THE SCHOOL REGISTERS
Wartime Evacuations - RAF children, etc .. .. .. Feb-Apr 2018
This month's stylised background map is the area of, and around, the former RAF station, dated at roughly 1949. Again, you can view the map in its entirety by scrolling to the very bottom of this page, dumping the side menu, and pressing F11.
Once again, it is also at 1:2,500 scale, and like before, should be best viewed as a form of 'art', as for a desktop, rather than as an accurate map for research. The originals for that purpose may be seen at the address given below. Thus any 'distress marks', extra 'objects' and symbols that may have been placed purely for decorative purposes; some are just for fun. The actual maps can be viewed, and for free, at www.old-maps.co.uk. The date ranges are from the 1850s up to modern times.
You may find it curious that I can draw a link between Sutton schoolchildren, the RAF station, and a rudimentary map of 1949. But, there is one, trust me. The time depicted is one that marks yet another era of great changes for Sutton parish, as was the case when the wartime RAF station was first built in 1939. Here, we are now four years after the end of that war, the reason for the RAF station in the first place, primarily as a barrage balloon maintenance and storage depot. The end of hostilities brought a welcome lack of need for such defences and their bases, though the site remained the property of the War Department and still in the charge of the Air Ministry. In 1949, this one was effectively redundant. Not so long after this map is dated, the RAF found another use for the land, as a fire-fighting training school for their own personnel learning to deal with increasingly complex aircraft accidents and fires. So, after a short period of quiet demise, it all bloomed back into life again.
Before we look at the RAF station in a little more detail, there is another feature on this map, another military one, that perfectly illustrates what I would call 'transitional history', this being an area that is betwixt and between. To the lower right-hand side, on Wawne Road, are marked all that was left of some old army barracks. Like the RAF site, here in 1949, these are now disused. But whereas the RAF site was about to spring back to life with renewed vigour, the function of these old barracks, like the barrage balloons, is almost certainly redundant. The barracks housed the men that manned the anti-aircraft gun site that was nearby, one of several in the wider district. There was another, just north of Wawne, and yet another on the site of the now Neasden School on Wembley Park Avenue.
The site on Wawne Road had only recently held four huge former naval guns, salved from the decks of old warships, and had been part of Hull's ring of anti-aircraft defences. Only seven or eight years before, this gunsite nightly made a collective noise that shook the ground over the whole parish. Along with the occasional crump-crump of distant bombs exploding, the whole din frightened the very wits out of little children sheltering with their mums, dads and siblings in their various shelters. Unlike their parents, small children would not have been aware of the suble differences in the very loud noises, either of the guns trying to defend them or the bombs trying to destroy them; they were all just as horrid and fearful.
The guns have gone, but the empty barracks still exist. Like the old balloon site, they are also in 'care & maintenance', with civilians living in bungalows on site taking the care. Another year or two would see the army relinquish the site completely as being of no further use to them - for they had been hedging their bets against future need - and the area was sold to the city council for development. A lot of the site is covered now by yet another school, Biggin Avenue. Whereas no map can show us the future, all maps can show us the past. So here we have a map that shows yet another pivotal time in this area's history as we move through the years and one type of wartime priority gives way to new peacetime ones - one that links in to our national history as well. Sutton's schoolchildren, as borne out by the registers of this school, would help to mark out those transitions.
To facilitate firefighting-training amongst personnel, the RAF had to bring in the objects that crashed and caught fire to train them on. These in the main being the aircraft fuselages of already wrecked or redundant bombers and fighters which were then used for such training. No bomber or fighter ever 'landed' at Sutton, other than by being carefully lifted by a small crane from a huge 'Queen Mary' aircraft transporter, in effect a massive low-loader trailer hauled by lorry. Many local boys in particular can tell tales of roaming on the old RAF site looking for souvenirs amongst the aircraft wreckage. The most popular being large pieces of perspex, known by the trade name of 'plexiglass', that formed the cockpit canopies on aircraft, and the windows of the rotating gun turrets on bombers. These much prized items of thick, carvable, opaque plastic were easily carvable with a simple, sharp penknife, and so were then fashioned into all sorts of models, momentos and ornaments. A very popular pastime was to make model aircraft out of them, the most common being a Spitfire or Hurricane, the perspex sometimes coming from the very aircraft they imitated in miniature. Hence the reason why a couple of silhouettes of such aircraft have been allowed to adorn this graphical map - and a 'Queen Mary' - as well as the now famous barrage balloon.
