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In the war years

When war was declared in 1939, WA was just beginning to emerge from a long period of economic stagnation which had impacted heavily on government school education. About 50,000 children were enrolled in government primary schools in 1940 and just over 400 (0.8%) of these continued in secondary school beyond junior level. Even by 1945, only 1.1% of children who attended state primary schools went on to upper level grades in state high schools. The percent from private schools, especially Protestant schools was much more encouraging. [7]

Cottesloe had two government primary schools in the 1940's. The Cottesloe State School was opposite the Police Station on the Perth-Fremantle road at the corner of Keane Street. North Cottesloe School, as its name implies, lay to the north of the suburb in Eric Street. Classes were called First and Second 'Bubs', followed by Standards Three, Four, Five and Six. In Standard Six, students sat entrance exams for high school.


Cottesloe Primary School

Cottesloe Primary School

Courtesy Australian Heritage Commission


Going to high school meant some degree of travel for Cottesloe students because there was no government high school in the immediate area. There was a junior high school in Claremont but most students went on to schools in Fremantle: Princess May Girls School or Fremantle Boys. Students of high academic ability could apply for a scholarship to Perth Modern School where the cream of the State's scholars studied.

Dr Jim Graham, a student at Cottesloe State School until 1942, recalls that Cottesloe was a good school and had more than its proportional share of scholarships for entry to Perth Modern School. [8]

Adjoining suburbs offered private schooling through to the Leaving and Matriculation exams for university entrance. Presbyterian Ladies College in Peppermint Grove was close at hand for Cottesloe girls but boys had to travel to Shenton Park if they wished to attend Scotch College.

Cottesloe had a kindergarten which operated out of the St Columba's Church Hall on the corner of Venn and Keane Streets. Attendance cost sixpence per day per child and activities included simple reading. A government White Paper on kindergarten and pre-school education in 1943 came out strongly in favour of the value of these institutions but it got nowhere.

St Columba's Church, Cottesloe

St Columba's Presbyterian Church in Cottesloe. The Church hall served as a kindergarten in the 1940s

Courtesy Stewart Cownie


Classrooms in the war years were very spartan. Blackboards covered the walls, there was one tall cupboard for storing books and other equipment and a shelf over the blackboards. There were no floor coverings on the dark stained oiled floor boards and open wood fire places were used to heat the classrooms in winter. The lower hopper windows of the classrooms were frosted to prevent students from 'daydreaming' and desks were joined together in pairs. Each desk had a slot for a pencil and in the higher standards there were also ink wells. There were no libraries in school and during the war years the number of books steadily diminished.

The day began at Cottesloe schools as it did elsewhere in state schools with an assembly. Students would sing 'God Save the King', 'Land of Hope and Glory' and other patriotic British songs.

Ruby Beecham (Wetherall) attended Cottesloe State School until the end of 1941 and remembers the war as an exciting time. She recalls that people thought of England as the 'mother country' and that children were very patriotic. [9] Empire Day (Queen Victoria's birthday) was celebrated with a pageant and students dressed up in costumes representing members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Ruby went on to Princess May Girls School in 1942 but had not been there long before the American Navy arrived and her school was requisitioned for the Navy's use for 12 months. This meant that Cottesloe girls went back to their former primary school for the remainder of 1942. Fremantle Boys School was also requisitioned in the short term for navy purposes. Given the Japanese threat at the time, Fremantle was considered to be too dangerous a place for students.

PM Curtin addressing Perth schoolchildren, 1944

PM John Curtin addressing a group of Perth school children in 1944.

JCPML00409/16 Courtesy West Australian News Ltd


The rationing of paper during the war had a significant impact on students at Cottesloe schools. No new text books could be ordered and supplies of exercise books gradually diminished. Every available space in exercise books had to be used up before a student was issued with a new one. Writing was practised in Copy Books with great emphasis on holding the pen correctly and emulating the 'correct' style. In the higher grades students used a pen and nib dipped in ink to write; the lower grades used pencil. Multiplication and addition tables were chanted in the morning and spelling was regularly tested.

Air raid practice was a normal part of school life during the war. Children would run to the trenches and wait for the 'all clear' signal. At the North Cottesloe School the trenches were situated at the eastern corner of the school. It was a frightening time for students. They were never sure whether it was a real air raid or not.

Girls at St Hilda's School in slit trenches

Girls at St Hilda's School in Perth pictured in the slit trench which they dug.

Courtesy St Hilda's Anglican School for Girls


All children wore a silver chain around their neck, which carried a card giving their name, next of kin, address and blood group. Parents at the North Cottesloe School were also required to provide their children with a cloth bag that contained corks for the ears, a fork to bite on, barley sugar or a small chocolate and a bandage and pin.

Regular firing practise of the anti aircraft gun on the corner of Broome and Jarrad Streets resulted in the loosening of a fan light window in the eastern part of the North Cottesloe School but the Education Department was not quick to act on the situation. Classroom windows, however, were taped up with brown paper to prevent them shattering in the event of an air raid.

Children practise an air raid drill

Children taking shelter under school desks as part of an air-raid precautions drill.

Courtesy Adelaide Advertiser


School students were very active in their contribution to the war effort.

The Premier strongly encouraged students to put more savings in the bank to help finance the war effort but to do this by means of a small self denial rather than asking their parents for more money.

