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Interview conducted and compiled by Leon Kok School House 1964.
In the run-up to their 40-Years-On reunion a few years ago,the convenor Leon Kok, School House 1964, compiled a series of interviews. What follows is the interview with Mr. Stuart Hendry.The interview took place in 2004.
I visited Stuart Hendry at his home in Menlo Park and he seemed full of the joys of life. He certainly gets great pleasure meeting and hearing from Old Boys, and I dare say he fully enjoyed our discussion. His study is central to his home; he has an excellent collection of books mainly on flying and history; also a collection of model aircraft; and he is still relatively mobile. The substance of these interests becomes apparent in the interview.
How have you been keeping?
I'm 82 and well. I retired in 1982, nursed my elderly mother for several years, and then went through a trying period myself. Pains in my chest necessitated a by-pass operation that went wrong. It had to be repeated on the same day, and I survived. It was carried out by an Old Boy, Mark Stevens, whom I had taught. More recently a doctor identified valvular trouble, but on balance I'm healthy.
What do you do for fun these days?
I enjoy hitting a synthetic golf ball against a wall; I keep a fairly detailed diary which I have been doing since I retired; I enjoy watching the (TV) history channel; and I still drive my car every day. It's a twin-carb Mini that I bought in 1976 for R3 000, and recently a collector offered me R25 000 for it.
Do you still see any of your former colleagues?
Yes. I meet Terence Ashton for tea occasionally and we always have lots to talk about. I always enjoy meeting with Heinie Dittberner, a quietly motivated person, and who for several years was OC of Pretoria Regiment. His wife has not been well of late.
Let's turn to your association with the School. Do you remember your first day as a schoolboy?
Indeed, 1936 it was. I recall it as a 'gathering of the bikes'. We all gathered together at the Solomon House steps and didn't quite know where to go. Ultimately, however, we found ourselves in the 'Old Hall' and were directed from there. Everyone was so polite, with the exception of a few prefects who were quite pushy. In those days the lowest form was Form 2 (standard 7) - you completed standard 6 at primary school.
You were a product of Arcadia Primary School, were you not?
Yes, I was head prefect at Arcadia. In standard 6 a new headmaster had arrived at the school, Billy Eves, who had replaced Miss Pointer. Incidentally, he was an airforce pilot in the First World War. He introduced the prefect system to the school and I was his first appointment.
What was Mr Matheson like as a Headmaster?
He had been Headmaster for a year when I arrived, and, in fact, his appointment had been controversial. His wife was a Miss Brink, from Standerton, and a relative of General Brink, and it was widely felt that he had been appointed on the strength of her connections. But I personally consider Matheson to have been one of the School's greatest headmasters, and that includes comparing him to people like Abernethy, also a great headmaster. I played golf with him, and he played off a 4 handicap.
How did you rate the quality of teachers during your time at the School?
When Matheson took over, he inherited a number of weak vessels who had been around a long time and fallen into a rut. In his first year he didn't hire or fire at all - he just observed. Then in 1936 he got stuck in and made some significant changes, bringing in several excellent teachers. I liked to call them the 'Matheson Men', similar to Milner's 'kindergarten'. These included Maurice Geen, later author of the history textbook, The Making of South Africa, and first headmaster of Clapham High; excellent maths teacher, McDonald, who became headmaster of Potch Boys' High; and Mullins (we called him 'Moon'), a meticulous teacher who became a headmaster in Springs.
You were at Boys High during a crucial period of the World's history - the War in China, deteriorating relations between the US and Japan, Munich. What do you recall of this period as a schoolboy?
Strangely enough, it wasn't particularly exciting. I must say though that we were taught history by Geen and I can remember him in 1938 walking up to a map on the board, pointing his finger to the Polish Corridor, and saying: 'This is where a devastating war is going to start'. He was dead right.
But from your perspective, even as a schoolboy, wasn't the writing on the wall following British Prime Minister Chamberlain's appeasement, the destruction of Czechoslovakia, and the Austrian 'Anschluss'?
No not initially. The full weight of what was unfolding was not that clear to us.
