Repton School housed evacuees during the Second World War and sadly lost some of its alumni.
The 1940 mass evacuation of Britain’s troops from northern France left the nation standing virtually alone in its battle against Germany, and soldiers spent much of the year defending both the skies and the seas against bombs and invasion. The June 1940 edition of The Reptonian describes the events that took place in Europe, noting that “the very cradle of European civilisation” had found itself “overrun by the iron-clad armies of the Nazis. All in France is unspeakably terrible. Yet here in Repton, in the middle of our ‘Island Fortress’, all is still, serene, and peaceful.”
That said, the Second World War did have a major impact on Repton School. Here, we’ll explore what school life looked like during the war and remember the Old Reptonians who fought in the Battle of Britain.
In 1938, Repton’s headmaster briefed staff on how the School would react to an international emergency: When the war commenced, many of Repton’s younger masters enlisted, and retired teachers returned to teach the pupils instead. These teachers had to wear gas masks, and the headmaster regularly reprimanded staff who forgot to wear these. Meanwhile, the pupils traded their traditional uniforms of tailcoats and straw hats for practical grey tweed suits.
During the war, Repton managed frequent air raid drills in its bomb shelter, and each House formed a fire squad to respond to enemy action. Repton also formed a Labour Corps and excused boys from watching House matches so they could assist on local farms. And, during most of the first year of the war, Repton parked a well-used fighter aircraft in front of the Grubber. The aircraft’s internal mechanisms were fully exposed, and it provided an excellent training facility for the air force section of the Corps.
After one unsuccessful exercise, the master in charge of the Corps noted that “some sort of non-lethal bomb from the air would teach concealment better than anything”. He believed that live ammunition would encourage pupils to keep their heads down — a theory that fortunately went untested. Luckily, the boys managed just this when a damaged Hurricane exploded into flames in a garden at the back of the Orchard.
During the summer of 1940, the pupils from King Edward’s School in Birmingham were evacuated to Repton and boarded at homes in the village. Other evacuees attended the School from Framlingham College in Suffolk and from Alpine College in Switzerland. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery moved much of its collection to the School for safekeeping, and Old Mitre, a Repton boys’ House, became accommodation for several RAF personnel.
As the threat to Britain increased, Repton’s headmaster cancelled Speech Day, which was unheard of, and discussed defence measures for the expected invasion with the housemasters. The School then established a Home Guard platoon to protect the armoury. When the 1940 summer term ended, the Battle of Britain had been going on for over a fortnight. Although Repton was well away from the action on the South Coast, the School lost four former pupils over the summer: Philip Barran, Robert Shaw, Lionel Schwind, and Peter Drummond-Hay.
Barran joined the RAF as a pilot at the beginning of the Second World War. He was a founding member of No. 609 Squadron. On July. 11, 1940, the radar stations picked up a signal on the Dorset coast, and No. 609 Squadron sent six spitfires into the area, where they found a formation of Stukas about to attack a convoy. The Messerschmitts attacked and shot Barran, who was the flight commander, in the combat that followed. Barran managed to bail out five miles from the shore. Although he was rescued from the sea, he died before reaching land.
Shaw was a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 1 Squadron. On Sept. 3, 1940, much of the Battle of Britain was taking place over Kent. More than 600 enemy planes circled, and the RAF launched 729 sorties and 123 patrols in response. Shaw died that morning as he intercepted enemy planes in his Hurricane. His body was never recovered, but a memorial garden has been planted over the crash site, where villagers continue to honour his sacrifice.
Schwind joined the RAF in 1936 and flew with No. 257 Squadron and No. 213 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. On Sept. 27, 1940, four consecutive formations of German aircraft, totalling at 640, flew over the South of England. The RAF spent the day in almost continual fights against superior numbers. As a flying officer, Schwind was piloting a Hurricane on an early morning patrol when several Messerschmitts near Gatwick intercepted his squadron and hit the tail of his aircraft, which caught fire. Schwind wasn’t able to bail out, and he died as his plane ploughed into the ground. He was due to have a second wedding with his pregnant wife Georgina the next day as his father hadn’t been able to attend the original ceremony.
For many years, Repton’s local boys tended to the crash site, removing weeds from the area, gathering wild flowers from the surrounding woodland, and placing these at the foot of a beech tree.
Drummond-Hay was a member of No. 609 Squadron. After a false alarm on July. 9, 1940, he and his roommate David Crook, planned a trip for the next day when they would be off duty. But, that evening, they were required to patrol Spitfires off Weymouth. When they saw some Junkers 87 Stuka dive-bombers attacking a convoy, Drummond-Hay raced after them and shot down a Messerschmitt 109. He was then shot down too. When Crook returned to base that evening, he moved to the adjacent cubicle, haunted by the vision of his friend lying in his cockpit at the bottom of the Channel.
Another Old Reptonian, Ian Hallam, fought in the Battle of Britain — and survived. He flew up to four sorties each day and in a short space of time shot down one Messerschmitt and damaged another three. However, in 1942, he was shot down over the battlefield of El Alamein and spent three years in the prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III. He continued his flying career after the war but tragically lost his life during a training flight in 1952.
Philip Barran, Robert Shaw, Lionel Schwind, and Peter Drummond-Hay are the only Old Reptonians known to have lost their lives to the Battle of Britain. Many others survived and lived to tell their stories, notably John Rabone and Innes Westmacott. In total, 189 Old Reptonians lost their lives fighting in the Second World War. 68 of these alumni served in the Royal Air Force, and many died on missions over Germany in the war’s final two years. Repton School continues to celebrate the lives of the men who sacrificed themselves for Britain.
Repton School and Repton Prep welcome approximately 1,000 pupils aged 3-18 to its prestigious through-school. The School is big enough for pupils to enjoy opportunities to compete at an international level in academia, sports, and arts but small enough that staff can tend to each pupil’s individual needs and interests. Repton’s staff dedicate themselves to helping pupils excel in all areas of the School’s extensive curriculum.
Pupils enjoy using Repton’s state-of-the-art facilities, which the School has sensitively integrated with the original architecture in its spectacular Augustinian campus and expansive grounds. These facilities include a lecture theatre with a 3D screen; a science priory with an observatory; an art school with two galleries and ceramics and photography workshops; a 315-seater theatre with industry-standard lighting and technical equipment; a music school with a recording studio, performance areas, and practice rooms; and an array of sports grounds and amenities.
Repton pupils go on to further their studies at leading universities around the world and enjoy careers that are both meaningful and rewarding. Old Reptonians include the Olympic hockey champion Georgie Twigg; author, comedian, and presenter Graham Garden OBE; actor Tom Chambers; former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey; and Formula One engineer Adrian Newey.