On Saturday, 11th November 2017, St Dunstan’s College marked the official start of their Centenary celebrations, which will continue through to November 2018. The school has a long and proud shared history with the City of Benoni and while the road to this point has been long and often difficult, the journey has definitely been worthwhile.
Appropriately, it was the annual commemoration of Remembrance Day that set the tone for the Centenary year that lies ahead. The school community was privileged to be joined by Veterans from Wits Rifles, the MOTHS, the SA Legion and the SAAF Association. These organizations, along with school representatives, laid wreaths in the memorial garden. This solemn occasion highlighted the selfless service of our founders and gave a reminder of the importance of continued service to others, as reflected in the school’s motto, ‘I Serve’.
St Dunstan’s Memorial Diocesan School, as it was originally known, was founded to commemorate those who had given their lives in the Great War of 1914 – 1918. After surviving the senseless horrors of World War 1, a small group of men returned home to Benoni where they discussed a meaningful way in which they could honour the sacrifice made by their fallen comrades. The Rev Edward Paget, a chaplain to the troops during the war, was joined in this ‘Venture of Faith’, by Captain Loftus, George Hills and others. These men wanted to create a ‘living memorial’, something practical that would have a lasting impact on the children of the area.
With no money in their pockets and armed with only their faith, these men of vision set about realizing their dream of starting an Anglican primary school, where the children would receive ‘church teaching’. The task was never going to be easy, but with their determination to serve their community, the doors of the school were first opened in late 1917 in Hudson’s House in Bunyan Street. The Principal was Mr Lawrence Lake, and he had one assistant teacher and one pupil.
St Dunstan’s was officially opened on the 4th February 1918 and the number of pupils and staff began to increase steadily. Money was raised for the building of a Memorial Hall in the grounds of the church and, it was in this hall that the children were taught while plans were made for the future development of the school’s buildings.
St Dunstan’s was born in harsh economic times and in the years that followed, the fortunes of this fledgling school fluctuated. The miners’ strike in 1922 caused widespread unemployment in Benoni and the school was threatened with closure shortly after it had begun. Only a committed effort on the part of the Governing Body enabled the school to survive. During the twenties and thirties, Headmasters came and went and the number of pupils varied until, at the start of the Second World War in 1939, it seemed that the school would again be threatened with closure.
In the third term of 1940, Mr Ernest John Butler was appointed as Headmaster of St Dunstan’s and served there until his death in 1955. When he came to the school there were 46 pupils registered; in 1955 this number had risen to 250 children and there was a waiting list. The number of classrooms had also increased, as had the teaching staff. His foresight and drive had come to the rescue and without doubt, the school owes its continued existence to him. It is therefore fitting that the new building, presently under construction at the school, bears his name – The E John Butler Centre for the Arts.
In the years that followed, St Dunstan’s established itself as a leader in education on the East Rand. Each Headmaster, Governing Body and PTA member, teacher, parent and pupil, brought their own unique contribution to be written into the pages that told the story of the school.
The 1990s brought a period of intense growth and renewed belief in the future of St Dunstan’s. The long-awaited Pre-School was started in the grounds of the old Presbyterian Church, over the road from the school in Woburn Avenue. The wish for a high school had been in the minds of St Dunstan’s Heads and Governors for at least fifty years and this was finally realized in 1995 when the College was opened in the buildings of the old Hillel School on the corner of Woburn Avenue and Park Street. Both of these events were momentous developments in the life of the school, but the journey had not yet reached an end.
Guided by the insightful and courageous leadership of those in charge, a brand new campus was built in Rynfield and this finally brought all three sections together as one complete school. The site gave ample space, not only for beautiful school buildings and gardens, but also provided room for much-needed sporting facilities.
These Centenary celebrations allow us to reflect on the past, but also give us the privilege of being able to look forward to see what the future will bring. St Dunstan’s College is a school with valued traditions and never fails to remember its humble roots that grew from the tragedy of World War I. We are grateful for the service and sacrifice of those who came before us and proud of the school that lives on in their memory. After one hundred years, the roots are strong and the future is bright.