Eighty years ago this week, a group of 89 Latymerians plus their younger siblings and seven teachers were evacuated to the village of Mawnan Smith, near Falmouth in Cornwall, with science master Percy Blackwell as the group’s leader. It was later referred to as “the happiest of evacuations” with one evacuee recalling that he thought he’d “died and gone to heaven”, arriving from the war-torn streets of Edmonton to the peaceful, wildflower-fringed lanes of Cornwall in early summer.
Latymer students and staff were billeted all over the village, some in humble farm cottages where they were expected to help with animals and on the land, and others in the splendour of country houses with wood panelled libraries & exotic gardens with lawns stretching down to the sea. The village hall was commandeered as Latymer’s schoolroom for their two years in residence but the students also learned from their new surroundings with nature study & sea bathing both popular pastimes. A unique and historic film was made by staff during their time there; this has now been digitised and made available online by Film London’s “London’s Screen Archives” project. www.londonsscreenarchives.org.uk/title/20993/ (Scroll through to 4min50sec to view the film taken in wartime Mawnan)
For many, the experience was life-changing. Several of the evacuees returned to live in the area as adults and many others retained lifelong links with the village and its people. In recent decades, significant anniversaries of the evacuation have been celebrated with groups of former evacuees gathering in their old schoolroom - a commemorative plaque was unveiled there in 2000 - but obviously there can be no reunion in 2020 and, with few now surviving, it seems that the 70th anniversary reunion in 2010 will have been the final one.
Eighty years on, and in the midst of another large-scale national crisis, we still remember with thanks the safe haven that the villagers of Mawnan Smith gave Latymerians all those decades ago.