War-time memories of the St Peterís Room, Broadmarsh

One Sunday morning in 1944 St Peterís Choir changed from being all male choristers. We were asked, as Bluecoat girls, if we would like to join the Choir. We attended St Peterís every Sunday with the school, and at that time the Choir was short of boys. Of course, it was quite an innovation in those days to have a mixed choir and I know there had been some who had not been happy with the idea. But girls were voted in and we loved it. We couldnít wait to get our new red gowns and black hats. We became a well balanced, friendly and happy choir.

Of course, eventually our friendships led to social occasions. After choir practice and church service we would go for walks as a group. There were visits to the theatre, the Albert Hall for concerts and Saturday evenings, sometimes we would make visits to other church halls for socials and dancing. Sunday evenings after service there was a regular ďTea and TalkĒ in the vestry.

This preamble leads me to our beginnings at St Peterís Church Hall in the Broad Marsh. For some reason we ourselves had not used the church hall in the past. Of course its position in Broad Marsh in those days didnít make it a very acceptable place to go. Broad Marsh led to Narrow Marsh which was a very poor area of Ďback to backí houses. It was said that policemen wouldnít venture there alone. In the 1930s I understand it was used for a Civil Defence exercise and the whole area was razed to the ground. The cleared area later became a bus station. Broad Marsh still stood though, with various small shops and workshops, as well as the church hall and a building which was used at the latter part of the war as an American servicemenís club.

It was in the latter part of the 1940s when it was suggested that the hall could be used by us for social occasions. It was a pretty old and depressing looking building from the outside, and Iím afraid the inside wasnít much better. But it had quite a large room with the far end having a glass partition behind which was a Ďkitchení - at least it was a place where we could prepare some refreshments.

What good times we had there though. Canon Lee at that time loved our socials, where anyone who could sing, recite poetry, in fact perform generally, was asked to do so. We sang together as a choir and sometimes visitors would sing for us. And of course, we danced. Country dancing was much enjoyed, especially by Canon Lee who took the opportunity to swing us girls off our feet in his exuberant way in the ĎGay Gordonsí. I donít know who taught us the dances, or indeed where the music came from, but a great time was had by all.

Someone at the Church must have been in contact with German prisoners of war. Of course the war was now over, but the prisoners were still in England awaiting repatriation. Twenty-five or so men were invited to join us for a social evening. I can still remember that first Saturday when they came to us. All in the same grey uniform and there was a sort of tension between us all. Of course, it was an odd situation. All of us in that room, English and Germans, had in some way become a victim of war, and yet here we were all together. I can remember the men sitting around the edge of the room, but we went around trying to make them welcome and hoping someone could speak English. I spoke to a young man who could, and he told me he had been shot down, but he was very happy to talk about his family back home. Things soon relaxed when we started dancing, and our visitors joined in with great gusto. Then they sang to us as a choir - a very good choir. What a splendid evening we had! So much so that we were invited back to their camp one Saturday, when they would entertain us. Iím not sure who did go - but I know I didnít! That was all too much for my mother.

And so the GIs eventually left the streets of Nottingham and the prisoners of war left their huts and went home to Germany. Broad Marsh and the Church Hall have gone, but St Peterís still stands like a rock and, Iím thankful to say, so do our fond friendships from those days.

Hazel Chester nťe Neale (contributed by Sheila George)

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 1st October 2001