All students, boys and girls, learnt how to knit. They produced six inch squares of knitting from scraps of wool which were then made into rugs for the war effort.

Schools were a collection point for donated clothes and blankets and at one stage during the war the head mistress at North Cottesloe found that she had to move out of her office to accommodate these items. [10]

Government pamphlet - 'Rags are essential salvage now!'

Goverment pamphlet encouraging recycling of rags



Children were also encouraged to collect pots and pans, old rags and paper. To encourage the recycling of paper, students could earn special badges.

There were a number of jobs that older students at Cottesloe schools were permitted to do. These included filling the ink wells at every desk in the higher grades, looking after the firewood, ringing the school bell, sweeping the floor and taking the rubbish to the incinerator. Cleaning blackboards and dusters was a common task for students in all grades.

Discipline was pretty strict and included standing in the corner, staying in after school, writing "lines" or extra homework. A really serious misdemeanour could result in a visit to the head teacher and a caning. At the North Cottesloe School, students who told rude jokes would have their joke recorded in a book and then they would be taken to the toilet block where their mouths would be scrubbed out with Velvet soap, water and a huge scrubbing brush.

Boys and girls were separated in the school yard at break times. Areas to the west and south of the main building at Cottesloe State School were set aside for boys. This was an advantage for the boys who liked to guess which vehicle might be coming along the Perth-Fremantle road next and it allowed them to keep their eyes on the type of engines and trains running through Cottesloe Station. Girls were confined to areas to the east and north of the school.

War games like playing at aeroplanes and bombing were part of the activities in the playground but well known games like marbles, hop scotch, skipping, leap frog and knuckle bones continued to be popular.


Schools Patriotic Fund newsletter, August 1943

This Schools Patriotic Fund newsletter of August 1943 listed the achievements of schools in collecting paper.


Paper collection badges

Badges awarded for collecting paper as part of the Schools Patriotic Fund programs.



At North Cottesloe School there was still sufficient bush for children to run around in and make cubbies. Boys often played barefoot in the black dirt around the school. Friday afternoons were set aside for sports like basketball (ladies), baseball, tennis and gymnasium.

In the summer months children from both Cottesloe schools were marched down to the river at Peppermint Grove, one class at a time, to take swimming lessons. Dr Jim Graham recalls that he didn't get the hang of swimming to begin with and used to walk along the bottom of the river making the appropriate actions with his arms. [11]

Children's health in schools was monitored by the bi-annual visits of the school doctor. A nurse checked children's eyesight and looked for head lice and ringworm. A child found with ring worm had the offending spot shaved and covered with blue paint as well as suffering the indignity of taunts about being 'unclean'. Diseases like mumps, measles, whooping cough and diphtheria all required long periods of quarantine. An infection of the tonsils almost always resulted in a tonsillectomy.

Cottesloe school children were also supplied with a bottle of milk each morning to help maintain good health. Initially this cost parents 6 pence per week but eventually became free. Many students, including Margaret Floyd (Snell) of Cottesloe School, remember the milk being warm and greasy with a layer of cream on top. Margaret used to heave at the sight of it and was not the only pupil whose milk 'accidentally' spilled.

1939 class photo, West Midland State School

1939 class photograph of WA school students. While girls usually wore shoes or sandals, young boys' feet were generally bare.

Courtesy Evelyn Christie


The post-war years

The North Cottesloe School was in pretty poor condition by the end of the war. During the war it had been noted by Education Department inspectors that the plaster was falling from the ceilings and walls, the walls were cracked, the paint was fading, the woodwork was dirty and the playground needed repair.

A Parents and Citizens organisation was set up after the war to try to improve conditions. Numbers were growing and by 1947 the class using the verandah had risen to 25 and even the head teacher's office had to be used as a classroom. Another issue was the presence of white ants in the floor. In 1949 the Education Department finally agreed to repair the playground, build a new classroom and a new shelter, and install some paving. [12]

The high birth rate in the war years resulted in great pressure on schools in the late 1940's. A lack of adequate planning and the closure of the state's teachers' college for a time in the previous decade had resulted in a teacher shortage.

The State Education Department concentrated on maintaining exisiting services so education in Cottesloe and in WA in general remained basically the same in the late 1940's as it had been during the war. The classrooms looked the same, the curriculum remained much the same and discipline continued as before.

Illustration from Tom Thumb

Illustration from the short story 'Tom Thumb' published in Book 1 of the Temple Literary Readers series, in use in Western Australian schools in the fourties.

In this illustration, the king’s cook is filled with wonder when he cuts open a fish and finds such a little boy inside. The story relates how Tom’s father had made him a whip of barley straw, so that he might help drive the horses that were at work in the fields. A raven picked up the straw and Tom with it and flew over the sea. Tom kicked so hard that the raven dropped him into the water, and he was swallowed by a large fish. This fish was later caught and sold to the king’s cook.

Courtesy Museum of Childhood, Edith Cowan University


The changes that did occur in the post war years reflected the injection of federal funding into education. Central schools, which only taught to junior level, were reclassified and became full high schools, resulting in a demand for more secondary teachers. The University of WA responded by creating a separate Education faculty and introducing a four year Bachelor of Education degree. The other area that benefited from federal funding was technical education, with many new technical colleges being opened in the post war years.

Read extracts from the Digest of Important Announcements & Speeches by the Prime Minister dealing with
Assistance to universities and technical colleges

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