1939 – 1945
The effects of conflict on daily life at Platt School during the Second World War were far more palpable than in in the First. Despite Zeppelin raids and later bombing by aircraft over Britain between 1915 and 1918, the parish of Platt remained largely untouched by the physical effects of the conflict, and local people were able to go about their ordinary lives unhindered.
On 31 August 1939, three days before war with Germany was declared, the school closed in the afternoon in accordance with emergency arrangements received from Maidstone relating to the evacuation of children. Traditionally the school had always shut for about a month at the end of August for the hop-picking holiday, and so the closure coincided with this.
At the start of the new term on 25 September, changes at the school had already become evident with the inclusion of pupils from Shooters Hill Boys School and the Convent School, who had all been evacuated to the area. Initially, the boys were taught in the morning session (afternoons from late October), whilst the ‘native’ children attended in the afternoon with those from the Convent School.
Throughout the war, the school also accommodated students from the McMillan School near Wrotham, who were sent out on work experience to educational establishments in the area. As the ‘phoney’ war set in and bombs did not immediately begin raining down as many expected, large numbers of evacuated children returned home to their families. The Shooters Hill School relocated in its entirety to Kippington Grange in Sevenoaks, and no further mention is made of the Convent children in the school log book, who we can only assume also moved elsewhere, or returned home.
Throughout the winter of 1939-40 life at the school appears to have returned to relative normality. Heavy snow and icy conditions in late January 1940 shut everything down for several days due to a frozen sanitary system. In those days the toilets were outdoors and in sub-zero conditions, the cisterns and pipes regularly froze.
A reminder that the war was not too far away came on 25 April 1940 when the ARP Warden interrupted lessons to issue the children with gas masks, which by all accounts took over an hour to adjust. They were required to carry these with them for the remainder of the war.
On 28 June 1940, the school closed for two weeks to accommodate the annual fruit-picking holiday. The British and French had recently evacuated from Dunkirk, and German attentions were about to turn towards an invasion of Britain. At 3:30 p.m. on 15 August the first air-raid siren sounded just as the juniors were preparing for dismissal. The sirens were based in Borough Green (at the fire station) and West Malling, and on this occasion, the ‘all clear’ was sounded half an hour later. Warnings continued through the evening and consequently attendance at the school the following day was down to about 65%.
The Battle of Britain had begun in earnest, and school life over the next four months was continually disrupted by daily air-raid warnings, which would often last for over an hour. During these periods the children would shelter in the school corridor, which was protected from glass splinters, and holding their slates above their heads, would continue their lessons from there. As a result of the situation, and in accordance with K.E.C. instructions, the school was split in half so that not all children would be present at any one time. The children from the village attended in one-half of the day (usually the afternoon) whilst the ‘out-district’ children from Wrotham Heath, Addington etc. (who travelled in by bus) would attend in the other.
Attendance continued to be inconsistent, sometimes with only a few children turning up. This was particularly evident on 16 October 1940 when, following the bombing of Wrotham Heath the previous night, only nine children were present in school.
In November 1940, with the Battle of Britain all but over, the children began attending school all together again, and life began to settle down, with no further warnings being recorded in the log book until October 1942.
By late-spring 1941 an air raid shelter had been erected in an area of the playground now populated by the school nursery. It was a concrete and brick structure that contained 50 gas masks, and a heater for the colder months. Due to its almost indestructible nature, the shelter remained on site for many years after the war and was subsequently used for storing items of equipment – including the fabled school maypole.
Also, in the spring of 1941, the horticultural adviser to the K.E.C. visited the school and discussed the possibility of cultivating school gardens, which were eventually planted at the end of 1942 on land where the current (2016) Reception and Year One classrooms sit. The children gathered leaves from Platt Woods to make compost for the garden, and vegetables were grown for the war effort. On the evidence of the logbook, it was the boys who primarily worked in the gardens, and usually during the afternoon session.
The provision of hot canteen meals was another new implementation for the school during the war years. They had been initially discussed in August 1942, and after making some architectural adjustments to accommodate a canteen, the first school dinner was eventually served in the school on 15 March 1943. The school also received its first wireless radio in 1944, and following the installation of an electric meter two weeks later; the children were able to listen to the first of a series of broadcasts for schools from 2 May.
