Skip to main content

The Ups And Downs Of Jeremy James

Stratford High School: Form 3 (1972)


In February we all turned up at our new school, dressed in our uniforms and ready to start our secondary education.  One by one, our names were called out and we filed off to join our new classes.  My class was to be 3C2 which at that precise moment did not really mean very much to me.  The other thing that became apparent to us, was that whilst at primary school we had been referred to as pupils, now that we had progressed to secondary school, we would be referred to as students.  We had definitely gone up in the world!


Small badge with the Stratford High School coat of arms showing Mt Egmont (Mt Taranaki) in the background.


Rebecca Western (her with the long blonde hair in 2 neat plaits with 2 coloured ribbons) was not with us anymore, as she had gone to St Mary’s.  Denis Wheeler’s family had moved to Inglewood and so he was now attending Inglewood High School.  Joe Sheehan had become a boarder at Silverstream College which was a prestigious private school near Wellington.

We were all herded into a classroom by Miss Cook (Cheryl Cook), who taught typing but in addition she was also going to be our form teacher for the year.  Having quickly told us that if we touched any of the typewriters we would be in big trouble, Miss Cook then went on to explain everything to us.  The 3rd form at Stratford High School consisted of 10 classes and these were all streamed academically from top to bottom.  She congratulated us all on the fact that, due to getting good marks in our entrance exam, we were now in the second to top class. 

This was amazing.  Here was me, with terrible spelling and sloppy handwriting but despite these deficiencies, I had made it into the second to top class.  Elizabeth Capper, Janet Sulzberger, Lynette Little and Terril Benton had done even better as they made the top class.  All of a sudden, life had changed, school was looking up and I felt I had achieved something. 

In 3C2, from Avon, there was me, Eric Hayward, Heidi Drescher, Pauline Staveley and Karina Thayer.  Besides the 5 of us, I didn’t know any of the other students except for Colin Klenner who had been living at Midhirst but his parents had recently moved into Stratford.  Having been family friends for quite a few years, it was great to have at least one other person that I knew.  The rest of the students in our class came from all the other Primary Schools that were scattered around the Central Taranaki area.


1972: 3rd Form Class, 3C2, at Stratford High School

Back Row: Kevin Hopkins, Colin Klenner, Robert Oliver, Greg Whyte, Keith Stockman, Neil Belcher, Eric Hayward, Kevin Stark, Robert Stanners, Graham Payton

Middle Row: Lynette McCord, Ann Moore, Karina Thayer, Peter Butler, Simon Hancock, David Hancock, Brent Stanners, Jeremy Heath-Caldwell, Stephen Grey, Lesley Northcott, Lenora Russell, Heidi Drescher

Front Row: Fiona Logie, ????, Deborah van Dam, Faye Beatty, Joy Hughes, Miss Cheryl Cook, Pauline Staveley, Maree Wilson, Robyn Kitchingman, Maree Douglas, ????



The year went reasonably well but being the smallest boy in the class, and actually one of the smallest boys in the school, life was not easy.  I was pushed around by a lot of the other boys and of course trying to participate in sport continued to be hopeless.  I found it a scary place and I never felt secure.

The subjects that we were taught were: Science, English, Maths, Social Studies, French, Music, Art and Religious Education, but I can’t remember much about that except that we were all given a little red Bible by the Gideon Association (sadly a lot of these Bibles ended up in the bin).  We did all these subjects together as a class but for technical studies the boys and girls were separated.  The girls did cooking and sewing while we did Woodwork, Metalwork and Technical Drawing.

Technical Drawing and Woodwork were very enjoyable but the best subject was Metalwork where the classroom was full of a vast array of amazing machinery including some metal lathes.  I think these days health and safety would not allow you to use these in a classroom as they can be dangerous.  I thought they were fantastic.  I can’t remember what we built but I know we had a good time doing it.

I found some of the teachers to be really nice people, very engaging and I got interested in all sorts of things.  I didn’t get on with our Social Studies teacher (History and Geography) and one day she got very unhappy with me and sent me to the men’s workroom to be caned by one of the other teachers.  I found this to be a very unsettling experience and I had two very large bruises going right across my bum which took a few weeks to heal.  It was unfair.  Some of these teachers were big bullies and I was only a little guy.  Again I started to think that these teachers were vindictive bastards and I did not really want to have anything to do with them.  After that I did not bother to engage in Social Studies.  As far as I was concerned this teacher was a heap of shit (but of course I was smart enough not to tell her that).

