Dear Mr de Beer,
It was wonderful to visit Whitestone again for the first time since 1954. My son and I and my grandson enjoyed the well-organized cricket festival involving 5 South African and 3 Zimbabwe private schools. Your hospitality and the friendliness of staff were very welcome.
Until you mentioned it, I never realized Whitestone had a website. You asked me to write down any memories I had of the early Whitestone School. My twin brother, Arthur, and I were at Whitestone from 1952-1954 and my younger brother, Guy, for one year, in 1954. We thought to send you some shared recollections. I have tried to classify these random thoughts into some order about my first impression of Whitestone today and about what it was like to be a pupil in the ‘good old days’!
Bulawayo – 60 years ago
In the 1950’s many pupils came from Northern Rhodesia (=Zambia) to school in Southern Rhodesia (= Zimbabwe). We remember travelling from Lusaka to Bulawayo by train pulled by the magnificent steam engines called Garretts. Our memory is that Bulawayo at that time was reputed to have the longest station in the world. We also remember the roller coaster streets of Bulawayo, which seemed to be much worse in those days than now. Driving over these bumps in 1952 in a soft-sprung America Chevrolet or Ford made one feel very car sick.
Like one of your ‘Old boys’, David Creighton, we too, remember the School as being located far out from Bulawayo about 10 km or so from the actual town. David suggests it was as far as 21km. Whatever the case, to get to Whitestone we travelled out of town and on to a dirt road to a wilderness area, it seemed, shared only by a few farmers. So, it came as a surprise to find that Whitestone School is now part of the outskirts of the city with houses just outside your entrance. .
Whitestone school grounds – 60 years on
While the grounds are basically the same, I was surprised at how tall and magnificent the trees at Whitestone have become over the past 60 years and conversely how small, relatively, the central koppie is, around which the ‘ring road’ goes. It seemed so much bigger in those days – the difference between an adult and childhood perspective.
In terms of ‘first impressions’ on arriving at Whitestone School, I was surprised to find –
- all the roads are now tarmac and that there was a big parking opposite the main cricket field;
- that the schools is no longer a boarding school, although the school can cater for overnight touring teams – in our day there were very few day boys;
- that the number of pupils had increased substantially from 120 in our day to over 500;
- that the school is now co-educational with red uniforms for the boys and pink/grey for the girls – a superb change from our dull khaki shirts and shorts (if we remember correctly). Perhaps there was ‘day’ wear and there was a green jacket and cap for formal occasions but we don’t really remember. By day we had to wear hats rather than caps..
- the chapel has been enlarged and ‘spruced up’ almost beyond recognition with both sides expanded to accommodated all your pupils. It looks great.
- the gardens generally seem much neater and well looked after, and
- there are now so many new buildings and infra-structural changes, such as all the new classrooms, the school hall, pavilion bordering the main cricket ground, enlarged swimming pool with its graduated seating, increased number of tennis courts from two to six, additional playing fields from three to five, and many houses built on the property, presumably for staff. I noticed that the tuck shop has been moved far away from its location in the original classroom area where it used to be housed. Arthur remembers that in our day, we used to get 1 shilling and 3d for sweets in the Tuckshop which was open on Sat and Tuesday.
As young boys, on the weekends, we often walked the two kilometres from Whitestone to Hillside where there was a wonderful dam. Alas, this can no longer be done as the area is now private property. In the 1950s the Hillside area contained a number of burial sites, so we came across skeletons, pottery, broken shards and beads. David Creighton rightly remembers in his letter that the school had a small (tiny) ‘museum’. Any artifacts or interesting rocks or shells or cultural items found by students or staff was kept there. No, we didn’t keep the skeletons! My best find – with friends whose names I no longer remember – was of a rusty ‘turn-of-the-century’ rifle which had been dropped down a crevice between two really large rocks in Hillside. Possibly, this was a relic from the Matabele war of 1893-4. Sadly, I learned from you that this museum no longer exists, not that there was anything there of extraordinary value. It may have been destroyed during the time the school closed. David Creighton remembers a ‘black cobra’ being killed and placed in the museum, preserved in formaldehyde. I’m sure he meant a ‘black mamba’ as black cobras only occur in India. Thinking about that snake, Arthur and I remember seeing a immature mamba maybe a foot long which came into a building. It was clubbed to death by a teacher but was not killed immediately as it moved its head at amazing speed to dodge the club blows.
