My War Years Memories - Chapter 2 (1 of 4)

War time affects the School Curriculum

As might be clear from reading my earlier essay devoted to my memories of events during WW2, many of these revolved around the fact that from 1940 until the end of the war, I was a pupil at Palmer’s Endowed School for Boys at Grays Thurrock. Before the war this particular school was regarded as a minor public school modelled on the style of Rugby, Eton, Harrow etc. This meant that Palmer’s Boys School Headmaster (The Rev. “Bunny” Abbott to us boys) attended the meetings of the Headmasters Conference and I am reasonably certain that he absorbed many of his ideas from that fact. I may be doing his shade a disservice but I am reasonably certain he tried hard to model himself on the great Dr. Thomas Arnold (1795-1842) who ruled over Rugby school. “Bunny” seemed to follow the maxim that knowledge could be driven into any boy he considered to be recalcitrant through the victim’s buttocks; he was a frequent and ardent wielder of the cane.

Modelled on the lines of the so called Great Public Schools, the emulation produced, in Palmer’s, some odd results that had to be explained to the outsider. The first of these was that until the war broke out the school had had a preparatory form for boys under 11 most of whom, I believe, had been boarders at the school. Called “Form 1”, this had been evacuated and any record of its past existence seems to have escaped historical notice. The previous existence of a “prep” form, however, resulted in the fact that all new entrants to Palmers at the age of 11, like those of who travelled as dayboys from Laindon, first entered the school in “Form 2” and progressed through the years to Forms 3, and 4, thence to the “Lower Fifth” and the year later to the “Upper Fifth”. Beyond this was the “Sixth Form”, intended for those pupils who had matriculated and were waiting to enter a University.

As I described before, the emergency conditions arising from the war lead to lesson times at Palmer’s being reduced. Saturday Morning School had been cancelled all together and was never resumed again. The “upper” school (consisting of the lower and upper fifth and sixth forms) attended from 9am to 4:30pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 9am to 12:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The “lower” school (forms 2, 3 and 4) did the opposite; half day schooling (9am to 12:30pm) Monday, Wednesday and Friday; full day school (9am to 4:30pm) Tuesday and Thursday only. Bearing in mind that Grays Thurrock was a Thameside town close to some pretty important industrial sites and the docks at Tilbury, it was never made clear to me why this arrangement was thought by those who organised it to be safer for the school’s pupils.

The residents of Thurrock had, as far as I know, never been consulted on the advisability of evacuating their children to safer pastures at the outbreak of war as had the children in the area of Greater London. Strangely, also, nobody ever seemed to express any concern about those children attending Palmer’s who came from the comparative safety of Laindon and who were travelling daily to a danger zone. There seems to be a total lack of foresight on the part of the authorities that defies explanation when, as I discovered when the Battle of Britain raged in the autumn of 1940, the boy’s school was badly supplied with emergency shelters. Only two bunker type shelters had been constructed on the edge of the playing field. What the total capacity of these two bunkers was I never learned since pupils of my age were never directed to them. When, in 1940, the warning siren was sounded between 9am and lunch time, the time when all the pupils of the school were in attendance Monday to Friday, we were herded into a surface level corridor considered to be a safety zone because its overhead skylights had been protected by filled sandbags! Here we sat until the “all clear” sounded. What would have happened if anything had fallen on the roof, a bomb or a disabled aeroplane, I don’t know. Perhaps we would all have been smothered to death in sand!

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