You can read the previous part in the Growing up in New Zealand 1925 - 1950 series
here, or read the articles from
the 1900 - 1925 Growing Up in New Zealand series.
When country school pupils finished at primary school in the period 1925-50
they could not take it for granted that they would be able to have
secondary education. If they passed the Proficiency examination which
pupils sat until 1937 they had a qualification which was accepted by many
employers. Some were expected to leave school and help on the farm.
Many country pupils attended secondary school at the nearest town and
travelled each day by train. This often involved a bike ride on an
unsealed road to get to the station to catch the train. Train pupils
usually arrived at school a little late and had to wait at school doing
homework until it was time to catch the train home, along with people who
had finished work. They were away from home a long time, and in the winter
had to leave and return home in the dark.
Travelling from Lyttelton to Christchurch to school
Frank described travelling from Lyttelton to Christchurch to attend
Christ's College. He left primary school to go to Christ's College after
Some boys regarded Christ's College as 'a snob school', and always looked
for opportunities to tease or even bully College boys. Frank remembers
that he had to wear a school suit with a waistcoat and stiff collar, and
for the first year an Eton collar outside his jacket. He went by bicycle
down to the railway, then by train to Christchurch, by tram to the Square
and on foot to College.
Frank described the problems on the train and the long days.
"The train was coal fired in those days and my brother used to have trouble
keeping the boys from other schools from getting at me and putting soot on
this collar. I wore it inside my coat until I reached Christchurch and
then I had to put it on the outside.
"Going home I tried to catch the 5.15 train, but that was difficult because
we had to play rugby after school most days. We had Wednesday afternoons
off to play sport, which was rowing in the summer and rugby in the winter.
We had cadets one afternoon.
"In the winter after lunch you played football, had a bath and then one and
a half hours swot. After that I ran to the Square, often just in time to
see the tram disappearing past the Bank of New Zealand, which meant running
to the station and probably missing the 5.15 train. There was half an hour
to wait until the next train. After arriving in Lyttelton there was a mile
and half to bike back. After that was dinner and two and half hours swot.
It was a heavy programme. In the first year I took all the usual subjects,
plus French and Latin. I dropped the Latin as soon as possible. I studied
physics, chemistry, electricity and magnetism, geography, and scripture
with the chaplain, instead of Latin."
Usually Frank cut his lunch, but sometimes went down to the Beresford, a
city cake shop, for a pie which cost fourpence.
Discipline was administered by prefects who could refer a boy to a
housemaster who in turn could send him to report to the headmaster, usually
in that case for poor work in the classroom. The prefects were allowed to
cane but not more than four strokes on the bottom. They had to report to
the housemaster about meting out punishment.
Earning money to travel to the city for secondary education
Stewart who lived at Courtenay was first sent to board privately in
Christchurch and attend Christchurch Boys' High School. After one term
his father decided that it was too expensive and that he would have to
leave. Stewart decided to earn money to support himself and travel each
day to town. He had been working in a market garden and trapping rabbits,
which even then were a menace. He set traps on the farm and got up at 4
a.m. to clear the traps and sold them to Feron and Son. He made enough to
pay the cost of the bus for two years. He had to travel three and a half
miles to the bus taking the rabbits with him on his bicycle.
He described the bus trips. "It was a twenty mile trip on the bus and it
took about three quarters of an hour. Two of us from CBHS travelled
together and had to miss the first period each day. After school if we got
out early enough we would run from the school in Riccarton to the depot in
the city opposite the Bridge of Remembrance and help the drivers load the
parcels on the bus. On one occasion we missed the bus and walked and ran
alternately for several miles until we hitched a ride and were dropped off
near our bikes. As always if I went out of line I got a hiding for this.
After two years at CBHS I had to leave school, but at least I earned myself
two years at secondary school."
District High Schools
Some pupils attended a District High School, usually attached to a primary
school in the area. Adelaide went from Irwell Primary School to
Southbridge District High School, travelling by the bus which ran from
Christchurch to Southbridge. She was in a mixed class of about twenty
pupils of her own age, which she enjoyed after being in a one teacher
school with children from five to thirteen all in the one room. She
especially enjoyed having art and cooking and sewing classes. After two
years there she went to stay in the city and attended Digby's Commercial
There were boarding establishments attached to many of the state schools in
the cities and to many of the private schools.
Boarding at a girls' state school
Judith remembers some of the routines at the hostel attached to a girls'
secondary school. There were fifteen girls in her dormitory and there was
little space for personal possessions and little privacy. The day's
routine began with getting up at 6.30 for most people, but some got up
earlier for piano practice. Everything had to be left tidy before walking
to school in a croc (crocodile), where it was necessary to keep in step all
the way. The walk took some fifteen minutes and unless there was a reason
to be at school in the lunch hour the girls walked back to the hostel for a
full midday dinner and back to school in a lunch break of a little over an
hour. Girls who were interested in study had to be disciplined about
settling down to homework as they had to go to bed at 8.30 in the evening
On Saturdays the morning was spent in hand washing clothes that did not go
to the laundry, hair washing and writing a letter home. In the afternoon
girls could play tennis on the hostel courts, or were taken for a walk to
the Botanical Gardens or sometimes to a film, depending on the preferences
of the teacher on duty. Sometimes they were allowed to go out with the
school tramping club. They had to cut their own lunch to take with them.
