Ron Verity Flying Officer NZ413518 RNZAF
Ron Verity's Memoirs
England and Australia.
There are days when one's thoughts flow freely; there are even times during the day when it is easier to get details down on paper than at other times. Today I am betwixt and between. I'm sure that the intensity of one's feelings has much to do with this ability, and we have been through some traumatic events in the past years.
Letting my thoughts run back over the years, I am thinking of my childhood; of the days which were spent in Scarborough, Yorkshire, where with an elder brother and sister my days began. They are always recalled as idyllic times. Naturally, only the best are remembered. As a family we used to go wandering through the woods at Springtime where bluebells still catch the eye. I remember biting into the seed pods of nasturtiums and not liking the bitter taste; of wandering around the shores of Peasholme Lake to watch the ducks; but most of all, I remember building sand castles on the beach with Dad and Mother reclining nearby, and frequently being drawn in to take sides in our little competitions. I still have most unpleasant memories of being given my first ride on a donkey. It was awful, especially when the animal was encouraged to trot. I know I had fears that my whole body was ready to break up into a million little bits through the shaking of the ride. And then on Sundays, we were all rigged out in our very best of gear to visit Grandma who lived about a quarter of a mile away. Somehow with her, (she was always in an invalid's wheel chair), I was a special favourite.
But as so often happens the smooth path was soon to become a rocky road. One night there was a zeppelin flying overhead and we were roused from our beds to take refuge beneath the kitchen table with a rug around us. One day at school we were asked to cut out silhouettes of destroyers. I could not have been interested as I feigned tiredness, folded my arms on the desk, put down my head and pretended to be asleep. It worked! Thereafter, whenever I was bored I repeated the drill and frequently had a nap. Mind you, if we were called upon to practise our safety drill, I was ready to join the "crocodile" which wound its way into the underground lavatories beneath the road! Our first bomb shelter. I think that this drill was first instigated after the town had undergone an attack of shell fire from destroyers off the Bay. During the War, Dad served in the Durham Light Infantry, and then, because of medical re-grading, in the Military Foot Police.
Two of Dad's brothers - there were nine boys and four girls in the family - had earlier migrated to N.Z., and during the war visited us in Scarborough, and no doubt put pressure on Dad to join them in the Colony . Preparations were pushed ahead, but before we were ready to leave tragedy struck. Watson, my elder brother contracted diphtheria and four days later, died with cardiac paralysis, on the 2nd of Feb, 1920, aged 10. I recall that our departure from the Scarborough railway station about a month later was a very sad, sorrowful and heart-rending affair. Mother, in particular, was most affected since she was leaving behind all her relatives with small hope of ever seeing them again. Our destination was London where we were to stay with Dad's married sister and family pending the sailing of the R.M.S. Ormonde, of 14,853 tons, for Australia. In London we stayed a night or two with the Waterlows who lived on the South side of the Thames and had a Governess's trap which was a new experience for us. The Embarcation papers show that a special train was to take the Third Class passengers from Pancreas Station to Tilbury Docks on March 20th. Although we have a calendar which indicates that the Ormonde was to berth in Melbourne on the 27th April I know that did not happen, as we fouled a propeller passing through the Suez, and spent a couple of days in dry dock in Colombo. It was there that I first saw coolies re-fuelling the ship by carrying coal aboard in baskets balanced on their heads.
To New Zealand
We were all housed in a four berth cabin . Life aboard ship had its moments for children, but they were not noted for space. We, being third class passengers were severely restricted, although I believe we were allowed at certain times to wander on the upper decks. Travelling through the tropics was delightful, as we were able to throw off most of our clothes and enjoy the sun. The timetable indicated that we were to leave Colombo on the 12th April, but amongst our papers I have found a receipt for three pounds which Father paid for a couple of cane chairs dated 16th April, and they were purchased in Colombo. They gave us very good service too, being strongly made and most comfortable. One was upright with arm rests (for a lady) and the other was what today we would call a "lounger" presumably for the man. For my part, Colombo had cheap and plentiful supplies of fruit, which stirred my stomach to such good effect that whilst I was still two hundred yards from the gangway, and the lavatory, the inevitable happened. Some time later my parents came aboard to find me cleaning up the mess! Our enforced stay in Colombo must have made us late in reaching Melbourne, where we should have arrived on the 27th April. Here we stayed with Dad's eldest brother and family for about four weeks. My recollections of our stay centre mainly on a house crowded with children and a fabulous pear tree at the bottom of the garden, from which we devoured luscious fresh green pears. Up to this stage I doubt that I had seen a real fruit tree. I think my uncle had originally been associated with the freezing works at Footscray, but later, as the boys grew, he branched out as a butcher, finally owning three retail shops in the area.
I know that we were in Melbourne in 1920 because there is a birth certificate for Herbert confirming the fact; but that doesn't give any indication of all the handicaps with which he came into this world. Suffice it to say that caring for him called for many sacrifices on the part of parents and siblings. Before Mother died in 1926, he had learnt to walk (arms and legs would be working overtime), and to feed himself, though somewhat untidily; and to make some of his needs known by one word explosions. But he was a treasure. His emotions were right. He always knew when anyone was in trouble or upset, and did his best to show that he cared. Unfortunately the years of sacrifice on Mother's part, together with the birth of a baby sister in March of that year proved too much.
But I move too quickly through the years. After our trip in the Ormonde, crossing from Melbourne to Bluff in SS Paloona, of around 5000 tons, convinced all of us that travel by sea in such a tiny vessel was a once only experience. We were all violently sea-sick and for the five day trip hardly appeared at the dining tables. My parents were somewhat amused at the small railway rolling stock and miniature railway stations along the route from Bluff to Clifton where we descended to be met once again by one of Dad's brothers with a gig, spring cart and dray! Following cart tracks sometimes gravelled and sometimes just dirt, with post and wire fences on either side, we wound our way through to Waimatua, where Uncle had his bush section and rehabilitation farm. Again two families were fitted into one house, and again I marvel at how we managed. At Waimatua I began my schooling in N.Z. I do not think we stayed very long in Uncle's house, since some of my memories of this time are associated with a two-roomed cottage on a near-by farm where Dad went to work. It was Winter time and we had further to walk to school, but walk we did, across farmer's fields, through stock paddocks and past a piggery. Considering that I did not have any love of animals (remember the donkey ride!), I did have Mary, my older sister to keep me company. Even as I type, I am wondering what happened to the horse which we rode to school on some days, and which I always thought had only three legs, the ride was so bumpy! As if the pigs were not smelly enough, we also had to go past a field where "night soil" from the South Invercargill Borough was being tipped at the time. Well we were learning, and in some ways we rather enjoyed the new life; but I'm sure it was no picnic for our parents. One night it rained heavily and in the morning there were buckets and basins scattered over the floor of the kitchen/living/dining room half full with water and at some stage Mother was reduced to tears. Rabbits, too, were a major problem. I recall my Father clapping his hands to see the hillside move! I know that he would have shot the lot or tried to, but that was not in his duties. He had been engaged as a plowman and to the owner the rabbits were a source of revenue. In later years it was possible to see racks of gutted rabbits hanging at the roadside waiting for the lorry to collect them to go to the canning factory. But as I say, Dad's job was to groom and feed the horses and get them hitched to the plow. One beastly Saturday morning, wild, windy and wet, Dad was in the stable waiting for the storm to pass when the boss man came and wanted to know why the team was not working. I think Dad told him in plain language that he had no intention of working in such conditions. "Not for you, nor King George".
In Nov 1920, Dad opened an account with the Invercargill Savings Bank, but in January 1921, he had withdrawn something like three hundred pounds which was all he had, and which I presume was part payment for a house and 18 acres on Boundary Road, Tisbury, which was to be his home until he died. Looking back, I think he made a good purchase since the home was in good repair and gave him scope to indulge his interests. I know that he had to borrow money for the deal, because at times I was asked to pay the half-yearly interest bill as he became less active.
Mother, who was a marvellous house keeper, was delighted to have a home of her own, and many a time she would be heard singing as she did the baking or washing. Now that we were settled,schooling began in earnest. For the next four years I was to attend a three-teacher country school. As ever, school was enjoyable so long as success was registered: but if arithmetic, reading, spelling, grammar, composition, history and geography filled our days, we knew that we lived on and off the land. Priority was given to clearing more land - a vegetable garden was not sufficient for our needs. Dad had visions of pasture in place of bush. The meadow lands of England would soon become the fields of Boundary Road. So it was that land clearing activities began. Whilst we had been living with Uncle at Waimatua we had seen him working with axe and spade, a horse and snigging chains. The horse was so well drilled at his task, that he worked without reins. Once hitched to the root or stump, Tiger, given the word, would rush in every possible direction till the stump yielded of the chain broke! Dad had a different approach, though where and how and when he learned the use of explosives I have no idea, but I still recall the day when he decided that an old rimu stump not ten yards from the front door had to go. He boarded over the front windows of the house, prepared the charge - two plugs of gelignite, detonator cap and two feet of fuse (he was always sparing of this) - drilled the hole and placed the explosive. Get to a place of safety. We were young, our legs were short and moving over the rough ground was never easy, but we scampered and watched while Dad lit the fuse, and counted for the "boom". On this occasion nowindows were damaged but debris was scattered all over the front lawn.
ON THE LAND
If our life-style in the twenties presented many problems, there was much fun and excitement too. Much of the work entailed caring for the animals, young and old. In season there always seemed to be calves and chickens and pups to be fed and handled. Dad was always good with animals, and good to them. He insisted that they be well fed and housed. Horses had to be groomed before and rubbed down after use, and in the colder weather must be rugged when turned out. We always had a collection of farrier's tools in the shed, because shoes were apt to come loose and blacksmiths were not at hand. A young animal would call for hours of patient training. He would talk to the creature, pat it, and gradually get it accustomed to the harness by slow degrees. At times recalcitrant animals had to be corrected, and I well remember one incident when our harness horse at the time decided to "jib" - he refused to move forward when given the command "gee-up". It happened when we were returning from a picnic at Ocean Beach. It was our first and only picnic to that place. The outward journey of twelve miles must have taken some two hours, and after a similar time on the beach we commenced the return trip. About three miles along the main road Darkie refused to budge. As coaxing did not work, and as Dad was too proud to believe that a horse of his could let him down on the public highway, he descended with the whip and holding on to the shaft with his left hand, he belaboured the animal with his right until Darkie decided that enough was enough, and forward motion was less painful. We were off. I know that Dad ran alongside the gig for some two hundred yards, and I know that Darkie never offended again.
In the course of many hours spent droving we had some wayward animals to deal with. One young bull resisted all efforts by man and dog to get him away from the property where he had been born, and finally we had to shoot him. Another animal (this time on our own place) defied all efforts to get him into the "crush". Finally I rode him down on horseback and turned him with a three proged pitch fork which I used as a lance when he charged us. The centre tine of the fork pierced his head, and was dragged from my grasp. After a period of swaying abou t the fork fell free and we were able to get him in the pen, a chastened beast. Such a victory lent support to Dad's philosophy that some animals had to be taught who was boss. I never acquired his love of animals. He had been known to spend half the night bathing a wound or tending a sick animal. Luckily I found plants much more interesting.
In the early days on the land, there was a policy of clearing the bush, which accelerated when we were told that the solution to the country's economic ills was to grow two blades of grass where one had grown before. Holidays, (I do not remember either Dad or Mum ever having the luxury) were spent blasting stumps, hauling out the roots with horse and chains, piling the rubbish in heaps, and then, when the weather was right, setting fire to the pile on some quiet evening. If it was a frosty evening so much the better as one could keep warm and even enjoy a couple of hours tending the blaze. Then we had to keep the range supplied with firewood. Even when I was still at primary school, I was expected to help with the cross-cut saw. I'm sure that all the cutting was done when Dad made his stroke. Just sliding the saw back was as much as I could manage. But even at ten years I was given a small axe so that I could help. Our black Orion Shacklock range consumed cords of manuka, totara and broadleaf, all of which had to be felled, and trimmed and carted home by sledge to the wood pile in the shelter of the macrocarpa hedge. Sometimes I had the unenviable task of leading the plunging horse along the narrow hillside with a post and wire fence marking the way. I was always terrified that after a pause for the animal to get its breath it would step on my gumboots, and leave me stuck in the mud, but my experience tells me that horses do not wittingly stomp on one. Carting wood, sawing and chopping, splitting wood with maul and wedges, stacking wood and carrying armfuls of wood to the house were endless tasks.
There was always work to be done on the land. Even the weather could not be used as an excuse for staying indoors; since we always had animals which required attention. There were many occasions when a cold south-westerly was whipping around the place. I would much rather have stayed indoors, but the twice daily milking at all seasons demanded otherwise. Milking was followed by separating, the cream going into a small milk can and the skim milk finding its way to the calves or pigs. Butter making was done in the scullery using a small wooden churn which I usually operated. Turning the handle for the first minute was easy, but as the cream "gelled" it became more strenuous. Generally that was for a short period only and relief was apparent when the "slap, slap" of the paddles indicated that the job was done. Lifting the butter from the churn and splashing it on the bench to remove the whey, adding the salt and moulding the pats was a job for Mother or sisters. When there was surplus butter great pride was taken to see that each pound was accurately weighed and neatly wrapped in the printed greased paper for sale. Looking back one realises that living on a small "farm" with different domestic animals kept for their utility value called for a mixing of skills, and co-operation, if harmony was to reign.
We lived in a good rainfall area, so much so that by exercising care during the dry periods we were able to have a continuous supply of rainwater collected in a four hundred gallon tank from the roof of the house. Mind you, we did not have a bathroom with running water, but water was piped into the scullery, to the sink and to the concrete tubs for the laundry. There can be no doubt but that life was primitive; when we look at the residences of today.
As mentioned we had a liberal rainfall so that we were able to get good grass growth, especially during the summer. Always there would be one paddock - and usually the same one - which would be set aside for hay for winter feed. Although the area was small everything had to be done by hand, or so it seemed. However, although we were known to use the scythe to break open the paddock, the actual mowing was done by a neighbour using a single horse mower cutting a three foot swathe. The small machine, being very manoeuvrable, made an excellent job. In the early years, if rain fell on the mown grass, we had to turn the grass using wooden hand rakes. One soon became skilled at keeping the arms, legs and rake co-ordinated, as one moved steadily along the row turning a swathe. If the weather turned nasty we would find it necessary to turn the swathe back again to its original position, before it could be dried and stored. The hay would be pushed into heaps, something like an inverted ice-cream cone but the size being six feet in diameter and all left in an irregular pattern round the paddock. Later we would go back to the field with a horse and sledge and cart the "cocks" to a central point, where we would build a stack. This was hard work, the labour being more strenuous as the stack grew since it was all lifted from the ground on a large handled fork of two, or sometimes, three prongs. The height of our stacks was severely limited as the maximum lift by a person of my stature would be about six feet, but a full grown man would be able to toss his fork load some ten feet, all tough going. Haymaking, however, was mostly associated with good weather, and barley water was always there to quench one's thirst. Our hay-making techniques changed when Dad built himself a Dutch barn, from timber dug from the swamp, and constructed with a wooden hay sweep, which enabled us to sweep the hay right beside the barn. Forking there became a two-stage lift and I used to be employed crawling around compressing the hay up close to the roof, where it could be extremely hot. The general instruction when building hay stacks seemed to be: get the corners or the circumference right, then fill in the centre - and I still follow this plan.
