Henry Thornton School in the country (1939-1946)

In eager expectation we watched the stations pass. Bognor! Some had happy memories of the place in peace time, and some did indeed for a while remain there. Others went to villages, others again to bungalow towns. After a few days, contact was regained between the various sections. The weather was lovely, the war far away, the bathing for most of us was near at hand, unlimited and most enjoyable; in fact, the only fly in the ointment was that the Headmaster believed, as we thought misguidedly, that the purpose of a school was education rather than recreation. His enquiries discovered that the nearest secondary school was six miles away at Chichester, and so, after an interval of eight weeks, the School was gradually transferred to a town already crowded with London children, and already feeling the first glow of reception enthusiasm abating. However, the local billeting authorities, with whom we always had most pleasant relations, did their best, aided by the efforts of all the Staff, and the boys were resettled in Chichester. Every part of the local Boys’ High School was used, and from that time the School maintained an education that equalled peace-time standards and later, with smaller classes, probably excelled it. Billeting troubles were endless, and the great return began. However, the majority of the boys were happily placed and enjoying new scenes and a new life. The Battle of Britain was seen from grandstand seats. Alerts drove us often to shelters even in the midst of Matricu¬lation examinations, but most of us contrived to have glimpses of the air combats out of school hours, and many a boy rushed off on his bicycle to see the latest fallen aeroplane.

School numbers were now smaller, and there grew up an intimacy between boys and masters, so far unparalleled. We grew to know one another well, and mostly to like one another better. Moreover, we now knew Chichester, and the townspeople, in turn, grew to welcome boys and Staff, many of the latter taking the lead in the Home Guard and Civil Defence and in local societies. Many of the older boys were in the Home Guard, and others helped their country by working on farms during the holidays. The School Garden provided much inter¬est for many, and a small corps of devoted gardeners supplied all kinds of vegetables at cost price to Staff and boys for the benefit of the hostesses. Tomatoes proved a great success, and the boys, led by Mr Cooper, took the second prize for points gained at the monthly shows of the Chichester Allotment Society amid local acclamation. They were able later on to hand over a sum of £2 15s to the Headmaster, this sum being a token payment for crops left behind on the School’s return.

The annual Boxing Contests under Mr Bramble were staged before the local troops to the strains of a regimental band and the encouragement of the soldiers, another sign of our acceptance in the town. Later the local Boys’ Club was at our disposal.

Billeting, devotedly supervised by Mr Jeremy, now be¬came more stabilised, the boys generally being quite settled; one indeed was adopted by his hostess and several obtained posts in the town. The School was a happy family, the boys had now two homes, and Staff and pupils were closely knit. The boys were grateful for the unceasing care of them by the Headmaster and his Staff. Classes were small and boys received a measure of individual attention they had never been able to have before. Matriculation results were very good. Of course, the lull in the raids made all of us feel we might be justified in a return to London, and eventually, the news came that the Headmaster was to return. The overwhelming majority of the boys decided to accompany him, and boys and Staff came back home from an experiment that had undoubted¬ly justified itself. Mistakes had been made, the human element had again proved incalculable, but though many hostesses had given of their best and kindliest to our boys, to some the task of adjustment had proved too difficult for host or guest. Those who had been able to stay on had benefited educationally, had widened their outlook, were better for the country air and had made many friendships. We, for our part, are grateful to those Cicestrians who showed us kindness, often ill-repaid financially we fear, and most of us have mixed memories of a great experiment. It is good to be home and to have high hopes that there will be no need for another exodus, and that soon victory and peace will be ours.

W. J. Cooper