What bedevils me is, how on earth did they get those huge low-loaders with aircraft fuselages on their backs up to Sutton in the first place. What route did they take? Did they come via the A63 and through the city centre to Cleveland St and Stoneferry? Or directly from the east and the Bridlington road, the A165? Surely they didn't bring them in through Sutton village itself. And yet, from the west they had to cross the river, so had height restrictions on all the bridges from Drypool Bridge to Sutton Bridge. How did they do it? Pray, someone tell me. But ... back to the story ...
The new influx of trainees at a revived "RAF Station Sutton on Hull" brought with it a likewise influx of staff and their families, amongst which were the usual numbers of school age children. These had to be educated somewhere, and St James' C of E School in Sutton being the closest council-run school, was the obvious choice. The geographical size of the base was quite small as air stations go - this was no Leconfield or Pocklington, there were no runways or landing strips as such, and certainly no on-base school – so one would suppose the number of children living on site would be small.
Our school registers tell a very different story. But first, a word about the registers themselves. We have them in two separate groups, of boys and girls from Victorian times up to 1912, and for all combined from 1912 up to 1973 in two separate books. We'll deal here with the book listing admissions from 1932 onwards, shown here on the left. The school on our site closed in 1976, and sadly, the last three or four years of the register were lost in a flood at the new school not long after it opened, so 1973 is, sadly, as far as we can go.
Having the chance to take this huge tome of some 40 foolscap pages home, beautifully written out in the hand of headteachers of the time, has been an opportunity to study this archive in detail, and lots of significant facts and figures emerge. For instance, turning the first few pages over from the admissions of 1932, all appears very neat and tidy and very general, as befits a school register, until around 1938-39. For then we start to see what will become almost routine in the next four or five years, in most inner city schools we can imagine - an enormous number of 're-admissions' to the school. Generally, though not always, these are marked in red ink. Each child has an admission serial number, and each entry is continued right across two full pages, one child per line, detailing all that was required to be known, hence name, address, parents, date of birth, last school attended, and crucially for us, date of last attendance at Sutton - or the reason for leaving.
The very last narrow column often gives a little detail as to where the child went next, another school perhaps, another town even, but most often it simply states 'Age 14 – Exempt'. In a good many cases, it states 'Left the District'. Closer inspection also reveals, in 1939, several entries marked at the end of the line, 'evac' and then often a placename, as often as not a place a very long way away. The record even differentiates between 'voluntary evacuation' arranged by the child's parents with other friends or family members, and 'govt evac' where it took place under the auspices of officialdom for those families that didn't have any other choices.
In total, there are 125 re-admissions, mostly complete by 1944, and 77 evacuations of all types - a surprising number for such a small village school with only 4 classes. We can also assume that many, but not all, of those 'Left the District' entries were cases of whole families deciding to evacuate themselves. Of course, many would be for purely domestic reasons such as family or work commitments and nothing to do with the war at all. Three children are recorded as 'bombed-out', and three recorded as having died, though they do seem to have been of natural causes rather than of injury. One case, a poor little mite aged only 7, states 'dipth' from which we can assume she had diptheria. Several children are recorded as coming to Sutton, from other schools across the city - places like Fountain Road and Sculcoates - no details as to why, though we can make a pretty fair guess. In some cases, they had been bombed out too.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I suspect that, looking at the entries, many evacuees who left in 1939 and 1940 didn't stay away from the city or Sutton for long - a good many returned perhaps too soon to the hell that had become Hull. It is known that some mothers actively travelled to distant towns, no easy task at that time, to fetch their children back. One tearful letter home detailing unhappiness or sometimes ill-treatment, and that was that - home they came, Germans or no Germans. Not all were evacuated to remote areas, as we see Leeds and Bradford and other industrial areas in the entries. Those places were perceived then as perhaps safer than Hull, and as it transpired, probably were, but even so, were not totally out of danger. Few places were.
