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During World War 2 the College wasn’t just a place of teaching and learning. The building was alive with various groups, clubs and organisations created by both staff and students. This social life provided a sense of community within the College, which also spilled over into the local community who were invited to exhibitions and performances.

The College Amateur Operatic Society was formed when the College was first opened, and they gave their first performance of Patience on 25th April 1939. Full-scale productions were interrupted due to the war, although several concerts were given to service personnel trained at the College (The First 70 Years of Song & Music, The College Amateur Society, 1938-2008, 2008, p.1).

This showmanship continued during the war with members of the forces putting on performances on the main stage. W.R. Bray (1947, p.29) notes that “there were many occasions on which the “enemy overhead” would have been mortified could he have seen how little attention was being paid to his efforts by the packed audience enthralled by the rollicking efforts of the boys on the stage.”

The tone of one show can probably be summarised in the opening paragraph from the Walthamstow Guardian, (1940) “Bombardier Johnny Rice threw himself into his part with such abandon in the revue by H.M. forces, “Go To It” ... on Saturday, that the final curtain, amid loud applause, found him with a cracked rib, sprained wrist and a bruised spine. Whether he sustained the whole of his “wounds” in the undress of his female impersonations, or in the gusto of his amazing male evolutions, is a moot point. The assurance that the show went away with a swing was apparently adequate compensation for his injuries.”

Other events that occurred during the war years included the Service of Youth for young people, various exhibitions held by the Essex Art Club and an Exhibition of Models with all entries being made by staff and students.

There is much that can be said for the Student Union and student life at South-West Essex Technical College during the war, however, that will be saved for a more comprehensive and specific article to be released sometime in the future. Dr H. Lowery (1942, p.6) sums up the ethos of college life by saying, “perhaps the most important part of the educational influence of the College is to be found in the social contacts made through students attending the building for common interests. It seems to me that every effort should be made to make it possible for part-time students (who are usually making some sacrifice in order to attend classes) to be placed on the same level as full-time students in order that they may benefit from the social and cultural amenities of College life.” 


First published: 27/01/2021

Reference list:

Bray, W.R., (1947). The Country Should be Grateful - The War-time History of the South-West Essex Technical College and School of Art. Walthamstow: The Walthamstow Press Ltd.

Lowery, H., (1942). South-West Essex Technical College and School of Art Annual Report Session 1941-42.

The First 70 Years of Song & Music: The College Amateur Society 1938-2008, (2008)

‘This Show Should Do the Rounds’. (1940). Walthamstow Guardian, Walthamstow, 2 August.

 Researched and written by Thomas Barden

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