John Bagnall


(written by his son Don Bagnall)

My father was born in 1909 and started school in Days Bay as a first-day pupil on 2 February 1914.  He is named in a framed photo of the first-day boys that I saw displayed during the Wellesley School 75th Jubilee in 1989.

An old clipping from the Bay news mentions that Dad got second prize in Std 4 in 1921.  He would have been 12.

I recently read an excerpt of a 1970 autobiography by CH Miller in which he describes his experiences at Croydon.  Miller seems to have started school there in 1916.  My father told me that the Sunday walk to church was not popular.  I may be mistaken, but I think it was Mr Miller who spoke of the grounds of Wellesley College during the 75th Jubilee about his early days there (he would have been 78+).  Early Bay news items record some of the boys misdeeds.

The following memories are from an excerpt of a 1970 autobiography by CH Miller describing Miller’s experiences at Croydon.

Late in the Christmas holidays of 1915-1916 I was taken to Wellington and outfitted for Croydon – an expensive undertaking.  Even our shorts were tailor-made.  I arrived at Croydon with a trunk full of brand-new clothes, the best from the shelves and tailoring department.  I remember the quality and durability of those green jerseys.  I also remember the mess the stream laundry at Petone made of my new woolen singlets – they shrunk to half their size and I could not get into them.  Mother was furious.

The major surprise that awaited me at Croydon was that the staff were mostly women.  We had “Gladdy” Sommerville, as the Principal, a powerfully built woman, who dispensed justice with the aid of “Joey”, the strap, and a capacity for bestowing no favours whatsoever.  She belted us on the hands for minor offences, on the backside for serious ones, such as lying pinching or breaking the more strict of the school’s rules.  Her mother, “Gargie”, taught me how to spell.  The method was to set six new spelling words for prep and test us the following morning.  For each word that we got wrong we received the edge of the ruler not too gently on our knuckles.

Then we had Miss Wiinder, “Boot”.  She wore a built-up boot and was very lame.  I liked her.  We all did.  Incapacitated as she was, she was a splendid disciplinarian, and in later life I realised that she was an influence for good.  Hers was the task of running the tuck-shop.  Hers was a generous nature.  In theory, the sales had to show a profit.  I cannot see that they ever did.  I suspect now that she made the losses good out of her own means.  She was the mainstay of the place.  In her room – it was like an emporium – she kept everything that we needed.  If we broke or lost our studs for those wretched stiff shirts – boards we called them – we could go to the “Boot”.  If we were in trouble of any sort we went to her.  We might encounter the sharp end of her tongue for disturbing her (sometimes when she was in bed), but she never sent us away empty-handed or turned a deaf ear to our pleas and petitions.

Another odd character was Miss Spikings, “Spoke”, corseted and short-sighted.  Did she or did she not, I wonder, see those shanghais which we carried when she took us in “croc” for walks round the bays?  Did she notice the devastation among the insulators on the telephone poles?  What Croydon must have cost the Post and Telegraph Department in insulator replacements I can only guess.  It must have amounted to a tidy sum over the years.

As sons of gentlemen, we set an example that was not in-keeping with our Eton suits, black patent leather shoes and straw boaters as we marched round to church at Rona Bay.  “Toffs!”, “Snobs!” the louts looking on used to hurl at us.  Little did they know that we were on their side.  It was not our choice that we should appear in public thus.  We would have given anything to be able to relax informally as they did on the beaches.  Every one of us detested Sundays – and those tight-fitting Eton suits, also the none too well laundered starched shirts and saw-edge collars which chafed our skin and left our necks reddened and sore.

On the staff were to most attractive mistresses – in their teens.  One of them I remember, in particular.  When I lay for six weeks with my leg in splints after cutting my knee open, she used to come and read to me.  I fell in love with her, and I think she must have had a slight crush on me.  She was engaged to be married.  I used to dread her days off, when she caught the boat over to Wellington (and spent time, I imagined, with her beloved.)  I got quite jealous.

Perhaps it was the sea air, but we were perpetually hungry at Croydon.  We were never allowed off the grounds unless escorted.  The Pavilion, the tea-rooms at Days Bay, was out of bounds.  I can remember a boy being flogged severely because he had bribed the gardener to got to the Pavilion and buy him sweets.  I also remember that on winter nights we used to hang round the servants’ quarters and ask for hot buttered toast.  The old cook always complied.  Rounds of toast were passed out by the score, notwithstanding that we had already dined adequately.  I suppose we were gluttons.  Some of the boys made dug-outs and stocked them with all manner of provisions, ‘pinched’ or otherwise.

Another dug-out was sited in the middle of the fowl-run.  It was an extensive sort of run and well stocked with poultry, including ducks which swam in a dammed portion of the stream.  I think the hens were doing their duty nobly at the time, but I seem to remember that old Mrs Sommerville invariably wore a pensive expression as she left the fowl-run, her egg basket only partially filled at the height of the laying season.