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News > 300th > History of Churcher's College, 1936-1946

History of Churcher's College, 1936-1946

This month we look at life at Churcher's during World War 2...
5 May 2022

Article taken from 'The History of Churcher's College' by Donald Brooks and Gillian Clarke.

1936-1946 World War 2, Headmaster: A H G Hoggarth M.A.

It is appropriate that the May 1936 edition of 'The Churcherian' opens with the suggestion that readers may like to purchase J.H.Smith's book 'Churcher's College Petersfield'. It then plunges into its characteristically detailed reports on Athletics, House Rugby, School Rugby, Boxing (an almost blow by blow account), O.T.C, shooting at Bisley, Debating Society (almost word for word), essays, entertainment and a section devoted to Old Churcherians. It shows how prepared people were to read in those days. There are few illustrations or photographs. 

Mr Hoggarth had founded the school magazine in 1913 and had been editor until he was appointed Headmaster, in succession to Mr Woodall. An historian, artist and naturalist, he was fully involved in school life as a day master, but even more intensely when he moved into the Headmaster's quarters in 1927 (thus, in due course, allowing Heath Harrison House to be used as the Prep. School). He was deeply supportive of the boarding side, realising how vital it was for the future of the school and how much it contributed to its ethos: there was a variety of activities and entertainment from which day boys as well as boarders benefited - helping, perhaps, to correct the woeful lack of general knowledge and current affairs of which there had been criticism. He was aware how much the school needed benefactors and endowment, and how important it was to enlarge the playing fields and add to the school buildings - but warned of development that would threaten to spoil the view from the College. He reminded Old Boys (and there were many convivial gatherings) that he expected them to give their support by sending sons to follow them. With his leadership and experience the College was in a sound position, however. Despite the threat in 1934 of closure for those Grant Aided Schools which were below 150 pupils, Churcher's could rely on its boarding numbers to keep it afloat. In Feb 1937, for example, there were 262 boys in the main school, of whom 110 boarded: the figure of 152 day boys was a fluctuating one and not in itself enough; however, numbers slowly picked up and in December 1938 reached 275 (115 boarders).

Things were not permitted to move calmly alas. Italy's invasion of Abyssinia gave cause for anxiety - and the opportunity for young boys to sing a ribald song about the Italian leader. The Munich agreement gave much relief to most people - the applause for Chamberlain on Speech Day 1938 would be echoed through the country. There were not many Winston Churchills. Nevertheless, measures were taken: trenches were dug east of the swimming pool; staff were lectured on Air Raid precautions and that uneasy period of the next twelve months saw a toughening of resolve. The motion 'That this house considers that peace should be secured at any price' was soundly defeated by the School Debating Society. There was the happy juxtaposition of the re-painting of the school buildings and the long-awaited completion of the rifle range. 

With the declaration of war, life for everyone was never the same. Many children were evacuated to towns adjudged to be safer than their own. Churcher's was at the receiving end with the arrival of the boys of Emanuel School from Wandsworth. There were grateful thanks from their Headmaster, Mr Broom, for the 'Box and Cox' arrangement whereby Churcher's occupied the main premises in the mornings and Emanuel in the afternoons; there were also lessons in any available accommodation in the town. Where all the visitors were billeted is another story. Apart from competition for the local girls, the two schools were on good terms: teaching staff helped out when there were crises in either - which were not unusual with so many joining up - and sporting fixtures were regular events. 

Some of these were against schools not too far away (transport was an obvious problem), but others were against troops stationed nearby - and there were plenty of them. A Sports Day, with Emanuel School, against New Zealand troops provided some novelty with a demonstration of 'sawing and chopping'. But many of the rugby matches were against Servicemen of considerable physique - it would not be allowed today. Nevertheless, there were some heroic performances by the 1st XV. 

The afternoon 'off' gave the school the opportunities for helping local farmers: this may sound idyllic, but many will remember the scratched forearms and aching backs after harvesting. Mr Hoggarth reported at Prize Day in 1942, that 2,000 hours of assistance had been given by the pupils, planting and harvesting, in that one term. Boarders' plots needed tending - there was a gift of 2 sacks of seed potatoes for the allotments on Nicholson's Field! Young Farmers Clubs were set up and there were many harvest camps. There has always been a strong interest in nature at the school and many lectures concentrated on matters of the environment.

