The evacuation of Britain's cities at the start of World War Two was the biggest movement of people in Britain's history. In four days during early September 1939, nearly 3,000,000 people were transported from towns and cities in danger from enemy bombers to places of safety in the countryside.
From 1939 until 1944 children from Birmingham, Coventry and London were evacuated to this area. The school logs of the Griffydam Senior School and Griffydam Infants School record the reception of evacuees, events at the school and the general conditions throughout the war.
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School Log for Griffydam Senior School
The following is an account based on the school log of the school on School Lane which was attended by pupils aged eight to fourteen years.
On September 1st 1939, two days before war was declared, the school was closed at mid-day so that the building could be used for the reception of children evacuated from Birmingham. The school was closed from 4th to 11th September to make preparation for the evacuees.
On September 11th 57 children from Birmingham (mainly from Vicarage Road Senior Girls) were admitted to the school. The pupils were accompanied by the Headmistress and two teachers. They were: Miss Gwendoline Hull, Miss Anne Lucas and Miss Catherine Lloyd. Following the admittance of the children, on September 13th the Director of Education, the area organiser and a doctor visited the school.
On September 15th it was noted that for the first time since its existence (1915), the school was provided with a supply of drinking water. Previously all water for domestic purposes (cooking etc.) had to be carried from Griffy Well.
In October an H.M.I. visited to check on the evacuated children. When the school closed for half term on October 17th the evacuees remained at the school under the supervision of Miss Lucas. There were 44 children from Vicarage Road School Birmingham plus seven others (a total of 221 pupils). The evacuees were visited by a school nurse from Birmingham and a doctor came in December to check on children suffering from poor nutrition. These checks continued throughout the war.
In January 1940 two teachers and a number of pupils returned temporarily to Birmingham.
On January 9th Mr Preston one of the teachers, was called for a medical under the “Military Service Act”. He left on January 31st to join the army.
A pupil needed medical treatment from Dr Garry of Osgathorpe on January 16th. Dr Garry was the local G.P. and often attended school pupils.
An exceptionally heavy snowfall was recorded on Monday January 29th. “The roads are impassable to traffic as the snow lies 3-4 feet deep. Only 10 children arrived at school. They were sent home as they were soaking wet. No buses are running in the district. The next day conditions worsened and no children attended”. The school was closed for the rest of the week. Attendance was affected by the bad weather for a further fortnight. January 1940 was the coldest month since 1895 with high snow figures throughout the south and Midlands.
In April there were 13 cases of measles among Thringstone pupils. In June County Handicraft Staff were receiving training for Armament Production.
On August 13th The evacuated children from Birmingham joined another group from the same school in Ravenstone. The teacher returned to Birmingham.
September 6th it was noted that there was less disturbance from air raid warnings.
N.B The school holidays were different: August 2nd -13th, September 13th- 30th, November 6th-12th.
In November 1940 22 pupils from Birmingham were admitted and a further 41 on December 5th. There were 2 teachers: Mr Alec Hawkins and Miss Hilda Allwood. There were now 141 local children and 82 evacuees.
January 1941 brought heavy snowfalls which affected attendance. One day children from Thringstone and Osgathorpe had to walk home as school buses failed to arrive. The bad weather lasted for a week. At the end of the month the evacuee children joined with other Birmingham evacuees in Whitwick and Thringstone for a party. Some of these evacuees were transferred to Whitwick in February.
There was a “War Weapons Week” in May 1941 for which the school received a certificate. During the summer of 1941 the school remained open for pupils with short holiday breaks for harvesting of hay and potatoes. There were unofficial absences throughout September and October for potato picking, which was common practice in rural areas.
Clothing coupons were issued to 13 children in December.
1942 saw heavy snowfalls in January and February which severely affected attendance. Also that year saw problems relating to subsidence associated with the New Lount Colliery.
Evacuees remained at the school during 1943 and 1944. The school log notes that “The last three Birmingham evacuees returned home on November 24th 1944.”
During 1944 there is mention of the proposed changes to Education whereby all pupils would transfer to secondary school at eleven years of age. Previously some pupils went to Grammar School at eleven if they passed an examination, the rest stayed at the school until aged fourteen.
On May 8th 1945, the log states: “The capitulation of Germany (and the end of war in Europe) was announced last evening”. The school was closed for two days. V.E. day was celebrated on September 24th.