What I missed in the ground? Yes, the old yellow Harvard used to train pilots. This used to be situated in the ‘playground’ at the back of the school. We loved to play on this. School pupils would sit on the left or right wing and in this way see-saw and bank the plane from left to right while those in the cockpit pretended to be World War 11 pilots. I’m sorry to learn from you, Mr De Beer, that no one seems to know what happened to it. Perhaps it took off… to the nearest metal scrap yard!
One thing I did not find in the little time I was there was a shooting range. It was pretty defunct even when we were there in a direction towards Hillside below the Chapel, if I remember correctly.
Food in our day
As young children, we were not impressed with boarding school food. Are pupils anywhere impressed with school food? We sat six or eight to a table and there was a top table for a few staff on duty and prefects or monitors. (We can’t remember which). In typical fashion perhaps, the boarders were pretty derogatory and fussy about the food. The brownish porridge we called ‘Zambezi mud’ and the daily menu was very repetitive. We soon knew what we would eat every day of the week. We had ice-cream on Sundays, I think, and that was a joy, but some of the pudding servings were not exactly delectable. Our ‘Queen’s pudding’ consisted of two slices of bread dipped in milk and heated up with something slushed on top – heaven knows what! For years I wouldn’t eat ‘Queen’s pudding’!. Arthur remembers that – and this will sound like something out of a Dickens’ tale – we initiated a protest action at one time because we said “we were hungry” and not given enough food. The staff brought in loaf after loaf from the kitchen which the boarders determinedly ate to make a point until the stores ran out. But usually things weren’t that bad!
The advantage of having small table groups is that it engendered a huge competitive spirit. Each table on Sunday’s took part in egg-fights. Empty boiled egg shells were placed upside down in an egg-cup, smooth shell showing, and two such shells placed in egg-cups would be pushed against each other until one shell shattered. The idea was to find the strongest egg. Eventually, all the table winners challenged each other until there was a school champion. Vaguely, I remember one champion egg taking on a ‘cheat’ soft-boiled egg and beating it.
Staff in those days
Our headmaster was the respected and feared headmaster, Frikki van Heijst. He was an authority figure and would brook no nonsense. These were the days of corporal punishment. He had a sjambok in his office. Arthur remembers walking in the sunshine without his hat. “He almost pulled my hair out. Brutal. But I never forgot again!”
Arthur recollects more about the staff than I do, here are some of his comments:
Douglas and Gerald Pennington were both at the school for some time with Gerald Pennington every morning visiting the dormitories and saying “Up the sick, lame and lazy”
Gerald Pennington was, among other things, the carpentry teacher.“I [= Arthur] made a rectangular butterfly box with dove-tail joints in his carpentry class (with a division down the middle) which had a glass top. When my last term ended, I inadvertently left it behind. Some 25-30 years later I made contact with Gerald in Pietermaritzburg — can’t remember how — and he said he had still got the butterfly box I made. Why, he kept it I don’t know. He sent the box to me. I have turned it on its side and attached to wall in my TV room and keep tapes in it.
Douglas Pennington and wife took one or two boys to his place for breakfast on Sunday after church. If I recall, driveway covered with nasturtiums (anyway pretty). (Hugh seems to remember that it was the prefects or monitors who went to the headmaster’s house).
Miss Swan (mentioned on the website) came from New Zealand and taught English and Geography, and there was also a Miss Winters. Interestingly, perhaps, despite Southern Rhodesia being part of the commonwealth, only 5 of us took French, the rest of the class learned Afrikaans.
In winter, Skip Stopford, the chaplin, would occasionally invite a few of the seniors last thing at night back to his room for chicken noodle soup. Arthur has a memento showing he was confirmed at the school on 21st February 1954 — he thinks by the bishop who came from Salisbury.
