School in war-time Britain

Mavis Arnold

Carrying our little brown card board boxes which held the awful rubber gas masks, our walk to school after an air raid was quite exciting. There was always a contest to see who could collect the most and the biggest pieces of shrapnel. Some of the pieces were still hot.

Every few weeks we had a gas, fire or air raid drill in school. There were air raid shelters built in the school grounds; half underground, they always smelt damp. The gas drills were the worst, because the masks were made of black rubber, with a face piece of clear plastic, and an enormous filter over your mouth. We all looked like horrible pigs! The smell of the rubber was over powering. I used to cheat, and put my finger in the side to let in some fresh air, I wondered later how long I would have survived a gas attack.

One day during the school assembly it was announced that the town had received a gift from Canada of chocolate flavoured powdered milk. Each child in the town was to receive a bag. Later that day around came the Monitors carrying boxes containing this strange offering … powdered milk with chocolate! That night we had a drink of this wonderful treat. The following day we each had to write a thank-you letter to Canada, I have a feeling they got no further than the teacher's case! Later in the war we were each to receive an orange in the same way, but I don't remember where they came from.

School dinners were another war-time innovation. The assembly hall was taken over and made into a canteen and dinners were served to the children each day. The dinners were made in a central kitchen and delivered by van and as there was a shortage of food, you can imagine how well received this service was. It also helped many mothers who were working in various war-related jobs.

Equipment in school was practically non existent; exercise books had to have every square inch written on. Margins were drawn, and when the page was filled, the margin had to be filled as well. Soon the old school slates were called back into use.

Given all the deprivations and limitations of the war years, our childhood years were as happy as a loving family and friends and caring and enthusiastic teachers could make them.