Excitement was always high when a pig had to be killed. Every year the same procedure would be followed. The galvanised bath which was used for our weekly scrub would be taken from its place under the water storage tank to a spot near the temporary gallows. In the wash-house, the copper, where our dirty clothes had a weekly boil, would be filled and the fire lit. By the time the water boiled, pot lids (used as scrapers), steel knives, an axe and some cloths would be assembled on the box beside the bath. "Porky" would be released from the sty, and not having had any food for some eight hours, would meekly follow a rattling bucket to the place of execution. Once the pig was standing quietly with lowered head in the right place, the blunt head of an axe would descend with deadly purpose. As the pig lay stunned a knife would be drawn across its throat. After a couple of minutes to permit bleeding, everyone assisted with the lifting into the bath, and carrying the hot water to the tub in buckets. Now the real work began. Armed with a knife or pot lid we all took turns is scraping away the bristles. The work proceeded with much noise and many commands as the carcass then had to be hoisted on the gallows and butchered. A day or two later, depending on circumstances and weather, the carcass would be lowered and cut up into six main pieces; two sides, two forequarters, two hams as well as the head and trotters. Pork strips from the head would sometimes be fried, or used in a soup. The trotters were considered a bit of a delicacy, and I've often wondered why. But the main interest was always centred on the hams, which carefully prepared by Dad were put in the concrete tubs in the wash-house where the veins would be removed and the cavity treated with salt-petre; the rest of the meat being rubbed with salt and finally a wooden lid was fitted over all. A fortnight later the hams would be taken out of the brine and hung from the ceiling as a valuable source of winter food. We were well supplied with meat when Dad was employed at the Ocean Beach Freezing Works, as it was so cheap. Lamb sometimes sold for as little as sixpence a pound. We enjoyed hearts, tongues, livers and sweetbreads as well as mutton and lamb. Trading in by-products was minimal in the twenties, and most of the bits and pieces were treated as offal.
Primary School Days at Tisbury
One of the greatest happenings in our small community during the early twenties, must have been the installation of power poles along Boundary Road. Up to this time we relied upon matches, candles and kerosene lamps to provide our lighting. Doing school homework crouched at the kitchen table with a flickering lamp thereon was no joke. Happily I do not remember us having to do much written homework in those days, but we had daily drill on tables and spelling. As the contractors moved along the road digging holes and erecting poles, we took a great deal of interest in what went on, but I do not recollect the school ever helping us prepare for the changes. It would have been nothing short of a miracle if the school had had electricity installed. As it was the poles, the crossarms and the insulators poked their way up into the sky and attracted our wandering eyes so much so that we began running contests to see who could knock down the cups with accurately thrown stones. These contests usually took place as we were going home, and I rather prided myself on being amongst the front runners. Being an honest chap, I was one of those who were visited by the local constable with a summons, a visit to the court, and a "fine" to follow! It proved a very shameful experience. Even the small amount of 2/6d proved beyond my resources and my parents had to come to my aid.
This was not the only time I was in trouble over money. One Summer there came a new chap to school to live with his bachelor uncle. Any new-comer became a source of great interest and presented us with more about the world outside. I myself had been an object of interest when I first enrolled, and remember how the locals would chase me around at play-time to hear my strange talk and unusual expressions. "You'll find him over yonder" - instead of " over there" - was one I well recall. It was the same with Ben. He apparently had a generous uncle who supplied him with large amounts of cash - as much as one pound - which he shared with us as we went to the shop to buy just anything! I have recollections of buying a hank of rope and a tin of syrup. It transpired that Ben had been helping himself to ready cash which his uncle kept in a jar on the mantel-piece. His stay in the district was short-lived, but we had to repay some of the money he stole, and my parents impressed upon me the folly of accepting money without work.
How many children have been told to go to hell? I can recall one occasion when we had annoyed some of the senior students who not only told us to go to hell but how to get there! On the next day, taking our lunches three of us took a long walk as shown on the plan to find "hell" - and find it we did. We dawdled up a side road, crossed stumpy ground, negotiated several wire fences, dodged unfriendly animals and finally came to a water-hole, ten yards across, covered with slime. That was "hell" and we reported our find back to the school when we were late returning.
On another occasion a senior boy died and was buried at the cemetery three miles away. We were be-devilled with interest and three of us decided that we must go and see the grave. At the time there was a system in vogue whereby spelling tests were taken before the lunch break and those getting their work correct were allowed to go out ten minutes early. Although one of the trio was hopeless at spelling, we made sure by certain underhand methods that on this day he did exceptionally well. We raced away with our lunch bags swinging till we reached the large stump outside the Cheese Factory where we ate and hid our bags. It was then trit-trot, walk, and run again for the three miles. The outward journey was not too bad, nor was the walk around the cemetery, but the homeward trip (we didn't have any watch) took much longer than expected, and we were late by some twenty minutes it transpired. Although we were kept in during the afternoon recess we were not punished, and I imagine, in retrospect, the Head Teacher having a hearty laugh about our escapade with the Assistants over afternoon tea.
Schools of the day were not noted for their beauty, their comfort or their architecture. Constucted in wood and with a corrugated iron roof the three rooms at Tisbury were no exception. Apparently the architects of the time made a point of designing the buildings so that the front always faced the road, even if that meant the South! Our school faced the East, but with a little imagination it could have had a north-westerly aspect. Initially, the main room had a three-tiered floor, filled with benches capable of seating three, four, five and even six children, depending upon stature, and creating many problems with respect to individual needs. Usually if the person in the middle had to stand up, the others would have to adjust; although a sideways swing of the legs of the individual concerned assisted egress, and the larger boys were encouraged to sit at the end. Shifting forms and scraping hob-nailed boots occasioned much noise and may have been the origin of the "Noisy" classes. There were no lockers and outdoor clothing would hang on pegs in the passage. There too we often left our school bags, of solid leather, containing our lunches which were known to be raided and sometimes disappear altogether when the Depression bit. Heating was not a problem for the teacher who stood generally with his back to the open fire on the middle of the wall opposite the windows, which were so placed that even the tallest had difficulty in seeing any outside activity. Hard-working committees (men only) kept the wood-shed well supplied with fuel. Senior boys were always eager to lend a hand with the unloading and stacking of the wood if it came during school hours. With no wash basins in the building, and no flush toilets we managed quite well with a single tank into which rain-water drained from the roof. Not much water was needed or used! There were earth closets on the perimeter of the playing area, one to the east for the girls, and to the west for the boys, with one for the teachers in between. For years I was puzzled by the sloping back of the toilet seat. When I had finally decided it must have anatomical significance (crouching helped) I was told - not so. It was to prevent smaller children who might be tempted to walk there from slipping in to the cavity below.
In spite of all that is said about schools, scholars and teachers, not a great deal of change has taken place over the years. More is known of the learning process and child psychology but individuals still learn and grow and develop through real life needs and experiences. If tables were taught by repetitive drill there was little understanding because when challenged in Form 4 by an enlightened teacher, I could not explain why 8 times 7 made 56. Yet even in Std 6 we could "do" percentages, stocks and shares, areas, simple and compound interest and square root. With a reasonably good memory and parents who supported me I used to commit to memory many poems by British authors of the late Victorian and early 20th century.
Our school was not in to gardening. In truth one could say that our education was designed to take us away from the land where the "no hopers" would remain. Occasionally, we had team games, but since our playground of one acre was mainly crushed coke from the gasworks, competition with other schools was almost impossible. Let me tell you of my first and most memorable game of rugby, about which I knew nothing , having been reared on soccer. After lunch at school, we walked, ran or "doubled" on the odd bicycle the three miles to a neighbouring school. With my background of knowledge, I was given the position of full back, where it was believed I could do little damage. At one stage I found myself alone facing a chap double my size who seemed to be threatening me with the ball under his arm. I just got in his way - he fell over me and there was no try. Later I was congratulated on my performance in bringing down the biggest lad in the opposing team.
If we missed out on many of the extra activities undertaken by school children in a modern Intermediate School - choirs, bands, camping trips, the luxury of school libraries and many club activities - we did have school concerts and prize-giving. For some these were the highlights of the year. With a good speaking voice and a good memory I usually found a part in plays and recitations, but sadly, when there was any singing, I was advised to mouth the words, but keep quiet. During one of the plays the dentist, after struggling to make an extraction, produced by sleight of hand a molar which had obviously come from a horse's jaw. This brought the house down. Our concerts were held in the District Hall which was near-by and where I attended my first political meeting. Sir Joseph Ward was the speaker with whom I later shook hands. In this same Hall I was presented with the Dux Prize, the Atheneum Prize and the Proficiency Certificate in my final year: the Hall too, where the District welcomed back the servicemen who returned from World War 2
Manual training days were special. Once we reached Std 5 we were taken each Thursday during the second term on the train to Invercargill. Leaving Tisbury Station at 8.30 a.m., half an hour later we would be in the City. From the station we had to walk in orderly fashion to the Manual Training Centre in Doon Street, near the Middle School. The boys had instruction in woodwork and the girls in cookery. For children who rarely got to town, these trips were full of interest and we had plenty of fun in the railway carriages, which had benches down either side, leaving plenty of space down the middle for activity. Here we were enlightened by the seniors as to the use of the spittoons which were made of brass and shone brightly in the middle of the floor. Often on the homeward walk to the station those with money would drop off the line to visit the biscuit factory (Hudson's or maybe it was called Kingsland's?) for a bag of broken biscuits, which could be bought for a sixpence. I would be tired by the time I had cycled home from the station, tired but reasonably happy because although too small to work at a carpenter's bench, without standing on a box, I enjoyed success in both technical drawing and practicalwoodwork. Put this down to good teachers.
As children we were aware of subtle changes- we were asked to be less boisterous because Mother was going to have a baby. This was great news, but somehow serious too. It was autumn; a calm day in March, and we were not at school. Dad was home too. Tensions increased, but still there was work to be done. In the paddock down by Duck Creek, the mown grass was ready for hay-making and there was a Doctor in the house. He must have come by car, but although I was a serious car fan, I remember neither that nor the make of the car. Dad must have gone down to the hay field and I was instructed to follow; but the new baby had arrived, and as I recall each of the children went in to the front bedroom in turn to see Mother who said "Stick together, Herbie will need your help." Half an hour later she haemorrhaged and died, the Doctor still present. Mary (14 years) the eldest girl was attending the Southland Tech. I should have been at the Southland Boys' High, Margaret (9 years) was at Tisbury School, and Herbie (5 years) was not attending school. How do such children meet such a calamity? I know that when we were not hushed, we were crying. I know that as each was told there were more bitter moments. How Dad faced up to the problem of going on, working on a shoestring, and caring for us, has, in retrospect, made me appreciate him the more. I remember the sad journey I made to the Tisbury P.O. on my bicycle with a message to be transmitted to Scarborough in Yorkshire to advise Grandma (Mrs Porteous) of the calamity. Caring for the baby, now bearing Mother's name, was the first priority: and we were indeed fortunate that Auntie Kate, still living in Waimatua, was ready to take her, and care for her until such time as Mary, who was to leave school, would be able to cope. I wanted to leave school too, and earn my own living, but Dad silenced me by saying: " You know that your Mother would want you to go on with your education". In our grief we suffered, but we survived more difficult years when the Depression hit.
Dad's youngest sister, Violet, who had been in the Nursing Service during the First World War, came from England to give us her help, advice and guidance. She was something of a martinet and a reformer, and somehow all that was/was not done merited her critical attention. Everything had to be done on her command, and we responded badly. Even Dad could not stand her reforming zeal. Wastage of anything was not to be tolerated, and I still recall the day we were asked to eat onions which she had found lying beside the path, but which were, in fact daffodil bulbs. Everyone was sick, except me. I didn't want her to have that satisfaction - but Violet remained unrepentant. That lesson on "waste not, want not" fell flat. I'm sure we were un-cooperative, and I'm sure we needed counselling on both sides. I'm also sure that her time was not altogether wasted; but neither was it a happy time. Her sojourn (she had been granted six months leave from the R.N.S.) of four months was valuable, and made us determined to succeed as a family.
Any death in a family where there are young children can be stressfull. This was very much the case in our home. However, following the practice of the time, daughters were expected to step into the breach, and Mary, now fifteen, left school to manage the home which she did for eight years, with great courage and tremendous ability. It has to be remembered that our home did not have running water, a bathroom, or a telephone. Mary had to nurse Blanche, care for Herbie, do all the housework, the laundry, make the butter and bread, prepare all the meals and pack lunches, with varying amounts of help from Margaret and myself when we came home from school. No doubt she had learnt much from Mother, and we had always been given duties. Mine were centred mainly on seeing that the wood box was full, and to this end I had been given an axe for my tenth birthday. Later I had some responsibility for milking the house cow and separating the milk afterwards. Quite early in life I was called upon to stoke the copper for the Monday's wash, and turn the handle to work the "dolly" inside the corrugated wooden wash tub, as well as turning the wringer. As Dad was gainfully employed for some six months only of the year, he also did his share of the housework. In fact he was a very tidy man, and made an excellent job of the Sunday's dinner, especially the Yorkshire puddings which were cooked in crimped baking tins about the size of a saucer. Drowned in gravy, they were delicious.
We also had to rely on horse or cycle power to go anywhere. Shops in town were a mere six miles away, but shopping had to be planned a week in advance. In the early days a grocer's cart came weekly and brought goods ordered on the previous visit. We still bought flour and sugar in the sack which were emptied into a wooden bin with two compartments just beside the back door. Essential foods came from our own endeavours - things like bread, butter, milk, eggs and bacon. During the working season, Dec to June, our meat supplies were taken care of as Dad brought meat and livers and hearts and tongues and sweetbreads home from the freezing works. His day began with breakfast in the dark, a cycle ride to the railway at Woodend, then by train to Ocean Beach - and ended in the dark. On many occasions, we children had to do the milking and separating before going to school, and in the evenings if we were home first. If the weather was fine, it could be fun, but a ride of six miles in wind and rain after school, followed by an hour in the cowshed, if wet and cold, called for endurance.
In the early years of this century, and up till the time of its abolition, the Proficiency Examination taken at the end of the standard six year was the "key" to secondary education. As indicated elsewhere, I had a willingness to do well at school, always encouraged by my Mother who was persuasive and could not see any future for me on the land
Tisbury School was a typical country school and in 1924 consisted of three classrooms and about ninety children. Because of my attitude and good progress, I covered S3 and S4 in one year to such good purpose that I passed the Proficiency Examination, was Dux of the school (maybe about eight students in S6), and was granted an Atheneum Prize which entitled me to two years free borrowing from the Invercargill Public Library. About the only reading I remember doing was about the American Coast Guard. Perhaps if I had sought help, the prize would have been more wisely used. On the other hand, I chose what seemed to appeal, and maybe that was not all bad. Apart from a Bible, a religious book my brother had won in Sunday School called "Shepherds and Sheep", and Dad's veterinary book, there were few books readily available. However, Mr Kelly, our teacher, set up a library cupboard in our room and I made good use of what we gathered. On my shelves there is still a copy of "Treasure Island" which was given to me as a Spelling Prize in S4, and a second larger copy of the same book was presented to me as the dux prize for reading and recitation in 1924!