Hugh writing again:The school sister, (unfortunately we can’t remember her name), played an important role in keeping us healthy. Arthur remembers that she used to give us a tablespoon of malt or similar once a week (or every day). We are not sure why. I remember the sanatorium well. One year at least half the school fell ill as a result of an epidemic (‘flu?, Gastro?). In the morning, the sister came into our dormitory to take routine temperatures. I wasn’t feeling at all well. When she took the thermometer out of my mouth I saw her eyes go wide open and was immediately taken downstairs and put in isolation in the Sanatorium where I was sponged down with cool water. I don’t know if Mom told me this, but I believe my temperature was about 106 . I also remember the sister there treating my foot for a verucca. (Sp?). She simply prized my 20 cent sized verucca from the bottom of my feet with a pair of scissors. It hurt like anything and left an indentation… but seemed to correct the problem.
Gerald Ledeboer, was the cricket coach, soccer, physical instructor and taught me and other boys to box. The punch balls and punch bags were kept near the top of the main playing field. Ledeboer had a military background, we think, so was also a firm disciplinarian. I remember getting a smack on the backside once with a cricket bat for talking while fielding in the slips instead of concentrating on cricket. Even if it was meant to be a light tap, it really hurt. Unlike the Whitestone cricket team that my son, Richard, and I watched, there was nothing like the voluble sounds of encouragement I heard school teams giving each other at the Cricket festival. So, as you will gather, we played the game very seriously. (Arthur and I can’t remember whether we played soccer or hockey in the winter months.)
Thanks to Mr Ledeboer’s coaching, I took 10 wickets for 8 runs in 7 overs in a match against Newmansford, an achievement that maybe has never been broken at primary school level. It was recorded in the local newspapers and even in some overseas newspapers. For this achievement, the school gave me the cricket ball that took the wickets with an inscribed ‘silver’ plague at the end-of-year presentations. Unbeknown to me, my son, Richard, brought the ball with him to your present cricket festival – I had previously given this cricket ball to my grandson, Matthew. Thank you, Mr De Beer for feeling this achievement was worthwhile recording in your archives and for taking photographs of the ball, myself and grandchild who was playing in the Cricket festival.
As for the school chums, the only names Arthur vaguely remembers went by the names of Herring, Sole, Haywood and O’Flaherty and maybe there was also Foote, Cousins, and Brian McCleggan (or McClaughlan) who retired to Hemanus and whose widow lives in McGregor in the W. Cape.
The terrible twins:
Arthur and I were called ‘The terrible twins’. This nickname is completely unjustified of course. All we did was the normal schoolboy things:
- We used to jump up and down on the dormitory beds and break the springs and then have to make running repairs.
- We enjoyed 5-star luxury when the school term ended and the Southern Rhodesian boarders departed, usually before us ‘Northern Rhodesians’. After their departure, we would pile all the spare mattresses, sometimes three or four on top of each other, to have a ‘luxury bed’. [Mosquito netting were compulsory. I forgot that Bulawayo was a Malaria area – Hugh]
- Bunking out to have a ‘midnight swim in the swimming pool’. Kids like to keep clean!
- Terrific pillow fights especially when we boarded in what is now ‘The dancing Academy’. This section consisted of a small room occupying four or six beds and adjacent to this a larger room holding about eight or ten bed. The key factor was the in-between open doorway. We controlled the smaller room. Boarders in the larger room needed our permission to come through the open doorway if they got on our nerves. This was the cause of riotous pillow-fight battles which had to take place in relative silence especially if we were meant to be asleep (or we got caned). The key factor was the confined open doorway between the rooms – for us it was like Horatius defending the bridge!
- Although not strictly allowed, on a trip from Lusaka, a number of us got into a taxi at Livingstone station and went to Vic Falls on other side of river (or vice versa). The risk always was that we would miss the train.
