A Recollection ofKingham Hill School During World War 2
by Geoff Ball Stratford House 1936 - 1945
1936 - The year that celebrated the first Fifty Years of The Hill
I arrived in the June and must have been either the last new boy of the first fifty years or the first new boy of the second fifty years.
When I arrived in Clyde, then a junior House, the boys were in quarantine because of chicken pox. I'd had the disease and was allowed to enter the school.
The teaching staff of that time, as I remember them, were Miss Tanner (Kindergarten), Miss D. Scarfe (Form 1), Miss D.G. Horsefield (Form 2), George Bond (Form 3) and for the seniors there were Messrs E.C.Atkins, W.T. Wilkinson, 'Gaffer' Stares (for PT), Frank Ball and the Rev J.H. Hughes. The Warden was the Rev D.F.Horsefield.
The House staff members, again, as I remember them, were the Misses Brownhill, Pearce and Woods (Clyde), the Misses Bambridge, Medlock and Ayers (Durham), Mr and Mrs Doherty with Miss Breech (Norwich), Mr and Mrs Stares (Bradford), Mr and Mrs Meehan (Sheffield) and Mr and Mrs Bond down the Hill at Stratford.
Geoff Ball later in uniform
Within weeks of my arrival the Founder's Bust in the Chapel was unveiled by Bishop Taylor-Smith who was, I think, a Trustee. In August we had the celebrations proper. Sports Day was on the Monday with the Gymnastic Display and the Band under the direction of Mr Swann. Thursday was for The Gathering of The Clans. I remember that for 1936 it was a big tea party held in the Hall of Top School. There were only two more such gatherings. For 1937 and 1938 they were held in the various houses - the Old Boys mixing and sitting with the current generation of the time. Old Boys visiting Clyde were Capt Douglas Board (Royal Marines), Alf Jarvis (author of "Fifty Years of Kingham Hill"), and Frank Goddard (Secretary to the Trust). On the Friday, and final night, we had the Concert, the highlight of which was Douglas and Alf dressed appropriately and singing the famous "Gendarmes Chorus".
There was one staff change in the year. Miss Pearce left Clyde to be replaced by Miss Wallace who stayed only for a few months. In December we gathered in the long window bay of the common room to hear King Edward VIII making his abdication speech. His Father, George V, had died earlier in the year so by the end of the year we had been reigned over by three monarchs.
Right: King Edward VIII. Click image to hear speech
1937 - Year of the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
The great day was May 12 th . We were given two day's holiday - a bonus for the Clyde boy, Ronnie Tolhurst, as his birthday was May 13 th . There were several Staff changes in the year. Messrs Atkins, Wilkinson and Hughes left to be replaced by Messrs A.L. Eagle, A.S.R. Parker and B.H. C. Robinson. Miss Barbara Hargreaves arrived to replace Miss Woods in Clyde, Miss Elliott to replace Miss Ayers in Durham and Mr and Mrs Northway with Miss Bradfield to take charge of Clyde in September when that House became an additional senior house.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth May 12, 1937 after the coronation of King George VI
Other house staff changes were Mr and Mrs Lockey, with Miss Haines to replace Mr and Mrs Doherty and Miss Breech in Norwich. Mr and Mrs Durrant with Miss McMurray to replace Mr and Mrs Stares in Bradford. Mr and Mrs Stares moved to Sheffield (briefly). Mr and Mrs Meehan moved to live at the bottom of The Hill where Mr Meehan took control of gas and water supplies. Mr and Mrs Doherty with Miss Breech moving to the Latimer House hostel in London. Before the year's end Mr and Mrs Wibberley took over from Mr and Mrs Stares in Sheffield. The former Clyde ladies, and their small charges, moved to Plymouth where we were virtually cut off from the rest of the School. Miss Scarfe and Miss Horsefield came to the house to continue teaching Forms 1 and 2. The Kindergarten was closed and Miss Tanner left the Hill. We had our own Gymnasium come Common Room where 'Gaffer' Stares came to put us through our 'Physical Jerks' - it was the first time he had taken us juniors. Prior to that Miss Scarfe had nursed us through gentle exercises. Miss Kathleen Allnutt (her Father was the Village Policeman at Churchill) came to join the Misses Brownhill and Hargeaves to look after us little boys. We had two new maids, Miss Peggy Matthews and Miss Muriel Attwood. Peggy we called 'Jessie'. What else in those days? Her father was a porter at Kingham Station. Regardless of our lovely new maids, we boys still had to do our house jobs.
