VE Day, on 8th May 1945, came after nearly six long years of Emanuel School’s relocation to the Hampshire town of Petersfield. Below, Mr Jones records the events leading up to, and after, VE Day in Emanuel School’s history.
Farewell to Petersfield: The Portcullis records what happened next
It was known when the summer term opened in 1945 that it would be the last in exile and the closing days of the term were occupied in the considerable task of packing up. The pile of items gradually diminished as lorry after lorry left Petersfield on the way back to London. Then, suddenly for those remaining, the farewell gathering was upon them, their last night in Petersfield.
This gathering of hostesses and friends took place at the town hall on Wednesday 18th July. After the reception the Headmaster Mr Broom and his wife met with hosts and numerous friends of the school for a light-hearted concert.
Speeches followed from the Headmaster, Governors, the Headmaster of Churcher’s and Mr Gammon, who spoke for the residents of Petersfield. This in turn was followed by refreshments and a dance until midnight, with the school band once again providing the music.
As a recognition of local debt to the town and in expression of its gratitude the school raised a fund of £500 as a gift to the hospital. This sum was subscribed to by members of the school, alumni and parents of pupils who were in Petersfield. It is commemorated by a plaque in the hospital. A sum of money was also given to Churcher’s College to endow an annual prize to commemorate Emanuel’s long stay and to express gratitude for the friendly hospitality the pupils and staff of Emanuel had enjoyed. Personal gifts were also made to others who assisted the school during the war years.
The gradual re-opening of Emanuel School
14th September 1943 was a key date in the school’s history. After the evacuation to Petersfield in September 1939, the school site was used as a temporary dump and storage facility by Wandsworth Council. Even the school gate was melted down for the war effort. But by mid-1943 the Allied Forces had Hitler on the back-foot and London schools slowly began to reopen. Most Emanuel pupils remained in Petersfield until 1945, but for the few who returned early and other pupils from a few other local schools, the 14th September was a new dawn. The school roll was a mere 140 and only the ground floor was used for teaching, with the bombed chapel a home to pigeons and other birds. However, the legendary Geography teacher and OTC leader Colonel Charles Hill returned from Petersfield to lead the school and in a few short years Emanuel was once again thriving.
Tony Jones (Senior Librarian and Archivist)