Doncaster Schools in the war

By University Centre Doncaster student Jen Garner

Oxford Infants Peace Celebrations, Doncaster Heritage Services

During 1914-1918 many aspects of daily life within the Doncaster Borough were affected by the war. Not only through the loss of life and conscription, with many local men leaving their home to fight, and some never returning, but also throughout industry, healthcare and education. The effects were heavily felt by all however very notably by the children within the borough whose fathers, brothers and even teachers were sent to battle for their country. Understandably this meant that schooling within Doncaster began to look very different to that of pre-wartime Doncaster.

Prior to the war’s commencement Doncaster’s schools were flourishing with the numbers of children in attendance increasing. Many of these rises in numbers were as a result of industry and therefore work, causing families to relocate to what were otherwise rural areas. Collieries in particular meant that schools such as Askern Spa were required to expand. With the original site on Selby Road moving to a larger premises on Moss Road in August 1913. Arksey Grammar school also became oversubscribed providing free education for children within the parishes of both Arksey and Bentley until 1877 when another free school was built in Bentley to take charge of some of the pupils.

Sadly as the war began education across Doncaster was directly impacted, either through loss of life affecting the children’s daily routines or through changes which had to be made to the education system in England in order for Britain to carry on as best it could whilst facilitating the needs of both the pupils and the military.

Girls High School c. 1910 9.ESC.46A. Doncaster Local Studies Library.

It was reported within the Doncaster chronicle dated April 23rd 1915, for example, that a meeting in connection with the Thorne branch of the Yorkshire Farmers Union suggested that all children aged 12 and upwards should help the farmers during wartime particularly to assist with harvests and potato gathering at a cost of their formal education as it was argued that this would only prepare these children for “what they were going to be in after life”. Whilst a proposal of this nature would seem preposterous in today’s society at the time this suggestion was met with both applause and support. The only objection at the meeting in fact appeared to come from a teacher. Thankfully however a compromise was sort and it was eventually agree upon that the children would instead help only in the school holidays.

During the period of 1914-1918 many school premises were utilised for military purposes, more specifically as auxiliary hospitals, forcing children to relocate if possible and in some cases leaving children without education entirely. Luckily according to the Red Cross’ records none of the schools within the borough were used as auxiliary hospitals during the First World War. However the Doncaster Education Committee did agree to the military use of the elementary schools during the winter for billeting, as was reported by the Doncaster Chronicle in October 1914. The committee chaired by a George Smith J.P, requested the co-operation of the parents and ensured the readers that the best possible arrangements would be made in the way of temporary premises in order for the children to maintain a good level of education.

Doncaster Grammar School boys, courtesy of Hall Cross Academy

Even if the children were lucky enough to avoid educational disturbances at the hands of manual labour or relocation their daily curricular activities were still impacted by the war. Many of the children were very patriotic and understandably wanted to show their support of our troops. The children of Balby senior school on King Edward Road sent a small parcel containing some 133 articles. The boys raised money to buy luxury provisions for the men such as; chocolate, toffee, cigarettes and tobacco whereas the girls knitted gifts including; mittens, socks, gloves, blankets, pyjamas etc. Alternatively Doncaster Grammar School for boys, which is now Hall Cross Academy, formed a Cadet Corps to effectively train boys aged 16-18 for military life. The boys dedicated 3 days of their academic week to their new training, learning everything from; drill, musketry, map reading and discipline.

Carcroft First School – Account of war given to children – 11th January 1918, rest of day off school – Doncaster Archives SR126-1-1

Aside from these other factors the biggest impact on daily life, not to mention education was more than certainly loss of life. Children would most definitely have felt an enormous amount strain if their loved ones were away fighting. Sadly for many families within the district the eventual news that their nearest and dearest had been killed in battle was all too real with over 1000 men from the Doncaster area losing their lives across the four years. Within this figure were men from all walks of life including school teachers. York St John University accredits the following teachers for their bravery: Donald Ball a teacher from Bentley New village CS who was aged just 22, Edward Batley a teacher from Askern CS who was aged just 23 and Charles A Slack a teacher at Highfield CS who was aged just 25, to name a few. Undoubtedly these losses would have had a huge effect on the schools who were suddenly deprived of such young potential as well as the children who they taught and the families they had left behind.

During the course of the First World War the landscape of education would have altered dramatically for not just the students but for both the Boards of education and the teachers who remained. Some changes were understandably easier to overcome than others. With the biggest change being the loss of these young lives who had all the promising beginnings needed to educate the youth of the Borough.