JAGS Journal: Alumnae Memories in Your Own Words
Alumna Dorothy Pask shares her memories of JAGS during her time here from 1932-1943.
JAGS as it was in the 1940's
My earliest memories of JAGS go back over 80 years to when my mother took me to sit the entrance exam in November 1932 at the invitation of Miss Belcher, Headmistress. I passed and began the folowing January, entering the School by external steps that led down to the cloakroom. There were six Houses, each with its distinctive colour and motto: Bourgeois, green; Cartwright, brown; Carver, yellow; Desenfans, mauve; Linley, red, and Whitfield, blue...Very soon, as new girls, we had to learn to make a shoe bag with drawstrings from crash linen, embroidered with our initials, to contain house shoes, black plimsolls for games, and white for gym. A warning bell went at 8:50 am, the silence bell at 8:55 am, and we had to be in class by 9:00 am. Woe to anyone who spoke after the bell (that earned a report or detention), or ran down the corridor, where single file was strictly maintained by terrifying prefects.
Evacuation and The Blitz
With the eminent threat of war in 1939, the School was evacuated on August 26 from West Dulwich Station to Lenham, a little village in Kent, with our suitcases containing a change of clothes, iron rations, gas masks, and a 2 lb bar of Cadbury's milk chocolate, probably supplied by the government, and a label round our necks. On arrival we were taken to the village hall while locals arrived to select their evacuees. On September 3rd we filed out of church to see a large poster proclaiming the declaration of war. Soon afterwards, we went to Sevenoaks to various billets there. With a few exceptions, the School returned home at Christmas and life resumed as normal until the Battle of Britain started, after the fall of France, and the miracle of Dunkirk.
My brother and I returned at Christmas in time for the worst of the Blitz which continued into the next two terms, but we didn't miss a day from school. Nights were often spent in the Anderson shelter in the garden, frequently interrupted by warning sirens, and deafened by the sheer noise of the AA guns on Dulwich Common. Lessons often had to be taken in cloakrooms which were sometimes flooded, and there had been a fire and further damage to the School's old buildings through the bombing. There was a temporary roof on the old building by Summer 1941, and numbers began to rise from the low of 130. There was a huge expansion in collecting - milk bottle tops, 11,000 books, 3,000 cotton reels, 27,000 Red Cross pennies, National Savings, making toys for hospitals, nursery schools, and poor children in Camberwell, as well as maintaining all the traditional charities.
The first and last day of each school year had its own well-loved ritual. Among other hymns such as 'O God, our help in ages past', 'Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven', were always included at the comencement of term, the first two verses of 'Lord behold us with thy blessing/Once assembled here', Hymn 523 in our English Hymnal, followed by that beautiful reading from the King James Bible, Philippians Chapter 4, vv 4-9. If anyone reads this now they will understand the teaching by which we at JAGS were constantly guided.
On my last day standing with friends in the gallery of the Old Hall, I was not the only one in tears, and envying like mad "those returning". Many of us begged to keep our hymnals, mine tending to fall to bits now, but still in its crash linen cover. I had been the last pupil whose parents still paid £5 fees per term, which had risen to £5 5s 0d!
Altogether a very different school in many ways from the JAGS of today -- yet was it? We were able for many years to enjoy beautiful gardens and grounds, probably unique to a school in suburbia, but these have been replaced by a succession of impressive buildings serving different purposes. There is the same dedication to hard work while having fun, and care for the needs of others that has always been at the heart of JAGS.