The Early Days
Thornhill High School opened on the air force base in Gwelo in January 1955. The Headmaster was Mr Phil Todd (known to the pupils as "Toofy"), and the other members of staff were Mr W ("Doodles") Viljoen (Geography, Afrikaans, Woodwork and PT); Mr Frank Taylor (Latin and French); and Miss Christine Roberts. Frank Taylor was responsible for the school motto "Per Spinas ad Culmina" (Through the Thorns to the Summit) - a typically classical pun on the word "Thornhill" and of course, reflecting the schools connection with the Royal Air Force with its motto "Per Ardua ad Astra" (Through Hardship, or Effort, to the Stars). In the second term, these four teachers were joined by Mr Tom Burgoyne (History); Mrs Alexander (Domestic Science) and Mrs Oosthuysen. The third term brought Miss Sheila Pett (later Mrs Coventry) who taught English.
In 1956 numbers rose and more teachers joined the fray. Along came Mrs Myers, Miss Joyce Wilson, and Mr Reg Cowper (who much later became Rhodesian Minister of Defence ) who taught Science. For the second term, Mr Darwin arrived from Plumtree via Guinea Fowl and Mrs Myers left. The third term produced Mrs Nikki Antoniadis but Miss Wilson left. A sizeable intake at the start of 1957 produced an impressive crop of teaching staff: Miss Derris Bowyer (who later married Doodles Viljoen), Mrs Muriel Bromley, Miss Carruthers-Smith, Mrs Nell Magness, Mrs Nieuwouldt, Mr Nick Holman (from Chaplin) and Mr Sam McGee from the local builders' Federation (to teach Woodwork). New faces for the second term were: Mr Bates, Mr Day (from Guinea Fowl), Mr Field and Mr Nel (from Chaplin). At the end of that term, Mr Cowper left. The third term of 1957 additions were: Miss Aylett, Mr Gibbons, and Mr Haines.
Classes were held in corrugated-iron prefabs, assemblies took place in an Operations Room with maps on the walls, Gym was in a hangar, and the cricket nets were on the concrete foundations of former barrack rooms. It was the duty of the juniors to sound the siren, which served as the school bell. Hank van de Weg, a founder pupil remarks: " I will always remember the sound of the training Harvards droning in the heavy summer sky, lulling me to sleep and preventing me from concentrating on my Latin. And, in the early days, break time and an illegal excursion to the airplane graveyard, fibre glass rash and breaking open old bombs to get the lead."
School numbers trebled in '56, and by '57 the student numbers topped 250 and the first prefects were appointed.
Judy (Rautenbach) Broodryk comments: "We really enjoyed the days at the Airforce Base as we had quite a distance to move between classes and so we could waste quite a bit of time and sometimes even bunk a class or two. The girls who were boarders also had the famous tale to tell about the ghost who used to wonder around the dormitory in the middle of the night - the story went that it was a pilot who had fallen off the bed and died of a broken neck. The day scholars would be so envious because we didn't get the opportunity to see him. We were all however very excited to move to the new school buildings and we all worked hard to get the sports fields up and running. The awful part was Tuesday afternoons when we had afternoon school - it was hot and very unpleasant."
The New School
In January 1958, the school packed its bags and moved to its present site leaving the airfield without regret to the fledgling Federal Air Force which promptly brought in a howling squadron of Vampire jets believed to have been too much for the tender ears of the citizens of Salisbury. Gwelo Town Council was pleased, because an empty airfield was bad news for local trade.
John Rowlands was the groundsman and it was he who laid out and established the grounds and playing fields at the school's present location. Mike Stewart, a past pupil, remembers having to crawl painstakingly, on hands and knees, around the playing fields for hours picking up every stone and hard clump of dirt, under the ever-watchful eyes of Meneers Nel, Viljoen and Steenkamp, so that the games fields would be the best in town.
The line-up of staff for the 1958 photo-call was: Mr. Todd (Head and Supt Cranwell House), Mr. Holman (Dep Head), Mrs. Alexander, Mrs.Bartlett (Secretary), Mrs. Bromley, Mrs. S Coventry, Mr. Day, Mr. Gibbons, Miss Gudath (later Mrs Reg Cowper), Miss Heath, Miss Lamport (Supt Halton house) Mr. McGee, Mr. Nel, Mrs Orsmond (Music), Mr. Ould, Mrs Porter, Mrs Rochester, Mr. Steenkamp, Mr.Taylor and Mr and Mrs.Viljoen. Mrs. Antoniadis was away on leave.
