The inaugural Lyttelton Borough School picnic in January 1875 to mark the institution’s opening had been a huge event, albeit marred by the tragic murder of a local schoolgirl a few days earlier. The annual picnics were much anticipated occasions – a highlight of the school year and an important date in colonial Lyttelton's social calendar. Over the decades they were held at a wide range of locations including Riccarton, Amberley, Kirwee, Quail Island, Ashburton and Purau, to name a few.
Occasionally postponed due to war or epidemic, the picnic in March 1915, in the early years of WW1, was literally derailed by a railway accident, although the event did go ahead despite the disruption of the incident. A train, fully laden with excited children and their caregivers bound for Amberley from Lyttelton, “came to grief” at Addington Railway Station. Travelling at 20 mph, the bogey of the engine left the tracks at a bend and threatened to topple the entire line of carriages. The bogey is a flat chassis underneath a railway vehicle body, with axles and wheels attached through bearings, to guide direction.
The quick and brave actions of driver Smith and fireman Wood averted a potential disaster. By staying on board and applying the brakes at some risk to their own safety, they managed to stop the train, with just the bogey and baggage van ending up on their side. Thankfully the 13 passenger carriages stayed upright on the tracks. Smith and Wood sustained a few knocks and bruises and although the children were shaken, none were injured; they were transferred to another train and continued on to the picnic at Amberley.
Such was the widespread gratitude for Mr Smith’s and Mr Wood’s actions and that a potentially disastrous tragedy had been averted, on 26th May 1916 a ceremony of appreciation was held in the School playground. Highly regarded local, Dr Upham, spoke of the men’s heroism, as did the headmaster Mr Just. Both men were formally presented with a silver tea service by senior students Eunice Mazey and Alice Russell, inscribed with the following notation:
“PRESENTED TO DRIVER S C T J SMITH (FIREMAN O B C WOOD) BY SCHOLARS DHS & LYTTELTON CITIZENS FOR COURAGE & HUMANITY MARCH 4th, 1916”
The ceremony closed with a round of “For they are jolly good fellows”, followed by enthusiastic cheering and then afternoon tea hosted by the lady (sic) teachers.
Mr Smith’s tea tray is cared for within Te Ūaka The Lyttelton Museum’s collection, currently in temporary storage at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand at Wigram.
School picnics continued to be an important feature of the school year for many decades, right through until the significant celebrations held in 1974 for the School’s centennial.
See also Papers Past.