1938 - The Plymouth Fire, Munich, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs
In the early part of Wednesday afternoon May 4th , while we boys were out on the Plymouth football pitch, smoke was seen to billow out from under the roof and by the end of the afternoon the house was completely 'gutted by fire'. Fire crews from the surrounding area came to the assistance of the Hill Fire Brigade (under the direction of Fred Meehan) and there was only one casualty. Len Huckfield, the Warden's gardener and handyman, was injured on the back of his neck.
Some sections of the national press published stories of us being led down the stairs in the early hours of the morning. All very colourful, but not very accurate. We Plymouth boys were farmed out to the other houses for a week or two, and then we were all brought together under one roof at Greenwich House. By the time that Plymouth was renovated, and brought back into use again, I had moved on and only ever visited the house a few times.
In September we had the Munich crisis. It didn't mean a great deal to us young boys. We knew about Herr Hitler - that's what everyone called him in those days - and we had crowded into the Staff Sitting Room to hear the Nuremberg speech and the repeatedly shouted "Sieg Heils" on the wireless. The speech had been translated for us and we understood that Hitler wanted The German Sudetenland and some of Czechoslovakia - that was all. Within a month he got his Sudetenland and the whole of Czechoslovakia and Neville Chamberlain's "Peace in our time" lasted just one more year.
The September also saw the arrival of the first full length Technicolor Feature film "Snow White and The Severn Dwarfs" and it called for a School outing to The New Cinema in Chipping Norton - a long walk for the seniors and a lorry ride for the juniors. We also had a white Christmas in 1938, and I found out that Father Christmas was also the House Master at Bradford. Staff changes were Mr and Mrs N.C. Porter to replace Mr and Mrs Wibberley in Sheffield, and Mr E. Worsley arrived to teach Science. During the year the first of seven refugees arrived from Germany. Rolf Breitenfeld came to join the boys in Bradford.
Neville Chamberlain having returned from his meeting with Hitler in Munich on 29th September, 1938. Declaring 'Peace in our time', Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, the French Prime Minister, agreed that Germany could have the Sudetenland. In return, Hitler promised not to make any further territorial demands in Europe.
1939 - Promoted to Durham and the outbreak of war
In January I was promoted to Durham. Promoted? I suddenly became a backward boy. I was no good as a kitchen houseboy for Miss Bambridge and no good at cricket or rounders for Miss Medlock. I can't recall upsetting Miss Elliott.
In the summer term we were all measured for gas masks and documented for Identity Cards. All the numbers started with the letters DZEU. In 1948 when the NHS was formed they became our new NHS numbers (I was to be DZEU 182/6 until very recently when the system caught up with me). World War 2 started during the summer holiday on September 3rd and, apart from the outer edges of the windows being painted black and the hurried issue of blackout screens from the Carpenters' shop, there were no real signs of war on The Hill at all.
Daylesford House and grounds were taken over by the Army - first the RASC, and then the Durham Light Infantry. The RAF were operating from the new stations at Little Rissington and Moreton in Marsh. (I was stationed at Moreton in Marsh when it closed in 1951). There were also Landing Fields at Enstone and just outside Chipping Norton. We soon became familiar with the sounds of Airspeed Oxfords, Avro Ansons and North American Harvards from Little Rissington, and Wellington Bombers from Moreton in Marsh.
Click image to hear Britain's Prime Minister in 1939, Neville Chamberlain, announcing the outbreak of war on the BBC.
The first winter of the war was white and freezing. The snow was deep and nobody seemed to be fighting. We were told of 'patrol activity' in France and someone coined the phrase 'phoney war'. Morning assembly in the Hall of Top School became morning prayers in the Chapel during the Autumn Term. The Warden introduced a prayer for Old Boys in the Forces which included names familiar to most of us. It soon became a lengthy list and the names were split up into small daily groups. (I joined the list for the last six months of the war). Ken Townsend (Durham) was the first casualty: he had left the School in the early thirties to become an RAF pilot and became a prisoner in the early part of the war.
We were joined by further refugees from Germany who managed to 'get out in time'. Bill Strupp, Hans Leistina, Hans Popper, Rolf Weber, Walter Kubelbak and a Mr Burch who lived at the Warden's House and worked in the Carpenters' Shop.
