History – Chapter 5

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J WESTBURY 1939-1942

The burden of leadership came to rest on the shoulders of James Westbury, a man whose health was in a poor condition to bear such additional strain. In common with other Willesden schools, KGS was in September 1939 evacuated to the Midlands. Via Queen’s Park and Watford stations, 250 pupils set out for Northampton. Not all made the journey direct for one group was accidentally diverted to Market Harborough and did not rejoin the main body for several weeks. Travel, billeting and teaching accommodation arrangements had been made by higher authority, but this was a situation which on a national scale was being faced for the first time. Problems and mistakes inevitably abounded. From 1.45 to 5.45 p.m. each day the school used the buildings of the Town and County School on the eastern outskirts of Northampton. In the mornings games and other activities were organised. On 9 October the whole school at last assembled, 300 boys and 16 staff under Westbury as Acting Headmaster.

During the years which followed the pages of The Kilburnian marked a quiet determination, shared by staff and the original pupils, to keep KGS going as its recognisable self. It was a war effort as worthy as any, a struggle to preserve something worthwhile. But what was from the outset a herculean task was increased to difficulty almost beyond bearing by subsequent events. The regular production of the magazine throughout the war, fifteen numbers in all, was but one sign of this resolve. The summer 1940 issue claimed that not one of the traditional activities had ceased during three terms. This was not strictly correct, since hockey had gone, but in its place came Rugby football, of which more hereafter.

The situation of three hundred boys in a strange town called for special provision of facilities for work and recreation. This was clearly perceived by D W J Woodman. With the backing of authority he secured the use of a ten-roomed building and of a nearby hall, and “Youth House, Northampton” came into being. Woodman acted as warden and lived on the premises. It became the venue for all clubs and societies and other school activities which it could physically accommodate. Wherever there was a need, Woodman sought to meet it, even to the revival of a boxing club. There were dances and whist drives, a Scout troop, “Youth House Takes a Bow”, (a concert), and the production of “Tilly of Bloomsbury”. It was perhaps this remarkable man’s chief service to the school he loved so well as pupil and as teacher and it lived on after he departed for the Royal Navy in June 1941. Before he left he revived the junior dramatic society.

In 1940 Whitmore organised a school camp at Castle Ashby. It was not under canvas but it provided a much needed holiday for some of the boys. Woodman’s assistant warden at Youth House was “Bert” Falco, one of the school laboratory assistants. He worked on staging a school play in Northampton, he was a general handyman and he even took classes. He also served on the committee of the modem languages society and was chairman of the photographic society. He left early in 1940, an interesting example of the good that can sometimes come from evil, for without the emergency such opportunities would never have come to him.

The house competition was kept going for one year, with most of the activities on a reduced scale. Soccer was restricted to juniors but Rugby had been adopted enthusiastically under the guidance of Rhodes and Rollinson, using the facilities of the Town and County School so conveniently to hand. It at once became a sport in which KGS played other schools and played with success. By the end of the 1939 40 academic year it was clear that the number of boys was now too small for a five-house competition to be continued. Four new “Groups” were formed, named according to precedent after leading boys on the school, who became the first captains. The competition between Cowan, Reed, Roberton and Sommers groups took place for one year but thereafter seems to have been discontinued.

Other events at Northampton were a school concert, the revival of the school orchestra, two annual music competitions in reduced form and in the spring of 1941 the formation by Yarwood and Peter of Air Training Corps Flight No. 777.

From the outset of the emergency the school had been faced with the problems of physical division. Over forty pupils and two masters had been left either at Wembley County or Preston Manor Schools. These were both in the Borough of Wembley, which was counted as outer London and from which no evacuation took place. This minor problem was soon to be compounded. The expected massive air attacks had not taken place and there was a drift back to London. Evacuation had been a voluntary measure and in 1940 the education authority decided that a first year intake could be housed in Salusbury Road. In September Burton and Williams assembled 70 eleven year olds in the gymnasium, the hall being full of furniture from damaged houses. Walters and Southwell joined from Preston Manor and Wembley County respectively. Within a week or two heavy air attack did begin and the number of boys declined. During the term the army required the buildings and KGS in Kilburn was housed in the Brondesbury and Kilburn Girls’ High School buildings across the road. During a night raid in 1941 a parachute mine demolished part of this building and Burton, who was on fire watch, had a narrow escape. In time the army left KGS and the boys were able to return. It seems that every Wednesday morning Woodman journeyed by train from Northampton to take Religious Instruction lessons.

Numbers at Kilburn grew and those at Northampton decreased until in the second half of 1941 Westbury and the school office returned to London. In the autumn term there were 230 first and second years at Kilburn and only 100 of their seniors at Northampton, where they were amalgamated with the boys of Willesden County School. Staff had been transferred to Kilburn to teach the growing numbers.

