Earlier this week I asked if anyone could place the location of the picture at the foot of this page and date it.
My plea prompted Portsmouth Grammar School archivist and author of local history books, John Sadden, to spring into action. He knew immediately the story behind the picture. He also came up with the others here which concern the evacuation of the school during the Second World War.
In the summer of 1939, the headmaster JW Stork, pictured below, wrote to parents explaining the school’s plan for evacuation from Portsmouth if war was declared. He had visited every large vacant house in the Hampshire area to find suitable accommodation for the school, but none was big enough.
The parents of 350 pupils wanted their children to be evacuated as Britain’s premier naval port would be a prime target. However, none was suitable so derelict Northwood House was chosen, a disused school at Sparsholt, near Winchester.
The letter Mr Stork sent to parents included a list of what pupils should take. Apart from two blankets, a palliasse (straw mattress), clothes and a gas mask, each had to pack a 12oz tin of corned beef, a packet of Abernethy (oat) biscuits, sixpence worth of cheese, 8oz of chocolate, a packet of raisins, a tin of baked beans, a tin of Nestle’s milk and six Oxo cubes.
When the war started the school was evacuated by train from the Town Station. Each pupil was labelled and carried a gas mask, a haversack or suitcase as well as their emergency food supply.
The Evening News published pictures of them at Northwood three weeks after evacuation when 400 pupils had moved, more than anticipated. But as autumn set in they discovered the heating didn’t work, the house was too small, the fabric crumbling. So on September 22 the school moved out and went to Bournemouth where pupils were billeted in households, hotels and guest houses.
After D-Day it was clear victory was in sight and in January 1945 pupils returned to Portsmouth. The school had been damaged by German incendiary bombs and by its occupation by the navy. Pupils played their part in putting the school back together.
Last month, some of the evacuee pupils attended a reunion dinner organised by the school. It soon became clear that predictions made during the war, that the experience of evacuation would help nurture qualities of independence, resourcefulness and resilience, had been borne out.