The Nicholas Copernicus Grammar School for boys

Gimnazjum Męskie im. Mikołaja Kopernika

 

As part of the war effort RAF Bottisham airfield, located South of Bottisham village and 5 miles East of Cambridge  was opened in 1940.   In 1943, with the arrival of large numbers of USAAF fighter groups Bottisham was allocated to the Americans and assigned the designation of Station 374 (IM).

 
Bottisham Hall was requisitioned for the officers' mess, and on the southern half of its park typical military domestic accommodation of Nissen huts made of corrugated steel with a door and two small windows at the front and back were build providing accommodation for 2,841 personnel.  There was also a communal site with a church, sickbay and a number of prefab type buildings.
 
After the Americans left, Bottisham was first used by Belgian airmen and later by the National Hostels Association before being taken over, in 1948, by the Committee for the Education of Poles in Great Britain to house a secondary school for boys.  In November 1948 The Nicholas Copernicus Grammar School for boys which, in the previous 12 months had moved from Riddlesworth in Norfolk to Ellough near Beccles, found a more permanent home in Bottisham.
 

Nissen huts which served as dormitories.

Kitchens and dinning huts at the camp.

 
 
 

Staszek Jarmuz and Heniek Żurawiel attended the school and recall that living conditions in the un-insulated metal Nissen huts were Spartan.  A typical day started with reveille at 7:00, breakfast at 7:45 and classes starting at 8:30.  Four classes were scheduled in the morning with a 10 minute break and 5 minutes walking time between classes because the classrooms were scattered across the site.  Lunch was at 1.00 p.m., followed by two more lessons starting at 2.00 p.m.  The rest of the afternoon was spent mostly on sports and other recreational activities.  Supper was at 5.45 p.m., followed by two hours of homework starting at 6.30 p.m.  Lights out at 10.00 p.m., 10.30 p.m. for the senior forms.  Wednesdays and Saturdays were half days, with the afternoons for individual interests and sports.  Weekends were “free” for us to pursue our “hobbies” such as sport, theatre, music, games etc. (e.g. we ran our own tuck shop, food coupons were still in use, with a 4 oz. per week allowance for sweets and chocolate).

 

  Second breakfast at 10.00am 

  Staszek and Heniek with their class mates 1949.

 

From the beginning great efforts were made to teach English and also to use it as the teaching language but Polish remained as the conversational language throughout the school’s existence.  The school’s results were consistently above the national average.  By 1951 pupils were taking “O-Levels” in science and technical subjects and, by the time Staszek and Heniek left the school in 1954, they and their friends had gained “O” and “A” Level qualifications allowing entry to universities

 

Boys enjoying some free time in the school common room.

One of the very sparsely furnished dormitories

 

The dormitories and the classrooms were in Nissen huts, with separate toilet and washing facilities blocks. The huts had no insulation, and the heating consisted of one or two coal burning, round metal, stoves, with chimney pipes going straight up through the top of the hut. The conditions were Spartan,

 

Lessons in a typical classroom

In both these photographs the coke burning iron stove which was the only source of  heating, can be clearly seen. 

 
 

Boys sitting their exams.

 

Besides the standard school facilities of classrooms, dormitories, kitchens, and dining rooms, every school had a chapel with a school chaplain. Catholic religion was very much a part of school and was instrumental in giving the pupils a strong sense of right and wrong and the duty of responsible citizenship.  This was the ethos of all the Polish secondary schools in Great Britain in the post war era. 

 

Chapel at the camp.

Open air mass celebrating Corpus Christi

 

The educational syllabus was complemented by a range of social and sports activities.  These included visits to the nearby towns and cities, sometimes taking our shows of Polish folk songs and dances, which were performed in local community halls, parks and on village greens

 

School’s choir and orchestra.

School’s troupe performing in a park in Mill Meadows Park in Bedford

 

The two senior classes traditionally arranged a dance to which the girls from the Ignacy Paderewski school in Stowell Park  were invited.  The girls reciprocated by inviting the Bottisham boys to a dance at Stowell Park.

 

A dance in Diddington in 1953 after the Bottisham boys moved to Diddington

 
Thank you to Staszek Jarmuz and Heniek Żurawiel    (Copernicus Boys)
 
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