Anthony, Stuart, Dakin and Evans had been with the armed forces since the outbreak of war. They had been joined by Hann, Rollinson, Whitmore, Woodman, Hancock, Taylor and Southwell. W (Taffy) Davies suffered a long illness which forced him to retire. He died in January 1944. A 1911 appointee, had given much valuable service, not least as housemaster of Ellis, including the years when they became the first house to win three championships in succession. Replacements were for the most part women teachers, who were received without the prejudiced hostility which their predecessors encountered twenty five years earlier.

In the spring of 1942 about 30 third years were received from Willesden County School, which had acted as foster parent and four of these were given authority as sub-prefects. The school field was not available, having been used as a barrage balloon station and now as allottments (“Dig for Victory”). Use was allowed of the BKHS field for Saturday football, a great boon for KGS. It was anticipated that a first year of over 100 would join in the autumn and more staff were transferred from Northampton, among them Peter, who formed a junior ATC unit.

W G BOWDEN 1942-1948

In July Westbury’s health collapsed. Bowden, now Acting Headmaster, stayed in Northampton and Bentley took charge of the “Home school”. Westbury was never to return to the school and in October he died. No 111 of The Kilburnian appeared with a white cover and black borders. It contained a tribute from Alderman Hicks-Bolton, Chairman of Governors, sometime Mayor of Willesden, who had taught Westbury as a boy. There was editorial comment, and an appreciation of “Jock” by E W M Potts, a house captain of Curtis and also a staff colleague, which contained the remarkable comment, “I cannot recall Jock Westbury punishing a boy during my twelve years at KGS.”. There was also an account of his career and some personal reminiscences from W G Bowden.

The same issue of the magazine reported the revival of the house system, with fifty to sixty boys in each, the appearance of a weekly “KGS Gazette” produced by the third years and the first Shakespearean production in the Creighton Hall since 1938. Peter had been producer since 1934, including two plays at Northampton. One of these, “Much Ado”, was staged in modem dress. Now he staged “Henry V” at Kilburn, his last for KGS for at the end of the 1943 summer term he left after fourteen years devoted service. The house championship of 1942 – 43 included cricket, football, athletics, swimming and boxing and was won by Keith. Other activities revived in the home school were inter-school soccer, and the literary and debating society. Meanwhile the diminishing group at Northampton continued a programme of out-of-school activity based on sport and Youth House.

By the Michaelmas term of 1943 evacuation was virtually at an end, Bowden and the remaining staff returning to Kilburn. The prefect system had expanded to its pre-war scale and a determined attempt was in train to re-establish clubs and societies. There was an afternoon of community singing in December, with carols and songs. A Christmas dance was arranged, the music society, the ATC, school Rugby at Kilburn and a new “Spotters” club were reported in the magazine. In the Lent term of 1944 the newly joined E C Pettet produced “Julius Caesar”, an inter-house music competition was adjudicated by the staff and the house sports competition progressed, rugby replacing soccer.

“Just when, through the energies, enthusiasm and sense of tradition in boy and staff alike, we were beginning to establish the old KGS way of life again, we were plunged into conditions far worse than anything we had ever known before.”
(Editorial: The Kilburnian Spring and Summer Terms 1944).

With the ending of the heavy attacks of 1940 and 1941 London entered a period of comparative freedom from damage, until the spring of 1944 when there began the assaults of the German V1, a jet propelled bomb, and V2, a large rocket. Damage was extensive and heavy. In June, mercifully by night, the KGS buildings were cruelly struck. Gymnasium, library, a laboratory and three classrooms were completely lost and much of the rest was temporarily useless. Once again KGS was dispersed. Brondesbury and Kilburn High School, the Congregational Church in Tiverton Road and Willesden County School offered much appreciated assistance, but apart from the examination classes only afternoon school was possible, and all was under the strain of constant attack. The school office remained in the shattered buildings, dictation and typing proceeding to the accompaniment of the rain dripping into buckets in wet weather!

As the numbness wore off the school still had its dead to mourn. The “In Memoriam” list now contained thirty-four names and in July was added that of Major A J Stuart, killed in Normandy.

Magazines were slim and in accordance with war time economy, but there was little school activity to report. Originally intended for seniors, a harvest camp at Newport Pagnell in Bucks was opened to juniors before the term ended in order to try to relieve pressure on class accommodation. During the six years of war the school collected £832 for various charities, both British and allied.

