School Days


Report contributed by ALF WRIGHT

At 11-o-clock in the morning of September 3rd, 1939, the Second World War started.  I don’t expect the children, when they broke up for the summer holiday in 1939, thought that a war would have started when they were due to come back to school, although they might have been given gas masks.  Of course, there would have been a lot of talk about a war coming.  The school did not open after the summer holiday until 1.00 p.m. on 20th September.  When they came back, all the windows of the school had paper crosses stuck to them.  This was to stop the glass breaking into small pieces if a bomb blew them in.

It is likely that some of the local children would have already met some of the children who had come from Wood Green and Leyton.  They had been evacuated to the countryside, to live with local families, as the places where they lived were close to London, and were expected to be bombed.  Some teachers came with the children.  The big problem was that there were not enough desks – or space – for them all.  As it was impossible to accommodate all the children in the school at the same time, two sessions were arranged, with pupils alternating a week at a time, morning and afternoon school.  Great Easton and Leyton made up one session, and the Wood Green children the other.  Until more desks came, three children had to sit at a desk made for two.  Later that term the Village Hall was used as part of the school, so that all the children could spend the whole day at school.

The summer holiday in 1940 was for only two weeks, but two more weeks holiday was taken in September.  In 1941 school broke up for the summer holiday on 18th July, and the holiday ended on 5th August.  Again, a second holiday was taken from 19th September until 13th October – so that the children could help harvest potatoes from the fields.  In wartime food was very short, and people could only buy a certain amount each week; everybody had a ration book.  To help parents, and to make sure children had one good meal a day, school dinners began on 4th August 1942.  These were cooked at the ‘British Restaurant’ in Dunmow and brought to the school.  Infant children paid 1s. 3d. (61/2p) each day; children aged eight to ten years old paid 1s. 6d. (8p); and those aged eleven to fourteen years 2s. 0d. (10p).  Children did not leave the school until they were fourteen years old unless, when they were eleven, they passed a scholarship test to go to a grammar school.  If they did not pass the test to go to a grammar school they could try again at thirteen.  At fourteen they could take a test to go to a Technical School.

The park and fields of Easton Lodge became an airfield during the war, and the 386th Bomb Group of the American Army Air Force was stationed there.  One of the groups there was the 544 Squadron, and some of the airmen came to the school on 5th April 1944.  They gave the children sweets and biscuits, and the children sang songs to the Americans, and finished the concert with the British and American National Anthems.

The Log Book Entry for 7th May 1945 says ‘Today everyone is expecting Victory Day’, and for 8th May 1945:

 No school today.  Three days’ holiday for Victory Celebrations.  Peace in Europe.