On Remembrance Day, we took time to reflect on the experiences of pupils, teachers and alumnae during the Second World War.
At the beginning of the war in 1939, London had yet to experience bombings. However, for the pupils and teachers at South Hampstead, the school year began with most pupils evacuating to Berkhamsted School, Cheltenham. With the progression of the war in 1941, school terms were lengthened to account for time lost as a result of blackouts, including the introduction of Saturday morning lessons. During one half term in 1943, the school was damaged by bombs dropped nearby, although thankfully no one was hurt. Resilient recovery efforts meant that normal lessons resumed within days. The dedication of the South Hampstead staff to their pupils was clearly unfaltering.
The alumnae of South Hampstead played crucial roles during the war. In school magazines from 1939 to 1950, details of alumnae as nurses, kitchen gardeners, radio operators and sergeants for the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce are noted. At school, pupils ensured their contribution through weekly collections for the Hurricane and Spitfire fund, and by knitting blankets for the local civic centre.
The courage of the school community was embodied by the actions of alumna Winifred Ortweiler who crawled into the debris of a bombed house to retrieve four individuals trapped in the basement. Exposing herself to coal gas and falling debris, Winifred displayed incredible bravery and commitment. In 1940, Winifred was awarded the British Empire Medal by His Majesty the King for her exemplary behaviour.
We also reflect upon the alumnae who lost their lives during the war, including Hilda Hardy, Jean Clark-Wilson and Eve Klauber. With lives lost, buildings damaged and ongoing disruptions to learning, the war’s impact – and the dedication and bravery of the school community – will be long remembered.