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Pupil remembers hiding in air raid trench for Sacred Heart Primary School’s 125th birthday

Marie Downes

Vivid memories: Marie Downes, pictured here in fancy dress, remembers practicing for air strikes during her primary school years, which coincided with the Second World War. Photo: Supplied.

PARENTS often call the school car park a war zone, but Sandgate parishioner Marie Downes remembers a time when it was literally life or death in the playground.

The 88-year-old was nine when she climbed into an air raid trench located at the back of her former primary school, Sacred Heart Primary School, Sandgate, to hide from a potential invasion during the Second World War.

Her school, which opened 125 years ago in 1893 by the Sisters of Mercy, was among scores of institutions caught up in the outbreak of the war in the Pacific.

Many schools closed down for six months, but students in Grade 6, which included Ms Downes, were allowed to attend morning classes with caution.

“When things were looking very bad the Grade 6 class, which I was in at the time, we went up to the school for each morning for half a day, not in uniform, just in everyday clothes,” Ms Downes said.

“We didn’t go up to the school but had class at the convent building where the nuns were.”

In the event of an air strike, Mondays became “practice day” – the students would listen out for the air raid siren, and they would “troop on down to the trench at the back of the school”.

“We had one proper alert but we got the all-clear for it,” Ms Downes said.

“I can remember the children, we were all in the trench, but the nuns were walking up and down saying the Rosary for everybody to see.

“It might have been at the time where a hospital ship was bombed outside off the coast.”

Sacred Heart Primary School class photo

War times: Marie Downes’ class photo from her time at Sacred Heart Primary School, Sandgate. Photo: Supplied.

The war took a toll on thousands of soldiers, including one of Ms Downes’ brothers, who were also Sacred Heart students.

Her two other older brothers signed up to serve in the Australian armed forces but returned home safely.

It’s a time Ms Downes will never forget, and last weekend the Sandgate native paid homage to her former primary school by playing the organ for its 125th birthday Mass, celebrated by Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge.

Even Ms Downes’ musical prowess has a connection with the historic school.

“I learnt the music from one of the sisters at Sacred Heart,” she remembered.

Principal Julian Cotter said current and former students, staff, parents and friends, and the wider community were invited to join in the celebrations that included an appearance by former The Voice finalist Taila Gouge.

“Taila is very much looking forward to helping celebrate this very special day with us,” Mr Cotter said ahead of the Mass on June 10.

Mr Cotter said the 125th anniversary celebrations including an event on June 9 acknowledged “those who have contributed to the spiritual, academic and culture of Sacred Heart and to continue these traditions”.

“It focuses on the many changes throughout the years, how schooling has changed from 1893 to 2018 and students and families from the past to the present can share their stories,” he said.

“It’s also an opportunity for our current students to see how school life was for their parents, grandparents and their great-great-grandparents.”  

Mr Cotter said the current cohort of students were very excited to be involved in the huge birthday celebrations.

“They are very excited to be part of a celebration that shows off their amazing school.”

Students celebrating Sacred Heart's 125th birthday

Celebrations: Students Amelia Hennessy, Madeline Rowley and Archie Youngman took part in a massive weekend of celebrations at Sacred Heart School, Sandgate.

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