What a place to go to school–With a great view of Mt. Egmont–which I believe has now been renamed –Mt. Taranaki–In deference to our Maori population. The photograph was taken in the summer–a very dry one it seems–and in most winters there is a snow cover which in some times covers the mountain down to the foothills and sometimes beyond. New Plymouth Boys’ High School is about 400meters behind the photographer–note the tree ferns in the foreground.
And here is a view in the Winter.
At first I went to Auckland Grammar for 2 weeks, Dad had me booked into NPBHS, but there was no vacancy, later there was, and Dad asked me if I would like to board at New Plymouth, and for some reason I said yes, and have never regretted that decision. I arrived at NPBHS in January 1945. Dad bought me down and we travelled by train from Auckland. It was an over night trip, and we were in New Plymouth in the early morning. When we arrived, owing to the trip we were quite dirty, due to the smoke affects of the train , especially going through the tunnels. The only place for breakfast, after looking for quite some time, was Novak’s Fish and Chip Shop. Not the ideal breakfast, but I thought that it was great–having just turned 13. After this gourmet’s delight we proceded to The School.
There were a number of “New Boys” there and eventually I was enrolled in the boarding house— “School House”.There were 3 other Houses–“Pridham”and “Carrington”and “Niger”. Induction took a few days in the School itself—-The type of form and subjects to be taken. 3 CL( 3 Classical )was the one for me—The Subjects were –Maths-Arithmetic&Algebra&Geometry—-English—-Latin—-Science—-History—-Geography. There was also a choice of team sports–Rugby Union-Hockey-Soccer and Cricket in the Summer–I chose Rugby Union. There were other sporting activities—-such as Gymnastics-Table Tennis-Badminton-Basketball-Swimming-Diving-Water Polo etc.
The dining hall was one of the first places of interest. A dedicated area for 3 meals a day–most of which were very edible. The main meal was at midday and some of the “Day Bugs” had a meal with us.There was of course the Gully playing ground for all sports but mainly–Rugby in the winter and Cricket in the Summer. A marvellous place for sports–it was a terraced area–and was built in the Depression by out of work citizens of New Plymouth. Behind the Gully–and towards School House was an area where there were 4 asphault tennis courts whhich were in great demand the whole year round, but mainly in the summer–of course.There was a swimming pool away from the Gully and was put to great use in the summer, no togs were worn. The gymnasium was next to the pool–which,by the way was not filtered–but emptied about once a month –and then refilled –when water was plentiful, which I think still is, in New Plymouth. The purposely built library–which was very well stocked, with all types of books–from texts to novels.And had a dedicated wall, of photographs—of those ex-students in the forces–who passed on during WW2. The library was at the top of the hill that led down to the Swimming Pool, and adjacent to Carrington House–HouseMaster Mr. Bottrel. Next to this house was the Lounge–and back from this was the Dining Room.Behind the Dining Room and on the left was the Music practise rooms, mainly for piano and violin, but there were students who played flute and cornet etc. Between Pridham House and the Dining Room was situated thte Science Block –the newest building at that time —1946. Opposite the Lounge,and across a wide path,is Pridham House,HouseMaster Charley Brenstrum–a tyrant if ever there was one-six of the best for no reason at all. I was to have 2 friends from Pridham–Albert Brownlie and Colin McDonald–known as Maxina–Across the road from here we had School House, HouseMaster John. S, Hatherly– a batchelor–Known as Jockstrap, or Fish, due to his scally skin from the asthmatic condition he had. He was also a man of deep religious convictions–to the point of obsession. And was definetly against alcohol and cigarettesThe residence of the headmaster–Mr. McNaught, abutted the back of School House–and was over the main drive from the main school building. The Rifle Range was situated about 150yards from the back of the dining room–it was for shooting Morris tube small bore (.22) rifles–more of that later. Soon I was to find out that the Boys’ School was seperated from the Girls’ School by the Waiwakaio River –which was not very wide–and the New Plymouth Cemetry !!!! A couple of obstacles, that in years in the future, were to be over come. The school hospital was towards the back, going towards the rifle range. Away, over the other side of the School was the Race Course, by the main road.Later I was to find out that one of the students ran a “Book” on racedays—on some of the races. Why he was not caught I do not know–maybe some of the teachers had a bit of a flutter!! The Main Gate Memorial–at the main entrance was a very nice piece of architecture, and led to the Headmasters residence on the right, and the Main School block on the left. The main cricket ground was in front of the Main School Block and from here there was a panoramic view of the City of New Plymouth. Over to the far side of the cricket ground, was the last School House–Niger by name. Here was housed the yougest students of the school–some as young as 5 or 6–too young for a boarding school I thought — and the housemaster– whose name I forget was a real discipilarian, to a degree that was nearing on the on the viscious and violent. The hidings those children received were horrendous to say the least and usually for next to no reason at all. Some of us in the senior school really felt for the young ones in Niger House.
