Memories of Ewell Castle School during WWII - John R B Bulford
I entered School as a nine year old “day boy” in 1937, my parents having recently purchased a house on the developing Nonsuch Estate near Ewell East Station. My previous school experiences had been in small schools in ports of the Bristol Channel where my father was a Nautical Surveyor. The highlights had been the Silver Jublilee of King George V and the Coronation of George VI. I still have the commemorative mugs!
Nothing had prepared me for the whole new world of educational experiences that awaited me. Sports fields, a swimming lake, expansive manicured grounds, towering buildings and God like Masters in their academic gowns and the senior boys in their blue blazers and tasselled caps. The Lower 11 was a haven (if a little too close to the Head Master’s office) and there was a tuck shop ... I soon settled in. The staff were kind and encouraged one to learn but the extra-curricular activities were a joy to me. Swimming, football, cross-country, film shows, Christmas concerts, drama productions (Terence Morgan showing a talent that was to flourish) and Sports Days.
Two years of joy but dark clouds were gathering. Summer of 1939, after School had broken up, saw us all fitted with gas masks. Air raid shelters were hurriedly built and all windows were being blacked out. My mother in tears as my elder brother put on his Territorial Army uniform, shouldered his pack and marched down the road to join his unit of the Royal Corp of Signals at Putney. I listened to the Prime Minister’s announcement that war was declared and was taken aback as almost immediately came the sound of an air raid alert. Getting back to school I found that some boarders had returned early as Ewell was considered a safe area and those living in vulnerable areas had been evacuated and had helped to black out the school. All the international students had gone home. We were all allocated a place on the class window ledge to put our gas mask and we practised air raid drill and evacuation to the basements. An immediate effect was the withdrawal of cross country running as it was not possible to get all participants under cover in the event of an air raid.
Things were more or less normal for some months of the “Phoney War” as it was known, but slowly members of staff began to disappear from the line up at morning prayers. Then came the first shock as the Head Master announced that our French teacher and tuck shop organiser Mr A Calthorpe Newman had been killed. He had joined the Field Security Police, was visiting a French army camp when it was bombed and he was killed. One of the earliest British casualties of the war. So the drift continued and staff came and went very rapidly. Some that came were less than adequate, others were inspirational. Towards the end, staff numbers were so low that it was not possible to cover all classes and private study became an all too common event! Two members of staff remained constant and to them those of that era must give special praise. Head Master “Pip” Pledger and Sports Master “Dougie” Douglas. Both had seen service at the front in the First World War and that experience must have helped them deal with the difficulties that were to come.
So what was to come? The “Phoney War”, as it was known came to an end with the invasion of France and the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk. Not much effect on the school that I remember, Sports Day went ahead as usual but National Savings Certificates replaced cup and medals as prizes. During the summer holiday of 1940, the Battle of Britain began. Our first experience was the raid on Croydon airfield. We saw the iconic white vapour trails in the sky and heard the rattle of the machine guns. Back at school there was a short period of calm before the Blitz began and we all learned to spend whole nights in our air raid shelters. This has been well documented by other members and they make special mention of the schools bedrock wartime characters. “Cookey” Holmes, “Gibby” Gibson and Jimmy James. They were always there seeing to our needs as life went on.
As wartime austerity began to bite, we learnt to do without school uniforms and sports matches against other schools. There were shortages of paper and lack of fuel for heating (despite Gibby’s efforts to make the fuel allocation go round). Cookey did wonders with the food rations. As sweet rationing took hold, all the tuck shop could offer was some rather plain buns. There was no petrol for mowers and all grass became very unkempt. “Make do and mend” and “do your bit” became the order of the day. We took time off lessons to cut grass on the sports field and to clean out the lake bed before refilling for summer swimming. Whole days in the basements became a not uncommon experience. Old boys began to appear in their service uniforms. One past time was the collection of wartime souvenirs, anti aircraft (AA) shell shrapnel was common place, an incendiary bomb fin was much prized but pride of place went to a nose cone of an AA shell or a piece of aircraft wreckage. But school life went on, we got older and moved up the school, juniors became seniors and some took office as Prefects.