On Sundays all the girls were expected to go to church to the denomination
specified by their parents. A special uniform was worn on Sundays -
tussore-silk frocks and coats with hats and gloves. Lisle stockings were
compulsory and much disliked as they did not fit well and wrinkled at the
ankles. The girls were allowed to go out and visit in the afternoon from
1.30 to 6.30 provided they were collected and returned by a responsible
Boarding at a boys' state school
Selwyn, looking back at his schooldays at Nelson College, thinks it was a
great experience to leave the North Island farm to go to boarding school.
He made lifelong friends. He recalls sleeping in open balconies with
canvas blinds to use in wet weather and getting up early in the morning and
having to have a cold shower and then doing exercises with dumb bells and
clubs on the school field. He has never had a cold shower since he
finished his five years at boarding school. Being keen on rugby and being
in the First Fifteen was a great thrill - one of the encouragements for
staying the fifth year.
Not everyone found boarding a happy experience. Fagging was still common
and some junior boys had a bad time at boarding school.
Boarders had to attend Sunday church services but were allowed to go to
visit day pupils on Sunday afternoons.
Boarding at two private boys' schools
In 1941 David was sent to Cathedral Grammar School to board in Form 1.
Shortly after he went there his father died. That was a traumatic time.
David recalls the uniform worn at that time.
"I had two years at Cathedral Grammar School - Eton collars and all. The
collars were dreadful, especially in the summer time. They had to be worn
outside the suit at all time. They were sent away to be laundered at a
Boarding at Christ's College
"In 1943 I moved to board at Christ's College for four years. I was in
Jacobs House. My first year as a boarder there was rather unhappy.
"I was not very well that year. I had previously had ear ache at Little
Akaloa, but in my first year as a boarder at College I had a severe attack
of ear ache and was kept in isolation for a few days. The house matron
normally looked after boys who had minor ailments like a sore throat,
chilblains or a mild sprain, but those who had to be kept in isolation or
had to be kept in bed for a few days were looked after by the school's
registered nurse in a miniature hospital on the grounds.
"In 1943 as a new boy I was not allowed to put my hands in my pockets, and
in the winter term before breakfast we had to go for a walk out the College
gates, along Rolleston Avenue, over the bridge into Hagley Park, along the
river bank, back in through the Botanical Gardens and through the side gate
into the College grounds. That usually took about twenty five minutes from
7.30 to 7.55. Winters in that time were colder than they have been
recently. I can recall frosty morning when both lakes in Hagley Park were
frozen over and after a series of very hard frosts people used to skate on
them. As a result of these walks in the cold mornings I got bad chilblains
on my hands. After breakfast I would go to the house matron who would
paint ghastly looking stuff on my chilblains which were open almost to the
bone. In a few days they would be cured, but they would develop again.
"We went to a chapel service every day and on Sunday there was communion at
8am for those who were confirmed, and morning service and evensong for
everyone. I sang in the College choir for several years.
"On Sundays after the chapel service we were allowed to visit relatives or
day boys who were friends.
"Fagging was an accepted practice at College for first year boys, but
because in 1943 my elder brother was there with me I was not called upon to
do as much fagging as some of the others. One of my fagging duties was to
make a prefect's bed, but others had to clean shoes and the brass buttons
on the cadet uniforms. Of course I had to clean my own buttons. Whenever
a prefect called 'Fag' you had to run and if you were the first there you
had to do a message like visiting the tuckshop for the prefect to buy him a
"I felt that the discipline was strict because caning was accepted practice
at College. Prefects were allowed to cane. I remember being caned for
talking after hours when the lights were out. I got a caution when I was
seen going to the pictures one Saturday afternoon when I hadn't obtained a
written permission note from the house master. This could have meant four
strokes from the prefect. You could appeal to the house master against the
caning if you felt that your misdemeanour did not justify the punishment.
"At the end of the first term each form master wrote a report about our
progress in class. As it was my first year in a new school where
everything was very strange and bewildering I had not done as well as I
had at Grammar School. The headmaster caned me severely for this report
and my mother was shocked at the scars when I returned home. As an
imposition I was put on 'a term satis' which meant that at the end of each
week I had to get a report from each subject teacher and take them to the
headmaster. That put the living fear into me in case the report was not
satisfactory and I was caned again. I scraped through the second term
without more trouble.
"From thereon schooling was as normal as anyone could have had with the old
masters who were teaching extra years during the war while the younger men
were serving in the armed forces."
Readers, please fill out the picture of life at school in these
Four earlier articles have dealt with some people's experiences at school
in New Zealand between 1925 and 1950. We invite readers to use the
Backchat to share their memories of schooling in those years.