BOMBS, BOOKS AND BILLETS
Education during World War Two
Empire Day was observed by custom together with Jubilees and Coronations, the school joining wholeheartedly with the village in celebrating these events. Extra holidays were given, though not so liberally in the later years.
On 1st September 1939 the school was in use as an evacuation point. This brief statement in the Log Book glosses over a lot of suffering and heartache. Over two hundred children were here who had been parted from their homes and loved ones. There were two hundred sad and bewildered children in strange surroundings – it is a story too deep to dwell on here. The final total of evacuees was three hundred and twenty eight.
Through all the holiday the School Canteen was open to feed the evacuees. The local staff, assisted by devoted London County Council teachers, kept them entertained.
On 25th September the school opened with a roll of 551! The Western Hall, now St Joseph’s Catholic Church, and the Baptist Church school room were used to cope at first. Later the Church Hall and the Masonic Hall at Wrotham were also brought into use.
Time-tabling the school must have been a colossal task. Only 150 persons were allowed in the building at any one time, so a double-shift system had to be worked out. On top of all these problems there were the comings and goings of both Kent and London County officials, together with a news team from the BBC.
In December parts of the school were blacked out because of the air raids. Most of the staff stayed on over the Christmas holidays to entertain the children. The canteen had to work at full steam, being declared a ‘Catering Establishment’, enabling it to hold stocks of food, that would otherwise have needed ration coupons.
January 1940 brought the additional hazard of heavy snow and a short frost, with apparently no water supply from 22nd to 29th January. With a school population of around the 500 mark the problems that this would entail do not need detailing.
Work started on the Air Raid Precaution shelters in February, but there were no lights until January 1941. Mr Gomme made mention that the boys were soaked as the roofs dripped. Heating was supplied at some stage, but not in those early, vital days. The shelters came to be a valuable building resource for the school and in their time were employed as changing rooms, craft rooms, stock rooms and a pottery room amongst other uses.
The school remained open again over the Easter holiday and during the hop-picking holiday, when the staff stuck preventive netting to all the windows.
In October 1940 the day-time air raids started with a vengeance. School work had to be carried on in the shelters, though how this was achieved without lighting is unimaginable. 25th October saw only 32 children present when day-time raids were practically constant. Firewatching duties were undertaken by the teaching staff through the war years until stood down.
At 2.20 a.m., 11th November 1940, a bomb fell where the swimming pool now stands. Fortunately it did not explode on impact. Staff, ARP wardens and the police rallied round and sent the children home as they arrived for school. Important documents in the school were removed and all the windows were opened. The bomb was inspected several times and was eventually removed by the bomb disposal squad on 27th November.
On 5th February 1941 there is an entry which states: ‘150 mattresses delivered to the school’. They are not referred to again, but must surely have taken up valuable space. One wonders if they were ordered for September 1939.
On 19th March 1941 an anti-diphtheria clinic was held by Dr R. Green. As may be seen in the history of the Parents’ Association, this was something which had been demanded for years, but the authorities were slow to respond.
From 1939 onwards everyone was supposed to carry a gas mask in case of gas attacks on the country. On 25th March 1941 a Home Office gas van called and 400 children went through it in batches of ten to test their readiness to use the mask when exposed to gas. In May of this year a gas exercise was held in the school.
According to the Log Book there were 312 Natives and 94 Evacuees attending school on 18th July. Many of the evacuees had returned home by this time.
During October tutors from the Margaret McMillan College called to arrange for their students to carry out teaching practice at the school. This process has continued for many years, with often up to three or four students on placement at the school. On some occasions even ten or twelve students would come to observe the cooking and serving of dinners.
The school joined in various fund-raising activities during the war: Warships Week, Wings for Victory, or Salute the Soldier. Quite often these activities were combined with Open Days or National Savings Week. Open Days would tend to be exhibitions of written English, needlework or other handicrafts. A determined effort in one National Savings Week brought in 180 members, the average raised by the school being £5 per week. In the week of 19th October 1945 a special effort produced as much as £242 – a great amount of money for those days.
During 1943 the raids were less frequent and took place mostly at night, so school was able to function without so many interruptions. On 14th February, St Valentine’s Day, the Log Book informs us that: ‘Mr Fuller, the Regional Commissioner, inspected fire-watching operations this night’. Subsequent to this, on 5th June, one of our own anti-aircraft shells exploded in the early hours of the morning on the roofs of rooms 4 and 5,
damaging both rooms and furniture – fortunately the fire-watchers were not harmed.
In June 1944 there was a new development, the V1 Flying Bombs. According to the Log there was very poor attendance on 16th June; with half the school in the shelter. The area was declared an evacuation zone, and children were sent far away. Miss V. Gladders, for example, was sent to Mulverton School, Taunton. Instead of being the receivers of evacuees from the Blitz, Borough Green was now having to seek safety for its own children. On 25th June the roll was recorded as being 147, a considerable drop.
By 15th August every window in the school had some damage. The caretaker and staff carefully removed the broken panes and nailed felt over the resulting holes, there being no other material. Though room 5 was repaired on 19th October, that night the roof of the girls’ porch was damaged.
On 4th December 1944, after suitable farewells, Mr McGill left the school and Mr J.W. Hickman was appointed as his successor, taking up his duties on 8th January 1945.
The final year of the war opened with a very cold spell, reducing attendance to 165 out of a possible 298. On 16th April there is a note to say that the authority first paid for a pupil to be brought to school by taxi.
On this same day in April the library van called, leaving non-fiction books for the first time, according to the record. The Public Library had been run from the school by various members of staff since it first started in 1922, when Mr F. Plowright wrote that he -had 54 readers, one third of whom were children, and 45 books. He also stated that he would like more books for children. The Library or Exhibition Van first visited in 1925.
In 1943 Mr McGill noted that Mrs J. Clark of the Old Manor House had taken over the running of the library. She wrote that she would like more books as about 100 land girls were billeted around the village, and also that local workers were making use of the library.
In June 1944 the library was re-housed in the Western Hall, opening on Fridays from 2.00-4.00 p.m. In 1945 Mrs Clark moved and Miss J. Nisbett was appointed in her place.
In 1957 Borough Green Parish Council pressed for longer hours. In 1962 the library moved to the Church Hall, with Mrs Kitson in charge, the hours now being Tuesdays 6.30-8.30 p.m. and Thursdays and Fridays, from 2.00-5.30 p.m. In December 1966 a move was made to the new Village Hall, opening for considerably longer hours and on more days.
In 1977 the existing library was opened; amazingly encountering opposition from some people, who thought it a needless extravagance. The new library has a readership of 3,000 adults and 1,200 children, a stock of 15,000 books and articles and has silenced its critics by proving its worth.