BOURTON’S SCHOOL CHILDREN
Throughout the Great War regular routine, discipline, religious education and the 3Rs remained central to St George’s Church of England School’s teaching. But for the headmaster, William Hosmer and his staff, the war also brought personal challenges.
On 31st August 1914 Bourton School reopened after the summer break. Many local families whose men-folk had gone to war were already experiencing disruption and anxiety. But the school still insisted its 105 children aged 5 to 14 years attend punctually and regularly.
Their teachers included Mr. Hosmer, Mrs. Elizabeth Lewis, Elfreda Farthing, Edith Harris, Mary Hosmer, Gladys Farthing and the Hosmer’s son Cecil.
Mr. William Hosmer with Year 3 pupils before the War
Young Teachers ‘Called Up’
As the new term began the war’s impact on the school also affected several staff. Edward Farthing’s new appointment as apprentice teacher had been immediately postponed when he was mobilized to serve with the Territorials.
And on September 19th 1914 the headmaster’s son Corporal Cecil Hosmer a Somerset Regiment Reserve and pupil teacher at the school was ordered to India with the 4th Somersets.
Class teacher Mrs. Lewis’s son, Geronwy, was already in the Army Tank Regiment.
And almost immediately Miss Harris, a supplementary teacher was temporarily transferred to Piddlehinton School to cover for staff who had enlisted.
Mr. Hosmer wrote on January 15th 1915 in the School Log Book:
“The absence of a regular teachers is making the work much more arduous; but the remaining teachers are working loyally hard.”
In October, monitoring children’s attendance was further compromised when Mr Gibbs the County Attendance officer decided to enlist.
‘Mr. Jones, acting Attending Officer (temporarily) for Colour Sergeant Gibbs (4th Dorsets, gone to India) called here yesterday. Attendance matters, owing to the War, appear to be in abeyance; consequently Dulcie Bugg & Freda Tufts, who ought to be at school, have not attended since the holiday.’
(School Log Book October 11th 1914)
Poor Health and Poverty
Occasionally the School had to close because of pupil illness: measles, influenza, and whooping cough led to the loss of 6 weeks education on one occasion in October and November 1915. When staff isuccumbed to the same illnesses they were sometimes absent several weeks.
The War created particular hardship for poorer children through lack of basic food and clothing. A visit from the Dorset Schools Dentist who extracted bad teeth from 34 children showed just how poor their health could be.
Sadly poverty also affected attendance. The three Ridout children, who moved to Slade Farm, Silton and had previously been forced to live in the Shaftesbury Workhouse, arrived at Bourton School very under-nourished. They missed school for several weeks because they had no adequate footwear, while poor Violet Knight was sent home on January 15th 1915 for being ‘verminous’.
Child Labour Urgently Needed
Attendance was also adversely affected from October 1914 when boys of thirteen years old were legally employed in agriculture (mostly on dairy farms). And such was Britain’s desperate need for workers from 8th April 1915 school managers were authorised to issue licences to boys and girls over 12 years of age releasing them from school until 11th October to replace a man in active service
In late June 1915, Charles Fudge, 12 years old and the second of village policeman Enos Fudge’s four sons, was granted a Certificate for two months labour in Agriculture. Despite his absence from school Charles still passed the Diocesan Written Scripture Exam with flying colours.
By mid July 1915 all the older boys were absent haymaking, again because there just wasn’t enough adult labour. Every summer from then on till the war ended the school closed early in the summer term so all children could work on local farms.
In September 1915 Charles Fudge, always the willing worker, was half-time at school and half-time at the Foundry assisting in Munitions Work with fellow pupil Aubrey Tufts. And by December four pupils were absent all week working on an urgent contract at the Foundry for Hand Grenades. Headmaster Hosmer wrote:
“The Government are pressing for the supply, work is going on day and night. I have reported the matter to the Attendance Authority… Re-opened School after a week’s holiday. Four half-timers have returned to school on full-time. Harold Stone, aged 13 yrs, has applied for half-time to work on a dairy farm.
(School Log Book January 3rd 1916)
New Children Arrive, Others Have To Leave
In June 1916 when Dorset Education Committee decided to close Silton School for lack of numbers 11 Silton pupils came to Bourton School.
“We were usually taken in a car (Model T Ford at one time) with the other half dozen children… but we had to walk back. We took our sandwiches for lunch and ate them wherever we could – in the cloakroom, on the steps.”
(Seth Suter, Silton)
Pupils were also sometimes forced to leave the School because of their parents’ circumstances. Ernest Yeatman, the West Bourton farmer and coal merchant who did vital work taking coal to the Foundry, was eventually forced to move after his farm labourers went to war. Sadly he and his three children, Gladys, Stanley and David had to leave the village and move to another farm at Combe Hay near Bath.
Gladys David Stanley
Lessons On The Progress Of The War
Mr. Hosmer, his staff and village supporters always kept pupils informed of major events in the War.
Every May 20th for years Bourton children had observed Empire Day with celebrations led by Major General Hallam Parr of Chaffeymoor who addressed the pupils on the importance of Empire. He was also instrumental in setting up an after-school Shooting Range for older pupils.