The Scout troop was started and flourished. I think the desire to be in uniform helped but it also gave distraction from the dull routine of wartime restrictions, as well as instilling the “Scouting” ethos. Senior boys were allowed to undertake fire watch duties to guard against the effects of incendiary bombs landing on the school roof. The guard post was the turret on top of the building. Training was undertaken at the local ARP centre and consisted of crawling into a corrugated shed containing a very smoky burning brassier. Standing up to experience the effects of thick smoke and then putting out the fire with the aid of the standard issue to Fire Watchers, a bucket of water and stirrup pump. Mr Pledger also gave us training in the use of a piece of Davis Escape Apparatus which when attached to one of the roof constellations enable you to lower yourself down the walls to the ground. This was in case our escape down the stairs had become blocked.
D-Day came and we watched as large numbers of heavy aircraft towing gliders all painted with their blue and white recognition stripes flew overhead. Hope rose. I was on fire watch duty soon after this when the alert was sounded and borders took shelter in the basement again. Nothing much happened and as dawn broke I was standing on the lawn with Mr Douglas when we heard the unfamiliar sounding aircraft engine which suddenly stopped. A short pause and then a large explosion. Mr Douglas remarked to me, “This is something new”. How right he was – the flying bombs had arrived. Again frequent alerts sounded during the day and we learnt to listen for the engine cut out and subsequent explosion. Sports Day was cancelled and individual events were held each day. It was a difficult period. For me there was the School Certificate to be taken. Candidates went to Bourne Hall where we carried on during constant alerts and were instructed to shelter under our desks by the invigilator when he felt it necessary. Having taken the exam, my mother decided she had had enough (by that time our house had lost quite a bit of glass from a near miss) and she and I evacuated ourselves back to South Wales, so I did not see end of term. So ended my time at the school for which I have always been grateful and look back on with great pleasure. I moved on to pursue my horticultural career at University Botanic Gardens Cambridge and spent VE Day on Parker’s Piece with very relieved members of the American 8th Air Force and some happy undergraduates, but, as they say, that is another story.
VE Day Memories by Michael Brunwin, 1947-53
In 1940 my family moved from North Cheam to Worcestershire, where we stayed for the war years. We were made welcome in Stourbridge and the small outlying village of Wollaston. My father had enlisted - some months underage - in 1918 and served in the Royal Artillery in the Middle East and then for some years in India. By the time war came again he was over call-up age. Having run an ammunition & gun factory in India, he was drafted into the war effort at the Austin Longbridge plant in Birmingham, where the Churchill tank was made.
The 8th of May 1945 was a public holiday to celebrate Germany’s surrender and the end of WWII in Europe. In Lawn Street, Stourbridge, I remember the “kids” excitement at the prospects of a Street Party. At the age of eight I don't think the significance of what had just happened truly registered. I could only remember when the country was at war & had no idea what peace would mean to me or for the future. But I did know the immediate benefit was the children’s party with tables stretching down the road, union jacks fluttering from windows (where they came from goodness knows) & paper bunting dragged from attics attached itself to most things that didn’t move.
Everyone was ecstatic - it is difficult to describe the euphoria created by knowing the war had ended. The fear that had lasted for so many years, even when victory seemed to be within our grasp - had gone. Ration cards were pooled and although the tables would look sparse by today’s excesses, for young ones they looked magically full. Living close to the country, fruit was widely available, with most gardens filled with fruit trees & bushes & vegetable patches. Family storerooms were packed with full preserving jars and as a result plates of homemade jam sandwiches dominated the tables surrounded by bowls of preserved gooseberries, plums apricots & cherries. Darkened cupboards were opened to reveal Worcester apples, where they had lain all winter wrapped in old newspapers. Custard based trifles, junket - not high on my wish list - and tea cakes added to our wonderment.
For one day caution was thrown to the wind & six years of carefully eking out food was set aside. The “grown ups” danced & sang, drank bottle beer and homemade cider and the kids just ate and laughed. If this was peace, I thought I might just enjoy it!
My War Time Years at Ewell Castle School by Donald Scotman
In 1941, at the age of 6, I started at Ewell Castle School as a boarder together with my brother Gordon, who was four years older than me. At the same time my sister, six years older than me started at Bourne Hall. I was allowed to visit her if accompanied and I was amazed at the number of volunteers wanting to go with me!! At the time of VE Day I was one month away from my tenth birthday. I was only allowed to go at such a young age as my brother was also attending. Shortly after arrival I was taken ill with pneumonia and spent several weeks in room 12, at the top of the stairs, next to Matron's room.
