Wartime classmates of East Dereham High School for Girls together again for 70-year reunion

The reunion of Dereham High School Girls. Picture: Ian Burt

The reunion of Dereham High School Girls. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

When these close-knit classmates first met in 1944, the nation was still battling through the hardships of the Second World War.

Dereham High School for Girls class of 1949.

Dereham High School for Girls class of 1949. - Credit: IAN BURT

But even 70 years after they joined the old East Dereham High School for Girls, the memories of those character-forming days are still clear.

Nineteen members of that year group, all now aged 80 and 81, got together for a nostalgic reunion meal at the Windmill pub in Necton, near Swaffham.

They swapped stories about their favourite lessons, their mischief-making and the teachers who had shaped their education including headmistresses Miss Galloway and Miss Organ.

But their most treasured memories were of the lifelong friends they had made seven decades earlier at the school which is now Neatherd High, on Norwich Road.

Barbara Bishop, from the Grange Estate in Dereham, remembers travelling to Dereham on a steam train from Little Fransham after she made the daunting move up to high school.

The former pupil, who went into a teaching career herself after leaving the school, said discipline there was strict.

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'If you got a black signature on your book you had to go and stand on the stage on a Friday and your crime would be announced to the school,' she said.

'They used to have staff out looking to see if you had your hat off as you walked in from the train station. If you did, woe betide you because you would get a black signature.

'I wouldn't say we were saints, because we were not. In fact, I remember one of the staff saying we were the most mischievous class she had ever had. But there was no nastiness.'

The former students remembered summers picking blackcurrants and making spam rolls for the farmers in the grounds of Gorgate Hall in Hoe – but those days out stopped when butterfly bombs were dropped there in the latter months of the war.

Mrs Bishop said the war also affected the school in other ways. 'The biggest thing was not to waste anything,' she said. 'We had to show our exercise books to a member of staff so that they could see all the space was used before they gave us a new one.'

Beryl Courtney, another former pupil who is now a retired teacher, lives at Orton Waterville near Peterborough. She said: 'It was a very happy place. Once you got there and got settled, it was more like being in a family. During the bad winter of 1947 I skidded off my bicycle and had concussion. My friend Biddy took all my geography and history notes for me. I didn't ask her, she just did it. We would all just help one another.'

The students had their first major reunion in 1989, on their 40th anniversary of leaving the school. There was a repeat event in 1999 and they have been organising a regular get-together ever since.

Sheila Day, from Beetley, who co-organises the reunion lunch, said: 'I think our school days were the happiest days of our life. We had no boys, and very strict discipline, which was a great benefit to us. Seeing everybody back together really brings it back.'

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