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Reflections on TBHS

Rev. John Sinclair 1946 -49

Rev. John Sinclair —

Reflections on TBHS 75 years on. The Rev John has been a Presbyterian Minister for over 60 years.

We meet up at the Dunedin South Rotary Club when I joined five years ago. We frequently chat about TBHS. I asked him recently to jot down his reflections of TBHS of the late 1940’s. He graciously did so - Kevin.

Kevin O'Sullivan has asked me to put down a few reflections on life at Timaru

B.H.S. as it was when we started there in 1946. That means that those of us who are still in the land of the living are now about 90 years old. All our primary schooling took place under the shadow of the Second World War, and that experience coloured our outlook; as it did the teaching staff of those years. Some of the teachers had been through the 1914-1918 war, and we learned to make allowances for their sometimes erratic behaviour.....the result of being gassed, or cruelly wounded.

Almost the first thing that hit us in 1946 was school music. It began with "Buster" Moore lining all the new third formers in the Assembly Hall, and as we sang he listened to each in turn and determined whether we were trebles, altos, tenors or bass (or tone deaf); and that decided our place in Assembly. Singing was going to be a big part of school life. Looking back at our well-worn "Mapuru Memories", and the faded green hymn book, makes one realise what a rich musical heritage we had entered into. Probably the highlights were the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, with the whole school on stage in the Theatre Royal. No small achievement. It certainly was an influence that kept the school together.

Singing also enhanced the sporting traditions of T.B.H.S. and coloured inter-school encounters such that even non-sporting boys could be proud of . On another occasion the whole school went to a special screening of the film of the 1936 Olympics. As Jack Lovelock drew away to the front of the race the roar of support from the boys of TBHS was unforgettable. It gave that little oak tree he received from the hand of Adolf Hitler (and passed on to his old school) special significance.

Military training in those days did not seem out of place in school life. I don't recall any boys being excluded on the grounds of conscience. And it was not overdone. We all learned about carbines and Bren guns, and camouflage ; and went on manoeuvres in the Centennial Park. "Bull" Ledingham, as well as being a very good teacher of history; achieved wonders with his parade ground drill. He attempted complicated routines with school boys that would put the Regular Army to shame. He had the assistance of men from Burnham Camp - like .Corporal Flowerday. (Who could forget a surname like that!). We were to meet him again a few years later as Regimental Sergeant Major Flowerday, in charge of the 4th Intake of the troops under the C.M.T.

Corporal Punishment. My last year of secondary schooling was in 1950 at Otago BHS. I was appalled at the difference between the two schools. At Dunedin they had no compunction about caning boys for all sorts of misdemeanors. I cannot recall any boy being caned....let alone being strapped. I do remember "Jess" Greenall, freshly back from war service, showing us the strap with which he intended to enforce discipline. He rolled it up and put it into his desk. It was not long before it was spirited away and cut into little pieces. Any way his relationship with the boys was such that he never needed to resort to the strap.

There was a time when trouble in the Timaru community rose to the surface through the activities of what was known as the "Booth Gang". It seemed to touch a small group of TBHS boys. What it was all about I cannot now recall, and it was soon nipped in the bud.

Certain teachers stand out clearly in memory. In 1946 "Ed" McDonald seemed to be in charge of Social Studies. Though an older man, he was well to the fore in what in 2022 would be called "environmental studies". Very clear in his mind were the issues of conservation, sustainability, climate change, He didn't use those words, but he drove home his understanding of these things. He made fuII use of the publications of the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Council and did all he could to Keep NZ Green (and not in the narrow doctrinal/political sense of the 21st century). We were confronted with all these issues, and the folly of failing to implement wise land utilisation. If people in the intervening years had taken "Ed's" teaching to heart, NZ would have been much further ahead in the implementation of these principles.

Geography....I discovered that in Otago BHS they had never taught Geography at the upper 6th form level.

By contrast, at Timaru we had the superb geography teacher in the person of R.G.Wilson "Wozzy Wilson". In his room we were surrounded by large sepia photos of the Southern Alps and glaciers, not just as decoration, but with factual description of what we were looking at. He would point out a certain crevasse and tell us that a certain climber had fallen into it. His body could not be recovered. But "Wozzy" had worked out that by a certain date the glacier would have moved far enough down its valley for the melting ice to reveal the man's remains.

A fine scientific mercury barometer was used to herald the approach of a cold front; and teach us the principles of weather and climate. A pantograph and a tracing table were used to teach the skills of map-making. In so many ways Mr Wilson presided over the whole experience of coming to grips with geography, with his knack of getting the best out of his pupils and inspiring them to take a rational and scientific interest in the environment in which we live. His competence as a teacher surpassed much of what I later encountered in Stage 1 Geography at O.U.

Visiting Speakers

From time to time the Headmasters in my time - AG.Tait and M.A.Bull would invite significant visitors or notable old boys to speak at Assembly.

Some of these were men in professional life in the town... accountants ... surveyors... dentists ....doctors....... engineers.... etc

I found these to be interesting and memorable in that they opened our minds to

the whole range of career possibilities that we might consider; while on the other hand they gave us an understanding of the background of men whom we would meet and work with in later life. Among the notable visitors was Williams, the Foreign Editor of The Times newspaper and his description of the revelationary/visionary experience that gave him an understanding of the nature of languages; and so gave him entry to his work with The Times.

Another speaker was Commander Gordon Tait, the Rector's son, on his career in the Royal Navy Submarines

We who are former pupils of TBHS have our own memories of our time at school. Inevitably many of those memories are tied to buildings, which in my case (apart from the Memorial Library), are no more. But a school is a living institution, and the teachers and pupils who make up each generation, provide the stuff of which memories are made. And it is the personal side of school life which really endures. When Kevin and Sheilah decided to retire in Dunedin, their presence kindled afresh our interest and gratitude for all that Timaru BHS meant for us, and for that we are truly thankful.