The uniform was monstrously ugly with navy gym tunics, black woollen stockings, white blouses, and Summer panama hats or navy felts in Winter. And of course a striped black and gold tie and hatband. It was perhaps in my first year that the wearing of white ‘sockettes’ came in for Summer, but in her usual thrifty fashion mother knitted mine in heavy white cotton – hot and uncomfortable! My blouses were also home-made with Peter Pan collars instead of the ready-mades everyone else wore, and I never felt proud of my uniform in any way. In our Third Form year we were housed in the ‘cow bails’ – prefabs which had been erected many years before and which still remained. On hot Summer afternoons the oppressive smell of hops from the neighbouring Brewery was overwhelming, and the best aspect of those classrooms was that with a window seat you could keep an eye on the activities in the little street outside. My parents did the modern thing and had me put into a class taking Geography and Botany instead of Latin. (That decision proved a mixed blessing much later when I was required to do two language units to accompany English Honours at University and I had no Latin background to assist me with Old French. Moragh following close behind me did do Latin.) However, Wellington Girls’ provided a good education and I think we had some fine teachers at all stages in this school. I made new and interesting friends as well as keeping the Khandallah School friendships with Jean McEwan, Lois Mansfield and Norma McKenzie and others, for we all came in by electric train together each day. I was elected Form Captain that year and most years thereafter, but I think it was more a tribute to my conformity than my popularity. By the end of the year my parents were sufficiently concerned about my round shoulders to refer me to Philip Smithells, later Director of the School of Physical Education at Otago. I still have the careful personality profile he wrote about me, and his prescription included a satchel (instead of the attaché case that everyone else had), and exercises from a bar my father suspended out in the tool shed. I was self-conscious enough, and the frequent admonitions to ‘put your shoulders back M.” were well meant but did not make me any better.
I think it would have been in this year however, that Joan Lamburd (Sherley) came to my parents to ask if I could join Girl Guides. And that soon became an absorbing interest for me. I enjoyed working for an armful of badges – though I did fail the Singer’s badge with a depressing rendition of “Oh who would o’er the downs with me?” I became a Second and later a Patrol Leader, going on day tramps and for at least one Camp out of Wellington. That was at “Rathkeale” near Masterton. In those days the train, hauled by the special Fell engines travelled over the Rimutakas. Under the seats Joan had a baby rabbit she had captured and I had a jar of tadpoles both of which had to escape the eye of the Guard. Guides also gave me some sense of a wider world as I read what Guides did in other countries and listened fascinated to Grace Patterson tell of her Guides in Sikkim and Bhutan. A year or two later I also went with other Guides to entertain at Army Camps or to provide afternoon tea or make camouflage nets and knitted garments.
My 4th Form year was a more stimulating one with a very lively class and one teacher, Billie Gordon who had a significant influence on me. During this year the grounds were filled with air-raid shelters and we were all equipped with emergency rations and instructed to make our way home (on one occasion) by a route that did not rely on public transport. On a lovely Summer day it was very pleasant to take a back route through Wadestown, by the Kaiwharawhara Stream and the track which is now Crofton Downs road. I’ve mentioned the camouflage nets which were attached to our clothesline as we knotted them. But we also scoured the roadsides one Summer for the elusive ergot, gathered dry grass and beat it for grass seed, filled jars with dead white butterfly, and gathered rosehips for Vitamin C. I think there may also have been some hope of making a fortune from these enterprises – but we were also helping the War effort. I knitted socks and mittens for the Navy. Dad was an Emergency Protection Service (EPS) officer and went off to the bowels of the Town Hall on Night Duty some nights. Mum did a course in vehicle maintenance so that she could act as a Driver if necessary. And of course we listened to the endless reports of ships sunk, aircraft missing, cities bombed, battles fought and watched the troop carriers lined up at the wharves and then disappearing overnight. Rumour was rife and I remember once going up the Jubilee Hill as the “Queen Mary” supposedly was due and she had to come in at high tide as she would clear the harbour entrance by only a few feet. At home there were blackout screens and curtains on the windows and at night searchlights traced across the sky. In the study Mum and Dad had large wall maps of Europe and North Africa and followed events there. The 9.0pm News with Big Ben tolling was always a solemn time. Mum’s friend, Box Steele worked in Army HQ and I think gave her advance word of the death of her brother Grant in the Libyan campaign. I had barely met him so it was not emotionally significant for me, but it was part of the apprehension and grief our elders were experiencing. I remember the shock and horror when we got to church one morning and (I think) HMS Hood had been sunk with a huge loss of life. Another weekend there was great excitement as a young friend of Mum’s, Molly Mackintosh was to be married to John Johnstone from our home. Molly’s day sailing from Lyttleton to Wellington was late or cancelled or something, and the upshot was that they were married on Sunday morning. A handsome couple with John in officer’s uniform and Molly with silver fox fur and pearls.
