‘They didn’t save the cane, did they?’

Victory Road school fire 1940
Victory Road school fire 1940
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There are always many questions to ask following a major fire – what caused it? Is everyone safe? How much damage was there?

But for one little boy in 1940, the only question that mattered when his school went up in flames was: “They didn’t save Mr Eyles’ cane, did they?”

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Mr Eyles was the headmaster of the boys’ school in Victory Road, which burned down overnight on January 10 after a fire broke out in the infants school, which was part of the same building.

The County Times reported the weather was so cold, water froze the firefighters’ uniforms as they tackled the blaze.

Members of the Old Boys’ Association were at a dance in the Trinity Hall at the time and rushed out to see if they could help. The fire, though, was unstoppable and all they could do was watch as their old school was destroyed.

The County Times report said: “From the outside, the bare walls of the roofless building, with its blackened timbers and broken windows, bore mute witness to the extent of the damage.

Victory Road school fire 1940

Victory Road school fire 1940

“But it was not until one walked amid the smouldering, silent ruins of the classrooms that one could appreciate the full extent of the fire’s destruction.”

There was nothing left of the infants school, the heat so intense it even melted the iron legs of the desks.

The boys’ school fared better, with some of the desks unburned – though they were sodden with water and bore the charred remains of the roof.

In the girls’ school, the iron legs of some of the desk jutted up from the smouldering floor and the storeroom where supplies such as textbook and pencils were stored was nothing but ashes.

Victory Road school fire 1940 - remains of the boys' classroom

Victory Road school fire 1940 - remains of the boys' classroom

As for the 500 children who showed up the next day for lessons, rumour quickly spread that the school would take two years to rebuild – which some of the younger ones took to mean they would enjoy a very long holiday.

It was not to be.

The efficient teachers, along with the town council and various businesses took just four days to find alternative accommodation for the schools.

Help with supplies came from as far afield as Chichester – and the Horsham children did their bit.

The County Times reported: “One little girl brought her own desk from home.

Another child handed a teacher a pile of notepaper saying: ‘I thought you would like to have this as I know you like to make notes about things to tell us.”

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