The metal work teacher was Mr Gray and his wife Mrs Gray taught music.  They were both really nice people.  The English teacher was Mr Custer who was from America.  I did think it a bit funny that we had an American teaching us English or was he teaching us American?  Miss Quill, the French teacher, was a nice lady but most of us found French to be impossible.  The science teacher was Mrs Roberts and she was also very good.

The Maths teacher was a Mr Caldwell which I thought was quite interesting.  Maybe a distant cousin but of course I was a Heath-Caldwell, so I felt much more important.  Mr Caldwell showed us how to use a slide rule, which was an amazing piece of calculating equipment (I still have mine).  You lined two numbers up and you then just read off the product.  Very quick and very easy.  Division was even more handy.  You could also use it to calculate square roots and trigonometric values to work out angles.  Of course, these days you would use an electronic calculator or a computer, but they did not exist back in 1972.  

I joined the stamp club and really enjoyed it.  As I have mentioned, collecting stamps back in those days was a very popular hobby and most young people had a stamp collection of some sort (and yes, I still have mine).  We were always trying to collect the full set of all the various issues, especially the early ones.  This often entailed doing swaps with other collectors.  It was all about negotiation and looking back this was a very useful skill to learn.  By now I was starting to collect some of the early ones that had Queen Victoria’s head on them and I learnt about the very first postage stamp which was issued in 1840 in England.  It was called the ‘Penny Black’ and apparently it was engraved by a man called ‘Charles Heath’ and the printing was done by a firm called ‘Perkins & Bacon’.  I wondered if there was a family connection with my Heath-Caldwell ancestors.


The world’s first postage stamp ‘Penny Black’ 1d

Issued in the UK in 1840 and depicting a profile portrait of Queen Victoria.


I also got more involved in music.  At Avon I had learnt to play the recorder and at High School I joined the brass band and learnt how to play a tenor horn.  Music lessons were one to one, with the bandmaster, and this was great as it allowed me to get off normal classes for one period each week (provided I remembered of course).  I also joined the cast of the opera for that year, which was HMS Pinafore by Gilbert & Sullivan.  I played the part of the cabin boy ‘Tommy Tucker’ which wasn’t a speaking part but we all sang the songs and I strutted around the ship’s deck with my father’s naval telescope tucked under my arm.  Being tiny was the unique attribute that meant I was ideal for this part. My Maths teacher, Mr Caldwell, was also in our production of HMS Pinafore where he played Captain Corcoran who was the commander of our good ship.  He was an excellent singer and had a very strong tenor voice.


1972: Stratford High School Brass Band

Back Row: Sharron Trengrove, Kevin Bradley, Anna Megchelse, Trevor Coombe, Richard Wright, Patsy Smith.

Middle Row: C Parker, Heidi Drescher, Trevor Thomas, Lynette Wood, Robert Watson.

Front Row: Noel Taylor, Jeremy Heath-Caldwell, Barry Kretchmer, Lynette McCord



1972: Jeremy James as Tommy Tucker in the Stratford High School production of HMS Pinafore.


Looking back, Taranaki could on occasions be a violent place.  At school there were often fights among the boys and most of the time these were just minor scuffles but sometimes they could be quite aggressive.  I remember seeing a fight when one boy was smashing the other boy’s head into the concrete floor.  Fighting wasn’t just among the boys; if you were small like me, you could even get pushed around by some of the older girls if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The teachers took things quite seriously.  It was only a few years previous that the principal of nearby Inglewood School was murdered by one of the pupils so this must have made all the teachers rather wary.

I found that the library was a relatively safe place, so I would often go there at playtime but I couldn’t seek shelter there all the time.  On one particularly bad day I was having a pee in the urinal when one of the bigger boys in my class came along and just shoved me right in.  It was horrible and I was soaked.  He thought it was hilarious.  I was so distraught that on that occasion I went and saw the Deputy Principal Mr Habershon.  He was very patient with me and asked what happened.  He did later talk to the boy concerned and explained to him that it wasn’t very fair to push small boys into the urinals just for a laugh.  This could have ended up being even worse for me but I think the boy concerned took Mr Habershon’s comments constructively.

