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Holyrood 1931 through the period of World War 2


Ernest Ashman began his tenure as Headmaster on November 3rd 1931. There were 72 pupils on the Register, three of whom were absent. His first duty was to attend the Sunday Remembrance Day service at St Mary's church with three of the Senior boys. He initiated a new scheme, that of providing cocoa for the boys who remained for "dinner". Sixteen boys availed themselves of the opportunity on that first occasion. This, and the end of term breaking up party, set the scene for the new regime.


Over the next twenty-five years far more cultural activities are mentioned and far fewer attendance percentages. In 1932, four plays were selected to hold a "Dickens Evening".


These were Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby and the boys painted the scenery for the event. 'A concert of plays, songs etc.' was put on just before Christmas 1936. The end of term outing became an institution; Sixty-two boys and staff went to the Aldershot Tattoo (1934), followed by RMS Majestic and the docks at Southampton (1935), Windsor Castle and Hampton Court (1936), London and the Zoo, and Portsmouth and the Victory(1937).


There were no more references to a half-day holiday being given for Good Attendance,. Obviously Mr Ashman didn't believe in being rewarded just for going to school! Some days off were recorded for Royal events; Funerals, Coronations and a Silver Wedding, but no mention is made of the Abdication.


The report shows that the teachers were struggling to maintain the 1933 syllabus under difficult circumstances. Science was taught at Holyrood but only the teacher could carry out experiments because they still had the old-fashioned wooden sloping desks. There were no indoor facilities for physical training so "the more advanced type of exercise involving the use of portable apparatus regarded as suitable for senior boys" was not possible, although games were "keenly" played on the nearby playing field. Some teachers deserve a special mention; in October 1933 Mr J. Handel of Crewkerne "commenced duty" at Holyrood. He must have been very young because he was still at the school in the 1960s. He eventually became Deputy Headmaster and endured an enforced 'holiday' when he was called up in August 1939 until he returned in January 1946. Mr Handel is remembered as a strict disciplinarian, but pupils were forewarned of his arrival by the sound of his hob-nailed boots marching along the corridor.


The first school inspection under Mr Ashman was in 1937 and indicated that 'there are now 118 boys between eleven and fourteen on the books, with four teachers and four classrooms. (average of 30 pupils per class'


There were fewer closures of the school as a result of serious epidemics, although Scarlet Fever in 1939, followed by influenza and measles in 1940 and chicken pox in1955 lowered attendance figures.


It is mentioned that free school milk was being provided in1935, although this was a mixed blessing because in 1952, 106 children were absent and the Ministry of Health closed the school because of dysentery due to the school milk. Two days later notes were made that the "milk is now pasteurised"!


There were a few broken bones recorded, including Mr Ashman himself, when he fell in the snow, fractured his left arm and had two weeks off in 1938. In 1940, "a dog entered the yard and attacked a number of boys. Two were badly bitten and one taken to hospital to have his leg stitched." He doesn't tell us what happened to the dog!!!


When in August 1939, Mr Handel was called up for military duties with the 7th Somerset Light Infantry, this the first indication that the war was impending. In September, the school closed for ten days due to the evacuation of London schoolchildren to the area. An extra 14 children joined. The Register went up to 23 a week later. There were now 138 pupils and only three teachers (46 each); this brought about a crisis that month when Mr Cady was absent and the next day Mr Anscott had to go home ill. Forlornly, Mr Ashman noted "carried on school alone"!


In May 1940 the school opened early after the mid-term break as notification had come over the radio that the Low Countries had been invaded. By now Wandsworth senior boys and girls occupied two rooms of the department. "The school is now full", wrote Mr Ashman.


When the first air-raid siren went off for twenty minutes, the school was dismissed; there were to be five years of these disruptions. The Headmaster had to re-arrange the school when Miss Bennett retired as Headmistress of the Girl's School and he took over both roles. There were now 229 pupils in both departments and only five teachers, until Miss Jarvis arrived to make it six.(38 each)


Apart from increased numbers, the War made a dent in the attendance figures for some unusual reasons. In July 1941, the children went to help with the haymaking and again in October with the potato harvest. Then the Government introduced the 'Holidays at Home' week in August 1942. As the population could not travel to have their holidays because of petrol rationing, and the beaches were closed against invasion, people were asked to holiday 'at home'. The Town Council arranged entertainments for a week at the reservoir and other open spaces around the town. All the factories and foundries were closed and the school operated an optional attendance policy.


One hundred and fifty-seven boys from Wandsworth attended Holyrood between 1941 and 1945, some stayed on after the war because their homes had been bombed so they couldn't go back. Two rooms in the school were given over to the newcomers, one for the boys and one for the girls. One evacuee pupil, Michel Aspel, went on to achieve fame later in life as a television presenter.


In April 1945, Mr Ashman received notification by the School Board of a change in status, it was no longer to be called an Elementary School. He makes no mention of the new name, but in the 1948 school photograph, it is called Holyrood Secondary Modern.


Victory in Europe Day was celebrated on the 8/9th May 1945, but on the 10th the headmaster opinioned that on 'resumption of school, many children absent because of late nights'. Shortly after this, at the end of June, the evacuees returned to London and the opening of the autumn term was delayed by celebrations again, this time for V J Day. The war was over.


FOOTNOTE to this part of the story, Mr Bennett and Mr Ashman both mention plaques being put up in the School to commemorate the pupils who died in the two World Wars. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to find out where they went to. We have traced two of these boys through the Attendance Book and matched them with those on the War Memorial at St Mary's. Geoffrey Spiller was born in October 1919, the son of William and Florence. He died, aged 19, when HMS Courageous was torpedoed when it was on anti-submarine duty on the 17th September 1939, just at the start of the War; Geoffrey is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. Cyril Stoodley, son of William and Daisy, was in the Royal Army Service Corps when he died in 1943, aged 21. He is buried in Chard Cemetery.

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