gas masks

Life at Hythe School During the Second World War

Hythe Primary School in Southampton, Hampshire, has historical logbooks containing handwritten notes by the teachers recounting the daily accounts of the school including 1939 to 1945. They offer a fascinating insight into what life was like for the children during the Second World War. 

Previously we’ve written about the three air raid shelters that had been dug into the rear of the playground in 1939. But these logbooks offer further insight into how war affected the teachers and children at the school during the period.

For example, on September 4th, 1939, the headteacher wrote:

“As war was declared yesterday between England and Germany, the school has not reopened”.

A couple of weeks later it was noted how the local Air Raid Precautions officer delivered first aid supplies to the school.

Over the next few months war wasn’t mentioned very often in the handwritten records, but by June of 1940 activity appeared to accelerate very quickly. 

Notes began to appear recording how local people began to use the school air raid shelters in the evenings. There were also reports of absences of children due to the previous night’s sirens, or windows having tape applied to stop the glass shattering as well as blackout paint being applied.

One of the more shocking entries in July recalls how gunfire was heard during the day. You can only imagine how scary that could have been for the children, or perhaps it was exciting to some. I am sure it was certainly a huge concern to teachers.

By August of 1940, patterns started to emerge that would be consistent for many months to come. There were daily air raid warnings with children having to take cover in the shelters. It wasn’t unusual for this to happen three times in any given day.

Moving into October, the headteacher writes about discussions held on how safe it was to send children home after air raid warnings later in the school day. The alternative was to keep them in the shelters and let them sleep under blankets, rather than let them risk leaving to go home.

The war came very close to home in November 1940, as incendiary devices dropped on Hythe. One landed on a heap of coal in the school yard. Thankfully it was quickly extinguished with no harm done. 

By early 1941, the local Air Raid Precautions officer told the headteacher to:

“Only take the children to the shelters when local alerts or when planes are seen”.

He suggested no longer going to the shelters when distant alerts were heard. 

The school staff all decided against this advice and continued to take children to the air raid shelters on every single alert they heard. This situation would result in some complaints from parents. 

In February 1941, it was discovered that 19 gas mask cases were defective which was raised with New Forest Rural District Council. 

There was another close call in July 1941 when an incendiary bomb penetrated the dinner room roof. Again, it was quickly extinguished, with minor damage to chairs and tables.

All throughout this period there continued to be almost daily air raid warnings with children being schooled in the shelters. This wasn’t always easy for the teachers to manage… or for the children to cope with. 

In the Hythe School “Punishment Book” which lists children who had been disciplined, there’s a rather sobering entry. A child named was given 4 strokes of the cane for “rough conduct in the shelter”.

By 1942, the local Home Guard battalion started to use the infants’ room for evening meetings. The headteacher disdainfully reports how they’d left it in a mess, with cigarette butts found on the floor the next morning.

But by now, air raid warnings appear to be getting less frequent, particularly as the entries move into 1943. School is still disrupted, but you can tell that the tide has started to turn.

Then on May the 8th 1944, the headteacher writes:

“Victory in Europe was announced by BBC at 9pm last evening. Today and tomorrow will be public holidays”. 

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