This was one of the very few occasions that I spoke to Mr Habershon but my mother met up with him years later and she was very impressed that he remembered my name and asked how I was getting on.  Apparently he was exceedingly good at remembering names.  He was another incredibly professional teacher.

At home, it was probably around this time, that I had started to realise that there was something unusual about our cutlery.  All our friends had good quality stainless steel cutlery but our spoons and forks were pretty old.  Over time they went black and so every now and then, we had to get some rags out and give them a polish.  We also had to make sure that the dogs did not get hold of them as one of the teaspoons had once been chewed by the dog and had become completely dented.  There was also some strange looking marks with lettering on the back and on the tip of the handle there was the remains of what I started to realise were family crests.


Silver dessert spoon made by Paul Hanet and hall marked London 1725. Horse head crest of George Marsh (1683-1753) my great x6 grandfather.


These were all solid silver and they were very old.  I managed to get a book from the library which listed hall marks for English silver and I was able to work out that most of this silver cutlery dated to the early 1800s and there was one particular spoon, with a very nice crest of a horse head, where the hall marks dated it to 1725.  In addition to the silver cutlery, we also had a few other items in our house.  There was the silver teapot that my mother had dropped in the cow shed and there was a very large silver tray with the name ‘James Caldwell’ on it.  Our china plates were also very old and were made by a company called Spode and they also dated to the early 1800s.

As a young teenager, I could see that this stuff was old and it was very valuable.  Someone, one of my early ancestors, back in the early 1800s, must have had a lot of money.  Who were these ancestors and how had they made all their money?  And if we had these rich ancestors, how come there was now no money left?  What had happened to it?

We also had a book ‘Records of the Heath Family 1913’ which was full of short biographies of people with the name Heath.  But our name was Heath-Caldwell, so I naturally started thinking; where did the Caldwell come from?  The silver tray with the name James Caldwell was obviously a clue but who was James Caldwell?  And on a separate item, who was that guy Charles Heath who had engraved Queen Victoria’s head onto the first postage stamp back in 1840?  All this was the start of my interest in family history.

As a family we all carried on attending choir practice and singing at the Eltham Church.  The other activity for me continued to be the scouts.  A lot of the older boys, including Murray Reed, had moved on, so I gradually took on a bit more responsibility.  I organised a scout camp for my section and we held this successfully at Warwick Martin’s farm.  We camped by a stream and had a great time trying to catch small fish.  We didn’t manage to catch any of the fish as they were just too fast for us but we did manage to catch some “crawlers”.  These are a species of freshwater crayfish and are native to New Zealand.  The Maori name was “koura” but we mainly called them “crawlers” (some people called them crawlies).  We boiled these up in a billy of water and then ate them, very delicious.  It was really neat being out by ourselves without any grownups. 

Organising this camp was one of the key milestones as I steadily worked my way through all the requirements for the Chief Scout’s Award.  Eventually I had it all completed and I felt very proud at my achievement as there were not many scouts who managed to gain this award.  Unfortunately the scout leader did not have this particular badge in stock but he promised that he would order one for me and that I wouldn’t have to wait too long.  Sadly it never came.

I was also carrying on with my building projects at home and I helped Mr Walker convert our woodshed into an outside bedroom for me.  We laid a concrete floor and we lined the walls with the tops of the wooden packing crates that he had obtained from the cheese factory.  He also managed to get a window and a door but I don’t know where he got those from.  Mr Walker was a very resourceful sort of a person.  It was fantastic having my own bedroom and we painted it all a light shade of yellow.

The other project that I did in 1972 was building a go-cart.  It was mostly built out of wood and it used an old petrol motor mower engine.  The design was very basic but it was enough for me to drive it up and down the road outside our house.  The only problem was that the chain would often fall off when I turned a corner.  Looking back, I think this project was quite an accomplishment for a little boy who was only 13 years old.

By now colour televisions had started appearing in the shops but they were very expensive, so we continued with our black and white set or “goggle-box” as Mum used to call it.  There was still only one channel, so we watched whatever was on.  On the news there was coverage of the general elections when the Labour Party won a landslide victory, making Norman Kirk “Big Norm” prime minister.  We also heard about all the goings on in Uganda, as the tyrannical dictator Idi Amin expelled 50,000 Ugandan Asians with British Passports.


Stamp issued in 1973 to celebrate the Rowing team winning gold at the 1972 Olympics.