Some show as evacuated under the "Mother + Under Fives" scheme. Almost certainly here a child with younger siblings whereby all went away to a place of safety together - another example of the authorities frantically organising what must have seemed an impossible administrative task under the most trying and traumatic circumstances. Most of Hull's expectant mothers were evacuated to a large country house near Gainsborough in North Lincolnshire, which accounts for why there are hardly any birth records for Hull in the National Archives for about two or three years.
So in effect, these records show three different types, or levels, of evacuation. Firstly, 'leaving the district' may or may not have been a judicious family decision to remove themselves from danger, but I'm sure that consideration came into many of them. Secondly is what we can call a definite, privately arranged domestic evacuation, perhaps to grandparents or other family members in another town or village where it was only the child and siblings who actually left. Finally, there is the 'govt evac' where huge groups of children from similar areas left by bus or train to distant parts of the nation.
For Hull, as we see, in most cases they were moved to northern parts further from the coast and the immediately perceived threat of enemy bombers to our city. Few civilians, or civilian authorities, would have had much idea at the time just how far enemy bombers could go, or their furthest possible range. Leeds would have seemed safe then and Liverpool, Glasgow and Belfast even safer. In the earliest days of the war, few imagined that cities such as those, so distant from Germany, would be at risk - even if the technos in our RAF already had a fair idea that they could be. But the fall of France and all North Sea coastal areas to the arctic, changed everything. As events proved, military technology in wartime moves at such a pace that what is deemed safe one month is well inside the danger zone only a month or so later.
No one could know what would be likely to happen, it was all best guesses based on fear and aprehension, tempered with financial or family possibilites and considered judgement. I recall a story told me by a workmate, about how he was evacuated from Hull to a relative in St Austell in Cornwall. One would think at that time that St Austell would be safe. He told how he was going home one summer's day lunchtime and he and several of his mates were chased down St Austell High Street by a Messerschmitt strafing them as they ran. A curious point here: how did he know what type of fighter it was? Believe me, young boys of 9 or 10 back then knew their aircraft recognitions almost as well as any young soldier, sailor or airman.
These details all beg several questions. Not least of which is how were these records so well kept, and under such traumatic and arduous circumstances. The calm neatness of the pre-1939 years contrasts vividly with the additions, amendments and the huge amount of comings and goings of an enormous number of children displaced or affected by the war and Hull's blitz. At the museum, when folks ask to see the register, we guide them as to how to use the index and find what they're looking for, and so we generally only go into those books to find one child at a time, or one date. We very rarely sit and 'read them', line after line, or make an effort to view them as a whole. Records are like that, we take out just the bit we want and put them back on the shelf. It has been instructive to say the least to study the archive in its entirety, to see the various entries and understand what they mean. A fairly easy read is to select by date, where the start of a term would see a whole intake of new children aged 5, usually entered in a visibly different hand or shade of ink. I venture to suggest that our Old School registers are a social history topic in their own right, and very worthy of deep study. So it is also pleasing to be able to report that we hold a typed extract of all the entries concerning those wartime evacuations, arranged in date order. Visitors to the museum on Fridays will see it on display on our information racks in the main hall, near the costume displays.
Most children were Sutton parish children of course, from parents and grandparents whose own roots had been in this area for decades. The children of this old school came from a very wide area including down to Stoneferry and outlying farms. But the amount of movement of families, whether because of work or the war, or both, is frankly astonishing. How any real education at class level proceeded at all with any degree of cohesion is just as astonishing; children were joining and leaving classes all the time. But education did proceed, and very well it seems. More than a few are recorded as gaining a scholarship, or moving on to grammar schools, private schools, or straight onto nursing or building courses at 'tech school', one such being the 'Sir Christopher Wren', which was a technical school then in Osbourne Street specifically aimed at learning building skills. War or no war, a great many children did enormously well, especially when judged by today's standards.
The war years recede into the background as we progress through the register pages to the time of this map. The barrage balloons have gone, the site is 'disused' as the map shows, other than for the small Air Training Corps cadet detatchment using one of the former huts near the main gate. The large square with the fuzzy shading is a huge balloon shed, the last of the ones that housed the balloons. The site is in what the RAF call 'care & maintenance', and as such, has a civilian caretaker. The register shows that one such caretaker sent one of his children to our school.
