Harrow County School for Boys

Reverend Randall Williams remembers the War Years

In the autumn of 1938, suddenly dark clouds appeared ominously over our hopeful skies.  A totally unexpected kind of activity began - the digging of trenches on the School field for our protection from the air-raids threatened by the German dictator, Hitler.  We were restive: war was more than metaphorically "in the air"; it was becoming a probable invasion.  However, the dark clouds dispersed, and our hopes were renewed that the rumoured extension of the School would soon begin to take place.  The building operations began in January, 1939.  Here, at last, were the convincing signs and sounds that our long-deferred hopes were being fulfilled.  There was a newness of life around us and within us.  Gone were the days of frustration caused by the demands of "national economy."  We all felt the excitement of seeing our great expectations being vigorously brought nearer every day to the climax when they would give us what we so urgently needed.  It was with this certainty of fulfilment that we left for the summer holidays at the end of July, 1939.  But the international conflict which had been averted in the autumn of 1938 became a tragic fact in September, 1939.  Early that month we were informed that the School had been commandeered by the Office of Works, and that we could not reassemble on the day originally fixed for the beginning of the autumn term.  The buildings had been so thoroughly wired that it indicated that it was to be used as some vast Headquarters of the R.A.F.  In these adamantine circumstances all that could be done was to arrange a tutorial scheme for the upper forms.  Happily there came spontaneous hope from Mr. Le Beau, the Headmaster of John Lyon School, who placed two class-rooms at our disposal.  This relief came on Monday, 18th September, and it enabled our main divisions of Form V to go to John Lyon School for part-time instruction by members of our staff.  A few days later, Mr. Vellacott, the Headmaster of Harrow School, generously gave us the use of seven class-rooms and the science laboratories.  The divisions of Form V then left John Lyon School, and together with form IVa and the divisions of Form VI they began an almost normal time-table at Harrow School.  (They were also free to attend the School Chapel for morning Service).  The remaining divisions of Form IV were thus able to attend John Lyon School for part-time instruction.  The residue of the School - ten Forms - could not be accommodated at Gayton Road until air-raid shelters had been provided.  This necessary protection was made in the lower corridor and changing-room, and the Office of Works sanctioned our use of a part of the School for normal instruction, provided that we vacated it, if necessary, at twelve hours' notice.  This restricted freedom, which began on 9th November, 1939, allowed the ten Forms to have full instruction.  The tri-partite division of the School continued until the resettlement after the war had ended.  I am very glad indeed to have this opportunity of recording my gratitude for the unsolicited help which Mr. Vellacott and Mr. Le Beau so readily gave us in our difficulties.  By their invaluable support these two Headmasters saved the School from all the inconveniences of at least a partial evacuation.  I must also pay a tribute to the whole Staff and to all the boys for their admirable co-operation in coping with emergencies.  I have often thought of their stoical acceptance of the difficulties with which we had to contend at the School during the frequent and prolonged air-raids when 350 boys were crowded in the lower corridor and changing room.  It was no mean achievement to give and to receive coherent instruction in such trying circumstances.  I am glad, too, to record here the School's gratitude to those ladies - seven in all - who replaced, for various periods during the war years, masters absent on War Service.  Their cheerful readiness to deal with the unusual circumstances, and to accept the problems of being a minority group in a large boys' School won admiration from boys and their colleagues.

But whatever were the inconveniences which we experienced during the war period, every one of us was fully conscious that they were nothing by comparison with the ordeals and dangers which the Old Gaytonians on active service were constantly enduring on land, on sea, under the sea, and in the air.  The record of their names is our honoured possession.  On hundred and forty-two of them made the supreme human sacrifice in defence of international justice, freedom and peace.  The Memorial which enshrines their names, and the names of those who dies in the First World War, is a chastening reminder to everyone who stands thoughtfully in front of it that the indelible record of their sacrifice is the School's most noble heritage.  

From the Golden Jubilee Book, 1961.

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