June Main Meeting

Once again, there was a good turn out for the June main meeting on Zoom, with 37 screens joining and approximately 42 members attending.

Our Chair, Chris Barwell, began with the news that previous Chairman, Chris Roy, had been unwell, spending some time in hospital but was now home and on the road to recovery. She said that our good wishes had been passed on.

Next, with more people getting out and about and the weather improving, Chris was excited to tell the members about the ‘Boules’ afternoon coming up on 13th July from 2pm out at Looe Bowling Club. She explained that members need not organise teams themselves but could simply turn up and enjoy a game of Boules or indeed have a round on the Pitch and Putt which would also be available.

In August, members would have their first opportunity to meet up with each other! Bring a Picnic and all other supplies, up to St. Martin’s Church Hall and sit outside to enjoy a relaxed and long-awaited catch-up!

In Groups’ News, Christine explained that some of the groups operating through Covid were taking a summer break but there were still opportunities for members to get involved. The Walking groups were making the most of the better weather getting out on the moors and being treated to a cuckoo song accompaniment to their recent ramble (photos on the website). On Zoom, the Poetry Club, Book Club and Music Appreciation groups were all still meeting very successfully each month. The latter preparing to listen to and discuss Pink Floyd’s album ‘Atom Heart Mother’; quite a change from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony or the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky!

Members were reminded that the u3a podcast for June would be available on YouTube from the 17th of the month and would look back on u3a Day and talk to two members who completed their bucket list with a trip to Glastonbury and a 12,000 mile trip across America in a Greyhound Bus!

In Community News, the RNLI and Lifeboat Station were preparing for a busy season of fundraising activities including an Open Day and their first afternoon concert with the choir Keltique on Sunday 27th June.

Next month’s speaker, Anna Gurung, would be giving an illustrated update on the Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Watch your inboxes for your invitation and Zoom link.

Christine then introduced our speaker for the morning, Mary Smith…who wasn’t there! Eek! Following a few panicky moments during which members were encouraged to take a comfort break and make a cup of coffee, Mary appeared with sincere apologies explaining that she had been the one with the technical hitch. Panic over, members settled down as she began her enthralling tale of ‘A Schoolgirl’s War’.

Mary Smith had been the Headteacher at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls when, as part of the 125th Anniversary of the school in 2013, it was decided to unseal the Air Raid Shelter in the school grounds that they had been aware of but unable to access in the past. The opening up of the well-preserved tunnels revealed a treasure trove of history and in particular the wonderful pictorial War Diary of the then art teacher, a Miss Helen Keane who had recorded the events of life in the school throughout the war in detailed pen and ink drawings and beautiful paintings.

These remarkable, witty and unique pictures tell the history of how the school was prepared for the possible bombings from putting sticky netting on the school windows, evacuation procedures, netball matches in gas masks to conducting lessons in the cold, wet, gloomy, airless and uncomfortable tunnels. Teachers and girls alike had to be adaptable and ready.

Mary explained that following the opening of the shelter, they had successfully turned the tunnels into an excellent teaching resource for local schools where the children would receive an authentic WWII air raid experience including sirens blaring, a silent procession to the Air Raid shelter itself and then a lesson and even a wartime lunch.

Being able to interview the 53 still-living ‘girls’ who had actually been there during the war was, Mary explained, the most valuable resource for compiling and writing her book. And returning some of them to the tunnels in which they had been taught during an air raid in the 1940s was, for her, the highlight of the whole experience.

Copies of “A Schoolgirl’s War” (£12 per copy including p&p) may be purchased in these ways:  

By cheque: made payable to Mary Smith, and sent to 6 The Landway, Bearsted, Maidstone, Kent ME14 4BD  

By bank transfer: contact Mary directly at marysmithjones@hotmail.com for the bank details 

By bank card at www.mggs.org/war

Mary Smith delivering an illustrated Zoom talk about her book ‘A Schoolgirl’s War’