1940 - Dunkirk and a bomb drops in Dancer's field
The 'phoney war' continued and life on The Hill hardly seemed to be affected, the blackout apart, and we appeared to be escaping what hardships there were elsewhere. I ' d moved from Durham to Clyde (again) under Mr and Mrs Northway and Miss Bradfield. Mr Northway believed that we should keep up to date with 'the outside world' and installed a loudspeaker on the landing so that we could hear the Nine o'clock News each evening. In the spring the war opened up. Denmark and Norway were invaded in April, and the Low countries in May. By mid June it was all over, the Dunkirk evacuation had been completed and we were facing the threat of invasion. Harry Widdows, who had left KHS to join the Church Army, enlisted in the RAMC and was taken prisoner at Dunkirk. Within a week or two of the evacuation, Capt W.T. Wilkinson (the Manchester Regt, a former staff member and Dunkirk survivor) visited the School and gave a lecture on "how it all happened".
Evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk.
Following War Minister Anthony Eden's call for Local Defence Volunteers a Kingham Hill platoon (under Mr Willie Michie) was formed as part of the 3 rd Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry commanded by Lt Col Mitford of Burford. They later became the Home Guard (Dad's Army).
On Tuesday May 7 th we had our first air raid warning and a lone German bomber dropped a bomb at Foxholes. It resulted in us all having to sleep downstairs until the spring of 1941. We continued to listen to the Nine 0'Clock News which was followed by a postscript on Sundays with such people as J.B. Priestley, Air Marshal Sir Phillip Jubert and Quentin Reynolds, an American correspondent who was very rude to Hitler.
Staff changes were inevitable: Mr Robinson joined the Navy, Mr Eagle went to the RAF and Mr Parker enlisted in the RAMC. Messrs K.Gilbert-Barber, Nunn and RG.Gilbert (the Egg) arrived as did Dr Frederick and Mrs Margaret Cronheim. They had been at Heidelberg University before the war.
During the summer holiday, while most of us were away, a bomb was dropped in Dancer's Field next to the swimming baths and a Harvard trainer 'corkscrewed' into the ground near Daylesford Hill Farm. Mr Stares rejoined the Royal Marines and Mr Northway took over the physical training. The enemy flew over most nights on their way to Birmingham or Coventry and within a quarter of an hour we could see the glare from fires, forty miles away, some nights bombs were dropped locally and we felt the blast. On a night in late December we could hear the noise of explosions and gunfire which we thought could be at Oxford, the next day we realised it was London, eighty four miles away.
First mass air raid on London. 7 September 1940
Exactly when the School was split into two parts I cannot remember clearly but my thoughts are that it was in 1940. Forms 4 and 5 became Forms 4Pl and 4P2, 5Pl and 5P2. Boys showing academic promise and likely to pass the School Certificate were promoted through 4P2 and 5P2 to 6B and 6A. Boys such as myself, who appeared to be without prospects, were promoted through 4 PI to 5P 1 and then either they left The Hill or were placed in work with the Maintenance Staff until the time came for them to leave the School. Somehow or other people kept going, and the speeches of Prime Minister Churchill urged the nation on. Oak Hill students were evacuated to the Hill in the spring of 1940 with their Vice Principal the Rev A. Stibbs. Mr Arthur Pullin (a graduate of St John's College, Durham) joined the staff and assisted with tutorial duties amongst the Oak Hill students.
1941 - Land girls, POWs, a bomber crashes near Daylesford Farm, and America enters the war
This was the year that parties of boys went to plant and pick potatoes at neighbouring farms - after we'd looked after the Hill Farm, of course. At Leafield we had our first contact with Land Army girls and German POWs .... everyone wanted to go to Leafield.
Land Army Girls
Students from St John's College York came to augment the staff: Among them were Cyril Hood, Tom Barlow and a Mr A.J. Dixon who played a lively organ and, when no one was around, he would play like his Blackpool namesake. Amongst the York students was Stewart Brindley who would join the staff after the war. Mr Pullin was ordained a priest at Oxford in June.
On the 20 th July Mr Dick Northway, the Clyde housemaster, collapsed on a Home guard exercise and died in Clyde in the afternoon. A School company of the Army Cadet Force was formed and Mr Parker returned to help Mr Lockey run the corps. Mr K. Gilbert Barber succeeded Mr Northway as Clyde housemaster. He was assisted first by Miss Breech and then by Miss Brooking.
On a foggy morning a Wellington bomber on a test flight crashed and burst into flames in a field near Daylesford Hill Farm. Our first thoughts were that it had come from Moreton in Marsh but in recent years I have ascertained that this was not so. Messrs Frank Ball and Geoff Goddard left to join the RAF. Mr Dixon, mentioned previously, re-placed Mr Ball and Dick Shepherd replaced Geoff Goddard.
