Harrogate class of 1939 back at school

Former pupil Duncan Packett meets current pupils Christopher Nguyen and Caitlin Hill. Picture by Simon Hulme
Former pupil Duncan Packett meets current pupils Christopher Nguyen and Caitlin Hill. Picture by Simon Hulme
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FORMER AIRMAN Duncan Packett is among the few who can boast of attending a 75th anniversary school reunion.

The 90-year-old was just fifteen-and-a-half back in 1939 when he and fellow pupils were forced to relocate to Windermere in Lakeland when their boarding school in Harrogate was commandeered by the Air Ministry.

At the weekend he was back at the Hydro Hotel in Windermere with fellow old boys from Ashville College.

He looked back on those days away from his home in Bradford with fondness.

Mr Packett, from Ilkley, recalled being shocked by the pace of domestic events when Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939.

“It all happened so quickly. We were on holiday when war was declared and found out the hotel we were going to stay at had been taken over, and then we heard Ashville had been taken over too.

“Before deciding if I was to go to Windermere, my father had a bit of petrol and drove us up there so we could have a look.

“I enjoyed my time at Windermere very much. It was an enormous change. It was free and easy and we had a lot of fun.”

Mr Packett, who grew up in Bradford and left Windermere in 1941 to join the air force, added: “My lasting memory of Windermere was the big freeze of 1940, when great swathes of Lake Windermere froze over. I was certainly tempted to walk across it, but can’t remember if I did.”

The Hydro Hotel became ‘Ashville-in-exile’ for seven years until 1946.

At the weekend present-day pupils and old boys gathered for two days of celebrations.

Ashville College headmaster Mark Lauder - together with six present-day pupils dressed in the uniform of the day – arrived in Windermere as their wartime counterparts did, via a steam train and boat.

Nick Breton, president of the Ashvillian Society, the organisation of former pupils, said the “spirit of Windermere” remained strong and an important part of school history.

“I’m honoured to be President of the Society at such an auspicious time.

“The evacuation to Windermere is a hugely important part of Ashville’s 137-year history, and each year a small reunion of former pupils is held to keep the spirit of Windermere alive.

“This year’s gathering is hugely significant, and for many it is the first time they have made the journey to the Lakes in three-quarters-of-a-century.”

Mr Lauder said: “The 75th anniversary of the Ashville College’s evacuation to The Lakes is a very important milestone, and one that the Ashvillian Society and the school is proud to be marking.

“Joe Lancaster (who was headmaster in 1939) was a remarkable man. When the school was requisitioned by the Air Ministry many thought it would spell the end of Ashville. “However, he took it upon himself to find a suitable home, and chose the Hydro Hotel, which became ‘Ashville-in-exile’ for seven years.

“Each year, our Year 7 pupils attend a field trip to Windermere, where in addition to their outdoor pursuits they learn about this important chapter in Ashville’s history.

On Saturday more than 70 guests enjoyed a drinks reception and a display of College archives from the 1939-46 era before a black tie dinner. Yesterday there was a service of thanksgiving led by Catherine Frieze, Ashville College’s assistant chaplain.