History of the Schools

General Navereau Schools at Metz, 1955-1967. 

by Gordon MacKinnon

 In 1951 during the Cold War and the Korean War, the Canadian government agreed to station an army brigade and an air division of twelve squadrons in Europe. By the summer of 1953 these Canadian NATO forces were in place. The RCAF had four Wings at bases with Sabre jets and CF 100’s. Air Division headquarters, temporarily located in Paris, was moved in April 1953 to the historic city of Metz to a chateau with spacious grounds. By Metz standards the Château de Mercy was modern having been constructed in the early 1900s on the site of a much older chateau that had been burned to the ground in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. At first the soldiers and airmen were sent for six month postings without dependents. Not surprisingly this policy had a very negative effect on morale! Many wives with children followed their husbands to France and Germany at their own expense, calculating that six months in Europe was likely to be more stimulating and educational then waiting with the kids on a base somewhere in Canada. Temporary ad hoc schools started with mothers with teaching experience as volunteer teachers. The Department of National Defence changed this  policy in 1953. Dependents were sent with the military and a posting of four years was substituted. A system of schools had to be created.

Metz in 1954 was still recovering from the Second World War. The city itself had been spared heavy bombing during the Battle of Metz, September-November 1944, because the strongly defended forts around the city were the target of General Patton’s troops and the large French civilian population in the city precluded saturation bombing for morale and political reasons. Nevertheless the need to rebuild after the war meant that housing was in short supply. The PMQ’s didn’t exist and the first families to arrive had to take what they could find. Tony Humphreys’ father was in the Special Investigation Unit and arrived in October, 1954. They could not find anyplace in Metz and Tony and his mother had to go to England and stay with a relative where young Tony briefly attended a Church of England school. They returned when his father found a flat over a butcher shop in Mondorf-les-Bains, Luxembourg, about 45 kilometres from Metz. Tony was enrolled in a one room school across the border in the French village of Mondorff to which he walked every day. Here he spent what should have been Grade Three in rigorous French immersion since he knew no French and the tyrannical Instituteur resorted frequently to the rod as an instructional aid. By 1955 the family had found a place on the rue des Pépinières in Metz and Tony had graduated to the Canadian school in the Hotel Capri. The Eakins family were also among the earliest arrivals: F/L Eakins was in charge of procuring supplies and equipment for refurbishing the chateau base. They lived in Ancy-sur-Moselle about 20 kilometres from the Chateau and Barb and Jim attended French school in the village run by priests and nuns who had little sympathy for their ignorance of the French language. Jim remembers being taught writing by using squared graph paper. It is standard pedagogy in France to teach pupils cursive handwriting by making them write each letter and figure so they touch all four sides of the square. The teachers also made free use of the rod “pour encourager les étudiants”. In addition the Eakins kids worked on the Ontario Department of Education Correspondence Courses under their mother’s supervision as homework. These courses were designed for home schooling students in remote locations in Ontario far from schools in an era before school buses. When completed, they were sent to Toronto for correction and comment. By 1955 the Eakins family had moved close to the base and was living in the recently established trailer park at Peltre and attending school at the Hotel Capri. Gail Young (now Rooke) attended Grades 10 to 12 on the base from 1955-57. Each day she drove one hour with her father from their home in Mondorf-les-Bains.

It was decided that teachers to staff these new schools would not be hired directly by the Department of National Defence (DND) but would be on loan from school boards across Canada for a period of two years with extensions possible if the teacher applied and the home board and the DND concurred. They would be paid by their home boards, would keep their seniority and pension rights with their Canadian boards and DND would compensate the boards for the teachers’ salaries and would pay travel expenses and living allowances. They were subject to the military Code of Service Discipline and could be court martialed.  Teachers directly employed by DND for its schools on bases in Canada were also eligible under the same contractual conditions. All except principals, who were housed with their families in PMQ’s, were required to be single because only single accommodation was available on the bases. However, when all the teachers in Metz had to live “on the economy” in French accommodation in Metz after 1961 and because of a teacher shortage across Canada, this rule was relaxed and married teachers were frequently appointed. Teachers were given honourary officer status which allowed them to use the Officers’ Mess. Curriculum in the schools followed that of Ontario and students completing Grade 13 would write the Ontario Department of Education final examinations.

