Docco’s Diary: 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the laying of the Foundation Stone of Memorial Hall

Posted 24 SEP 2021
Old Scholar News

Image: The Memorial Hall foundation stone laying ceremony, 1921

Old scholars may be interested to know that September 25th 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of Memorial Hall. They may also be interested to know something of the history of this magnificent building.

Right Rev. Dr Thomas (Bishop of Adelaide) laying the foundation stone of Memorial Hall on September 25 1921

World War I had started in 1914 and from May 1915 onwards St Peter’s College magazines were listing old scholars that had been killed in the “Great War”. The August 1915 magazine, for example, lists 21 old scholars killed, 24 wounded and three “missing”.

From 1915, bereaved families were approaching the Headmaster and Council with requests to preserve the memory of their fallen sons, brothers and husbands. The Council set up a special subcommittee on war memorials to consider this. By 1918 this subcommittee had narrowed down the choices for a ‘general public memorial’ to either an assembly hall or an extension to the Chapel. Eventually the subcommittee chose a hall.

The Bishop of Adelaide publicly proposed the construction of a ‘memorial hall’ at the 1918 Speech Day.

Work on the hall began early in 1921. When the formal ceremony to lay the foundation stone occurred on Sunday September 25th 1921, the walls were three-feet high with scaffolding indicating the building’s eventual height. The stone came from a quarry at Tea Tree Gully. Each stone was ‘hand-fashioned’.

The Memorial Hall building site, 1921

Progress was slow. At the 1924 Speech Day, Headmaster Bickersteth reminded his audience that nothing worthwhile happened quickly and called for patience. In December 1925, the School Magazine included a cartoon of an elderly man who ‘remembered when the foundation stone was laid’ and reported the rumour that the hall would be finished by 1927 ‘but we have our doubts’. Cartoons from the 1926 School Magazine reflect the thoughts of some boys about this slow progress.

Cartoons drawn by D A G Thomas (DAC 1926) published in the 1926 School Magazine

A boy at the School, EW Gray, wrote in the 1927 magazine:

The time draws on when here before our eyes
A noble monument of stone will rear
Its mighty walls: a rock-hewn edifice
Superb, o’ertopping every building near.
Six years have fled whilst every workman plies
Untiring at his task and labour drear.
It stands, memorial of the brave emprise
Of those who died for us without a fear.
Our homes sent forth these men afar to bleed,
To give their life-blood, fearless, nor in vain;
Our fathers, brothers, cousins knew their need,
they tarried not, but went and died in pain.
How can we hope to recompense their deed
By human means, by hand, or heart, or brain?

Eight years after the laying of the Foundation Stone, the St Peter’s College War Memorial Hall was opened on 22nd September 1929. We are fortunate to have this amazing building that has been used for a large range of activities.

One of the speakers at the ceremony was The Governor Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven. He commented that it was a magnificent Memorial, an imposing and beautiful building. “It was a building which those who had the privilege of receiving their education here in future would be justly proud”. He was right.

David Docwra

David Docwra retired from St Peter’s College in December 2015 after 37 years’ service and will be fondly remembered by many as a dedicated teacher, a committed coach of squash, cricket and soccer, and most especially as a passionate Head of Hawkes House for 21 years.

Original interior of Memorial Hall