Although I began my secondary education in 1925, at the Southland Boys' High School, I am pretty sure that because of a polio scare we did not really begin classes until March. Mother took me to enroll at the old Forth Street building, and she was impressed by the Rector T.D. Pearce M.A. (N.Z.), whom she presented to me as a man worthy of respect and for whom I must do well. Fortunately we bought our own text books in those days, and Mother was only too glad to lead me through early attempts at solving problems in Algebra (Baker & Bourne), and coping with Longman's Latin Primer. By this time we had a daily mail delivery and exercises passed to and fro between home and school. Getting to school involved a ride of six miles along gravel roads in all weathers, and facing the westerly storms at 8 a.m. was not always a pleasant prospect, but there was no alternatives. The daily train could have been used, but it would have been late for the first part of the day's programme, and I would have had to cover more than a mile to catch it at the Tisbury end. With no other companions en route it was sometimes a hard and lonely trail. My first bicycle had to be a second hand machine, but from it I learnt much more about mending punctures. With such knowledge I was in a much better position to care for a brand new machine when my parents were able to afford such, and I took much pride in maintaining it in top condition. Each day I had a load of text books, lunch and overcoat, to balance on the carrier, and being just twelve years old and light of stature it - the journey - presented a challenge. In spite of my care I recall that on one trip when I was going along a city street the bike became difficult to steer. To get up some speed I stood on the pedals and gave it all I could. When I regained consciousness I was sitting in a chair in a hardware shop. It transpired that I had broken the front forks, and landed heavily on the asphalt. I am not sure how my parents coped with the expense of the repair, but I know I did not miss any schooling.
In my first year I acquired a liking for playing "fives" and I would willingly forgo my lunch to get a game, but when we moved to the new school in Herbert Street, we spent a year in the wilderness before a court was built. However, we did have a gymnasium and an excellent teacher. I had enthusiasm, but lacked ability, yet always enjoyed capering around. As sport practices were held after school, and matches on Saturdays, and as I was required to do my share of the farm work, it was impossible for me to take part in team activities, but I was always interested in joining groups during the school day, especially at lunch time, and particularly on the fives courts. Once I joined in a cricket practice and dismissed a top batsman with my first ball. A fair number of boys came daily on train services, and they too were excluded from much of the sport. If it suited me I would class myself as a "country boy" instead of a "townie", if the gain was on that side.
One year as an army cadet we had to be housed under canvas on the school grounds for four nights. Apparently I had no excuse to skip this obligation, and I enjoyed the camp life. Being younger than my contemporaries I often felt socially inferior and not privy to much of their conversation, even when I was in the sixth form! Some were smoking, some shaving, and one had actually done a year on the shearing circuit and was a recognised "bookie", whatever that meant.
Two experiences stand out as part of my schooling at this time. We were advised to go and see my first sound film "For the Term of His Natural Life", by Marcus Clarke, which evidently filled in with some of the history syllabus. It was a very emotional film for me as I lived through the horror of the lives of the convict settlements in Australia. On a second occasion I sat on the steps in the "Gods" at the theatre, where for half a crown, I followed with wrapt attention (and many tears), the trials of Antonio, Portia and Shylock in the "Merchant of Venice", presented by the Alan Wilkie Company from Australia. That was sensational.
Latin was first up in the daily programme for my first year, and I did reasonably well for a time then when a change of teacher saw my marks dip from the seventies to the twenties. I was accused of slacking, and the cane was produced and administered to deal with my problem - but it didn't work. During the second year I took my problem to the Rector who asked me why I wanted to drop Latin. I replied that in future I would prefer to read in the English language - it would save time - and he agreed, and that was that. However, he did point out that a study of Latin had some foundation for English, a fact that I appreciated later.
Throughout my secondary education, I was in the middle stream, progressing through 3B, 4B, 5B and 6B, and the records show that I enjoyed some success. Maths I really enjoyed and in the sixth form I was spending fourteen and a half hours on this discipline. But it was not all plain sailing. In my second year I failed to pass the Public School Examination which caused me great anxiety, as I thought my schooling would be terminated: but soon after I was given a free place, which cleared the way for the future. After Mother's death one might have assumed that my education would suffer; but for no apparent reason other than I was excused all written homework, I managed to post a 1st in History and 2nd in Maths, Science, Geography and French. 1927 continued to be encouraging with a 1st equal Merit Prize.
In his youth, Dad had been considered pretty fleet of foot, so much so that a promoter wanted to take his training in hand. Dad was interested, having won some mile races in competition with local talent. However, when he discovered that part of his contract obliged him to win or lose, on command, he decided to go solo, or not at all. It is difficult to imagine how he felt when he sat in the stand at Rugby Park on our Sports Day to watch me perform in the 400 yards race. He was apparently, commiserating with his friends over the little fellow who was last, and who wore his school trousers held up by braces, only to discover it was his son! My daily cycle ride did help me to put up a better performance when I was in the sixth form, and turned out for the three mile event.
My First Cars - SWIFTS - Made in England
This could be one of the coldest mornings we have experienced in Christchurch over the last twenty years. But we do not have to go to work, nor have we any appointments to keep. So long as we are fed sufficient power to keep one room warm we will count ourselves lucky. It has occurred to me that I have done hard manual labour in colder conditions and survived. Maybe, just maybe, we are getting a bit soft these days. As against that perhaps one of the coldest tasks I ever had to perform was loading frozen swedes onto the sledge to cart out to the stock. Now that is really cold work, but I think the hands, feet and lungs suffered most. Incidentally, I cannot think why the job had to be tackled when conditions were at their worst! Perhaps it was because we had to go to work for an employer during the remainder of the day. But I really believe that it was a matter of habit!
And can you imagine what it was like cycling those seven miles to High School on such a morning? Fingers, toes and ears were really put under stress. Unfortunately we were not always given the best equipment for the day. The skull caps were a case in point. There must have been better clothes for the Canadian children during Winter. Sometimes the worst part of the experience would be getting the blood circulating again after long exposure to the cold, especially finger tips. But the weather could be exhilarating none the less. Earlier in the morning I was trying to recall how we carried our books back and forth. To begin I am pretty sure that I used the old school bag which was slung onto the bar between one's knees. Later I used a sturdy carrier over the rear wheel, and by the time I reached the sixth form I think I used a small satchel round which I wrapped my overcoat! I wish I had some photographs or a video of those days. One morning I well remember because I was the best part of an hour late in reaching school. I had covered about half the distance when torrential rain fell and I made a decision. I decided that I would take refuge in the first tram shelter and stay there until the rain stopped. When I reached school I went first to the Principal's office to explain, and he was splendid. Sensible decision, jolly good show! From there I went to the classroom where I had an unfriendly teacher and before he could say anything sarcastic I just said that I had been with the Principal. "Go and sit down"
During my High School days (1925 - 1928) we lived on 18 acres of land some five miles from the centre of Invercargill. In those days macadam or tar-sealed roads were rare, so that most of my cycling was along gravel roads which actually deteriorated when the motor vehicles became more numerous, as they tended to throw the gravel about or leave ridges which were flattened by the graders at regular intervals. In the early years, horses were used for this work, but motorised machines were soon on the job as the cars increased. As we cycled back and forth one of our main occupations used to be trying to identify approaching vehicles as boys probably do today. It was around 1927 that I remember seeing a red "Flying Cloud" which was actually being driven by a student attending the Girls' High School. Such a car seemed to be light years away from my humble beginnings; but things change.
Luckily for me Dad had a younger brother who was farming at Makarewa around this time and I was invited there during the summer holidays to help with odd jobs. It was during my last year at High School that he thought of rewarding me for my efforts. Actually nothing was expected or agreed upon as I was well treated, even better than his own perhaps. On this occasion he had bought a replacement car for the family and his old one was laid up in the shed. It was an old one by current standards, being a 1912 English Swift Tourer, two cylinders of uncertain horsepower, and he decided that I could have it in lieu of wages. Imagine my delight. Sixteen years of age and a car to take home. But I had to learn to drive. Incidentally I knew very little about cars or engines at the time, but I learnt. In one of the fifty-acre paddocks where hay stacks had stood during the previous season, there were several posts remaining from the protective fence and there I learnt how to change gears, (incidentally it was a gate change in those days), how to reverse, and how to use the hand brake, which was actually outside the main body sticking up alongside the running board. But the really important skill was to learn how to start the motor. I spent many hours swinging on the starting handle during the years, but it was usually good fun. There were times when my father would be called to help - I can see him now - with an elbow resting on the radiator, cap askew, jacket open and beads of perspiration on his brow whilst I would be pottering around with a torch checking this and that and hopeful that the engine would fire the next time!
After sundry warnings about what not to do, I took of on the trip home all of thirty miles. I guess the car was registered, but I know that I did not have a license. I had, no doubt, been told to get one and do in fact recall my first driving test. I'm sure I had no terror of Traffic Officers (were there any in those days?), as I drove through the main streets of Invercargill on my way home. One of the real problems associated with owning a car in those days was getting and repairing punctures. Actually, having been a cyclist for many years, and having been forced to do my own repairs, the switch to the bigger and heavier tubes and tyres was not too difficult. The Swift carried a "spare" but it consisted of an expanding rim with tyre which was clamped onto the rim on the wheel which had the flattie. Steering with this additional fitment on a front wheel was quite an experience, but with a maximum speed of thirty m.p.h. it was no hardship to drop down to ten m.p.h. and it was for an emergency only. As the doors were not fitted with spring operated tongues from the outside, it was necessary to both open and shut using a spade grip, and I cannot recall how one opened the door from the inside. Initially the windscreen wiper was hand-operated. The petrol tank was under the front seat and the engine gravity fed.
During my early years of ownership Dad did much trading in cattle. I was frequently called in to help with the stock driving, and so was the Swift, which was often to be seen following along behind in low gear and steered by kicking the front wheels. All illegal, no doubt; but quite exciting and never causing complaints. Thus we toured all the lonely roads around Waimatua, Tisbury, Moto Rimu, Clifton and Awarua. And I recall once carting a couple of trussed up sheep in the back of the car to the abattoir at Waikiwi, and was late for my job too! Driving along Boundary Road home one evening the engine gave some startling noises and then a bang and stopped. With the bonnet up I saw a hole in the crankcase with a piston rod sticking out. Later I was to discover that my Uncle had omitted to put cotter pins in the bolts holding the cups on the con rod, after doing major repairs. One would have expected that damage to have spelt the end of the Swift, but no. An advertisement in the Southland Times for a replacement engine brought a reply from Bluff, and using parts from both engines we were soon on the road again. What happened to the Swift? I sold it to a farmer three miles away, and he converted the chassis in to a horse-drawn wagon and used the engine to drive the circular saw for cutting firewood.
My second car was also a Swift with a tubular steel frame, wire wheels and four cylinders. It was a two seater roadster with a box on the back - what we now call a boot. It's end was no more glamorous than the first for I eventually turned the chassis into a light well-sprung wagon for my Dad to use, keeping the seats and fabric roof where he was well protected from the weather. The engine went into a boat on Lake Te Anau.
If Dad liked horses, I liked cars; but as the years passed he found that he appreciated more the comfort of travel by car. Up to the end of his days, however, he kept a good harness horse, and maybe a hack. Very early in the ownership of the Swift I coaxed him in to the driver's seat whilst the car was still in the garage. Incidentally the garage was constructed of corrugated iron and roughly built with the western end resting at the top of a thirty foot bank overlooking the flat and the main road and railway to Bluff, three miles away, as it approached Woodend Station. Having assured myself that Dad was in a receptive mood he agreed to have a driving lesson. I hopped out, cranked the engine and returned to the passenger's seat on the front bench. Carefully he depressed the clutch and moved the gear lever as directed. Unfortunately I had forgotten our need to go in reverse, and when he released the clutch we made a forward leap in to the iron. , The car was unscathed since the springs protruded well in the front, but the shed suffered - and so did Dad! No more driving lessons. Back to "gee-up1" and "whoa" for him. However, he had some concern for my safety or stupidity because when I came home that night he had constructed a buffer at the end of the shed - a buffer such as one saw on railway sidings!
From the Swifts I next moved to a Model T Ford, painted grey with black side curtains. This was the car in which I travelled to Kingston in 1936 to take up my first permanent teaching position, carrying my bicycle on the running board as a safety measure. A year later I had more trust in its reliability. Towards the end of the thirties, I bought an Arrol Johnston Roadster which had been in the Dunedin Exhibition in 1926. It was comfortable too, with a dickey seat, but slow, and the engine had been fitted with hardened valve inserts which caused me much concer
When I was accepted for Teacher Training in 1929, the system called for one year as a Pupil Teacher, two years at the Teachers' Training College, and a fourth year on Probation. It seemed a long apprenticeship, but we were paid about a hundred pounds a year over the period, and these were difficult years. In 1929 with my Higher School Leaving Certificate, I was accepted by the Southland Education Board as a Pupil Teacher and posted to St. George School where the Headmaster was Mr George Robertson, who was completing his last year of service before retiring. I remember him as a kindly, friendly gentleman, who was a great favourite with the infants. As he was leaving the service he honestly told us that his talks about schemes of work, timetables and discipline were just that. We, Frances, Murray and I, were free to take his advice or ignore it. We loved him. Trying to teach and control classes of forty or more, under the critical eye of an experienced teacher must be one of the most difficult introductions possible to a new job. We soon learnt that thorough preparation was the best antidote to disruption; and in those early days individual idiosyncrasies in pupils' attitudes and behaviour were not allowed to intrude. Children came to pass the Proficiency examination at the end of the Std 6 year, and the best teachers were judged to be those who had the highest percentages of passes.
All of the time was not spent with the senior children and some of my happier memories were when I had a group of beginners in the playshed where I did my best to teach them reading. They were new, and I was new, and we learnt together from charts and word lists and word phrases which we built up on the blackboard using coloured chalk.
If we were apprehensive about taking a lesson in front of a senior teacher, we were privileged to observe teachers at work too. There were many opportunities to watch experienced teachers handling the many problems which arose. Sometimes I rebelled inwardly at the use of corporal punishment. But not at St George.
My association with St George School, which began in 1929, was continued for five more years after my graduation from College, and it is impossible to record my depth of gratitude to all the teachers from whom I learnt my craft in those days. Amongst them I think of Geo Menzies, the new Head who was a most enthusiastic teacher and a first class organiser. I liked working under him even though he brought some of the stern discipline of his Army days. But he was fair. I recall how he reacted to some of the new teaching methods which I brought back from College. He would take a pencil and a sheet of paper listing the reasons behind his methods and the results, and I was asked to put my claims alongside his. We agreed to take the better. He won hands down because he had a much wider range of practical experience from which to draw. From him I inherited a timetable for a Sole Charge School which I still rate the best ever; and from the Infant Mistress, Miss Wright, working under his guidance, I acquired a first rate programme for the teaching of reading and number to beginners.
Whilst still at St George, I had the task of painting outline maps of the World onto blackboards in Senior rooms. Children were expected to be able to add countries of the world and even capital cities. If one taught geography or history, the children needed a peg on which to hang the facts. In later years I was to carry the idea over to the construction of electric response models where children could identify and locate all the main features of the South Island. It was a happy play way of promoting learning, and pupils would hang round during intervals or after school to have a "go".
And I still remember taking groups of children - not less than forty - in the electric tram from South Invercargill to the Public Swimming Baths in Conan Street. Fortunately I was not expected to get into the Pool - I swear that when I try to swim, the water rises up against me, and I have to climb over it - but was very busy helping the pool instructor to keep order and meet time restraints.