 Metz was the most heavily fortified city in Europe and the centre of the most important military region of France. The school was named “General Navereau” after the French Military Governor of Metz and officially opened in October, 1956 by General Navereau and Air Vice Marshal H.B. Godwin, the AOC of 1 Air Division. It had been relocated from the Base to the school near the PMQ’s at the ruined remnants of Fort Bellecroix, built in 1730.  The high school was in one building and the junior school in another. Previously for the school year 1954-1955 temporary accommodation had been found in the Hotel Capri near the Église Ste-Thèrese, the church of contemporary design on the way to the American base at Colin Caserne. The following year, 1955-1956, all grades were in a converted barrack building near the Officers’ Mess on the Base at the Château de Mercy and students were bussed there. In September 1960 increasing numbers of students necessitated the transfer of Grades 9-13 back to the former school on the Base. The high school used only part of the building for classes and a few teachers continued to live in the other section. From September 1961 increasing numbers of students made it necessary to use the entire building for classes; by September 1962 there were about 200 students registered in the high school grades and about 500 in K to 8 in the junior school.  Because of an RCAF rule that all adult males had to wear either military uniform or civilian jacket and tie while on the base except in the PX, recreation centre and Snack Bar and because of the proximity to the Officers’ Mess where visiting dignitaries might expect to see only well dressed young people, it was decided that the high school students would be required to wear school uniforms.

There was only one principal for Kindergarten to Grade 13 until the division into two schools in 1960. M.J. Snider was principal from 1956-58 and Captain K.L. Miller in 58-60. Mr. Snider recorded in the 1957 yearbook “To the graduating class: the largest in our history…”- a total of seven graduates! Jack Harris was principal of the Junior School from 1960 to 1962 and Mike Zaharia was in charge of the Senior School. Subsequent junior school principals were Gordon Barrett (62-64), Walter Kitley (64-65) and Alex Jardine (65-67). In the high school F.J. MacNamara (62-65) succeeded Mike Zaharia and Al Fasan (65-67) was the last GNHS principal.

In the early 1960’s the French authorities decided to build a fourth lycée for Metz to be named Lycée Robert-Schuman at Metz-Queuleu. The Canadian government negotiated and paid for the construction of a separate building to house the Canadian high school on the lycée campus.  Agreements were made to share the physical education facilities, theréfectoire, and to allow Canadians to use the dormitory if desired. These arrangements were never completely carried out. The high school moved to the new Lycée Géneral Navereau High School in the summer of 1965 and the school building on the base became the MIR (Medical Inspection Room). Students did use the réfectoire for their hot lunch but the French cuisine was sometimes strange to Canadian students and on one memorable occasion all the servings of little calves’ brains were returned uneaten to the kitchen. The hot lunch in the réfectoire became optional and most students ate their home made lunches on trestle tables in the school. Students continued to eat at the réfectoire  until 1967, perhaps encouraged by the light beer that was always an optional drink. Physical education classes continued to be held at the Rec. Centre at the Base. Only two Canadians stayed in the dormitory and their stay was not pleasant. The Junior School continued at Fort Bellecroix with the exception that in 1967 the two Grade 8 classes were taught at the high school building because of space requirements. These classes were an integral part of the high school for discipline, attendance, etc. but the delivery of the curriculum continued to be supervised by the Junior School principal.

DeGaulle’s decision to discontinue Canadian and American NATO bases on French territory led to the closing of both schools in 1967. Many of the students and some of the teachers moved to the new base in Lahr, Germany and the General Navereau Junior and Senior Schools ceased to exist. The buildings at Fort Bellecroix are today operated asécoles maternelles et primaires by the French educational authorities. The chateau and buildings on its extensive grounds reverted to the French military and the old school building near the former Canadian Officers’ Mess is still used as barracks today. The high school building in the lycée complex continues to function as a part of the Lycée Robert-Schuman and is called l’annexe Navereau.

 Latest revisions:  15 October 2003

Gordon MacKinnon was a history teacher at the high school from 1962-66 and vice-principal from 1963-66. Additional information regarding the General Navereau schools can be found on the Message Board under Topics “Mondorf-les Bains”, “History of our School” and “School by Correspondence”. Suggestions and new material may be posted there. Material on Mike Zaharia’s role in the schools is at the In Memoriam location. 

25 thoughts on “History of the Schools”

