Website Updated For 2018

Rediscover the updated CVTHS Website 2018

In the past week the pixies have been doing at lot of housekeeping on the Cray Valley main website. The updating is now complete and ready for 2018. Why not take some time out to see what’s new and rediscover some of the updated material?

Almost 5 hours of archive footage

48 School Band Tracks, 15 interviews and 4 School Productions

Over 2000 Archive photographs and document scans

21 Editions of ‘The Rook’ from 1954 to 1975

Naughty Boys’ Confessions

School Benchmarks from 1954 – 1975


‘Old Boys’ Tell Their Stories

The School History

How YOU can help us