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How war-time innocence turned to tragedy at East Ham school

PUBLISHED: 13:02 06 December 2013 | UPDATED: 13:02 06 December 2013

Evacuees in the dining hall of Marchant's Hill School, Hindhead, Surrey, 1944

Evacuees in the dining hall of Marchant's Hill School, Hindhead, Surrey, 1944

Archant

A tragic incident which cost schoolboy evacuees their lives during the Second World War, has been recalled by a friend who survived.

Exactly 70 years ago, on December 4 1943, Brian Barnard, now 82, was with three friends, all of whom had been evacuated from bomb-blitzed London to East Ham Borough Council’s Marchant’s Hill School in leafy Hindhead, Surrey.

At 12 years old, Brian and the friends would go in search of bullets and shrapnel on the school grounds to collect and swap.

But the discovery of a live mortar shell from a nearby Canadian Army barracks was to have tragic consequences.

On that fateful day he and his pals stumbled across a three-inch shell in a forest near the school.

Brian recalls: “We picked it up and took it back into the camp.

“The rumour got around at the school that we had this bomb.”

The treasured shell was hidden in the boys’ dormitory until a few nights later.

“Suddenly there was the biggest bang and we heard kids running around,” said Brian, who lived in Byron Avenue, Manor Park, and now lives in Ilford.

The mortar had exploded, instantly killing one boy and injuring nine others.

A newspaper article from December 1943 reported: “The explosion made a hole in the floor and blew out the windows. The roof was also punctured in several places.”

Alistair McLellan, 12, of Whitts Road, Manor Park, was killed instantly.

Two others, James Watt, of Albert Road, North Woolwich, and Peter Sidey, from Hampstead, later died from their injuries.

Brian said: “The last time I saw Jimmy he was in a wheelbarrow with his legs blown off.”

The parents of the children were notified and a public inquest was held.

Sympathies were expressed by the Secretary for Education, Mr A. A. Garrad, the mayor, headteacher of the school, and East Ham Borough Council.

Mr Barnard came home from Camp School on VE Day, on May 8, 1945, and still visits the graves of the boys who died.

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