Looking back sixty years, it is difficult to put into words the mixed feelings with which I approached Training College. Even though I had spent a year as a Pupil Teacher I was still a very immature High School graduate, but eager to do well. Imagine therefore my arrival in Dunedin by train from Invercargill. Up to this time, Invercargill and its environs had been my world for ten impressionable years. The walk up Stuart Street carrying my possessions in a suitcase looking for the Y.M.C.A., in Moray Place, where I had reserved accommodation was a tremulous rather than an exciting time.
Apparently we had not had much fish in our diet, because when a sole appeared on my plate at breakfast time I tried to eat it as a piece of meat, but soon learned from my table companions how to lay bare the bones. Living in a large multi-storied boarding establishment was a new experience, but gradually, with some trepidation my boundaries extended. As money was in short supply, the authorities at the College did not have to exert any pressure for me to go in to "digs" closer to the College, where there were many elderly widows who came to rely on our 25 shillings a week for full board, washing and mending. By good fortune my first call was to Mrs Gilbert in Leith Street where I was to stay for the next two years, and during my second year had as my room-mate Reg Olver who came from Milton. If Mrs Gilbert took on the role of Mum to the various boarders, Reg was like a brother - well built, happy companionable, full of fun and honest. He had a placid temperament, not easily annoyed. Part of his philosophy was expressed in these words; "if anyone throws something at you, just sit on it; do not throw it back."
Because of circumstances at home, it was not easy for me to join in social activities, as I hesitated to ask friends to come and stay. Reg was one who did come and together we set about building a shed to house "Swift" No. 2. My knowledge of building was crude in the extreme. From the swamp we dug totara trees ten feet or more in length which suitably dressed with an axe were set in the ground at the four corners of a rectangle measuring six feet by twelve feet, around which a lean-to structure was fashioned. Any sawn timber would be drawn from a load which Dad bought at the Freezing Works where alterations were being done, and the whole was eventually covered with second-hand corrugated iron. Bringing friends home, where Herbert was a constant companion - an "idiot boy" according to Nurse Violet Verity - was very difficult. But the difficulty was mine; not that of my friends, nor his. Incidentally Auntie Violet, although a registered nurse of the First World War, could not have insulted us more when she labelled Herbie Idiot Boy. She was never forgiven. Even strangers - educated or uneducated - had not stooped so low. Even if Herbie did not understand the label, he disliked her because she upset us.
College years 1930 - 1931, in Dunedin, were quite naturally given to study; but the course was wider than expected: geography and history, music and arts and crafts, nature study and science, physical education and psychology were there to be studied as topics to be taught, with the exception of psychology which was to be practised. If English does not appear on my timetable that is because many of us chose to attend lectures at the University in that discipline, as also some were to take French. Although Teachers' College was seen as the place where we were to discover what and how to teach, it was also viewed as a place of continuing education. Somewhere in the future we might decide to study for a B.A. degree, and now was the time to begin. Lectures in English and French came late in the day and did not disrupt College units. Not everyone elected to do degree subjects, but in my first year I unwittingly joined the English and French lectures which seemed to follow on from High School studies. Because I was resolved to do well at College my University course was given scant attention, and I failed to pass. During the second year Education Stage I was my choice with better results.
Although lectures in College continued throughout the two year course, most of our time in the second year was devoted to actual classroom teaching and observation, in the schools dotted around the city, thus providing contrasting problems and opportunities. The Associate teachers must have found us incompetent and blundering, but they were kind in their assessments, generally finding something good to say on our reports. Eight years later on my return to Dunedin, it was my pleasure to have training students in my class, and again, we learnt from each other.
It was rumoured that our Lecturer in Music had come from an English Public School, and he described us as hopeless, having been deprived of real musical experiences. During the course of study before entering College, I had been tutored by cigarette-chewing George Gray in Invercargill, and I'm quite sure he would have agreed. If music was not my gift, even less could be found to praise when it came to Art and Appreciation. Object drawing or technical drawing was acceptable, but trying to paint in colour a picture of a horse-drawn vehicle breasting a hill, was unrecognisable to anyone except Robert Donne, the Art teacher. He gave me a little confidence, but generally I found it preferable to draw on the ability of students or children when need of illustrating arose.
My interests could have been said to lean in the direction towards Nature Study, but that may have been due to the ability of our lecturer, Lance McCasgill, who was an enthusiast. The nature study walks through the Botanical Gardens were highlights of my student days. We escaped from the world of books, and pens, and paper and learnt from living plants and creatures. Although many changes have taken place since, in the school curriculum, I still believe that our practical probing of nature falls behind what should be achieved.
Education is not confined to the mind. Colleges were keen to excel at sporting activities such as rugby, hockey and swimming. Had there been fives courts, my latent passion must surely have been revived. As it was about the only record of my sporting inclinations must be a photograph, now faded and brown, of the College Rugby team with Lance McCasgill as Coach. Later my interests turned to hockey in the winter and cricket during the summer. Another photograph, this time of a cricket team was taken when I played for Smith and Smith (Colour Merchants). The decision to play for this team was made deliberately to draw me away from the college and varsity students.
Military training was still compulsory during my first year at College, but being under-age, work was assigned to me in the office, where another teacher trainee in the same category, but much more sophisticated, showed me how easy it was to "lift" public property - in this case live ammunition. Somehow it was difficult for me to accept the fact that a teacher/trainee could stoop to steal. His conversation, too, was shot through with swearing and lurid curses, but in front of the children his speech pattern was most correct!
Great Thoughts a monthly Canadian magazine which I had first tasted in the Invercargill Public Library whilst still attending High School, and which I ordered, continued to feed me articles on Poetry, Religion and Philosophy. Could this small beginning have fed my desire later to study Logic and Ethics in Philosophy Stage II?
From Bible Class studies at First Church, Invercargill, the chance to join the Student Christian Movement seemed a logical step, and although my contributions were negligible, the company of like-minded students was greatly valued. At a Portobella Camp, Mrs Brown was the Camp Mother whose son was later to be the chemist in Waimate and an officer in Rotary. Quality would be common to the fellowship of both organisations - and the "dance" would continue. Many years later I came across some words by William Morris: "For fellowship is Life; and lack of it is Death; and the deeds that you do on earth, it is for fellowship's sake that you do them".
As a consequence I used "Fellowship is Life" as a school motto.
On one occasion whilst attached to a Form 1 class at a city school, corporal punishment was given to a State Ward, who obviously had difficulty with spelling. This happened with regularity after each days' test, and I can still see him walking out boldly to the floor with hand outstretched, knowing what to expect. It left an unpleasant taste in my mouth - the more so as the teacher was quite brilliant, with degrees in Arts and Science. When a girl with a similar handicap passed through my hands in later years, my advice to her was to make sure her boy friend was on the telephone, because he'd have great difficulty in understanding her written messages. She had a bright disposition, was very capable in the home, but couldn't spell, though we tried many methods. Maureen is a good citizen with many friends, but she still cannot spell.
To Auckland and Back
In 1932 three young teacher trainees, having completed their two-year course at the Dunedin Teachers' College, followed by a year as probationers decided that a trip to Auckland to be present at the 30th Summer Conference of the Student Christian movement was a must. Travel by car was a possibility provided that we had a suitable car and the money to keep it on the road. Going by air was not even a part of one's dream. But we had bicycles and liked the idea of getting there under our own steam. Well maybe with some help!
The planning was a bit tricky as I lived in Invercargill. whilst Frank and Rob lived in Dunedin. We did not have telephone communication and had to rely mainly on the daily postal service. Rucksacks and sleeping bags had not been heard of in the 1930's and I well recall that my personal kit was carried in a suitcase on the carrier around which were two army blankets and an army ground sheet. Frank, who was the key man in the party, had also managed to stow on his bicycle a tent fly and a tin billy, both of which were well used before the trip was finished. In order to catch up with Frank and Rob who had left Dunedin on the 17th I took the express and caught up with them at the Wishart's family home at Smithfield just north of Timaru, and heard how they had elected to ride for most of the day wearing their pyjama trousers to minimise sunburn on their legs! The Wishart's was a place where young folk seemed to congregate and we spent a splendid night there.
We left Smithfield at 16.45 on the 18th December for an easy ride to the Ashburton Camping Ground lying between the main road and what in the dark seemed to be a raised river bank, but which very late at night proved to be the railway track, and I was lying right in the pathway as the light on the 'Goods" swept over me! Before retiring that first evening I had been chosen to visit a dairy looking for a billy of hot water, and I remember that I was a bit upset when I was charged sixpence which I thought was outrageous.
Our goal on the 19th was to reach Christchurch - and I recall the concrete road surface which we met four or five miles out of the city - then out to Sumner and over the pass to Lyttelton to catch the evening ferry crossing to Wellington. Amongst my bits of paper there is a Railways receipt for 9d being wharfage for three bicycles. These were hoisted aboard the Wahine in a rope sling on the end of a crane. As I was a poor sailor I decided to have as much supper as the galley could provide, with large quantities of black tea and I slept like a baby, although other passengers informed me in the morning that we had had the smoothest of crossings.
Frank was an outgoing chap who seemed to be able to conjure up friends at almost any place, so it was no surprise to find that in Wellington it was but a short ride to 106 The Terrace, where we were greeted by John Hamilton, who had breakfast waiting. The weather was pleasant, even for Wellington, and we were soon approaching our first hilly ride over the Paekakariki hills. My machine was fitted with the back-pedalling brake which acted on the rear wheel, and I soon found that in order to prevent over-heating I had to stop my downhill charge. At least it provided an opportunity to appreciate the scenery. This day (December 20th) we had planned a full day's ride of more than 140 miles with a stop at Levin, where an Uncle and Aunt (Uncle Sylvester), had a dairy farm and fed us well. Dad's brother, who had been through the World War saw that we had a good clean up, and always generous, made sure that we had some money before we set out for Palmerston North where we spent the evening with the Jamiesons. The latest motorist's chart shows Wellingto to Palmerston North as a distance of 145 miles, time 2 hours 10 minutes. For us, I think, 10 hours!
So, on the21st December we left Palmerston North for Wanganui, where we ate well before reaching Kai Iwi, which in the 1860's must have been well known as a military outpost. Recently I have discovered that there is a beach near-by, but when wecamped there in 1932 my memories are of a store, a stream, and a tree beneath which we slept.
The ride for this day, 22nd December, was double the previous day, and it was evening when we reached New Plymouth. With no contacts here we were suspicious of the weather but were assured by some locals that it seldom rained - well not when three cyclists from the deep South were camping out - so we took heart and at Fitzroy found a motor camp. Actually we found a building which contained some facilities including a gas ring. There did not appear to be a Custodian so we camped in the sand-hills nearby, taking the precaution of throwing the tent fly over our beds. Around 2a.m. I woke to find water trickling off the tent cover and dribbling down my neck. In no time at all we had shifted ourselves to the near-by shed where we spent the rest of the night sitting on the concrete floor with our backs propped against the wall listening to the rain. Quite early I bestirred myself and made porridge in the billy. With nothing more than a drizzle around we stole silently away to look for a non-existant cafe.
If there were any famous eating houses along the stretch of the highway from New Plymouth to the Mokau, I do not recall them. Nor do I recall meeting any kindly folk either residents or fellow travellers. Although the weather improved my spirit was low. There were times on the punishing ride up the Mokau when I wondered how I had ever been persuaded to make the trip. But at heart I was not alone, and I sensed that both my companions were also being tested. Our resting place undoubtedly lacked many home comforts but was idyllic for we camped in a sheltered clearing where there was plenty of soft grass, close to both the highway and a stream near Mahoenui. (I hope that is how it is spelt).
With the Awakino Gorge behind us, we spent the 24th on the road through Te Kuiti and on to Otorahanga. Although the roads were rough we felt more confident, and when shortly before evening we met up with a friendly farmer who invited us to make use of his hayshed for the night, things looked much better. After partaking of the tea which he had so generously offered I curled up on the back of a light four-wheeler and slept soundly. And that was how we spent Christmas Eve!
From Otorahanga through to Te Awamutu was an easier day for us. In the late afternoon, Frank, carrying an introduction for the Rev Gilbert boldly led us to the St Andrew's Manse, Hamilton, where our invitation was genuinely warm and friendly and where we had accommodation for the night. Frank loved to lie back comfortably in an easy chair and relate the stories of our pigrimage, and it was not surprising to find him leaving the teaching profession a couple of years later to join the Ministry.
On the 26th we reached Bombay, the venue for the Conference. I have but the haziest of recollections of the school. Perhaps my mind did not want to believe that I was back at school. At any rate we were early arrivals and were able to spend a whole day in Auckland trying to get the feel of our largest city. As conference did not open until the 29th we spent Wednesday around the school meeting new arrivals - in all about 50 men and 70 women. It is highly probable that Frank Winton, Rob McNeill and I were the only folk from the Deep South, and that would mean that I had come the longest distance.
I sincerely hope that it has been possible to include a copy of the timetable and programme which we followed during the week.
It is difficult trying to recall events which happened more than sixty years ago; and I have to ask myself why I am doing this. In the first place I came across some old diaries and in the second one of our daughters who became involved in recording my memoirs exerted some pressure!
The people of Auckland and those we met from other parts were generous in their invitations to drop be in the course of our jouneying. One of the first calls we made was to the home of Mr. Jack Bennetts of 15 George Street, where five of us were given a welcome. Frank and Rob went back to St. David's Church Hall, later moving to Pt. Chevalier to stay with Frank's Uncle. We all met again on the 7th for a picnic at Castor Bay using the Devonport ferry and a bus. Each day we are on the move exploring Auckland. We climb Mt Eden, visit the Domain and the Library. Call at Eva Reynold's home for a chat. We ride past the goal and the C.A.C Factory,; have tea at Betty Warren's and retire to St David's for a rest.
On the 9th I cycle with Frank and Melva to Titirangi. We climb Mt. Atkinson and dine with Barbara Robinson. After walking round the beach to French Bay we cycled to Uncle Bert Bardsley's and back to 15 George Street.
We commenced the return journey on the 11th January, leaving St David's at 6.30 a.m. and reaching Waihi at 8.20p.m., to be welcomed by Mr and Mrs Lawson, who provided us with tea, bed and breakfast because we were pilgrims. Why else? An easy ride on the following day took us, after five and a half hours, to the Campbells, four miles out of Tauranga. From noon on the 13th we followed the fine weather short route through beautiful country to Oropi where we ate dake, but later discovered that the billy and the balance of our cake were foolishly left behind. Frank took the blame. On to Rotorua where as a last hope we illegally camped in Mr. Young's empty section. Although tolerated we felt that we were too exposed for comfort! We did not linger there, but as soon as the birds started stirring we vacated the section to look fro a meal before going to Whaka, where we had a tour guide show us the sights for one shilling.
By 10.30a.m. on the 14th, a Saturday, we were en route to Taupo, but when a stranger at Waiotapu offered us a billy of tea we paused to chat. We cycled through Geyser Valley to Wairakei, a pleasant spot indeed and see yet again the Huka Falls. If we were not concerned with hunting, fishing, climbing, swimming, or boating, we were learning a lot about bicycles and human nature. And I was honing my cooking skills. Near Taupo we met a couple of Conference lassies - Miss Taipo and Miss Mather - who had arranged for us to camp in the garage at the local store. Later, as we wandered by the lake shore an angler presented us with a fine trout. Sleeping on a concrete floor with a generator thumping until midnight was not the pleasantest of night.
