Percy Jackson’s did their bit in dark war days

The Percy Jackson Grammar School.
The Percy Jackson Grammar School.

This story of Percy Jackson’s Grammar School during the war years is a brief snapshot by ex pupil Janet Kitson Roberts of the school’s life during the Second World War:

The school itself opened for business on 9 October 1939 but the official opening was then delayed until 23 October 1943 because of World War II.

Some of the teachers appointed in the school’s early days were soon called up and retired teachers returned to fill the breach.

P.E teacher Mr W. Ronald F. Cockroft saw service from 1939-46 being commissioned in June 1940 as an officer in the Royal Armoured Corps and during 1944-45, his unit of Churchill tanks advanced from Normandy across the Rhine to the Ruhr. His unit formed the guard at the signing of the Armistice on Lüneburg Heath. Mr Leslie F. Belton (Art & Woodwork teacher) served with the 149 Squadron of the RAF and sent his ex-pupils a signed photo of himself when he was presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross as Flight Lieutenant.

Miss Mona Fell (German teacher) encouraged the adoption of a ‘battleship’. This was actually a minesweeper SS ‘Saronta’, a trawler requisitioned for war service in 1940. The children used to knit the crew of the ship woollen sea-boot stockings and sweaters. The ‘Saronta’ crew sent photos in return.

The war had taken away some of the teachers however it gave the school quite a useful one in Dr Michael Tennenhaus (German teacher). He was a fugitive born of a Jewish family in Bukovina, now in Romania. At the beginning of the war his poor wife and his young son disappeared into the Nazi death camps never to be seen again. When the school was first opened, there were only 85 pupils and air raid shelters were built at the front of the school which were camouflaged with grass. Children were issued with gas masks and practiced air raid drills.

Things were soon to change when the building became a safe haven for the evacuee boys from the Riley High School in the heavily bombed city of Hull. They were then able to continue their education with their own school teachers in attendance; it was the best way forward at the time. They were billeted with families of Percy Jackson’s Grammar School pupils and other local families. Soon they were joined by evacuees from Kent, Somerset and London.

Many of the pupils of the Grammar School remember the sky being lit up by the glow coming from the bombing of the local cities such as Sheffield and Hull. It could be clearly seen by Roger Parnell & his brother as they stood with their father at the top of Ridge Balk Lane, Woodlands. If the bombers had any bombs left on their way back from Sheffield, they would try to bomb Brodsworth Colliery. Once they had a near miss, which left the stone wall along the road with a permanent kink in it.A Jewish boy, Siegfried Franz Spira arrived via the Kindertransport arrangement and spent a year at Percy Jackson’s Grammar School. He then went on with his father to join his mother in the States where he was to become well-known as Fred Spira with his successful photographic business ‘Spiratone’.

* “Percy Jackson’s: History of the Percy Jackson Grammar School” by Ken Cooke, revised edition 2010, Troubador Publishing Ltd., or direct from the author.