East Adelaide SchoolEast Adelaide School

History of East Adelaide School | 1937 - 1951

Head Teachers

  • Thomas Sard (1937-1941)
  • Rupert Edwards (1942-1945)
  • Clarence Butterworth (1946-1949)
  • Charles McKinnon (1950)
  • Roy Devonshire (1951)

Infant Mistresses

  • Mary Fitzgerald (1937)
  • Florence Graham (1938 - 1945)
  • Olive McPherson (1946-1949)
  • Mabel Somerville (1950-1951)


After the spectacular events of the previous years, school life settled down to the usual busy routine as the outside world moved inexorably towards the outbreak of World War 11 in 1939. Education authorities had at last accepted that radio broadcasts could add significantly to the school curriculum and, in 1938, the infant school was wired for reception through a four-valve wireless set with two speakers which was purchased for 13. Among the first broadcasts taken in the school were the "Music through Movement" sessions presented by Miss Heather Gell. By the end of that year, money had been set aside to provide similar facilities in the primary school as well as a communication system linking all fourteen rooms to the head teacher's office.

Girls from East Adelaide School rehearsing at Adelaide Oval on the 5/9/46 for the visit of the Govenor General, the Duke of Gloucester


World War II, which very quickly established the deadly potential of the aeroplane, required schools to be prepared to safeguard their children in the event of an air attack. In March 1940, 130 parents dug trenches in the yard and protected the windows with strips of adhesive paper crisscrossed over the panes. Pictures were removed from the walls and packed away.

Once again, children at school became part of the Fighting Forces Comforts Fund organization and vied with each other to add as many bars as possible to the badge issued by the Schools' Patriotic Fund. As the children strove to win their badges and bars, schools became depots for waste materials.

"In school yards, corridors, sheds and out-houses mountains of waste paper, rags, bones, binder twine and scrap metal began to accumulate as the children laboured for the war effort through the S.P.F.Y. By late 1942 they had raised 200,000 and twelve months later it was 300,000 a stupendous drive that cascaded waste products from handcarts and billy carts, prams and baskets, buck-boards and trailers which all but inundated the teachers who were aiding and abetting, receiving, recording and dispatching. When an urgent appeal went out for scrap rubber and old motor tyres because the Japanese had cut off Australia?s sources of raw rubber, the children sent such an avalanche pouring in that the collecting depots were jammed and hasty requests had to be made for a temporary halt to the flow."

- (Colin Thiele, "Grains of' Mustard Seed")

The school building was used for the issue of ration books for food, clothing and petrol, which were distributed in 1940, and, in 1943, Grades 3-6 were taken by special trams to see captured Japanese submarines. Apart from references to all of these activities, the school journal keeps its focus firmly on the efforts of the staff to make school life as normal as possible despite the shortages and personal tragedies brought by war.

There must have been many stories of the heroism of East Adelaide old scholars during the war, but that of Captain Lionel Matthews was singled out to be published in "The Children's Hour" in 1948.

"This is a story of supreme courage and unswerving devotion to duty. It is the story of a soldier who was a prisoner of war with the Japanese during the last war. He was determined fight for his country even though a prisoner. He knew only too well the price of his resistance, yet he was resolved to resist, and did resist, unto death.

His way not one impulsive act. It was a series of acts deliberately planned. The certain penalty of' discovery was execution following torture. For the sake of Australia and the security of 'you and me he accepted that risk.

He was betrayed. He was tortured. He was put to death by the Japanese.

He was betrayed. He was tortured. He was put to death by the Japanese.

Lionel Matthews was born on the 15th August, 1912, at Stepney. He was educated at the public school s of East Adelaide and Magill, and the Norwood High School. His main hobby was Scouting. As a Sea scout he played a distinguished part in a sea tragedy at Henley in 1930. Subsequently he was a Scoutmaster and in Victoria did social work for the Scout rescue movement at Pentridge Gaol.

As Captain L. Matthews, he served with the 8th Australian Division in Malaya. I saw him at Gemas, after three days of strenuous work establishing communication in the thick of battle. He was thrilled at the thought that he was doing his job well. Later, on Singapore Island, he received the Military Cross for gallantry in action.

Then Singapore fell, and the dark and depressing curtain of' captivity cut us off from Australia. But Japanese restraint did not deter nor depress Lionel Matthews. He had made up his mind that, come what may, he would do his best for Australia. Such was his cheerful assurance to me as he left Changi Gaol in July, 1942, for an unknown destination. We now know that it was Sandakan in British North Borneo; a locality associated with one of the worst tragedies (a death rnarch) and one of the most gallant deeds of the war.

Shortly afterwards I was moved to Formosa and to us, late in 1943, came Governor Smith of the British North Borneo Company. He told us of an Australian, one Captain Matthews, who had supplied them through miles of jungles and across a stretch of' water with continuous news of' the outside world. This entailed not only the risky business of operating a listening set, but the organisation of a chain of native carriers through the Japanese controlled areas. These natives had been the North Borneo Constabulary until taken into captivity; but they remained loyal. Governor Smith made Matthews the Chief' of Police. To these natives he became Tuan Matthews.

We heard no more until we were more in contact with the civilised world. Then we heard that Matthews was dead, that his work had been betrayed to his captors, and that he had paid the supreme penalty.

Sandakan is a port in British North Borneo, now Sabah. It is surrounded by jungle which concealed malaria and other tropical diseases fatal to the white man. Its inhabitants consisted of Chinese, Malays, Sikhs, and Dusuns, any of' which would be capable of' the highest loyalty or the deepest treachery. The whole area was guarded and patrolled by Japanese soldiers. It took a very stout heart even to think of resistance in such conditions.

Matthews was Intelligence Officer of the prisoners. As such he did the most extraordinary things. He established contact with Europeans outside the gaol and had medical supplies smuggled in. He procured parts for a wireless receiver and established a listening post. This news he distributed throughout the camp and as far afield as Berhale Island. He made contact with Philippine guerillas and arranged escape parties and through them he had arms and ammunition secreted near the camp. He carefully laid plans for an insurrection when help from the outside world became available. These were extraordinary things for two reasons. Firstly, they could only be done with the greatest secrecy and at the gravest risk to himself. Secondly, and this is the most marvellous point of the story, he could have escaped himself but elected to stay and continue his dangerous task.

His end was brought about by the treachery of a coloured foreman. This man betrayed to the Japanese his coloured companions who were working for Matthews. Under torture Matthews work was revealed by the foreman to the Japanese. The terrible sequel was then inevitable.

We all revere brave men. The contemplation of their actions is a spur to us. We derive from them an inspiration to serve our country as nobly as we are able.

Australia has been blessed with many brave and noble men. Among the greatest of these is Captain Lionel Matthews. He was awarded posthumously the George Cross for his bravery.

The glory that is his shines through the melancholy tragedy of' Sandakan. If we can sense that glory and its inspiration, his work will not have been in vain."

Contributed by Colonel J.H.T THYER, C.B.E, D.S.0.