- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Margaret Dury
- Location of story:
- Welling, Kent
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 November 2003
From 1938 until 1946 I was teaching at a school in Welling, Kent. Maryville was a beautiful, highly esteemed school on the Bellgrove Road, just at the foot of Shooters Hi... This was actually in direct line as the crow flies with Woolwich Arsenal. The sirens warning of an attack became an everyday part of life, although every attention was given to the safety of the pupils, staff and personnel. I well remember one day the throb of the doodle bug inspired particular fear as it seemed to be directly overhead. The girls were actually doing their Matriculation exam. so they had to gather up their exam. sheets, their papers and equipment and dash in silence down to the basement where long tables had been installed. Looking back I am filled with admiration at the self-imposed discipline of those students. As a supervisor, never did I have to remind them of the duty of discretion, honesty and adjustment to circumstances. However, even when the “all clear” sounded, we usually decided to continue our work until the time limit was reached. Naturally, when all necessary procedure was completed according to exam stipulations, there was a controlled sense of relief and relaxation. This emergency drill became so normal in the end that we, the Staff, had no need to give instructions; the students re-acted with an amazing sense of maturity, self-control and, I think I can say, fearlessness.
On another day, the sirens started to scream just as we were en route to the dinning room. Fortunately, the girls were in a fairly compact line, and when I shouted as loudly as I could “DOWN”, they fell flat like a pack of cards, myself with them. We lay there for some time while the building trembled but stood firm. To relieve the tension, I started singing and they all joined in. As soon as the “all clear” sounded they were up and on their way to the dining hall! On that occasion it was the railway line that was hit. But the resilience and courage of those girls became fully clear to me only years later when, in a school in Hertfordshire, such behaviour would never have been witnessed.
The most amazing incident while I was at Maryville was the day the school did receive a direct hit, or a partial one, where the assembly hall suffered extensive damage. It was after the pupils had gone home (they went early in the winder, before dark). Those of us who had remained to do what teachers so often do before leaving - collecting books, correcting work rather than take it home, etc. etc. - knew we had been hit. As soon as the “all clear” sounded we went to investigate. There was glass everywhere, plaster from fractured walls, curtains of the stage ripped. But, standing intact, unmoved, untouched, was a statue of the Virgin Mary attached to the wall. And, on the floor at the foot of the pedestal was the empty shell of the bomb. Miraculous, certainly, but I have to admit, uncanny. It was as though the bomb had been afraid to go further and, having caused so much destruction, had been restrained. That shell case was later secured to the pedestal as a reminder of this incredible protection. I know this account is absolutely true as I was one of the staff to witness this, and to help clear up the glass and havoc this shell caused.
The house next to the school was occupied by General de Gaulle, his aide and a secretary - Irene Jennings. He was most unpopular but, enjoying diplomatic immunity, the residents in these lovely houses in Bellgrove Road were powerless to force him to draw blackout curtains. So, while being in direct line for Woolwich, his well lighted house was a guide line for the in-coming planes and other weapons. We, the staff who were not resident at the school, said some very “unfriendly things” about the de Gaulle present there!
His secretary, Irene Jennings, was to marry the aide so, - on pretext of the “honour” to serve Gen. de Gaulle, parents were asked to provide the bridesmaids etc. for the wedding - supplying their dresses etc. on their own clothing coups, their rations etc. to make a memorable occasion. One parent I remember very well, Mrs. Jukes, was beyond herself with rage when, requesting payment for all the cost of the dresses and ration coupons, was told the honour of serving Gen. de Gaulle should be payment enough!!! I have never forgotten that wartime wedding, with sparking cortege and elaborate reception, held in the beautiful grounds of the school, all thanks to the sacrifices made by unsuspecting parents.
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