The weather was not encouraging and it was 7a.m. before we left Taupo, fearing that the country up ahead might be barren and inhospitable to match our mood. But we soldiered on reaching the Tarawera Hotel just after lunch. We found it diificult to believe the motorists' guide which indicated that there would be no water for the next 30 miles. Just think, we might need a drink. And what if we had a puncture? Mine Host did not have any guests, and was quite affable until we informed him that we were pauper students and were prepared to doss down anywhere. In fact we had almost made such arrangements when a lorry driver pulled up and in no time at all he informed us that if we could stow our gear safely in and about the boat which he was transporting, he would be only too happy to give us a lift to Napier! Talk about Lady Luck! We travelled comfortably within the shelter of the boat through 53 rough and hilly miles of rain and drizzle over the next five hours to reach Napier.
Unfortunately the Minister for whom we had a letter of introduction was too busy with Parish duties to aid us but he pointed the way to the Motor Camp and a very obliging Custodian who upon payment of two shillings found some dry straw and a shed where we slept.
On the morning of the 16th whilst Rob and I visited the Bank and P.O., our emissary, Frank, called upon Roy Hamilton and Mr. Rowe, the Manager of Blythe's Store, who insisted that we could not leave Napier unfed. An urget call to his wife saw us meet at their home for a hot dinner. They even invited a friend from conference, Nancy Hobson, to come as well! More cycle repairs included a mudguard for Frank and a new tube for Rob before we left for Pukehou. Although Edith, another conference member, was not at home, her family expected us and made us welcome. Here we feasted on the most luscious peaches ever, for this was orchard country. Coping wioth three extra young fellows did not interfere with the harvesting.
Although we left Pukehou at 10.30a.m., in poor weather, the roads were good and we reached J.D. McKenzie's home in Dannevirke by 5p.m., to be blessed by warm Christian fellowship and a good sleep. Leaving at 10.30a.m. we were delayed at Ekatahuna where I had a puncture and Frank's bike needed further repairs. A good paved road and easy riding saw us through Masterton and on to Carterton where we slept in a calf shed, supperless except for a glass of water (for glass read mug). Today marked one month on the road, from our leaving Smithfield. Somewhere along the way I had lost a stone in weight, but I felt very fit.
After an early departure at 6.15a.m. we had to stop at Upper Hutt as Frank's driving wheel had seized; thus it was 12.30 before we reached Wellington. No mention here of scaling the Rimutakas without gears, but we had the pleasure of sealed surfaces all the way to Mrs Hamilton's flat where Frank had mail which gave urgency to our departure if we were to reach Timaru on Friday evening. My purse must have been empty as I had to borrow one pound before getting on the ferry. After a smooth crossing our bicycles were on the first sling to touch the wharf at Lyttelton and by 9.30 we were at Lachlan's in Christchurch - January 20th, Friday.
We left in the face of a southerly, taking a break at Bankside to shelter by the roadside and were picked up by a friendly lorry driver who took us to Rakaia, where we again sought shelter - this time in a disused Guard's van. Later we discovered that Frank, to keep his timetable, had travelled by lorry and train to Winchester, and completed his journey on his bicycle, reaching Smithfield by 9.30p.m. Rob and I had no such constraints so rode to Ashburton where we had a 9d tea and bought 4d worth of brown bread. At Hinds we spent the night in the school playshed.
On Saturday 21st January, as the weather did not improve, enquiries revealed that a train left at 8a.m. for Smithfield, fare 3/2d, freight1/4d. After I had done my washing we all went to the pictures. On the Sunday we met up with Harold Ross and his cousin Don McInnes and we attent church. In the evening we have a re-union at the Wisharts with Stan arriving home. The motto seemed to be "the more the merrier" as twenty young folk sat down to tea. We did not leave Timaru till mid-day on the 23rd, as we had planned, and made a short ride to Pukeuri to have tea with another S.C.M. friend Heather Sutcliffe. On to Oamaru where Frank had his fifth punture and we saw Daisy Cairns, ex Dunedin Teacher's College. We follow a back road to Maheno and camp in the Hillgrove Station waiting room for the night.
On Tuesday, 24th, it took us six hours to get to Dunedin. In 1933 there was no Motorway, and we had to slog over Mt Cargill, but the end of our journey was in sight and we were excited about what we had achieved. But when we reached Frank's home the place was deserted; but undeterred we trotted round to Mrs Campbell's who was always a good friend to students, and there we had tea, with much gossip and a good deal of fun. The following day I visited many friends re-telling our journey. Mrs Gilbert was high on the list as was Mrs Paulin and Alec. Then too, the Rev. David Herron would want to know how we had fared.
Come the 26th and I was headed south for Milton on my own. Yes, and it was my turn to get punctures - two before I reached my friends at Milton; and this time I did not carry a pump. But folk were kind and they may have been in the same predicament in their younger days. I reached Milton by 6.30p.m. to be welcomed by Reg Olver (my college room-mate for more than a year) and his sister, Mother and Father. Here was rest and peace, although Reg insisted in carrying out a thorough inspection of my machine supplying a new valve for my troublesome tyre.
I leave Milton in fair weather, and with a helping wind; but by the time I reached Balclutha, the wind was dead ahead. At Clinton, after covering some shocking road surfaces I stopped for a good lunch costing 1/6d which I felt I had earned. Anyone with a knowledge of the roads of the time will have no difficulty in recalling the corrugations which were at their worst at the bottom of any slope. It was nice to be on the downward slope, but the agony of the depths - so treacherous were the corrugations that frequently one had to get off and walk. Maybe that was a good reason for taking the train from Clinton to Woodlands, with a further espenditure of 6/7d. That must have been one of my most expensive days. Overall I began with ten pounds, but borrowed a couple more on the way, and when I reached home at 8.20p.m.I believe I had sixpence left!
From 1932 - 1935 we had some tough but exciting times. There were few positions available due to retrenchment in Government expenditure. I was attached to St. George School, as a super-numerary without a definite class. Being on the relieving staff of the Southland Education Board meant that I could be called upon at short notice to do duty anywhere in Southland. In effect this meant that I could be asked to take over a country school or a position as assistant in a larger school for an indefinite period; sometimes for three days, or even for a whole term. Everywhere I went I gathered more information about what to do and what not to do. Each group of children was different and needed a different approach. One felt really alive and ready for any challenge.
At Colac Bay, where I arrived by train one afternoon, I was met by a member of the school committee and installed in a room on the front verandah of his villa. Mr Burtenshaw was but one of many railway employees who gave of their local knowledge to help fledgling teachers. From him I soon learnt that his son was a pupil at the school, and at the same time I heard of the eccentricities of the man I had come to relieve. More importantly I found out that Mr S would, after settling the children down to work in the morning, go off with some of the local fishermen to flick his line, returning an hour or two later to check the children's work. He apparently believed in putting the dictum of a mentor of mine into practice when he said: "If you can't trust your organisation to keep the children busy for a couple of hours in your absence, you had better consider your fitness for the job." Geo Menzies who said this was a cracking Headmaster, and earned special commendation from the Inspectorate for the general excellence of St. George School about this time. Not long after this he was to lose his life whilst fishing at Groper Gut near Kaka Point. Strangely enough I was in the area when this happened, working at the Children's Health Camp at Paunawea.
Whilst at Colac Bay I discovered that Maori children, (and there could have been a dozen in the school), were permitted to go to the Mutton Bird Islands during the catching season, which meant that they missed about six weeks of schooling. This was my first experience of teaching Maori children and I found them to be friendly, full of fun, and delightful to teach. One had to be careful not to spoil them - they were so willing to help. Their special field was more social than mental, and they would have groups organised to sing or play at the drop of a hat, especially during wet intervals when the playshed would tremble with activity. However, I recall that one of the gang brought shame to the others when he was caught dropping cigarettes down into his gum boots whilst the shopkeepers attention was diverted in the local store. I think we solved that one by putting the cigarettes out of reach!
From Colac Bay it was but a short ride on the bicycle to Round Hill where a jet of high pressure was eating away a terrace forty feet high in man's search for gold. The man on the gun was subjected to long periods of steady roaring from the jet, and frequently developed hearing loss. Later I learnt that a near neighbour of ours who had been the previous operator was quite deaf. Riverton, too, which has a history going back to 1830 was within easy reach, but I did not really appreciate what it had to offer.
Competing favourably with all the places where I taught would be Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island. As with all isolated communities, the interest in the school was healthy; and the situation of the school within a stone's throw of the beach, ideal. If the school had been larger there would have been a promenade between the school and the water. As it was, the only things likely to be seen there would be upturned dinghies. Getting to and from the Island was the worst part of the job, since the waters of Foveaux Strait usually gave one a cork-screw ride. I recall one stormy trip when the crew of the Tamatea tied a lady to the deck bench rather than try to get her down below. Few indeed were those who could say that they enjoyed the two and a half hours in the Channel. One did not need to ask what the trip had been like; a look at the faces of the visitors told the story as they descended the gangplank to the wharf.
Living at Ferndale Boarding House (Mr and Mrs Hicks) during the holiday season was not calculated to keep one indoors marking or preparing class work. I found myself roaming the tracks around Halfmoon Bay walking along the beaches and looking for shells. Many of the children were better informed than I about the different molluscs, and together we collected and named many. If we needed help there was always a good friend who had a marvellous collection arranged upon tables under the roof of her house. The children taught me many things, and they could have taught me how to paddle and steer a row boat, standing in the stern and operating the oar like a fish's tail; but I knew that I would be in the water before the lesson began. On one occasion a Publicity Group came to the Island with their movie cameras and took pictures of some of the guests at Ferndale House playing tenniquoit on the lawn. And I am sure they would have made the trip to Observation Point on more than one evening to watch the sun sets which were of spectacular beauty - hence Rakiura - well named.
Although fishing was the main interest of the Island economy, tourism must have been a close second, especially during the summer. The water at Bathing Beach was always warm and a very popular place for the children. I looked forward to the launch trips into Paterson Inlet and the walks which took us up Prices Peak or Mt Anglem. It was quite common to find the launch would be accompanied for part of the trip by swarms of fish and amongst them my mind still holds a picture of the ugly heads and flashing bellies of a shoal of barracouda.
Great interest was shown by everyone in the scheduled arrival of the ferry from Bluff. Sometimes supplies of staple commodities such as flour, meat, oil and coal would drop to a low level due to cancelled sailings. It was a real life line although fishing launches would maintain supplies if the Ferry was in dock. Float planes were still a long way off. Whilst on the Island a very special function was a garden party to mark the opening of the Baker Residence which had been constructed basically by Norwegian techniques. As Miss Baker's father had been Captain of a sailing ship, a World Globe stands out in my memory.
Psychology became a special study of mine whilst at the Training College, where "Breezy" Moore, the Principal was our lecturer. After topping the class in one of his papers, he reminded me that it was relatively easy to come first on one occasion, but much more difficult to stay there! By studying children, much agro could be avoided. Sent to relieve at Oteramika School I explained to John Smith and children that whilst I was the Head Teacher, there was no need to ask for permission to go the toilet. Several arms shot up waving frantically, and I was left in no doubt that John Smith could not be given such liberty, as he would clear off home unless someone accompanied him. I took John over to the window , asked him to estimate the distance and the time he needed to go there attend to his business and return. When he finally decided that three minutes would suffice, he scooted out the back door to see if he could better that time. He came back in under two minutes (I think he just circled the building) smiling broadly, and gave me no further concern. Giving children a reasonable target often works wonders. Later I was to discover that John was a State Ward and had few friends.
Taking charge in a class in a city school is an altogether different situation from being a Sole Teacher. Whereas it is easy to reward good work by letting them out of class a few minutes before the others, or letting them work in the garden, this is not possible in a large school where instructions are likely to rebound. It was in a city school that I first gave corporal punishment to a lad who was pleased to ignore my instructions. The experience made me so sick that I had to leave the class and take a walk. Pity I had not thought to send the lad for a walk! With today's smaller classes, and more professional staff it should be unnecessary in the primary service so long as parents themselves do not use physical punishment. Children are best handled by communicating, understanding and loving. Praise and reward, and self-esteem are the building blocks leading to self-discipline.
Not long out of College and full of enthusiasm, the senior members of the staff are only too happy to organise the work so that at one school I found myself taking the new physical education with massed groups of more than 100 children, whilst the senior master who had good rapport with the boys would walk along the rows swishing a cane and occasionally using it! Marching in step, a relic of the army, was gradually yielding to the new Swedish arm, leg and body exercises. Towards the end of one year the Headmasters had organised an Exhibition of school work. In order that competition between schools should be minimised, names were not allowed to be attached. However, the competition to be selected was enough to ensure that entries were of a very high standard. Unfortunately, most of the classes were for paper work only. Invercargill was of such a size that several schools were able to show their work. Since then schools have tended to confine exhibitions to smaller units.
It is difficult to imagine how we conveyed all the senior classes to the Showgrounds to parade on Anzac Day. One year the day was so hot that children collapsed all along the ranks. Almost everyone agreed that this sort of function could no longer be justified, and the move was made to hold memorial meetings at the schools.
An appointment to one of the city schools where parents were in the higher socio-economic groups made me realise that opportunities are not equal. Most of the children were delightfully friendly and frank and wanted to help me settle in. My responsibility was to teach, handle and educate a class of no fewer than 61 pupils in Std. 6, during the first term leading up to the Proficiency Examination. They were fine young men and women, and they and I worked so well together that at the end of the year we posted 56 Proficiencies, 4 Competencies and only one failure. Unfortunately there was a day when, after due warning one of the girls continued with disruptive tactics, and the inevitable happened. A parent complained to the Headmaster, who wrote a memo to be put on my personal file, tying my hands in the future. I added my own comment saying that no child was going to answer me back in such a manner and not be punished. But I was not happy at what had been done, and with experience I found better solutions. In the same class was another girl who came up to me after a lesson and presented me with a viable alternative solution to a problem with which we had been working. Every day I learnt my lesson. The boys were great chaps. We had one valuable contact. At every opportunity we would gather on the cricket pitch to learn more about the game and each other. Games against other city teams were always keenly contested and we aimed high. The setting was grand with a well mown sward and trees on the boundary.
As indicated earlier these were exciting times for me. There were always new experiences just around the corner. Once having just spent an hour in a new position, there was a knock and opening the door I was confronted by a healthy farmer who introduced himself as the Chairman of the School Committee. As we walked away from the building, chatting, he asked me what I had done with the children. I told him that they were busy at their desks. He found that hard to believe as on previous occasions, under similar circumstance, the windows would have been thrown open and not only would there be noise, but children had been known to come over the ledge. My general experience has been that given graded work children rapidly settle down eager to maintain or improve their results.
Throughout the period of relieving, travelling was something of a problem, but the trusty bicycle usually carried me around. One spell entailed covering eighteen miles each way, but fortunately not for long.
My next job took me to a school inland from Gore. At Riversdale where I left the train I was met by a young farmer who took me to his parent's place, where I was to board, and where I first saw champion sheep dogs in action. On the property was a pony about 24 years old, which had been making the trip to school for 20 years catering for all three members of the family in succession. Although retired, Meg had to be watched carefully for an open gate was a sure invitation to go to school. We were now in Eastern Southland where hockey, and especially women's hockey, was the number one sport. One Monday morning I sensed suppressed excitement amongst the girls, so much so that it was necessary to down tools whilst they put me in the picture. On the Saturday they had organised a team which had won a competition at Waikaka, a place which has a history of goldmining. The girls did a bit of mining themselves. As we had ten ponies in the paddock each day they might have done equally well in the saddle. It is strange to think that my first experience of Pony Club Competitions was at Arbroath in Scotland in 1978, more than forty years on. Country folk always impressed me with their genuine interest in their children and their schooling. Whilst there an urgent call came for me to return home as my brother was dangerously ill. Without hesitation a car was provided to take me to the railhead. By the time I reached home the crisis had passed.
