All About Wadhurst

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William Christmas

12 Up The Quadrangle, Morden College, Blackheath, St German's Place, London SE3 0PW
0208 305 2176

 

'BROCKLEY' - AT WADHURST - AND AFTER

After reading the detailled account of Don Henderson, I was prompted to add my own impressions and memories of that momentous period.....

Yes, on September 2nd 1939, the whole school - together with masters, their wives and assistants left South East London (by a devious route) en route for Wadhurst. This was part of the Government's plan - Code name 'Operation Pied Piper'. My late mother (widowed when I was a small boy) was a Council employee and therefore allowed to join us, but neither she nor any of the masters, wives or assistants were paid. Any money allocated was paid directly to their billet.

As previously reported, we all arrived at Wadhurst Commemoration Hall. The Billeting Officer and his staff were very surprised to see 300 boys, aged 11-16+, accompanied by adults. Wadhurst had been expecting mothers and babies and, as a result, some homes had been prepared with cots, baby clothes and toys! A dozen other boys and myself (with my mother in charge) were allocated the top floor of the Vicarage, the home of the Reverend Ernest Mannering, his wife, their cook and a maid. Coincidentally, the Rev. Mannering's previous post had been at St. Peter's Church, Brockley, so he already knew our home area.

Life at the Vicarage was very pleasant. Lessons were taken in the Commemoration Hall across the road and during this period (known as the 'phony war') there were opportunities for exploring the countryside, including visiting the site of the iron mines, near the Miners' Arms public house.Iron from these mines was used for the gravestones in Wadhurst Church.

It was at Wadhurst Church, on September 3rd 1939, that we heard the Declaration of War and later, at the same church, I was confirmed by the Bishop of Chichester, Dr. Bell.

That period ended, however, with the increasing privations of war, in turn resulting in the "calling up" of the Vicar's staff and the subsequent necessity to close the top floor of his house. My mother therefore returned to London to take up paid employment at one of the Fire Brigade Stations, in Surrey Docks.

I was moved, temporarily, to the old Post Office, Wallcrouch. Then, with a dozen others, to a tea-hut - 'The Woodlands' at Flimwell crossroads - just in time for the very severe winter of 1940. The hut was poorly heated and, being so far from Wadhurst, we had to use the irregular 84 bus (it is still operating). Therefore most of us missed occasional lessons as well as some of the social events described by Don Henderson.

By then moves were afoot to acquire 'Oakover', a large beautiful house in Ticehurst. The Drewe family had moved out and agreed that the house and grounds could be used as a school building. It might otherwise have been commandeered by the Canadian Army, who were in the area. The house was made ready for us: protection on the floors, certain rooms containing valuable furniture locked and one glass case in the entrance hall (containing a collection of stuffed birds) boarded up.

I have recently visited 'Oakover' by kind invitation of the elderly Mr. & Mrs. Drewe and was finally able to see the contents of that glass case. Their hospitality was in part to express their pleasure in being able to allow 'Brockley School' to use the building and also to show their gratitude for our care of the house and its contents.

I was then moved again, to Mrs. Baldwin's in Upper Platts, Ticehurst - the home of humble farm- workers. Whilst there I was initiated (with other boys) into farming, hop and fruit picking; also the joys(?) of scrumpy cider!

The local school was between Ticehurst Church (Vicar: Rev. Edwards) and 'Oakover', resulting in a certain amount of badinage between the locals and we 'Brockley Cabbages'. I had acquired a bicycle by this time and used it well, keeping inside the restricted area in which we lived but venturing as far as Hastings, Rye, Romney etc.

The war was 'hotting up'; the Battle of Britain was being fought above our heads and on the 7th September, 1940 London was set ablaze. In Sussex we could see the vivid glow in the night sky very clearly. Ironically, it was my mother's birthday and, in response to my birthday card, declared she didn't want any more 'returns of the day' - not that day -having recently escaped from blazing Surrey Docks with her life. In fact whenever I went home during the ensuing 4 years for Christmas, Easter or summer holidays, there was always an air raid; this meant sleeping in Anderson 'table' shelter or in the Morrison 'garden' shelter.

Entertainment in and around school has not been mentioned but I must recall the travelling cinema in the hall at Sparrows Green. It broke down frequently, either en route or in the middle of the film - but at least it had pictures with sound! We also went to Tunbridge Wells for more modern shows and for shopping but were, of course, restricted by rationing. Other, milder amusement in Wadhurst was watching the mental patients fromTicehurst House Mental Institution (still there but renamed) out walking with their carers. Which was which?! By now I was a member of the school A.T.C., resulting in being given the prefix number 928 when I joined the R.A.F. Anyone else remember that?....

Eventually my schooldays came to an end and, regretfully, I returned home to be 'called up'. I became a radar operator in the R.A.F., stationed mostly in the West Country. This was still a time of 'national emergency' and I served for 31/a years, until I was 'demobbed'. I then trained as a Surveyor for British Railways, whilst concurrently training at the Speech & Drama Department of Goldsmiths' College, New Cross - with a view to taking up a theatrical career. This did not happen so I spent the next 50 years as an amateur performer and have appeared with numerous drama and musical groups, in a variety of roles, in most of the local theatres; I have also appeared on TV and been in films as an 'extra' - and enjoyed every moment!

Due to my mother's declining health (though she lived to be 98) I then took early retirement from B.R. Eventually, due to my knowledge of travel, I joined a small private tour operator (now much larger and very successful) as a courier, leading parties all over the world. In more recent years, due to my experience in both drama and travel, I joined the 'Talks Circuit' and currently speak to many groups and associations on both subjects. This resulted in my being invited by the Wadhurst branch of Probus to speak to them. The visit recalled many happy and lasting memories and, in turn, alerted me to this website.

Finally, I must acquaint my readers with the fate of the Brockley School building. It still stands, at the top of Hilly Fields, but is home to Lewisham Prendergast Girls' School (whose old building in Rushey Green was demolished). I was present at the time of the transfer, a few years ago, and was delighted to see that the Governors had graciously allowed the fine mural in the main hall to remain in situ. Ex-scholars will remember that it depicted the boys in rugby gear.

Now I am fully retired, living in a prestigious retirement home - Morden College in Blackheath, S.E.3. I would welcome visitors.

Bill was also respnsible for this poem, which appeared in The Raven!

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