How World War II Affected Me:
Bombing in London became severe and a large-scale evacuation was put into force. Families arrived at Bromsgrove, and the committee set up to deal with this situation allocated a family to me a mother with son and daughter, who lived in the flat over our garage. The son was a chorister at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, with a superb soprano voice. The children liked climbing our trees, and the boy perched to the top of one of them, singing “Oh for the wings of a dove” ad nauseam! We got the children into the local school, but we found that the mother spent too much time at the pub. The family stayed with us for under a year, and then chose to go off to other premises.
Meanwhile, the “New School” had left London, and evacuated itself to Minehead in Somerset. Clent could not keep Elmfield any longer in its premises because there was no room and was of necessity closed down temporarily. My children were accepted at the New School at Minehead.
Crowds of girls just leaving school wanted to join one of the services and wear a uniform. None of the services either wanted or could cope with all these youngsters. Miss Curlett, who had been active in one of the services in the first war, had a bright idea, which was to form a Corps, not attached to any of the services, to train by introducing them to a strict discipline and teaching them certain skills of a generally useful nature like First Aid. And they should above all have a uniform! It was called the Girls’ Training Corps and units were formed in most towns. A meeting was called in Smethwick with a view to having a unit there, as there were many girls leaving school and longing to feel a part of the “War Effort”. At that time Hugh had a wonderful secretary Lorna Dutton, who became involved in this project, and she thought it might be an activity in which I could be of use.
When I arrived at the inaugural meeting in Smethwick, the people, mostly teachers, were just sitting round. No one was saying anything, so I very brightly suggested that what we first needed was a Chairman. “Oh”, someone said, “but of course you will be the Chairman!” This was the last thing I either expected or wanted. I explained that as I did not know anyone in Smethwick, I couldn’t really be Chairman; the chair should be someone well known in the town, et cetera. But no one agreed with this suggestion, and I had perforce to accept the job as Chairman of the Organising Committee of the G.T.C. in Smethwick! When I got home and told Hugh about all this, he thought it was a very good idea that would give me a real involvement in some war work.
Lorna Dutton was a tower of strength and an endless source of inspiration for the whole of the time I was with the G.T.C. The first thing we did was to invite the head of it all, Miss Curlett, to come and meet us all and explain what was involved. Each unit, or corps, would consist of ten girls and an officer, and the obvious people to be these officers were the teachers. The senior one of these was Miss Fisher, the headmistress of the girls’ Grammar School, and she had to be instructed in the drill that was a basic part of the training. I now have to confess that after all these years and in spite of the considerable time I gave to this G.T.C., and the wonderful time I had working with Lorna Dutton, I just can’t remember what the “training” was that these girls were given! I only remember how proud the girls were to belong to this G.T.C. and to wear the uniform of navy blue skirts, white blouses, navy ties and berets. How they excelled in the drill, always a noticeably smart section of any parade. I can’t find out about it from those taking part, as the leading figures have all died including Lorna Dutton.
There was one violent objector to my involvement with the G.T.C. — Hughie. One evening I was going out to a meeting in Smethwick, he stamped on the floor in protest at my going and shouted at me to stay with him, as it was a Mummy’s job to look after her little boy and not go out! When the war was over, I was asked to carry on, but said No, as the whole reason for this particular Corps had ended with peace time, though it had proved to be a good influence while it lasted.
Meanwhile, John did not like his prep school very much, and twice had a recurrence of his ear trouble. The school would not take the responsibility of this and asked me to take him home. So I managed to get petrol and brought him home by car. He went straight to the surgery at Clent; Dr. Waller and the nurses there soon put him right. By this time he was ready for public school and went to Eton. John had many tales to tell of what they endured through a lot of air raids, as of course Eton and Windsor are very close to London, the focus of the air raids.
Idonea decided that she wanted a change of school, and went to North Foreland Lodge, whose Headmistress, Fenella Gammell, had done so much for me at Queen Margaret’s School up at Pitlochry. However, after a few terms, Idonea decided that she didn’t like the rather smart “rich” atmosphere there and asked to come back and join the others in Minehead.
