VE Day and PGS : dancing in the street then “business as usual”

As the nation celebrates the 75th anniversary of VE day in the best way it can, let’s look back at how the school welcomed the news at the time, after over five long years of European occupation and conflict.

Following the successful D-Day operations in the Summer of 1944, the end of the war was in sight and news of Victory in Europe, on the 8th May, signalled that it was imminent. Throughout Portsmouth, church bells joyously rang out and in Portsmouth Harbour ships’ sirens and hooters joined in a cacophonous chorus of celebration.  The residents of the city decked their battered, narrow terraced streets with bunting and Union Jacks. Spontaneous street parties took off with singing and dancing. Effigies of Hitler were burned.

One immediate and very welcome benefit for pupils, announced by Headmaster Donald Lindsay, was a two-day school holiday enabling pupils to join the street parties and, later, a crowd of 25,000 celebrating in the Guildhall Square. They cheered as sailors climbed the burned-out shell of the Guildhall tower to ring the Pompey Chimes.

The editor of the Portmuthian took it all in his stride. “Victory in Europe has not, if the stark truth must be told, inaugurated any dramatic change in our life or progress”. The school, he reported, “is rising Phoenix-like from its own ashes”. On their return from their celebratory holiday the boys assembled in the school hall for a Service of Thanksgiving before academic studies were resumed. It was business as usual.

Pupils had returned from their evacuation at Southbourne back in January 1945 and over the following months had enthusiastically played their part putting the school back together again. The school site, occupied by the Royal Navy for five years, had been bombed. Incendiaries badly damaged the Lower School (now the Upper Junior) and an explosive bomb made a large crater in the Quad, taking out many windows. Hilsea was in a terrible state following army use, though cricket matches were able to take place. Classrooms were reinstated and arrangements made for athletic sports to take place at the Royal Naval ground at Pitt Street (in the area where Morrisons now stands).

VE day was celebrated, but the war was not over. Relatives of men fighting in the Far East, where the war raged on, could not fully embrace the joy. A further eleven former pupils are known to have died following the Victory in Europe.

The school looked to the future. Temporary wartime staff left, pre-war staff returned and new staff were taken on. Confidence was growing. The number of pupil admissions increased dramatically. “Already, the school is regaining its former vigour”, it was reported, “enthusiasm grows apace”. The school was “on the threshold of a new age… “.