The Junior (as it was renamed in 1940) Training Corps became involved in local defence and the N.C.O.s even instructed the Home Guard; they also, dressed in denim overalls, since Corps uniform was not allowed, helped the Local Defence Volunteers, as the Home Guard was first called, guard the Buriton railway tunnel when invasion threatened in 1940. Dick Felton writes: 'We used to be dropped in the dark on the main A3 just south of Butser Cutting, and scrambled up the steep slope to the Forestry Commission's observation tower (ladder access to the top) where we stayed all night (sometimes seeing signs of air raids over Portsmouth)'. 

The threat of bombing was ever-present: G.D.Dyson writes; 'Many nights were spent sleeping under the Library tables during air raids, and nights were disturbed by tanks and army transport rumbling along the road to Portsmouth.' As D-Day approached in 1944, the noise must have been continuous. Mr Le Grice, the Headmaster of the Prep. School, in Heath Harrison House, tells us of life there: 'At the end of each term AHGH came across from the College to 'break us up.' On one occasion he was delayed and a small boy was heard to say 'What are we waiting for?' To which another youngster replied, 'Don't be silly, we are waiting for the Lord to dismiss us with his blessing.' At the outbreak of war, a very efficient system of trenches was dug at the north side of HH field (complete with a fine strong roof, electric light, seats and duckboards) with the help of boys from Emanuel School. The boarders spent many nights in those trenches, tucked up in their sleeping bags.' Jim Cutler adds his bit; 'We didn't eat at H.H.House - most meals were taken in the College.... And how did we get there? In crocodile, every day, three times a day, in all weathers. The big excitement was a 'going out' Sunday, when reduced numbers meant that those of us not 'going out' ate in the main dining hall... Bed time was 6.30pm, lights out 7pm for the youngest, 7.30pm for the rest of us. The exciting times of course were air raid warnings when we went out into the trenches. It was all a bit uncomfortable really, and we preferred it when the cellar was being used instead; much warmer and we could actually sleep.'

Inevitably, reports of casualties increase: in the Headmaster's speech on Prize Day in March 1941, there are tributes to those killed on active service and to those distinguished by decorations. Those who joined up, including Staff, are listed in a Roll of Service. Prisoners of war receive their tribute: there is little idea of the terrible time C.S.Livesley, briefly on the teaching staff, would have had in the hands of the Japanese; Sq.Ldr.I.K.P.Cross, D.F.C., was one of the 50 shot on Hitler's orders after the escape from Stalag Luft. 3 on March 25, 1944. Lt. Col. R.J.Fuller, formerly on the school staff, made a successful 'home run' from Oflag V11, for which he was awarded the M.C. There is a touch of - perhaps unconscious - humour in an earlier edition of 'The Churcherian' when he is reported as having won the camp darts championship. As a teacher he was highly respected; he left a legacy of appreciation of Wilfred Owen's war poetry which impressed young Dick Felton.

The German Field Gun which stood outside the clock tower after the first World War provides a lighter story: it was there in 1920 and, to fill an old well which had apparently become a nuisance in the preparation of the sloping cricket field, was buried in 1925 just east of the score board. The wartime passion for sending iron gates and railings for scrap to build Spitfires was probably responsible for its disinterment: we turn to Jim Cutler's account: 'No-one knew exactly where it was, so two trenches were dug in a crucifix pattern by a working party consisting mainly of fourth and fifth form boarders in the autumn of 1943. The gun was located after about three days some seven or eight feet down, and digging went on for another week or ten days to clear a space round it. I do not recall what sort of condition it was in, how it was lifted out, or how it was taken away, but I do know it was a muddy business.' We trust, with no confidence, that it was put to good use. (What happened to the German machine gun which the War Office sent to Churcher's in 1919 and was deposited in a 'suitable position' in the dining hall no-one, fortunately, knows.)

Every loss during the Wars was a tragedy. However, particularly poignant was it for W.J.Chapman, the Churcherian who contributed so lucidly to J.H.Smith's history of boarding life in the original building from 1864 to 1871. He lost two of his sons in the First World War: Donald (a Sub Lt.) in January 1918; Alfred, a Private in the Worcesters, in May 1918. Another son, Sydney, a Chief Officer in the Merchant Navy died of natural causes at sea in August 1939. The eldest son, Charles, a Chief mate in the Merchant Navy, was killed on December 5th 1940, at the age of 56, when his ship was mined south of Australia. Mr W.J.Chapman died in 1946 at the age of 89.

