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Swords into Ploughshares

The beginning of King Alfred School, Plön
 

 

A brief account of the history of the school buildings from their inception as a naval barracks up to their transformation into King Alfred School.

The town of Plön, according to some accounts, was founded in 1236 when the Free City of Lubeck granted a charter to the town. The meaning of the name of the town varies according to the interpretations of certain authorities. In one instance, it is quoted as the derivation from a Slav word meaning "Castle on the Lake"; in another, the meaning is give as "Lake free from ice". It is unlikely that agreement will ever be reached about the original significance of the name, nor does it matter very much. The facts remain that Plön has a long and interesting history, that this history is centred on the Castle and that Plön and its surroundings are still making history.

Across the lake from the Castle stands a large country house surrounded with farm buildings. This estate, Ruhleben Farm, comprised most of land bordering the North Eastern shores of the Grosser Plöner See. For the most part, the land near the lake was swampy. One particular portion, stretching about a mile southwards from the north-east corner of the lake, and lying at right angles to the Eutiniger Strasse was of little use agriculturally to the owners of Ruhleben Farm. When therefore the Nazi Naval authorities approached the owner of the strip of land with a view to his selling, it is not surprising that he was ready to part with it, though by all accounts he was able to command a heavy price.

Sepia Photo: Aerial view of KAS
Aerial view of King Alfred School.

Thirty kilometres north of Plön lies Kiel, formerly one of Germany's greatest naval bases, and it was natural therefore that the German naval authorities, seeking to accommodate the steadily expanding the German Navy, should turn to the strip of land on the Plöner See, not far from Kiel, yet sufficiently far for dispersal purposes, in order to build there a naval barracks which should become an important naval training school.

No doubt the architect of these barracks had an eye for the beauty of the surrounding landscape. But more than, he was no doubt commissioned to build barracks which would go far towards attracting entrants to the German navy. Already the German Army had equipped itself with barrack buildings far in advance of any in Europe; the German navy was not going to be left behind. And so, on this strip of land by the Plöner See there arose in the few years before World War II a group of buildings which in pleasing appearance and in efficiency could hold their own with any institutional buildings in the world. Destined in 1938 as a training school for German ratings and used as such, these buildings now house the children of British soldiers, sailors, airmen and officials - an outcome which can never have crossed the minds of the Fuhrer and is entourage as they inspected progress of the new establishment at Plön.

Work started on the site in the summer of 1937. First of all, the main roads of the estate were laid; the boiler house was the first building to be completed. Then came the building we now know as Alexander, the main school building, which was then also used for instruction. By 19th April 1938 all the buildings on the estate were completed and the training of German naval ratings and petty officers could begin. On average, five companies totalling 1200 to 1400 sailors were quartered and trained at any one time in the school. The sailors were housed in the various houses, instruction was carried on in Alexander, the gymnasia and the stadium were available for sport, and the kitchens provided meals in double shifts. What is now known as the Lodge was the officer's mess.

For two years the training courses continued. In February 1940, however the ever-expanding U-boat arm, based mainly on Kiel decided to establish at Plön No. 1 Unterseeboots-Ausbildungs-Abteilung (No 1 U-boat Training School). So the barracks at Plön were devoted entirely to U-boat training. Crews were assembled and put through their instruction here, and from Plön they were posted to their newly fitted out boats. From this time dates the escape hatch equipment, the relics of which can be seen in the boathouse. While the U-boat crews underwent their training at Plön, strange experiments were taking place at the southern end of the Grosser Plöner See - experiments which involved long concrete ramps highly inflammable fuel the and mysterious small aircraft. The V.1 in its early stages was being tried out and the barracks must have bristled with rumours of the promised secret weapon which would do so much to tip the scales of the war in Germany's favour. No doubt many important and high-powered officers and officials came to Plön on duty visits in connection with the research being undertaken at the far end of the lake

After the failure of the Ardennes offensive in December 1944 on the Western Front, and with the Eastern Front liable to crack at any moment, the HQ of the German Navy moved to Plön in March 1945, thus anticipating by a few weeks the northward retreat of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- the Oberkommando de Wehrmacht. When the OKW did finally move northwards, it sojourned at Plön for a few days before setting itself up in Flensburg. No doubt the connection with Plön of Donitz Hitler’s successor brought the barracks into the picture during these last fateful weeks of the war.