We had a procession of servicemen for meals and visits – some from Trentham, some on final leave, and later some Americans. There was the romantic Romanian emigre, Harry Jacks, dashing young sailors like Dudley Lane, a planter who walked across Sarawak to escape Japanese invaders, and the American naval officer, Nelson Leidner who became a good friend.
Wellington Girls’ College in 1942 was a wartime year, yet most of my energy went into school and Guides and piano, not to mention home duties, church, Bible Class and the rest. Clarrie from Taihape, our last home help had left to go into a factory by this time. So we all had to help with dishes, making lunches, housework, lawn mowing (3d a time Moragh tells me), and all drawers had to be tidied on Saturday morning if we were to earn our ‘pay’. I had a matchbox system and apportioned my pay penny by penny to Guides, Church etc – and there wasn’t much discretionary income as I recall. In school holidays Mum took us on educational outings, which again we didn’t appreciate but indicate she was ahead of her time. Certainly I remember Wellington Woollen Mills, the Ford factory, Griffin’s Biscuit factory, WCC Milk Corporation, and probably others. Mum was interested in diet and tried to ensure we ate properly in spite of wartime rationing. Packed lunches were inflexible with 2 Marmite, 2 cheese, 1 honey and 1 date sandwich + an apple and Shona remembers how awful the bread was on Monday. Cod fat from the butcher was rendered down and lard or dripping used both in cooking and on bread as a substitute for butter. Homemade soap was also made and the weekly wash complete with starched white cloths and serviettes was initially done in the wash house copper and then rinsed in a tub of Reckitts ‘blue’, though we did get a washing machine about now. For years our milk was delivered by Mr. McKay who tipped it into a large billy accessible through the hatch beside the back door. (A small burglar could have crawled through, but the back door was seldom locked anyway.) Dad grew most of our vegetables in the back garden and Mum bought cases of fruit at the market and made huge quantities of jam and preserves for the family. Again I can’t recall just when a refrigerator arrived on the scene but it was possibly after I had left home.
Each day began at 6.30 (Fraser having earlier left on his paper run for some years.) Mum ran a deep cold bath and we were all expected to soap ourselves and take a rapid plunge through it before dressing. We had hot baths once a week. Dad walked down the Bridle Track or Amritsar Rd steps and caught a bus on the Hutt Rd. I walked to the electric train and the others to Khandallah School. Mum’s day must have been full enough as she sewed and knitted for us all, but she was an avid reader and was active in Federation of University Women, church activities, Red Cross, and for a time she and Dad ran WEA study groups at home. Home hospitality and entertaining had always been part of life. In Whangarei and Khandallah Mum gave formal afternoon tea parties with the silver tea service and a tea wagon laden with food. For some years there was a pewter tray in the front hall where visiting cards were left, but the custom was dying. Visitors were also often asked for Sunday tea, but gradually there were carefully orchestrated dinner parties also
Christmas in our childhood was not observed in the way it is now with a Christmas tree. I think we went through some gestures with hanging stockings at one stage, but more clearly I remember very early wakening to find what was at the foot of the bed. Nor can I remember a great deal about the gifts, but tennis racquets, skates, bikes came in due course. There were birthday parties with homemade paper hats and food and party games when we were younger, but Mum disapproved of the custom of children bringing gifts. And on at least one occasion I had to take gifts back to the donors (to my regret and embarrassment.) We certainly had freedom to roam, and walked all round our area and hills without thought of danger. Once I remember walking in to the skating rink – roller skating – in Wakefield St for the afternoon session, and maybe walking home again to save the bus fares. On another day we walked down to the Kaiwharawhara Station and caught the train to Petone Beach for the day. Sunday School picnics were a day excursion by train, usually to Plimmerton and complete with races and lolly scrambles.’ Going to the Pictures’ was not as regular an event for us as it was for some children, but there were films in both Khandallah and Ngaio Town Halls that we went to if “there was something suitable on”. It was the era of the child stars. Shirley Temple, Andy Rooney, Bobby Breen, and then my favourites, Deanna Durbin and Sonja Henie. Somehow (I think for birthday parties with other children) I got to “San Francisco” with Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy and wept my way through the earthquake. Even worse was a film about the Foreign Legion with desert forts, men flogged and dying of thirst in the desert, and that gave me nightmares for some time!
Our parents were keen for us to have musical training and, with the exception of Fraser, we all learnt the piano for years. Mrs. French, Miss Pinfold and Mrs. Murray took me through Theory exams but nervousness took over and I didn’t achieve when it came to Performance and Memory. I remember letting Moragh down when I was supposed to accompany her for some singing contest, and ‘drying up’ with a Beethoven Sonata on another occasion. Nevertheless, the piano gave me great pleasure and an interest in and knowledge of music. We often produced concerts for the entertainment of family and neighbours, and song and dance routines like “In a Persian Garden” gave us ideas of stage or film careers. Having been taken to the Russian Ballet I had a phase of aspiring to be a ballerina also and pirouetted around the dining room on the tips of my slippers.
