Joan Gratton

Sheltered From The War

Joan Gratton (nee Mackay) class of 1943, shares her memories of Boarding School and the extraordinary measures that were put in place to protect students during the War Years.

Before Pearl Harbor (December 1941), the plan had been to clear schools and send children home if the enemy was on the horizon; however, this policy was eroded by visions of bunched children on roads being targets for machine-guns, of stray children, lost and panic stricken, and of parents, disobeying orders, hurrying out to look for them. The solution was to keep children at school during an attack, to build more trenches and to have routine Air Raid drills.

Joan Mackay was a Boarder at Fairholme from 1939 until 1943. As Joan remembers, “The Japanese were close to invading Australia. The staff decided to have trenches dug near the gates leading to Stanmar - the overflow of girls from the dormitory. I was one of the lucky ones living there.”

Joan describes in detail the Air Raid practices conducted on the College grounds. “Any time the bell rang, we had to get to this trench as quickly as possible. The bell never rang during school hours.”

Joan remembers vividly having to have a raincoat ready to take to the trenches to stop the debris falling on her.

“We also had to have a piece of rubber to stop our teeth from chattering and a book to read, while the Air Raid was on.”

The Air Raid practices in the trenches went on for months, until Australia was again safe from invasion.

“The trenches were eventually filled in. I never got read the book, and we never had an Air Raid.”

Joan is pictured with the Athletics Cup winners of 1939, front right.

Fairholme Archives is interested in obtaining any photographs of the trenches mentioned above. Please contact us at

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