Salt Spring Elementary School students participated in some creative time travelling this spring when a set of letters backdated by eight decades they sent to Buckingham Palace received a response from Windsor Castle.
In 1940, a 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth gave a radio speech to comfort child evacuees who had been sent to live in the English countryside and across the Commonwealth due to the Second World War. Her sister Princess Margaret (age 12) joined in to say goodnight.
“To you, living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy, and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country,” Elizabeth said as part of the Children’s Hour broadcast.
“All of us children who are still at home think continually of our friends and relations who have gone overseas — who have travelled thousands of miles to find a wartime home and a kindly welcome in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States of America.”
The princesses had themselves been moved from their Buckingham Palace home to Windsor Castle, around 40 kilometres away, which makes it fitting that modern-day Salt Spring letter writers received a reply from that address.
The originating letters were written in character by Grade 3/4 students who imagined themselves evacuees responding to the radio broadcast in those times. It was just one part of an immersive learning experience teacher Katharine Byers created for the class to help with their novel study.
“Our class is reading Goodnight Mister Tom, so it inspired us to have a 1940s Day. We dressed up and wrote a letter to Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret,” explained student Yara Holmes.
“We got a reply a couple of days ago, which was really, really cool,” added Mikayla Langdon.
Byers has been reading the award-winning children’s book by Michelle Magorian out loud to the class. The novel follows William Beech — a young boy from London who goes to live in the Deptford countryside to escape German bombing — and the overall positive impact on his life and that of his elderly sponsor, “Mister Tom.”
Byers said the project was a little different from what her nature class usually does, because they focus on place-based learning and Indigenous studies much of the time. She was pleased to see how involved the students were.
“It was an immersive, engaging experience and very memorable,” she said. “And it was an excited class to get a letter back.”
For 1940s Day, the classroom was reordered to period conventions, with a blackboard for Byers and desks lined up in rows to face the front. Aside from listening to the princesses’ broadcast (with an iPad transformed into radio receiver), other parts of the experience involved a 1940s P.E. class with jumping jacks and skipping, and an air raid drill.
“It was really fun,” reported Juniper Lee.
Tilly Buck said her class learned a lot about the time period through the novel. That helped them write their letters to the princesses.
Buck’s letter asked whether any of their family members had gone to war, and recounted a neighbourhood family that failed to put up their black-out materials and promptly got bombed.
“I think they learned their lesson,” she wrote.
The letter the SSE class received back from Windsor Castle was written by Lady-in-Waiting Jennifer Gordon Lennox on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. Gordon Lennox praised the students for writing so imaginatively and said the queen appreciated hearing from them.
“Her Majesty hopes you are keeping safe and well during the current situation,” she added.
The class was uniformly thrilled by the response.
“I know she does it for basically every letter, but I didn’t think we’d get a reply. And she wrote it from Windsor Castle,” Buck said.