This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: MGH 4898).


Amateur film shot by a local Bahamian cameraman records the life in the Bahamas of the twenty English evacuee schoolboys evacuated via SS Orduna from Belmont School in Hassocks, Sussex for the period from 1940 to 1944, and shows the Duke of Windsor (Governor-General) and Duchess of Windsor (formerly Mrs Simpson) visiting the school.



As the threat of a German invasion grew stronger during 1940, Belmont School, a preparatory school in West Sussex, was evacuated. Thirty-eight boys were despatched to Stowe House in Lichfield, Staffordshire while thirteen boys (and three sisters) embarked on a longer journey to the Bahamas, setting sail from Liverpool on 12 August 1940, and arriving in Nassau on 30 August.

The evacuation from Belmont School is indicative of the broader evacuation schemes initiated during the war. Operation Pied Piper, from 1September 1939, officially moved 826,926 unaccompanied schoolchildren and 523,670 mothers with pre-school children from urban to rural areas, and further evacuations to rural areas were organised in 1940 and 1944 (Zweiniger-Bargielowska, 2000, 129). However, many of the country’s wealthier elite evacuated ‘privately’ overseas. This caused some resentment and criticism from other sections of society and in the summer of 1940, the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) was established to oversee a programme ‘of carefully monitored child evacuation that would ensure that overseas evacuation represented a full cross-section of all classes’. Within two weeks, the total number of applicants had exceeded 211,000, and the Cabinet, concerned that evacuation on such a scale ‘encourages a defeatist spirit’, stopped any further applications. The first CORB ship sailed in July 1940, but the torpedoing of the SS City of Benares on 17 September, which resulted in the death of 77 CORB children, put an end to the scheme. In total, 2,664 CORB children arrived in the Dominions – with 1,532 of these in Canada – but an estimated 11,000 children were sent overseas privately (Lin, 1996. 315-316). Historian Patricia Yin argued that those evacuated overseas were defined by their national identity as ‘ambassadors of Britain’, encouraging support for the War within the Dominions and forging links between Britain and her Empire (Lin, 1996, 312).

The school in the Bahamas was set up at Clerihew House, a four-storied 18th century house, owned by Sir Harry Oakes, who was mysteriously murdered in 1943. (The film Eureka (1984), directed by Nicolas Roeg is loosely based on this murder). By the Easter term of 1941, there were 36 boys and 16 girls at the school, with these numbers approaching a hundred by the end of the year, as the children of ‘numerous British families then living in Nassau … and some Bahamian boys and girls’ joined the school (Howard, 2004, 21).

The school children ‘became part of the social life of the island, joining the Cathedral choir, learning First Aid, and, entertaining our hosts with Plays and Concerts’ (Atwood). When the Belmont school children, now aged between 11 and 16, returned to England in March 1944 a report in the Daily Gleaner in Jamaica, reprinted from the London Evening News, presented an idyllic image of a children’s holiday retreat. ‘The boys talked of the wonderful sunshine’ the article stated, ‘the boating, swimming and fishing they had had and assured their parents they should move to Nassau at the earliest opportunity’ (Daily Gleaner, 29 April 1944, 9).

The arrival of the Belmont School children in Nassau coincided with the arrival of the new Governor of the Bahamas, the Duke of Windsor, who had landed with his wife less than a fortnight earlier on 17 August. Ashley Jackson described the Bahamas as an ‘island of idle rich, native poor, American tourists and cosmopolitan tax evaders’.  ‘Into this troubled land of racial division’, wrote Jackson, ‘with its community of hard-drinking, beyond-the-law whites stepped the Duke of Windsor and his Duchess, appointed Governor by the British government to get him away from Europe, out of harm’s and temptation’s way, and hopefully out of the headlines’ (Jackson, 2006, 87). Jackson argued that ‘it was not to be a happy wartime sojourn’ for the Duke, as he became an ‘implacable enemy of the ruling white oligarchy, though something of a hero amongst the black population of the islands’ (Jackson, 2006, 88).