Both the European and the Far Eastern wars were ended by the midsummer of 1945. The school, like the nation began the long slow climb to what it was hoped would be a life better than had been known before. In the autumn term staff who had been on war service began to return. Eleven of the permanent staff had served. Anthony and Stuart did not return and Evans and Southwell resigned as soon as they were demobilised. The minutes of the Willesden Education Committee for April 1946 recorded grave concern at the continued absence of the Headmaster on war service. In July 1947 they determined to advertise the post, presumably taking his voluntary deferment of release as equivalent to resignation. In the event, Bowden continued, at first at his own request to enable him to secure a better pension, which was agreed to in view of his excellent work as Headmaster, and subsequently to oblige the committee. It was not until January 1949 that KGS once more had a permanent headmaster.

Clubs and societies, sports and other extra-curricular life began to gather momentum with the end of the war. A school dance, a mock election, the “KGS Rhythm Club”, and other ventures emerged. In January 1946 Pettet produced “The Taming of the Shrew” and at Christmas “Twelfth Night”. The house championship was again revived in 1945-46. In the summer of 1946 foreign travel resumed, a KGS party joining a visit to Denmark arranged by the promoters of the pre-war cruises.

Staff 1945-46

Staff 1945-46

Back row: E W Rhodes, Maybank, A H Cope, J W Stewart
Fourth row: H T Sharpe, R I Cox, S A Corrin, S Burton, W Issacson
Third row: T M Yarwood, E C Pettet, W H Williams, G W Dakin, H E Gould
Second row: A A Warner, G L Walters, W G Bowden (Acting Headmaster), W H E Bentley, G F Carpenter, G A Rees,
Front row: Miss Vincent, Mrs Davidson, Mrs Cox, Mrs Chirgwin

A memorial to Alan Stuart, provided by past and present staff, was placed in the Creighton Hall in 1947, alongside that to F L Henley. Alan J Stuart MemorialStuart was the subject of a long article by Woodman in a 1946 magazine and Woodman’s own part in school life was similarly recorded by Rhodes when he left at the end of the summer term for a headship in Northern Ireland. 1947 saw two more departures, H T Sharpe to retirement and J N Hancock to another post. In 1948 both W W Rollinson and G W Dakin left to become heads of newly organised “Secondary Modem” schools in the borough.

In 1948 KGS celebrated the golden jubilee of its opening. There was a Ceremony in the Creighton Hall attended by the Chairmen of the Willesden and the Middlesex Education Committees and by Cliff Symes as Chairman of the “Old Creightonians”, which cognomen had now been extended to the whole association. It was addressed by the then Bishop of London, J W Wand. Only one edition of the magazine was produced in that year but it was a double number with a specially designed cover and it was indeed worthy of the occasion. An editorial by Bowden set the tone. A seventeen page article by two pupils, J A H Risbridger and D W Thomas gave a more exhaustive history of the School than had yet been produced and entailed much research. There were articles on H G Bonavia Hunt, Bishop Creighton, Evan Evans, Wilfrid Hunt, James McLeish, John Ware, C B Thurston, A J Stuart, and D W J Woodman. There were also Rolls of Honour of both World Wars, rolls of head boys, of champion houses and of Shakespearean plays. There were photographs of the Founder, four headmasters, two acting headmasters, two masters i/c home school and also of the buildings in 1935 and 1946. Other material showed a school life as rich and varied as it had ever been. There was an article on the replacement of association by Rugby football in the school and house programmes.

Bookcase TabletIn March 1948 “Bobby” Hughes came from his retirement to dedicate both the memorial to Stuart and the bookcase filled with volumes given by the OBA in memory of the war dead of 1939 to 1945, recorded then at a total of sixty six*. It was an especially welcome memorial for the school since the library and its contents had been entirely destroyed. Hughes’ words were, and are, moving: “I think I knew personally everyone on this list; some of them very well, and some were great friends of mine”.

November of the same year saw the first speech day for ten years. It was a fairly low key afternoon function. The alderman who was to have presided was unwell and Bowden himself took the chair. He had never been a showman and the domestic atmosphere was reinforced by the presence of “Charlie” Thurston, recently retired from Isleworth County School, to present the prizes. There was a vote of thanks from “Sam” Burton. The school was able to boast of 4 open or State scholarships, 14 higher school certificates, 11 intermediate degrees, 77 general school certificates and 56 matriculation exemptions in 1947-48.

It was a fitting end to “Bosky” Bowden’s long service to the school and The Kilburnian paid him tribute, recalling his virtual creating of the advanced science course, his work with Keith house, the cadet corps and the rifle club and more. I personally recall that when John Rich (Head Boy 1933-34) began work to gain admission to a medical course, he was able to study zoology, which the school did not offer, only because Bowden offered “to learn it with him.” He lived for many years in retirement and the Old Kilburnians delighted to honour him as their Life President.

* Two names have since been added to this Roll of Honour

Next: Chapter 6 – David Williams 1949 -1967

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