And then, when Britain officially declared War in September 1939, followed by SA among others?
At that point, of course, there was tremendous interest. I remember a guidance class taken by Grenville, the Deputy Headmaster, just before we wrote our matric exams, and he said: 'This is tragic, and I'm terribly sorry to tell you that a lot of you are going to die in this War'. He actually broke down after he had said that, and he was right. Half the Officer corps was killed.
A teacher, clearly pro-German, said: 'Boys, you must be very excited. Now we have a fight that we can enjoy'. He seemed quite pleased about the situation.
What did you do in 1940, the year after you had matriculated?
I joined the Civil Service and was appointed to a junior position in the 'defence department' of the Auditor-General's office. I was only 18 and hated the job. The civil service was riddled with pro-Nazis and I found the situation extremely uncomfortable. I remember them saying to me at the height of the Battle of Britain in September 1940, 'The War won't last much longer, Britain's on the verge of crumbling!' Shortly after someone said to me: 'Why don't you go and do a teaching course?' The Hendrys', both Scottish and German stock, were mainly teachers and this seemed a good idea. I went to Wits in 1941, completed my degree, and then decided to join up.
Were you not a member of the Citizen Force?
Indeed, I was. At Wits I was a member of the artillery detachment, spending a lot of my time learning to be a signaller.
Then you joined up, didn't you?
In 1943 I remember going to Raikes (Humphrey Raikes, Principal of Wits at the time) and saying, 'When I complete my degree at the end of this year, I think it'll be time to join up What do you think? I'm crazy about flying'. 'How is you health', he enquired. 'One hundred percent', I replied. 'And your Dad's', he asked. 'Not too good', I replied. 'He went down very badly in East Africa in the last War with blackwater fever'. He said, 'I think you need to be very careful about committing yourself because you may have to be your parents' breadwinner one day'. I considered the merits of what he advised, but decided to join up anyway. In 1944 I registered for my teaching diploma, but it whttp://oldboys.ttos1.co.za/W/index.phpas given to me 'free' because I had committed to joining up.
Did you join the Air Force?
Yes, I went through the ground course at 75 Air School, then went to flying school, passed, and then it was decided - because the War was coming to an end and I had a history degree - that I should research and write up a number of histories relating to the Air Force, which I did. This included 60 Squadron.
When and where did your teaching career start?
During the time that I was with the SAAF I wrote to Matheson and asked if there wasn't perhaps a teaching post available. I received a letter back from him saying: 'My dear Hendry, Thank you for your letter but it is not our policy to appoint any permanent staff while the War is on, but when the War ends, we will consider your application, and only if it is felt that you will fit in. Signed DD Matheson'. So I applied to Parktown Boys' High where Logie was the principal. He invited me to attend a meeting of the governing body, I arrived in uniform (including the blue band of an air pupil), saluted them, and explained my background. Some time later I received a letter from Logie offering me a post as a practical art teacher, which I couldn't do. But to cut a long story short, I was offered a job as woodwork teacher instead and the teaching of history to a standard 9 class, which I accepted. I was unprepared for the woodwork part of it, but thoroughly enjoyed it. This lasted until the end of 1946.
How did you get to Boys High?
A teacher post at the School was advertised in the Gazette, I immediately applied, and was interviewed. I remember one of the men saying, 'Do you make history interesting, Sir?' I said, 'I hope I do, Sir'. I was given the job and reported to the School on the first teaching day of 1947, and was also appointed assistant housemaster at School House with Elwyn Davis. An astounding man - he was awarded the MBE for flying during the War, a very rare decoration. Usually it was a DFC or AFC. He did incredible work for 60 Squadron, including photographing Auschwitz. Only after the War was it realized in one of his pictures that a line of people were Jews being directed into a gas chamber.
What were your memories of School House?
