Pupils, staff, Old Bromsgrovians and friends of Bromsgrove School gathered at Routh Concert Hall on Saturday 16th November for the launch of former Deputy Headmaster Philip Bowen’s second book entitled Bromsgrove School at War and in Wales 1939-45.
The history of Bromsgrove School in the 20th Century was deeply affected by both world wars. In the first conflict, ninety-six Old Bromsgrovians died; in the second one hundred and three. After publishing a history of the School and the Great War in 2014, Philip Bowen has published his second book. Old Bromsgrovians died retreating to Dunkirk; in the Battle of Britain; North African deserts; going down with their ships; on D-Day; at Arnhem; in the advance on Germany and in harrowing circumstances in the Far East. Many joined the R.A.F and died in fighters and bombers.
The most striking contrast for the School was its exile to Wales. Many public schools were forced to leave their premises, often because of the danger of air-raids but Bromsgrove’s spacious and secluded campus was needed for war work. There is some mystery about what went on at the School. It was certainly a retreat for the India Office and some say the Churchill tank was designed there.
The Headmaster, David Walters, was summoned to London at the end of 1938 and told that in the event of war, the School would be occupied. He could only divulge the plan to his Chairman of Governors, Lord Cobham. A welshman, Walters visited several small towns in mid-Wales and at the end of a long, frustrating January day, reached the smallest town in Great Britain – Llanwrtyd Wells. He had found a temporary home which was destined to take on the appearance of a university town. Once war had broken out, in days, he had masterminded the transfer of a boarding School and its equipment. Huge pantechnicons made sixty journeys in all. It was a remarkable, logistical achievement. The School returned in 1943.
The vast Memorial Chapel at Bromsgrove School is a lasting monument to the Fallen in both world wars. At its completion in 1960, Mr Routh, Headmaster said to the School 'This place enshrines the memory of those who gave their lives so that you are sitting here in safety today. Never, I charge you, forget that you are treading on hallowed ground.' That is still remembered and respected by today's students.
Commenting on the evening, Mr McClure, Deputy Head Pastoral said “It was humbling to hear, and indeed to help to present, the stories of the many Old Bromsgrovians who lost their lives in the Second World War in an evening which provided real insight into the era, as well as a potent mix of heroism, tragedy, pathos and some humour. Mr Bowen has ensured that this part of Bromsgrove’s timeline is duly recorded, true to the memory and legacy of those figures who served both the School and their country at a most difficult time in our long history. His meticulous research and evident love of the School was clear to all on a special evening, made even more so by the personal connections he has made with a number of relatives of those mentioned, who were able to be with us in person on the night”.