The murals were painted to keep young pupils' minds off the unpleasant experience of an air-raid. Photo © Giles Pattison
An air raid shelter at a Surrey school containing murals painted by students during the Second World War, has received a grant from the Big Lottery Fund.
During the war, pupils at St. John’s School, Redhill, would have been all too familiar with its specially built air raid shelter, sometimes spending hours at a time in the damp refuge.
To keep the younger pupils occupied an art teacher made drawings of heroic figures like Robin Hood and Robinson Crusoe on the shelter walls. They were then painted by the students.
This mural shows Long John Silver. Most depict heroes like George and the Dragon and Robin Hood. Photo © Giles Pattison
The shelter was re-opened in July 2005 for the first time in 60 years and the murals were found to be in surprisingly good condition – a vivid reminder to present pupils at the school what their wartime counterparts had to endure.
Funding from the Big Lottery Fund will support the opening of the shelter, the recording and conservation of the murals and safe access for school students. It will also allow the collection of wartime memories from former pupils and other local people.
“The Air Raid Artists project has many strands,” said Patricia Reynolds, Museum Development Officer for Surrey. “We are hoping it will help children transfer from primary to secondary school, and think about what we commemorate.
A man on a raft. The striking murals have been painted in the Art Deco style. Photo © Giles Pattison.
“It will also help preserve the memories of those who were at the school during World War Two.”
Many museums in Surrey have put up exhibitions to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, some of which the grant is helping to fund.
The air raid shelter has so far been opened for the school's family days, at which staff have been overwhelmed with people booking to go on tours guided by torch-light.
A talk on the history of the school has also been held with many veterans of the war era amongst the audience. Ex-pupils contributed their memories about the school, the painting of the murals, the teachers, the war and people who suffered, and in some cases were killed, because of the bombing.
The murals have now been recorded by Surrey archaeologists and further research will be carried out. In the meantime the shelter will be open to children from other schools, history groups and the local community to learn about life during the war.
Patricia Reynolds added: “I am delighted that the Big Lottery Fund has awarded this grant to Surrey LEA, because it also enables young people to become more involved with heritage professionals, from archaeologists to oral historians.”
Emily Sands is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the South Eastern region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.