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Somewhere in the West Country

In the spring of 1940, the School left its Dover premises to make them available to troops then being evacuated from Dunkirk. Some boys, not all orphans, went to the Queen Victoria School, Dumblane. The majority of boys, however, returned into the temporary care of their parents or guardians. For unknown reasons, a few, including this writer, remained at Dover a few weeks longer and witnessed the events of the great evacuation first hand.

That same year, the majority of boys were recalled to occupy a group of buildings in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. These later housed the Ministry of Pensions. The School's relocation to its temporary quarters in Cheltenham was fairly short, not more than two or three terms. During that time, the Army authorities searched for and found a suitable place that would serve the School for the duration of the war. In keeping with the obsession for wartime security, the School's location was described in a BBC documentary as 'somewhere in the west country'.

The Saunton Sands Hotel, perched on the cliff top overlooking Barnstable and Bideford Bay, was an ideal site. The sand beach, studded with a forest of stout posts to prevent its use by airborne invasion troops, stretched five miles across to the bay to Bideford. Here, in this idyllic setting, the boys of the School enjoyed a continual holiday at the sea side. The hotel's guest rooms were converted to accommodate bunk beds, which served to pack in boys four, six and eight to a room depending on the size of the rooms. Nissan huts and out-buildings were used for school work, trades training and the school band.

  The Saunton Sands Hotel is on the hill on right, a remarkable view
The corner of the Saunton Sands Hotel barely visible on the hill on right, a spectacular view.
The Saunton Sands Hotel  
Most Saturday mornings, the 80-strong band and drums led the companies on a route march along the coast road to the village of Croyde, about three miles distant. In the newly-introduced formation of three-files wide in contrast to the pre-war four-file wide pattern, the companies marched to the sound of familiar marches – 'On the quarter deck', 'Great little army', 'Colonel Bogey', 'Sons of the Brave' and other popular marching tunes.

News of the School's presence in the West Country spread far and wide and great was the demand for the School band to march in fund-raising parades in such towns and cities as Barnstable, Torquay, Taunton, Exeter and Ilfracombe. The band gave Sunday afternoon concerts and enjoyed rich rewards in the form of sandwiches, cake and sticky buns. Its entertainment was warmly received by a war-weary public. Indeed, the presence of so large a military band in the area was a boon to parade and war bond organizers. So popular was the School's first-rate marching and concert band in the West Country that British Pathé News made two stirring news reports, which gave the School national coverage.

These historic news clips are available on line at no cost for those with computer capacity to view, even download for private viewing. One shows the band leading the route-marches back to the Saunton Sands Hotel along the Croyde road; the other, a general interest piece, shows a slice of the life the boys led: a morning cocoa break for the band, gymnastic exercises under CSM Miller, and a stirring rendition of Marching through Georgia by the band and bugles. This magnificent march is rarely heard today.

The short feature of the Parade of the Toy Soldiers, performed at the Royal Tournament Olympia, was shot in 1937, and is also available for viewing.

Anyone interested in seeing these British Pathé film clips should follow these directions.

Log in to The British Pathé film web site.

Type in The Duke of York's School in the search box and press GO.

The following listing of news clips appears.

Duke of York's Boys' Band
(issue title - Oh Buoy!)

16 Nov 1942


P.T. Boys (aka Boy Gymnasts)
(issue title - One of These Days)

30 Nov 1942


After the war, the Saunton Sands Hotel was renovated and restored to serve its original function as a splendid family vacation residence offering visitors ideal accommodation and first-class cuisine. The permission of Mr. Peter R. Brend to reproduce this image of the hotel as it appears today is gratefully acknowledged.

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