Hoots from the Archive – A Letter from an Evacuee

Posted by System Administrator on 11 Mar 2018

Modified by Rachel Kneale on 13 Jan 2023


This letter was kindly donated to the archive by Mr. Sydney Dobson, who attended MGS between 1933 and 1939. His friend Norman Statham was evacuated with the school to Blackpool in September 1939, and wrote this letter to Sydney describing what life was like for an evacuee. The difficulty in organising the boys and the chaos that ensued is clear from the letter.


c/o Mrs. Shepherd,

100, St. Annes Road,

Blackpool S.S.

14th September 1939

Dear Sydney,

I was extremely pleased and surprised to receive your letter; I must apologise for neglecting my duty in not writing to you. This is the second billet which I have been in – the first one was a boarding house in the Central District of Blackpool. There were 10 fellows from our school, including GNS, Philip Tonge, NE, Jimmy Littlewood, also 12 chaps from Widnes, against whom we prosecuted one great and mighty war – for further details apply either to me or to Kenneth. Everyone has now been rebilleted, and we, that is George Neville and myself have been transferred to S. Shore, very near to Bloomfield Rd. where Blackpool are playing Everton on Saturday. The people with whom we are staying are very decent indeed; there are only three in the family, Mr and Mrs Shepherd, and their daughter Norma, aged 14, who incidentally goes to Palatine School, where MGS in continuing the great work with about 75% of its normal complement of scholars. Norma is extremely pretty, and delightfully outspoken and refreshing; she is I think the most cheerful kid I know.

From our form, NEP, JL, GNS, PT, GPB, DBW, CD, ENC, HB and WMS were evacuated. Taffy has since joined us, and K is reported to be coming in a day or two. The whole place is in a frightful muddle, and every bit of organisation has gone to pot. It is only Griffiths who is holding the place together at all. As was to be expected, Cess, who has a great start over his colleagues in muddledness, has taken command of the school. As he himself said to us the other day, “One, two, four, eight, six, eighteen, nineteen”, which, of course, explains everything. The same idea lurks behind the remark of Smith at a Prefects’ Meeting the other day, when he asked the most stunning question. “But if we’ve got to be in by 8, I don’t see how we could, except from 4 to 6 or from 6 to 8, or would they?” The prefects then went into session to determine whether they would.

Games of sand hockey have been promulgated and yesterday the masters played the boys at 10 a side sand hockey. I was on the boys’ side. The game’s principal rule is that the ball, a chunk of solid rubber, may not be hit more than 2 yds in any direction, so as soon as you get the ball, you dribble as fast as you can until the ball is removed, your stick hooked, the back of your head bashed in, your shin hacked off, or until you are otherwise stopped from making further progress.

When a bully is held, this is, after an infringement of what few rules the game possesses, 8 members of one side line up facing 8 members of the other, the ball is dropped between the two lines by the referee and a pushing match ensues. The general tactics are to put your head down and launch yourself at your opponent. We thought out more subtle tactics, though, for as soon as the ball was in, we turned round, and reversed into the unsuspecting masters. We lost, however, by 1-0, despite the magnificent play of Duffer, who hurtled at full speed into huge racks of players, barged through, propelling the ball with his stick only when his stick was most convenient, which didn’t seem to be very often, and, coming out on the other side, was invariably tripped up by the dastardly trick practised by the masters of hooking their sticks round our legs. Defeat only came to us after 50 mins’ clouting of arms, skinning of knuckles, butting of stomachs, smashing of knee-caps, and general mutilation. I escaped with 2 bleeding fingers, a wrecked knee-cap, and a scraped hip. Harry Brierley has 6 fingers in plaster today.          

Contrary to your expectations concerning our filling of sandbags, Jimmy & myself filled 220 in 1 hrs 40 mins one day, 2 days later we filled 258 in 1 hr 55mins. Paid navvies reckon to fill 90 an hr, so we did pretty well, and have been complimented twice upon the speed and quality of our work.              

I hope that Rene succeeded in evading the Customs and the U-boats, and reaching Paris in a more or less healthy state. I received a letter from Jean the other day which had taken 10 days to get from Aresnes to Manchester. While everyone was billeted at Central, we prefects held a patrol to see that everybody was in by 8.0, to immediately upon the reopening of cinemas, Jimmy, GNS, Philip, Taffy and myself held a patrol in the Odeon, where we saw “Goodbye Mr. Chips”

By the way, last night we heard at 9.15 the news in English from Hamburg (328m). Very amusing. Then we listened to Deutschlandsender, broadcasting with its affiliated transmitters Reichsendes Koenigsberg, Breslan, Danzig, Radio Katowiz!! It strikes me that you can’t listen to any station broadcasting in its own language for more than an hour together. We have tonight heard Afrikaans news from N. National, English and German news from Radio Paris and Polish news from Deutschlandsender.                

Anyway, so long. Write to me again pretty soon,                               


Quotation from Harry Brierley at a Soccer Practice:-
Are there anybody who has their tea at 4.30?

Norman Statham went on to have a distinguished career in the diplomatic service, with key postings in Brazil and as Head of the European Economic Integration Department when the UK was applying for membership of the EEC. He was knighted in 1978.

Rachel Kneale


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