Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Press Cuttings from the War Years

The following press cuttings were kindly photocopied for us by the Pioneer Centre during the reunion. The first is from The Midland Daily Telegraph Wednesday August 21st 1940.

In these cuttings we gain a portrait of Wyre farm first headmaster and his wife - Mr Donaldson -

Wyre Farm Camp school had been in existence less that a year and Mr Donaldson (pictured) was the first headmaster. We learn from the third cutting "Invaded" that Mr Donaldson was from Broadway school in Earlsdon. The first masters included Mr Morris (later on in the 1950's he became headmaster), Mr Windridge, Mr Breeze, Mr Carr, Mr Dey, Mr Parkes and Mr Griffiths.

Mr Donaldson was "typical of the school masters of the period - strict but fair. On one occasion, after a pitched battle between the dormitories  he dispensed summary justice by lining the school up, and canning every tenth boy. No one complained, except perhaps the unfortunate tenth boys!"

After the November blitz on Coventry (during which the boys witnessed from a distance of 50 miles, the bombing in the night sky of their home city and wondered if their parents, friends and relations had survived) Mr Donaldson "returned to Coventry to gather what news he could and this he passed on to the assembled school"

And from the 1st cutting in the Midland Daily Telegraph August 1940 we get a portrait of Mrs Donaldson - the headmaster's wife -

" A word about the one person who has done more than any other for the joy and comfort of the boys - Mrs Donaldson, "Mother" to every one of the boys 160 boys and wife of the Headmaster. For 16 hours a day, when the camp began and now for a full 12 hours a day, Mrs Donaldson is looking after the welfare of the lads. Youngest to oldest, if they have any troubles at all, the boys fly to her, and, in spite of the fact that she does it all without salary, she loves her job.

Mrs Donaldson waved a hand at 50 or more boys playing a variety of games. Most of them wearing nothing more than shorts and shoes, yet their sun burned bodies did not feel the coolness of the hillside wind so apparent to we city folk.

"Fresh air, good food and regular sleep did that" she said firmly "Life at the camp is equivalent to a good boarding school - and there are 40 vacancies."

From the press cuttings on 1940 and 1942, we learn that there are still considerable vacancies at the camp.

The first cutting (from 1940) begins with a Pathe News style reportage -
"Mrs Richardson; of 662, Sewall Highway, this is to tell you that your son John is fit, brown as a berry, and as cheerful as any schoolboy in perfect surroundings can be expected to be"

Of course they are requesting more pocket money - what else!

In the war years the lads were there 24 - 7 owing to the bombing and unlike us later attendees, didn't have school holidays to look forward to. The 1942 article is an attempt to 'sell' the camp to parents as a "Children's Paradise" The first article appeared about 3 months before the Coventry blitz November 15th 1940.

The camp was still operating along the lines of a holiday camp and evacuation camp and the future of the camp was at that stage undecided. Many of the camps didn't follow the path of Wyre farm camp school to become a secondary modern boarding school and later activity centre. Some fell into disintegration but in the 1940 article they say "Peacetime future of the camp has yet to be decided but there is little doubt but that the Education Committee will favour its retention as a holiday school camp."

Children's Paradise
In the articles we find descriptions of both the settings and the school itself -

In the 1940 article we read that the school is -

" Set on a hillside, from which the land falls away on all sides, to rise again into the hills, which frame it in a setting of what is best in the English countryside, the camp is completely self-contained."

"Built throughout in cedar-wood, the spacious huts which comprise classrooms, dining hall, assembly hall, wash houses and dormitories, are all centrally heated and have all services laid on.

The curriculum, at the moment, is school lessons in the mornings and as much fresh air as can be obtained before bedtime at 7.30pm. (Yes 7.30pm!!). Fishing, swimming, rambles, gardening, sports and games come in the latter category.

Proudly the youngsters showed us the vegetable plot, and with still greater pride, the flock of geese, which exists mainly on their food scraps. They pointed out with delight the six young pigs fattening in the sty, but the lamb 'Lilly' strayed from a farm and found a diet of toffee, cake and chocolate provided surreptitiously by the boys, better than grazing.

