Britain and France declared war against Nazi Germany on Sunday, 3rd September, 1939, the day before the start of the school year. During the war many changes would take place at the school due to wartime regulations and the necessity to take part in the war effort.

On the morning of Monday, 4th September about 100 children and the school staff assembled in the hall. The children were told that for one week, or until further notice, the school would be closed, and they were sent home. A rota of staff was duly organised and during the next few weeks two members of staff attended the school daily. On Saturday, 29th September a meeting of head teachers was held in Wolverhampton and they were instructed to open their schools as usual as from the following Monday.

During September the staff undertook A.R.P. (air raid precautions) duties, attended a course on dealing with incendiary bombs, and carried out clerical work in connection with the National Register (identity cards were issued to all civilians recorded on the National Register, from 1939 to 1952), and National Food Control (food rationing books were introduced in October to ensure the fair distribution of food, due to shortages). Mr. Thacker also had to attend meetings about fire prevention, and blackout curtains would have been fitted to comply with the blackout regulations.

Ration coupons from a ration book.

On the first morning back about 80 juniors attended morning assembly. They were instructed to go home and inform absentees that school would re-open for juniors only, the next day. On Tuesday 162 children out of 225 were present. The infants returned on October 16th, bringing the total number of children attending the school to 360.

In 1939 British health departments were giving mothers and infants free milk, cod liver oil and vitamins. Many children at the time were undernourished and it was felt that free milk would improve general health and increase weight. Each infant would receive a free ⅓ of a pint bottle of milk at school every morning. This was taken very seriously and the infants were periodically required to attend a clinic to be weighed.

In November a jumble sale was held to raise funds for a Christmas party. The party took place in the school hall on 22nd December, the last day of term. Each child received a parcel containing biscuits, chocolate, toffee, an orange, apples, and novelties. The apples were kindly provided by Councillor F.C. Wesson.
In January 1940 attendance figures fell to 287 due to illness and the extremely cold and severe weather. During the last week of the month heavy snowfalls and a lack of heating fuel led to the children being sent home early on several occasions. On Monday the 29th only 39 children were present. The situation continued to deteriorate and by the 5th February it became almost impossible to remain at school. As a result the school closed for the remainder of the week.

School attendances would often fall because of bad weather. Winters at the time were more severe than today. On the 20th and 21st January, 1941 a heavy snowfall resulted in a total attendance of only 77 children. Exactly one year to the day later another severe snowstorm resulted in only 74 children attending, which was repeated three days later on the 23rd. Other poor attendances were caused by heavy rain, thick fog, and colds.

A clothing ration book.

School attendances during the war years.

Clothing coupons from a clothing ration book.

Throughout the war the school nurse continued her visits to inspect the children. Her visit in September 1940 resulted in 43 children being listed as having problems with their cleanliness. From then on they were monitored and the situation soon improved. Also during the year two members of staff, Mr. Frederick Hudson, and Mr. Leslie Dunn left to do military service.

A once familiar sight along the southern boundary of the “Wake Field” (now the school playing fields) were the school’s air raid shelters. They were built of brick and concrete with a covering of earth, as part of a national government scheme. The school received the keys to the shelters on 12th April.

When air raid sirens sounded the children would march into the shelters in orderly fashion and sit on the long wooden benches along the sides. The shelters were dark, damp places and so could be very unpleasant.

The only form of lighting came from torches carried by the staff. On at least one occasion the batteries were flat and so little light was available. The children would often have a sing song with ears carefully listening for the all clear.

A child's identity card.

An impression of how the school air raid shelters looked without the perimeter fence.

Head teacher, Mr. Thacker organised air raid drills in which he blew three short blasts on his whistle as a signal for the school to empty. Each class would then march into the shelters and stay there until he blew an “all clear” signal.

Luckily for such a large industrial area, and obvious target, Darlaston and the surrounding areas suffered comparatively little damage from the many German bombers that came across the channel. At the time, the Government passed legislation to control people’s behaviour when using shelters. If anyone was found guilty of wilfully disturbing other persons in the proper use of an air raid shelter, he or she could be sent to prison.

A child's gas mask.

The Government believed that some form of poison gas attack would be inevitable and so gas masks were issued to everyone living in Britain. By 1940 about 38 million had been issued.

Adults’ masks were black, and children’s masks were in bright colours of red, blue, or green, with bright eye-rims. They became known as “Mickey Mouse” masks, to make them less frightening and more appealing.

Each mask came in a strong cardboard box with a long string handle, which children would use, to carry them over their shoulder. People were expected to carry them everywhere, but in practice few did. Air raid wardens would carry out monthly inspections and anyone who lost their mask would be required to pay for a replacement.

The school hall was used for the purpose of distributing gas masks to the local population. They were also available for young babies in the form of a respirator, which totally enclosed the child. They came complete with an air filter and hand-operated air pump.

When the school children had been issued with gas masks, gas mask drills were carried out by Mr. Thacker and they were expected to carry their masks during air raid warnings. The first air raid occurred during the night of the 19th August and on the following day attendances at the school fell to 232. There were several long air raids during the following weekend with children spending around 7 hours each night in their families’ shelter.

The school’s shelters were used in anger for the first time on 27th August when an air raid warning sounded at 1-45p.m. with the all clear at 2.05p.m. Over the next few months this would become a regular event. Air raid warnings occurred on the 5th and 11th of September, the 15th, 17th, 28th, and 30th of October. On the 31st October the children were in the shelters for the whole of the afternoon. Further warnings occurred on the 15th, 26th, and 28th of November. The school suffered some slight damage on the night of the 28th when the roof and several windows were damaged by anti aircraft shells.