Despite chef's (Mr Holmes) best efforts food was in short supply and we always seemed to be hungry. Often we would wait outside the kitchen in case any left-over treats were available. During the war years I, together with about 40 other borders, slept in the basement, which we called the dungeons, and were awoken every morning by Mr Budgell's manservant, James, coming half way down the cellar steps, ringing the bell and saying "rise and shine you lucky lads". The coke fired boilers were also situated in the basement and Mr Gibson, the stoker, must have left the damper in too far one night as many of us were quite unwell due to the fumes. In the event of an air raid matron and Miss Lawrence, the under matron, would sit on chairs under the stairs on the way down to the basements. Also in the event of an air raid, the basements were set up so that lessons could take place and food served, but luckily this never happened in my time. I recall taking part in fire drill practice in preparation of an air raid when the whole school of approximately 200 boys could be evacuated to the basement in an orderly fashion.
As it was difficult to get staff during the war some of the older boys took on duties such as fire watching and helping in the kitchen. Gordon together with other boys would sleep in the attic rooms and partake in fire watching and occasionally help in the kitchen. Also to keep the cricket pitch playable the boys maintained the grass with hand mowers, sickles, and clippers because petrol was unavailable. With things being so scarce, we also had to share text books and economise on exercise books. Mr Pledger, who ran the Cub and Scout Groups organised the collection of old razor blades, silver paper etc to help the war effort. After the war it took quite some time for the school to resume its usual activities.
During morning assembly, probably on Remembrance Day, Mr Pledger would read a roll on honour of ex pupils who had lost their life during the war. It was whilst attending a sports day at Bourne Hall, when Mr H Budgell was presenting the prizes that we saw our first doodlebug. As shown on television marking celebrations at the end of the war, I was one of the crowds outside Buckingham Palace pressing against the railings calling for the King and Queen. On one of my reports I recall Mr O'Donovan referring to the school motto FAC ET SPERA (Work and Hope) stating a little more work and less hope would be beneficial. How I wish I had taken his advice! I have many memories of my school days at Ewell Castle from 1941-1951 and although times were hard, especially during the war, I am proud to have been a pupil there.
Wartime Memories of Ewell Castle by Richard Smart
I was born mid war, not many miles from The Castle, and have a distinct memory of a street party on VE Day. I have a black-and-white photograph that records the event - the street is lined with trestle tables and decorated with bunting and little flags. There are many people, and kids, though despite the jollity the adult faces seemed strained, as they would be after five years' war.
My grandfather, who was an air warden in London, lived on Epsom Downs. He told me that one day towards the end of the war he was walking his dog on the downs when a doodle bug came over, and its engine cut out. He jumped behind a hedge to avoid the explosion a short distance away. He had a car that was seldom used during the war. But after 1945 he would trade in his coupons and take us for drives. I still recall the smell as he'd open the garage door - the car was shut away for long periods and so it was a mixture of fuel and oil and leather.
Graham Pope – Memories of the War, Ewell Castle 1949 - 1956
From a personal point of view, incendiary bombs, also known as fire bombs, were the worst. For most of this period I was looked after by my Nan and for protection we slept in the cupboard under the stairs. When the bombers came over sometimes one was damaged by anti aircraft fire and they dropped their load before turning for home. On one occasion one of the bombers did just that over our house and one of these small bombs went through the roof and six foot into the ground without exploding, that’s the first near death experience I had. It went through the roof, through the landing and through the hall, just inches from where I was sleeping. If it had exploded I would not be writing this today, however I clearly remember it took a big chunk out of the upstairs banister that was then filled in with ill matching filler and remained as a reminder until my parents moved eight years later.
In later years I often wondered why I was not sent to the country like thousands of other kids, but evidently you had to be living in the London postal area to qualify. A few months after this experience there was another bombing on our house and I remember all the gardens on fire and some of the houses. My mother was at home at that time and when all our windows were smashed she picked me up in her arms and jumped a 5ft fence without touching it (She often said afterwards that she could not have done it if she hadn’t been so frightened). We spent the next week in a church hall until the windows were replaced. The old windows were leaded but were replaced by plain glass because any form of metal was in short supply and they were not altered back until after the war. One of these small bombs was kept by my parents and used as a door stop; I can only assume that it was emptied of all chemicals and explosives. Bomb sites were appearing all over and all had signs stating not to enter owing to unexploded incendiary bombs. This didn’t seem to make any difference to the older kids. But I was under strict instructions not to go near them, and I never did.
