Book of the week: Lessons of war

19th February 2004 at 00:00
Well Remembered Fields: the story of one school's evacuation 1939-1945
Edited by Martin Mitchell and David Bernstein
Park Russell, pound;25 plus pound;4.90 pamp;p from 17 Stanhope Road, Croydon CV0 5NS. parkrussell@aol.com

A boy in short trousers on a bike in an English country lane and, overhead, a Dornier bomber with an engine on fire. Painted for the dust jacket of Mitchell and Bernstein's book, it's one of those images that defines our history, and you can date it within a few weeks just by looking at it: the late summer of 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain.

Sure enough, the book reproduces a contemporary description of the scene by the boy on the bike: "The British fighters instantly attacked, three from above, three from below. The Nazis were taken completely by surprise, and before they could reply to this sudden onslaught, a Dornier was spinning down."

It's ironic that the boy watching the dogfight was one of the hundreds of thousands of children evacuated from London to escape the bombs. This is the story of one grammar school, Dame Alice Owen's, then in Islington, that was evacuated to another, Bedford modern, then in the middle of Bedford itself.

The tale is told in patches, in the voices of about 70 old Owenians, including the editors: "A myriad recollections of a distant world, a lifetime away." Some are today's reflections, others are culled from the contemporary pages of the Arrow, the school magazine.

Read more in this week's TES Friday magazine

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