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Archbishop Tenison's

Church of England High School

Archbishop Tenison's CE High School
Selborne Road

Chapter 1 - The Inevitable War 

We knew it was going to happen. Every time there has been a "George" on the throne of England, the country has gone to war. There would have been few in Britain who were not tuned in to the BBC on the morning of Sunday, September 3rd 1939, to hear the Prime Minister declare that he could no longer contain the situation politically and that we were at war with Germany.

Although the announcement was fully expected, we all hoped that it wouldn’t have to happen and were somewhat stunned when it did. The sometimes-frantic preparations, civilian and military, that had been going on for a year or more were now going to swing into operation.

After the broadcast, our family wandered idly into the garden because we didn’t really know what better to do and perhaps the neighbours had some useful ideas. Thoughts exchanged over the garden fence were almost certainly based upon inadequate or misleading information, and outdated knowledge of earlier or far distant wars. Naturally, veterans of World War I were not too enthusiastic about things that they had experienced happening all over again, but there had been changes since my father’s and the neighbours’ military careers had ended and nobody could be sure about what would happen this time. The general opinion however was that it would be all over by Christmas. The discussion was interrupted by that first, false air raid warning. We had heard sirens wailing before when they had been tested after installation, but to hear them for the first time when they really meant something was disturbing to say the least. We searched the sky for signs of danger but nothing marred the late-summer vista. The Civil Defense authorities had published dire warnings of what could happen to those who did not take to the shelters when the sirens sounded but to do so on that occasion seemed ludicrous. Before the question could become the subject of an extended debate, the all-clear sounded and the matter was no longer an issue. Later on, we learned that there would be times when air raid warnings needed to be taken very seriously and reacted to very quickly.

All of the precautions and preparations that had been made by those charged with the tasks were undoubtedly based upon the best ideas and information available at the time. But there were some loopholes in the system and it took a little time to sort them out. In a somewhat unusual move, postal money orders were declared to be legal currency and were circulated like banknotes. Of course they did not have the durability and integrity of banknotes and the directive was rescinded in fairly short order. Some housewives had taken the precaution of assembling a supply of non-perishable food items and the retailers’ shelves began to show bare places. Some merchants were not beyond price gouging. The foundations of a black market were being laid. A census of the entire civilian population was taken and everyone received a National Registration Identity Card. Rationing of food staples was introduced fairly early in the game and the scope expanded as needs arose.

My father, who was reasonably well ensconced in the building industry when threat of war became a major issue, had decided that if and when the worst happened, buildings would be coming down rather than going up. He therefore volunteered his expertise for duty with the blossoming Civil Defense organization and was assigned to the Heavy Rescue Service. Appropriately enough, the titular head of the service was C. E. Boast, the Borough Engineer for Croydon. Starting on September 3rd., the squads were placed on a system of interlocking shifts with 24 hours on duty followed by 24 hours off. This lasted right through until the end of the war.

Plans for evacuation of schoolchildren were implemented immediately war was declared. Enough has been said and written on that subject to make it unnecessary to elaborate upon it here. Suffice to say that much of what has been written is derogatory and does little to recognize the sacrifices made by the majority of the hosting families, to provide shelter and comfort for the new wards that were being thrust upon them.

Not all families in presumed target areas agreed to participate in the school evacuation programme. There was concern about them being split up and the children being dispatched to foster homes that, however willingly they embraced the plan, were more or less an unknown quantity in the overall equation. For that sort of reason, it had already been agreed with some of our relatives in Buckinghamshire that, if the need arose, which it did, my brother and I would go there instead of joining our schools at their respective destinations. The continuance of our education was not a point of major consideration at the time, although it soon became an issue. Consequently our suitcases were packed and with gas masks slung around our necks we were herded off into the country to live where we had only visited before.

With the outbreak of hostilities and the re-distribution of large numbers of school children throughout the country, schools in the reception areas were quite unable to absorb the additional students that were thrust upon them. The part of the country to which my brother and I were sent did not seem to be the destination for organized evacuation but there were others like us who went there to join relatives. Therefore the local schools should not have had any precipitate difficulties in re-starting their programmes, but it did not happen right away. I think that the local children were probably going to school for part of the time but it seemed that two weeks were spent doing little more than making new acquaintances. There was no high school in the immediate area where I could have enrolled to pick up the threads of Tenison’s agenda. In addition to that, living with relatives was not working out too well. Consequently, the whole idea was reconsidered and I went back to Croydon in order to re-join the school at Crowborough.

© Archbishop Tenison's CE High School