Project reveals Hadlow Down war hero’s life

A £10,000 Heritage Lottery Grant brought the life of a former villager to the big screen when a Hadlow Down school premiered their film ‘Diana Rowden: World War II SOE Agent’.

Diana Rowden was a Special Operations Executive in World War II.

The Special Operations Executive linked up with resistance movements to undermine the Nazis in occupied countries.

She was born in England but after her parents divorced she moved to France from London with her mother. Several years later she returned and settled in Hadlow Down. In 1933 she returned to France and after a brief spell back in England joined the Special Operations Executive.

She was captured by the Nazis in 1943 and executed in a concentration camp.

The film about her work for the Special Operations Executive was put together by pupils from Years 4, 5 and 6 at St Marks CE Primary School.

It played to fellow pupils, parents and villagers in St Mark’s Church on Friday (April 4).

Helen Bonnick, Chair of Governors, said : “I am so impressed by the work that the children have done and their knowledge of the SOE is something they will have for the rest of their lives.

“The film was so informative and moving – how lucky the school were to get the funding and how lucky we are as a village to now have this knowledge of someone who was a villager.”

The film and an accompanying newspaper were the culmination of classwork that began after the school was given a £10,000 Heritage Lottery Grant last autumn.

As part of the project, pupils visited the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, learned about the work of the Special Operations Executive during WWII from guest speakers, and researched the life of Diana Rowden, who lived in the village for three years of her short life.

The school commissioned local charity Sound Architect to co-ordinate the project.

The nine pupils in Year 6 were invited to visit the Special Forces Club in London, where they saw a watercolour, painted by one of Diana’s colleagues, SOE Agent Brian Stonehouse, which showed her in the concentration camp.

Caroline Griffith represented the Special Forces Club at the film’s premiere and presented the school with a Special Forces Club shield. Their research also uncovered a cookery book which had belonged to Diana and was acquired when the Rowden family gave away some items when leaving the village.

This book was presented to the Special Forces Club on Friday night. Caroline said she was confident that the club’s chef would enjoy the challenge of producing some of the recipes for the various celebrations and events planned for the coming year.