We cannot, like Brian Inglis, make laconic
comment while films show you moments conjured up from the past; and most of you who read
this were not born twenty-five years ago, so that even if you could look back you would
find it hard to recognise your old school; you might even fail to put names to two new
members of staff making their first acquaintance with it and with each other one evening
in early September, 1938.
Our first days here were clouded with rumours of war; Air Raid
Precaution courses claimed our spare time; we became Wardens, more concerned with gas
masks than with text books. In fact our first Speech Day, held in the Unity Hall, not only
taxed ingenuity in song but also in getting the Choir up on one side of the stage and off
on the other in reverse order so that girl and gas mask coincided on the return to
seating! Trips to the air-raid shelters interrupted lessons (not always to our regret)
though the grim prospect of having to stay underground was not to be lightly shrugged off
- it might have happened.
Of course, we were only concerned with girls in those days; what
went on in the boys' department was not considered our affair. Fire-watching was to be our
means of finding something out, for Mr. Hill was our fellow-watcher and it was he who
first took us behind the "Iron Curtain." How ghostly the old school seemed in
the night-watches as we took our turns at listening for the sirens, anticipating loads of
incendiaries on the roof and wondering whatever we should do with them if they arrived!
Soon we were to know more of life on the other side of the
locked doors; losing both the school heads about the same time brought about the first
major change to life at Thornes House. The rumour started that we were to become a mixed
school and this in fact is what took place in 1941. Early dislike of this conversion to
co-education was quickly overcome under the wise guidance of Mr. Yorke-Lodge. "No
child is a bad child" was his rooted conviction. Rapidly, difficulties were smoothed
over, his enthusiasm infected all, and his courtesy at all times made difficult tasks seem
The choir now began to take shape; early girlish efforts at
"Where the Bee Sucks" began to give place to a mixed choir of sixth-formers (at
first known even to themselves as the "Crows' Chorus") meeting in what is now
room "A" to render the "Soldiers' Chorus" from Faust. From this
uncertain start, progress was rapid, and by 1943 strains of Haydn's "Seasons"
and Elizabethan Madrigals attracted the interest of our summer task-master, Justin Brooke,
as we slaved over his plums and blackcurrants at Clopton Hall in Suffolk. Our fame reached
Gifford Hall, the Tudor home of Miss Smith, who invited us to sing madrigals in her
beautiful music room; never had they sounded so hauntingly lovely. We did not live in such
a rarefied atmosphere often; in the seven summers of staining our hands and bending our
backs, emptying the local inns of cider, the general complaint was that the refined
Suffolk air carried no odour of fish and chips. Happy Days!
By now Mr. Yorke-Lodge had moved to higher spheres (1945) and
Mr. Bracewell came to take his place. Gradually we all settled into a happy routine, which
was rudely interrupted in July, 1951 by destructive fire. Though an occasion of sadness,
it produced memorable moments and in spite of charred copies of music and odd practices,
many held outside, we were able to give one of our best concerts in the dining hall. The
splendidly generous gifts which the choir made to us on that occasion we shall never
forget; we were unable to find words to express our thanks.
In 1952 came an evening none of us who were privileged to be
there will ever forget; the memorial furniture, now in your school hall, was dedicated by
the Bishop of Wakefield, Mr. Hill paying a moving tribute to our pupils who had given
their lives during the war. The evening was memorable too, for fine singing by the
newly-formed Guild of Singers who chose from Brahms' Requiem, "How Lovely are Thy
Dwellings Fair" and "Blessed are they that mourn."
Meanwhile our five years of wandering between Holmfield House
and the remaining parts of the old school passed quite quickly, the time spent in crossing
over varying with the popularity of the lesson ahead - the quickest time in transit was
reckoned at a three-and-a-half minute run; the lowest a crawl of a quarter of an hour!
There were many moments to recollect and smile about - Mr. Hill was in all seriousness
offered a labouring job by a foreman-builder one day, when he was displaying a lively
interest in proceedings. At last the new buildings were complete enough for occupation;
lessons could proceed without the irritating grind of concrete mixers, we bade farewell to
dark, cold and dreary makeshift classrooms; the Countess of Harewood declared the School
officially opened and a new chapter in our life was begun.
No mention has been made of 'Scholarship Sublime" - that we
take for granted; we need not feel ashamed of the record of the school's past twenty-five
years of achievement. Nothing stands still; time certainly does not, as our grey hairs
remind us; tomorrow is hard to foretell but we who look back have much to be thankful for;
so have you all who now look forward.