Platt Primary School

1914 – 1918

By the start of the Great War, Platt Primary School had been based in its current location for just over two years, having relocated from the old schoolhouse next to the church in 1912, where it had been since 1846.

Along with the seasonal breaks at Christmas and Easter, the school year was also punctuated by the fruiting and hop picking holidays, which occurred between June-July and August-September respectively. During the first two years at the new premises there was an average of about 60 children in attendance, with their character described in a 1912 government inspection as being bright, interested in their work, and answered readily and correctly.

Religious instruction formed the backbone of the school day, with special services conducted by the local vicar, taking place throughout the year. Every year in May the school also celebrated ‘Empire Day’ when the children would draw and salute the Union Jack, sing patriotic songs such as Jerusalem and the National Anthem, hear stories from the British Empire and learn about its history. On a fine day in early summer, before the fruiting holiday began, the maypole would be erected and parents and friends were invited to watch the children dance around it whilst they were served cups of tea.

On 3 August 1914, one day before war was declared, the school was shut for the bank holiday. Two days later, on the morning of the 5th, the Rev. Brand paid a visit, which was not unusual, however on this occasion it seems impossible to imagine that he would not have discussed with the children, or at the very least the teaching staff, events which had occurred the day before.

Unlike the Second World War, which had a very direct effect on the school, on the surface life at Platt Primary throughout 1914-1918 appears to have carried on much as it had done before the war. The school log book makes no mention of the conflict and primarily concerns itself with attendance numbers, sickness and various visits by inspectors and the school nurse. However, reading between the lines it is evident that the harsh economic and social conditions imposed on the home front were increasingly born out in the children who, as the years pass, fall sick with illnesses more readily associated with poor living conditions and malnutrition. On one occasion a Wrotham Heath woman, whose husband was serving overseas, found herself taken to court on account of the ‘verminous condition’ of her daughter. The lady explained that she was engaged in Government Work and had to walk eight miles to work and back every day just to make ends meet. The rather unsympathetic judge fined her 10 shillings (over £100 today) for the ‘offence’.

Illness was of course not only brought on by living conditions. The winters during the war years are described as being especially harsh, with numerous accounts of heavy snowfall closing the school for days on end, and frequent numbers of children being taken sick with winter colds and other ailments. Quite often those children who did make it to school were unsuitably clothed for the freezing conditions and were sent to warm themselves up in front of the school fires.

In December 1916 the school was closed for five weeks due to an outbreak of measles and in late 1918 the Spanish Flu has clearly gripped a large percentage of children, necessitating the closure of the school again for about a month.

Despite the hardships, the government inspectors consistently praise the good work of the school, usually passing comment on the resilience of the children with entries such as ‘a spirit of cheerful activity prevails.

On 11 November 1918 (Armistice Day) the school was poignantly shut for two weeks although the reason was more likely to be connected with the ongoing flu pandemic.

In early January 1919 an afternoon’s holiday was given to enable the children to attend a tea and treat given in honour of peace. That summer the King gave a week’s holiday in commemoration of peace, and on 11 November 1919 the children from Platt attended their first Armistice Service at St. Mary’s Church.

1939 – 1945

The effects on daily life at Platt Primary School during the Second World War were far more pronounced than in World War One. Despite Zeppelin raids and later bombing by aircraft over Britain between 1915 and 1918, the parish of Platt remained largely untouched by this, and local people were able to go about their ordinary lives unhindered.

By 1939 aircraft technology had advanced to a level where long-range bombing by an enemy air force was a very real possibility, and consequently as early as 1936, precautionary plans had been drawn up by the parish to address the issue of air raids, with the village appointing it’s first air warden in 1938.

On 31 August 1939, the day before war with Germany was declared, the school closed in the afternoon in accordance with emergency arrangements received from Maidstone relating to the evacuation of children. Traditionally the school had always shut for about a month at the end of August for the hop-picking holiday, and so the closure coincided with this and the school remained closed until 25 September.

At the start of the new term, changes at the school had already become evident with the inclusion of pupils from Shooters Hill Boys School and the Convent School, who had all been evacuated to the area. Initially the boys were taught in the morning session (afternoons from late October), whilst the ‘native’ children attended in the afternoon, along with those from the Convent School.

Throughout the war the school also played host to students from the McMillan Nursery School near Wrotham, who appear to have been engaged in work experience at a number of primary schools in the area. As the ‘phoney’ war set in and bombs did not immediately begin raining down as many expected, large numbers of children returned home to their families. The Shooters Hill School relocated in its entirety to Kippington Grange in Sevenoaks, and no further mention is made of the Convent children in the school log book, who we can only assume also moved elsewhere, or returned home.

Throughout the winter of 1939-40 life at the school appears to have returned to relative normality. Heavy snow and freezing conditions in late January 1940 shut everything down for several days on account of a frozen sanitary system. The toilets were outdoors and in sub-zero conditions the cisterns and pipes regularly froze.

A reminder that the war was not too far away came on 25 April 1940 when the ARP Warden interrupted lessons to issue the children with gas masks, which by all accounts took over an hour to adjust. They were required to carry these with them for the remainder of the war.

On 28 June 1940 the school closed for two weeks to accommodate the annual fruit-picking holiday. The British and French had recently evacuated from Dunkirk, and German attentions were about to turn towards an invasion of Britain. At 3:30 pm on 15 August the first air-raid siren sounded just as the juniors were preparing for dismissal. The sirens were based in Borough Green (at the fire station) and West Malling, and on this occasion the ‘all clear’ was sounded half an hour later. Warnings continued through the evening and consequently attendance at the school the following day was down to about 65%.

