When a Nazi salute shocked Hitchin students

SCHOOLBOYS about to compete in a hockey match were shocked when the visitors gave the Nazi salute.

The disturbing sight of the students confronted by what had become a hated gesture is one of many remarkable images featured in A Century of Old Hitchin on Film, a DVD to be launched next week by Hitchin Historical Society.

The picture was discovered by the society’s film archivist, writer and broadcaster Richard Whitmore, while compiling a collection of vintage films and photographs to celebrate the centenary of the opening of Hitchin’s first cinema in 1911.

The photograph was taken at what was then Hitchin Boys’ Grammar School in March 1939 – six months before the outbreak of World War II.

The school’s First XI hockey team were playing a team of adults from a club in Germany. As the visitors were about to bully off they sprang to attention and gave the Nazi salute shouting Heil Hitler three times.


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The scene provides the sombre prelude to Images of War Time Hitchin, one of seven short films narrated by the former BBCTV newsreader.

Richard, who also wrote the script, said: “I came across the picture while researching another story in Hitchin Museum. Although I was a pupil at the grammar school from 1943, this was the first time I had heard of the incident and I don’t mind admitting it sent a shiver down my spine.”

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The photo revived strong memories for another Old Boy, Bill Bowker, of Verulam Road, Hitchin. Bill’s father, grammar school master Freddie Bowker, organised the match.

Bill recalls his father saying the incident “shook the school team and staff to the core, confirming everyone’s worst fears about Hitler and the Nazis”.

Fortunately most of the DVD’s films record happier occasions, more in keeping with the centenary celebration.

Top of Richard’s list is what he calls “a small national treasure”, a 10 minute film of Hitchin folk celebrating the 1911 Coronation of King George V. During his researches the original camera negative of the film also came to light and – because of its delicate state – it has been passed to the British Film Institute’s Silent Film archive for preservation.

“The BFI consider it a major find because, while they have film of the King on his Coronation day, this is the only one they’ve seen that shows his loyal subjects celebrating the event in a typical English market town. So they are keen to get it restored and copied onto safety film before it degenerates any further,” Richard said.

The 1911 Coronation celebrations were filmed by the Bedford brothers Bill and Ernie Blake, who had just opened Hitchin’s first cinema, the Picturedrome. The film was shown to packed houses the following week.

The society’s DVD runs for just under two hours and includes three other historical films:

The Spirit of Youth - made by members of Hitchin Youth Centre in 1948. Sixty years on it provides an engaging illustration of how teenagers channelled their energies during the early post war years.

The Story of Tilehouse Street was shot by Hitchin Cin� Society in 1950 and is dedicated to local historian Reginald Hine. It includes visits to The Priory to meet the last squire, Sir Ralph Delm�-Radcliffe, and to the town’s last basket weaver, Mr Day, at work in the cellar of his cottage.

Festival of Britain Celebrations, 1951 covers the visit by the Queen to the spectacular Hitchin Historical Pageant which charted 900 years of the town’s history and featured over 1,000 performers.

A Century of Old Hitchin on Film will be launched in the new Studio Cinema at the Queen Mother Theatre, Woodside, Walsworth Road, Hitchin, on Saturday, November 5 between 10.30 am and 1.30 pm. From Monday, November 7 it will be on sale at Hitchin Town Centre Initiative, 27 Churchyard. Price �10 (�11.50 if posted). Cheques payable to: Hitchin Historical Society.

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