The History of the Dilworth Trust Board continued

World War II and the end of a Dilworth era

When the Second World War began in September 1939, the Trustees made every effort to continue normal business operations, as well as pursuing their long-term goals, which included planning for the new school at Wiri. But now there was the possibility of disruption in world affairs and the implementation of new government restrictions, which would, once again, affect rents and therefore the Board’s income. It seemed to be a replay of that earlier world conflict, which had so disastrously affected their plans 20 years before. Late in 1939 MacMurray’s increasing infirmity began to keep him from useful and active participation as Chairman, and he offered to resign. His fellow Trustees emphatically refused to accept his resignation, offering him a long-term leave of absence. It was clear, however, that MacMurray still firmly considered himself the Chairman of Trustees because, for the next 18 months, he ran the Board literally from his bed. There was no change to his unrelenting resolve and, from time to time, he regaled his fellow Trustees on matters of principle, relating to the administration of the Trust.

Archbishop Averill retired as the new Bishop of Auckland, and Dilworth Episcopal Visitor, was Archdeacon John Simkin, the Vice-Chairman of the Dilworth Trust Board. The Founder’s Will specifically prohibited Bishops from being elected to membership of the Board, although a loophole apparently allowed for a clergyman already on the Board to retain office, if he became Bishop. The Board thus went through an expensive legal investigation, to ensure the legality of Simkin's remaining on the Board. During MacMurray’s lengthy indisposition, Simkin was acting Chairman. MacMurray, however, although Simkin’s ecclesiastical junior, never shrank from expressing his views on how the Founder’s Will should be interpreted, even when his opinions set him at variance with his Bishop. The death of Archdeacon George MacMurray on 9th April 1941, at the age of 86, signalled the end of an era. For there were now no Trustees who had been close to James Dilworth and were personally acquainted with his wishes for the school. In MacMurray’s place, and in accordance with his last wishes, the Board elected another clergyman and Ulsterman, the Reverend Canon Richard Connolly, who was at that time Vicar of St Aidan’s Church in Remuera. Bishop Simkin was elected Chairman of the Board.

The war continued, with the School and the Trust deeply affected in many ways by rationing, materials shortages and the shocking loss of life. In the winter of 1942, Auckland became a major United States military base and in short order, the city was full of the friendly uniforms of American Marines. The American military presence had two direct effects on Dilworth. In September 1942, several floors of Dilworth Building in Customs Street were taken over by the United States Army, as its Headquarters. They occupied the rooms for the next three years. Secondly, a United States Naval Force Base Hospital was established on the Remuera Hockey Ground (Hobson Park) and the activities of a busy medical centre were conducted literally right beside the School. The Trustees considered this use of their land at Hobson Park as a significant contribution towards the war effort.

It seemed to be a way of diverting attention from the grim realities of war for the Trustees to give further thought to the long-delayed matter of establishing the new school after almost 40 years in temporary, wooden farm buildings. When they had voted to carry out the temporary Epsom school extensions, they had also agreed in principle to the notion that it might be more expedient to consider re-building on the existing site. Headmaster Gibson was invited to submit his opinions to the Board, which he did in November 1943. His report came down firmly on the desirability of remaining on the Epsom site. The Trustees carefully considered Gibson’s views and unanimously passed an historic resolution, to re-build on the present site. But there were still many bridges to be crossed. In particular, it would be necessary to approach Parliament regarding the new proposals, and the timing was not good for such action. Once peace was achieved, there would still be unsettled and uncertain times ahead. There would be shortages of manpower and materials, and the government was expected to impose building restrictions, to ensure that essential public construction was carried out first. All of these predicted factors eventually came to pass, and it was to be another dozen years before there were any visible signs of a new school. Even then, it was only in the form of some grounds re-development and the construction of tennis courts. Manpower and materials shortages were a constant problem for New Zealand farmers during the war, and the Dilworth Trust Board was not immune to the same difficulties. However, the property they had acquired at Wiri in 1930, as the future site for a new school, had been carefully chosen, and farm produce in the form of milk, meat and vegetables was supplied directly to the School.

At the end of December 1944, the United States Army relinquished its occupation of several floors of the Dilworth Building in Customs Street. Dilworth Trust Board minutes record the fact that there had been considerable wear and tear on the building during the ‘American invasion’, and that work was being carried out to restore it to its ‘normal business condition’, before once more offering it to commercial tenants. Following the departure of the U.S. Army from its Base Hospital on Hobson Park in Remuera, the government continued to use the buildings as temporary housing, while the largest of them was set aside as a Nurses’ Hostel. In the meantime, the Auckland Hockey Association and the Auckland Cricket Association were able to resume use of the grounds and, therefore, the payment of their leases to the Dilworth Trust Board.


