Archive for category 1953

A new school

Dale in 1953I started at Whangarei Boys High School in 1953, at the start of the third term, after having to suddenly leave my Maungaturoto school because of stress.  I loved the new school (as you can see from the photo).


Because Whangarei was more than an hour’s drive from Maungaturoto, I boarded in Carruth House, which is the hostel associated with the school.  In those days, the school had about 700 pupils, but most of them were town boys.  Only 100 of us were boarders.

I was eleven and in form 1.  The hostel didn’t normally take pupils until they were in form 3, but they made an exception for me because of the trauma I’d been through (and because dad had been to Carruth House himself, when he was a boy).  So that meant that during the day I was in a class with eleven year olds, but after school I was mixing with my hostel mates who were all thirteen or older.

Now, you’d think that living in the hostel with older boys might have been a recipe for disaster, with the possibility of loneliness or bullying.  But, as it turned out, I had a wonderful time at Carruth House.  I can only assume that the staff did a pretty remarkable job of preparing the boys for my arrival, with the result that everyone was really kind.


I do have one unpleasant memory, though.  A few days after I started at the school I woke in the morning to find that I’d wet the bed.  As you can imagine, I was absolutely horrified and embarrassed.  But my new friends dealt with it wonderfully, quietly helping me strip and remake the bed.  No jokes and no bullying; instead I was treated kindly, like a younger brother.  Even bed wetting wasn’t dealt the normal cruelty of children.

I’m still grateful for the kindness of those boys and teachers.  New Zealand in the 1950s wasn’t famous for being sensitive to young boys, but everyone stepped right up to the mark on this occasion.


There was a lot to learn in my new environment.

Whangarei Boys was a single-sex school (which most secondary schools were in those days), so we didn’t often mix with girls.  However, some of us still managed to see girls often enough to get a girlfriend.  There was the occasional dance with Whangarei Girls High School (which was only a few hundred metres away), and we sometimes met girls on a Friday when we were allowed to go into town.

And, there was church.  Our family wasn’t religious, so I’d never been to church before (apart from my neighbour Maureen Houghton’s funeral), but someone decided I would go to the Presbyterian Church.  Later, when I was a hostel prefect, I would march my group of boys down to church, but then I’d just sneak off and go and see my current girlfriend.  Much more fun!


There was very tight discipline in Carruth House.  Most of the house masters had been in the Second World War, which had ended only eight years before.  They were used to army discipline and thought that we boys would benefit from a similar regime.

“Naughty” boys were given “detention” (where you had to do jobs like cleaning up litter) or “the strap” (which involved being hit on the palm of your hands, or on your bottom, with a heavy leather strap) or “the cane” (the same thing as the strap, but using a flexible stick made of the supplejack vine).  Some of the naughtier boys would boast about how often they’d been strapped by cutting one notch in their leather belt for each stroke they received.  (One of the boys’ notches went all the way around his belt!!!)

The most serious punishment was “six of the best”, with a cane, in your pyjamas, in front of the assembled hostel.  I only saw it happen once and I must say I found it very frightening.  It scared me so much I didn’t do anything naughty for at least another day or two.


But, despite all the discipline, I still had a great time.  It wasn’t that I was never naughty, but I was pretty good at not getting caught, and I just loved all the sport, and the camaraderie, and even the school classes were interesting!!!


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Holidaying with Grandad Hooper

I told you in a previous blog item (Nervous breakdown!!!) how I had to suddenly leave my Maungaturoto school in 1953 because of stress.  Well, mum and dad arranged for me to go to Whangarei Boys High School instead, but the school couldn’t take me until the start of the following term.  So, to keep me occupied until then, it was decided I would go on a holiday with my grandfather (mum’s father).

So, off we went in his little car, Grandad Hooper and me, a nearly seventy year old man and his eleven year old grandson.


By the way, if you’re one of Grandad Dale’s grandchildren, then means that Grandad Hooper was your great-great-grandfather.  He was a very brave man, but I’ll tell you more about that in a later blog post.


John (Jack) and Mary Hooper (Nell's parents, ~1950@)The picture on the right shows Grandad and Grandma Hooper a couple of years before the big trip.  Notice how his hair is white, just like mine is now.

I’m not certain how long we went for, but it was at least several weeks, and we drove all the way down to Wellington and back.  Along the way, we stayed with relations, most of whom I’d never met before.  It really was a lovely time for me, and must have helped me recover from the stressful situation I’d been in at Maungaturoto District  School.


I don’t actually remember too much about the trip, but here are some of my memories.

We visited relations in Petone (a suburb of Wellington), and I remember sitting on the floor of their lounge playing a board game with their daughter, a lovely red-haired young woman.  She was my cousin, I think, and she was very kind to me.

At one stage of the journey we drove from Wellington to Napier and I remember staying a few nights in Ormondville on the way (Ormondville is near Dannevirke).  I’m not sure how they were related to us, but there was a mother and father and their adult son, Alfie.  I remember Alfie, particularly, because he had a gammy leg (maybe he’d had polio, which was still a problem in those days).

In Ormondville, I remember us all sitting around the kitchen table after dinner listening to “Dad and Dave” on the radio.  “Dad and Dave” was an Australian radio serial that was very popular at the time.  Here’s a link to one of the old episodes:

There were lots of moreporks owls in Ormondville and each night I would hear their mournful call as I was falling asleep.  Alfie told me they were called moreporks because they were actually saying “more pork”.  He was joking, of course, but listen to this recording and you’ll see that it does sound a bit like that:  recording of a morepork.

makatote-viaductOn the way north, we drove up through the centre of the North Island and I remember us stopping for grandad to take a photo of me under the mighty Makatote Viaduct.  Unfortunately, I’ve lost the photo, but the picture on the right shows the viaduct.  Grandad Hooper’s photo was taken from the other side of the ravine, from the road you can see in the distance.


