In these challenging days, we are strangely connected to the Millhillians of 80 years ago when the school had to close during another national emergency, The Second World War. The threat of air raids over London was real and pupils and staff decamped 300 miles to St Bees School in Cumbria for their own safety, an evacuation that was to last for six years.
From 1939 – 1945 the school buildings, including Belmont and The Mount School, were taken over by the government and became a military hospital known as Mill Hill Emergency Hospital (MHEH). During the war many hundreds of injured soldiers, including those from the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain were treated at Mill Hill. One striking photograph shows The Large converted into emergency hospital ward with 70 beds and one is reminded of the incredible ingenuity in our day, with the Excel Centre being transformed into NHS Nightingale.
Reading through the school history of our forebears binds us together across the generations. What insights can we learn from their experiences?
Firstly, schools are more than buildings. Despite being uprooted, the Mill Hill ‘spirit’ continued to flourish in the Lake District, and the school became fondly known as Mill Hill-on-Sea. During our time of dislocation from our precious buildings, we can still find ways of being a community of learning and friendship, not least through the remarkable technology that was unimaginable for previous generations of Old Millhillians.
And secondly, sacrifice is sometimes required for the common good. 80 years ago, Millhillians played their part in making personal sacrifices for a national emergency and we are playing our part today. Whilst we are having to socially isolate, our forebears had to carry gas masks even on their country walks, and comically they too wrote of coping with a shortage of rationed toilet paper! More seriously, we give thanks for the inspiring sacrifices of so many people today, not least NHS staff and volunteers, and other key workers. Hopefully Millhillians will join in the national round of applause every Thursday evening in the weeks ahead.
In the coming days, as we ‘look back’ to the universal Easter message, may we help to ‘create a future’ that brings new life in the midst of a dark time for our nation.
These words, written by John Wesley – the great Nonconformist and founder of Methodism – can inspire us. They are found in our hymnbook and can be accessed with many other readings, reflections and prayers on the Chapel page of the school website.
A Rule for Life.
Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can.