School Log for Griffydam Infant School
The Infant School on Top Road in Griffydam opened in September 1936. There were 62 children, aged 5 to 8 years, and 2 teachers. The pupils were transferred from Griffydam Senior school along with the head teacher Miss Ada Merrishaw and Miss Florence Johnson.
At the end of August 1939 there were 47 children on roll. On 1st September the school closed owing to the “National Emergency” to deal with evacuated children coming into the district. On 7th September 9 evacuees from Vicarage Road Infants School were admitted to the school.
Drinking water was supplied to the school in November 1939 from Ashby R.D.C. mains. Previously water came from a well.
Lighting restrictions made by “Blackout Regulations” caused change in the school day. It was now 8.45am-1145am and 1.15pm-3.15pm. The long lunch time allowed pupils to go home for lunch as school dinners were not provided.
At the start of 1940 only 5 evacuees remained at the school. Attendance was severely affected by bad weather in January and February. In May the Whitsuntide holiday was curtailed because of the war.
Outbreaks of Measles, German Measles and Whooping cough were noted in July 1940. (The school holiday had taken place at the end of June).
On 30th August the following account was written: “This morning school procedure was interrupted owing to the blowing of air raid sirens in the district. The children went quietly to their shelter (10.45am) and stayed there until mid-day when the warden came to inform us that it was “all clear”. The children passed the time by singing, reciting and having stories told to and by them.”
In September there were 3 evacuees: 2 from Birmingham and 1 from London.
The new Head Teacher Miss Kezia Wright noted in November that wire netting was applied to the windows to protect against “bomb blast” and that attendance was being affected by children losing sleep due to enemy air raids.
In November 1940 there was an influx of 30 Birmingham evacuee children accompanied by their head teacher and staff. By 1940 there were 42 evacuees plus 44 local children. An “alert” sounded on 16th December so children were confined to an air raid shelter from 1.45 to 3pm.
In January 1941 school attendance was severely affected by an epidemic of Chicken Pox, followed by “inclement” weather.
The number of evacuees remained high in March, including Birmingham and London children. Medical checks are recorded (these were carried out regularly). The school remained open during the Easter Holiday so that the Evacuees could attend if their foster parents wished.
In May the school was awarded a Certificate of Merit from the War Savings Committee.
A mass immunisation against diphtheria took place in November 1941.
A number of evacuees returned to Birmingham at the end of 1941. By 1942 there were 19 remaining. There was a further reduction to 10 in August and 6 in September. Previously the evacuees were recorded separately but they were now incorporated in the local register. Winter brought an epidemic of measles.
The end of the war was celebrated by a National Holiday on May 8th 1945. There were further celebrations for V.E. day in September 1945.
Two evacuees remained until January 1947.
Evacuees Listed In School Records Of School On School Lane
Griffydam Senior School 1940
From Left To Right
1st Row: Eric King, Gordon Clemence
2nd Row: Mary Toone, Margaret Sanderson, Mary Kilby, Thelma Bath, ??, May Moorhouse, Jose King, Hetti Hall, Connie Rowell
3rd Row: Alan Williamson, Roy Harrison, Henry Wells (Evacuee), Eric Rowell, Herbert Hodges, Lesley Webster, Walter Sibbets (Evacuee), Roy Clemence, Dennis Thursford (Evacuee)
4th Row: Francis Harris (Teacher), June Thursford (Evacuee), Lorna Ashbridge, Daphe Hull, Greta Stewart,??, Edna Hodges
Grifydam Infant School 1940
Left to Right
Front Row,:Gerald Hall, Derek Darby, Colin Hodges, Brian Hubbard, Les Rowell, Kenneth Hill, Kay Bird, William Wilton, Keith Richards, ? McCewan
2nd Row: Clifford Whyman, ?? , ? Hall, Betty Horne, ?? , ?? , ?? , Marjorie Collins, John Collins
3rd Row: Miss Florrie Johnson (Teacher), ? Smith (Evacuee), Stan Hodges, Pauline Hill, ?? , Brenda Leedham (Twin), Mureen Leedham (Twin), Betty Johnson, Marilyn Leeson, Stella Hodges, Harold Burton, Jackie Toone
Top Row: Barbara Bradley, Nancy Bradford, June Pickering, Marlene Hodges, Joyce Marshall, Mirabelle King, ?, ?, Gwenda Bird, Rosemary Benson, Joyce Collins, Miss Merishaw (Head Mistress)