In June the Germans invaded Russia. Locally enemy air activity ceased by the summer. There was a single occasion when RAF Brize Norton was bombed, but that apart we seemed to be safe at last, though we didn't actually know it at the time. Mr and Mrs Porter returned to missionary work in West Africa and were replaced by Mr and Mrs Comber, who took charge of Sheffield. Mr Comber was actually a Baptist Minister, and in non KHS circles was correctly titled Rev L.B. Comber. Mrs Comber was related by marriage to Dr G.D. Cunningham, the City of Birmingham Civic Organist, and this paved the way for a series of annual organ recitals in the chapel - a team of senior boys assisting with organ pumping duties. I became one of the team in 1942 and in 1943 and 44 I performed the duty by myself.
Mr and Mrs Stredder came to live in Swansea House. He worked in the main stores and Mrs Stredder acted as Warden's secretary and superintendent in Swansea. She had replaced Mrs Jarvis who had 'run Swansea' since the early thirties. Mr Parker wore two uniforms in those days he was an officer with the rank of Lieutenant in the cadets and a private in the Home Guard.
A former Clyde boy, Dick Collins, was reported killed in action. He had been an air gunner with the RAF. There were subsequently nine old boys who lost their lives as compared with sixty five in the Great War. 'Dickie' Durrant took over teaching everything involving the use of hands: carpentry, metalwork and art. Mr Parker became multi-rolled and took over physical training as well.
America entered the war on December 7 th . President Roosevelt called it a date in infamy. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour and on that day, though we didn't know it at the time, all kinds of fate were sealed.
1942 - The Yanks arrive
Within a month or two the US Army were lodged at Daylesford House and grounds. Their numbers soon increased and by the end of the year we were surrounded by 'The Super Sixth' as they called their 6th Armoured Division. Only the noise of RAF training aircraft disturbed a comparative peace. Apart from staff changes, and visits from former staff and old boys on leave, life seemed to be returning temporarily to some form of normality.
American soldiers of the 6th Armoured Division being entertained at head quarters at Batsford Park, Gloucestershire
Following the fall of Malaya and Singapore in February, a member of the staff was heard to grumble about the loss of his fortune - his battered trilby, baggy trousers and torn gown belying the legend of wealth.
The first confirmation service was held in the Chapel. The Rt Rev Dr Gerald Allen, Bishop of Dorchester, confirmed the candidates. Previously candidates for confirmation had travelled either to Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford or Chipping Norton Parish Church. Lt Cdr Wood, a retired Naval officer, joined the school to manage maintenance services. The Oak Hill students returned to London in the spring. Mr Gilbert left to manage a railway system in Chile and the Rev Arthur Pulllin left to become a curate at Penge in south east London.
I was not a boy given to sports or competitive games. Mr Barber, we called him Ali what else?, sent me into Kingham village each Wednesday afternoon to make various purchases. The Post Office for stamps, across to the Sadler's for boot polish and something for his pipe, and then to the main shop, Adams, for anything else that the others couldn't supply. Mr Morris was the saddler. I never met him, but Mrs Morris who always came to the door spent a fair bit of time talking to me. Their house is now a private dwelling and is called "Sadler's Cottage". There were one or two famous people living in Kingham at the time: a Mr Thomas Marshall, a blind concert pianist who gave recitals in the Main Hall, and Hugh de Selincourt an author of some note. Sometimes I met them and exchanged brief greetings. Quite often I met our vicar, the Rev H.B. Richardson, and our Warden, Rev Horsefield who had been appointed Rural Dean Cleric, was never far away. We were visited annually by the Rev Henry Duncan, mission to the Eskimos, and Dr Spencer - the rector of Great Rollright.
The war now seemed far away. Until 1942 nothing had gone right for us but on October 23rd the 8th Army fought the enemy at El Alemein and started their advance along the North African coast. We didn't lose again. Churchill, when asked if he thought it might be the beginning of the end replied that he couldn't say, but he thought perhaps that it might be the end of the beginning.
[Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, head of the 8th army during WW2, inspected the CCF detachment of KHS army cadets at our army camp in June 1961.] Montgomery and Churchill
Mr E. Rose, the Music Master of Chipping Norton County Grammar School, gave a piano recital one evening. He held us spell bound it was more tuneful than anything we had been treated to before. Amongst the pieces he played were The Blue Danube Waltz, The Warsaw Concerto and a piece he had composed himself in syncopated style. We'd never had such an enjoyable musical evening. He never came back - that kind of music was not encouraged at Kingham Hill. I don't remember when Plymouth House came back into use, but by 1942 it was fully operational again and had returned to its role for homing junior boys. The Rev Maldwyn Lloyd-Jones took up the appointment of School chaplain, and would become assistant housemaster at Stratford House in 1943.
