The War Years
(as remembered by Freda Loney who was on the teaching staff of the school from its opening in 1936)
My memory of the outbreak of war in 1939 was being in the staffroom, listening to Mr. Chamberlain’s speech on the radio. Then some of the senior, experienced teachers spoke seriously to us about the First World War having robbed them of their sweethearts and potential husbands – “You’ll see the same thing happen to you young ones.”
The cloakrooms were re-inforced with bricks, steel and concrete to be used as air raid shelters. If a wailing siren sounded, the children were shepherded to their safe haven, we hoped, whilst teacher guarded her roll book under her arm. When raiders were over Liverpool, there was always an alert for Belfast. The senior members of staff had to conceal their anxiety and apprehension; the youngest teachers, I suppose, hadn’t the wisdom to realise what could happen.
In the gloomy shelter, we would say, “Let’s have a concert.” We had stories, rhymes, clap hands, line-a-sides, physical jerks, and we snag everything from ‘Baa-Baa Black Sheep’ to ‘Run Rabbit Run’ We never suffered actual daytime raids with the children, but some incendiaries were dropped on the actual building during the night. The caretaker, Mr Sandford (?) and the fire fighters successfully dealt with them.
Children had to be gently introduced to the wearing of gas masks. They did look gruesome, although the youngest children had Mickey mouse masks. There were no tears. All obeyed the regulations and were very brave.
After the heavy raids one Easter time and again in May, it was imperative for the children to evacuate the city. The Rest Centre for our area was Park Parade School. Children were marshalled, labelled, had cleanliness inspection and despatched with accompanying teacher and adult helper. I took a group of boys and girls by train to Strabane. We were met and taken to a church hall where the local billeting officers looked after them. I had to stay overnight in Strabane and return to Belfast next morning.
Classrooms were empty.
I them had to report daily at Fane Street Rest Centre. There I served stew to weary dishevelled firemen who had been out many hours saving lives.
Many rural schools were now overwhelmed with city children. I was assigned to one near Hillsborough, lived on a farm and had my six mile walk every day. Then I was sent to Portadown. Years passed before I saw Nettlefield again. I can remember a lot of the children, but that is another story.
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