Bombs dropped in the ward of: Frognal and Fitzjohns

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Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Frognal and Fitzjohns:

High Explosive Bomb
Parachute Mine

Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:

Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:

No bombs were registered in this area

Memories in Frognal and Fitzjohns

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Contributed originally by Ernie-the-Author (BBC WW2 People's War)

Extraordinary Schooling in WW2 - Part One
by Ernie-the-Author


This account is chiefly about my wartime school experiences.
Despite its name, St. Mary's School was an independent (private) non-denominational co-educational school. To many of us former pupils, however, it was more than this - it was a remarkable and unique learning experience —albeit not particularly academic.

St. Mary's school had Froebel leanings with group and experiential learning practices. To what extent the school was "progressive" is debatable - as, for instance, we still addressed our teachers formally (viz: Mrs E., Miss Gardener, Mrs Paul). The school seemed heavily biased to the learning of languages and the arts from an early age, sacrificing time devoted to the sciences and technology.

The school was owned and run by Elizabeth Paul, assisted for most of this time by her husband Heinz Paul. They were of German Jewish origin and had previously run a school in Berlin. They bought the school as a going concern in 1937 when it was still at 1, Belsize Avenue, Hampstead (where I believe the original school was founded a few years earlier - in what form I know not). The Pauls relocated and restarted the school in a pair of adjoining "semi-detached" houses at 16 Wedderburn Road (between Fitzjohn's Avenue and Belsize Park) in Hampstead, London N.W.3. during the summer of 1937, initially as a day school.

With the outbreak of world war two in September 1939 St Mary’s became a boarding school on evacuating London. (Shortly after the war ended in 1945, the school split and was renamed St. Mary’s Town & Country School. The main part returned to within half a mile of its pre-war location - to 38-40 Eton Avenue (into another pair of leased semi-detached houses) just off Swiss Cottage - where it remained until its demise in 1982. The "country" boarding section moved to Stanford Park in Leicestershire - but this only lasted for a few years.)


Formal education started for me at St. Mary's School in 1937, about a couple of months before my fifth birthday. As Mrs Paul’s purchase and rebirth of the school was that year, I must have been among its first pupils. I remained there for my entire primary education, or what Mrs Paul later termed the "Junior School." At the end of world war two in 1945 I transferred to The Beltane School - now also defunct.

On my first morning, I recall being told on arrival to play in the sand pit, which was located in a large ground floor bay window. Unfortunately, the school cat(s) had been there before me! Nothing else of note comes to mind from my first couple of happy years at school, except that I was much more enthusiastic about graphic art and finding out how things and nature work, than about the three "R’s".

Another memory was my appendicectomy, at The London Clinic, when I was almost six. A huge get-well card arrived at my bedside from all 15-18 of my school class mates. Five days after surgery I was allowed up from my hospital bed for the first time. This was to see, from my hospital room window, the 1938 Guy Fawkes fire works across London - the last before the war put an end to these more festive rocket missiles and explosions.

We had a rather late summer holiday in 1939, in Llanmadoc on the Gower peninsula in South Wales. This was a farmhouse holiday, with the five of us, plus my baby brother Peter's nanny - Evelyn, alias "nurseydear" - and our closest friends, the Flemings (originally Fleischmann): Oscar, Nina and their then teenage son Cecil. I remember that there seemed to be endless expanses of sand and dunes, which were about ten minutes walk through bracken and sheep cropped grass from the working farm. It was there, on the third of September, that we learnt that, because of Hitler's invasion of Poland, Britain declared war on Germany.

My father had to hurry back to London. St. Mary's School was about to evacuate to the south west coast - so it was arranged that Oscar would drive my sister Marian and me direct from Wales to the school's new Devonshire location. I recall that we had to bed and breakfast en route and the first time that I had a cooked English breakfast: egg and bacon. Oscar was far more Jewish than we were, yet he enjoyed his bacon too! Marian, aged five and I, not yet seven, were suddenly about to become boarders. Along with about twenty other children of various ages, we were expected to be relatively safe in rural England.

Marian and I had no idea then, of course, how heart-wrenched and devastated mother must have felt, not knowing when she would ever see us again. She returned to our London home to care for her ageing and ailing parents, toddler Peter and with Robin already well on the way.


St. Mary's School left London to escape from the imminently expected blitzkrieg. So, it changed from being a day school to a boarding school. Beesands is a tiny village on the Start Bay shore between Torcross and Start Point in the southern most part of Devonshire known as the South Hams. This beautiful fertile region of English countryside lies between the English Channel and perhaps the most rugged barren "last wilderness" in the southern half of Britain: Dartmoor.

The school house was a fairly large farmhouse, situated about a quarter of a mile along the shore just north of Beesands, towards Torcross It housed a total of about two dozen staff and pupils. The garden bordered the beach and was enclosed by a very high thick hedge - a very effective wind-break.

We had one of England's finest beaches on our doorstep - a vast expanse extending to about six miles north of Torcross, Slapton Sands and about three miles south to Hallsands. But these are misnomers, as the beaches are almost entirely shingle.

Tragically, the sea had almost totally eroded away the village of Hallsands and I believe that only two cottages were still inhabited when we left there in 1940.
There were no caravans on the foreshore then and for the first few months we had the beaches entirely to ourselves. Bathing was treacherous, with steeply shelved shorelines and severe undertow, other than at low tide and even then, never without a teacher being present was the strict rule, I recall.

We had a wonderful time. During that first "Indian summer" we, the younger groups, often ran around naked within the enclosed garden. Even during the first winter, we played mostly on the beach and foreshore.