Although the railway system was the prime means of getting around the district at this time, cars and buses were appearing in increasing numbers. One service which stood out was that provided by the colourful "News" cars which would leave the city in late afternoon to deliver The Southland Daily News to the rural subscribers. It provided a very convenient means of reaching destinations in time for an eight o'clock start the next day. The hotel at Wairio became my home for three months whilst I relieved there. Schools in the country reflect in their general appearance not only the district standards, but also the interests and influence of the teachers. Whereas one place may be drab, barren and unimaginative, the next will be gay with flowers, tidy and attractive. Wairio belonged to the latter: and the children were clean, smiling, active and helpful. As the coal mines at Ohai and Nightcaps were very busy at the time, and as Wairio was the point where the Company line joined the state railway, we were not short of coal wagons which seemed to be around all day. One Saturday I arranged with the Mine Manager to make my first visit to an underground mine. Access was down a gently sloping tramline, lined with coal. Warnings were given to be alert for coal tubs which might be on their way to the surface. Everything was safe and tidy, but I did not enjoy the trapped feeling which has been with me ever since I was pinned under a dray when a boy. It is still with me. If a crowd develops I choose to be on the perimeter. Working at the coalface was never going to attract me.
MY FIRST PERMANENT JOB : Kingston
Jobs may be difficult to get today. It seems to me that this is a recurring problem, as some of the details concerning my first attempts show. In the year 1932, annual income was sixty-four pounds from which was deducted superannuation and unemployment tax, leaving a net of fifty-eight pound. Admittedly this was earned through part-time relieving work only, but I was fortunate in that we lived on a small holding which produced eggs, vegetables, bacon and fruit in season. There was always plenty of unpaid work - fencing, ditching, hedges to trim, cows to milk, firewood to cut. It is not difficult to understand the Maoris claim to, and reverence for, the land. We have that same connection.
My net income rose in 1933 to ninety-five pound, and in 1934 to 122-18-10 as the hours of work increased. In 1936, as a sole teacher, I had my first permanent employment earning 162-2-9! I was a long way from the city lights, but I had good board living in the local hotel for the two years, paying somewhere between twenty-five and thirty shillings weekly for board. Looking back they were good years with plenty of hard work and much fun. The children (I can still recall many), were delightful. One day, Joan, stood in the middle of the room frantically waving her arms for permission to speak, but I was busy trying to solve a child's problem at the blackboard when I heard her mumble: "Oh it doesn't matter, I've done it!" Over to Nita a girl in the sixth standard who in no time at all had consoled Joan and found her dry pants. Nothing upset Nita, and I'm sure that wherever she may be she'll have many good friends. And on another occasion when the youngest of four sisters fell on our ice slide at the back of the playshed and began to cry; the eldest, Pat, became really cross when the blubbing went on, and on. I left the school to look after itself and took Colleen home on the bar of my bicycle and was fortunate to meet her parents at the entrance to their sheep station. The next day we heard that Colleen had been sick and "out" for a couple of hours. Concussion was diagnosed. It taught me not to ignore what might be seen as childish behaviour. I'm sure that Patricia learnt the lesson too. But it didn't stop our exhilarating games before school.
In spite of travelling to the east and west of Invercargill to fulfil my obligations as a relieving teacher with the Southland Education Board, I had not moved northwards. So when I was appointed the Sole Teacher at Kingston on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, a hundred miles inland, a whole new vista opened up. Fortunately a Ford Model T Tourer with the petrol tank under the seat, was in my possession, and a well used bicycle was in the shed. As an insurance against car failure the bicycle was lashed to the running board and roof struts on the passenger's side. Although my knowledge of the combustion engine was no longer a mystery, my skill at repairing faults was minimal; hence the bicycle, for one we passed Lumsden, even a telephone would be hard to find. Although there was a railway line, and indeed most folk travelled by rail along this route. Once we had left Lumsden behind the road wavered and climbed up to the Dome Pass, on to Athol (also known as Siberia), to Garston where there was a school, and then about ten miles over a terminal moraine before reaching Kingston, so puny as to be dwarfed by the surrounding cliff-like hills. What was there? There was a white pub (where I found accommodation), a railway station, with toilet and waiting room, an engine shed with a turntable nearby, where the engine could be turned around for the next day's trip to Invercargill, houses for the station master and the engine driver, but above all there was a school. A one-roomed school set on a terrace half a mile back along the road, which itself led to the main road to the south. Remember these were depression days and I was soon made aware that there was a workers' tent camp a short distance away, the men working on what was to be the main road north to Queenstown. As yet all goods had to be shipped between Kingston and Queentstown and that applied in the main to all the passengers. Whereas in Oban, Stewart Island, we looked for the daily connection to Bluff and the ferry boat for outside contact, in Kingston we (and that included most of the folk living nearby) met the train since it bought the paper and the mail. But it also bought bread and foodstuffs, and oil and batteries - there was no shop in Kingston!
Just a few feet from the main entrance to the hotel was a hand-operated petrol bowser, and the whole area round about was unfenced, so that people, cars and animals appeared everywhere, and more especially if as excursion train had deposited a few hundred passengers in the vicinity as they made their way from station to wharf on foot to connect with one of the ferries for Queenstown. Admittedly such occasions were confined to the summer tourist season; but they always provided a measure of excitement.
Twice a day if there were no patrons in the bar, the proprietor or his wife would come outside from the kitchen quarters swinging a galvanised bucket and a stool. This was the time to make a bit of noise to attract the house cow "Paddy" which might be a quarter of a mile away. Paddy would stop opposite the bowser and there without foot rope or halter and patiently chewing her cud, would be relieved of her milk by a sometimes unsteady milk maid; and then return to the long paddock and unfenced railway land.
Between the railway station and the wharf one might see at the appropriate time of the day a draught horse with harness, chains and swingel-tree apparently wandering aimlessly, but actually following the mumblings of the Yardsman, as railway wagons were moved from place to place. Apparently the track out over the wharf had not been built to take the weight of the engine so a man and his horse did all the shunting. On a fine day the area presented a relaxing, peaceful, lakeside rendezvous.
Live stock were transported on the "Ben Lomond" to Queenstown and other points of the lake. One night when loading went on rather late and the celebrations even later, a man was the next day found to be missing. The residents were much upset by his disappearance and the discovery of his body on the lakeshore a fortnight later did little to restore the peace. Mr McLean was engaged by the local authority to look after the roading in the area - his chief occupation being to keep the water courses free during and after times of flooding. His chief tools were a wheelbarrow and shovel.
About a hundred yards westwards from the hotel a track entered scrubland and two hundred feet up the rock face there was a wooden structure which housed a generator and Pelting wheel, the latter being driven by a jet of water which descended from a pool another hundred feet up the slope. Here was the source of the D.C. which provided electricity to light the hotel and its four bedrooms, a radio and sometimes the iron. Only on one occasion do I remember a power failure. After a "fresh" the grating guarding the intake became blocked, and half an hour's work with lantern in hand and water everywhere, was needed to rectify the problem.
The station waiting room, with a warm open fire and a kerosene lamp provided a congenial atmosphere for meetings. I can still recall how a Cadet on the railway entertained us with a succession of stories on more than one occasion. His memory for yarns was amazing - one story led to another without pause, or maybe stimulated by a chance remark from a listener. The Station Master at the time was Mr. Lawrie who had two children attending the school, the engine driver was Nick Carter who had recently married Florrie Woods from Bluff. Both were in their forties. Florrie was a great help to me, even insisting upon washing some of my clothes. We were also fortunate in getting her to take the girls for sewing lessons which were held in her own living room and the children were over the moon with the new arrangements.
Another couple who helped me greatly were Barney and Lily Blakely who had a young family where I spent many happy evenings. Lily, in spite of her own family pressures (three children under six at the time) found room in her home for my young sister whom I decided needed a bit of a change. She had never known her mother who had died at child birth and Lily's kindness meant much to us. At the time Blanche was 10 years old in standard four and there were at least half a dozen other girls at the school. Barney, with his brother, farmed Lorne Peak Station which stretched back down the main road to Fairlight. He was also the Secretary of the School Committee, and responsible for the district, presenting me, on my departure after two years, with a leather attache/writing case, which I still use. For the community, the most revolutionary change during these two years was the opening of the road to Queenstown. Because Jock Warnock, the publican and his wife had been invited to the Opening Ball, and because he wanted to enjoy himself, and because I was tee-total, I turned chauffeur for the night, and when a leaking plug in the engine block of his Plymouth caused engine over-heating, I spent some time at Wye Creek at 2 a.m. filling the radiator using an empty lemonade bottle!
With the opening of the road, Kingston lost some of the handicaps of isolation, and also some of its charm. As a teacher, holidays gave me the chance to return to town, to meet new friends, and to reflect. Like professional people in other occupations, common interests bind us together. At the Staircase, seven miles round the Lake's eastern shore there was a workers' camp where the unemployed were constructing (still using the shovel and pick) the new road through rocky bluffs. At one stage there were enough children to warrant a temporary school, and a College friend of mine was appointed Sole Teacher, living in a six by ten hut with crates of canned foods stored beneath his bed for sustenance. No-one knows what quite happened to Alex, but he was taken from that idyllic spot to the Dunedin Hospital suffering from T/B. I believe that the living conditions had something to do with his illness but happily he recovered.
Another friend of College days was Reg Olver who appeared at Arthur's Point some five miles out of Queenstown. Reg was friendly, generous and reliable. Later he was to woo and marry a teacher at Queenstown District High School. They were a splendid couple, but sadly did not have any children. Years later when we were at Isla Bank and they lived at Drummond they took care of our eldest daughter, Heather, whilst we waited for our second child - or was it the third?
Most schools, tenanted, are interesting, lively and exciting even if they are small - say twenty feet square: but empty, they can be dreary, cold uncharitable; abandoned, they are depressing. Kingston, now abandoned is no exception, but there are still some of the trees we planted more than fifty-five years ago growing along the boundary. If the colour is still the same - a dull insipid brown with white facings; the windows still look out over the Lake with its vibrant colours and moods. Who cares? I do and I have my memories.
THE WAR YEARS
No-one who lived through the "thirties" could have escaped the ominous noises coming from Germany. During those years I tried to keep myself informed about the issues; the tensions, the pressures, the rumours, the half truths, which were all bandied about and all demanded an alert and informed intellect. There are still several "Penguin Specials on my bookshelves with titles:
Why War .... C.E.M. Joad
What Hitler Wants .... E.O. Lorimer
Why Hitler is at War .... Harold Nicolson
The Great Illusion Now .... Norman Angell
Mussolini's Roman Empire .... G.T. Garratt
Hitler's War .... Hugh Dalton
Blackmail or War Genevieve Tablois
The New German Empire Dr. F. Borkenau
.......all being books of topical importance published within as short a time as possible from the receipt of the manuscript, and cheap, too.
In 1938 I was teaching in Dunedin and taking classes at the University after school. It proved to be a busy schedule as there were many long discussions about what might happen. If I had any insight it was that having six million men in uniform, Hitler would not pull back from the goals expounded in "Mein Kampf", and soon we would be involved.
At the university, my advanced studies in Education were reaching the stage where Prof Lawson looked upon me as a Senior Student, and he was perturbed when I told him I was a volunteer for the Air Force. He wanted me to see my role in Education as being of greater worth to the community than anything I might achieve in a flying career: But, by 1940, I was working my way through a correspondence course in mathematics and physics as a preliminary to being a navigator. There were two good reasons why I chose the Air Force. Firstly I had had fallen arches and some medical treatment back in College days, and I couldn't believe I would make the grade as a soldier; and secondly, a better reason is that I am not a pugnacious type. Throughout my schooling, being small in stature but a keen student, I was usually the youngest and the smallest of the group, and avoided mixing it with the big boys. Slogging it out in hand to hand combat did not appeal to me, whereas in an aircraft one's target be it a ship, a submarine, marshalling yards or port installation, it was always seen as a thing, material and impersonal.
By the middle of 1941 I found myself entering the R.N.Z.A.F. Training Camp at Levin, where we were billeted in tents and learned how to polish buttons and keep the tent spotless. It was also necessary to recognise ranks and how, when and to whom a salute was necessary.
Coming from the South Island we were sent down to Taieri Airfield, near Dunedin, for our initial flying training on Tiger Moths. I had had no experience of flying and had enrolled as a nvigator, but somehow was encouraged to take the Pilot's Course, being assured that should I fail to fly solo, I could always re-enrol as a navigator. Being 29 years old by this time, I found I was in the upper-age bracket for learners, but I was determined to give flying my best shot. Some of the lads who seemed much more relaxed about the course seemed to get on remarkably quickly and talked knowingly about turning and banking, slipping and sliding etc - and even after five hours instruction were ready to go. My log book will show that I managed to go solo after eight hours instruction which was near the average. I well remember one chap about my age who boasted after two hours that his instructor had let him land the plane, but it was still nine hours before he went solo.
Perhaps I was over cautious. One morning I well remember the usual take-off and landing when my instructor hopped out of the plane and slapping his cap on the fuselage told me to "Get on with it". Fearful and apprehensive, I did just that, trying to recall in sequence all the good advice given to make a successful circuit of the field. Listed in the front of my Log Book are no fewer than 22 drills, operations and skills which are covered in the training sessions - ranging from cockpit drills to stalling, spinning, forced landings and aerobatics. To pretend that I was confident in all areas after a mere eight hours instruction scared me; but if others could make the grade, perhaps I could too - and I did. But the learning went on and I realised that I was not the kind of person who accepted the machine as an extension of myself and did not enjoy "fancy" flying. However, I did like low flying, which was perhaps why I became later a captain in Coastal Command.
Around September 1941 I was to leave family and friends in Invercargill, and in quick time I was one of a party of 100 plus airmen (L.A.C.) on our way to Canada for advanced flying training under the Empire Training Scheme, aboard a smart American civilian passenger liner, the S.S. Monterey, which provided us with a luxury cruise. I was extra lucky having a well-equipped single berth cabin on the promenade deck with all mod cons - toilet and shower, telephone and daily newspaper! Our trip was highly irregular as America was neutral, and we were classed as Boy Scouts on our way to a Jamboree - at least that's what the residents of Hawaii had been told.
On reflection my good fortune with respect to ship-board accommodation may have been the lever the C.O. used to get me involved in ship-board activities, especially to take the early morning physical activity groups, which were well patronised by my captive recruits. As we were living well, we needed the extra exercise. The people of Honolulu took great care of us during our short stay, welcoming us into their homes and clubs. Even though the attack on Pearl Harbour was some three months away there was much military activity.
At San Diego we spent half a day cruising around the harbour whilst the ship was subject to a de-gaussing operation - something to do with the fight against floating mines. We were excited at the prospect of getting ashore, but we were "aliens". It was rumoured that if we were to set foot on American soil we would be interned for the duration. This restriction was conveniently put on one side when we reached San Fransisco, but re-imposed once we were on the train for Vancouver. We were about to get a look at the "west"; but only from our seats in a railway carriage, where we slept, and a dining car where we had full tourist care provided by the Railway Company, even to having Stewards.
