For me, school life began at the start of 1941 – I can still remember my first day at Mortlake School. Even though I only lived three doors down in Archer Street, I still cried my eyes out when Mum left me there with the assurance that she would be back to pick me up in the afternoon. Miss Greig took me to her heart and put me on the rocking horse that they had in Kindy – I think we nearly all had rides on that rocking horse at some stage.
Before long I was turning up for school before the cleaners, helping to fill the coal scuttle with coal from under the school. In those days each classroom had a fireplace which had a fire burning all day, and the cleaners had to clean the grates and light the fires before classes commenced so the smoke would be out of the rooms and the fires well alight before the children arrived.
During the war, when Australia began to get warning of an invasion from Japan, our parents were asked to work weekends digging air-raid shelters in the playground between the Primary School and the Infants’ School. The shelters were dug within weeks, the Education Department had them roofed over and then covered with dirt. Duckboards were laid on the floor because of water seepage and seating put along both sides of the walls with heavy wooden doors at all exits.
One day Dick Moys and myself went to school early just to explore the air raid shelters before the teachers arrived. However, one of the cleaners, seeing the door open, closed and bolted it . . . and you can guess who was locked in and then had to be let out by the teachers.
Needless to say, we were “lined up” for a couple of days – that was the punishment in those days. You were “lined up” at the edge of the playground during playtime and lunchtime while all your mates played and you just stood there, not allowed to move.
Then came air-raid practice. The siren would sound (from somewhere over Concord West way, although I never did find out where it was located) and it could be heard all over Concord. The children were marched out into the air-raid shelters and seated. We had all been issued with a small round piece of rubber which we clenched between our teeth and were told if bombs were dropped we were to cover our ears with our hands, bite on the piece of rubber and put our heads down between our knees. Thank God it didn’t become a reality. The all-clear siren would sound and everyone would then march back into class.
We all felt safe during that time because the Army Camp was located on Concord Private Golf Course, equipped with Ack Ack guns and searchlights.
The pupils were asked to collect scrap aluminium pots and pans to be melted down for the war effort.
Our parents were not forgotten either – those who were not away in the war were asked to join in with the Air Raid Wardens to help with any crisis that may happen at the school.
One Saturday a simulated bomb blast on the Primary School was staged and all the parents were asked to help with the evacuation of casualties. My older sister Helen was winched down from an upstairs window, on a stretcher, with supposed head and leg injuries. She was taken to North Strathfield Public School, which was a casualty clearing station. The part she didn’t like was having to walk home from there when it was all over.
We also had fire drills. A couple of houses in each street had a red bucket and a stirrup pump to put out any fires, plus the school had a red bucket full of sand to pour over incendiary bombs if they landed in the school grounds.
Thankfully all these precautions were never put into effect and are only now memories – memories of the lovely teachers we had like Miss Greig, Miss Minogue, Mrs. Kelsey and, in Primary School, Mr. Gibbons (Headmaster) and Mr. Stutchbury. Memories of Mr. Stutchbury calling you out to be caned, taking off his coat, getting out his cane from the cupboard, taking a couple of practice swings through the air, then telling you to be seated and not to misbehave again.
As I said, they are all memories now but what great days they were, playing footie in bare feet because mum couldn’t afford shoes, holes in the back of your pants with patches sewn on them and the chapped legs in winter from short pants rubbing on your leg.