Watch as former classmates return to Sunderland school to recreate 1949 photo and honour memory of reunion organiser

There were mixed emotions at West Rainton Primary School as former pupils reunited after almost seven decades but were sadly missing the reunions organiser, Ray Bates, who never got to see his school pals again after passing away.

By Neil Fatkin
Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 6:45 pm

Ray, who worked for the Salvation Army and settled in Essex, contacted the school two years ago to raise the idea of a reunion for his classmates who are all celebrating their 80th birthdays this year.

He spoke to the school’s headteacher, Alison McDonough, about his desire to meet with his former classmates and in particular, for one last time, to ring the school bell which was the original from when the school was built 95-years-ago.

After publishing a photograph on social media showing Ray alongside his classmates, taken at the school in 1949 when they were just seven-years-old, it set about a chain of events which saw Ray track-down many of the children who were in his class at what was then known as Leamside County Mixed School.

After arranging the reunion Ray died suddenly of a heart attack in February.

However Mrs McDonough was determined the school would continue to host the reunion in “honour of Ray’s memory”.

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She added: “I spoke a lot with Ray during the organisation and he always came across as a real gentleman. I think the pandemic got him reminiscing about his past and coming back and seeing his former classmates in what is their eightieth year was a big thing for him.

The Class of 1946 at West Rainton Primary School. (Left to right) Dennis Short, Rita Brown, Margery Gibson, Eileen Pritchard and Brian Terry. Sitting (left to right), Muriel Davison, June Syddall, Violet Gibson, Grace Cochrane and Margaret Dawson. Picture by FRANK REID

"He was all set to travel up and had even booked the restaurant. After Ray passed away we spoke with his family who all wanted the event to go ahead. It’s very sad he isn’t here today as he would have absolutely loved it.”

After Ray’s passing, former classmate Rita Brown, 80, took up the reigns to make any final arrangements.

She said: “In some ways I feel as though I never left. I worked as clerk in the school until 1973 and I still volunteer working in the library. I’d not seen Ray in person since I left the school although in the last two years we’d been in contact.

"It’s mixed emotions as he was so excited and would have loved to have been here.”

The pupils in 1949.

The event was attended by 10 former pupils as well as relatives of those who’ve sadly passed away. During the reunion, former classmates got the chance to reminisce over past photographs, register books and even examples of their work.

Dennis Short, 80, said: “It’s good to see all the girls but sad there aren’t so many lads as many of them, including Ray, have sadly passed away.”

Brian Terry, 80, added: “I’ve not seen some of the people here since I left school.”

West Rainton Primary School pupils Kyla Riddell and Hamish Irving hold the Ray Bates "Love of Reading" shield as fellow pupils Jenny Wilson, Lilly Hindmarsh, Elizabeth Hall, Miley Neal, Chasry Lee, Evander Dickinson and Lola Irving look on. Picture by FRANK REID

The reunion also attracted former pupils now living outside the region.

June Sydall, 79, said: “I travelled from Bolton. It’s wonderful to see everyone again.”

Eileen Pritchard, 80, who travelled from the Wirral, added: “I was apprehensive when I first arrived. It’s the first time I’ve been back since I left school. When we started at the school the war had just ended and I remember the air raid shelters on the field.”

The school has also established the Ray Bates Love of Reading award shield for pupils leaving in Year 6.

Rita Brown, 80, alongside headteacher Alison McDonough. Picture by FRANK REID
Dennis Short, 80, hadn't seen some of his classmates since leaving school. Picture by FRANK REID