Written by Marion Edwards
Reigate County School for Girls was established in 1905. By 1913, plans for a new building were in hand, but had to be abandoned; instead the intention became a transfer to the school building then occupied by Reigate Grammar School for Boys. However, even this plan had to be shelved when war was declared in September 1914. The new school building would not materialise until 1927.
The war itself appears not to have affected the girls directly. The ‘Half-Century Report’ published in 1955 (SHC ref 3155/8/1) gives this brief resume of the war years:
‘When the girls returned to school in September 1914, war had already begun. Refugees from Belgium had arrived, and soldiers were billeted in the town and its neighbourhood; but the routine of school work continued with little interruption. There were, however, new calls for help to be answered. A weekly collection was made for the Belgians, and parcels of clothing were sent to them, while all spare time was taken up by knitting for the forces. Even during lectures the click of needles could be heard.’
‘Owing to the war, certificates instead of prizes were awarded for good work during the years 1915-18. These were simple and dignified documents, and the mood of dedication characteristic of the first years of the war is well illustrated by the lines printed at the foot of each certificate. In 1915, for instance, they were,
“Who stands if Freedom Fall? Who dies if England live?”
And in 1916
“Rejoice, whatever anguish rends your heart / That God hath given you a precious dower / To live in these great times and play your part / In Freedom’s dawning hour.”
It was well that the people of that time had no prophetic vision to tell them how soon the light of that dawn would be quenched.’
However, the school did acquire a physical training mistress in 1914, and in 1915 gave its first gymnastics display, followed in March 1917 by participation in the first of several annual inter-school gymnastic competitions.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the school log book for 1913-1919 (SHC ref 3155/2/2) gives very little detail of war activities, other than those outlined in the Report. However, it does note ‘The Principles for which we are fighting under: What has been, is being, & can be done in country, town & district, for the war’ as the topic of essays for the Empire League Competition of 1915, and that sales of work in aid of the school’s sponsored cot at Reigate hospital continued throughout, despite some reduction in takings.
The log book is more forthcoming for the end of the war. In October 1918, the school took part in the Municipal Procession for ‘Gun Week’ with two floats illustrating ‘Women’s Work’ with girls in the costumes of ‘University women, WAACs, Wrens, Red Cross nurses, hospital nurses, land workers (farmers, gardeners, dairy maid [sic]), post women, bus conductresses, messenger girls, office clerks & girl guides’, and on the 13 November took that day as a holiday ‘In consequence of the signing of the Armistice on the 11th’.
Perhaps the best indication of the affects of the war on the girls and their teachers comes from the school magazines from the war years (SHC ref 3155/7/4), although these were only published in June 1915, December 1916, June 1918 and July 1920.
The June 1915 magazine begins with an editorial discussing ‘the greatest war the world has seen’, whose ‘first results are visible and awful’ and for which ‘We must never rest … until we have fought it down, and established that other spirit in its place, – until men and women live in comradeship and helpfulness and reverence for one another.’ The editorial concludes spiritedly: And there must be no desponding: if our men abroad are to be brave we must be brave at home, and go forward with that deliberate optimism which has faced the worst and has faith to look beyond.’ Poems entitled ‘England Expects!’ (addressed to the men ‘who idle all their days’ and the women who ‘each do their part for her dear land’), ‘England’ (‘For the war-drum throbs – the call has come,/And England has answered; her sons she has sent’) and ‘The Kaiser’ (‘Who burnt down Antwerp, sacked Louvain?/Went to the East and back again,/And, – coward! Travelled in a Red Cross Train?/The Kaiser!’), a piece about ‘Jim, the Drummer Boy’ (who saved his Colonel in the trenches) and ‘A True Story of a German Spy’ are included in this issue.
The editorial of December 1916 begins ‘to feel some hope and see some signs’ of the end of the war, despite fears that, rather than ending in 1917, it will continue until 1918, and considers ‘what the men will do when they come home; what those women will do who will have to give up their temporary work; whether the gathering of our race from the ends of the earth will make a permanently wide brotherhood, … ’. In this issue, poems entitled ‘A Tribute to the Men who go to fight’ and ‘The Greater Love’ honour British soldiers and their allies who are fighting abroad ‘Because of man’s inane desire/To wound and kill his fellow-man’.
The magazine of June 1918 begins with an editorial comparing the delights of a sunny Surrey spring with the fact that ‘over there our men are fighting and suffering and falling in the most fearful battle of all; standing firm and … selling their lives as dearly as they can, that we may keep our England safe’, continues by discussing the role of the England of the future and closes by outlining the ‘Wonderful things’ that have happened in the war. Poems in this issue are entitled ‘Anything’ (‘On “Anything! They bid me write!/What can I write about? … shall I write on aeroplanes/Fighting for us in France? … Of our soldiers, nobly standing/In trenches, water-logged … ’), ‘On the Death of General Maude’ (‘He died a hero’s death … ’) and ‘The League of Nations’, but the largest contribution is the two and a half page ‘Extracts from the Diary of a French Poet-Soldier Imprisoned for a Year in Germany and now in Switzerland’, although there is no indication whether this is a true story or an imaginative and well-conceived essay. Other notices relate news on ‘Franski’ (‘the little Belgian boy whom we help to support’), the Prisoner of War Fund and the work of ‘The White Ribboners’.
No magazine was then issued until July 1920, but the editorial comments on the war as ‘a thing of the past. The awful bloodshed and waste of life are over’, on the resulting peace and on the work of the League of Nations. A poem on ‘The Great Silence At the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month’ is the final mention of the war.
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