Sheila Middleton (nee Miller) was a pupil at DWS 1937-43 and these are her wartime recollections of the uniform, Girls' Training Corps, health, evacuees, walks and emotional impact of WW2.
Some “Jottings” of DWS in Wartime
Clothing coupons meant that choice of some materials were restricted or unavailable, for example, our lovely striped green and white blazers were replaced by a dull green version and badge. Happily, a lot of us managed to keep the original for many years, rather than buy the new version.
2. The Girls’ Training Corps
This was formed in 1942. We wore a “hotch potch” of uniforms to start with and looked rather like Dad’s Army. We met weekly and activities included: marching up and down and doing some fancy drill moves for display purposes during Church parades that were held every Sunday; picking Sphagnum moss at Dolserau for making bandages; and car maintenance, which included washing the Commandant’s car, as I recall.
There were always people queuing up at morning Surgery time with boils, styes, septic fingers etc. A Kaolin Poultice tin was always on the boil to treat such infections - it was very hot and painful. There were no antibiotics then!
In 1941/42, there was a diphtheria outbreak at DWS. Sadly, one girl died and others were infected. We were sent home before the end of term to avoid spreading the infection.
Food rationing meant some changes in amount and variety. Supper after prep, at 7.30pm, was very sparse and inadequate for growing girls. Typically, a bowl of soup or bread and a morsel of cheese or a revolting bean concoction, washed down with a mug of weak cocoa.
Suddenly, a school from Liverpool - Higher Tranmere High School - arrived. The girls and staff lodged in Dolgelley and came to DWS to join us for lessons. This did not work out so well and they soon returned to Liverpool! Later on, an up- market girls’ boarding school from Kent - Bedgebury Park School - arrived and took over nearby Nannau Hall. We used to play them at rounders and other sports, and they stayed in Dolgelley for some years. Some tiny children also arrived with a nanny in tow and joined us at lunchtime - and there were some very small boys who appeared at Tremhyfryd.
We still did the same walks, but one was a bit different. Having trudged up and down Cader Road and past the Carmelite Convent for some years, we thought that because of the war, it was now deserted. So, four of us, Nancy Mayer, Mary Trotter, Barbara Mason and myself tried the front gate, which was like a barricade and as it was locked, we walked down the road and climbed over a high stone wall. I think we were about 14 years of age. Landing by an outhouse, we went in to explore a sort of workshop. Suddenly, Mary Trotter, who was exploring the garden, shouted: “The Nuns are coming” and so they were! We were absolutely terrified and tried to climb back over the wall, but only Nancy Mayer made it and the rest of us were trapped. I do not remember any conversation with the Nuns (it was a silent Order of Nuns anyway), but we did make some lame excuse and were led back up the garden and let out by the barricaded door. We ran like the wind and those kind Nuns never got in touch with the school. I would like to have been able to thank them for that.
6. Emotional impact of the War
I am not sure how much we took in about the seriousness of the situation or what might happen if the Germans invaded our country. Perhaps, as well that we did not.
“Do” (Miss Dorothy Davies) used to come into class and announce that the Russians were doing well in their fight with the Germans. Some French refugee sailors arrived to clean our windows and we tried to speak to them in French. We also listened to Winston Churchill, our Prime Minister, giving us hope and encouragement. Always, there were fears that in the Blitz attacks, our parents would not want us home for the holidays because of the dangers of bombing.
My saddest moment at DWS was receiving a letter from my mother in February 1940, telling me that my brother David, aged 19, in the Merchant Navy, was missing and believed killed, on my 14th birthday. I was quite devastated and to this day, find it very odd that no staff member ever referred to my loss or asked how I was feeling. Perhaps they thought it was better to let me get on with my life. No such thing as counselling in those days. I wonder if any other pupil experienced a similar loss?
I left DWS in July 1943 to go to Edinburgh University, two years before the end of the war. I think I was very lucky to grow up in the lovely countryside and have been educated at DWS.
Sheila Middleton (nee Miller), March 2015. Pupil at DWS, 1937-43.
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