As it became more and more likely that there would be a Second World War, the impact on the school was significant and evacuation plans were discussed and developed. Rehearsals took place (rather like fire drills!) and parents were asked if they would require their child to be evacuated. The County School at Brockenhurst was selected (a new building was almost complete) and provisional arrangements agreed with the Headmaster, Mr May.
Friday 1 st September 1939 (coincidentally the same date that the school leaving age was raised to 15) saw the evacuation put into effect (via Salisbury by train and then coach). Upon arrival in Salisbury a policeman informed staff that "Germany’s started" – perfect timing!! Arriving in Brockenhurst the boys were taken to the Primary School building in Sway Road where billeting officers were present; by nightfall all had been housed.
Fortunately, the weather was fine for two weeks whilst everyone became acclimatised to their new surroundings. School meals were organised with the help of the WVS. There were daily inspections of the turn-out of the boys [don’t we wish there were nowadays?!] and even shoe repairs were taken in hand by staff!!
When it became clear that the evacuation would be lengthy, books and equipment were brought from Portsmouth. Initially the school shared the County School building - Brockenhurst had use in the mornings and Portsmouth in the afternoons; in the mornings periods of private study were held for the Portsmouth boys in the old buildings of the County School. But complaints from Brockenhurst parents about the impact on their children’s schooling led to the Portsmouth boys transferring to the old building in the spring term of 1940. By June 1940 numbers had dropped to 283 and the school was formed on a three-form basis.
Accommodation in the old building was very poor consisting of huts and semi permanent buildings which were too hot or too cold, dingy and dirty with a complete absence of storage space. However, the buildings were redecorated by the County Education Committtee and the school did have its own building and retained its own identity. The school had no workshops or laboratories and the 6 th form science boys therefore attended at the new building. Gardening was introduced there being insufficient accommodation for handicraft in the two schools.
There was a great deal of cooperation between the schools - for which Mr May deserved much credit. Some of the Portsmouth staff taught in the new building and there was also a great deal of cooperation in the music departments.
Billeting was a persistent problem – the area being not residential in the urban sense. There were theoretically 900 billets but these reduced to about 50 over the years. Nevertheless the small country cottages remained willing providers of billets despite the low remuneration of 6/- weekly at the beginning and gradually rising to 15/- for senior boys by the time evacuation finished (indeed one fortunate boy who stayed for 5 years was given £10 when he left with the promise that his room would always be available when he wanted it [he must have been a particularly good tenant!!]).
The answer was to widen the area and create hostels run by school staff. The first hostel to open was The Briars in Brockenhurst run by Mr & Mrs Stan Davies; Marlpool (also Brockenhurst) followed (Mr Steed, Dr & Mrs Machin and Mr & Mrs Winter); then Arnewood Towers at Sway run by Mr & Mrs R.R.Davies; followed by The Miramar – a large dwelling at Milford-on-Sea run by Mr & Mrs Hitchins; Gorse Meadow at Lymington (Mr & Mrs Thompson) and Marden House also at Lymington (Dr & Mrs Lobb) was the last. The later hostels were much more suitable and had the advantage of much better equipment. Over 200 boys were accommodated in hostels and another 50 in group billets – one of which was run by Mr Shackleton in his house at Lyndhurst.
This spread created problems for the school timetable; some boys were travelling more than 10 miles and were dependent upon train or coach times and the school day was sandwiched between 9.25 and 3.55 accordingly.
The provision of an adequate mid-day meal became essential. Mr Gardener took on the task of catering for some 300 each day – meals benefited considerably from cultivation of 6 acres of virgin soil at the County School by Messrs White & Trout. Mrs Goodgame (a name to be conjured with by the boys!!) was a redoubtable yet kind hearted cook.
Some 200 boys did not evacuate and all Portsmouth schools were closed. Some took jobs, others did nothing whilst others subsequently transferred to Brockenhurst. Eventually an emergency Secondary School was opened in 1940 in the Victoria Road building under Mr Baird (second master at the Northern Secondary School) with Messrs Trout, Waite and Steed returning from Brockenhurst to assist.
On Friday January 10 th 1941 Portsmouth experienced one of the most severe air-raids that it would have to suffer with some 25,000 incendiaries and a number of high explosive bombs being dropped; the Victoria Road building was set on fire and severely damaged. Mr Bishop, the caretaker, discovered the fire and together with his son, Mr Waite and Mr Hoskins attempted to quell it (the auxiliary fire service had too many calls to be able to attend) but the flames were too much for the basic equipment that they had available and the building was destroyed – albeit the First World War memorial stone survived. The Emergency School moved to Portsea Parish Institute until 1942 when it closed.
