Palm Beach Public School was prepared during WWII

Updated Feb 16, 2017
German U-boats sank 24 ships off of the coast of Florida during World War II. Sixteen went down in a 150-mile stretch of Florida coastline from Cape Canaveral to Boca Raton between February and May of 1942. Historical Society of Palm Beach County

Readers: Last week we marked the 75th anniversary of World War II coming right to the shores of South Florida. Last spring, Jean Matheson, a Stuart writer, told us about her husband’s aunt, also Jean Matheson, who during the U-Boat sinkings was principal of Palm Beach Public School, just two blocks from the beach. Here’s more from Jean:

“During the war, all Florida schoolchildren were given first aid courses. Because it was felt that Palm Beach was in particular danger of invasion or bomb attack, children there were also drilled on evacuation.

“They were instructed to walk down (Cocoanut Row) and Seaview Avenue to north of Whitehall, where boats would take them across the lake. From there cars would transport them to the Seaboard Railway station where they would board trains for Sebring, Fla. The students and teachers would stay in Sebring until the danger was over.

“Twice the signal went through yellow and then through blue to ‘ready for red,’ meaning imminent danger. But the signal never went to red for evacuation. In the event of evacuation, Palm Beach Public School would become a military hospital and equipment was stored in the school for such an emergency. During the war, The Breakers hotel was converted to the Ream Army Hospital, which specialized in plastic surgery. Many RAF pilots were airlifted to Ream Hospital after the Battle of Britain.”

Are you tired of local World War II stories? No? Good. Here are more from our archives:

“How did my brother die?” A Palm Beach County woman learns decades later that her brother, shot down over Germany, died not of the crash but of being tortured and executed. palmbeachpost.com/WW2brother

The Forgotten 14: Fourteen men were killed in a December 1943 plane crash near Morrison Field, now Palm Beach International Airport: mypalmbeachpost.com/forgotten14/

Bill Murden’s medal: A man rescued several colleagues in a plane crash at the Boca Raton Army Airfield but never received the medal he was told he should receive. palmbeachpost.com/WW2murden

Shooting Stars and Friendly Fire: An errant bomb during a training run in Florida’s Panhandle wipes out a family and condemns a young man to a life of pain. palmbeachpost.com/WW2friendlyfire

A Little Too Close to Home: A Palm Beach Post editor learned the hard way not to impose his opinion when the bosses are away. palmbeachpost.com/WW2apology

A Little Corner of England: A cemetery in Southwest Florida honors British flyboys who died a long way from home. palmbeachpost.com/ww2Arcadia

An Abominable Situation: When local school district officials called on local black students to change their school year so they could harvest crops in the fall, black leaders said no. palmbeachpost.com/WW2blacks

Another lost soul on enemy soil: A young German prisoner war escaped one of South Florida’s camps and killed himself. palmbeachpost.com/WW2POW