The Battle of Britain had begun in earnest, and school life over the next four months was continually disrupted by daily air-raid warnings, which would often last for over an hour. During these periods the children would shelter in the school corridor, which was protected from glass splinters, and continue their lessons from there. As a result of the situation, and in accordance with K.E.C. instructions, the school was split in half so that not all children would be present at any one time. The children from the village attended in one half of the day (usually the afternoon) whilst the ‘outdistrict’ children from Wrotham Heath, Addington etc. (who travelled in by bus) would attend in the other.

Attendance continued to be inconsistent, sometimes with only a few children turning up. This was particularly evident on 16 October 1940 when, following the bombing of Wrotham Heath the previous night, only nine children were present in school.

In November 1940, with the Battle of Britain all but over, the children began attending school all together again on the 11th, and life began to settle down, with no further warnings being recorded in the log book until October 1942.

By late-spring 1941 an air raid shelter had been erected in an area of the playground now populated by the school nursery. It was a concrete and brick structure that contained fifty gas masks, and a heater for the colder months. Due to its almost indestructible nature, the shelter remained on site for many years after the war, and was subsequently used for storing items of equipment – including the fabled school maypole.

Also in the spring of 1941, the horticultural adviser to the K.E.C. visited the school and discussed the possibility of cultivating school gardens, which were eventually planted at the end of 1942 on land where the current Reception and Year One classrooms sit. The children gathered leaves from Platt Woods to make compost for the garden, and vegetables were grown for the war effort. On the evidence of the logbook, it was the boys who primarily worked in the gardens, and usually during the afternoon session.

The provision of hot canteen meals was another new implementation for the school during the war years. They had been initially discussed in August 1942, and after making some architectural adjustments to accommodate a canteen, the first school dinner was eventually served in the school on 15 March 1943.

On 17 April 1944 the school also received its first wireless radio, and following the installation of an electric meter two weeks later; the children were able to listen to the first of a series of broadcasts for schools from 2 May.

Throughout 1941 and much of 1942 there appears to have been a lull in air raid warnings, however enemy aircraft returned between October and December 1942 when the Luftwaffe carried out numerous ‘tip and run’ attacks over Kent. These were fast, low-level raids on coastal towns and on specific military and industrial targets. The first of these to affect the school occurred at 10:20 am on 19 October 1942 forcing the children to take cover in the shelter for the first time since it was constructed. During the alert AK-AK gunfire was heard quite clearly by the pupils, who according to an ex-student, took everything in their stride and were not visibly bothered by the noise, often making their way to the shelter without excitement or fuss. Numerous alerts occurred between 19 October and 16 December, often several times during the day. A government inspection during this period noted that the children were bright and cheerful and despite the testing circumstances, showed by their intelligent answers that they were well taught.

In addition to regular wartime prayers during opening worship, and the creation of the vegetable garden, the school also supported the war effort in the ‘Wings to Victory’ and ‘Salute the Soldier’ weeks. In these the children participated in sponsored races to raise money. Another fundraiser was ‘Pound for Pound Day where the children would collect various commodities and take them to Sevenoaks Hospital (in 1944 they collected 250lbs!) Unfortunately there is no mention as to the exact nature of these ‘commodities’, and similarly the special book drives to help the ‘county effort’ are equally as vague.

In late-spring 1944 the ever-present sound of passing military vehicles could be heard from the classrooms as they made their way towards the coast in preparation for D-Day. Having rumbled through Platt and Wrotham Heath; British and American trucks, jeeps, tanks etc. would often pull up on the roadside along the current A20 near Addington, and take a break before travelling on to their destination. The Platt children would cheer, and the Americans would throw them sweets and chocolate as they passed by.

During mid-June 1944, and with the Allied invasion over a month old, the Germans began retaliating by sending V1 ‘Doodlebug’ Rockets over to England. The first air raid in Platt relating to this new menace came on 16 June, with four warnings occurring between 9:00 am and 1:55pm.

‘Bomb Alley’, as large areas of Kent became known, suffered heavily from flying bombs throughout the summer of 1944 and with the exception of the fruit picking holiday, which had continued as usual throughout the war, the children found themselves having to spend a good proportion of the school day in the shelter on an almost daily basis. For example, on 29 August the alerts came at: 11:25 – 11:45am, 12:15 – 12:30pm, 1:00 – 1:25pm, 1:55 – 2:20pm, and 2:35 – 2:50pm. On another occasion, school sports day was interrupted when gunfire from local anti aircraft batteries based on the golf course at Wrotham Heath was heard, and everyone rapidly took to the shelters. Usually the bombs flew overhead without incident, however several were reported to have fallen on the parish, although mercifully none on the school building.

In June and July, and as result of the doodlebugs, a number of children from the school were evacuated (some to Somerset.) Of those, four were from Platt, five from Wrotham Heath, three from Offham and another three from Addington.

The school closed for the hop-picking holiday on 1 September and no further air raids are recorded in the school logbook until March 1945 when the children entered the shelter on two occasions between 14 and 19 March – possibly due to the more deadly V2 rockets. By this point the war had entered its final weeks, and on 8 May 1945 (VE Day) the school closed for two days. Three months later it closed again to celebrate VJ Day on 15 August.