Photo courtesy of The Reach P13237

Students at old Abbotsford school trained for the war

Philip Sheffield High School had firing range in basement

The undocumented history underneath the old Philip Sheffield High School reveals how some students in Canada trained for the Second World War.

The Abbotsford Virtual School, formerly known as Philip Sheffield High School, has a fascinating past beneath its gymnasium.

During the Second World War, the school took a proactive approach. In the event that the conflict came to North America, the school built a firing range in the basement. They did this to ensure that students were prepared to defend Canada.

However, the details of this program have not previously been recorded.

Christine Wiebe, chair of the Philip Sheffield History Project, partnered with Abbotsford Virtual School, University of Fraser Valley and The Reach Gallery Museum to document the unique history of Philip Sheffield.

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“In interviewing past students of Philip Sheffield High School that attended during the Second World War, I was surprised to learn some of these students were taught how to fire rifles,” Wiebe said. “This was part of their curriculum in the event the war carried over into Canada.”

Cadets and the Aircraft Recognition Club became popular for students who were interested in contributing to the war effort.

Students in the Aircraft Recognition Club were able to identify any ally or enemy aircraft. Cadets learned skills like knots and lashes, signalling, first aid and map reading.

They were taught to handle defence equipment such as helmets, gas masks, anti-gas suits and goggles, rifles, and signalling lamps.

Students were also trained to handle firearms. The crawl space in the school’s basement was set up as a firing range and used for target practice. The firing range was in use from 1939 until the end of the war in 1945.

“These students learned how to handle and respect firearms, which they greatly appreciated. They were thankful they had learned the basic rules to operate the rifles correctly,” Wiebe said.

“I constantly felt their sense of pride for their school and country. They understood clearly what the war was all about. As young people, this was a lot of responsibility to accept.”

Anyone who has memorabilia from the old Philip Sheffield School and would like to donate it, or have it copied, is asked to contact Kris Foulds at The Reach: kfoulds@thereach.ca or 604-864-8087 (ext. 122).

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Photo courtesy of The Reach P43358

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