On April 30th 1945 Germany surrendered and so ended the war in Europe. A public holiday was declared for 8th May and became known as VE Day. By then both my parents were home and on that day we went to my Nan’s house at Waller Road, Lewisham SE14. Although I new that my grandparents lived somewhere other than with me in Bromley I had never been there before. My parents were still on call up so during this period I lived with my grandparents in Lewisham and that is when I explored this, what seemed to me, large house. Outside on the pavement was a small covered hole that the coalman would tip the coal down a chute into the cellar, which was a wonderful place that Pops kept extremely clean and where all his tools were kept and he spent hours showing me how to use them. He was very clever in making things and spent a lot of time repairing the house from the war damage.
Being VE Day there were celebrations all over the country and it had been arranged that a children’s party would be held in the road and as it happened just outside our house. Further down the road, the locals built a large bonfire and in the evening there was dancing and I suspect a large amount of alcohol was consumed, all I remember was the jelly and cake. I also remember the large burnt scar in the road from the bonfire that was there for a couple of years before it was repaired. Before the war there had been an iron fence at the front of the small garden and as all metal was required for the war effort it was taken away, not by digging it up but by cutting it off at its base. I well remember Pops spending hours digging these stumps out of the concrete and me helping build a brick wall in its place. Pops had made me a miniature trowel to use with my small bucket. He had the patience of a saint. My uncle Dick was the first to get home from being a prisoner of war. Uncle Jack was released soon after but spent many months in hospital getting over the trauma.
Victory in Europe - 8th May 1945: Michael Tucker , Ewell Castle School 1943 - 1951
On the 8th May 2015 I attended the 70th Anniversary of VE Day at the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne. Many attended and the Central Band of the Royal Australian Air Force provided many items of music familiar to us all. The Governor of the Shrine, Squadron Leader Ron Ledingham, RAAF Retired, was Master of Ceremonies. Our guest speaker for the day was Wing Commander Peter Isaacson AM DFC AFC DFM. Before he gave his most moving address, the Governor reminded us that Peter had piloted one of the famous Lancasters of Bomber Command back to Australia soon after hostilities had ceased. Daringly, he flew the huge aircraft with great skill under Sydney Harbour Bridge before bringing it into land on Australian soil.
Since the War, he had kept in touch with members of his crew who originally came from diverse professions and occupations that included a lawyer, a mechanic, a university student, a farmer, an artisan (carpenter) and a publisher. They were also from different religions: Catholic, Church of England, Methodist, Agnostic and himself— Jewish. Sadly, the rest of his crew had passed away in recent years. He paid tribute to all those who had courageously fought throughout WWII and that this day of Commemoration was, once again, a time to remember all those who had paid the supreme sacrifice.
During the Commemorative Service, especially when the Last Post and Reveille were played and the Minute’s Silence was observed, many thoughts flashed through my mind as I well remembered VE Day —Tuesday 8th May 1945 when I was ten-years-old. We had come out of school at 4 pm and when I nearly reached my home in Epsom, three boys of about my age came towards me and told me that the War was over! I really did not know whether to believe them or not. Within a few minutes I arrived home where mother, who was ironing clothes on the kitchen table, told me that it was true. She had heard it announced on the wireless at 3 pm by our Prime Minister — Winston Churchill. The good news was such a relief after we had endured the War for five and a half years.
At Prayers the following morning, Mr ‘Pip’ Pledger, Headmaster, read out the names of all the Ewellians who had lost their lives in the Second World War. Some years later, those names were recorded on a Memorial plaque which was erected above the Tudor fireplace in the Reception Hall at Ewell Castle. We shall remember them.
I recall also that it was quickly spread around by word of mouth, that there was to be a special Thanksgiving Service at St Barnabas Church, Epsom two days later. The Church was packed and one could sense the huge feeling of gratification and thankfulness within the whole congregation. That great feeling was witnessed by tens of thousands throughout the United Kingdom and beyond.