My interest in drama was certainly stimulated in my 4th Form year with Billie Gordon as our English teacher. She encouraged us to produce one act plays for the rest of the class and the results included some very elaborate productions with costumes and props carted from home and ‘scenery’ drawn in coloured chalk on the blackboard. She introduced us to the Irish dramatists, particularly Synge, and to a wide variety of other writers. I developed the original schoolgirl ‘crush’, hung on her every word, and after attending my lunch hour piano lesson near the school would look hopefully up the street to see if I could walk back with her. (She lived in Hill St.) She herself played the viola, and when she told me I ‘had the hands of a violinist’, I was determined to learn the violin. Mum and Dad said I could if I matriculated in my 3rd year, so in my 6th Form year I duly learnt the violin and played in the school orchestra.
That rewarding 4th Form year was spent in an upstairs corner room of the old building, and from it we could see the grey painted troopships at the wharves and the air raid shelters in the grounds. The old building certainly swayed in the 1942 earthquake but the fastest girl under her desk was Maureen Care who had come through the bombing of Clydeside. Another interesting emigre that year was Betty Eadie who had grown up in Tientsin with a Russian mother and Scottish father and seemed a very glamorous person. During a Science lesson in a lab at the other corner of the building we heard our first American Marines rounding the corner and singing “You are my sunshine”. Going out with a Marine or helping at their Service Club in the old Hotel Cecil became a popular activity for older girls in the school in the next couple of years, but I was never in that lucky category. The nylon stockings and candy produced by the Marines were another attraction. Meantime the 4th Form year ended with a complete surprise which certainly influenced my later development. The class prizes I won each year were quite undistinguished and I did not top the class in English, but probably thanks to Billie Gordon I won the ‘E M Rainforth Bequest for Excellence in English in 4th Forms’ and an ardent reader eventually became an English graduate.
5th and 6th Form years were not particularly happy as I remember them, and I ceremoniously put my uniform at the back of the wardrobe as soon as the term ended. I was plain, gauche, and round shouldered, though social life and an interest in boys was beginning through classes in Ballroom Dancing at Gwenyth Walshe’s Studio and through Bible Class Socials. There were never enough boys at the dancing classes and as I was tall, I frequently took the boy’s part and led – which is ruinous. Perhaps it was in my 6th Form year however, that a quiet, dark Science student called Ken Bruce turned up and partnered and took me out thereafter. Eminently respectable with Scottish parents and a Karori Bible Class background! In addition, Jim Galloway home on leave and in a Captain’s uniform began taking me out, and in both cases I was immensely flattered and smitten. My mother had ensured that I knew the facts of life – in a vague and embarrassed fashion that wasn’t very realistic I think. I had supplemented that somewhat by peeking at the fashionable “You and heredity” by Amran Scheinfeld (?) on our parents’ shelves. But I’m not sure whether it was innocence, prudery or lack of interest that ensured my safety then and in the following years.
I guess life was pretty busy anyway as I was encouraged to try University Entrance at the end of my 5th Form year and to my surprise and thanks only to a good English mark, I actually pulled it off. I was staying with the Jefferies in Dunedin when Dad got the result at his office and sent me a carefully coded telegram. I remember lying awake in a nightmare of anxiety that night that he had pulled strings to get me through. However, that meant that with Alison Nicol I joined an unfamiliar 6th Form class and put in a last year at Wellington Girls’. I was now swimming and diving with modest success though the Diving coach waited vainly for me to get enough nerve to do even a backward dive or somersault. Guides, violin, Student Christian Movement at school, Bible Class and church made up a full programme. I was a Prefect, finalist in the speech contest, had a good part in the school production of “St Joan” and I think in this year was confirmed at Khandallah Church. The Very Rev D Scott talked with Lois Mansfield and me, and I think I was both filled with youthful idealism and missionary zeal, and a bit perplexed altogether.
I don’t think jobs for schoolgirls were readily available, but one year some of us worked for a week or two in a seed factory and found it hard work and illuminating. Others worked on a moving belt, but I filled packets of dried peas (this being Wartime and before refrigeration had really arrived) and they were supposed to be miraculously reconstituted with soaking and cooking. At the end of my school career Alison and I got Summer jobs in the National Library Service then accommodated in two old houses in Sydney St East, and with magazine stacks under Parliament Buildings. That proved to be quite a remarkable experience though the books were crammed down corridors and on stairwells. Geoff Alley was Director and his staff were an interesting group of people who accepted us and gave us responsibility That encouraged me to return, I think for two later vacations. The romance of the Country Library Service and the Lighthouse bag service captured my imagination and I also came to enjoy finding the right books for different people and meeting the Reference requests. Mary Fleming came back from America to set up the Library School a few years later and I resolved quite firmly to become a librarian. My school career ended without regrets after four years and with stilted visits to the homes of the Principal, Miss North, Margaret Johnston (‘Black Johnny’) and Dora Johnston (‘Ginger Johnny’). The school had really been a very regimented place under Miss North, but I think there were some impressive women on the teaching staff and later I realised just how fortunate I had been.