THE WAR YEARS - In Canada
From Sept 1941 to Sept 1942 I was but one of hundreds of New Zealanders who were part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, which catered for the training of gunners, navigators, pilots and wireless operators for the Allied Air Forces. My fellow trainees and I were sent to No 12 S.F.T.S at Brandon Manitoba where our main goal was to convert to twin-engined machines to qualify for our "Wings"
Perhaps the most exciting part of the time spent there was over the Christmas period when the landing field became a 20 cm blanket of rolled and frozen snow. It was a chance too, to be part of a White Christmas, with all the festivities associated with Christmas in the northern hemisphere. It was good to be with relatives and friends in a far land and to know that Christianity was not forgotten during the days of war. And a further thrill was that day in January when we were paraded in the Station Hall to be presented with our "Wings", a ceremony which reminded me of Graduation Day at Otago University a year earlier. Friends and relatives were there too, and I was glad that Dad's sister was a guest. Although my log book has an entry which describes me as a mechanical type lacking natural flying ability, I do not dispute this assessment, for I know that made me cautious when faced with difficulties, and ready to listen to those with wider experience.
Flying at Brandon was different in that we had twin-engined Cessna cabin aircraft which were easy to handle, warm and comfortable in flight. As we were in the centre of a vast featureless plain navigation was not so easy once we had left the railway tracks. Most of our flying time was taken up with circuits and bumps, navigation exercises, formation flying, instrument flying and night flying. We enjoyed much sunny weather, but at the same time we learnt what having two feet of frozen earth around was like. Formation flying did not appeal to me, an attitude which was strengthened after there was a mid air collision and a good friend was killed. Happily in Coastal Command, formation flying was not a priority.
From Brandon on the prairies, a hundred miles west of Winnipeg, we were sent 1200 miles east to Charlottetown, on Prince Edward Island to qualify as navigators. P.E.I. is always recalled as having a very different climate from the prairies - once more we were back in a colourful agricultural setting, where "Anne of Green Gables" had its birth; where the seasons followed each other, a place which reminded us of N.Z.
Training for Coastal Command called for expertise in navigation as well as piloting the plane for long periods over trackless expanses of water. At Charlottetown, besides further exercises in mapping one's position (applying wind speed and direction to accurate compass flying to maintain track), we were introduced to astro-navigation, requiring the recognition of important stars and the use of the sextant. Rapid progress in the use of radio beacons and radar equipment about this time made much of this training obsolete; although on some later flights from Ireland, under strict R/T silence we actually carried pigeons!
At No 31 G.R.S. we flew as Navigators in Ansons, and lying on one's stomach working out the wind's speed and direction to apply to the aircraft's heading, to make the correct track from A to B provided me with some anxious moments. Let it be known that I have never been highly rated as a sailor, and the belly of the Anson was worse than a dinghy.
At this time, (1942), pilots trained on multi-engined aircraft in Canada would be crewed up according to the needs of the types of aircraft which were coming off the production line which were flown across the Atlantic to the U.K. New aircraft were in great demand, and it must have been difficult for supply to marry aircraft and crews. However, before entrusting us with ferrying we had to take another course. This time we went to Nova Scotia to fly Hudsons, a twin-engined bomber which had already been in use on active service for some time and was to be replaced by the Ventura.
After crewing up at a holding unit at Monckton, we went to Debert. The crew consisted of: myself as captain, P/O Pharis as observer, navigator, bomb-aimer and two W.A.Gs (wireless operator/air gunners) Vic Munro and Gerry Landry - all Canadians. Getting the right mix in a crew was of great importance for the high standard of operational skills. It was just as important to aim for harmony. It would be stupid to pretend that all the chaps fitted in without difficulty. Rank sometimes got in the way. As I was still a Flight Sergeant, a Pilot Officer who was allocated to the crew did not respond well to my authority. He let us down once by reporting for duty whilst under the influence, and on a second occasion, much later, when flying Wellingtons over the North Sea he "muffed" when changing over the petrol feed from the wing to belly tanks. The crew were not slow in showing their displeasure, so Pat applied for a transfer to fighter aircraft. His successor was one of the most popular figures on the Squadron, young, fair haired, full of fun and good at his job.
On another occasion we were able to visit New York - to negotiate Times Square, walk along Wall Street, visit the Statue of Liberty. We experienced the hospitality and generosity of many kind people contacted through the Anzac Club. Yes, we visited the Empire State Building, then the World's highest, where our guide said we could purchase anything - although he was not too sure about a roast of beef!
On the 27th of May 1942, we were present at the opening of the Anzac Roof Garden in the Empire State Building. On the same day I had my first experience of eating from an Automat. All that had to be done is to select the dish you want from those exhibited in the glass-fronted doors, insert a quarter in the slot, and take out the meal. Quick, clean and no fuss. We find Broadway at night busier than at mid-day. We visit Columbia University, Teacher's College and take the elevated railway to the Bronx Botanical Gardens. That night we were guests of Mrs Julius Morgan of the financial House. Three days later I had my best meal in New York at the home of Mrs Clarke where one hundred guests were entertained. Everywhere we were welcomed, hospitality was over-whelming, the United Services Club was open at all hours. Time to say goodbye to the Picadilly Hotel, to the taxis - yellow, brown, green and blue, and return to our barracks at Debert. On the 26th whilst taking snaps from the rear of the train, I was challenged by the Guard for breaking some law concerning taking snaps of places of military interest, and was met by Police at Boston. The film was confiscated, the camera returned and five weeks later thirty prints caught up with my Unit "Thank-you Officer Kelly". I might add that 1942 in the U.S.A was a time of high security. Returning to camp was to go from a multi-coloured tapestry to a hum drum existence, caring for one's bunk and clothes, and waiting, waiting for another good day of flying. There was compensation in meeting up with new arrivals. On this occasion I met a fellow teacher from Invercargill who was in the Fleet Air Arm. I wonder what happened to Ralph Cocklin?
June 6 th at Debert, Nova Scotia.
The weather played havoc with flying schedules and it was not until the 29th that I flew solo in a Hudson, and we were able to get on with our training. Low flying is always a thrill, and in Coastal Command it was a very necessary skill. At Debert we were able to fly over the sea, and get down low enough to stir the quiet water with the wash from the props! Most of our flying was done with a ceiling of 1500 ft. except when passing over the land. Nonetheless, we carried parachutes and knew how to use them; although we seldom wore them on operations.
There is no doubt in my mind that my instructor at No 31 O.T.U. Operational Training Unit - P/O Powell - gave sound instruction and helped my confidence in my ability. As Pilots were faced with a new aircraft a number of sequences carefully listed in the front of his Log Book, had to be studied, understood, mastered, practised and even remembered. There were about twenty basic units of instruction relating to Flight, and as many again for the comprehension of engines and instrumentation. What goes on with respect to cockpit drill in the modern multi-engined craft must be infinitely more complicated. I understand computers simplify the procedure.
An entry for July 7th reads. Did five circuits today with L.A.C. Warner (ground staff) on board. Although the first take-off saw the aircraft swing violently, scaring us both, the landing was perfect, and he flew with me again on the eighth and ninth. On the ninth did one and a half hours solo in the morning, but in the afternoon did Link training followed by one and a half hours instrument flying. In the evening Peter and I thrashed Kevin and Bill at table tennis. They had their revenge the nest day. On the 11th I played for the Anzac Rugby Team which defeated the English six to three. Not flying training, but good for morale!
Flying training went on. After we had done six take-offs and landings, Gerry, a crew member calmly informed me that he never expected to survive even four. He was an efficient radio operator, and flew with me throughout our operational tour. Flying was interfered with because of smoke haze, unserviceable planes, crew members being unfit and bad weather. One night we were "treed" for a couple of hours as an aircraft as an aircraft had crashed; and a few nights later a whole crew of five lost their lives when they crash landed north of the drome. One had to ask oneself, pilot error or mechanical failure? Silently we determined to polish our skills and increase our efforts. To this end I welcomed every opportunity to test-fly aircraft which had just had a maintenance check. The ground staff were frequently passengers on such occasions, prepared to stake their own lives on the excellence of their work. At this stage a few instructors who had had operational experience in Europe began to filter back to the training schools to share their experiences with us. Because we were destined for Coastal Command operations "ditching" was very important, and this could be practised on dry land using the dummy aircraft. There were many occasions when we wondered if we would ever be qualified to serve on the front-line squadron. More examinations in navigation, armaments and meteorology. The course was never-ending.
By this time we felt that action was imminent. But stay! To get from Canada to the U.K. transport is necessary. Aircrews are outstripping the supply of bombers(Venturas) to be ferried across the Atlantic, and shipping has to be assembled in convoys for safety from submarine attack. The obvious solution is to give the chaps leave.
Towards the end of August, a group of New Zealanders arrived by train in Montreal to hear the stationmaster announce "7am temperature 60" and two hours later we joined C.N.R. for Ottawa, which we reached at 1300 hours to stay at the Lord Elgin. We went sight-seeing in the capital city, being charmed by the houses of Parliament and Carillon. Doug reminded me at dinner that 85 cents represented 4/6. I know that I bought two pairs of Calobar sun-glasses for sixteen dollars which lasted long after the war, a book "All Our Tomorrows" by Douglas Reed and Doug chose to buy a shower-proof jacket. There were uniforms everywhere but no hostility. We met Wing Commander Welles of Cambridge, who is a well known fighter pilot visiting R.C.A.F. officials. We swim, play bowls, sun-bathe and visit the "Y" regularly for sustenance. We had a happy week, and met so many good people that a walk through Woolworths was sure to result in a greeting, and an invitation. Just as we were contemplating a return to Moncton, a wire came extending our leave for a further week.
We leave Ottawa at 8 a.m. on Sept 9th, on our return to Nova Scotia. At 5 p.m. we catch the ferry at Levis to cross the St Lawrence to Quebec. In the lift at the Chateau Frontenac where we were staying, a stranger who happened to be the Secretary of the Aryshires' Breeders' Assoc. invited us to have dinner with him, and to visit the Agriculture Show, which we found very similar in pattern to a N.Z. show; but with fewer exhibits and more emphasis on healthy living.
A bus trip away, down the St. Lawrence is a Catholic Shrine, the Church of St Anne of Beaupres. On a guided tour we learnt that some sailors caught in a violet storm feared for their lives and vowed that if they made it to shore, at that spot they would build a Church in gratitude, which they did. In 1942 it was a holy place, a place where miracles occurred, and where we saw around the walls, the crutches which had been abandoned by many believers over the years.
By the 12th we were back at Sackville with Mr and Mrs Woods who entertained quite a party - myself, Doug., Kev., Ivan and Stan, all from N.Z. On the following day I attended Church with Mr Wood discussing religion education and politics, easy with a gentleman who had served in the government. Our sojourn in Canada was almost over. At Halifax we were given experience in the decompression chamber to add to our knowledge of flying at altitude with oxygen. Surprisingly Les George, a well built man who was next to me in the queue in the medical quarters keeled over at the sight of the hyperdermic needle, or maybe it was nervous tension!
We leave Canada for the U.K.
Somehow Canada did not want us to leave. Time dragged; and the weather was generally wet. We spent endless time dodging backwards and forwards between our huts and the town. We packed our kitbags, unloaded them, and repacked making sure that we had all essential clean clothes, but really for something to do. Now we are ready - but still no ship. We do more study, argue, go to the pictures, and to the Anzac Club. About the 18 th Sept we supposedly record messages to be relayed back to N.Z. A day later we are honoured by a visit from the Hon Langstone, N.Z. Minister to Ottawa, who assured us that we were on our way. There are recollections, too, of discussing politics with the Hon. G. Fox, who told me that a citizen without a party was worthless. I was not convinced; and am still an Independent.
On the last day of Sept. I can now reveal that we are on board a very large troopship, the Louis Pasteur, no less, carrying more than a thousand trained men closer to the war; and security was of the highest order. Below, deck space was minimal; but we all had a place to sleep, and room for the Mae West, to which we clung. Meals were taken in relays; and some cooking staff must have been there at all hours. So long as you used salt water, you could take a shower or wash at leisure. It was a relief to know that we did not have to carry a gas mask; although we had used them in practice. Unfortunately conditions were so cramped that reading or writing were rarely possible. Naturally a pack of cards and the bottom bunk were very much in demand; and because of my age I was obligingly offered the downstairs accommodation. What a contrast to life aboard the S.S. Monterey the previous year!
"Boat drill" was treated very seriously, and could be sounded at any time. In addition, groups drawn from various units on board were detailed for keeping watch, which was maintained throughout the 24 hours. It was an opportunity to brush up on one's knowledge of the many silhouettes of friendly or enemy craft, on the water or in the air.
On Oct 3rd, because we had Dutch personnel on board, we were treated to some unaccompanied singing to celebrate the Relief of Leyden by De Ruyter. Everyone on board heaved a sigh of relief when the Convoy broke up on Oct 6 th, and we saw land and our first Spitfire patrol. In the grey dawn everything was drab, no lights, flabby barrage balloons, wharf labourers wearing caps, their cheeky faces upturned for fags, which we were glad to share with them as the Canadian Govt. had given us fifty each the day before we left. The approach to port, and disembarkation was agonizingly slow.
October 8 th and our first day on English soil - but for me, a return to my roots. A great thrill really, and how well we were received. Although we saw much damage, and had a stop-start, but comfortable train journey to the South of England, we were soon ferried by bus to an R.A.F. Station for meals, and then to a block of flats to sleep in beds with wire mattresses, clean sheets and four blankets.
Following common practice we were attached to a personnel unit and given leave. Eight days leave in the U.K. and London unexplored! With relatives close-by I was eager to say "hello" in person to Dad's eldest sister and family. They were in this was too, with two sons missing in the Navy: the eldest son a Staff Captain in the Army, and a daughter in the W.R.N.S. Walton on Thames, here I come, complete with ration cards. At Walton, where the Waterlows lived, in a lovely double-storied white stone house set in almost half an acre of lawns and gardens, I met Uncle pruning loganberries. Nothing was allowed to interfere with seasonal jobs in the garden, and in spite of all the agony of war, England must prevail. England could do no wrong. Oscar, who was an engineer worked for Vickers Marine and had survived some heavy bombing at the factory. We talk, and talk.
The next day, with my Aunt leading the way we cycle through towns and villages, and along the Thames, passing beautiful homes and Council housing, see yachts and punts and swans, and visit the Parish Church at Shepparton. English Churches always have a reverence for me, even if empty, for generally there are memorials embedded in the walls or the stone floor, honouring past worshippers, blest of God.
Tea consisted of grated cheese and French beans, brown bread with salmon fish paste and coffee. (2 lb loaf of bread cost 2 d.). We talk about education (English Public Schools in particular). On our cycling trip I bought "The Quest for Security in N.Z." which I took with me to bed to read. The war seemed so far away, but so close too. Aunt longed for news of her missing sons, and as a last resort went to the Spiritualist Church, where she was given hope.
