All About Ticehurst, Flimwell and Stonegate

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The Past

Happy Evacuee - by Don Henderson
Ticehurst 1940 - 1942/3

Brockley County School evacuated from S.E. London in September 1939 and after schooling in Wadhurst for nearly a year obtained the use of "Oakover" in May 1940. Here the whole school, now about 120 in number, settled for education under one roof until the summer of 1944 when the authorities ordered re-evacuation to Llanelli in South Wales.

Excellent use was made of the premises and lessons were held under far better conditions than those at Wadhurst. The library was in constant use as were many of the smaller upstairs rooms. Open air study took place in the grounds and the greenhouses were used for chemistry "labs". School dinners were made available through use of the kitchens and fresh vegetables were in supply from the gardens and plots under cultivation by Mr Silver and some sixty of the boys who were sometimes excused lessons to "dig for victory". The wives of some of the remaining masters not called up were mainly responsible for the cooking assisted by some ladies from the village.

Tuition continued to the highest possible level and results in the University of London Examinations were excellent as lists in the school records would show. In fact all school standards were maintained, whenever and wherever possible. Discipline and order were still expected and school uniform was worn during school hours. Great respect was shown to the masters and the building. In a letter written by Mr Drewe when the family returned post-war he stated his surprise at the excellent condition of the house and gardens.

Although many boys continued to reach Ticehurst from Wadhurst, Stonegate and Flimwell to attend school some thirty of us were seconded to "Steellands" (now Apsley House) in the village under the care of Mr & Mrs Webber from May 1940 for over a year when Mr Webber was "called up". They were helped by Freda and Olive Kennett who lived in "Bell Cottages" nearby. Life was well-ordered and comfortable and we slept on the top floor in the servants' rooms, having use of dining room, living rooms and kitchens.

When we left the house I was to live with Mr & Mrs Leslie Hobbs and daughter Kathleen in Church Street and later with Mrs Kennett in Bell Cottages in company with an R.A.F. man from the unit at Flimwell. I well remember the acceptance and kindness for these good people.

As a fit and enthusiastic lad of sixteen I took full opportunity to indulge in as much sport as possible. Rugby football was played every Wednesday and Saturday on the Bell Field, both house matches and versus other schools in the district. A team in conjunction with the A.T.C. also played football there after its formation and I also played in other local sides. The main cricket was still played at Wadhurst, but much time was spent on the Institute playing field under the watchful eye of Mr West the caretaker. We were also fortunate to play on Lord Goschen's ground at Flimwell with local players Barfoot and Pilbeam and Oliver dominant in local cricket. Also, as we were in the country, there was always cross-country (real!) to help keep fit.

At this time too music played a quite prominent part for myself and quite a number of boys and local people. The school orchestra, small but enthusiastic, under Mr Pickles played in many concerts in halls around the district. We were also encouraged by the vicar, Rev O.A.S. Edwards, to join the church choir in which I remember Les & Stan Hobbs, Mr Booker and Neville along with local girls Kathleen Hobbs, Connie and Phyllis Croft, Doreen Dungey and others. Jack Nines and Donald Nurden were amongst those from school as well as myself who had been in a church choir since the age of eight. There was also participation in groups run by C.E.M.A. who often sent a prominent musician to advise and participate.

The vicar (after a dispute with the organist) got me to play the organ and also to play the piano in the Institute for evening services when the church could not be blacked out. Here Dr Sinclair, Mr Lee and Mr Silver often took services as well as at other churches in the district.

Capt Percy Keirle, a Church Army officer who lived at Claphatch, was also prominent in our lives running a Youth Group and Boys' Club opened in 1941 by Sir George Courthope. Plenty of rambling in the lovely High Weald and cycle rides to Hastings and the coast as well as all over the "hurst" and "den" villages.

Farming has already been mentioned but Brockley Boys also contributed help in First Aid, A.R.P., Firefighting, L.D.V. and Home Guard duties. The school also ran a small meteorological station and helped in Ordnance Survey work with reports going to the Ministry. The latter work often meant another enjoyable day in the open air.

A school flight of the A.T.C. was started in 1941 some sixty strong under Mr Denney and Mr Pickles. There were lectures on the R.A.F., aircraft recognition and various route-marches and church parades in and around with some weekend camps at West Malling and Detling. A considerable number of boys then at Ticehurst, including myself, enlisted in the R.A.F. as a result and acceptance was in September of that year. This meant a goodbye, temporarily, to the village although I continued to visit until after V.J. Day in 1945.

Gradually the number of boys and masters dwindled to around one hundred although they remained active in the life of the community until enforced re-evacuation took place in July 1944 due to the menace of the "doodle-bugs". Contacts remained however and Mr & Mrs Billings and Mr & Mrs Livens lived in Ticehurst for many years.

There is no doubt about the impact of the Brockley Boys on both Wadhurst and Ticehurst and to a lesser extent on Flimwell and Stonegate. This is evident in two letters written by prominent local people: viz - from Miss Ruth Collingridge:

"I am sure I am voicing the feelings of Ticehurst people when I say that the village owes a great debt of gratitude to the masters and boys of Brockley School for their willingness to help and their readiness, although town dwellers, to join in the way of life in a village. I had much help in my duties as senior fire-warden from everyone at the school. It was not easy to billet so many extra people in a small community but I feel sure I am right in saying there was very little friction."

from the Vicar Rev O.A.S. Edwards

"Yes, I am most grateful to you and to so many of the Brockley School, staff and pupils, for the way they have made themselves at home amongst us ~ not least for their patience with our rural ways! Whatever the future holds nothing will obliterate the memory of the way our "evacuees" soon became our "guests" and, for my part at least, our "friends."

Many years later I hold memories of my evacuation days in The High Weald as of great importance so that when I have returned to "wander the lanes" as we did there is much pleasure in its ageless beauty, not too much spoiled by modernity I am glad to say.

Perhaps this may prompt some local people who hold recollections of our stay to get in touch.

Don Henderson
"Pinfold", 54 Brookside Rd., Breadsall, Derby DE21 5LF