Reunion planned for ‘home’ boys
Many boys from France House children’s home regard each other more like brothers than they do their own siblings, former resident Henry Danvers says.
He is organising the latest reunion for former residents of the home which was situated at Eskdale. Up to 32 boys from broken homes were living there at any one time between its opening in 1924 and when dwindling numbers (down to four) saw it close in 1973 when it was sold to the government.
The home was run by the Hawke’s Bay Children’s Home, a trust which also had a girls’ home, Randall House and another boys’ home, Gordon House, the latter running in the 1930s to the mid-1940s. Residents from those homes are also welcome at the reunion which will be held on Saturday first with a mid-day meeting in the Veronica Sun Bay, near the Marine Parade Sound Shell, and then a dinner at the Taradale RSA.
Henry was at France House from 1940 to 1947. He started there at age 10, a year younger than most other boys, and was kept on until he was 17 to help with running the 52-acre farm the house was situated on.
However, the boys did not become farm workers until they were in their later teens.
“We spent a lot of time making tree huts, cooking our own tucker outside, swimming in the river and climbing and sledging down the Magog (the hill at the back). We had our own scout group and played rugby against other schools either at France House or going out to visit them,” Henry says.
“We could run like deer. The kids were very fit. We never wore shoes.”
They went to Eskdale School until standard six and some of the older boys went to Napier Boys’ High School or else they worked on the farm.
Henry was dux of Eskdale School when he left in 1945.
The boys attended Eskdale Church every Sunday.
Henry says the era mainly being celebrated at the reunion will be from 1937 to 1956 when Les and Hazel Shaw were in charge.
“The Shaws were lovely people – with firm but fair discipline.
“I was there during the war and we had a pretty good life. We thought we were hard done by at the time, but when we look back now we were pretty lucky,” Henry says.
At Christmas the Shaws would take the boys to Lake Tutira for an annual camping holiday.
In a strange twist of fate, one of his fellow France House boys ended up as Henry’s brother-in-law. Henry married Norma and Norman Robertson married Norma’s sister Edna.
Photo caption – HOME MADE carts were another source of fun and games.