This week we resume our investigation of the early history of Mill End Secondary School, which we last considered on September 10. In that article we heard the reminiscences of two readers who were amongst the first intake at the school, which was formally opened on May 25, 1937. Then we looked at events which took place during the remainder of 1937. We now continue the history up to the start of WW2 in 1939.

First Speech Day

This was held on March 31, 1938, the main speech being given by Mr Green, the Headmaster of the Boys School. In December 1937 the school had been formally inspected and a good report followed. Mr Green reported on some of the successes gained by the school, including the high standard achieved in music. The school choir had participated in the Berks, Bucks and Oxon music festival and their performance attracted the interest of the BBC. An audition followed, with a second one arranged for May 2.

In sport the school had met with outstanding success. In the district Sports Day the athletic team had won every event but one, in which they came second. Eight Mill End boys had been selected to represent High Wycombe in the County Sports and three were in the Bucks team for the All England Sports held at Derby. In the Three Counties cross-country event the school’s “A” had won by a wide margin and the “B” team were fourth.

It is noteworthy that there was little mention of Mill End Senior Girls School at the Speech Day, and Miss Young the Headmistress does not seem to have made a speech.

The most controversial part of Mr Green’s speech was his appeal for the school to be given a different name. He said “In our attempts to put High Wycombe prominently on the educational map, the name is a handicap. At present the school is named after a small length of roadway of no great historical significance. Many times we are called Mile End Road, which I believe is a road in East London”. He suggested that it should be called High Wycombe West Central School, or alternatively named after a celebrated Wycombe family.

In the afternoon hundreds of parents attended an Open Day to see the work of their children, and the manner in which they were being taught. A feature was the activities of the Science Society Hobbies Group.

New Headmistress

In December Miss Bessie Margaret Punter was appointed Headmistress of the Girls School following the resignation of Miss Young. Miss Punter, who was Headmistress of Lord Scudemores Girls School in Hereford, was unable to start until April 1 1939 so Miss C Lord was appointed Acting Headmistress.

A second inspection of the school took place in February 1939 and all staff were congratulated “upon the very satisfactory terms of the report”.

More Sporting Prowess

The Three Counties cross-country event held in 1938 was again won by the Boys School, when Mill End boys “A” team finished 1st, 5th, 6th and 8th (Mitchell, Hutton, Widgington, and Ray respectively) out of 120 competitors. The “B” team finished fourth.

Not to be outshone by the boys, the Girls school did well in a netball competition for schools in South Bucks. Twenty-nine teams took part in the event, which was held at Mill End School. These teams were divided into four divisions, with Mill End Girls winning Division 4 and coming second in the other three. They would have been especially pleased to have finished above Wycombe High School in two of the divisions!

In the Bucks Schools Sports Championship held in the Stadium at RAF Halton on Saturday July 1 1939, Mill End Boys and Girls team won the overall Championships with 37 points, and were awarded the Morley Cup. After the meeting several athletes from Mill End were amongst those chosen to represent Bucks at the inter-county Championships to be held at Loughborough College Stadium on July 22.

Tragic Accident

The whole town would have been shocked by the news on Friday April 21 1939 that a bus driver had lost his life when his double-decker bus was in collision with a lorry at the cross-roads of Green Street and Oakridge Road near Wycombe town centre. He was Richard J Belson from Grenfell Ave in Castlefield, aged 49.

Mr Belson was driving a school bus carrying children on their way to Mill End School when the accident occurred. The petrol tank of the lorry immediately caught fire and the flames quickly enveloped Mr Belson who was burnt to death. They spread “with astonishing rapidity through the bus almost as soon as the crash occurred”. A nearby house and a shop in Green St also caught fire.

Most of the 27 schoolchildren were on the upper deck of the bus and “for a moment there was panic as the flames leapt around them. Screaming in terror, they scrambled to get out”, assisted by schoolteacher Miss O’Callaghan who was travelling with them. The bus conductor, Hayden Lippiatt, “ran up the stairs to help them and some of the passengers on the lower deck also helped to pull them to safety”. All the children, and the driver of the lorry, managed to escape without serious harm.

The children were mostly girls and were on their way to a cookery class at Mill End School. After they had recovered from the shock of the collision they walked to the school “and were soon taking part in their lessons, little the worse for their ordeal”. Can you imagine that happening today!

Mr Belson had worked for the Thames Valley Traction Company for six or seven years. He had a “very genial disposition”, was always smiling and was very popular amongst his fellow workers and with passengers. “He was a clever impersonator and often used to amuse the children by imitating a cockerel or cat”.

More than 140 busmen from Thames Valley and London Transport attended Mr Belson’s funeral at All Saints Church on the afternoon of April 25, four of whom acted as pall-bearers. The remainder lined up in the churchyard to form a guard-of-honour. Many hundreds of townspeople stood bare-headed in the streets to watch the cortege pass and several hundred, most of them women, watched the burial from the slopes of the cemetery.

At the Inquest into Mr Belson’s death, which was held in the Guildhall on May 15, it was established that Mr Belson was initially trapped in his cab, the door being jammed. He managed to escape by crawling through the broken window and falling onto the ground, but he then rolled under the bus into the flames.

Despite conflicting evidence about the speeds of the bus and lorry, the jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death. A member of the jury asked how many accidents had occurred at the site of the accident in the last three months. The Coroner said he believed that there had been a ‘fair amount, but it was the first fatal accident since 1935’. A rider was added to the verdict that an application should be made to the Minister of Transport that ‘Halt’ signs should be placed there.

The Coroner also commended the presence of mind and actions of Hayden Lippiatt the bus conductor. He was subsequently presented with the Award for Industrial Heroism in a ceremony at Mill End School.

Appearance on the BBC

Another honour bestowed on the school in 1939 was an invitation by the BBC for the choir of the Boys School to appear on the regional programme of Children’s Hour on July 10. This began at 5.00pm at Broadcasting House, and the choir started with four songs, followed later in the programme by another two songs. The conductor of the choir was Mr J C Saunders, who trained the boys, and the accompanist Mr J J George.

The experience was an unforgettable one for the boys, who had the opportunity “of seeing something of the many arrangements necessary before a programme is ‘put-on-air’ as one said. Another commented that “it was interesting to see in person a number of microphone personalities known to most children by name and voice only. We were able to see ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Uncle Mac’, ‘Ernest Lush’, and the ‘Zoo Man’ making their contributions to the programme”.

To be continued