Post-war years

Noel Gibson’s retirement at the end of 1945 led to the appointment of Colonel Basil (Bill) Wakelin as Headmaster. With early input from Wakelin, the Board resolved that its decision to rebuild on the Epsom site would stand. They confirmed this subsequently through Parliament, with the Dilworth Amending Bill 1946, which gave them power to build a school on any lands presently owned by the Trust or subsequently acquired by them, while, at the same time, releasing them from the obligation to build on the Wiri site.

While the question of representation on the Dilworth Trust Board had often been a topic of informal conversation at various gatherings of Old Boys, the notion had never been conveyed to Trustees in any formal way. However, when Joyce Hyland finally stepped down as President of the Old Boys’ Association at the 1946 Annual General Meeting, where his enormous contribution was acknowledged by his fellows, the question was raised publicly for the first time. In his final remarks to the meeting, he broached the subject of possible Old Boy representation on the Trust Board. He reasoned that Old Boys had served with distinction in two World Wars; an inordinate proportion making the final sacrifice, and that many were in senior positions, in all the professions currently represented on the Board. There were lawyers, accountants, business entrepreneurs and senior civil servants, even two Old Boys about to be ordained as Anglican clergymen. All of them would be suitable candidates for election to the Board in their own right and irrespective of their status as Old Boys. The meeting was convinced, as usual, by Hyland’s persuasive oratory and voted to make a formal approach to the Board.

A letter requesting the Trustees to give consideration to appointing an Old Boy to the Board was sent to the Board in October 1946. The reply was courteous but dismissive and signed, not by the Chairman, Bishop Simkin, but by the Board Secretary, Jack Prebble. It stated that the Trustees had no power to add to their present numbers and that, as there were no vacancies at the moment, the matter could not be discussed until such a vacancy occurred. In the letter there was an undertaking to consider Old Boys the next time a vacancy occurred. However, even though there were vacancies just three years later in 1949, it was another 15 long years, before the dream was realised.


Changes to Heraldry

It appears that the original Dilworth badges had simply been designed and used without official registration. By the 1940s, the kiwi and the silver fern had come to be regarded as national emblems and their appearance on the Dilworth badge was not approved by the Royal College of Arms. The Board decided that it was time to have a badge which was, on the one hand, officially recognised and, on the other, a distinctive representation of the School and its origins. The Board commissioned Canon Hubert Jones, assistant to the Vicar of St Mark’s Church, Remuera, a recognised authority on heraldry and a part-time Divinity teacher at Dilworth, to study the question and come up with a solution. He was asked to design a coat of arms, which would reflect in some way the origins and life of James Dilworth. His sketch designs included the Dungannon Castle and the Donaghmore Cross, both of which featured in James Dilworth’s early life in Ulster. The badge design was eventually submitted to the Royal College of Heralds in early 1947, but had to undergo a number of modifications before it was finally accepted, later in the year. It was at this time also, that the motto was changed to “Firmiter et fideliter”, meaning “Strong with steadfast purpose”, reflecting qualities dear to the heart of the Founder.

The end of the war in 1945 had failed to bring the dream of a new, permanent school any closer. Shortages of materials and manpower and severe government restrictions on new building construction ensured there would be no real progress in the short term. Furthermore, the Board’s income was seriously affected by legislation controlling lending rates and mortgages. Although they were accumulating capital in their Reserve Building Fund, they felt they could not afford at this stage to operate a much larger school. However, at least the old School earned the chance for a spruce-up when the Trustees agreed to the repainting the ancient wooden buildings. It was to be the last major refurbishment before the demolition in the 1960s.

At the end of 1949 Robert Insull resigned as Secretary to the Board, a position he had held for 30 years. The new Secretary was Insull’s assistant, Jack Prebble, already a 20-year veteran in the Board’s employ. During 1949 the Board sold to the Crown the 30-acre property in Papatoetoe, which had been part of the original School of Agriculture. The original farm area now forms part of the Manukau Institute of Technology and some of the farm school buildings are still in use. In November 1949 the Chairman received from Wakelin a letter of resignation; his departure owing to the health of his children, who had been advised to move to a drier climate. The new Headmaster chosen by the Board was another war hero, Brigadier John Conolly, B.Sc., D.S.O., who began his tenure in January 1951.