  1. WHAT WONDERFUL MEMORIES THIS BRINGS ME. WE WERE IN THAT FIRST BATCH OF CANADIANS TO LEAVE HALIFAX AND GO TO PARIS….THEN APRIL 1953..TO METZ. WE ALSO LIVED IN MONDORF LES BAINS AND I ACTUALLY REMEMBER THE APARTMENT YOU LIVED IN OVER THE MEAT MARKET.OUR APARTMENT WAS AROUND THE CORNER…FACING THE GARAGE WHERE THE COWS WERE SLAUGHTERED AND NEXT DOOR TO THE HENGESCH ELECTRIC SHOP. AFTER WE MOVED TO METZ,WE TOO HAD A SMALL…VERY SMALL TRAILER FOR THE 3 OF US. THE LITTLE BOYS WENT DOWN UNDER GROUND TO GET PAILS OF WATER THAT THEY SOLD FOR 10 CENTS. IT WAS A BRICK BUILDING…HAD BEEN BOMBED AND ONLY THE BOYS WOULD DARE TO GO INTO IT. I WORKED IN THE PX…MY FIRST JOB……. WE EVENTUALLY LEFT THE TRAILER COURT AND GOT AN APARTMENT ON RUE PAUL DIACRE IN METZ…..AND IN 1955 WE CAME BACK TO CANADA WHEN MY DAD RETIRED. I HAVE RETURNED NUMEROUS TIMES….AND WILL GO AGAIN…PLEASE KEEP IN TOUCH….DIANE

  2. OOOOOPS SORRY…WE RETURNED VIA HALIFAX BUT LEFT FOR FRANCE BY MONTREAL. I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT AWESOME JOURNEY UP THE ST LAWRENCE…AND THE ENTIRE TRIP SO SMOOTH THAT THE WATER IN OUR DRINKING GLASSES DIDNT EVEN MOVE. APPARENTLY,ITS NOT ALWAYS LIKE THAT. RETURNING MARCH 1955…..IT WAS JUST AS SMOOTH… DIANE

  3. Thank you for this wonderful website, and particularly for this beautifully-written history of the schools. I attended from Sept 1955 (starting in Grade 5) to June 1958 (leaving Grade 7). An amazing experience.

  4. At l9 years of age as a Group 3 Leading Air Craftsman (LAC), I was posted to No 1 Air Division HQ., RCAF as one of two staff firefighters. LAC Pritchard, a married man, was the other one. I was previously on staff at RCAF Station Camp Borden, ON., and the RCAF draft overseas met at South Street RCAF Station in Halifax, Nova Scotia in late November, l954. We sailed from Halifax Harbour leaving on December 1, 1954, aboard the SS Neptunia, a former chartered Canadian military troopship, then owned by the Royal Lines of Greece. Nine days later, we docked at Cherbourg, France, spent the day visiting the nearby beaches, had a great meal courtesy of the RCAF and by 6:00 p.m., boarded a train for Paris, France. We overnighted there on a Friday night at Hotel Papillion and the following morning boarded an east-bound French train for No 2 Fighter Base, Grostenquin, France where I was initially posted but re-posted upon arrival there to No 1 Air Division HQ, RCAF, at Metz, France. It was a great posting. I bought an old l948 Pontiac and being able to buy gas tickets cheaply in the PX at Chateau de Mercy, I toured most of the nearby countryside and into Germany roughly 60 miles to the East, on days off. I went on annual leave ini November 1955 to Dublin and Cork, Ireland where our former pariest priest in Portugal Cove, NL., had gone to retire with his immediate family members.

    Great memories and thanks for adding this page!

    Michael J. Laurie
    Retired Barrister and Solicitor,
    48 Main Street,
    Wabana, Bell Island, NL Canada
    A0A 1H0

  5. I attended Lycee General Navereau for 40 days in 1966.
    I remember the Tenoves and the Smiths.
    The bus driver was a former jet pilot!!

  6. I lived in Metz from 1960 to 1964.I was thirteen at the time and remember going to school on the base.We lived on the economy and my Friday nights were spent at the community centre at the PMQs.My friend and I drove many a kilometer on our mobylettes.It was a wonderful time in my life and a ton of memories.

  7. Hi Tony..I,too, was in the 60-64 cohort. Just reading others’ comments and looking at photos brings back a flood of memories and scenes in my head. I think I need to get serious and go to the 2012 reunion.!

  8. Dear Mr. MacKinnon….. I remember you along with many fond memories of Gen Navereau (gold and black)… excursions to the aquaducts and museums that gave me a lifelong interest in research… handy for my eventual job as a tv producer. We lived in Little Canada (actually Little Lower Canada) in Montigny. The buildings still look much the same on Google Earth. Not far from the river that lead to Magny which I skated on when it was cold enough to freeze. Not all halcyon days, but some definite markers for sure. Thanks for being our dedicated teacher.
    Warmest regards,
    Leslie

    1. Hi Leslie – John Giles here, just came across this link, great reading (but then again, Mr Mackinnon was also one of the greatest teachers ever!!!), but better still was seeing your comment, what a flood of fabulous memories. If you see this I would be thrilled to hear from you – john.giles001@gmail.com

    1. Hey Linda you are right because we came back to Canada summer 65 and I had definitely attended the new school!

  9. Lived in the PMQ’s in Metz 1960-1963 and attended GNHS. Many fond memories of school and the city. Where else would you be beating off the wasps while buying a fruit tart at the patisserie!! The baguettes and the waffles at the Foire de Metz. Spent all my weekends at the green shack with about 3 45rpm records. Anyone remember “wolverton Mountain”? love to all that read this.

