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A village history in West Sussex


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By Tom Edwards

Westbourne School life in the early 1940s was both leisurely and exciting, with the Battle of Britain, the Dieppe landing, and the build-up to the Normandy invasion all very much, in evidence locally, and to the majority of the children the most exciting time of their lives. Possibly due to the increase in the number of children from about 220 to 330 with the arrival of evacuees from London, Portsmouth and Thorney Island, only the very basic subjects were taught, ie reading, writing and arithmetic, and a little geography and history - with an emphasis on mental arithmetic, the latter being found most beneficial in later years during one's working life (especially before, and even after, the advent of calculators). Quite a lot of school time was taken up with with general knowledge subjects of all descriptions, which was most interesting, and although not of academic value ensured that most children left school with a very enquiring mind, which would lead hopefully to a varied and interesting life.

Older boys would spend several afternoons a week tending their allotments, which were situated behind the shed at the back of the playground - supervised and shown the secrets of gardening by the excellent and amiable headmaster, Mr M W Simmonds, who became very strict at the end of the gardening sessions, when it came to cleaning and washing the hand tools before returning them to the tool store.

One afternoon a week in the summer was always spent at the cricket pitch on the Common, being shown how to play, again by Mr Simmonds, who was greatly respected by all the children. Every morning, after prayers in the school hall, some form of religious instruction was given, and from ages 12 to 14 about half an hour was spent reading the Bible, with an explanation given of the more obscure and confusing passages, and a question and answer session afterwards. The whole Bible must have been read through in this time. Every Wednesday morning from 9 to 9.30 the older boys and girls attended a service just for them in the parish church, before going to school. At the end of every year prizes were presented for good attendance there. The church organist was Miss H G Kemp, teacher of the senior school class for many years, and also the choir mistress and leader of the Girl Guides.

Among the many activities carried out by children was the collection of scrap metal for the war effort, and in season collecting wild rose hips which were taken to school in huge amounts to be sent away to be made into rose hip syrup, sold by chemists for babies (vitamin C). Also most children helped in the garden at home, nearly all of which had been turned over to growing vegetables, to help the war effort.

It was always impressed on one that if you can read, write and have a good head for figures, you can teach yourself anything, with the books of knowledge available. There were no qualifications obtainable from Westbourne School, so any further education that was required had to be obtained by entry to a school either in Chichester or Portsmouth, where the mysteries of Algebra, Chemistry, Trigonometry, Geometry etc would first be frighteningly encountered.

School days at Westbourne were leisurely, interesting and very happy, unlike the hard work encountered in the many new subjects to be studied in further education, which also included night-school, and homework afterwards, and left little time for leisure activity during the week. All of this extra education had to be crammed into one year, in order to catch up with the other scholars before taking examinations for entry into the various professions and trades.    


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