Throughout 1941 and much of 1942 there appears to have been a lull in air raid warnings, however enemy aircraft returned between October and December 1942 when the Luftwaffe carried out numerous ‘tip and run’ attacks over Kent. These were fast, low-level raids on coastal towns and on specific military and industrial targets. The first of these to affect the school occurred at 10:20 a.m. on 19 October 1942 forcing the children to take cover in the shelter for the first time since it was constructed. During the alert AK-AK gunfire was heard quite clearly by the pupils, who according to an ex-student, took everything in their stride and were not visibly bothered by the noise, often making their way to the shelter without excitement or fuss. Numerous alerts occurred between 19 October and 16 December, often several times during the day. A government inspection during this period noted that the children were bright and cheerful and despite the testing circumstances, showed by their intelligent answers that they were well taught.
In addition to regular wartime prayers during opening worship, and the creation of the vegetable garden, the school also supported the war effort in the ‘Wings to Victory’ and ‘Salute the Soldier’ weeks. In these, the children participated in sponsored races to raise money. Another fundraiser was ‘Pound for Pound Day’ where the children would collect various commodities and take them to Sevenoaks Hospital (in 1944 they collected 250lbs!) Unfortunately, there is no mention as to the exact nature of these ‘commodities’, and similarly the special book drives to help the ‘county effort’ are equally as vague.
In late spring 1944, the ever-present sound of passing military vehicles could be heard from the classrooms as they made their way towards the coast in preparation for D-Day. The Platt children would cheer and shout “got any gum chum?”, and the Americans would throw them sweets and chocolate as they passed by.
During mid-June 1944, and with the Allied invasion still in its infancy, the Germans retaliated by sending V1 ‘Doodlebug’ Rockets over to England. The first air raid in Platt relating to this new menace came on 16 June, with four warnings occurring between 9:00 a.m. and 1:55 p.m. ‘Bomb Alley’, as large areas of Kent became known, suffered heavily from flying bombs throughout the summer of 1944 and with the exception of the fruit picking holiday, which had continued as usual throughout the war, the children found themselves having to spend a good proportion of the school day in the shelter on an almost daily basis. For example, on 29 August the alerts came at 11:25 – 11:45 a.m., 12:15 – 12:30 p.m., 1:00 – 1:25 p.m., 1:55 – 2:20 p.m., and 2:35 – 2:50 p.m. On another occasion, school sports day was interrupted when gunfire from the local anti-aircraft battery was heard, and everyone rapidly took to the shelters. Barbara Roots, who remembered the more conventional bombing at the start of the war, recalled that this new menace was considerably more terrifying, with ‘everyone holding their breaths, waiting to hear if the drone of the engine would stop, or continue onwards to somewhere else.’ The fourth V1 flying bomb (doodlebug) to be launched from France landed in Platt during the early hours of 13 June 1944 and landed in the garden of a large house, where it made a “terrible mess of a row of greenhouses.” Others landed on Stonehouse Farm, which was owned by Mr. Bacon, and scattered debris over a five-acre area, and at a property on Crouch Lane. David Hollebon remembers seeing a doodlebug narrowly missing the church tower which was probably the rocket that landed on Pigeon’s Green.
In June and July, and as result of the doodlebugs, a number of children from the school were evacuated (some to Somerset.) Of those, four were from Platt, five from Wrotham Heath, three from Offham and another three from Addington. Most parents, however, decided to keep their children at home.
The school closed for the hop-picking holiday on 1 September and no further air raids are recorded in the school logbook until March 1945 when the children entered the shelter on two occasions between 14 and 19 March. By this point, the war had entered its final weeks, and on 8 May 1945 (VE Day) the school closed for two days. Three months later it closed again to celebrate VJ Day on 15 August.
Barbara Roots, a pupil at the school between 1940 and 1946 remembered:
War life wasn’t unhappy for us kids, you made of it what it was. Although there was a war on, we had far more freedom than children do these days.