Early in the 1980s, thanks to some remarkable coincidences (see previous post in Stories from the Archives: A Pamphlet in the Gutter), I was able to locate Olive Bowen who had been a teacher at the tiny English School of The Hague in the 1930s and who was able to help us with research into our early days. The events leading to my finding her were so remarkable that I wrote a short article about them which appeared in The Daily Telegraph. To my surprise and delight, the article was read by a certain Dorothy Gait who had also taught at the school and who was able to supply more detail to the picture that was emerging from our school in the pre-war years. Particularly gripping was the account she gave of how she escaped from The Hague on 10th May 1940 as the German invasion took place; I reproduce it here in full.
“As for how I managed to escape, that was entirely owing to Dr Nuttall’s German connections. Dr Nuttall, a geologist with the Shell Oil Company and Chair of the Governors, was German on his mother’s side, and his wife was wholly German. Indeed her brother was a major in the German army. On the morning of 10th May as soon as the first bombs fell on The Hague we were roused by Dr Nuttall and told to be ready to leave immediately. He did not own a car but the taxi firm he had always used provided a willing driver and we drove direct to the British Legation (Embassy), where we had been told to report in the event of an invasion. However there was no welcome there – the door was firmly closed to us and we were told we must look after ourselves. There was a British ship at Rotterdam waiting to collect refugees but it was up to individuals to get there themselves. Thankfully our taxi-driver agreed to try and get us there. It was a hair-raising journey as all main roads were already being used by German planes landing troops or else were closed by the Dutch army. Several times we flung ourselves into ditches as troop-carriers landed in fields around us. We eventually reached the docks although the bridge over the Maas was already in German hands and we narrowly missed being gunned down thanks to the quick thinking of our driver.
There were two ships – stripped of all armaments by the previously neutral Dutch – waiting in the harbour, but only a small number of people managed to make it, mostly local Rotterdam residents. By nightfall, the Germans already had control of the south bank of the river and our captain announced we would have to take a chance and make a run for it as soon as it was completely dark. He warned that it was risky and said that anyone who was worried should leave the ship. Some went, fortunately, we did not. Leaving our sister-ship (which incidentally was bombed and sank just after we left) all refugees, wearing life-jackets, gathered on the starboard side as we slid slowly away, without lights and with an uncharted minefield ahead of us. Miraculously, although there was some firing at us at first, we got safely through all the hazards and reached England next day.
A few days after I got home I had a visit from officers of the Special Branch who wanted to know how we managed to be the only people to escape from The Hague that morning. I later discovered that Dr Nuttall had been warned the night before the invasion. His brother-in-law was in the forefront of the advancing German army and had managed somehow to get a message through to him indicating that it might be a good idea to leave the country as soon as we could.”
To learn more about the rich history of the BSN, you can take a look at our website and see more about where we have come from.
Stories from the Archives is a new Voices Blog series by BSN Archivist Mike Weston.
Mr Mike Weston
BSN school archivist, detective and storyteller
Mike came to the English School at The Hague (BSN) in 1972 as Head of German, intending to stay for two years. Now he is in his 47th year at the BSN. Over the years he has taught a range of subjects and has been involved in many school activities. Starting a school archive from scratch and tracing the history of the school is the activity which has given him the most pleasure. Once he reached retirement age, he asked if he could stay on as archivist in hopes to be of service for a while yet. In this capacity, he regularly dives into the archives and comes up with some great stories. His stories are all our stories, enjoy them.
When asked what does he do? In limited space, he can only give the bare bones: Mike stores the BSN’s past. Strictly speaking that is the past of the whole school up to 1966 and after that date (when the BSN split into separate Junior and Senior Divisions) of the Senior School. He has past students’ records, about 150 photo albums going back to the 1940s, programmes, letters, realia, over 200 CDs and DVDs, magazines (beautifully bound in blue and gold!), newspaper clippings. And so on. It’s a long list. Much of the printed material has been scanned – a very onerous and time-consuming task. Mike deals with all manner of enquiries, from parents, alumni, colleagues, employers, other schools, embassies, the public, people being shown round the school.
He enjoys it very much when visitors come to the archive. If you would like to get a glimpse into the archives and hear a fascinating story (or two), just get in touch with Mike beforehand to arrange a time.
In case you missed it, you can read the first instalment of Stories from the Archives: A Pamphlet in the Gutter here.