Plans for development

Conolly was under the impression that the board was poised to invest large sums of money into the construction of a new School. The fabric of the existing buildings was in a state of decay, and many generations of Dilworth boys probably equated their school years with penny-pinching deprivation, accompanied by the harsh discipline and total lack of comfort. If anyone had bothered to inform them about the essential clause in the Trust Deed, referring to ‘straitened circumstances’, they would probably have assumed it referred to the School, rather than to their families. Because of the uncertain post-war economic climate, the Trustees continued to demur over committing to a new building programme. Yet they had managed to counteract the effects of war losses by converting many of their leasehold properties to 21-year Glasgow leases, enabling more frequent lease adjustments to keep pace with inflationary trends and the increasing costs of running the School. However, there were some signs of activity. With the site now finally decided, the Trustees went ahead with initial planning for development on the Epsom campus: the construction of four full-sized tennis courts and the levelling of the sloping “40-acre” sheep paddock at the front of the classroom block, in order to provide much-needed, additional playing fields. The main field was also levelled, drained and re-sown.

In 1952, Professor H.W. Segar resigned, after 23 years as a Trustee. At the time of his retirement from the Board, he was 84 years old; 12 years older than the maximum age permitted for today’s Trustees. The Trustees elected the Archdeacon A.E. Prebble, Vicar of St Mark’s Church, Remuera, to fill the vacant position. Although no one knew it at the time, Prebble was to be the last clergyman elected to the Board. This was in spite of the urgings of Archdeacon MacMurray, literally on his deathbed, that the Founder’s intent was to have at least one man of the cloth as a Trustee.

At the 1953 Annual Prizegiving, Chairman R.P. Towle announced that, after a delay of some 50 years, the Board was poised to begin construction of the new school. At long last, after so many frustrating delays, caused by World Wars, global depression and New Zealand’s faltering economy, progress was finally to be made. The Trustees favoured the traditional conservative design first mooted for the Wiri site, looking very much like Victorian English public school buildings. They initially agreed with the architects, that the administration building was the most important of the proposed new structures and should be the first to be built. But it was to be another five years before the first building was completed, and it was not an administration centre, but the chapel; a building that would be used on average for about two hours a week. Older members of the teaching staff, when they heard this news some time later, were unimpressed, because the fire risks in the old wooden buildings suggested that dormitory accommodation was the most important new requirement.

Recently returned from an overseas fact-finding tour, Headmaster John Conolly submitted a full report to the Board in May 1955. He had been impressed by many of the modern structures he had seen and was beginning to distance himself from the old Wiri traditional design, still on the drawing board. The Trustees confirmed Abbott Hole and Annabell as their architects. The new addition to the firm, Milton Annabell, was to become the chief architectural adviser to the Board, for the next 25 years. A brilliant, but eccentric man, Annabell worked on his sketch plans for an entire year, before they were submitted to the Board for comment, late in 1955. The Trustees pressed on with their determination to lay the foundation stone of the chapel (and de facto of the School) during 1956; the fiftieth anniversary of the School’s opening day.


The Birth of the New School

The foundation-laying ceremony was held on Monday, 12 March 1956. Although it was the foundation stone of the chapel that was being laid, all were well aware that it was, in reality, the birth of the new School. Among the assembled company were many who had had good reason to believe that this day would never come. Old Boys and staff from the School’s first years through to the 1950s were there, together with long-serving Trustees, all of them having lived through the years of frustration and disappointment. In September 1956, J.M. Carpenter retired from the Dilworth Trust Board and was replaced by Robert King, a prominent Auckland businessman and professional company director, who was already an experienced school governor with the board of King’s College.

While the chapel was being constructed, the motley collection of old farm buildings was finally removed from the site. A new 25-metre pool was installed, much to the delight of the boys, but the new boarding blocks were still another five years away. However, during 1957, behind the scenes, progress was being made in the planning for two separate boarding hostels, a dining room and assembly hall, and an administration and kitchen/laundry block. There were also to be additions made to MacMurray House, to increase its capacity to 40 junior boys. Saturday 18 October 1958 was another important day in the life of the School, as the whole community gathered to witness the official opening and dedication of the new chapel. The chapel was truly a work of art and a tribute to the design genius of the architect, Milton Annabell, as well as to the Trustees, who gave him licence to indulge his unique skills. To this day, fifty years after it was completed, the building is a masterpiece, which never fails to draw admiring comments from visitors.