As the country commemorates the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Westonbirt students and staff, albeit remotely, remember the small part their school played during the war effort.
In 1939, sixty officers from the Air Ministry arrived unannounced at Westonbirt to requisition the house and store planes in the nearby area, some of which were protected under the significant canopies of the trees at the front of the school and of the arboretum. Students and staff were evacuated to Bowood House and Corsham Court and a student from that time remembers;
“We carried gas masks and there were drills with different bells according to whether it was a gas drill or something else. If the former, you had to grab your gas mask and if you forgot it, you had to sit outside the headmistress’ room later with it on!”
As cities were pounded by bombs, Westonbirt agreed to store precious silver and prized artefacts from St John’s College, Cambridge in the school’s vast cellar which is well-built and well protected under the footprint of the school. Since that time, the school has held an annual St John’s essay writing competition for Year 12 students, having been initially given a little bit of money towards the prize as a thank you.
Westonbirt Headmistress, Natasha Dangerfield, reflects on the comparison between Westonbirt evacuated during War time and restricted by lockdown in the current situation;
“As we face the potential of lockdown restrictions being lifted after the weekend, comparisons have been made between the limitations imposed on the public during WW2 and the current situation we find ourselves in.
We may be stalked by a new enemy and unable to dance in the street under flags and bunting but there is no doubt that, in the spirit which is testament to the human condition, we will come together nonetheless. It is the strength of our community which pulls us through and Westonbirt students and staff will commemorate VE Day virtually, kicked off by an online hymn practise with our passionate Director of Music leading the school in a rousing rendition of Jerusalem.”