In my first week at school I received a nickname which stayed with me all my school life, and after. That was PUNCH. Let me explain the reason. During those days there were a few comics doing the rounds, one being The Champion which had a number of heroes –“Rockfist Rogan”–“Punch McPhee” and others. The head boy of the house, seeing my name was McGeechen ( wrong spelling by design ) said to me from now on you will be “Punch” and how it stuck !!!! In the years to come I did have 2 boxing matches, very basic 3X3minute rounds. Won one , lost one, in which I had my crown knocked out — that bloody tooth can you notice it missinig–and also my Dad’s left ear. so I had a gap until the next school hoidays. To say the least they were extremely exhausting. How Professionals can do 12X3 min. must be extremly fatigueing. Many students had nicknames such as “AhFoo” “FlubDubbs” “Thur” etc. etc.
And so does school life begin–Form 3CL. Being a boarder there was of course two sides to the education process. One was scholastic, and the other boarding house life. From recollection the first class I attended was Mathematics, with our one armed teacher. Algebra I found a problem for a start. But in the first term holidays a friend of Dad’s gave me tuition and after that it seemed to come naturally. Arithmetic and Geometry were a bit of a struggle for a start. Latin was of course strange –Charley Brenstrum being the teacher — it was hard work and vocabulary had to be kept up with–a bit boring for a start–as an aside, I note that Latin is still being taught at NPBHS today. History I enjoyed, as with Geography.
In the mid year there was a competition for the Morris Tube .22 Rifle Shooting Cup–The McLeod and Slade Cup –which I was fortunate enough to win. The Butts for the shooting were behind the hospital. McLeod and Slade were a retail shop, in town speciallising in stationery. In the 6th. form I won a competion for .303 rifle shooting.
In the 4th.form, one morning in the Dormitory we were having a pillow fight. I hurled a pillow at one of the boys –who ducked, and the pillow flew out the window and landed at the feet of Fish Hatherly who was on the way back to the Schoolhouse from breakfast. He promptly came up to the dorm and asked who threw the pillow. I said ” It was me sir .” ——“McGeachen” he said “You are going to get six of the best, and you have a choice, you can put your dressing gown or not. ” At which of course I put on my dressing gown and received half a dozen. So much for a religious zealot !! I would like to add that Fish, when in Auckland would sometimes go to my folks home for — “a cup of tea” –. Shades of guilt I thought. !! In those days it was a cold shower every morning, summer,autumn,winter and spring. At 6 am. this happened–apart from one morning, when it was a warm shower..
Being boarders, it was obligatory to attend all the Rugby Union matches played by the First Fifteen–usually on a Saturday afternoon. And woe betide the boy who could not name all the players and their positions in the team— and did not cheer every try, free kick, and conversion. These games could be played on many grounds around New Plymouth. On the Gully ground, at Rugby Park etc. I played for one of the house teams and was no expert at Rugby. Although I did try for selection as half back for the First Fifteen in the 6 th.form –to no avail.
Soccer and Hockey were played but they were looked on as secondary sports and were not really followed by the students. These games were played on grounds in the centre of the race course. There were quite a lot of sports zones over in that area, across the road from the school.
Early on I found that I had a flair for Gymnastics. After school on Fridays a few of us used to gather in the Gymnasium and have a work out, and after a while I found that the equipment was great fun. One of the students was Barry Moss–Fungus was his nickname of course. And on most days we had a great time apart from a few sprained ankles etc. The Horizontal Bar and Parallel Bars were my favourites as well as the Horse and Matts.
Fungus and Punch on the Parallel Bars.Actually this photo was taken at a Gym display at Pukekura Park and not in our first year.
Talking about Pukekura Park. It was situated about half a mile from the school, it had a main stadium,which was terraced. Many events were held here for the people of New Plymouth. In winter Rugby League was played her on Saturday afternoons. Of course,the codes of Rugby League and Rugby Union did not see eye to eye.Cricket was played in the summer, the team I was in had to carry the mats from the school to the stadium not a mean feat for they were quite heavy and then for only about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.There was a lot of native bush in the Park and walks to travel through it. And this park is known world wide for the Rhododendrons in its area A Lake with ducks and bridges and boats for rowing. On some Sundays the girls from the Girls’ High had leave to go for a walk, and surely the boys were there too !! We would meet at the Kiosk for an ice cream.The other park in New Plymouth was Brooklands which would have to be another mile away–known for its large native trees. And the Brooklands Bowl, for Music–Concerts etc. This was built after my school years.
Church was compulsory on Sunday mornings. St. Mary’s AngIican Church was my choice.It was a service for the Boys’ and Girls’ schools. In my final years I was in the choir and sang as a baritone. Remembered a lot of the hymns. The choir was bisexual and it was interesting looking at the girls over the other side of the choir aisle. Some of the music was engaging. And Fish was always there looking after his flock. To wag church was a bit of an end game and was practised by many. At Easter there was a great exodus from the boarding houses. But I stayed in, as it was too far to go to Auckland for just a few days. There were other boys in the same situation and we filled in the time by going to a few movies–which were not allowed in term time, and we had to go to church over the break.
