How war affected my old school

For those of you who enjoy “Heartbeat” and the stories of James Herriot, that’s ‘my country’ the moorland and wold-land of this special place in north Yorkshire. My home town of Pickering is about half way between the ancient city of York, across the vale, and the fishing town of Whitby, up over the moors.

During the Second World War, my old place of learning, Lady Lumley’s Grammar School responded to the Ministry of Agriculture’s request to produce food. There were herb collections of everything from rose hips to dried nettle leaves, raspberry leaves and fox glove seeds, all for medicinal purposes. Gardens were created out of the wide grass verge alongside the school drive and vegetables were grown by the pupils. A small concrete pond was created for watering the gardens (and that place is where, post war, I developed my love of Biology, spending many hours there catching frogs and tadpoles and observing the newts and dragonflies, a magical childhood.)

The single biggest war-time change to occur was the evacuation of 235 girls and teachers from Middlesbrough Girls High School to Pickering. Middlesbrough was a bit further north, an industrial area, home to the Dorman Long and Co steel works which produced the steel which became Sydney’s famous coat-hanger.

Most of the girls were accommodated in the town but some were scattered with families over the countryside. Thus transport became an issue as the only return train left at 5.25pm… and I might add Mum remembers the train-line was bombed as well. The move would certainly have been strange for the girls and on their first visit to the school one very young pupil was heard to remark in perplexity at seeing a male teacher “Why is there a man here?”

The problem of accommodating 235 Middlesbrough girls and 182 Lady Lumley’s pupils together in the small school was overcome by having the Lady Lumley’s children occupying the school in the mornings and in the afternoons they made long treks to various parts of the town for their lessons in the Congregational Chapel schoolroom, Hungate Chapel schoolroom, Potter Hill Methodist Chapel schoolroom and even the Cooperative Societies boardroom. The Middlesbrough girls reversed the procedure so “At 1.15pm each day the Lady Lumley’s crocodile issued forth from the school to seek its halls and Sunday Schools and at the same time a Middlesbrough crocodile wanders in” up to the school on the side of Beacon Hill.

The larger number of city girls found the school itself was overcrowded and they had to have classes each day in the Hall, the Kitchen, the workshop and even in the corridors. Many classes were held outside on school playing fields and there was occasionally the additional thrill of watching an aerial combat between a Spitfire and a Luftwaffe plane over the skies of Pickering.

The threat of attack from the air entailed many air raid precautions for school. All glass was removed from doors, partitions and windows in the corridors. In the event of an air raid it was planned at all pupils would stay in their classrooms and shelter under their desks! Mr. Austin Hyde, the headmaster, joined the Home Guard and Miss Fox was given authority to run the school if he were called out on duty during the day. The Home Guard use the gymnasium every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night, bringing some complaints from governors that their cigarette ends had damaged the wooden floor.

The school was part of money raising efforts during the war. There was a fund created for ‘Parcels for the Forces’ and in 1941 Pickering held a ‘War Weapons Week’ in which the school participated, devising numerous ways of encouraging people to part with their money, from guessing a doll’s name to the weight of the piece of a bomb. There were puppet shows, concerts, treasure hunts, the auction of real eggs and physical training displays on the school grounds. As a result of these efforts the school raised £436 and received a telegram for Buckingham Palace in congratulation. In ‘Warships Week’ in 1942 they raised £346 and for ‘Wings for Victory Week’ £800… a great effort for a small school in a rural area.

The Middlesbrough girls stayed in Pickering until Easter 1940 when they were evacuated again, for a full year this time, in July 1940 when air attacks began on British towns. Their own school was seriously damaged in bombing in 1942.

In 1943 between three and four hundred Old Boys and Girls of Lady Lumley’s School were estimated to have been called up to serve in the forces, so that number would have risen dramatically by war’s end. At least 12 died in the conflict, all of them friends of my Mum, another lass who attended the school on Beacon Hill, ‘the school on the hillside ‘twixt moorland and wold-land.”

Lest we forget.

 The school song was written by F Austin Hyde when he was headmaster. These days the school is no long a Grammar school and I understand that the second verse is omitted as there is no mention of the house Highfield… that was my house but I recall we just used to sing “and good old Highfield” whilst the others sang about “The Gold and the Green”.  It’s close to 50 years since I left Lady Lumley’s, yet I can still sing my old school song without referring to a copy of it… I really have been able to  “Keep through our life’s work this song on our tongue. “

 School on the hillside ‘twixt moorland and woldland, whence shone the light of the Beacon of old;

Take now the praise of thy sons and thy daughters, ne’er shall the flame of their fealty grow cold.

Homage we yield to thee, loyalty vow to thee, School on the Beacon, our home on the hill.

School of our work, of our play, of our laughter, memories are stored for the years yet unseen;

Friendships cemented, games stoutly contested, Feversham! Acland! The Gold and the Green

Homage we yield to thee, loyalty vow to thee, School on the Beacon, our home on the hill.

When we go forth to the world and its duties, done the last task, our last “Khairete” sung;

Grateful and proud shall we gladly look backward, keep through our life’s work this song on our tongue.

Homage we yield to thee, loyalty vow to thee, School on the Beacon, our home on the hill.

References  “The History of Lady Lumley’s School and Foundation” by John T Smith, Lady Lumley’s Foundation, no date, ISBN 0 9516352 0 4, <http://www.ladylumleys.n-yorks.sch.uk/ > and, thanks to Google Earth, I can find the old stone School building is now the Pickering Community Junior School <http://www.pickering-jun.n-yorks.sch.uk/contact.asp > and the small pond has disappeared under a tar car park but the grass verge, home of the vegetable gardens, under the trees is still there!

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