The 1930s and 1940s were fascinating periods in Emanuel School history and in his revealing memoir, first published in 1998, the late Professor David Stockton (OE1937-44) recalls his time at the school and the excitement of the evacuation to the Hampshire town of Petersfield.

After leaving school David joined the Navy and eventually served at Bletchley Park as a code breaker. In his last year he was School Captain and won an open scholarship to read Classics at Magdalen College Oxford; he later become a professor at Brasenose College where he taught for the remainder of his career. In 1998, when the memoir was written, he was an Emanuel School Governor and was best known for his book Cicero: A Political Biography which is widely recognised as one of the very best works about the famous Roman statesman.

“I joined Emanuel School at the start of autumn term 1937. For us boys in the first and second years, aged from eleven to thirteen, the outfit for the autumn and spring terms was a suit of jacket, waistcoat, and short trousers in a dark grey wool (boys everywhere regularly wore short trousers until they were thirteen or fourteen, when by an eagerly awaited rite of passage they started to wear long trousers). On top, we wore a navy-blue raincoat or overcoat. Our shirts were grey, our school ties black with a thin double stripe in gold, and we wore grey woollen knee-length stockings, all crowned with a school cap in black, with a gold portcullis badge. In summer we wore grey flannel shorts and a black blazer, again with a gold portcullis badge on the breast pocket, and a straw hat (boater). On reaching the third form we shifted to long grey flannel trousers and black jacket and waistcoat in winter, and a double-breasted grey flannel suit in summer. Prefects wore the same, except that they donned black pinstriped trousers with their black jacket and waistcoat, and wore a grey trilby hat instead of a school cap – the School Captain carried a malacca walking-stick with a silver top bearing the school arms.

As boys went up the school, they aspired to house or school colours for various sports, with appropriately coloured ties and boater bands. We were all very conscious of these and other such marks of hierarchy, and impatient for the day when we could lay claim to them ourselves. Our behaviour was expected to match our outfits, but boys being boys it sometimes failed to. I remember that three or four of us eleven or twelve year-olds were once larking about on the top of a bus on the way home from school, throwing our caps at each other, when my House Captain appeared at the top of the stairs (we were on the upper deck, of course) and furiously admonished us for ‘letting the school down’. We were duly contrite (and sentenced to detention after school the next day).

I still have a number of my old school reports, and they help prompt my memory. There were just over thirty boys in 1B, and I should guess that 1A and 1C were the same size. One very big difference from similar schools nowadays was that sixth forms were much smaller. Not just at ‘grammar schools’ like Emanuel but also at the top-ranking public schools, most of the pupils left at sixteen after taking their School Certificate, the rough equivalent of later O levels. Comparatively few entered the sixth, to sit the Higher School Certificate two years later, and only a handful of those went on to university. Before the war, there were immeasurably fewer universities and university places than there are now; and until after the Butler Act of 1944 few could afford the expense.

The subjects we studied in IB were: English, History, Geography, Latin, French, Maths, General Science, Art and Woodwork & Metalwork; there was also one period a week of ‘Religious Instruction’ and one for a singing lesson, as well as periods of ‘Gym’. The lessons I remember best were those in French. We were taught by the senior French master himself, Oswald Owen Ginn (known to all of us as ‘Boozey’ Ginn). He was a gifted teacher, a pioneer of what was called the ‘direct method’, which meant that from the first moment we started the subject we were allowed to speak only French in class, and that went on right up the school. Year after year, under his guidance, Emanuel remorselessly carried off the Vase de Sevres, a prize awarded by the French government for competition amongst English schools.

The recollection of those first two years at Emanuel, the last two years of peace, is confused. In the second year, with my new Norman bicycle, I ranged further with my friends during the holidays, exploring places like Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common. In term time there was rugby and cricket, apart from our lessons, and swimming in the (always ice cold) school swimming-pool. Every day started with a short service in the school chapel, and at break-time we played the usual range of boys’ games. And there were also the interruptions to normal life: the aborted preparations for evacuation in autumn 1938 and spring 1939. From the latter date onwards even young boys were aware that war was sure to come, and come soon. Nevertheless, that summer of 1939 was a golden summer for me. I had settled down well at school, and made my share of good friends. I had come top of 2A, and it had been decided that I should move up to 3 Classical next year, and add Greek to Latin (rather than German to French, as in 3 Modern). I don’t remember that anyone ever consulted me on the matter, but we took that sort of thing in our stride. We never expected to be asked about such things, only told.

The autumn term of 1939 was due to begin about 8 September. But on 1 September the Germans invaded Poland, and two days later Britain was at war with Germany. This time it was no false alarm. For a few days, although it was still holiday time, we had been coming to school every day with our suitcases ready packed; and on 1 September we were marched off in column to Clapham Junction station to board one of the many special trains which had been splendidly marshalled to carry away schoolchildren from all over London to the safety of the countryside. We hadn’t the faintest idea where we were going. It was all very exciting.

Certain happenings in life are frozen in a moment of time, like snapshots in a photograph album. From that one day, 1 September 1939, there are four. In the first, I am seated in a railway carriage at Clapham Junction station, with half a dozen friends, all of us excited but very quiet. Next comes the picture of a much smaller railway station, a bridge over the track, and a sign reading PETERSFIELD. Then I am one of a group of children milling about aimlessly outside what I soon learned was the parish hall of St Peter’s Church in the market square at Petersfield; nearby a couple of girls of twelve or thirteen (Battersea Central Girls School was also evacuated to Petersfield) are looking rather pale and apprehensive, holding each others’ hand very tightly. In the final picture some half a dozen of us, suitcases in hand, are standing in a street as one of our masters and a lady from the local WVS knock on doors to ask the occupiers if they can take any of us in; it has begun to rain, and the evening is growing dark.

Later on it turned out that something had gone wrong with the well-planned evacuation scheme. It seems that Emanuel should have gone to Winchester, not Petersfield, and in consequence the arrangements for our reception had to be hastily improvised. It must have been a nightmare for the Headmaster and his staff, but it was all above the heads of us thirteen and fourteen year olds that the unexpected arrival of some three hundred or so schoolboys in a country town with a total population of about ten thousand had created a major muddle. But somehow it was coped with; and once the mistake had been made it was accepted: Petersfield we had fetched up at, and at Petersfield the school was destined to stay until the war ended.”

Professor David Stockton passed away in 2012, aged 86.

Tony Jones (Senior Librarian & Archivist)