Friday, June 5, 2009


Life is full of memories - recent and past; good and bad - but we can never change what has gone before and we must never forget from where we have come.

69 years ago over 558,000 Allied soldiers were recovering from completing the trauma of being evacuated back from Dunkirk in an operation (code named Dynamo) that Winston Churchill called a "miracle of deliverance".

4 years later in 1944, over 130,000 British, Canadian and American soldiers were on the eve of the D-Day landings onto the Normandy beaches. Operation Neptune was launched in the early hours of 6 June 1944 and this paved the way for the end of the Second World War. From the defiance expressed in 1940 came optimism with Churchill declaring that the Normandy invasion was proceeding in "a thoroughly satisfactory manner".

Winston Churchill was born here at Blenheim Palace in November 1874 and many powerful memories exist with regard to his very special connection with this place.

Memories surrounding the use of the Palace through the Second World War are equally vibrant and these were brought vividly to life this week with a number of photographs received from Graham Ellis who was evacuated here to Blenheim Palace with nearly 400 Malvern College schoolboys from October 1939 to Summer 1940. The pictures are amazing from 70 years ago - some even in perfect colour - the temporary huts in the Great Court; the black out screened entrance to the Palace; the cars and lorries from the time including the Duke's Lagonda; the railway set in The Orangery; the Merryweather steam fire pump; the Junior Training Corp parading in front of the Palace and a wonderful picture of the 10th Duke on the front steps of the Palace saying farewell to the school in Summer 1940 and thanking them "for not wrecking the place!"

Graham Ellis recalls various stories from this time - "Perhaps I should mention the huts. Living in a hut is a special experience be it at school or in the services. People rant on about 1947/48 winter being cold but it was not a patch on 1939/40. The huts we lived in and worked in (sleeping and eating only in the Palace) were lit and heated by gas. In the winter with the heat full on we worked in overcoats, mittens and balaclavas to keep warm. The huts had a lining of ice on the inside - on a good day at about 4.30pm or so drips of condensation would begin to fall down on your papers. I got chickenpox and was consigned with many others to the San in the Home Farm. This was pre the bath hut and I was told to have a bath before I went in the bath allegedly used by Churchill, I felt very privileged!. Its funny how odd memories come back - like seeing a huge collection of kippers on the steps up to the Great Hall cooking in the hot sun, they were there for hours and by the time we got them they were well and truly off!"

Thank you Graham for these wonderful memories and for evoking and maintaining the very special relationship that still exists today between Blenheim Palace and Malvern College - we will never forget that special year in our history.

With Malvern College departed, MI5 moved in to occupy the Palace for the rest of the war although much less is known from that "secret" time - other than the amusing anecdote that the buses/taxis used to pull up at the Palace gates and the drivers used to shout "Anyone for MI5!" - so much for the secret Secret Service!

Moving to the present day, memories of Dominic (our talented bean counter aka Finance Director) competing in last years Triathlon are still painful as he struggled manfully through the swim phase for the first time. Hopefully months of training plus the experience gained last year will set him up well for tomorrows challenge - good luck Dom we will all be cheering you on and good luck as well to all of the other staff who are competing - Nick, Anita, Roger, Hannah and any I have forgotten. The weather forecast is poor but it should be a great weekend of sport for the 5,000+ athletes who are due to compete!

The dawn brings the daily challenges - whether Operation Neptune 65 years ago or merely the 2009 Triathlon - but everything creates it's memories and every day is precious and memorable.


Post a comment


Anonymous Jacquetta Rodgers said...

A very interesting account. My husband and I were at a nostalgia day to see the archive material for St. Faith's School, Cambridge. The borders at the school during the war were evacuated to Ashburton in Devon, whrereas the day boys stayed in Cambridge.

June 7, 2009 at 1:52 PM  
Anonymous John Hoy said...

Thanks Jacquetta

Wartime must have been an interesting time for school children across the country. By a bizarre concidence, I went to St Faith's School in Cambridge (Chaucer House from 1970 to 1974) before then going on to The Ley's - I did not know about their experiences in the war.

What a small world!

Many thanks for posting a comment - good to get feedback.



June 7, 2009 at 11:30 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home