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    Growing Up In New Zealand 1925-1950

    Part 10 - Secondary Schooling For Country Pupils
    Dorothy - 19/01/01

    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 Standard 5.

    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 College.

    Boarding school
    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 after 'prep'.

    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 adult.

    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 Chinese laundry.

    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.

    Chapel attendance
    "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 pie.

    "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 years.

    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.

    Published with permission from NZine