Barnes School History

In 1937, the Employees Provident Fund was started. It was in the early thirties that the first Indian boarders were admitted.
Latin and French were dropped. Urdu was taught for a time; then Hindustani, as preached by Mahatma Gandhi. Lastly, Hindi was settled upon. To start with, neither the majority of the parents nor the children took kindly to Indian languages. Eventually we were reconciled to one language and, when in addition to Hindi we had to introduce Marathi, we did feel badly dealt with.The winds of change were blowing. Common sense, too, dictated we
should be reorientated. With the change in languages came Indian history, emphasis on India and Asia in Geography. For nature study, the birds and beasts, trees and flowers of India took the place of robin red-breasts, oaks and daffodils. Co-education became complete in these years, partly as a matter of financial expediency but fundamentally as a matter of principle. Thekindergarten classes had always been mixed. Now we added an extra class yearly until in all our classes there were boys and girls.

Those were the days of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. Storm
clouds of war were gathering thick and fast. In India, the struggle for Independence grew fiercer year by year. At first it seemed the war would pass by Devlali but it was not long before changes came. Overnight part of our school compound was requisitioned and all the land to the west where we used to have our cross-country runs, around Surprise Hill, was put out of bounds to form part of the new School of Artillery with its ranges stretching to Square Top and beyond. From a small peacetime garrison of two or three hundred, Devlali and the surrounding area eventually became an enormous Transit Camp holding at its maximum 70,000 men. Amongst these men and elsewhere, Barnes was well represented as more and more old students joined the Forces – mainly the Army, though also the Air Force and the Navy. Old Girls became nurses or joined as W.A.C.’s (Women’s Auxilliary Corps). Younger men on the staff went off to enlist. Gradually it became more and more difficult to find teachers. Retired men and, in some cases, misfits had to be engaged. At times classes had to be combined since no teachers at all were available. While the roll of old students in the Forces grew, there came from time to time the sad news of casualties, prisoners of war and deaths on active service.At the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, war came close to India with the capture of Burma by the Japanese. Of the civilians from Rangoon and other Burmese towns who managed to escape by air or ship or by trekking over the mountains, some came to Barnes – children and adults both. Three teachers and some matrons joined us in this way.

At one time it seemed there was nothing to stop the Japanese coming into Assam, Bengal or even further. For a period they had command of the sea. It was considered possible that planes from an aircraft carrier might bomb Bombay and Devlali. So at Barnes we set to dig trenches, erect blast walls, learn First Aid and undergo training in A.R.P. (Air Raid Precaution).

At any hour of the day or night the Headmaster could be seen,
and heard, cycling around the compound, blowing on a whistle. At the first shrill blast everything had to be stopped, even a meal, and off all had to troop to their Air Raid Stations. Every effort was made to entertain the troops. We had some wonderful cricket matches against teams including top club players from Australia, and Football games with teams including one or two professionals from the English Leagues. Individual soldiers were invited to our homes. That for many was what they appreciated most – a little touch of home. Just to sit quietly and relax, have a cup of tea and a chat, mostly about their families. Professional artistes from the stage and screen, organised by a
special Government Department, E.N.S.A., were sent around the
big troop centres.