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NEWS > From the Archives > Flashback Friday - The 1940's

Flashback Friday - The 1940's

Air-raid drills, a surprise inspection and the first Loreto Day - learn about life in the 1940's.
1947 - A Trip to the City
1947 - A Trip to the City

Sydney Under Threat

The new decade emerged under the cloud of war. 51 boarders and 8 day pupils were enrolled at Loreto Normanhurst in 1940, joined by the growing community of Loreto Sisters. 

The threat of war lingered along the Australian coastline - attacks would be launched at Darwin, Newcastle and Sydney among other places. Several Loreto schools temporarily moved inland, including Kirribilli, which evacuated to Springwood in the Blue Mountains. Normanhurst bunkered down for the entirety of the war in its 'rural' location. Many records, including the convent diaries, registers and letters, comment on how daily life was impacted. 

"Petrol is commandeered by the government, so very few cars come here; all visitors come by train." (1942)1

NSW reintroduced the daylight saving scheme in 1942 and 1943, as it had done briefly in World War One. The additional daylight meant the state could conserve energy supply and costs. 

Rationing and product shortages were keenly felt; families saved up their coupons to purchase fresh meat and food, clothing and material. Joy Anderson (Foley, 1948) shared with us how LN families helped each other during the war. 

"I often went to a school friend's home in the country and I always took petrol coupons for them, as they had long distances to travel, living so far out of town... When I returned home, I was always given a case of fresh meat from my country friends. It was a case of everyone helping each other in whatever way they could." 

1943 Photo 4. Loreto Sisters outside the School tennis courts. 

Although Normanhurst was considered to be safely away from any threat to Sydney, the Sisters took practical measures to prepare for any danger to the School. This included preparing an air-raid shelter (below the refectory), reinforcing windows, and teaching the girls basic first-aid treatments. 

"Lectures: first aid-practical - making children bind arms etc. Given to Nuns and children at 7:30pm each Saturday." (1942)

"Outside the windows... piles of bags of sand are built up. All the other windows have mosquito net pasted on them to catch the pieces of glass if bombs broke the windows." (1942)1 

We have the recollections of an alumna, Beulah Garry (Millingen, 1947), recalling the night of the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour in 1942: 

"A sleep-in was so precious, and that is how I came to be left upstairs the night the air-raid sirens went off, when the midget subs came into Sydney Harbour. I had a heavy cold... so when everyone else got up and went down to the shelter, I snuggled up in bed. Some time later one of the nuns came 'round with a torch to check everyone and there I was and I was a bit unhappy at being hauled out and taken down..."2

Several of our alumnae worked to support the war-effort, many as part of the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) or AWAS (Australian Women's Army Service). One of our lovely alumnae, Beryl Barton (Slingo, 1936) served as a driver in the WAAF (which you can read more about here). 

Life As Usual

While certainly impacted by the war, life continued on at Normanhurst, and with it many exciting changes. 

Much of the community's delight, the School Annual of the IBVM in Australia magazine (often shortened to IBVM Annual) was published in 1945. It revived an earlier practice of the Eucalyptus Blossoms (which ceased in 1925), reporting on the news of various Loreto schools. Girls took immense pleasure in sending in poetry, anecdotes and photographs of their School to show to others across Australia. 

The Literary Club was another new creative outlet, one which took pleasure in producing plays of all types. 

"Whether triumphant over a basketball victory or down-hearted by a tennis defeat, the offer of an early bed is declined on Saturday night. For we are the members of a music and literary club, which meet on alternate Saturdays. And to miss either club - ah, what a disaster!" - Margaret Carew (1948)3

The tennis teams looked sharp in their cream-coloured blazers, and the 'blues' and 'golds' faced off in regular cricket matches, either down towards the bush or along Mount Pleasant Avenue. 

While junior pupils had attended Normanhurst for decades, a growing number of young pupils required the appointment of the first Head of Junior School. In 1948, Mother Evangeline Kendall took the young ones in her charge, as the School embarked on building a separate space for its junior pupils. 

1942 Photo 5. A few pupils working in the 'Study' (now Reception Room) 

A whole-school inspection caught the Sisters by surprise in 1941. Unnannounced, a Government School Inspector visited to perform an audit on the quality of schooling. Happily, the standards set by the Sisters was nothing to be concerned about! 

"He asked to see the exercise books, examining carefully each book. In the Junior room, he asked to see the writing, telling one mite to let him see her actually writing. He pronounced the whole to be magnificent and far beyond the standard of proficiency." (1941)

There were many happy occasions to celebrate across the 1940's. Holy Week, Corpus Christi, Enfants de Marie ceremonies and Children's Retreats were dotted along the spiritual calendar, and reunions maintained connections with alumnae. In 1947, Loreto Normanhurst celebrated its 50th anniversary with a Jubilee Day. Formal photographs were taken to publish in the IBVM Annual, and the community celebrated with a jubilee cake and concert. And of course, a special picnic was held in the bush!  

"The small school that they [the first Loreto Sisters] knew has grown into an educational centre of a hundred boarders, who co-operate with the nuns, and who value their school as warmly as their elders of the fifty golden years. 

A new half-century opens, and we press forward along the road ahead." (1947)4 

1947 Photo 12. Some of the 'chefs' of the Jubilee Day picnic in the bush.

'Loreto Day' emerged onto the calendar in the 1940's. While its contemporary format sees Year 11 girls lead the School in a social-justice pursuit, Loreto Day in its earliest form coincided with end-of-year activities. A liturgy and concert were held (as they still are today), but also picnics in the bush, a tennis tournament, a play or often the Jubilarian celebrations. It would take some time before the School's 'mission day' or fete would combine with 'Loreto Day' to become the beloved tradition we recognise today. 

Next #FlashbackFriday we'll be moving onto the 1950s - a decade of excitement and major building projects. 

Get in touch with us! We want to feature your favourite stories and memories of your time at LN. Share your story via the Share News button below or by leaving a comment. 

Ms Rachel Vaughan 
Records Manager 


  1. Record of Boarders (1908-1942). Enrolment Registers. Loreto Normanhurst Convent. Normanhurst: NSW. 
  2. Loreto Normanhurst 1897-1997: A Century of Memories. Allen & Unwin, Sydney: NSW. 1997. p.56
  3. School Annual of the IBVM in Australia. Loreto Australia, Ballarat: VIC. 1948. p.13
  4. School Annual of the IBVM in Australia. Loreto Australia, Ballarat: VIC. 1947 - p.51

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