School logbook gives insight into how Bungay was touched by First World War
PUBLISHED: 13:24 27 January 2019
Bungay Museum possesses the Head Master’s log-book of school attendance and events for the Boys’ department of the local Council School.
It covers the period 1900 to 1939, and provides fascinating information about the effect on school life of the first World War.
The Bungay region was fortunate in suffering little direct impact from enemy hostilities, although a large number of local men were killed fighting abroad. Many of them were young, little more than boys, and one of the most poignant photos in the Museum collection depicts a group of new recruitments having a picnic tea outside their army tents at Lowestoft, excited, apprehensive, with little idea of what to expect once they were stationed overseas.
Many Bungay children lost their fathers or brothers, and their daily lives were affected when women were required to assist with War work, or take on men’s occupations, and no longer able to provide full time domestic care at home.
One of the main problems for the school-master was absenteeism. Council education was for children from poor backgrounds, and many of the boys regularly played truant because they were needed at home to run errands, help with tasks, look after younger children, or earn money especially during the harvest period. They would also just bunk off in the summer to enjoy fishing or swimming on Outney Common. But during the War they had additional reasons for being absent. For example, in 1916, when Zeppelin raids occurred in the region, the School Log Book records:
‘Zeppelin airships kept the inhabitants of the district out of bed for the nights of August 2nd and 3rd, and children slept on the following mornings, and could not go to school’.
In June, 1917:
‘Possible German air-raids were in the minds of teachers... in view of proximity of the air-station at Pulham, and of the news of the havoc wrought by German aeroplanes in London yesterday. Arrangements will be made for the children to scatter in the streets and fields in a manner pre-arranged’.
The idea of large numbers of children scattering in the streets and fields during a bombing-raid is mind- boggling!
Presumably there were no proper air-raid shelters, as were provided during WW2.
The port of Lowestoft, fifteen miles away, became a target for attack, and the distant thud of heavy guns could often be heard as the fighting edged nearer to the Channel coast.
Residents from Lowestoft came to stay with relatives in Bungay in May, 1916, to avoid possible naval bombardment. The head-master reports:
‘Inflow and outflow of Lowestoft refugees have affected recently the numbers on the school roll’ – adding, crossly – ‘causing much additional clerical labour’.
On July 26th, 1916, a Royal Review of local troops was arranged by king George V in order to boost local morale. The troops marched from their camps at Flixton and Bungay, to Beccles, on a hot and dusty day, and the School Log records:
‘The military review by the King at Gillingham has seriously affected the attendance this morning. Many children also were very late, as they could not get through the long procession of soldiers - 225 present out of a total of 308 on the books’.
In June, 1918, the pupils were pleased to have a morning out of school. ‘This being War Weapons Week, the children took their part in the procession round the town. In the Market Place they assembled round the Howitzer gun, which is being exhibited there by the Military, and sang the National Anthem’.
During this last year of the War, during the autumn the pupils were given half-day holidays to gather blackberries and acorns for the War Effort. The blackberries provided jam for the troops, and the acorns were made into fodder for cattle.
The War was coming to an end but a new horror now threatened the population. During 1918 – 19, the most virulent influenza epidemic ever recorded spread through Europe. The head-master records prolonged absences of staff, and on October 31st, 1918, announced the school would be closed as the virus continued to spread. It didn’t re-open until December 2nd, but, for some time after, school activities and attendance continued to be disrupted.