The air raid warnings continued in December with one during the afternoon of the 3rd, four during the 4th, and two during the 12th. 1940 was the worst year for such events, but more were to follow. There were two warnings in January 1941, and another at the end of April. There were none in 1942 and one last warning on 4th March, 1943. At this time occasional air raid drills continued, but luckily the shelters saw no further use. Originally they were surrounded by a wooden fence, but on 7th April, 1943 a fierce gale blew much of the fence down, and injured one of the children, who suffered a broken leg when part of the fence fell onto him. The fence was duly repaired, but in May 1944 it fell victim to one of the pupils. He lived in nearby Foundry Street and on a single day he demolished much of it with an axe. After the war the air raid shelters remained derelict for many years, finally being demolished at the end of December 1964 and in early January 1965.

There were several other air raids at night and on each occasion school attendances would fall the next day. The worst local air raid occurred on Thursday, 5th June, 1941 when a bomb, aimed at Rubery Owen’s works, fell short of its target and badly damaged several houses in Rough Hay, killing 11 people. As a result two children from Rough Hay were admitted to the school on 20th June.

The school continued to actively encourage saving as part of the National Savings scheme, and the school’s log book records the sums collected. On 1st September, 1941, the first day of the autumn term, a total of £31.16s.0d was paid in, which was quite a lot of money at the time. The savings scheme was clearly a success, as can be seen in June 1943 when the school savings totalled £1,628.12s.10d. (well over the £1,000 target). In June 1944 the savings totalled £1,590 and in October 1945 the savings reached £951.14s.6d.

During the war years the saving schemes were extended to support the war effort. The War Savings campaign was initiated by the War Office in 1939 and Regional Savings Schemes began. Savers could purchase certificates and bonds, and local collections were organised to raise money for aeroplanes, tanks, and other much needed items for the war. Events such as “Spitfire Week” were organised to raise the much needed cash, and schools savings groups were set up. Rewards were given to the best fund raisers, as an incentive. In July 1943 half a day’s extra holiday was granted by the school managers in recognition of the school’s effort in “Wings for Victory Week”. Collections were also made for “Warship Week”, the Red Cross, the Staffordshire blind, and the Local Comfort Fund. In April 1945 £10 worth of comforts and delicacies were given by the school to wounded and sick prisoners of war, who had recently returned to England. “Salute the Soldiers Week” took place in June 1944. During the week, wounded soldiers came to the school and talked to the juniors about their experiences.

Other wartime activities took place during the long summer holiday. There were fire watching arrangements to be made, and in 1942 the children had the opportunity to attend voluntary and varied daily activities, supervised by 3 or 4 members of staff. The average attendance was about 40.

Even though things were in short supply, the annual Christmas party took place, and was usually funded by money raised at the Harvest Festival, often from a jumble sale, or sale of fruit and vegetables. In December 1940 each child received a present consisting of a biscuit, and a book or jigsaw puzzle. In 1943 the children were given tea, provided by the parents, and proceeds from the sale of fruit and vegetables. There were jam sandwiches, cakes, buns, and jam tarts. The following day each child was given a threepenny bit (a three pence coin). In the following January the parents were invited to a school concert given in recognition of their help with the Christmas catering. The proceeds from another sale of fruit and vegetables in 1943 amounted to £13.8s.0d. which went to the Merchant Navy’s Comfort Fund and Birmingham Children’s Hospital. A similar sale in 1944 raised £13.11s.8d. for the Waifs and Strays Appeal and the children’s Christmas tea. The Harvest Festival on 29th September, 1944 raised £12 for the Darlaston Comfort Fund.

One of the many "Dig for Victory" posters.

The early years of the war are often remembered for the “Dig for Victory” campaign in which people were encouraged to grow their own fruit and vegetables to offset the shortages in the shops. The school played its own part in the scheme by encouraging the children to take part in cultivating the strip of land that lies along the front of the building.

One wartime event which most participants may remember, took place on 26th February, 1941 when the whole school went to Station Street to greet the King and Queen on their visit to the town.

One important change at the school during 1943 was the introduction of school dinners. This took place a whole year before the Government made it a Statutory requirement to provide school meals, in the 1944 Education Act. On 29th June crockery and cutlery for the meals arrived at the school and the first school meals staff commenced duty on 1st July. They were Mrs. M. Bartram, Mrs. E. Burgess, and Mrs. K. Turner. The first school dinners were served in the hall on 5th July to 97 children and 4 teachers. The school meals staff were ably assisted by school caretaker, Mr. A. Bartram, who arranged the tables and chairs, and helped with the fetching and carrying.

Another important event took place as part of the 1944 Education Act; the introduction of the Eleven Plus examination. This allocated pupils to a suitable secondary school which was best suited for their abilities and aptitudes. Three types of secondary schools were available. They were grammar schools, secondary technical schools, and secondary modern schools. The Act also allowed for the creation of comprehensive schools, and created a system of direct grant schools, under which a number of independent schools received a grant from the Ministry of Education for accepting a number of none fee paying pupils.

Towards the end of the war, on 12th December, 1944 a police officer gave a talk to all of the children about “booby traps” and grenades, and in December all juniors sat an examination, but severe paper shortages meant that examination reports could not be sent to their parents. It was all over in 1945. VE Day (Victory in Europe) was held on 8th May, and VJ Day (Victory in Japan) took place on 15th August. The school celebrated the end of the war with a fancy dress party and a victory tea on the 26th October, and on 9th November a special remembrance service for Armistice Day was held in the hall.

During the war there had been a shortage of teachers and as a result the school acquired two well liked and respected members of staff. Mr. William Martin Scarth was transferred from Rugeley C. of E. Junior Boys School, and started at Pinfold Street on 8th January, 1945. Mrs. Gwendolen Hill was transferred from Addenbrooke Street School and started at Pinfold Street on 14th February, 1944.

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