It was some time before the full story of the school's contribution to victory became clear; and not until now, with the publication of John Symonds book 'The Men Who Marched Away', are details for both Wars readily available. 'During the First World War,' he writes, 'some 350 Churcherians volunteered for the Armed Forces, an astonishingly large number for a small school of approximately 100 pupils in 1914. Of these some 50 were killed and many more would have been wounded... The Second World War tells a somewhat different story. Nearly twice as many served in the Forces - some 650 - explained by the fact the school had almost trebled in size by 1939. Of these, some 47 were killed. It is also of interest and, perhaps a commentary on the character of the two Wars, that many more were taken prisoner in the Second World War than the First.

It must amaze those who were not involved that normal activities continued in school with war raging so near and bombing from aircraft and 'doodle-bugs' (as the unpiloted V1 was charmingly called) affecting so many. Jim Cutler, who, alas, died in August 2003, gives us a story: 'Doodle bugs came over at night as well as by day, and we were not going to be slain in our beds. No, not us, the 12 members of F dorm in Mount House; we slept under them! Quite what protection this really afforded us was never clear, but we felt much safer with the mattress above us, suitcase at the front, the wall behind and blankets hanging down at the side'. Evacuation did not save everyone but it reduced casualties and allowed a degree of normality to prevail. As a social experiment, it achieved a great deal in a broader educational sense: most of those involved as evacuees have reason to be grateful. But it is surprising how much schools achieved despite staffing problems and wartime restrictions. 

It was in November 1944, for example, that Mr T.W.Lane (Director of Music by then) began to form the school orchestra; it was in the December of 1944 that a concert version of 'The Mikado' , with an accompanist, was performed in the hall. So began the full scale productions of Gilbert and Sullivan which inspired so many in after years. Academically and numerically, the school had prospered during the war years. Examination results were very good and entry to universities, including Open Scholarships to the best of them, excellent. The number of boys in school at the opening of the Autumn term in 1944 was 375 (including 110 boarders); the Preparatory School 60 boys (26 boarders).

The 1944 Education Act was not, however, to bless Churcher's College with the status of a Direct Grant School; it may have been that there was insufficient financial security or that the school was not large compared with other Grammar Schools. However, the War seemed to be won at the end of 1944; the editorial for December of that year wrote of peace on the horizon, the return of evacuees whence they had come and the possibility of having photographs in the magazine one day. As we know, things dragged on for many months.

Victory in Europe was won on May 8th 1945, and prisoners from that field began to return; in the Far East the 'forgotten armies' carried on until the atom bombs were dropped, but it was some time before the horrors of the P.O.W camps were revealed. Gradually, over the following years - it took a long time - all those involved were demobbed and returned to jobs or to continue their education, the more advanced part of which had been delayed by unplanned experiences.

At Churcher's, Mr Hoggarth's retirement was postponed until the Easter of 1946. His final address on Speech Day contained detailed reference to academic and military distinctions and sorrow that so many Old Boys would not return; there was also concern at the future of the school following rejection of Grant Aided status. However, it was the Headmaster that the day belonged.

It is not possible to do justice to the man here: in 1911 he was one of four teachers and Deputy to the Rev Bond: he was appointed Headmaster in 1927. The school's development is due to him and tributes are made in the relevant 'Churcherian' magazines. The reminiscence here is one he would have valued - it was written by the late Gerald Coates: 'I remember him as a man of dignity and kindness who commanded our full respect. We were all, I believe, quite proud of him as our Headmaster. He stood well out above the rest of the staff, though not in stature. He was always known by all, affectionately, as 'Bill'. I think of him in a brown suit with a black gown, turn up trousers about an inch short and thick crepe-soled brown shoes. He walked around the school very quietly and often appeared when least expected in all sorts of places. It was a pleasure to see him, on most occasions anyway, because he took a real interest in us all. I was guided by him in essay writing (one a week) and that stood me in very good stead after I left Churcher's. He also gave us a marvellous grounding in appreciation of art and that too I have valued greatly ever since. He seemed to be involved in most things, knew everyone and made Churcher's a school to be proud of and a part of. He was Churcher's.

Look out for next month's article, 1946-1966 Voluntary Aided.

To read the previous article, 1919-1935 Between the wars, click here.

You can view Churcher's College online archive here.

To buy 'The History of Churcher's College' visit our online shop here.

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