I recall little of class sessions. I think that we were split three ways: a few under six years of age, about six of us between six and eight, about the same number between eight to 11 and a very few older children. I remember only three staff during that first year: the heads, Mr and Mrs Paul and Mrs E. (with her two children, Priscilla and her younger brother John, who was two or three years my senior).

Elizabeth Paul was a large, vibrant woman, who was enterprising, imposing and assertive. Beneath her larger-than-life macho image, I felt that there was some warmth and empathy, which she kept hidden most of the time. She was a linguist, being fluent in English, French and German. Heinz Paul (we nicknamed him "Higgy" - quite why escapes me) supported his wife, mainly behind the scenes and quite possibly was a tour de force there. I do not recall him actually teaching, possibly not being qualified. He appointed himself largely as the general factotum. Mrs E. was a gem of a primary teacher, with infinite patience, warmth and kindness.

Strangely enough I was not homesick, although Marian (still only five) was at times. Marian and I remained at the school over that first Christmas holiday, our parents deciding to visit us for the festive weekend instead, with a few very basic presents and extra clothes. The main reason for this, I believe, was that our London home was still filled with Jewish refugees (from father's escape line) awaiting clearance and passage to the States. Our parents had to come by train to Kingsbridge (this branch line later became a casualty of the "Beeching cuts") and then by taxi, as cars and petrol were allowed only to "essential" (and privileged) users during the war. I recall startling mother with my total rejection when she suddenly switched to speaking German to us (which I explain later).

I remember the arrival of Paul and his cousin Natasha, Jewish refugees from Vienna, who actually witnessed the Nazis marching into the Austrian capital - a situation which I found astonishing, in that they still managed to escape. Paul and I became firm friends for much of our childhood. (Paul went on, via Aldenham School and the Architectural Association, to earn quite a reputation as an architect. It is a small world - many years later, Marian met him and his own young family at the Caversham Centre in Kentish Town, London - the pioneering group practice/health centre, when it was still in Caversham Road - where Marian was the practice nurse!)

We had some beautiful walks: the Devon South Coast footpath to Start Point lighthouse, about seven miles round trip from the school. To Torcross too, via the mini fresh water newt pond in a glade (with many dragon-flies, newts and water-boat-men) and climbing Jacob's Ladder up a small rock-face to the top of the little headland to descend to the village. Behind Torcross lay the large fresh water lagoon of Slapton Ley alongside and just behind the beach, created by the natural silting-up process. (I found this path again over 40 years later and the vertical iron ladder, very overgrown but still there, exactly in proportion as I had remembered this at the age of seven.)

Naturally, we also explored the deeply hedged Devon lanes inland, into the farming areas, with the rich red clay soil and hedgerows dividing cattle from crops. Red squirrels were then still quite common, before being ousted by the grey.

The farm adjoining the school was mainly a pig farm. We were all upset with the slaughter sessions, as we could hear the pigs squealing for their lives. In those days they cut their throats and let them bleed to death, harvesting the blood. A nature walk for the entire school was organized on these afternoons, to allay our distress.

Most mornings, we had a before breakfast run: the older kids ran about 500 yards to the village store, called The Crab Pot (I believe it still is) and back, the younger ones ran about half way. Breakfast was certainly welcome after that. Despite food rationing, we always seemed to have had plenty.

Half a day each week was dedicated to maintaining the "sea wall" just below the high tide line as best we could, due to the immense tides causing erosion. This meant piling up stones and filling gaps with as many flat stones we could find, but setting them in a vertical plane with edge to seaward, to combat the lateral power of the waves along the beach. Frequently, we saw massive schools of porpoises or dolphins playing and "show-jumping" in the inshore waves.

By the time of our first holiday at home in 1940, I had deliberately forgotten all my German, despite the boast that the school specialized in being multi-lingual! There were three reasons for this. Firstly, anything German I was determined to scorn and reject, as Germany had rejected us and then became the dreaded enemy. Secondly, maintaining two languages may have exacerbated my speech impediment - a severe stammer (which I have long since learnt to manage). Lastly, in contrast to most refugee kids, my living-in (at home) grandparents knew sufficient English to not have to converse with them in German. So Marian and I lost our German, though for quite a while we could understand when we were not meant to!

One morning we discovered that a U-boat (German submarine) was trapped in Start Bay by a sandbank at low tide. We were rushed inland and out of sight, lest they opened fire on us. Apparently, they surrendered and a coast guard boat went out to officially take them prisoner and a trawler towed them in, probably to Plymouth.

On another occasion, we were all ushered to the back of the house when one of us noticed what looked like a mine floating in the waves. Very bravely, Mr Paul crawled Indian fashion down to the waters edge to investigate, eventually to return somewhat sheepishly (and wet) with a large medicine ball bladder (like a double sized football)!

Our world was beginning to feel a little less safe than that desired. Then, in late June 1940, about a month after the Nazi occupation of Belgium and Holland, France capitulated to the Germans. This meant that the Hun were amassing just across the water, with the invasion of England due next. Thus, the school had to evacuate again, from a potential combat area to a safer more central inland location. This move was indeed timely and fortuitous, as a stray torpedo (I know not whose) blew-up much of what had been our schoolhouse a few weeks after we vacated it.

This was my initial year at boarding school during the first year of the Second World War. I remained at the same school for the rest of the war at its new location in the heart of rural England, which is described in my follow-on article: Extraordinary Schooling in WW2 - Part two.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Frognal and Fitzjohns:

High Explosive Bomb
Parachute Mine

Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:

Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:

No bombs were registered in this area

Images in Frognal and Fitzjohns

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