A Sentimental History of Rooks Heath during the War
As the R.A.F centenary celebrations are underway, we look back on life at Rooks Heath during the war years. Recently there has been an opportunity to explore the history of the school which was previously called Roxeth Manor School and during the war was known as Eastcote Lane Senior Boys. Between 1929 and 1943, the daily diary of the school was written by the Headmaster Mr Harrison passing on to Mr Watkin in later years. The log book dating from 8th April 1929 until 29th April 1943 was recently discovered in school archives and gives a brief and unique account of accomplishments at the school as well as highlighting the difficulties faced by the school and the local community during the Second World War.
The school worked tirelessly to ensure that the students continued to receive a valuable education during the difficult times of the war. Over the course of the Headmaster’s log book, more than ten teachers are noted to be absent due to attending medical examinations to join the forces. Although some waited for a few weeks or months for a call to join the military, some were called in a matter of days, such as Mr Heaton who had his medical examination of the 9th September 1940 and was called to duty at some time on the 17th and 18th September 1940. Mr Simpson who transferred from another school, which had been closed for the war, on the 14th May 1940, left his duties at the school the following day on the 15th May 1940 to join the forces.
Many supply teachers have been recorded in the log book and many have been noted to be staying permanently. Although unsure why, the difficulties of the war in the country would have had an input as well as the education of the boys in the school. However, there is also the realisation that some of the teachers that had joined the forces would not be returning from the war.
Mr D. R. Fair had a medical examination on the 15th May 1940. After a couple of months, news from Mr Fair stated that he would be joining the forces in the war on the 12th August 1940. Mr Fair joined the R.A.F. as a Pilot Officer but unfortunately on the 20th April 1942, almost two years after he had left the school, the Headmaster wrote that he had received news. Pilot Officer Fair had been killed in action.
Although this is the only noted news of a former employee of the school being killed in the war, it could be assumed that a few others would have been injured or potentially have met the same unfortunate but heroic end as Pilot Officer Fair; defending our country. In memory of this, a plaque was created and is currently displayed near reception outside the BG2 office. It reads: “To the memory of staff and former boys who fell in The Great War 1939-45; ‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them’”
The school not only kept teaching the students through the wartime but they were also used during the night by various people including the Air Training Corps as an entry from 15th May 1941 states: “An A.T.C. (Air Training Corps) has been started in the neighbourhood and has its headquarters at the school.” The Headmaster at the time was able to become part of the foundation committee and some of the school took part as a school squadron with teachers as instructors. As well as this, a Mobile Emergency Feeding Centre (M.E.F) was installed at the school meaning that the school was the centre point for the community for both those involved in the war and those who were living with the effects of the war. Due to all of this, the following entry reveals that builders came into the school to adapt it for use as a shelter. They constructed black walls as well as placing trap doors in ceilings.
At the beginning of the war on the 18th October 1939, the school made temporary registers and took the boys to the trench shelters to show them their positions. They also checked gas masks for condition and fitting and later practised, as a whole school, going to the trenches. Since this was the first day after the announcement that the country was at war, there were only 382 boys that arrived at the school which included some newcomers from other schools that had closed due to the war. The school itself also had some air raid shelters that were built for the staff and students of the school in 1940. An entry from 14th May of that year reads “The new air shelters are nearly complete, and owing to the urgency of the matter, we had preliminary shelter drill in the new shelters today.”
This preparation was incredibly important at the time due to the fact that there were bombs being dropped before air raid sirens were being sounded. This meant that the boys had to get to the shelters almost instantly once it was heard. The entry from the 26th August 1940 also says that the boys had their respirators with them at play time and having it in a numbered position during class time. They also had to practice going to the shelters from the playground. This worked well as later the same day an entry reads “an air raid warning was given at 3.30pm and lasted till 4.10 approx. No Hostile aircraft appeared, but the arrangement (this was really our first public performance) worked smoothly and well.” This suggests that the school worked well as a team even during the war including their Cricket team (seen in the image to the right) which supports the earlier entry that the school won at the Harrow Divisional Championship in 1929 which they had one for 5 years previously. There are even two records of Mr Fair being absent because he was playing hockey.
The successful events on the 26th August 1940 led into the 27th August 1940 with another air raid warning which was sounding from 9.30pm to 4am. The headmaster noted that they could hear the hostile aircrafts overhead for the whole time and could hear bombing in the nearby neighbourhood. In spite of all this the school continued as normal the next day, with only half the school in attendance. There is a specific note about the boys watching a geography film and the other half of the boys taking a singing lesson. This entry shows a great dedication to education and displays briefly what school life was like during the war. The Headmaster even took the time to complete the daily log whilst an air raid was going on during the morning of 8th October 1940.
Although their country and the world in which it stands were under a huge layer of air raids and the forces were fighting hard and placing their lives on the line just across the channel, the school still took the time to acknowledge the huge sacrifices that were made during the First World War on the 11th November 1941. This was a unique moment in the history of the school and one that we hope will not happen again; those who were living in a disastrous war still felt a great need to give an honourable moment of remembrance for those who had fallen in the previous war.
Though the log book doesn’t reach the end of the Second World War and ends abruptly on the 29th April 1943, there is a sense of the continued hard work of the headmaster and those employed by the school. Some of the final entries mention the school being kept open during holiday for student dinners and school milk for children under the government scheme. During this time there is also some mentions of some school property being damaged such as registers, chairs cabinets as well as some private property books going missing. This was due to the school being used by various other people during the night. Many schools during the time had closed and were being used day and night by various people however Eastcote Lane Senior Boys (Roxeth Manor School) remained open. They showed a dedication to education for almost four years of the war and thanks to the headmasters Mr Harrison and Mr Watkin, we can now look back and experience a small sense of what our school was like during those times.