Baldry Families

Shipmeadow essay by Ted Jenkins

Shipmeadow House 1939 - 1942.

At the beginning of the Second World War many thousands of children were evacuated from the industrial Thameside and billeted in safe locations. On Sunday, the 3rd September 1939, the day that war was declared, a party of almost one thousand children, teachers and other carers boarded the MV "Royal Daffodil" at Gravesend, Kent, bound initially for Lowestoft.

The party included about four hundred boys and teachers of the Gravesend County School, Gravesend, who were to be billeted in Beccles. Owing to a hitch in the transport arrangements, all one thousand children from the ship were housed in the Odeon Cinema from the Sunday to the following Tuesday, fed and cared for by voluntary helpers. Eventually the County School party were taken by coach to Beccles and were received at the Y.M.C.A., provided with lunch and then taken round by local billeting officers to the various billets in the town.

After a short period of "settling in" and the safety of the evacuees secured, the next problem was that of commencing schooling again. It was soon obvious that sharing the buildings of the Sir John Leman School was would be detrimental to both schools. So, for the rest of 1939 lessons were held in various locations - The Gospel Hall, the Y.M.C.A. Room, the Adult School Room, The Methodist School Rooms, the Rectory Room and the Congregational School Room. The Corn Hall served as a gymnasium-except on market day.

Such arrangements could be only temporary and that autumn permanent accommodation to house the whole school was sought. An examination of the Georgian mansion, "Ashman`s Hall" by the County Architect's Department showed it to have serious faults. However, Shipmeadow House, a disused 18th century Workhouse, midway between Beccles and Bungay was the only building in the neighbourhood capable of housing 300 boys. At the time it was being used as a store for all ARP equipment in the neighbourhood. The Assistant Headmaster planned the layout of the classrooms, and with the generous help of the County Architect's Department arrangements were made for alterations and renovation of the building, including the kitchens. School furniture, books and equipment were brought up from Gravesend and, eventually, school life began at Shipmeadow on the 1st January 1940.

In the severe winter of 1940 coaches were provided to take the boys to school when cycling the three miles was impossible, and the kitchen staff worked minor miracles to provide hot meals. When the weather improved the fields fronting the House were mowed and rolled to provide playing fields and one of the outbuildings was furnished for woodwork classes.

At the end of May it was announced that Beccles came within a new defence area against a possible German invasion and that all evacuees would have to be re-located away from the coastal areas. The Midlands or South Wales were rumoured. Fortunately, special permission was given for the boys and staff to be re-billeted in Bungay, so that they could retain the House as a school and still have only the same distance to travel. Everyone enjoyed Bungay and its countryside; some boys joined the church choirs and were servers and a number were Confirmed at St.Mary`s church. Others helped with pit prop cutting at Broom in the holidays.

In 1942 a number of boys left school after the School Certificate Examinations while several staff left for the Forces. Teachers were also needed at the Gravesend School. So in the summer of that year the whole school returned home. It was a sad departure from the old House and from their hosts and friends in Bungay and Beccles, who had shown such kindness and generosity in difficult times. Many boys kept in touch with their "foster parents" in years to come. Those who went will never forget.

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17 Gerrard Road, Islington, London N1 8AY +44(0)20 7359 6294 but best to e-mail him

URL: Last revised 9/9/2003

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