1939 - 1945 : The War Years

The Battle for Dinnington:

Dr Pickard writes in September 1939:

"The school closed for a fortnight. Dinnington was rather suddenly converted from a reception area to a vulnerable area. During the fortnight, staff took turns by twos in being present from 9 - 8 and in resisting any attempts on the part of unwanted persons to commandeer the premises for non-educational purposes.

"c.7.15pm Wednesday 13th. Met Lieutenant Pepper and Sergeant Major Cressey in school. It appeared that they were keenly desirous of obtaining buildings as barracks for the locally recruited detachment of the 6th Battalion Yorks & Lancaster regiment. Had instructions to take only half the school and were anticipating immediate permission of such a step. On hearing that the boys urinals were at the east end of the site and the servery was in the centre they decided to take the Boys' Dept. rather than the Girls'...

"Next morning I waited at their temporary accommodation at the Middleton Institute as I was afraid they might move from there into the school without due authorisation from Wakefield. About 11am Lieutenant Pepper arrived, saying to Lieutenant Wark that Colonel Wales had definitely got permission to take over the Boys' Department. This statement needed confirmation and so I asked if I might use their phone to ring up the Divisional Clerk. [He] however confirmed that Wakefield had granted permission so I had to stand aside; he said a definite authorisation would be available by 12.20pm, and asked me to phone again about then. Arrived back at school 11.45am, and shortly after, Mr A Ecclestone, County Council Inspector, arrived to inspect the position. He asked me to accompany him to the Chelmsford Institute where the possibility of securing alternate accommodation for the Boys' Department was discussed with Mr Ralph [the Head there]. Mr Ecclestone phoned Mr [indecipherable] who gave the ultimate decision that the military be allowed in."

The military occupied the school on Thursday September 14th at about 1:30pm. The Boys' Department was broken up into groups of 50 pupils who were taught in the school on successive days. The girls' Domestic Science rooms were used to provide school meals, as the servery was in use by the soldiers.[Dinnington Senior Boys' Log Book]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the attendance of the Girls' Department in September 1939 slipped to below 70%. The Headmistress, Miss Butterworth, described the truants as "the usual bad attenders, who are evidently taking advantage of the war to exploit their own selfish ends".[Dinnington Senior Girls' Log Book]

But Dr Pickard continues:

"[There is a] certain amount of local feeling based on 2 primary objections:
a) presence of soldiers made all 5 schools into military objectives, and with the proximity of the pit there were now added reasons for attracting bombing.

b) the billets were undesirably close to a girls' school.

"Military authority were asked to leave by September 30th. [They] actually evacuated on Sunday October 1st... 17½ days... Very little damage [was] done and none of this was irreparable."
By way of recompense, the military dug the school regulation military-occupation trenches to take approximately 350 kids. This gave the school "reasonable argument in favour of being able to resume under fairly adequate ARP requirements".[Dinnington Senior Boys' Log Book]

Wartime Conditions:

Evacuees from Laughton were admitted in March 1940. There were 10 evacuees on the roll of the Girls' Department, and a presumably equivalent number at the Boys'. Air raid shelters were completed by April 1940, and the school could evacuate to them in under two minutes. Such an escape presumably took place for real on 26th August 1940, when Laughton was bombed. Another air raid in the early hours of the 29th saw the school attendance slip to below 50%.[Dinnington Senior Girls' Log Book]

The School in 1956
The school as it appeared in 1956 -- note the air-raid shelters dug alongside Manor Lane
Photo courtesy of the Dinnington Heritage website

  The Girls' Log Book contains a curious entry for 26th October 1940, which states that the school was closed due to a "time bomb" in the building. This entry is struck through with a single red line, and a note refers back to the entry for the 26th August, when bombs were dropped on Laughton and the pupils were sent home. The entries seem to be in the same hand, and the crossed-out remark is something of an enigma.

The Luftwaffe weren't the only threat to the school. In May 1940, Mrs Merchant accidentally triggered a gas explosion in a Housecraft room, though it seems not to have caused any serious damage.

The railings round the school were taken away for the war effort. The school also dug for victory, with pupils turning over their playing fields for vegetables. Bees were kept for honey, and plans were made for the keeping of pigs. These plans were disapproved in four meetings, and the scheme was vetoed, but it seems to have come back to life again with the arrival of Mr Pizzey as temporary Head of the Boys' (Dr Pickard, like many other male teachers, having left Dinnington for military service). Under Pizzey's tenure, a pig-sty was built, and 11 pigs were bought in October 1942. The sty was converted to a garden shed in 1950.[Dinnington Senior Boys' Log Book]

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