Friday 8th May 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day. We reflect on this important occasion and the activities of the school, which had been exiled to Petersfield for almost six years during the Second World War.

The photo, pictured above, is the most famous of our VE Day photographs and was taken in Petersfield Square, featuring legendary Headmaster Mr Cyril Broom and many pupils.

When VE Day eventually arrived on 8th May 1945, the hundreds of evacuated Emanuel pupils released a collective sigh of relief. After six long years in Petersfield they were finally going home. Although pupils had started to drift back to London as early as 1943 the majority remained in the little Hampshire market town until 1945. Some of the younger pupils had never walked down the long Emanuel School drive and returning ‘home’ was a trip into the unknown smog of a London many had almost forgotten. They had become familiar with sharing the teaching facilities of Churcher’s College or being taught in the back of pubs, youth clubs and churches.

Many of the older boys who were evacuated in 1939 soon joined the war effort, but some were never to return to Emanuel as they were killed on the battlefield. Others remained in Petersfield, married their sweethearts, or periodically returned for reunions which continued until the last official reunion on 23rd September 2009. Many Old Emanuels recall the Petersfield years as among the happiest times of their lives and their vivid memories have been recorded in the Emanuel School Archive. The boys celebrated VE Day in Petersfield with the school band ‘The Windsor Rhythm Kings’ playing late into the evening. In a few short days Headmaster Cyril Broom led Emanuel School back to its Battersea home.

An assembly was held at 9.30am outside the pavilion and everyone was dismissed for the next two days. The crowd surged out of the gates of Churcher’s and down Ramshill. By the time they had reached the bottom of the High Street they were strung out across the road, arm-in-arm as they marched up a flag-bedecked High Street, followed by marching along most of the streets and eventually finishing back in the Square. Everyone then dispersed to celebrate in their own way.

In the afternoon, many pupils arrived back in the Square dressed in original (if somewhat loud) costumes which at times verged on fancy dress. In the meantime, during mass celebrations, the statue of William of Orange had been variously decorated with ties, scarves and caps. Sixth former David Palmer, dressed as a French gypsy girl, was borne up the High Street on a stretcher!

The school’s greatest service to Petersfield that day was the appearance of the ‘Windsor Rhythm Kings’, this time on top of the shelter in the Square. Lights had been fitted up during the day and the band were able to play until midnight. As Petersfield’s own official celebrations were not until the following evening, the band proved a great attraction. A large crowd of people were obviously extremely grateful for its efforts and £15 was collected for the local hospital. The crowd danced to its music for over four hours.

Mr Jones (Senior Librarian and Archivist)