Stories about Schools

A first for Whitehill county secondary school for girls

Gwyneth Bradley

During 1956 a new and exciting venture was mentioned and discussed – the idea of a school journey to Holland. This became a reality on Tuesday, 30th April 1957 when a party of 24 girls together with the Deputy Headmistress and a senior teacher left Chesham at 7 am on a grey morning.

The visit to Holland was organised by the School Journey Association of London. For most of us, this was our first taste of going abroad and for some it was their first time of being away from home. From memory we didn’t have much luggage for our week’s stay – just one small case or holdall, probably as we had to wear our school uniform during the daytime.

A coach took us to Liverpool Street Station to travel on the 9.25am “Day Continental” train to Harwich. We were travelling on a Collective Passport so we didn’t have an individual one, just an Identity Card with a photograph taken wearing school uniform and signed by our Headmistress. Our party boarded the SS Mecklenburg for the crossing to the Hook of Holland. We sailed at noon and almost immediately we went below to the Dining Room for our lunch.

As soon as we left the shelter of the coast, the North Sea became very rough and I can remember the waiters having difficulty in serving our food – plates and cutlery slid across the tables and we struggled to remain upright. After our meal we were allowed up on deck but some of the girls became very seasick. It was my first experience of “being at sea” but I managed to find my sea legs. I had been given a couple of remedies for seasickness e.g. lie flat in the middle of the boat or tie brown paper around my waist – neither of which would have been achievable in the circumstances. The journey took over 6 hours as the rough weather slowed our progress to the Hook of Holland.

A coach was waiting to take us to our hotel – Vacantie Chalet “Duin-en-Dal”, Rembrandtweg 12, Noordwijk. We drove through streets decorated with flags and bunting and discovered that it was a national holiday in honour of Queen Juliana’s birthday and not to welcome us. On our arrival at Vacantie Chalet we were allocated our rooms – four of us were sharing a room with bunk beds. Then we had to collect bed linen and a towel from the store. For some reason I was given only one sheet but fortunately I remembered what I had been taught at Brownie camp; how to make a bed with one sheet. The next day someone mentioned my plight to the teachers and I was sent to collect a second sheet.

The following morning we strolled around Noordwijk and also went to the beach and sand dunes. We were told that Holland did not have enough drinking water so rainwater is filtered through the dunes to provide a supply. Unlike the day before the sea was calm. Two other school parties were sharing the accommodation at the Vacantie Chalet and one of them joined us in the afternoon for a coach tour.

Our journey took us through Wassenaar, a very expensive suburb of The Hague, where wealthy diplomats live and then on to Leiden, which is a University town. There is a Church dedicated to the Pilgrim Fathers, several interesting museums and many old buildings. In complete contrast we then visited Keukenhof Gardens at Lisse. These are world famous and are where bulb traders plant wonderful displays of their bulbs. The variety of blooms and colours was extraordinary. We could wander freely within the grounds which gave us the opportunity of buying postcards and gifts for our families and friends.

Breakfast was served early for us on Thursday 2 May as we had to leave the hotel at 8am to visit the Van Houten Chocolate Factory at Weesp. The Van Houten Company also had a factory in Chesham. We travelled by tram and train to reach our destination. Unfortunately one girl lost her ticket but when a teacher and our Dutch Guide, Tom, who accompanied us on most of our outings, went to purchase another one, they were told that, if she had dropped it on the train, then it would be handed in.

Walking to the factory we were able to see a typical Dutch town. After a brief outline of the chocolate making process we were divided into groups to visit the different departments including roasting, mixing and packing. Each member of the party was given a cup of cocoa and gifts of a whole nut chocolate bar and a box of cherry brandies. The missing ticket was awaiting collection on our return to the railway station. During our journey we had noticed that some cows in the fields were wearing coats. Tom explained that they were “the feeble ones”.  As they have been kept in barns during the winter, the farmers think that they might get a chill when they are put outside in the spring.

On Friday we travelled by coach to Aalsmeer Flower market and saw how the auctioning takes place. Then we drove on to Volendam where we walked along the main street and saw some of the local residents who were wearing their national costumes. We boarded a ferry to cross the Zuider Zee to Marken and were serenaded by a man playing popular English tunes on a piano-accordion.