In 1959 Nan Winter and Nigel Rowlands were appointed head girl and head boy respectively for the school's inaugural Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth years ('59 and '60). By '60 Upper Sixth pupils from Chaplin were coming to Thornhill for shared science classes and Upper Sixth from Thornhill were going to Chaplin for shared arts subjects.
Mr Geoff Day (member of staff from 1957 to 1964) remembers: We started out in 1958 in a school designed to look like a chicken farm amidst a sea of mud and builders' katunda, but with a dizzy selection of educational toys. Labs, workshops and classrooms furnished and equipped to a high level. Alas, we had no library, gymnasium, playing fields, swimming pool, hall with stage, offices or staffroom. There were pupil's toilets, but the staff were expected to grin and bear it. Such refinements all came later. Slowly.
For some reason I never fathomed, the Art room was easily the darkest of all the campus . But I recall it as a busy, productive place. We did pottery, weaving, scenery painting, 16mm film shows, and poster production for many events. We even found time for some drawing and painting and from the start there were entrants to Cambridge School Certificate and later 'O' levels every year. I cannot recall one single failure. One form, the Remove, helped me screen print the cover of the first issue of the School Magazine - around two hundred of them, all spread out to dry on the floor (covers, not pupils). I told them I would kill anyone who trod on one - and I meant it; for we did it on one of those dreadful Tuesday afternoon school sessions in hot October when murder came easy. Many other willing (?) hands painted scenery with me from dizzy dangling trestles. One form had the enormous pleasure of seeing me walk off the end of a plank and tip a whole large tin of paint over myself.
I took over the General side in 1960 - a part of the school that I always felt had been neglected. Except, of course when it came to teams and other physical activities. COP Certificate was introduced and those of us concerned buckled down to getting a qualification for our charges. It was not a highly regarded examination, but it was a public one and UK-based. I was critical of it but it was the best we could muster at the time, and many steps ahead of the nothing there had been before.
I was in charge of the Audio- Visual equipment for the school - projectors, recorders and even the grand piano (!). Those who were boarders during my years will recall the Saturday evening film shows in the Hall where the acoustics were so diabolical you couldn't tell the difference between Frank Sinatra and Doris Day.
(acknowledgements to Nigel Rowlands and Geoff Day)
1960 saw the introduction of a special 'colours' blazer. The musical "Goodnight Vienna" was directed by Mrs Antoniadis and Mr Burgoyne. Building began on the new commerce block. The first Rugby XV had a wonderful season, winning 12 out of 14 matches played. Mary Botha from the First Hockey Team was selected to join the Rhodesian Schools hockey team on their tour of South Africa.
Phil Todd retired as Headmaster at the end of 1961 but then taught Science for a short time at one of the African high schools. The new Headmaster was Geoffrey Lambert, who arrived from Hamilton in Bulawayo and remained until the end of 1967 when John Eadie from Cranborne in Salisbury took up the headship.
The Early Seventies
The great event of 1970 was the opening of the long-awaited swimming pool.
Several developments happened in the school from 1971 to 1974. One of these was the revival of the (almost) annual musical production, with "South Pacific" directed by Mr Dykstra being staged in 1971, "Oliver!" in 1973 and "Annie Get Your Gun" in 1974. In 1972, the hall finally got a stage, and the inaugural production was "Wait Until Dark" in the second term.
On the academic front, the announcement in 1972 that Thornhill was to become the country's first Agricultural High School caused consternation in some circles and excitement in others. The Headmaster and Staff were convinced that it would be a good thing for the school, and assured concerned parents that it did not mean that academic standards would fall. Other developments were the introduction of Objective Testing in 1971, and the restructuring of Rhodesia's examination system. The old C.O.P. exams were discontinued and were replaced by the Rhodesia School Certificate Higher Level.
In 1972 the school said farewell to an old and tried (or trying!) friend. The old school bus (the only "runner" of its class left on the African continent, according to an 'expert' in Cape Town) finally retired and the purchase of a new one meant that sports teams were able to arrive on time for fixtures for the first time in ages.
The staff list in the 3rd term of 1971 was:
Mr J. Eadie (Headmaster), Mr P. Siebert (Deputy), Mrs D. Cairns (Senior Mistress and Halton House Superintendent), Mrs O. Alexander (Domestic Science), Mrs R. Browne (Art), Mrs E.M. Chamberlain (History), Miss C. Chalmers (P.E.) Mrs M. Cunliffe (Science), Mr G. Dykstra (Geography), Mrs J. Few (Geography), Mr T. Hart (French and Cranwell House Superintendent), Mrs Y. Hart (Afrikaans), Mr D. Larkworthy (Woodwork), Mr C. Leaman (English), Mr B. McDowell (Maths), Mr D. McGaw (P.E.), Mrs J. McGaw (Maths), Mr R. Moore (Commerce), Mr M. Morrel (English and French), Mr C. Pluke (Science), Miss J. Pyatt (English), Mrs G. Smith (Music and Afrikaans), Mr A. Smith (Maths and Science), Mr G. Wilkes (Technical Drawing), Mr W. Young (Maths), Mrs E. Viljoen (part-time), Mrs K. Pluke (Librarian), Mrs M. Segal (Bursar), Mrs M. Wilkes (Secretary). The groundsman, Mr John Rowlands, retired at the end of the year, having served the school since its founding.