By this time, The New School had bought a property in Sussex, Kidbrooke Court, and had moved over there as their permanent premises. The school was now called Michael Hall. Towards the end of the war, Eileen Hutchins’ father bought a house for Elmfield on the outskirts of Stourbridge, so Eileen was able to re found the school, now as a day school. Hughie meanwhile reached school age, 6, and I was able to send him there at Stourbridge daily. His nanny Sheila had left when Hughie was about 2 but Ann still lived in the house with me and some refugees.
The girls all completed the curriculum, up through the upper school, at Michael Hall, though not with the full acquiescence of Hugh. Tiggy’s class in particular grew into a very strong unit, Tiggy making friendships which lasted her life. One could sense the strong karmic link which bound them, and also to their teacher Francis Edmunds. But Edmunds made what I consider to be a big mistake. He indicated to his class that they were very fortunate to be having a Waldorf education, founded as it was on an understanding of the true nature and constitution of the developing child – just voicing his own beliefs, I imagine. But as far as my own memory goes, one is certainly not concerned about the sort of school one is at or the kind of education one is subject to. One’s mind is on immediate matters: forthcoming exams, future matches, one’s prowess at gym, et cetera. As a result of Edmunds’ remarks, Tiggy for one had nothing good to say of her education. Idonea on the other hand, in a different class, experienced the benefits of her time at Michael Hall, particularly in the realm of the arts, having gained much insight and appreciative understanding in this realm. Be all this as it may, none of my children had any inclination to study Anthroposophy, as this is certainly not the object of the curriculum and I never discussed it with or mentioned it to them.
What is needed in the world are human beings who can think independently, take initiative, and be enthusiastic about living, which the Waldorf education aims at fostering. And I reckon that my daughters are all very good examples of these qualities, each of them going their own very separate ways as independent thinkers, full of initiative and an enthusiasm for living, though not with the full acquiescence of Hugh. Through my studies of Rudolf Steiner’s Education lecture courses and extensive studies of other branches of Anthroposophy, I was most eager that the children should have this education, which was aimed at developing the whole human being, regardless of intellectual capacities. One of the important things they gained was an understanding of how important it was to know how a child develops according to age, with, in the early years, stress being laid on an artistic presentation of all the different subjects. It was possible to see how, through this approach, the imagination grew. In later years, it was very noticeable how these young people had a great appreciation and understanding of art. But I also felt it was important that they had this education even from the point of view of physical health. Also, it was important to keep together the whole academic class.
Meanwhile at Clent Grove, David Clement and Hille Geuter had fallen in love and wanted to get married. They had a beautiful ceremony, carried out by a priest of the Christian Community, and were surrounded by festoons of wild roses. David was of call up age, so far in a reserved occupation. He really wanted to farm, so it was decided that the Duffys, who by now had a second daughter, Bridget, should move up to the Home Farm at Clent Grove, which had a good house, and the Clements could move into Broome Farm, which had, after all, been bought with David’s money! Hille naturally could not cope with the student side of the work which Deryck was so keen on; she was too young and totally inexperienced for such a responsible job so that had to be given up. Because of all the strict war regulations it was not possible to convert the farm into one run bio dynamically, but David was able to influence the inspectors to a certain extent.
At Caspidge, Hughie had reached school age, and at first I was able to take him over to Elmfield daily by car. But soon the petrol ration was insufficient and daily travel became impossible, and I was able to board him with a very nice young woman, Mrs. Joan Jenkins, who already had one or two others from Elmfield, besides having boys of her own. We all became great friends. Hughie told me, and I could see for myself, he was happy there as a weekly boarder. But circumstances arose which made this plan too difficult to carry on with, so then I decided that Hughie would have to go to Michael Hall, with Bridget looking after him.
In the summer holidays of 1945, I took the family to Gatehouse on¬-Fleet, where a friend of mine, Mrs. Murray-Usher, had a fairly large property. It was here that we heard the news of the dropping of the atom bomb in Japan, which ended that war, albeit with the total destruction of two large cities and most of their inhabitants. My first reaction to this was one of complete horror that such a method of destruction had not only been developed, but used. And all I could think of was the potential for mass world destruction that was now in human hands. However, we realise that, over decades now, fear of this weapon prevented a further major war from being launched, so, although we are actually ruled by fear, a certain good has come out of the evil.