The School during World War II

“We know that you are all anxious to know of the part that O.B.’s are taking in the adventurous, exciting, and dangerous duties arising out of the present war.”

[The Brentwoodian, December 1939, p. 3]

Considering its proximity to London, it is perhaps surprising that not only were Brentwood pupils not evacuated at the start of the Second World War, but the School actually took in pupils from other schools. In the autumn term of 1939 the School made room for 309 boys from Leyton County High School and 239 from West Ham Secondary School [December 1939, p. 1].

The School prepared itself as best it could for air raid attacks: trenches were dug on the Lower School Field and shelters were built in the Heseltines [December 1939, p. 2 and p. 22].

An air-raid patrol was inaugurated towards the end of the summer holidays in 1940 [December 1940, p. 3]. Every night a member of staff and two senior boys were on alert for aerial activity. There was a direct telephone line between the School and the fire station in Hart Street.

The only time the School suffered a direct hit was when the cricket pavilion was destroyed by an oil bomb [December 1940, p. 2].

The pupils were encouraged to contribute to the war effort by maintaining allotments, either individual plots or communal [July 1940, p. 13]. The pride with which the Houses reported on their plots had a competitive edge [April 1942, p. 8; December 1942, p. 6].

There are regular reports of boys working on farms during the school holidays [December 1942, p. 4]. Perhaps in fear of overly enthusiastic boys injuring themselves on farm equipment, the school was visited by three instructors in tractor-driving – all women – from the Oxford Agricultural Engineering Institute. The tractors for practising on were supplied by the Essex Agricultural Committee [July 1941, p. 1].

The boys of North House sent regular parcels to H. M. S. Pine [December 1941, p. 2; April 1942, p. 2]. But in early 1944, they learnt to their dismay that the minesweeper had been sunk [April 1944, p. 2].

References to the War in the Brentwoodian are, however, surprisingly few. It is noticeable how school life continued in many ways just as it had always done. Nevertheless there is no doubt that it was always on the minds of the pupils and staff. A better understanding of how it preoccupied them may perhaps be gained from reading the creative writing in the Brentwoodian of that time. One item worthy of particular attention is the essay ‘Quo Vadis’ which poses the questions: why did the last peace fail and will history repeat itself yet again? [December 1945, p. 39]