- Halfway across Vic Falls bridge was exactly the place where any Southern Rhodesian pupils migrating to Northern Rhodesian were given an initiation. We did stupid things like squashing grapes or plumbs into their hair. We also smoked cigarettes in our compartment, creating a dense fog — and then panicking like mad as the ticket collector drew near, hastily throwing open all the windows, etc.
The big fire
I understand that even today, on Guy Fawkes night, a bonfire is lit next to the ‘2nd field’ (not sure of its name). In our day, boys were given matches and crackers to set off. (Arthur doesn’t remember this) In 1953, I think, the day after Guy Fawkes, some boys who had kept back a few crackers, let them off. I only had my matches. Disconsolately, I lit a match and dropped it on the ground, just behind ‘Sunrise rock’, next to the swimming pool. It started a small fire which I put out with my shoes. There was a wind blowing that day. The 3rd time I dropped a match my mini-fire went out of control. It got too big and I could not stamp it out. The fire spread from the Whitestone property through to neighbouring properties. It was massive, the ‘elephant grass’ swept the fire along. Farmers from all around and the fire brigade had to be called in. In terms of schoolboy ethics, I had to own up to my offence or else the whole school would be punished. I was told to see the headmaster. On the way, I passed Mr Ledeboer, the school cricket coach, he asked “You OK, Clarke?” I must have looked as white as a sheet. I was really scared. As it turned out, Mr van Heijst just talked to me and at length said “That was a silly thing to do, wasn’t it?” He pulled my hair slightly and the said “You can go.” I’ve never felt more relief in my life!
Miscellaneous matters about school life
There are so many incidental memories that Arthur and I have that cannot be categorized so we are just giving these in list form
- The seniors (standard sixes) use to have mock up sword fights on the koppie near the dining room and all the youngsters would ooh and ah.
- On the central koppie, in a particular area, we used to smooth out the surface with sand and pat it down hard and then see how far and fast we could get our ‘gravity-fed’ dinky toys to go. While at Whitestone for the Cricket Festival, Richard and I searched the koppie. I am pretty confident we re-discovered the location where this took place.
- We watch movies on Saturday nights in the dining hall with old reel to reel. We love cowboy pictures. Roy Rogers?
- The dining hall also served as the main hall for meetings and had a stage for plays. Gerald Penington made some marvelous backdrops for some of the plays. The only one Hugh remembers was ‘El Cid’ in which he was a lamed, hungry begger. There was a small ‘workshop’ room behind the staqe in the dining hall. One pupil kept trying to start a model aeroplane engine there – not, no during the performance. We can’t remember if it ever flew.
- What did fly one year, were kites. It became a major fad. Everyone flew them, some of which were magnificent.
- We vaguely remember seeing Queen Elizabeth,(the Queen Mother ) and Princess Margaret when they visited Southern Rhodesia in 1953. We loyally waved flags.
- In the same year there was a Bulawayo Centenary Exhibition and Trade Fair. One of the highlights was a choir festival and all the schools joined, including Whitestone. At the Centenary exhibition hall we all sang “And did those feet in ancient times…” by William Blake ‘ from ‘Jerusalem ‘ with music by Sir Charles Hubert Parry. With well over 1,000 voices. It was all-inspiring. Definitely Edmund Hilary celebrated his Everest triumph at about the same time
- Arthur fell into the dam at Hillside and this is where he thinks he picked up bilharzia which he only discovered a couple of years later when he passed blood.
- There was a library (of sorts) above the headmaster’s office.
- We had seasons of hopskotch and marbles. Arthur says I was a champ. He would con people into playing against me saying I was useless. They would take me on and I would knock all their marbles out of the ring with a giant goon (ball-bearing), thus earning the right to keep their marbles. (I have no recollection of this!)
- At one stage roller skates became fashionable skating on the concrete next to where all the classrooms were. One chap ,I think called Foote, was superb
Mr De Beer, that is about all we can remember off-hand. We hope it give your readers some idea of what the school was like 60 years ago.
Thank you once again for your hospitality and inviting us to jot down our memories. Please feel free to edit this email in any way you wish
Hugh (and Arthur) Clarke