When she would persist in following the boys to their lessons and even went to sleep in the dormitory, she had to depart!

In the 1942 article entitled "Coventry Boys Are Learning in A Children's Paradise - School on the Borders of Unspoiled Forest" we learn -

"The school is is situated on high ground over looking the peaceful village of Cleobury Mortimer and in the near distance are the verdant Clee Hills and the unspoiled Wyre Forest.

Decorated in bright colours in keeping with the surrounding countryside, the school buildings overlook spacious playing fields that roll down to a beautiful valley, bounded on all sides by pleasant woodland. Classrooms and dormitories are bright and clean, well ventilated and much much more comfortable for work and rest than those of the average city school.

There are five dormitories accommodating about 170 lads, and each one is in the care of the masters whose rooms are at either end. They are equipped with two-tier beds and every boy is provided with a separate locker for his personal belongings. A link with the home town has been retained by naming the dormitories after Coventry districts and such familiar names as Stoke, Earlsdon and Bablake adorn the entrance to each one.

A large dining room, complete with modern kitchens and a spacious assembly hall form the focal
2nd Headmaster Mr B. Martin
point of the school, while adjacent to these is the chalet like home of the Headmaster Mr B. Martin.

(presumably the headmaster's cottage hadn't been procured at that stage).

Apart from the classrooms, the school contains a gymnasium, library and woodwork and art room, while isolated from the rest of the buildings is the school hospital. A resident state-qualified nurse and an assistant are in attendance at the latter, and the school is visited regularly by a doctor.

Added to the usual school curriculum are classes in practical nature study, gardening, biology and practical geography, the surrounding area being ideal for studying the last mentioned subject.

fresh air, unrestricted quantities of the best food, nightly shower baths are but a few of the many advantages that these boys hold over those still in war-time Coventry.


A third article from the Coventry Evening Telegraph in 1983, after the school had closed and entitled "Invaded - by the Kids from Coventry", describes the opening of the school -

"The summer of 1940 was rife with rumours of invasion. There was, however, one which was peaceful and unopposed. This was when about 200 12 year Coventry boys (actually it was less than 200 - about 160 and I think they would be between 12 and 15) descended on Shropshire. Their destination was Wyre Farm Camp school on the outskirts of the sleepy town of Cleobury Mortimer. They had been evacuated because of the worsening situation in France.

On arrival at the camp on Monday June 17, there was a brief ceremony led by the Rev Richard Lee and the Union Jack was raised. After dinner the lads were distributed to the four dormitory huts according to the district of Coventry from which they came. The four huts were Gosford, Radford, Earlsdon and Stoke.

At first the lads were viewed with suspicion by the locals, but they soon got used to the invaders. In an area with many apple orchards, there was scrumping. the farmers, like Mr Donaldson  dispensed their own justice. A clip round the ear was usually sufficient. The odd serious misbehaviour was dealt with very severely by Mr Donaldson.

They were allowed to make a foray into the Wyre Forest to collect wood from which goalposts were fashioned under the supervision of Mr Griffiths.  One Sunday, every month, was visiting day (in the war years they weren't allowed home during the holidays so visiting day was more often than later on). Parents and relatives came in a fleet of coaches. Although the lads were pleased to see their parents they were really more interested in the contents of the bulging shopping bags carried by mum. Only too soon the coaches departed and although the lads would be the last to admit it, there were many a damp eye.

Entertainment was provided by the boys themselves in the form of Saturday concerts. One of the lads who took part in those concerts is today a professional actor who has appeared in Crossroads.

At first there were trips to the cinema in nearby Bewdley. Eventually they acquired their own sound projector operated by Mr Windridge. They even had a cine-camera and films were taken of their activities and shown on their projector.

One film was of the "Wood-hunting expedition" in Wyre Forest. As this was silent, there is no record of what the Master said to the boy who dropped a log on his foot!

During the blitz time, the lads wer often roused from their beds and directed to the trench shelters. Many will remember these nights when the sky in the direction of Birmingham was aflame.

After the blitz, one enterprising dad cycled all the way to the school from Coventry to tell his son that the family was safe.

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