1943 - Preparations for D Day, the end of school days and the world beckons.
Major Kent came to The Hill in 1943. He was to become the first person to hold the appointment of Bursar. George 'Pug' Holton was reported killed in action. He was a former Norwich boy and one of the first to join the cadets. His final days at KHS were spent in Stratford and he worked in the walled gardens below Plymouth.
Mr and Mrs George Bond left in the summer and their place was taken by Mr and Mrs Vic Peters.
Vic was a professional musician who worked with Big Bill Campbell's Rocky Mountain Rhythm - one of the popular bands of the time on the radio and variety circuits. Prior to his show business career he had been a regular army bandsman and had spent most of his time in India during the twenties and thirties.
The departure of George and Mrs Bond was a real break with the past. George was an old boy. He had become Stratford Housemaster and joined the teaching staff in 1932 so he probably taught nearly every boy who entered KHS between 1932 and 1943. He held court in Form Three and few of us escaped the stumped knock on our foreheads, his fingers having been cut off by a circular saw in an accident at Havelock Farm in Canada. The farm was a KH Trust property bought by the Founder as a base for boys wishing to settle in the Dominion. George was something of a biologist. His nature study rambles and lessons were not to be forgotten. He often related Poetry, a lot of which he composed himself. He also took over the management of garden patches on Clyde pitch, a joint venture with Rothamstead Experimental Establishment for the Ministry of Agriculture.
We all cleaned the school and chapel on a House-by-House roster under George's supervision. I had become No1 organ pump boy by this time. I seemed to be pumping for pretty well everybody who wanted to play the chapel organ - especially Mr Parker and Mr Barber, both of whom could play, but one was clearly better than the other. I did my first solo duty for Dr Cunningham and must have kept the air in good supply because after his rendering of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor he came round to my little 'cubby hole', shook hands and thanked me for not letting him down.
At the end of Summer Term my "school days" were over. I moved down to Stratford and worked first in the walled garden and then, for my last few months, I worked with Fred Meehan in the Gas and Well Houses. Life in Stratford was very pleasant. We were allowed to come and go as we wished. We were allowed into Chipping Norton twice a week.
American planes were now flying over to the continent on bombing raids most mornings. They usually flew back by mid afternoon and on fine days we could see their contrails and sometimes the silver glitter of the planes themselves. Vic Peters would hold forth with his tenor saxophone and clarinet accompanied by Rev Lloyd-Jones who played a neat piano.
A blind eye was turned to our renovation of old bikes, which were allowed more or less as long as we didn't go above the 'big planney' to the Hill. We were virtually cut off from the rest of the School except for attending Chapel - though my work took me round the houses on Mondays and Thursdays to deliver vegetables and collect ashes for the Swansea quarry, and 'pig swill' for the farm. The build up for D Day was gathering pace. Freight trains rumbled through Sarsden Halt all night, and most of the aircraft that flew overhead now carried the three white lines round their fuselages and across their wings.
1944 & 1945 - Allied forces invade Europe, I join the forces and the war in Europe ends
Early in 1944 I started making my own contribution to the war effort by helping out at The Church Army Forces Club in Chipping Norton. I doubt that anyone reading this has seen as many Spam rolls as I have. The club was patronised by lots of RAF people, and what seemed like thousands of American troops.
It could be that we Stratford boys were the first on The Hill to hear of the invasion. Vic Peters did not enjoy good health and would sometimes listen to the radio 'till the early hours. On the morning of June 6 th he told us that he thought something might be underway from what he'd heard of German broadcasts in the night. The BBC announced the invasion of Normandy mid morning.
The local Americans (The 6 th Armoured Division) left the area in August to join General Patton's Third Army and so suddenly Chipping Norton was quite dead. The ammunition dumps steadily dwindled from roadsides in the surrounding area, and normality as we vaguely remembered it appeared to be returning. I think it was about this time that the Home Guard was 'stood down'. When we thought of how the war had been for most other people in the country it seemed that Kingham Hill had escaped relatively lightly.
In January 1945 Stratford was closed for renovation. We boys moved down to live with Archie and Mrs Busby and daughter Ginny at Mill House right by Sarsden Halt - so very handy for catching a train. The night-time freight trains had ceased trundling through the night months earlier.
My turn to leave The Hill came early in March 1945, just three months and one week short of nine years. But I was back at Mill House to hear the announcement of the end of the war in Europe. By then I was working for NAAFI, and wearing the first of my three service uniforms which I did in the correct order of precedence: Navy, Army and Air Force. But that's another story.
Geoff Ball February 2008
Geoff In uniform.