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Temporary accommodation in 1940

Many among older Dukies remember the days, months and years the school occupied the Saunton Sands Hotel in North Devon and the return to Dover at the end of the Second World War. Fewer recall details of the departure from Dover and the temporary home spent at Benhall Farm, Cheltenham from 30 July 1940 to the 5 December 1940, a very short period of the school's history. George Shorter in his school history Play Up Dukies recorded this with a brief note, 'Initially, some boys were housed in huts in Cheltenham.' The accommodation at Cheltenham has been described by one who was there as a '...flat-topped single-story office block'.

One who has a vivid recollection of the onset of war and the events that led to the evacuation of the school is Alec Johnson, a school prefect at the time. He recalls that the dates were obtained by Bill Saunders from a search of public documents at the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office), Kew. Bill Saunders too was a prefect at the time and is to be seen in the photograph of the 'Cheltenham prefects' below.

The Cheltenham prefects at Benhall Farm, Cheltenham, 1940
Seated front row from l-r: prefects Jim White, Snelling, Grantham, Marshal (CSP), Bernard Goosey, Wride, and Morgan: middle row; Kirby, Dunne,  Ken Cartwright, Le Grande, John Miller, Wilkinson and Bill Saunders; rear row; Fitzpatrick, Sammy Hall, Miles, Bull, Peter Westbrook, Alec Johnson, and Bob Eade.
Alec Johnson recalls that prior to the move to Cheltenham, the authorities had secured tenancy of a forty-three acre country estate bordering in the New Forest called Avon Tyrrell. The staff and school prefects were called to Avon Tyrrell on 28 June 1940 and there spent the next three weeks unloading school furniture, equipment and supplies at the railway siding of Ringwood railway station; everything in fact they had loaded at Dover. They erected tents in the grounds Avon Tyrell in preparation for the arrival of the rest of the school. Alas! An area of some twelve miles inland from the south coast was declared a prohibited area, probably in expectation of an invasion from the continent. For this reason, everything had to be repacked for a move elsewhere.

This was an exciting period for the prefects. Before their departure, they were welcomed into the back room of the local off-licence to quaff cider, Newcastle brown ale and Makerson's milk stout. The off-licence no longer exists, but Avon Tyrrell does.

Benhall Farm was not overly spacious, but it served its purpose as temporary quarters while more suitable quarters were sought and, as is now known, found at Saunton Sands, North Devon. Today, Alec's recollections of Cheltenham are vague. He remembers visiting a local plum orchard, acquiring a kitten, and the Rev. John W. J. Steele, CBE (in residence 1940-1941) introducing the prefects to the game of rugby union.

The main building at Benhall Farm was a concrete, single-storied structure with a flat roof. Sections of the building were linked by covered walkways or corridors. Previously, it had been occupied by the Ministry of Pensions and has since been swallowed by General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

Today, Benhall Farm gives its name to the Benhall (housing) Estate, a small district south west of Cheltenham town centre and a little to the north of 'Up Hatherley' on the main road to Gloucester. Benhall was developed in the 1950s and 1960s and now has a population of about 3600. Aside from the Ministry of Pensions Building, Benhall Farm in 1940 was mostly agricultural land with a collection of wooden huts that served as accommodation for the school.

The only known photograph of this period of the school's history is a group shot of prefects who took part in the move. They numbered twenty-one. How many prefects went with those boys sent to the Queen Victoria School, Dumblane, Scotland, is not known. Ron Field (1942-1948), who wrote a memoir of his stay at QVS, does not say how many Dukies went to Dumblane under CSM Jim Halsey.

Of the prefects who appear in the photograph taken at Benhall Farm not a great deal is known. Ken Cartwright was the drum major to be followed in this function by Campbell and, later, Alec Johnson. After Ken became a prefect, his younger brother Peter Cartwright, later the drum major, joined Wolfe House. He is among those discussed in the Austin Yeates and friends article. Prefect Miles of Kitchener House made it to CSP before he left.  

Bernard Goosey enlisted in the 48th Foot (the Northamptonshire Regt.) and was killed in action in Italy in 1944 at Forli, a small town not far from Bologna where Mussolini grew up. Bernard's brother, David Forrester (who changed his name from Goosey and became the resident RC priest and a beak – teacher – at Eton) said that he has visited his brother's grave in Forli several times. They were close brothers.

As to Alec Johnson's subsequent career, he left the school in mid-1942 to join the Ordnance Survey (see 1826 Colonel Pasley's complaint for an account of the first boys to engage in surveying work). This was apprentice training in the Royal Engineers (OS A/T Boys, RE, for short)given at a former hotel at Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire. The Ordnance Survey unit was created in 1941 to train cartographers (map makers). Alec wrote, 'I do not think all that many Dukies followed me to this training school.' During the planning for D-Day, the apprentices were moved to Bryn Howel in Llangollen, North Wales. Johnson left in 1943 to begin his eight years with the colours and four with the reserve. He did an advanced survey course at Ruabon, North Wales, and then joined a survey topographical unit of three offices and fifteen surveyors seconded to the Colonial Office. The Colonial Department sent the unit to the British West Indies, via New York on the Aquitanania, to map the islands. Alec was a nineteen year old at this time. He later served at GHQ Fayid in Middle East Command.

Finally, of the school's short stay at Cheltenham two newspaper items from the Gloucestershire Echo are extant. They are letters written to the newspaper's letters editor. The first dated 9 August 1940:

Sir, After spending four years of the last war in East Africa, where one found that they were at war continually with every possible thing apart from "Jerry" I came home and was stationed for a time at Dover Castle.
     One day from the back of the castle I could hear, but not see, a military band, so I proceeded down towards the sound, remarking to myself, "Some tone and volume about this Regiment's band. How could they have got it together in such a time?"
     Out from a sunken road came about 60 boys, marching and playing – as it happened they were playing the march "The Sons of the Brave" befitting the tradition of the Duke of York's Military School.
     I now wonder, sir, if you could move the powers-that-be that when the band arrives it marches up the promenade to the Gloucester-road. If it does so, Cheltonians will be as amazed as I was years ago, and I promise them a rare treat.

The second letter is dated the following day, 10 August 1940:

Sir, with reference to the letter from "Sapper", when on January 13, 1926, the second battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, left Connaught Barracks, Dover, for the B. A. O. Rhine, the Duke of York's Military School band played us to the docks.
     Having marched behind the band and drums, I know what a first-class show they put up, and I hope I have the pleasure of hearing the band again.
S. H. P.


In answer to a loosely-related question of that period, Alec wrote, "I seem to think we had three suits of khaki and two of reds" - before the evacuation of 1940 – "It is amazing really that we had all that clothing when today the pupils have no overcoats or raincoats." Really, pre-war Dukies probably never knew how well off they were in clothes - as well as the care of their sergeant majors they received and the education from sergeant and warrant officer instructors of the Army Education Corps.

Boy Alec Johnson in his Sunday best about 1935-6

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