The War Years

In the spring of 1940 Miss Edwards-Rees left us to work for the youth in the North of England once more, where she embarked on a distinguished career retiring eventually to Bosham where she died in the spring of 1967. As Miss Jerred, our new Headmistress, could not leave her post of History mistress at St. Andrews till the autumn, our Second Mistress, Miss Phillips, became Acting Head for the summer term. It fell to her to steer the School through the critical days of Dunkirk and the fall of France, when train-loads of wounded passed through Salisbury Station on their way to western hospitals. Several girls suffered the loss of father or brother. The decision not to evacuate the School might now seem a strange one in view of Salisbury’s importance as a military centre, but it was not a simple issue, and Salisbury was in fact a reception area. No one could tell how things might develop. There was also the con­sideration that as a mixed community of both boarders and daygirls it would have been much more difficult and disruptive to move the School. Miss Jerred arrived in August at the height of the invasion threat, and it was more difficult than ever to plan ahead. Term was due to begin on Wednesday, and on Friday the Town Clerk’s office telephoned the School to say that about 160 people who were being evacuated from Bexhill would be arriving for temporary accommodation. Sure enough, at 8.30p.m on that hot September evening buses began to appear at the School gates with the arrivals. The elderly people were lodged in the Sanatorium, and the families fitted in as well as possible in the house dormitories. The operation was carried out most competently. The next morning milk churns appeared in the front drive, and during the next two or three days billets were found for the newcomers.

It was decided however to offer Nelson House and Rose Villa to the A.T.S., who were on the look-out for accommodation in Salisbury, and this was a politic move. It seemed more than likely that some of the school buildings might in any case be commandeered, and in fact an official appeared a little later on to inspect the main building with a view to turning it into a hospital. Those who showed him over the premises were careful to point out the awkwardness of the stairs for stretcher cases, besides other obvious inconveniences, and no more was heard of the project.

Life during the following winter was overshadowed almost nightly by withdrawals to the air-raid shelters. Each House was in those days surrounded by sandbags, and had its own basement or half-basement shelter. Everyone got very tired, through lack of adequate and comfortable sleep, and sometimes we cancelled afternoon lessons, sent the Sarums home before dark, and retired to our normal beds. The next year brought relief from these earlier raids, and in the light of experience the sandbags were removed and the Houses were able to function more normally.

The year 1944 saw a new enterprise; Brome House came on the market and the governors quickly bought it. Its grounds formed a notch at the bottom of the paddock, which made it a natural and desirable acquisition, for if it had passed into the hands of the Services (as it seemed possible) we might never have been able to buy it. On the very day that the house became vacant we moved in during the evening (to forestall any scheme for compulsory purchase of vacant property), collecting all the odd furniture we could lay our hands on, and Jenny Hurley arrived as temporary Housemistress. She brought her family of three, and with the addition of a few more girls on the waiting list we were able to constitute a legitimate boarding house within a very short time.

And so the summer term of 1945 came, and the unforgettable V.E. day celebrations. The School had two days’ holiday. On the first day everyone roamed about Salisbury, especially in and out of the Cathedral, and in the evening there was a bonfire on the Milford Hill ground. On the second night of tile holiday there was a fancy-dress dance, with the luxury of enjoying a function in the Hall with all the lights blazing.

Staff changes during the war involved a farewell to Miss Evershed in 1942, when after many years as Housemistress of School House she was appointed Headmistress of the Abbey School, Malvern. A year later Ivy Phillips, who had been feeling the claims of her home, decided to retire. She had been on the Staff for over twenty years, appointed by Miss Douglas, and had been Second mistress for the last years of that period. As Second Mistress she was succeeded by Miss Lemar­chand, who had joined the Staff in the Summer of 1940. There were more changes than usual among the girls, owing to war conditions. A good many came at a later age than usual, and several for their Sixth Form years only. It was of course impossible to hold a Commem. at the time, but as soon as the war ended a meeting was quickly planned for October, in London, and held at Church House. This was well attended, and in the October of 1946 there was the first post-war Commem. in Salisbury, a very large gathering in the old style.

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