Henley Beach Primary School in the 1940s

(The following stories form an abridged version of an article written by Phillip Allen and published in the H&GHS Journal 44, November 2023)

Feature image: Grade 6, Henley Beach Primary School c. 1952
Courtesy of Jim Rutherford,  (H&GHS Collection)

World War II

It’s a long while ago now but I remember facing my first day at Henley Beach Primary School in February 1942. Although I was too young to realise it at the time, things were pretty grim.

We, which then meant the British Empire (on which the sun never set) were at war with Japan!

Henley Beach Primary School c. 1937
(H&GHS Collection)

Henley Beach Primary School and its students expected Japanese air raids and accordingly, took precautions. An air-raid siren was installed outside on the school’s western gable, all students had their blood taken, their blood group was engraved on a small disc to be hung around the neck and everyone had a small cotton air-raid bag, sewn by the mothers, which contained a peg to be clenched between the teeth to avoid blast rupture of the eardrums, a whistle and other small items which I now forget.

The parents dug slit trenches at the eastern side of the school building in the area now covered by grass. The slit trenches were covered by wire netting adorned by torn multicoloured rag strips, presumably to simulate a rubbish dump from the air. Fortunately, Japanese bomber pilots never had to test their observational skills over Henley South but we still had air-raid drills. When the siren sounded, Grade 1 students assembled in a line alternating between Grade 6 and 7 students, held their hands and raced out the eastern door which is now reserved for staff. I was terrified as the big kids lifted me off my feet as we raced down the steps, which have now been replaced by a more intricate arrangement.

Our best time to do this was 75 seconds.

The slit trenches were dug on the well grassed eastern limits of the primary school grounds shown in the photo below but are long gone. The large tree in the centre obscures the eastern entrance with the Grade 1 windows on the left. The three flagpoles replace the single flagpole, previously at the northern edge of the quadrangle.

(Courtesy of Phillip Allen 2022)

School Assemblies

 School assemblies were held each morning outside in the quadrangle which is now almost completely enclosed. The students would be marshalled into their classes, would face the flag, salute and recite:

I love my Country, the British Empire.
I honour her King, King George the sixth.
I salute her flag, the Union Jack.
I promise cheerfully to obey her laws.

As I could not read, I learnt the recitation orally and for several years, promised Chifley, the then Prime Minister, to obey her laws.

(Courtesy  of the National Library of Australia)

Yeoman's Gates and Playground

The second World War ended in 1945 and money became more plentiful, allowing for the construction of a school playground and the impressive Yeomans Gates, which faced north onto Hazel Terrace and were intended to be a suitable entrance to the new playground. After the opening day, when the school drum and fife band led columns of students marching to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers into the new playground, the gates were kept locked and were hardly ever used.


They, along with the old playground, have now been removed and Mr Yeomans is no longer publicly commemorated. I don’t know who paid for the gates but I suspect it was the Henley and Grange Council at which, Charlie Yeomans was a long serving and much respected Town Clerk.

Today, the Yeomans gates, have been replaced by 21st century gates. The library was later attached to the western end of the original school building. The old air raid siren, which used to face outwards on the western gable of the original building, has gone.

Thus, when I completed Grade 7, I left behind the idyllic, stress free but transient life at ‘The Prime’ and moved on to the hard competitive slog at Adelaide High in a building that now serves as the Adelaide Remand Centre.

It took me a whole term to get over the shock of losing the protection of Henley Beach Primary School.

Henley PS Memorabilia

1947 Report Card of James Rutherford
(Courtesy of Jim Rutherford – H&GHS Collection)

DUX of Henley Beach PS c. 1930s
(Courtesy of Henley Beach Primary School)

1953 Progress Certificate of James Rutherford
(Courtesy of Jim Rutherford – H&GHS Collection)



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