In the summer of 1937, Head Girl Torla Tidman was invited to write an article for the St Mary’s news sheet. And the young reporter had plenty of material to draw on. In May that year she, and four of her school friends, had travelled to London to join around eight thousand other British and international school and university students. At a time of great political uncertainty, the Canadian Council for Education had called for non-political rallies to promote ideas of peace among the younger generation. Torla writes, ‘They chose an opportune occasion: the week following the Coronation when London was full of overseas visitors and Westminster Abbey was still in Coronation array’.
The report gives a window into the interests and concerns of some of the young at that time. The weekend began in the Albert Hall with a series of addresses from public figures. An opening speech by the Duke of Gloucester, representing the newly crowned King George VI, was followed by others including Joseph Lyons, the Prime Minister of Australia; Ferez Khan Noon, a founding father of Pakistan; and by Lord Snell, leader of the House of Lords. Eagerly awaited was that by Stanley Baldwin, the last speech he was to make as British Prime Minister. He talked of the ‘responsibility of youth‘. Torla says, ‘It was the speech of a great man, rich in experience and well-versed in worldly affairs, to his successors in the struggle for peace, hopeful, enthusiastic, willing to learn.’ Alfred Noyes, then read Ode to Youth, a poem he had written for the occasion. The session ended with a rendering of the national anthem with an additional two verses written by Noyes.
The following morning, from good positions in The Mall, the girls watched as the King and Queen drove past on their way to the Guildhall. It was then along to Westminster Abbey for a Service of Youth led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Westminster, the theme of which was that the many young people present should dedicate themselves to the ‘search for truth, equality and peace; to break down the racial and social barriers which are the curse of the world today.’
Rounding off her report, Torla concludes: ‘So we left London full of high hopes and noble resolves. We shall forget them; the vision inevitably grows dimmer as we grow further away from it, but we shall find others, just as interesting and more practicable, because the rally had awakened in us an insatiable desire for peace and goodwill among the nations.’
Within two and a half years the direction of those girls’ lives was changed by the outbreak of the second world war. Torla, having had a year reading Classics at Lady Margaret Hall, joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Of the others, one had to interrupt her degree in History at Girton to first do welfare work, and then spend time in the Ministry of Labour. A third spent the war working on the land. Another did a secretarial course and was then married. And the fifth went to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and won a prize from the prime minister for her own essay on the youth rally.