It was a thoroughly enjoyable holiday and just what a broken-down eleven year old needed.  Thank you, Grandad Hooper.

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Nervous breakdown!!!

In 1953 I was eleven years old and in Standard Five (which is now called Year Seven) at Maungaturoto District School.

We had a new teacher, that year, and he believed that it was very important not to hold back the bright pupils by paying too much attention to those less gifted.  Unfortunately, he went much too far and more-or-less ignored the bottom half of the class while pushing the bright ones too hard.

The pressure on the bright students must have been very intense indeed, because most them started going to the doctor with imaginary aches and pains.  I have no memory of the time at all (what I know is based on what mum told me many years later), but she said that we all got so stressed up that we ended up with what are now called psychosomatic symptoms (physical symptoms caused my mental stress).

When the local GP (Doctor Andy Budd) noticed this flood of distressed children, he reported it to the school.  Unfortunately, when people in authority did something wrong in those days, their employers usually just hid the employee’s mistake, sometimes even blaming the victims (in this case me and my classmates).  So, as far as I know, the school didn’t tell the teacher to change his teaching methods and the pressure kept mounting.


I was the worst affected by all this.  In the end I had what in those days was called a “nervous breakdown”, unheard of in someone my age.  It ended with Doctor Budd telling mum and dad that they had to take me out of the school to avoid further emotional damage.

Now, in those days, if your parents could afford it, it was common for country boys to be sent to a boarding school, “to get a better education”.  Mum and dad had originally planned that I would do that at age 13, but, because of the drastic situation, they now decided the best thing was for me to go immediately, at age 11.


Dale in 1953POSTSCRIPT #1:  Now, this was a pretty hard thing for an eleven year old to deal with, but my young life started getting a lot happier very soon after that.  I went to a new school and, as you can see from my smiley face in the photo on the right, I was already well recovered only three months later.

POSTSCRIPT #2:  Some years after all this, Doctor Budd and his family moved to Martinborough, near the bottom of the North Island.  They enjoyed their new town so much that Doctor Budd eventually wrote to dad and suggested that we also move down there.  Mum and dad decided this was a really good idea and the Lacey family moved south at the end of 1959.  And this, of course, is why Grandad Dale now lives in Wellington (which is near Martinborough).

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In 1953, when I was eleven, there wasn’t as much entertainment as nowadays.  There was no TV, no Netflix, no YouTube, no MP3s, no DVDs, and no tape cassettes.  Our main entertainment was listening to the radio, going to the movies, and occasional dances.

Dances were often linked to an event like a birthday party or a club’s end-of-year celebration.  They were an opportunity to dress up a bit, to meet friends, and (most importantly for us teenagers) for boys and girls to mix with each other!!!

I can’t find any videos of old fashioned dances in New Zealand, but watch the beginning of this British one to get an idea of what they were like in those days:  Notice that all the men are in suits and the women are dressed up in their best gowns (no jeans here)!


Click the links below to see some of the dances that were popular of the time.  Again, none of the videos are from New Zealand, but they’ll give you an idea of the types of dances we did at that time (all very different from today’s “stand apart and wiggle” dances).

Fox trot
The Gay Gordons (meaning “the cheerful dance of the Gordon clan”)
Highland Schottische


Nell (front), Freda Lacey (Alf's sister, 1st on left), Leni Hooper (Nell's sister, 3rd from left)I was taught to dance by my mother, Nell Lacey (known to her grandchildren as Nanna Nell).  When she was a young woman, mum had owned a dance studio in Whangarei (her home town), so she was an expert.  The picture on the right was taken in the mid-1930s and shows her on stage with some of her students.  That’s mum in the front, dad’s sister Freda at back left, and mum’s sister Leni third from left.

Mum gave my sister her first ballet lessons (Lynne went on to become a ballet teacher herself), and taught both of us Scottish and Irish dancing.  (I can still remember practising the Highland Fling out the back of dad’s chemist shop in Maungaturoto.)

And she taught all three of her children ballroom dancing.  So, by the time I was eleven, I was already an accomplished dancer, which was unusual for boys in those days.


I have two clear memories of going to dances around that time.  The first was a big formal dance held in the Maungaturoto Town Hall (since rebuilt as the Centennial Community Centre).  I’m not sure what the occasion was, but I remember that dad made a speech and I remember dancing with mum.

Marohemo HallThe other dance was put on specially for young people in the tiny Marohemo Hall, off the Whakapirau Road (see the picture on the right).  I stayed the previous night at my friend Doug Snelling’s house (at the base of the Brynderwyn Hill, opposite where Atlas Quarries are now), and I fell deeply in love with his sister, Una, who was very beautiful indeed.  I think she was a year older than me, so that meant she was twelve.

The next night we all got dressed up and drove to the dance.  There were seven of us in the car (Mr and Mrs Snelling, Doug and me, Una and a school friend, and Trish the younger sister), which meant there was quite a crush in the back seat, which meant that I was sitting perilously close to Una, which meant that I received a full blast of her delicious perfume.  It’s sixty-five years later and I can still clearly remember the agony of being too close, and the agony of not being close enough.


We got to the Marohemo Hall and my undoubted expertise at dancing came to nothing.  Una only had eyes for twelve year olds.  Life was hell.

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