Not at all pleasant. There was terrible bullying and a tremendous amount of jaking - seniors shouting 'jake' and any and every newboy had to run like hell to the person concerned and do what was demanded. Based on the English school system, I didn't like it at all. It was also not done for junior boys to speak to a housemaster. That was sucking up. And yet the seniors enjoyed exceptionally friendly relations with the housemasters. For example, it was a 'privilege' for them to go to a master's study, speak to him, and even listen to the radio. But this was never to be shared with the juniors. The food dished out to the boys was appalling, though the masters' food was first-class.
What was important to you as a history teacher? Was it merely to get kids through matric, or was there a deeper meaning to it? Did you make it interesting? Did you believe that you were able to give pupils direction in what was to become their destinies?
Yes, I think I did achieve much of what you have raised. I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly teaching the senior classes. However, I must admit that I intensely disliked teaching Form 1 classes. In about Form 3 I began to feel, 'I'm getting this across, and they're beginning to enjoy it'. I had no philosophical or ideological pretences at all. It was only later in life that I realized the impact I had made, when Old Boys came up to me, as at the dinner last year, and expressed their appreciation. Doctors, lawyers, judges, you name them. You were there - you know what I'm talking about. I'm desperately disappointed that I didn't teach you.
What was your approach?
My style was greatly 'Aristotelian', generating questions, answers and discussion. I never just wrote up on the board and left it for the boys to copy. I merely put up a series of headings, talked, and listened. It was come and go. A lot of my best lessons emanated from questions such as 'Discuss', 'Explain the truth', or 'To what extent'.
Too many to mention. One incident that sticks out is that I gave a class a project in which they had to read up and research a current affairs subject of their choice, and then present on it orally. There was this boy, I think his name was Hans, who insisted on presenting at my home. His subject was 'The influence of Chinese communism on African national movements'. He spoke without a note for three hours and really knew his subject. Eventually, almost in a state of collapse, I conceded his mastery of the subject and suggested that he wind up the presentation. He said, 'Sir, I haven't given you the full picture yet'. I wonder what happened to him. Another recollection, I remember a learner turning out a brilliant essay in a class test, and I wrote at the bottom of it: 'Michael, what about an A at the end of the year!' He applied himself to such an extent that he got his A. His father came and thanked me personally for motivating the boy.
A year after you joined the staff at Boys High, 1948, the National Party came to power. As a citizen, former soldier, history teacher, did you have any gut feel of the magnitude and direction that the country was to take domestically, regionally and/or internationally?
Hard to say. Many of us felt depressed, but not to the point of committing suicide. However, I had served under the commandership of Jannie Smuts, supported him to the hilt, and became extremely distraught when I heard that he had lost his parliamentary seat in Standerton. A lot of School House boys were from the Standerton district, and several of their families were concerned too. The town was noted for its cattle trade, milling and other industries.
Do you think that SA would have been significantly different had Smuts won the '48 election and lived, say, another 15 years (He died in 1950)?
I'm not sure about that, but he had such a great intellect, would have adapted to the times, and would have moved in the right direction. Ultimately, I believe, he would have granted people of colour the franchise and would have been willing to share the country with them. It was never an issue directly addressed in his book on 'holism', which, incidentally, I never fully understood, but the new direction logically would have fitted in with his view on holism.
Who, in your view, was the most outstanding statesman anywhere in the past 100 years?
Even in spite of some of the catastrophic decisions he made during the War (against the advice of his military and other advisors), and the considerable criticism that he faced from his peers such as Sir Anthony Eden?
In spite of that. We all make mistakes, but yes, I must concede that some of Churchill's mistakes were pretty serious. But he had the personality that got into the characters of the British people and made them greater than they really were.
The most outstanding South African statesman?
It's only in my travels to Asia-Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Latin America that I became aware of how Euro-centric (and now Afro-centric) that we South Africans are. True, the Americans are worse. But as a history teacher, did you reflect an interest in what happened beyond Britain and Western Europe? Did the Cold War, for example, come to mean anything?
No, as South Africans we were not really focussed on some of the regions you mention. Nor was it covered in the syllabi. However, I certainly did conduct 'current affairs' classes, in which we talked about the 'events of the week'. The boys were required to do a lot of research, reading and thinking, and I think it went down very well. On the question of the Cold War, I became intensely interested in it from the outset, not least because of my interest in air forces and SA being involved in the Berlin Airlift
And the Korean War?