1972 was a productive year, with 3 members of staff welcoming additions to their families: a daughter for the McGaws and sons for the Fews and the Plukes. Mr Baker took over Mrs McGaw's Maths classes, Mr Case (an old boy of the school) took over from Mrs Few, and the post of librarian was filled by Mrs Larkworthy. At the end of the year, several long-serving members of staff left the school: Mr Siebert, Mr McDowell and Mr Pluke left on promotion, Mr Baker went to St Stephen's, Balla Balla, and Mrs Cunliffe was transferred.
In 1972, the chairman of the Old Thornhill Association, Louis de Haas, reported that there were 19 fully paid members.
In his report in the 1974 school magazine, the Deputy Head, Mr Andersen, remarked that Thornhill possessed a number of advantages: a happy and reasonably stable staff, above-average academic results, a good sporting image, a keen and hard-working PTA committee, a School Council devoted to the interests of the school, facilities second-to-none (such as the swimming pool, playing fields, tennis courts, hall, and language laboratory) and last, but not least, a solid core of good pupils.
One of the enduring memories of that year was the rain, which kept the playing fields virtually under water for the whole of the first term. Also, a little spring which appeared beside the First XI cricket wicket. However, the pupils were not inactive, as they embarked on a sponsored cycle ride which raised enough money to buy an electronic organ.
The staff list for term 3 of 1974 was: Mr J. Eadie (Head); Mr E. Anderson (Deputy); Mrs D. Cairns; Mr T.G. Hart; Mrs F. Alers; Mrs O.M. Alexander; Miss B. Bray; Mrs R. Browne; Mr T.E. Case; Mrs E.M. Chamberlain; Miss C.Cooke; Mr J.S. Cooper; Mrs B.E.M. Coventry; Mrs J. de Lange; Mr G.R. Dykstra; Miss A. Fraser; Mrs H. Gardyne; Mrs Y. Hart; Mr R. Johnson; Mr D.J. Larkworthy; Mrs J. Lissamin; Mr D.M. McGaw; Mr R.G. Moore; Mrs J. Nixon; Miss F.J. Ronaldson; Mrs E.D.K. Viljoen; Mr G. Weaver; Mr G. Wilkes; Mr W.L. Young; Mr R. Reeve-Johnson.
(acknowledgements to DJ and Sharon Voyce for supplying information from the THS magazine)
In 1981 John Eadie retired, and was succeeded as Headmaster by John Drinkwater, who had previously taught at Chaplin, Guinea Fowl and Fort Victoria. The next few years saw great changes at the school, as newly independent Zimbabwe opened formerly white schools to pupils of all races. Owing to the fact that all junior school leavers took the same Leaving Certificate and schools could pick and choose to some extent, the calibre of entrants remained high and standards were maintained. Much of the credit must go to the staff, including many "old stalwarts" like Barbara Coventry, Derris Viljoen, Em Chamberlain, Gordon Dykstra, and Terry and Yvonne Hart. Many other staff posts were filled by 'imported' teachers from UK, Australia and Mauritius, on short-term contracts. Exam results (still the old Associated Examining Board GCE) were pleasing, and certainly up to the level of previous years.
In 1984, the first black head boy and head girl were appointed, and did a very good job. Noel Gocha became the first black deputy head (and later the first black headmaster).
The PWD provided the school with a brand new bus because the old bus broke down on some sporting trips, causing concern among the parents. Sport, however, began to decline as the number of staff able to coach to first team level decreased. The high cost and scarcity of sporting equipment didn't help either. The last first XI cricket fixture was in 1983, when the Thornhill team, coached by John Drinkwater, had a comfortable win over their Chaplin rivals, coached by Doodles Viljoen. In 1984, the rivals became partners in joint fixtures as a combined team. In the same year, the Thornhill Athletics team won at the Midlands Inter-Schools meeting.
(acknowledgements to John Drinkwater)
THANKS TO ALL WHO CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE
COMPILED BY B. NELSON 2003.