Prewar, the Regent Street Polytechnic Secondary School for Boys was a very unusual if not unique school. Situated in the heart of London, half-way between Oxford Circus and the H.Q. of the B.B.C., it drew pupils from the centre of the City to the suburbs. The boys were a cosmopolitan lot - sons of diplomats, of refugees, and of various kinds of professionals as well as scholarship boys and those awarded a Free Place after competitive examinations.
The school had the benefit of superb facilities such as the physics and chemistry laboratories, workshops, library, swimming pool, rifle range and restaurant, which were available on the Regent Street site for the higher and further education work of the Polytechnic. Morning assembly was in the adjacent Polytechnic cinema with its plush tip-up seats and Compton cinema organ▼, which the public enjoyed later each day. The institute's excellent playing fields, athletics track and other sports facilities were at Chiswick. The Polytechnic's travel enterprise (which became the Lunn Poly) arranged school trips, including regular summer visits to its own chalets in Switzerland. A number of the school's masters were involved in these extra-curricula activities.
Since the homes of the masters and boys of what was essentially a Public Day school were scattered over Greater London it was rare for the masters to meet their pupils outside school hours. Suddenly, from the day of the evacuation on 1st September 1939, all that and much else changed. The masters became responsible for the boys 24/7, as we say nowadays, in a school that had become a Public Boarding school - but with the boarding scattered in numerous billets in and around small towns and villages in rural Somerset. Moreover the masters had to find homes, move their families and teach in unfamiliar surroundings with far fewer facilities.
The boys were transported in one day from a city environment to the countryside, which for most of them was completely new territory. They had to become familiar with the strange ways of life in small communities in which farming, hunting and other rural pursuits were the norm.
It is intended to provide pen portraits of the masters but meanwhile two must be mentioned. The Headmaster in 1939 was Dr. B.L. Worsnop, a distinguished physicist who had joined from King's College London to head the Maths and Physics department of the Polytechnic. He had then transferred to head the school on the departure of his predecessor, F. Wilkinson, to Latymer Upper School. 'Nobby' Worsnop was the steady hand steering the school during the difficult and uncertain years of its evacuation.
The other staff member who should be mentioned at this stage is C.E. Eckersley, who edited The Quintinian from before the war. A renowned expert in English, it was he who encouraged the boys to write about their experiences in the period leading up to the outbreak of war, during the evacuation itself and while the school was located far from London. Under his leadership the magazine became a vehicle for boys, former boys and masters to express themselves in prose, verse, fiction and puzzles, nearly all of which referred to wartime activities and experiences. C.E. Eckersley left the school in mid-1943 to become educational adviser to the much esteemed publisher Longmans Green but the tradition he established was admirably maintained by his successor.
Thus in the wartime issues of The Quintinian we learn in their own words of the trials and tribulations of some boys and masters returning to England in the days immediately before war as well as two first-hand accounts of life as pupils in German schools. Several boys describe the process of the evacuation itself - first, because the school was put on the wrong train, to four small villages near Cheddar and then after three weeks to Minehead where it stayed for the duration. Boys describe how they learnt about farming 'tricks of the trade' - such as collecting eggs without being pecked - as well as about forestry, hunting and other local practices. Both masters and boys have written accounts of House and other activities, Clubs, Societies, Sport and numerous events, nearly all of them reflecting the war in one way or another. Most school leavers and a few of masters recorded in The Quintinian their experiences in the Armed Services at home and overseas. Sadly, there were displayed too often In Memorium notices about Old Quintinians who had lost their lives on active service - one particularly poignant such announcement was in an issue of The Quintinian which contained a letter from the young man expressing his hopes and aspirations.
From the pages of these magazines there emerges a remarkable picture of the human spirit in time of war.
Beck H.V. (1935-42)
Through the good offices of the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Councillor Tim Joiner, the organ has been restored to full working order. The quality and versatility of the newly-restored instrument was demonstrated at the 2006 Reception of the University of Westminster and among those attending were five boys of the School who last heard it just before they were evacuated in 1939.