Collections Learning school workshop: in focus
Did Adolf Hitler actually address the boys of Eton in their own newspaper? No – it was the humorous ramblings of an anonymous boy, but the bombing the author referred to was only too real.
The Munich Crisis of 1938 broke just as boys returned from their summer break. Several hundred boys were turned away as soon as they arrived as there weren’t enough respirators for both the boys and the townsfolk and it was felt that the boys should return to their own homes. But the concept of actual evacuation of the school was dismissed by 1940 (although some parents did withdraw their sons after the fall of France) and instead Eton became a reception area for evacuees.
This meant that from 1939 through to VE Day 1945 Eton College, located cosily between the Royal family in Windsor and the airplane factories of Slough, was a very active part of the Home Front, with the boys playing an equally active role.
Scouts ran messages for the ARP while the Rifle Corps trained up first the Local Defence Volunteers and then the Home Guard. Boys turned playing pitches into Victory Gardens and carried out fire watches on the roofs at night (with rather unfortunate results for the telescope on top of New Schools). They lived through air raids, high explosive bombs, incendiary devices falling through roofs and a suspected German spy landing on the fields (it turned out to be an OE who had captained the England Cricket team visiting his mother in Datchet). Boys carried their respirators everywhere – or were supposed to – and there were air raid shelters by the boarding houses, although often only half dug into the soil due to Eton’s high water table.
These experiences are what we are trying to recreate, however palely, through our WWII Home Front session. Aimed at older primary school students, the lesson investigates what it was like to be a boy at Eton during those tumultuous times. Classes can choose to have the experience presented in role, which means they are greeted by Grizel Hartley, the wife of the House Master of Baldwin’s Bec, who kept the house running while her husband was away at war. During their visit students learn the best way to build a sand bag wall, practice their airplane identification skills, and streamline their incendiary bomb extinguishing techniques. This new session has already proved popular with local schools as a different way to learn more about how WWII affected children, and about how children took an active role in an attempt to affect WWII.
By Saskia Nesja, Education Officer
Collections Learning school workshops: in focus
Once each term this blog will focus on one of our school workshops. These free educational sessions are created using the College Collections as the launch for in depth cross-curricular learning.
More information on our school workshops at www.etoncollege.com/CollectionsLearning