When summer came along , water sports were to the fore–swimming, diving, and water polo. I became quite adept at diving and found it great fun winning the school champs in the 6th. form–and a cup which I have forgotten the name of. In that year I also won the gymnastic champs and a cup. Also down to the beaches at Fitzroy Ngamotu and if you could get a lift, to Oakura which was a few miles south of New Plymouth on the main road.
Mt. Egmont from the North–with The Hostel in the foreground
And of course there was Mt. Egmont. Fish Hatherly was the man of the mountain and he took climbing trips for students up to the summit. I went on 2 of these and was really enticed with the experience. It was hard work but not that difficult to climb–which was a problem as many people have been lost on the mountain as the real gear for climbing was not used–e.g.walking shoes instead of climbing boots. In July 1953 a group of nurses from the New Plymouth Hospital were roped together fell of Hongis’s Bluff area–as an aside Mt Egmont claimed its 30th. victim in June 1959. The ascents I did were in the spring. We stayed at the North Egmont Hostel on the night before the climb, and had an early start. Seeing the Sun rise in the east and slowly lighting up the mountain was one of the greatest sights I have seen. Awesome is a word that comes to mind. Then it was a climb to Tahurangi Hut that took till morning tea. Up to the Summit on the Staircases and around Hongis’s Bluff –all through shingle and pumice like rock.Further up the mountain there was large amounts of snow and ice.The summit had a large crater and we had to be very careful in the traverse around it. We had lunch there before the descent. The time for the climb up was about 5 to 6 hours and a similar time for the descent. The weather was good to us on our climbs but at times it could be very daunting and dangerous. Years later I was to ski on the Stratford side — that is when I was doing a Dental Locum in New Plymouth from 1959 to 1962. When our 2 lovely daughters –Karen and Jan –were born.
Mount Egmont –from the Stratford side.
School time was slowly passing and as the years went the quicker they seemed to go. In the 5th. form it came to me. that I was going in for the sciences. Maths–Chemistry–Physics — Biology. This readied me for the dental carreer I was to take up. Our teachers had changed over the years–but the 5th. form Latin teacher–Podgy Paps–was a real, Mr. Chips and a delight to be taught by. I gave up Latin that year to take up the sciences in the 6th form–after gaining my School Certificate in the 5th.
In the 6th. it seemed that the girls were coming to the foreground — not that they really curtailed any school activities but added an interest to the run of the mill tedium. Not that school was bore–far from it. There were Rugby games, and the game against Auckland Grammar was held in Auckland that year, and as I came from Auckland my parents voluteered to billet one of the players. This happened to be Brian Novak–from the fish shop–4yrs. ago. School won–I forget the score. Other interschool rugby games were held against Kings School–Silverstream–Wanganui, and Te Aute a school in Hawkes Bay for Maori students.—all held each year.
I matriculated in 1949–and did a second year 6th. form in 1950 doing all science subjects plus English and was awarded a Bursary —- . At that time I was made a house prefect. Which entailed a few perks, such as your having your shoes cleaned every morning.your bed made, supper at night.Prefects, were also responsible for supervising Prep. ie “Homework” which was held in the classrooms of the main school. Being a prefect you could give “Ups” and “Downs”–Ups were a penalty and Downs were a reward. 5 Ups a week and it was a trip to the headboy for a punishment e.g. 1 to 6 with a tennis shoe on the bacckside. It was easy to get an Up for many offences–such as runnning in the main hall–giving cheek and talking in Prep.etc. etc. Downs were given for many reasons–usually fagging for a prefect–and of course were harder to get as they cancelled out Ups.—one Down cancelled one Up !!!!. At this stage of the schooling, the occasional dalliance with girls was to be had in the Cemetry–of course this was in the middle of the night–a great time was had by all. Smoking was done by many including me ( much to my later regret ). Of course it had to be done surreptitiously, and there were many spots around the school grounds which were “available”. One evening, when I was a prefect, Fish asked me into his study about a school prep. problem. In this room there were many bottles full and empty, of a tonic called BeWon elixir i.e. Vitamin B1 based. On leaving school I asked a pharmacist I knew, what was in the bottle –and he said “12% alcohol”, and Fish was a teetotaler !!!
My last year at school went by very quickly, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Our Maths teacher was Mr. Tetley, and a brilliant man he was, although a left winger and as far as the other teachers went, was a loner. Mathematicians from near and far used to send him problems to solve. But don’t think he solved “Fermat’s Last Theorem”–that was to be solved by Andrew Wiles– over 40 years later. My friend Albert Brownlie was to top the class in Maths. Calculus and Maxima and Minima, I found intriguing. At this stage I tutoured a mature aged student in Physics on a Saturday morning . Theory and practical. He was working for the Post Office and was to do an exam that entailed a little bit of Physics–he passed.
In my last year at school I went for my driving licence and it was awarded to me. And I was also awarded a bursary which I might add meant working for the government for 3 years after you qualified.