During the War Minehead became home to a large number of evacuees from war torn areas. Some 468 children accompanied by 46 teachers and helpers arrived 2 days before War was declared (September 1st 1939).
Then in August 1940 1,000 arrived. One evacuee from East Ham in London said that it had been arranged during ‘the scare’ of September 1938 that her school would come to Minehead as one of the teachers was the son-in-law of Mr A. H. Andrew, a senior director of Henry Wood’s & Co a well known furniture business.
The school operated at Clevelands on North Hill for a few years. It had been unoccupied for some time so the pupils had to clean and decorate it. One evacuee described having to scrub the main staircase and bannister, which became the favoured method of descent.
The water supply had to be pumped into the building by hand by boys on the early morning rota. Whereas the older girls helped put the 5 & 6 year old girls to bed in their Blenheim Road boarding hostel. Their hostel was at Odell Court in Hopcott.
This is where weekly gardening lessons took place. There was also a senior hostel in King Edward Road. Hockey was played on the beach dodging the oncoming tide and the posts that had been placed to prevent enemy boats from landing. Tennis took place in Alexander Road. An evacuee recalls having her Domestic Science lessons in the railway shed at the station where she washed and ironed handkerchiefs!
Two of the Regent Street Polytechnic lads who were evacuated to Minehead stayed with a Mr & Mrs Milton in Marshfield Road, Alcombe, who were paid 5s for each a week by the Government and 2s 6d by the parents. Church halls and even the Youth Hostel were used for lessons but the Poly boys shared the County Secondary School with the local students.
Each term alternating mornings and afternoons. The front of the school was converted into a vegetable garden. These lads were ready to fit into the local scene as this song based on ‘Up From Somerset’ shows.
‘Oh, we’m all come down to Somerset
Vor the next 6yrs or so,
We’m come to study Geometry,
And how the turmits grow.
So if you’m wanting Poly boys
To plough or reap or sow
To find square roots or take
Would you kindly let us know.’
The army built defences along the promenade and many of the children helped to fill sandbags. Heavy guns were installed and one lad recalls being amazed at seeing the flash when the guns were tested and the explosion afterwards. He was also impressed by the sight of two Westland aircraft appearing from behind North Hill, which he described as modern in design, for those days, a sleek and beautiful craft.
Many, who came, had never seen the sea before or even visited the countryside. One boy on seeing a pig for the first time described it as ‘a big black dog wearing a gas mask’.
Actually it was not far off the mark as the shape of civilian- type respirators caused them to be dubbed ‘pig’s snouts’!
Compiled by Sally Bainbridge on behalf of Minehead Conservation Society.
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