#ThrowbackThursday: A tale of two schools

Evacuation scenes at the Weighbridge, St. Helier, 20 June 1940
Evacuation scenes at the Weighbridge, St. Helier, 20 June 1940

Local writer Harry McPhail, looks at moments on our doorstep that had an impact for people of the time and beyond.

This is a short story about how Bedford School welcomed boys from Victoria College, Jersey whilst the island was under German occupation in WWII.

In an old edition of a Bedford School Magazine, there was a short article about these events and it was named ‘a tale of two schools’ hence the title.

I was recently given a few documents by a school teacher outlining the events of the Jersey occupation and the particular impact this had on Bedford School.

What is especially interesting about this story is the legacy it left behind and how the connections made nearly 80 years ago still live on.

When Jersey fell on 1 July 1940 to German occupation, the island was under immense pressure to keep everyone safe.

There was no official evacuation which meant although many Jersey citizens managed to get to the British mainland there was no clear idea of numbers.

Victoria College’s Headmaster was already in England with a group of boys taking public examinations.

In August, the Headmaster, Mr Grummitt, decided to try and establish a version of Victoria College in England for those students who had been evacuated.

As the evacuation was not official, nobody knew the exact number of boys who had been able to escape.

Victoria College, Jersey. Image: Man vyi (public domain)

Bedford School’s Headmaster and Governors agreed to take on these boys, offering a temporary boarding house at 19 Lansdowne Road.

Bedford became therefore the only Public School in England to give hospitality to pupils from another school, which had been captured by the Germans.

As one of the acting Headmasters of Victoria College stated: “this was a great opportunity and those Victorians who profited owe a debt which can never be repaid.”

Despite only having only 34 boys towards the latter stages of 1940 at Bedford School, their impact was significant.

The boys, once they had settled in, thrived in their academic studies with many notable achievements. One boy in particular it seems did very well whilst studying in Bedford.

Derek Benest achieved an open scholarship at New College Oxford, in History and Modern languages, a state scholarship, and a Government Scholarship for Oriental Studies.

In terms of sport, Jersey were known for football and hockey which differed from Bedford School in 1940 which of course was very much focused on rugby, rowing and cricket.

Back in Jersey during the German occupation, Victoria College was commandeered for the Reich Labour Service.

College House, which was a boarding house attached to the school, was used by the German army as a key strategic location.

Perhaps though it is the legacy which is most interesting.

Each year, Bedford Prep School take a Year 6 Sports Trip to Jersey whereby boys from both schools compete in various sports including the traditional association football, hockey, cricket and also now rugby.

In terms of wider connections, whilst it is not directly linked to WWII, Bedford Blues, our local rugby team, have in recent years developed a fierce rivalry with the Jersey Reds.

Bedford Blues v Jersey Reds
Bedford Blues v Jersey Reds. Image: Bedford Blues/Nigel Rudgard

This game often sees supporters travel across the water to watch the hotly anticipated games.

All in all, out of adversity a wonderful relationship was formed between two great schools with connections that are still prospering today.

As a Bedford School report writes: “those who came as strangers remained as friends”.

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