Whilst exploring the town we noticed two young girls scrubbing doorsteps using “Vim”. We were taken to a house which consisted of one room and a lady told us about their customs and way of life. She spoke very good English which she said that she has learnt from tourists. On the way home we stopped in Amsterdam to do some shopping. Unfortunately this coincided with the Dutch rush hour and crossing the road was a nightmare due to the numbers of cyclists.

The following day was one which I will always remember because it was my fifteenth birthday. After breakfast we had assembly as usual and were then allowed to go shopping in the town. When we got back, everyone seemed busy but I was told to report to the Deputy Headmistress and then given a pile of guilders to count. A little while later she took me to the dining room and as we entered the girls started singing “Happy birthday”. On the table was cake with 15 candles. It was a sponge and on the top was a layer of mixed fruit set in jelly. The Deputy Head presented me with a blue and white Delft brooch and we celebrated with either “pop” or coffee and a slice of cake. My parents sent me a telegram and a few other birthday cards had also arrived.

After lunch we travelled by coach to Amsterdam where we boarded a glass roofed boat which was perfect for sightseeing. We saw the dock area and as we toured along the canals we saw the house where Anne Frank hid during the German occupation.

4 May is a Day of Remembrance in Holland and in the evening we joined the local people at the Memorial. This is in the form of a woman mourning for her loved ones. In the distance we could hear the tolling of a bell. Just before 8p.m. a procession came from the town, the bell stopped tolling and everyone stood still and erect as they observed two minutes silence. This was followed by the Last Post and Laying of Wreaths. A Police Sergeant took us to the War Cemetery and showed us around.

We went back into the centre of town, to find a cafe for coffee. We were followed by what we called our fans – a group of boys who congregated outside the hotel each evening and waved to any of us who just happened to be looking out of a window.
On Sunday morning the coach took us eastwards through countryside which reminded us of Burnham Beeches and we drove up a Dutch mountain, referred to as “The Mount” which wasn’t as high as some of the Chilterns but the Dutch are very proud of it. Later we came to Grebberg where there is a large War Cemetery on both sides of the road. Grebberg was the last line of fortification and the War Memorial bears the inscription:

Five days and freedom was lost,
Over five years and freedom was re-gained,
It is difficult for justice to triumph
And to that ideal this ground is dedicated.

Soon we reached the British War Cemetery at Arnhem. This is a very impressive sight with lines of white headstones and many graves with flowers on them. The green grass with a background of trees made the place look beautiful and peaceful. Here lie those who paid the supreme sacrifice in the cause of freedom. There was no distinction by rank and men of all three Services were laid to rest side by side. Here too, rest some of their Polish allies. The graves of the unknown servicemen bear the inscription:

“Known unto God.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them”.

Having paid our respects we journeyed on in the afternoon to the Open Air Museum. We enjoyed a lovely time looking around this unique collection of windmills, farmsteads, houses and other relics of Holland’s rural life which have all been carefully preserved in their natural surroundings. We were free to wander around in groups.

Each morning after breakfast and at the end of every day, there was a short assembly but on Sunday evening we had a much longer one – rather like a short Service including two readings by the Senior Teacher. We thought that, being Sunday, we would have a “roast dinner” especially as we had been given packed lunches for our day out but it wasn’t to be. We ended our day with a bracing walk along by the sea.

The last full day was a mixture of school work, taking notes and saying goodbye to the other two groups in the morning and after lunch going on a coach tour. First we went to Scheveningen, a seaside and fishing suburb of The Hague We saw the herring fleet being overhauled for the season which begins on 31 May. Most of the fishing folk wear national costume but it was rather dull. Next we went to The Hague to visit the Peace Palace which was opened on 28 August 1913. A guide showed us around and told us what each nation had given towards building it.

As we continued our tour through The Hague we noticed that there were armed Policewomen on Point Duty. Also we saw some child “Police” and the traffic must obey them. We drove on to Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, which is connected to the North Sea by a canal. This area was bombed during the war so everything is modern. Our final stop was a complete contrast as Delft is a quaint old town noted for its blue and white china with a 17th century atmosphere.

On our last morning our assembly took the form of a thanksgiving for an interesting holiday. We put the last bits and pieces into our cases and got other girls to sit on them so that they would close and then went downstairs to take some photos. Having thanked the staff of Vacantie Chalet we said our goodbyes and boarded the coach. Our homeward journey was uneventful; the sea was calm. We were pleased as we wanted to arrive home safely and in high spirits.