The pupils’ basic diet consisted of Jerusalem artichokes, swede, pearl barley and potatoes. The school housekeeper, Mrs Jadwiga Gostynska, did however always manage to ensure that they enjoyed Christmas and Easter meals worthy of a time of plenty. It was she who suggested to the school’s leaders that they rent the twelve-hectare farm in the Geymonds, where every pupil in turn helped to work the fields and thereby improve their everyday fare.
Daily life was ruled by a relatively strict timetable. A typical day began at around seven in the morning with the wake-up call, and assembly half an hour later. In fine weather, this assembly would be held in the yard of the Hôtel du Parc. The pupils would line up two by two, and standing to attention, recite the Lord’s Prayer and sing a Polish canticle. In bad weather, the assembly would be held in the ‘Château’ building. After breakfast, the pupils would set off for their classrooms, dotted around the different hotels in Villard.
There were five lessons a day, starting at eight o’clock, with a ten-minute interval in-between so that the pupils could relax a little and the teachers could walk from one hotel to another. All lessons were mixed. At ten o’clock, there was a twenty-minute break when they could all enjoy a quick snack.
The afternoons were free until four o’clock, when two hours of compulsory personal study began. The evening meal was served at seven o’clock, and after dinner, there was another assembly, with roll call and evensong. Pupils could then either relax or else three times a week, take part in choir practice.
Even though the number of boarding facilities was increased, conditions were not perfect and pupils sometimes had to sleep more than one to a bed. The study environment was far from ideal, as certain classrooms were much too small and others were only rooms in cafés used as studies.
The atmosphere at the school cannot really be described as military. Strictly speaking, there was no military instruction whatsoever. The strict rules, roll call and marches from the Hôtel du Parc to the church were merely the expression of well-reasoned discipline. Such discipline was crucial if the school and its pupils were to embody Poland until such time as they could rebuild their nation properly.
Each pupil shared the same feeling of inner freedom and the same sense of individual responsibility, so much so that their long periods of free time never gave rise to any lack of restraint or over-exuberant behaviour that might shock the local population.
During the holiday periods, pupils whose families lived in the Isere or nearby went home. The others stayed in Villard, and organised outings or worked in the fields…
Extra-curricular life at the high school was very intensive.
Spurred on by Witold Budrewicz, numerous sporting activities were organised. Volleyball and basketball teams were formed right away in October 1940, and these were later followed by ice hockey, skiing, bobsleighing, boxing and football.
Some spectacular results were achieved. The skiing and boxing teams won numerous university titles. The hockey team regularly played against first division French teams, and one year was only beaten by the French champions Briançon in the second leg match. As for the footballers who played for the local Villard-de-Lans team, some of them later played professionally in first division teams.
Ernest Berger, the mathematics teachers, was a passionate music lover, and decided to form a choral society. This was not his first foray into the world of musical direction, as he had already directed the choirs of the Cieszyn Society of Singers (in Silesia) and those of the University of Krakow.
The school’s choral society had about thirty members, all of them boys. They sang hymns and non-religious songs, and even opera, for which Berger put together the arrangements from memory. The choir took part in all of the school’s festivities, gave concerts in the village’s film theatre, and every Sunday, performed in the church. It wasn’t long before the people of Villard stopped attending the big 10 o’clock mass and instead went to the 11.15 a.m. service, which came to be known as the “Poles’ Mass”, a name it kept for many years after the war.
The choir’s reputation soon spread beyond local boundaries. It received many invitations from the outside, which were difficult to refuse, because they always expressed friendship and fellow-feeling towards Poland. And so the choir travelled, within the department to Grenoble and Allevard-les-Bains, and further afield during the holidays, to Manosque and Gréoux-les-Bains. At one time, thought was even given to the idea of recording its best songs in the studios of Radio Grenoble. The project began to take shape, but was then cancelled at the last minute, because the school was afraid that anyone who went to Grenoble might not be able to come back.
There were also plenty of cultural activities at the school, including concerts, theatre performances, ceremonies, birthdays and folk evenings, which all helped to maintain, share and spread an interest in Polish culture.