Retired teacher, 82, travels from New Zealand to Edinburgh to track down former Royal High Primary pupils

Elva Gouk
Elva Gouk
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After jetting into the Capital from the other side of the world, retired teacher Elva Gouk was determined to track down her former pupils from 36 years ago.

Disaster struck a day into her holiday, however, as she lay face down on George Street in agony with two cracked ribs and a smashed kneecap after tripping over a paving stone.

One of the classes.

One of the classes.

READ MORE: Former Royal High pupils reunite to mark fifty-year milestone
But the 82-year-old from New Zealand is made of stern stuff and within hours she ordered doctors to remove her leg cast so she could resume her quest.

“I drove them mad,” she laughs. “I asked them if they wanted me to walk out of the hospital or to dance out of there.”

Such single-minded stoicism should come as no surprise - given Elva’s ancestry and her own history of overcoming adversity.

Her grandma was the first white woman to arrive in the mauri town of Taupiri in 1842.

More pupils.

More pupils.

Her aunt, Edith Orr was matron at New Zealand’s biggest hospital and set up the nation’s first retirement home - all after treating casualties in the First World War.

Continuing the family tradition of endurance, Elva brought up three children single-handedly - now all leaders in their respective fields.

She astounded medics by curing herself of arthritis at the age of 41 by chewing on golden raisins dunked in gin.

And after needing surgery to repair horrific nerve damage in her back after a tree she cut down fell on her, she discharged herself from hospital after four days. She was 75 at the time.

Some of the boys.

Some of the boys.

“I believe it’s a case of mind over matter,” she says, with a glint in her eye as she points to a six-inch scar on her back.

'They were such happy times'

So she was never going to let the small matter of broken bones stop her trying to find pupils she taught at the Royal High Primary School on a placement in 1983.

“They were such happy times,” she smiles. “I couldn’t believe it when I arrived. It was Christmas and I went to the school and the welcome was amazing.”

Elva with Iain Pettigrew, concierge at the Motel One hotel on Princes Street, after helping her during her stay.

Elva with Iain Pettigrew, concierge at the Motel One hotel on Princes Street, after helping her during her stay.

School days were spent arranging fun adventures and activities with the children, while days off featured lunches with the Lord High Commissioner and the Victorian Society.

She even met the Queen and Queen Mother at a Garden Party in June. “She was still wearing her hair net,” Elva recalls of the Queen Mother.

“She was lovely and we were just talking about what it was like being a New Zealander living over here.”

Another highlight came when the All Blacks played at Murrayfield and students dressed her all in black to watch Scotland take her team all the way in a now legendary 25-25 draw.

And although Elva heads back to her homeland early today, her resolve to be reunited with former pupils remains, who she urged to get in touch.

“She’s an inspiration,” says Iain Pettigrew, 60, concierge at the Motel One hotel on Princes Street, after helping her during her stay.

“She reminds me of my mum - that generation that just gets on with it.”