Surrey Heath celebrated and remembered the life of Rosette Savill with the unveiling of a Blue Plaque marking the site of the Free French Recuperation Hospital she set up in the Second World War, which then became a Girls’ Finishing School with pupils attending from all over the world.
Surrey Heath has a wonderful military heritage, and during the Second World War the area was home to the Free French (a French movement during World War II that was organised in London by Charles de Gaulle to fight for the liberation of France from German control and for the restoration of the republic).
Originally from Monaco, Rosette married her husband Stewart before war broke out and the couple moved to the UK. They firstly settled in London, where Rosette ran a dress agency business, before re-locating at the start of the Second World War to Paddock Wood, Lightwater.
Shortly after settling in the area, she turned her home into a Recuperation Hospital for the Free French, helping her fellow comrades recover from their war wounds sustained on the battle front. She also worked tirelessly to fund the hospital and other ventures locally.
After the War Years, the French families whom Rosette had come to know wished to send their children to the UK to learn English.
From that connection, Rosette created Paddock Wood Finishing School (1946-83), teaching English and many other subjects such as secretarial skills, household management, art and deportment to pupils from all over the world.
In 1969, Rosette was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite for her war work.
The original Paddock Wood building still exists, although it has now been converted into residential flats; other flats have been built around it, echoing the Flemish style of the original Paddock Wood building.
Local dignitaries, old ‘Woodies’ (ex-Paddock Wood pupils), former Paddock Wood staff and Savill family members attended the event on 15 September, along with local heritage enthusiasts and residents.
The Mayor of Surrey Heath, Councillor Valerie White, unveiled the plaque and former ‘Woodie’ Pippa Anderson took people on a tour of the grounds. Ms Anderson has worked tirelessly to ensure Rosette’s work is remembered, including creating a Paddock Wood Girls’ community (www.paddockwoodfinishingschool.com)
The plaque was organised by Surrey Heath Borough Council Senior Heritage Officer Gill Barnes-Riding, working in partnership with Paddock Wood Residents Association and Ms Anderson.
A reception afterwards gave guests the chance to reminisce about old times. One former pupil said: “I didn’t know what to expect, however this had been a most wonderful event. I cannot believe how many people have come from other countries including Dubai, California France and Switzerland, to remember their time here - and remember a wonderful and inspirational woman.”