Meanwhile back at Brockenhurst, school activities blossomed – with boys having an abundance of time on their hands. The hostels organised their own activities – concerts, clubs, sports, gardening and Christmas parties (long remembered affairs).The Music Society kept its series of recitals going all through the war and the orchestra proved to be a real evacuation interest with three orchestral concerts being given in the County School hall. Annual entertainment continued, too, with a programme in 1939 for those caring for boys in their homes and a similar one, consisting of three one-act plays Shivering Shocks, A Test of Observation and the burlesque masque St George & the Dragon, in 1942. In 1941 an operatic performance, 1066 or The Invasion of England, written by Arthur Hitchins was performed which raised a substantial sum for the Russian Red Cross Fund.
Sports continued – the school being very fortunate to have exclusive use of a fine playing field (Tile Barn Field) within reasonable distance; it was situated past Marlpool up the hill towards Lymington with the field being on the left near the top of the hill. Cricket, football and athletics were predominant with all matches - as well as Sports Days - being played there. Cross country runs began and ended there with runners traversing the gorse on Setley Heath - a prickly experience!! The first cross country races had started outside the old wooden school ( previously occupied by Brockenhurst County High until their new school was finished in September 1939.) Competitors had to run down the stony road to the Sway Road at the bottom,turn right then left across Brockenhurst Common. The first year boys watched as the seniors went off, then the 3rd Years and then the 2nd Years. They noticed there seemed to be 2 different races - the official one and an unofficial one which was to see who could get down to the bottom of the road first. So, when their turn came they started off at a mad rush. Unfortunately two boys in the front row, Sully amd Cuffley, fell over. Stones flew everywhere and a big pile of bodies fell on top of them."Greasy" Cantle,the history master, who was the starter was incandescent with rage. His face went from red to purple to black with a tinge of green. Sully and Cuffley were cut and bleeding slightly but Mr Cantle was far from sympathetic.The race was re-started. All later cross country races started at Tile Barn Field.
Harvest camps (assisting local farmers) were held initially at East Chidden near Hambledon and from 1944 onwards at East Chinnock near Yeovil. And the Cadet Force, formed by the Headmaster in 1942, flourished and produced excellent results in exams.
Despite all of the difficulties, academic results continued at a very high level with, for example, 44 out of 46 boys attaining passes in the School Certificate and eleven with Higher School Certificates in 1942 and similar numbers the following year. Outstanding achievements were also attained by others who won State, Royal and Major Scholarships as well as Exhibitions to Oxbridge Colleges.
By 1944 the scale of war had receded on the south coast and the people of Portsmouth were anxious to return to a normal life; they began to demand the return of their children. By the autumn the demand became more insistent and two protest meetings were held at the Wesley Central Hall. On 28 th November it was announced that the schools would return at the end of term and in January 1945, after an extended break to allow time for the removal of books and equipment, the school returned to Portsmouth having maintained its identity but very different from the one that had left in 1939.
Only 4 of the boys and 14 out of 27 staff who returned had known the old Victoria Road School. The old school having been destroyed in 1941, return was to be to Highland Road which was to be its temporary home until its transfer to the Baffins site in 1956.
Every cloud has a silver lining and evacuation to Brockenhurst was no exception. There was greater unity, staff got to know boys far better and the attainment gap between forms in the same year was less marked; and the boys had a "boarding school" life which staff found not uncongenial. Boys were also encouraged to take part in the local community. One boy (Dickie Waite) even met his future wife (Gloria) there!
The close links between the two schools continued for many years after the war with sporting fixtures, in particular, continuing as a prominent feature. Much credit is deserved by the staff of the County School and also the local people for accepting and accommodating the evacuees so well for over 5 years; and, of course, none of the boys who were there will forget the staff who cared for the boys so well during the 5 years. The very fond memories and camaraderie which are so in evidence amongst those who were evacuated and who continue to attend the Old Secundrians dinners comes as no surprise at all. Indeed the theme of the 2007 dinner was "The Evacuation" and those who attended – many of whom had not been part of it - sat spellbound by Dickie Waite’s speech (transcript at Old Secundrians Dinner images 2007 ) recalling the 5 years when the school transferred some 50 miles to a beautiful part of the country by the name of Brockenhust.