2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. The declaration of war in September 1939 was followed by some months of the so-called ‘phoney war’, when everyone knew that the nation was at war but there seemed to be no war going on. I remember my parents describing it as a very strange time.
What might have been going through the minds of the students here in Chester at that time? ‘The Collegian’ was their magazine and in the autumn of 1939 it included this paragraph about new students:
The present juniors entered the College at an inauspicious time, their impressions of College life cannot fail to be coloured by the conditions prevailing both inside College and elsewhere. Nor is it to be expected that the prospect of military service, immediately upon completion of their training, will not be in the minds of the new students. For a short time at the beginning of the term a feeling of strangeness did persist, not dispelled by the unearthly pallor of dormitories by night or by sleep-disturbing rehearsals of procedure during possible air raids.
The following is an abridged version of the article written by the College Principal, Revd Stanley Astbury, in the same edition of the magazine:
The Michaelmas Term, 1938, started in circumstances of world crisis and the year proceeded in a state of continual uncertainty; by September, 1939, that state had changed for the certainty of war. We still carry on, but in a minor key. About a third of our second year men have already registered under the Military Service Act; already some half-dozen have left us. Clearly there is no desire on the part of the Cestrians to shirk their duty to their Country. There is a very definite desire to be told what the country wants of them and when. Meanwhile we hear of many 1939 men, and those of earlier years, performing deeds of gallantry in cook-house, canteen and elsewhere, and of not a few who are being recommended for Commissions and other important tasks. May I take this opportunity of asking for full information about any Cestrian serving in any branch of H.M. Forces. We are preparing a Roll of those serving and, as it will occupy a prominent place in the College, we want it to be complete and up-to-date all the time. So please send information about yourself, or any other you know of. This isn’t just sentiment or curiosity; we pray regularly for you in Chapel and we want to pray intelligently.
It is poignant to think that the students who read these words included those whose names are recorded in the book which commemorates members of the College who were killed during the war.
Pray for peace.