Yes, it was certainly of interest to me because of the SAAF's involvement. One of George Batty's relations commanded the Mustang Squadron. The conditions in that war, however, were dreadful.
You had a major interest in Cadets at the School. Tell us about it?
For years Bob Fair was OC but left the running of it to the junior officers, and with my being a Major in the Cadet Corps when he retired, I took over from him. Unfortunately, John Illsley's history of the School doesn't place too much focus on the Cadet detachment. Heinie Dittberner and I started the officer's training course which Fair described as one of the most progressive things that ever happened at the School. We trained boys who had no apparent leadership qualities, certainly not prefect material, but given the training, exhibited considerable leadership. I felt that the ending of the Cadet detachment and musketry was a great shame.
Some of the drill squads won some incredible competitions, I recall.
Indeed, in 1952 Heinie produced the finest drill squad in the country - it won the prestigious Van Riekbeeck trophy. An inordinate proportion of that squad did exceptionally well. Several of them became top professional and/or business people. The bugle band also won several national competitions. One of the most outstanding performances ever was an exhibition down at Tempe (Bloemfontein). I might still have recordings of it.
Who, in your view, were some of the most outstanding personalities on the School staff?
Noel Pollock, an intellectual but much disliked by most people, had quite an influence on me. I liked him very much. Walter Battiss, for all his nonsense, leg-pulling and so on, was a superb personality. He was educated at Gill College in Somerset-East and went on to Wits University, before entering the teaching profession. Maurice Geen was another superb personality - I took over his job. He was a pukka Englishman whose dream ultimately was to become a padre on St Helena. Ted Jones could be a difficult person, but I got on well with him. He married Pollock's daughter.
I asked Terry Mulvenna about the intrigues of the Staff Common Room. Your recollections?
I remember the atmosphere was absolutely smoke-laden. Most of the staff were smokers, and I was not. The situation was at its worst in winter when all the windows were shut. There were no cliques, as such. But as a rule everyone got on very well. I remember one incident, however, when Dr Werner Schiff 'pinched' my sandwiches from my lunch box. I saw him going off with them, and I very nearly assaulted him. I said, 'You're stealing my sandwiches'. He said, 'I'm very sorry, but I thought that they were mine'. Just one of the funnier things that happened.
In 1964 you visited Britain for four months as a guest of the British Council. Your impressions?
Yes, a valuable experience - Labour was about to come in. There were some wonderful teachers in the UK at that time. I was very impressed with the grammar schools because they were very similar to Boys High. I felt completely at home. An exception, perhaps, was a school in Canterbury where the teachers declined to speak to me because it was the Verwoerdian era. Then suddenly everything changed. The Springbok cricketers were giving the Australians a hiding in Australia, and when it emerged that one of the team heroes was from Boys High, one Eddie Barlow, then they all wanted to talk to me.
What were among your greatest concerns and disillusionments at the School in the 1950s and 1960s?
Concerns - certainly the extremely low pay. We were paid nothing compared to today. I earn more now as a pensioner than I ever did as a teacher. Disappointments - undoubtedly the destruction of the magnificent 'Old Hall'. It should have been retained as part of the School's history.
There are millions of good schools around the world, and yet we always refer to Boys High as being so 'special'. Why is it 'special', and why would it be better than any other school?
It's inexplicable. It something that happens, an enriching experience in life. It sparks off a transition in the boys that stays with them for the rest of their lives. As I mentioned, I still distinctly remember my first day at the School in January 1936.
If you had the chance to pursue your life again knowing what you know now, what would you want as the same and what would you want as different?
I would certainly be a teacher again - it's incredibly rewarding. And I'd probably get married.
A final message?
I would like the Boys of the Class of '64 to remember what the School did for them. The School hasn't changed; if anything, it has improved in many ways. They must recall that it provided a generally first-class platform for first-class brains and personalities. They should be grateful for the privileges that the School bestowed on them.