    1. We were in PMQ’s (9 Block) from 1957 to 1961. I so remember our school! My friends were Karen Lacroix, Barbara Andrew, the Wainwright brothers. I could go on forever!

  10. Gord Thanks for this website.Attended GNS 56-60 and have fond memories. Grade seven was at the base next to the Chateau the other grades at GHS. It was fun walking to school going thru the tunnels of the bunkers at Fort Bellacroix from PMQ.You know we had an education with all the history around us that others back in Canada didn’t. You know it made us who we are today. It was a defining
    time in my life and have pleasant memories like mother ordering chocolate milkshakes for my brother and me at the Moulon Rouge in Paris. Being at Doremey where Joan d’arc was born or standing at Verdun where a million lives where extinguished due to war.
    Some people don’t understand it not to any fault of theirs,but we lived there and experienced it so we carry the memories.Thanks for letting me share this.
    Dave Bailey

  11. I attended the school from December 1954 to June 1957. My father Jean-Paul Brooks was stationed in Metz. We lived in a trailer until the PMQ’s were completed.
    I was 6 going to be 7 when we arrived. Being French speaking, my parents decided to send me to the school instead of a French school in Metz as to not confuse me with measurements. A double challenge – had to learn english. Speaking was easy but reading was another story. As I look back over 50 years later it was a great experience.
    This is a wonderful site where memories can be exchanged.

  12. My Grandfather (W K Burns SD 17604) was part of the RCAF Postal Corps. He was killed by a drunk driver in Rastatt Germany November 28, 1957.

    I’m assuming he would have been posted to the base at the Chateau de Mercy, and would have visited the 4 wings from there.

    My father was very young when his dad passed away, so not a whole lot of I for was given/remembered. I know that the funeral procession started at the chateau, but I’m looking for ANY info (good or bad) regarding my Grandfather.

    Thank You

    Matt Burns
    1790 Aldersbrook Rd
    London, ON N6G 3E4
    matt_burns_82@hotmail.com

  13. I have just spent 2 hours reminiscing the years when I lived in Metz and attended Gen Navereau. I was delighted to find pictures of myself and class mates (10TC) in the photos of 1965. The European experience stuck and I have been living in Geneva, Switzerland for the past 23 yrs and have been retired for 1 year now. Loved the photo of Mike Francis and Rick Crouch (an old flame) in front of Mr MacKinnon’s Mercedes. I would love to get in touch with them both if anyone has any contact details.
    “wattersjoanne@gmail.com”

  14. I lived in Metz from 1963-1967 it was a great education often wondered what happened to a number of the friends I met

  15. I lived in Metz, France from 1959-1963. Came over in an ocean liner and flew back to Canada. I never realized what a fantastic experience this whole thing was until I found myself in highschool in Iroquois Falls, Ontario, talking to kids who had never been out of Iroquois Falls. Oh my goodness. I had LIVED overseas. Kept it to myself to prevent embarrassing anyone but it was then that it really hit me how unique and wonderful that chapter of my life really was.

  16. I lived in Metz, France from 1963 – 1967. My father transfered there from Baden-Baden. While in Metz, I remember celebrating our new Canadian flag, going to the base theater to watch the movie Lawrence of Arabia, Tommy Hunter came to the base and being in the Wolf Cubs. Of course who could not remember the “Snowballs” Alerts in the middle of the night. The regular receiving of the boostergun immunization at school was always an adventure. We left there in Feb 1967 part way in grade 4 and returned back to Canada for a posting at CFB St. Hubert ( Montreal). Just in time for the Expo 67. Before my dad passed away in 1988, I thanked him for the amazing experience and travels in Europe he gave our family.

  17. We lived in the PMQ Entrance 12 in 1958 – 1962 so I was only 11 went we came back to Canada but I have a lot of fantastic memories. I remember the air raids at school and often wondered where we were taken and how far away we were taken. I can remember walking home from school and running up and down what we called the “roller coaster ” hills. Also remember being warned a lot not to pick up anything from the ground in case it was a bomb. I too remember going to the candy store where my first French words were— combien pour un? I remember feeling sorry for the French children because they had school on Saturdays. Somebody mentioned the “green shack”. I was one of the little kids that used to climb up onto the roof so I could watch the big kids go inside to do the Twist by Chubby Checker. I often wondered what happened to my friends Joan Dogneaux, Mary McSweeney and Stephen Bourne. Thanks for posting this site. I just found it by accident.

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