When the collapse came early in May 45, the buildings were being used as an emergency hospital. Within a few days at the end of the war, however, the 6th Guards Tank Brigade set up its HQ in the barracks. The marks of their tank tracks can still be seen about the roads of the school, most clearly on the short stretch of road between Butler Hall and the boathouse. A few weeks later, the Royal Navy took over the barracks from the Guards and the Headquarters of the Senior Naval Officer Schleswig-Holstein - known as SNOSH was set up. The establishment was then called HMS Royal Alfred, a name which pointed the way to the present title of the school. In May 1946 the Guards recovered the barracks from the Royal Navy and the HQ of the famous Guards Division was established in the buildings, now renamed Connaught Barracks.

During a handing over by the Navy to the Army, the Rear HQ of the Guards Division lived under naval conditions. Soldiers found themselves hearing the bosun’s pipe over the tally. They also found themselves excluded from the order "Up Spirits" which called the sailors to their tot of rum. After the last sailor had gone, the guards removed the names of the famous admirals from all the buildings and substituted for them the names of Colonels of the Regiments. Those of us who arrived at Plön shortly after the army had left remember these names well, Cavan Block for R*** House, Gort Block for the administration office and so on. The only names which have remained in use are Alexander and C***, though the latter was formerly used signify the gym where the NAAFI was housed.

In March 1947 the Guards Division relinquished the barracks to the HQ of Schleswig-Holstein Sub-Area. And so it remained until April 1948, when the BFES took over.

To say that BFES took over suggests an easy and smooth acquisition by the BFES of the buildings. In fact, the very opposite was the case. Only the most strenuous efforts and perseverance on the part of the director, Mr John Trevelyn, succeeded in wresting this magnificent property from the services in order that a boarding school might be established there. Eventually the decision of the Military Governor himself a favour of BFES settled the issue.

Perhaps it would be well at this stage to outline briefly the reasons which influenced the BFES to consider the establishment of secondary boarding school. With the increasing implementation of Operation Union, more families were moving out to Germany from England and more children needed to be educated. Whereas small BFES primary day schools could be established in many towns and villages throughout the Zone, it would obviously have been uneconomic to set up a series of small secondary day schools; and except in the large cities such as Berlin and Hamburg, secondary boarding schools would be more efficient and more economical. The first, Prince Rupert School, for 250 children was established at Wilhelmshaven. Increasing numbers of children of secondary school age made a second boarding school essential. Therefore, Plön was acquired and a partial solution to the problem was reached

April 1948, the month before the school was due to open, was a time of feverish activity. Outside, the Garrison Engineer supervised the various structural alterations, surprisingly few in fact, needed to convert fine barrack buildings into unrivalled school buildings. Inside, the Headmaster with his newly gathered staff, planned the workings of the school and tried to legislate for the eventualities; while the Commandant L.A.U of (Major Garnett, M B E Grenadier Guards) who had been Quartermaster, then, Camp Commandant in the Army days, and who therefore knew every inch of the barracks was practically using the "old-boys net" to speed up delivery of furniture, bedding and the essential equipment without which the school could not open.

The great day came soon - all too soon, in some respects, considering the amount of preparatory work that had to be completed, indeed the opening day had to be postponed from the 1 st to the 7 th May. Anybody who was present at Plön that midnight, when the first school train arrived, will never forget the tense atmosphere on the platform as the train could be heard approaching, the excitement as it drew in and discharged its 350 young passengers, the roar and rumble of the buses as they carried their loads to the school. The school buildings which the day before had seemed so quiet and lonely were transformed overnight into a scene of seething activity. King Alfred School the plan had become King Alfred School the fact.

by W V P A from "Red Dragon" Summer 1948