The governor’s four and a half year stay in the Bahamas thus ran parallel to that of – in Jackson’s words – the ‘rather over-zealously evacuated boys of Belmont School’ (Jackson, 2006, 89). David Howard, one of the schoolboys on the trip, recalled that ‘we started school in early September [1940] after a visit from the new governor, the Duke of Windsor, who toured the house and spoke to us all as English evacuees. Indeed he was to visit us more than once and gave a party each Christmas at Government House for all the children who were not at home’ (Howard, 2004, 20). Another student, Anne Atwood (née Walton), added that the couple ‘visited the School on Open and Sports Days, which he really enjoyed; not so the Duchess, who clearly felt it was all beneath her’.

An opening title on this amateur film explains that ‘These pictures have been taken and sent over here in an endeavour to give our BAHAMAS PARENTS a slight idea of the life and surroundings of their children in NASSAU BAHAMAS’. David Howard recalled that ‘our first Christmas was enlivened not only by a party at Government House but by the taking of a carefully scripted film of life at Belmont Bahamas and a short interview with each English child so that it could be sent home to our parents’ (Howard, 2004, 21). 



Although Belmont School Goes to Nassau Bahamas is an amateur film, there is a clear narrative structure to the film. It opens with the arrival of the children in Nassau harbour in August 1940 and concludes with shots of the children waving goodbye to the Duke and Duchess – and by extension to their parents who are viewing the film in England – after their Christmas party. The inclusion of some inter-titles further illustrates the efforts on the part of the filmmakers to talk directly to the parents in England.

As this film was intended for parents, it contains a number of staged shots of children in uniform walking past the camera. The film does not contain interviews or sound, but it does introduce, by name, some of the figures at the school, and shows the widespread care for the children. This is most clearly illustrated through a sequence in which two friends carry a boy to the school nurse who bandages his leg. The film offers a brief shot of the children in class but, for the most part, the footage highlights a traditional British education, in the form of religion (attending the Cathedral), sport (with various races, swimming and archery), and music and drama.

The film offers virtually no evidence of war, although the War certainly did impact on the Bahamas. British and American forces constructed military bases on the island in 1942, while the ‘strains of war’, which ‘destroyed’ the tourist industry and threw many Bahamians out of work, erupted into rioting in Nassau in June 1942, when three people died (Jackson, 2006, 90; Jeffery, 1999, 332). Yet the film presents a reassuring image of a British retreat, as yet unaffected by the War. Central to this image are the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who feature prominently, and are mentioned twice in intertitles. Their appearance may impress the watching parents, but it also serves to highlight that this is a distinctly British experience and education for these children.

This British identity is emphasised through the presentation of the local people. While the film does feature locals, it shows them performing directly to the camera. An early shot depicts a local boy climbing a tree, watched by the smiling schoolchildren, before collecting and cracking open a coconut. This ethnographic shot – typical of instructional films – is complemented by later staged shots of local staff, made up of five black women and a black man, lined up and serving the school children food. The camera moves along the line, displaying each local individually. These locals feature primarily here, as they might in a professional documentary, as an ethnographic subject of local interest.

Tom Rice (April 2008)


Works Cited

Atwood, Anne, ‘The Epic Voyages To and From Nassau’ from, accessed 31 March 2008.

‘Belmont Schoolboys like the Bahamas’, Daily Gleaner, 29 April 1944, 9.

‘A History of Belmont School’,, accessed 31 March 2008.

Howard, David, The Unforgiving Minute (Stanhope: Memoir Club, 2004).

Jackson, Ashley, The British Empire and the Second World War (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

Jeffery, Keith, ‘The Second World War’, The Oxford History of the British Empire Vol. IV: The Twentieth Century edited by Judith M. Brown and WM Roger Louis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 306-328.

Lin, Patricia Y., ‘National Identity and Social Mobility: Class, Empire and the British Government Overseas Education of Children During the Second World War’, Twentieth Century British History, 1996 7 (3), 310-344.

Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Austerity in Britain: Rationing, Controls, and Consumption, 1939-1955 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).




Technical Data

Running Time:
13 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
458 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries: