History, Life at No.22, Musings, New Zealand

A Slice of School Memories

It’s Monday morning and nearly midday.

The local bakery vehicle arrives, followed by scurrying footsteps, and eventually, the rustling sounds of paper bags begin. These are the days before, obesity was a thing, and what the schools sold was not questioned. It was all about that heightened anticipation of what was dropped in those bags softened the most challenging non-complying child amongst us into the most obedient and smiling person you could imagine. When the mother helpers had finished, those bagged delights on trays were deposited a short distance from us. The ultimate sweet aroma of fresh doughnuts, iced sally-lunns and hot meat pies drifted into our classrooms and right past my nostrils, causing yet another distraction from the sizeable chalky blackboard and that moving mouth on my teacher’s face. Fifty-five plus years on, and those mouth-watering memories have never dulled and the reality of having soggy tomato sandwiches instead of a pie.

Heading further back in time to around the 1940s – This page from a Health Dept booklet describes nutritional guidelines for children’s school lunches. It also has sample lunches, handy tips (how to prevent children from chucking their lunch in the bin) and recipes that raise the humble sandwich filling to a fine art.

Another part of school gastronomic memories was the opposite of delight.

On the steps of a Wellington Catholic Primary School, I was handed a small 300ml bottle of warm cow’s milk that was encouraged by hoovering nuns to pass my lips, and the aftermath after each gulp was a look of pure disgust. It had to be done, the drinking of that creamy warm fluid. We were brought up not to waste a drop.

Photo credit – NZ Archives – 1937

This grand idea, a world-first pilot scheme, all started in 1937 and launched in Auckland just before the election of the first Labour Government, which became synonymous with the implementation of universal social security initiatives. Concerned with creating equal access for New Zealanders to essential health, education and welfare, the current government made free milk available to all New Zealand primary school children. This was complemented by other children’s health measures, such as free dental care at school dental clinics. School dental nurses continued to stress the importance of milk in children’s diets. All I can remember in my day is that school dental nurses caused me stress though I digress and let’s stick to the subject of milk, the lesser of the two evils.

Thankfully, the distasteful downing of warmish milk in a bottle on the school steps was for only a few years as the scheme was discontinued in October 1967 due to the cost factor and the questioning of the health benefits of cow’s milk. It’s now May 2022, and, still, I’m not too fond of warm dairy unless it’s been disguised with a few shots of espresso coffee.

28 thoughts on “A Slice of School Memories”

  1. Yes, a revolting memory from my childhood too, though I preferred the milk to the lunches which were even worse. I love the 1930s photo, especially the sassy girl with the belted dress balancing the bottle in her palm, and the scowling boy with no milk who looks ready to pick a fight over it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We never had sit down lunches, and the only time a school pie passed our lips was when Mum had run out of bread on a Sunday night which was when she made up our sandwiches. It is a wonderful photo of that era if that lad did pick a fight he would’ve got the belt. Those belted dresses were still used in my era, thick and heavy woollen gym frocks. Shudder.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your post. It certainly brings back memories of warm milk. I did not mind it. Mrs. Thatcher abolished ours when she was education secretary on the grounds that children were so well fed they no longer needed it. (I wish that was still true). She became known as milk snatcher.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Anne; pleased you enjoyed my post. I agree. Wouldn’t it be a fabulous world with no hungry children, and abuse wasn’t a common word in the news.


  3. Growing up in the UK our school lunches were cooked at the school and were for the most part either dull or unpleasant. We had free school milk too (I’m talking about the 1960s) and I hated it. I still can’t drink milk and even in coffee prefer either none or very little ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am a long black coffee drinker, and I do enjoy a flat white coffee when all the girls and I get together after our game of basketball. Many schools here do breakfast and sandwiches for lunch as no child can learn on an empty stomach. No easy solution and made even harder with high inflation at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know that I could have drank warm milk as a child. I’m sorry this happened to you, but I’m sure it was for your own good. Ha! That’s what they always said to get us kids to ingest lousy things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That catch phrase “Eat it [or drink it] it is good for you”, was spouted by many during my childhood. Usually not directed at me as I wasn’t a fussy eater. Just disliked warm milk. I suppose there was some truth in it. Perhaps the exception being cod liver oil?.

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    1. Yes, those buns and doughnuts were a treat though mainly Mum’s baking fuelled us during the day. As you know, our generation didn’t stay indoors unless we had to as it meant helping with the housework ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The rapid rise of the cost of living has brought about a resurgence of food banks over here. We used to enjoy soggy tomato sandwiches while watching cricket at The Oval. An excellent memory prompting post

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ugh! Those disgusting bottles of milk. And school dinners certainly had their moments, but we survived to tell the tale. No sticky bun deliveries for us, though. Perhaps that’s why I like a nice cake now and again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jo, I would love to see NZ primary school children receive a free hot lunch at school more sustainable than giving more money to many of the caregivers/parents. Children living in poverty is a problem in New Zealand.
      Is there anyone who doesn’t like cake?

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