Back in the Day
Blockhouse Bay Primary School during WWII
Memories by Audrey Thomas.
A wet afternoon and a box of old photos needing labelling and sorting, but soon I found myself remembering back to the 1940s. One memory led to another and though the photos are still largely unsorted, I had a fascinating afternoon, even going right back to commencing school during the early days of WWII.
Starting school at Blockhouse Bay Primary, meant meeting Miss French. Even today, over seventy years later, simply saying her name is sufficient to produce an immediate picture. She was a tall, thin lady, always dressed in a grey or brown two piece ‘costume’ with a blouse fastened at the neck with a bow or brooch. She wore sensible lace-up court shoes and carried a handbag and gloves. A practical plain felt hat, held in place with a hat pin, completed her outdoor ensemble. Indoors, she removed her hat to reveal very short, very straight hair.
Miss French taught multiplication with everyone chanting out loud from two times to twelve times. We all knew our tables and remember them still. Her weapon of choice was a pencil. It was used to point out words on the blackboard, or when reading from a book and to help remember spelling, each letter was tapped on your skull.
The Murder House
The main entrance to the school was from Blockhouse Bay Road near Gill Crescent. Going up the drive on the right-hand side was a small wooden building – the dental clinic. It was known as the ‘murder house’ by the pupils.
The dental nurse wore a white smock, white stockings and shoes and a white veil on her head. In the cooler weather she wore a red cardigan as well. The more ghoulish among the pupils, said it was red to hide the blood stains on her uniform.
We all hated going to the clinic and would watch the nurse crossing the playground, breathing a sigh of relief when she went past your classroom.
The building is still in the school grounds, looking unchanged apart from a ramp instead of steps for access. It is no longer used as a dental clinic.
Threat of attack during wartime
After the Japanese attacked Darwin, the decision was made for each school to have an air raid plan in case the unthinkable happened. The school had bush around it on three sides and so when the siren went, everyone left their classroom and followed the tracks into the bush. There was a great deal of hedge forming a thick ceiling between ti tree and bracken and assorted weedy bushes.
Each class went to their designated place and teachers checked the roll, then we just had to sit and not talk or move around. Apparently if we talked the enemy planes might have heard us. By hiding in the bush we were thought to be safe, as the school buildings would be bombed and not the surroundings.
Each child had to wear I.D. This was carried in a little cotton bag worn round the neck. A small card with name and address, date of birth and father’s place of work was carried in the bag together with ear plugs or cotton wool to lessen the noise of bombs, and a piece of rubber to bite on instead of biting your tongue.
Fortunately, we were never under threat of attack. It was extremely boring sitting still and being quiet. I used to catch small insects in the leaf mould and try to get them to race or even fight. There was quite a variety from wood lice and earwigs, small spiders that jumped, occasional crickets and best of all, wetas.
The school got involved in community work as part of our war effort. Some of us acted as bodies for the Red Cross ladies to practice bandaging. At that time there was a special type of bandage for every known injury. Bandages were made from torn up old sheets. Head injury bandaging was the most popular with the ladies since they could bandage our mouths shut.
The school was ideally placed from our point of view. There was Sandy Bay just down the road where we learnt to swim and plenty of bush for nature study. A big event in our lives that did not happen very often was going into town (Auckland City) on the bus.
Over seventy years remembered in an afternoon. Looking at the Primer One and Two class photo, I wonder where they all are now.
Editors note: Sadly, Audrey Thomas (nee Jouning) passed away in late July. In her younger days Audrey was a leader in Girl Guides and enjoyed drama. She spent many years as a schoolteacher, and was a keen Blockhouse Bay Historical Society member.
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