[Edmonton County School Old Scholars' Association]

The War Years 1939–1945

Author: Graham Johnson, with major contributions by John Norrington-Davies and acknowledgements to Douglas Dawkins and other unnamed contributors (with apologies for not mentioning them by name).

The war years would seem to form an interesting interlude in the history of the school that are worthy of closer examination. I am going to need a lot of help with this one as I really do know very little about the subject.

[Bocking Place.]

The school was closed down towards the end of August 1939 and those who were prepared to be evacuated (about half the school) were taken to Braintree on 1st September. The school was housed in Bocking Place, a mansion that had belonged to the Courtauld family and had recently been taken over by Braintree County High School as an annexe. The spacious hall was large enough to accommodate the school assembly and was also the venue for a number of amateur productions including 'The Pirates Of Penzance'. This was the time of the 'phoney war'.

Bocking Place ceased to be used as a school in 1992. The building still exists and has been converted into luxury apartments as shown in the photo above. A photo of Bocking Place from 1939 features in the 1939–1940 photos collection along with a photo of the school arriving at Braintree station.

Between the closure and reopening of the school there was a period where many pupils had left their evacuation homes but did not have a school to attend. A group of teachers were asked to try to trace them and instruct them to attend classes based at Latymer School. So many were assembled that Forms 1 and 3 came in the mornings, Forms 2 and 4 in the afternoons and Form 5 all day.

John Norrington-Davies (1938–1943, aka "Taff") was one of those who stayed behind. 'As one who remained in Bush Hill Park I recall an extended summer vacation, which was quite agreeable. This came to an end possibly just before or after Christmas 1939 when a number of us were rounded up to attend Enfield Grammar School for two half-days per week. Teaching concentrated on English and Mathematics and homework was given. Some time later, presumably as more and more evacuees returned, those of us from ECS were redirected to attend classes at Latymer School for half-days.' He also adds 'At this time I first met Jack Long, who signed my school report on the 2nd August 1940 in the capacity of form master. The next term began 2nd September 1940.'

Mention has also been made on the site forum of classes being held at Enfield County School. Presumably this was for the girls with Enfield Grammar being for the boys.

The school reopened in Whitsun 1940 for pupils who had returned home and the whole school reassembled in September 1940, just in time for the phoney war to give way to the Blitz. Plans were made for an evacuation to Wales in the charge of  'Q' (Mr A. J.  Quartermaine) who had been appointed Senior Master at the time of the Braintree evacuation. The number prepared to go decreased by the day and eventually a small contingent departed in the care of Mr Morris, the former Senior Master brought back from his retirement, who was rather appropriately a Welshman. They arrived in Cardiff on 17th June and were billeted at Whitchurch, a village in north Cardiff about four miles out from the centre. They were absorbed into Whitchurch Secondary School.

Whitchurch Secondary School became Whitchurch Grammar School and merged with Whitchurch Secondary Modern to form Whitchurch High School. The Upper School is on the Grammar School site.

The school continued with the cloakrooms shored up as air-raid shelters and blast walls in the corridors. Parties of staff and senior pupils remained on the premises at night on fire watch. This necessitated knowledge of the internal structure of the roof and so pupils became aware of the cat walks over the hall ceiling and the secret of the entrances (a secret handed down over the years).

Somewhere on the internet, I read a suggestion that the school playing field had lots of tall posts embedded in it to deny it to enemy paratroopers and gliders and repeated this claim on the site, without ever being too convinced about it. Douglas Dawkins (1938–1945) cannot recall any such obstacles and pointed out that if there were any they certainly didn't interfere with football, hockey, cricket or Sports Days! John Norrington Davis confirms this, pointing out that the field was unlikely to be useful for any glider operations other than a crash landing! However it does seem that in 1940 anti-invasion measures did include lengths of angle iron embedded in concrete in various open spaces and that locally these were installed along the Great Cambridge Road with the intention of preventing it being used as a landing strip. So maybe this is in fact what the source had in mind.

There were boys' Summer harvest camps organised for a number of years. These were run by Biology teacher Bill Comber, his wife, and P.E. teacher Bill Pretty. The camps were set up on the cricket field in Northleach in Gloucestershire with the adults accommodated in the pavillion, which also served as a mess hall, and the boys in bell tents. John Norrington-Davies has been able to contribute more information about these.

'The summer harvest camps were in the charge of Bill Comber. Methodical in approach, incisive in manner. An account of the harvest camp of 1942 appears in the Chronicle of the ECS, July 1943, price sixpence. The article appears under the name of J Davis, VA. Blame the editors Edna Marter and Margaret Thompson, J Davis is John Norrington-Davies (Taff), admission number 2621. The same Davis who delivered a very stirring speech (pg.8), also Davis behind the stumps (pg.11), Davis 1st XI football and Davis with Platt & Davis, Literary and Debating Society (pg.16). Mrs Comber was the power on the domestic front and cooked magnificently for large numbers. Lunchtime sandwiches, packed freshly each day were three in number and substantial. The pavilion served as the mess hall, kitchen and staff accommodation. On at least one occasion, the Second Master 'Mick' Morris was in attendance; his presence benign, his workload steady. "Bill" Pretty was very active in support, exercising amongst other skills the operation of the field kitchen. As a former APTC instructor he was very much at home cooking in the field. The cricket field referred to is part of Stowell Park and lies circa two miles SSW of the crossroads at Northleach on the Fosse Way (A429).'

[ECSOSA: Quis separabit - Who shall separate us?]
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