Sir Hallam Parr
When General Parr died in 1914 it was left to Mr. Hosmer to explain the particular importance of observing Empire Day at this stage of the War.
‘Today was observed as ‘Empire Day’ as May 24th comes within the holidays. During the morning lessons were given on the War and ‘The Empire’. The Colonist’s part in the War was especially dwelt upon.’
School Log Book May 20th 1915)
That autumn Mr. Hosmer also proudly told the children about the Britain’s successes in France.
‘The Great War. Told the children this morning of the great Victory in France south of La Bassée. Apparently there had been a loss to the Germans of over 120.000 men and 140 guns. About 25,000 prisoners were taken.’
(School Log Book September 27th 1915)
The following year he noted that the children were ‘very upset’ at the death of Lord Kitchener who drowned when the cruiser ‘Hampshire’ struck a mine while sailing to Russia.
‘It has cast a great gloom over the school.’
(School Log Book June 6th 1916)
Contributing to the War Effort
As the conflict ground-on in Europe and much further beyond, Bourton’s children engaged in a range of activities to support the war effort including regularly bringing in cash savings to support the Troops and food such as eggs, potatoes and spring greens for wounded soldiers in the local Red Cross Hospital in Gillingham.
On December 14th 1917, 10 shillings (£56 in today’s money) was raised towards the ‘Soldiers and Sailors Christmas Comforts’ fund. And despite great poverty in some Bourton families caused by the 28th June flood, by February 22nd 1918 the children’s War Savings amounted to an incredible £2 (£223.79 in today’s money) per week.
The Children also played their part in contributing to Britain’s production of explosives. Such was the shortage of Acetone, War Ministry scientists, forced to find substitutes, discovered a similar but less effective component could be manufactured from horse chestnuts.
‘The children are today collecting horse chestnuts for the Ministry of Munitions. They have also brought a bag of potatoes for our Red Cross Hospital.’
(School Log. September 28th 1917)
As well as chestnuts Bourton’s children also spent October collecting acorns also for making explosives. These were delivered to Gillingham Station then sent on to Wimborne for processing. Apparently every ton of nuts collected freed-up half a ton of cereals for vital food supplies. The War Office paid 7s 6d (£56 in today’s money) for every hundredweight sent to make Acetone, a vital component of the propellant (Cordite) for shells and bullets.
War-time Food Campaigns
Towards the end of the War when food shortages became acute, the School again took action with the girls having gardening lessons teaching them among other things the advantage of eating ‘war bread’ which most people found pretty unpalatable. By 1917 barley, oats and rye were being substituted for wheat making the bread dark in colour. In March 1918 soya or potato flour was being added which didn’t make the taste any better.
Sadly the school’s gardening lessons were never put into practice despite the Managers’ urgent request for village land where children could grow fruit and vegetables.
‘The Managers are endeavoring to obtain land for School gardening but at present none can be obtained. Additional allotments are also needed by parishioners but practically every bit of land in the parish is in active cultivation or cannot be spared from pasture, and private gardens are all in use.
(School Log Book February 22nd 1918)
Despite this set-back Bourton’s resourceful children were still able to provide vital ingredients for jam.
‘Notice has been sent to HM Inspectors that the School will be closed 3 half days this week for blackberrying given fine weather’.
(School Log September 13th 1918)
By September 27th 1918 over half a ton of blackberries had been sent by train from Gillingham to Whitchurch in Hampshire to be turned into jam at the Longs Jam Factory. In fact black-berrying seems to have been a major school activity well into October despite several wet weeks.
Once the soldiers had eaten the jam the tins were used to make bombs.
Approaching the End of the War
On the 25th October teacher, Mrs. Lewis who had already frequently been ill or absent helping at Gillingham’s Red Cross Hospital was suddenly called away to tend to her returning sick son Geronwy. Fortunately Geronwy (awarded the Military Cross) then an Acting Captain in the Tank Regiment recovered and was able to return to his duties. Mr. Hosmer’s son Cecil survived the war in Mesopotamia and went on to train as a teacher at Winchester Collage. An ex-pupil of the school, 20 year old Daniel Maggs of the Yorkshire Light Infantry, who would eventually become a Director at the Foundry, was briefly captured in 1918, held in a German POW Camp but survived.
Complete Absence of Acknowledgement or Celebration
Bourton’s School Log Book is invaluable in documenting the war years. But the last entry before the Armistice simply notes:
‘Owing to the influenza outbreak the school has been closed till Nov. 18th.’
(School Log Book Oct 28th 1918)
We can only speculate why the war’s end is not even mentioned, but Mr. Hosmer’s admirable determination to maintain educational standards for the four years of the war was beyond doubt, and throughout had the full approval of School Inspectors.
Children continued to pass Diocesan Scripture exams and gain places at Gillingham Grammar School, with some going on to become teachers themselves, reflecting where Mr. Hosmer and his staff’s main concerns lay: in their pupils’ education.