As we move into the early 1950s, it all starts to get active again, for suddenly, there is an influx of children whose addresses are listed as AMQ, or OMQ, being airmen or officers' married quarters. New, modern houses appear fronting onto West Carr Lane, very near the site of the former West Carr North Dairy Farm, just a little way down from the main gate. Later, this homely little RAF estate would be styled 'Sutton Gardens', as shown here, and the houses would have postal numbers.
Right through the 1950s, to the late 1960s for a period of some 20 years, children of RAF servicemen and some soldiers pass through our school, frequently for only two years at a time, that being an average length of a man's posting. Some record as only being here for a few short weeks, before father was moved on to a new posting. The listed 'last school attended' is as fascinating as the final remarks, those so often being the name of an RAF station in Britain, or then on to Germany, Malta, or even Singapore. It was not just RAF men or soldiers' children from other districts who would roam this globe far and wide, many of Sutton's own boys and girls would leave altogether to make their lives in other towns and counties all over the kingdom, taking their memories and tales of their time at Sutton school with them. I think the ones marked as removed to Australia may well have been emigrants, children whose parents went out on the '£10 assisted passage scheme' and took the eight-week voyage to a new life on other side of the world via the huge ocean liners of the P&O and other shipping lines.
Towards the very end of the archive, 1970 or thereabouts, there shows yet another massive change to the area, with a large intake of children all in one go from Newlyn Close, one of the first areas of the new Bransholme Estate to be completed that was close enough to Sutton to warrant their children coming here. A few terms later, we see the same for Astral Avenue. Those last few pages, from the late 60s to when this school closed, the entries are in the neat and very clear and tidy hand of the last headmaster, Mr Eric Johnson, he of photographic note who has also left us such a wonderful and beautiful visual archive. The entries now depict a time of normality, of clarity, with very few re-admissions or sudden leavings, and contrast sharply with those chaotic and dangerous years of only a three or four decades before.
From a family history point of view, these records afford a valuable insight to those past times, tumultuous or otherwise, and are all the more valuable to any family historian researching members who, not just being native Sutton or Hull folk, passed through this school for any reason at all. The last full national archive we have general access to is 1911, the next one for 1921 will not be available for at least another 4 years, and the 1931 census was destroyed in the blitz. The next generally accessible record, albeit not a full census, is the pre-war 1939 head count. It's a long time from 1911 to 1939, a huge gap giving plenty of opportunity for families to move, go missing and disappear from sight altogether. Our register can help to fill in some gaps, if only to confirm an address in the family story for which there was no documentary proof - we all have them. This archive can be added as a verified citation in your records, and we will be most pleased to help if we can.
Of course, our Old School Register is not unusual, nor rare. All schools had a register, every school in Hull, and all over the kingdom. Moreover, every school used exactly the same format, as shown here by our front page. Printed in London for the Ministry of Education by the thousands, they were distributed nationwide.
What is special about ours is that it survived inside this old building, disused and discarded, before it became national practice to archive such items with city and county archives. Registers for most schools survive, in those archives nationwide, though which are available for public viewing in their deep reading rooms is another matter. But I do believe they are there, and in the fullness of time, like census details, most will be accessible in some form. Perhaps we can also assume that Sutton's wartime records for St James' C of E are also mirrored in many city schools, and a lot of villages too, particularly those near RAF stations or naval bases. Their records will also show the up-and-down graph of children leaving and arriving, evacuations and re-admissions. In that sense, what we have is a microcosm of hundreds of school registers nationwide.
Apart from our own Sutton children, there are hundreds of children from all parts of the kingdom listed here, most now will be in their 60s or more, who dispersed to places all over the world as well as the UK, perhaps mostly children who may well barely remember coming here, but we are part of their history - just as St Anne's Infant School in Grantham is part of mine.
Yes, this webmanager was an RAF child too! Like Sutton children, I went to my first school 'off base'. I also confess I can barely remember it either, other than the daily bus ride in an old Bedford OB back up the big hill to our home on a small estate behind a high wire fence, our own equivalent to Sutton Gardens. I hope all those RAF children who came here have just as fond memories and can tell their families that they enjoyed being here, however short their duration. Even I have to admit that, as schools go, when they left to go to Malta, Cyprus or Penang or Singapore, that was not a bad swap at all. I'm envious - when I left mine, it was to go to Leicester!