1972 was the year of the Olympic games, which were held in Munich in Germany.  A team of 8 New Zealand rowers (and a cox) won the gold medal.  I was amazed to see how big their canoe was and I wondered how they had managed to get it all the way to Germany but then again maybe they had borrowed it from a good mate who just happened to be in Germany and who just happened to have it spare.  I also thought it must be fantastic to be a cox and be allowed to go along for the ride.  We saw the whole race on TV and everyone was elated, especially later on, when we saw the medals award ceremony and the band played the New Zealand anthem.  We were all very proud.

Various aeroplane hijackings and kidnappings continued to make regular appearances on the news and sadly all the great things at the Olympics got overshadowed when a Palestinian terrorist group called ‘Black September’ took 11 Israeli Olympic team members hostage and later on killed them all at Munich airport.  Watching the news really helped us to understand that there were lots of people in the world who did not have anything like the great life that we had in New Zealand.

There were also various programmes which occurred once a week as a serial.  Very popular were ‘Hogan’s Heros’ (1965), ‘Dads Army’ (1968) and ‘MASH’ (1972).  All with a war theme but using comedy to entertain and so none of the characters got killed.  These programmes were all in black and white, so even if we had had a colour TV, it would not have made any difference.

American cowboy movies were very popular.  Each would have some fast moving scenes of people galloping along on horses and there would always be a few good shootouts.  In the background there was the sound of a really catchy theme tune or in the sad bits we would hear violins.  It was the good guys fighting the bad guys.  Sadly, the native American Indians were often presented as the bad guys, but of course, the real historical facts were that the white men were more often the bad guys and the Indians were regularly disadvantaged. 

Today, movies about Cowboys and Indians have pretty much disappeared, as they are now judged as not being politically correct (non-PC).  This is probably quite right but I would still like to see some of them again.  The ones that I remember were: ‘The Lone Ranger’ (1949-1957), ‘Gunsmoke’ (1955-1975),  ‘Maverick’ (1957-1962), ‘Bonanza’ (1959-1973), ‘Rawhide’ (1959-1966), ‘The Virginian’ (1962-1971), ‘The High Chaparral’ (1967-1971), ‘Lancer’ (1968-1970), ‘Alias Smith & Jones’ (1971-1973).  There was also ‘Daniel Boone’ (1964-1970) but he wasn’t a cowboy, he was more of an early American settler.  Another great programme, also without any cowboys, was ‘The Waltons’ (1972-1981).  It is hard for me to pick a favourite as all these programmes were excellent but if I was making a judgement based purely on theme tune then Bonanza would be my number 1.

Star Trek had started in America in 1966 but as all our programmes were behind, we did not get it until a few years later.  Everyone enjoyed Star Trek which was a science fiction story based in the future, all about James T Kirk and his team on the starship USS Enterprise on its five-year mission "to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before".  What was interesting about this production was that it was probably the first programme I remember seeing with an ethnically mixed group of characters.  In most other programmes the cast would all be white Anglo Saxon looking people.  In Star Trek there was a black African American lady called Uhura, there was Sulu who was a Japanese American, Scotty who was Scottish and of course James Kirk who was a white American.  I am not sure where Spock was from.  There were no New Zealanders (Maori or Pakeha) but that was no problem.  Looking back I suppose this science fiction series really did show us how ethnic diversity would become the established norm in the future.

I need to put in a little note here to say that in the 1970s the students at Stratford High School were predominantly fair skinned people with European ancestors.  There were also a lot of Maori or part Maori people.  I do not remember any black people with African origins and I do not remember any Indians, Chinese, Japanese or Asian looking people.  You could say that we all lived in an ethnic bubble.

My mother continued working as a science teacher at St Mary’s, which she really enjoyed, but the school was running into financial difficulties and job security was starting to look a bit uncertain.  After a chance conversation, Mum’s friend Jill Walker rang up to say there was a science teaching job in Whanganui for her.  We had visited Whanganui a few times and Mum liked the place so she took the job and we made arrangements to move.  This was going to be a big change in our lives.  We had been brought up in a small close-knit agricultural community and now we were going to live in a city.  While Stratford had a population of approx 5,000 people, Whanganui had a population of approx 30,000 and instead of living out in the country we were going to live within the city boundary.  I was very sad to be leaving Stratford but on reflection this big change did in fact do me a lot of good.