Whilst at Walton ("Engadine" was the name of the house) there was never a dull moment. One afternoon I took the dogs for a romp in the park and was caught in some unexpected rain, arriving back to the house soaked. To accompany the others to the cinema I wore Pootie's stockings, Anthony's football shorts, David's jacket and Aunt's raincoat! We had attended an early show and when we returned another of Dad's sisters was in residence. Violet, who has already been mentioned as one who came to look after us when Mother died, was still in the R.N.S. but had leave, and together we visited Hampton Court, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral and Madam Tussauds, not all on the same day. It was amazing to find that none of them had been destroyed, but from the roof of St. Paul's the sight was sickening. It was a sight which touched one's deepest thoughts and feelings; a time when new resolves were secretly sworn. Back at the N.Z. Club we met Doug Lister, Ivan Green and Arthur Bennett. Later we managed a visit to Kew Gardens where we saw a party of school children on tour. Who could destroy the inner spirit of these young Britons?
My birthday coincided with a return to the fold where we met the N.Z. High Commissioner who may have been responsible for getting some action, because a day later we were posted to No. 7 O.T.U. in Ireland, which sounded pretty as it was rumoured that we would be flying either Hudsons or Catalinas. The tempo picked up. We searched the shops for Christmas gifts to send home. We collected the laundry and repacked our kit. Kev and I went to the pavilion to join in the dancing only to discover late at
night that someone had sabotaged our night attire.
Limavady, Northern Ireland
Bournemouth to Euston, and then the night train to Strenraer: then the ferry to Ireland if conditions permit, a matter of two hours. The accommodation does not look too promising, especially for winter. Maybe we are seeing things through jaudiced eyes - these are not the planes we expected. And the weather? Cold and wet.
Flight Sergeant Robins back from operations in Malta introduced me to the twin-engined Wellington Bomber; and in quick time I went solo with Gerry and Bill my constant companions.
Read The Raft by Dixon, an American pilot who with two pals drifted in a rubber dinghy for 34 days in the Pacific. This, together with a film Coastal Command us an insight into what we could expect on operations. At any time gatherings of men of different nationalities were to be found discussing all kinds of topics, but always flying and its emergencies were a high priority. Even though the Germans turn on Vichy France and the army makes an advance in the desert, there's a long journey ahead.
Studies begin in earnest. Foremost are books detailing the structure of the aircraft, and of the Pegasus engines - radial engines like those in the Hudsons, but smaller. More exercises in navigation using the sextant, and in armaments especially the Browning machine gun. Meteorology and the study of weather patterns became increasingly important, but more importantly we have to be able to bring the aircraft down through cloud. Flying and navigation combine to get us back on the ground even though the landing field is surrounded by low hills. We need to have a drill for getting clear of the aircraft if ditching is necessary. This is practised in a corner of the hanger where a battered fusilage lies. Imagine the consternation when during practice Bill shoved his head out of the astrodome to announce that he couldn't catch the pigeons which were expected to fly back to base with our estimated position on ditching! Such "larking" got us through many a dull day.
Communal suppers were the order of the day at Limavady. On the 9th Dec, courtesy of friends in Canada and New Zealand, we enjoyed currant loaf, rasberry jam, spiced ham and cheese with Christmas Cake. Besides foodstuffs, we were also grateful for many items of clothing, and I need to thank Jean and Doreen for two pairs of black sox which arrived when needed most.
Maybe the two hours spent de-canting four gallon tins of petrol into underground tanks, in lieu of P.T., had something to do with my visit to the M.O. on the 13th Dec. when I was for the first time admitted to hospital; or could it have been the meal of sliced peaches and cream followed by kippers and coffee of the previous evening? For 24 hours I slept, waking only when medication was presrcibed. Then I recall that Ivan Green brought me 14 letters (Aug-Sept postings) from N.Z. Over the next six days I advanced from patient to ward orderly. The return to the Nissan hut was grim. The place felt cold and damp, and for some unexplained reason we had to use lanterns - a power failure?
Three days before Christmas, Eric Fendick joined the crew, having been trained as a special equipment operator. Planes were now being equipped with radar, which became valuable eyes for night flying. In operation, the screen showed land forms, ships and aircvraft at varying distances and bearings from the plane. Eric was a pipe-smoking, married man with a droll sense of humour; but best of all, he was skilled, sincere and loyal. Equally satisfying was the joy we had in welcoming aboard our navigator, Alan Ruggles, (Rug), from Toronto. By contrast, he was young, carefree, jovial and proved to be efficient, quick and accurate at his job as navigator and bomb-aimer. At this stage the crew consisted of four Canadians and an Englishman, later to be three Canadians and two Englishmen. With myself, as the sole New Zealander, it lokked as if we had the ideal mix!
Christmas day, 1942; it proved to be a day like any other Friday. Gerry, Bill Dunc and I played whist, and my interest was such that I forgot about the hockey match. In the evening we had sausages, lamb and green peas, and sliced peaches for supper. But, at 4.30 on the 26th we had Christmas Dinner. Liquid refreshment, soup, fish, turkey with brussel sprouts, roast potatoes and green peas, followed by custard and pineapple cubes, plum pudding and sauce, finally topping it off with coffee and biscuits. In the evening we played bridge. The entry in my diary for the 30th Dec. tells everything! "A practice bombing trip this morning. My first take-off and landing for more than a month. Results of bombing were no more than average, although eight did not explode, and were not on the plot". So 1942 drew to its close.
More Training in England
Jan - Feb 1943
Duff weather! No flying, but I managed to taxi from No 1 to No 2 Squadron dispersal area. What a way to begin the new year: but much better than what happened on the 2nd when a stray aircraft lost at night and flying in cloud crashed into the hills about five miles away. A solemn, yet stirring spectacle as the tanks exploded and the pyrotechnics provided a funeral pyre. The glow in the sky and the red reflection from the cloud base were impressive. One considers the alternatives to flying into the ground and killing all the crew. War is a nasty business, and so are the accidents. Night flying is a strain and more so if the weather forecast is unreliable. Often we would go to bed anticipating an early take-off, only to be aroused around mid-night to hear that all flying had been cancelled. Regular flying seemed to make for better flying, a bit like playing games in a team.
When we were given two days' leave, Doug and I decided to go to Belfast (B & B 9s6d), where we found the women wearing quaint shawls which were useful for carrying the babies. By now we were better able to cope with the blackouts. It's hard to believe, but when we reported back to base we were sent away again on 10 days leave! Obviously there were shortages: and leave was a much better proposition than hanging about the Squadron.
My choice was soon made. Train to Larne, cross on the Ferry to Stanraer, then by train through Dumfries to Carlisle and Newcastle, where I had to wait for four hours to catch the train to York, leaving at 0700 hours, the night actually having been spent in station waiting rooms and services canteens- when I wasn't actually travelling. This was one night when I never went to bed. It was 1135 on Thursday 14th Jan when I returned to Scarborough, the town where I had been born in 1912, and booked in at the Pavilion (B&B 10s6d). Although there were many relatives of Mother living there I was not sure if they had accommodation for an extra lodger, or had food for an extra mouth. Just think of it? From the Infant's School at Gladstone Road to the Pavillion. A rags to riches story there! Stop dreaming lad: get moving!!
Two of Mother's married sisters and three of her brothers lived nearby. I had their addresses in my head, but I saw a familiar sign, "Rountrees Cafe" where I had a meal, a good meal for 2s6d. Grandmother had lived at 7 Rothbury Street prior to our departure from England, and we had often visited there on Sundays or after school. Now Gladys, her youngest daughter lived in the same brick tenement block with three floors. I was recognised, welcomed and installed after only one night at the Pavillion.
Three days of hectic visiting followed. We walked along the Cliffs, now strung with barbed wire entanglements: along Marine Parade with memories of sand castles and bathing huts: round the Harbour (I recall the fireworks display of Armistice Day 1918), up through the narrow cobbled streets, and out to Peasholme Lake and the Allotment Gardens...all garnished with memories of Sunday Family outings with the pram. And then, in more sombre mood, we visit the Cemetery to visit the graves of my maternal grandparents and my brother, Watson, who had died from diphtheria when ten years of age, and was buried a couple of months before we left England in 1920 to live in New Zealand.
Back at Limavady, through January and February, practically everyone had periods of ill health, which may have been aggravated by the lack of sunshine, since part of the cure was to take U-V treatment, exposure to the electric heat lamp. On the 14th Feb my diary records one successful flight in daylight in more than a week; and no night flying. There were very real problems in getting serviceable planes, decent weather and fit crew members to co-incide!
Around mid-Feb we began training in simulated torpedo attacks on ships. This was exciting, calling for accurate low flying, and careful assessment of speed and angle to make the drop. Although we carried dummy torpedos (runners), the accuracy of the attack was registered by a camera mounted in the nose of the aircraft. Back on the ground, W.R.N.S. working in the Photographic Section were able to produce a print showing the possible result. If range, height and speed of the aircraft are top priorities, the angle of deflection to bring missile and target together is the crucial factor in success, and practice helps. With all conditions favourable, several attacks would be carried out on the same training flight. At night an additional duty had to be woven into the fabric, as the use of a flare made for a better target.
In spite of all the hazards, training was coming to an end, and posting to an operational squadron seemed close (or so we thought..). Kev George and his crew left on the 23rd Feb. We did our last navigational exercise on the night of the 24th: which was marred by some bungling on the part of P/O Green, although I managed a creditable D.T.C. (descent through cloud), to return safely to base. It transpired later that we were the only crew flying at the time because deteriorating weather had cancelled all other flights. As we were operating under R.T. silence we could not be recalled. The next day we were given indefinite leave, my address being c/o Norman Verity, Warren House, Masham, Yorkshire.
My route from Stranraer to Carlisle, to Leeds and Ripon took up some 24 hours, much of it waiting for connections, until we finally arrived at 7am. Another wait for the bus to Masham at 9.15. So this is the West Riding of Yorkshire where Dad had lived as a youth; and what a quaint old stone village it appeared to be. At the Police Station I enquired my way to Warren House ("At Ellington, turn left"), so I walked the two miles through pleasant farmland with stone wall fences. Fields are small, few animals are to be seen, and threshing was in progress. I meet Norman, Bessie his wife, and Dad's brother, Horenzo. A good view from up here of Masham and Wensleydale. It's a great country. Magical really - not too civilised, where men and stock are as tough as the climate. At 3pm Norman goes out to do the milking, 36 cows and milk at 2s6d a gallon.
No preacher appeared at Ellington Church on Sunday evening, so, under Horenzo's direction we sang songs and had Bible Reading. Bessie and her sister sang a duet. Later in his cottage, Uncle through up names of characters who would have been Dad's contemporaries - Joe Warner, Charlie Pickering and Tom Weavers. The war did not affect too much the lives of the people back here in the Dales; for
prisoners of war alleviated man power problems.
The War Years - The Middle East
(A) Al Maza --- Heliopolis --- Shallufa and Suez
One day at Heliopolis whilst Bucky Cather was doing his stint as Duty Pilot, he received a call from an Officer who happened to be the C.O. of the Unit and the conversation went something like this:
"Is that the Officer on duty? What is your name?"
"Well Officer Cather, I think less of you now than I did"
Bucky : "What has happened?"
C.O. : " Do you ever take a look at the runway?"
Bucky: "Well, yes I do"
C.O. : "Then maybe you have seen the dogs scampering about. No use
apologising. Let it be known that I think less of you now than I
----some so-called Officers were terse and rather spiteful.
It is worth mentioning that we accepted gladly any offers to get around. An American Red Cross Station wagon just happened to be going to Suez, so we went there too. Mirages do occur, and perplex. First impressions of Suez were not good - crowded, dirty, smelly - with many goats wandering around with nothing to eat.
Once again crew members were separated. Some were at Al Maza, Eric was in Palestine and I was at Helio. Meetings were difficult to arrange, and at one stage, Rug who was in the Officers' Quarters had heard that we were being posted to India; but after two years in uniform, I had my reservations. However, I felt elated when the N.Z. Liaison Officer called me to say that we were going to Castel Benito to join an Air-Sea Rescue Squadron. My diary for the 16th June - "Such flying has a very strong appeal - saving friends rather than extermination of the enemy." Three days later the posting was cancelled as I did not have a full crew! Disappointment all round. I have no option - to return to the Control Tower or go on leave. Back to Helio. And yes, there I was granted half a day to muster a skeleton crew (self, navigator and wireless operator) so that we could join the Ferry Service where we were required to take machines which had been fully serviced back to their operational squadrons along the North African Coast; and return to Cairo bringing back the time-expired machines for overhaul. Great excitement! Great expectations! Great to be in the air again! On the night of the 22nd we were back at El Adam where we had mattresses and three blankets. Luxury indeed!
It was pleasant to be able to call at places along the route to pick up or drop off men who wanted to go to some other area of activity. One day as we were returning to the Delta, the port engine temperature went off the scale. With visions of a piston seizure I had extra oil pumped into the motor and asked the navigator to fly us to the nearest landing ground. There we were met by an officious officer who resented our intrusion. When I asked him what he would do if the engine temperature was off the clock he said that he would put down at the nearest field. There were no more problems.
Although enemy ground forces still occupied Sicily and the Italian mainland, their Air Force was seen but rarely. On the 26th July we heard that Mussolini had resigned and that night I dreamt that we had been posted to a Squadron! Only partially true - for the next day we were posted to Shallufa, close to Suez, to undergo further training in making attacks on enemy shipping using aerial torpedoes.
Every change brought a flurry of activity - mail had to be collected and re-directed, clothes had to be washed, purchases had to be made (on one trip a new pair of desert boots, and on another I had to collect my razor). Clearances had to be signed by the Mess Officer, and the Equipment Stores. By now we were getting good at recognizing essentials and quick ways of getting everything ship-shape with a minimum of fuss.
Although we helped to move men by air on many occasions, our shift to Shallufa was to be by land transport. Luckily by now the crew was re-united at Al Maza, where, on the 29th July we were roused at 4a.m. and after a miserable breakfast we caught the truck for Cairo, travelling on the top of our kit. At Ishmalia we experienced the haggling which goes when itinerant traders come to sell their wares at a rail-stop - mainly food for travellers who had been five hours on the train. It was 2p.m. as we reached Shallufa to live under canvas at Villa Six. Constant changing of accommodation had seen us acquire folding beds which were soon arranged on scrounged coconut matting. This was to be our home for six weeks.
We start flying from the first day and gradually my low flying ability lifted. One of the requirements for releasing torpedoes is that the aircraft is about fifty feet off the water and flying straight and level when the button is pressed. Co-operation between the pilot and Observer/bomb aimer has to be of a high order for success; and of equal importance was the ability to recognise enemy ships, which were presented in silhouette in "srills" or moving pictures. A trip around Suez Bay in a launch belonging to the R.A.F. gave us the chance to estimate the length and tonnage of merchant vessels. As early as Aug 7th both Dos Santos (from South Africa, and a fellow pilot in training) and I, were registering 100% accuracy with our camera attacks on target ships; and Alan Ruggles, my navigator/bomb aimer was doing equally well when dropping bombs from 4000ft.
In typical fashion my success was followed by a reversal. We had been given verbal instructions which had to be followed with respect to the setting of the switches before releasing of a "runner" and F/Sgt Dos Santos and I could not agree. Result we lost a practice torpedo valued at 2500 pounds which went to the bottom of Suez Bay! An enquiry followed and my Log Book still shows in red ink an entry labelled "Carelessness." It is only fair to add that four months later a signal from 203 Group Royal Air Force found that the blame was not entirely mine and the entry had to be expunged! (It is still there.) I should add that the "runner" was set to pass harmlessly beneath the target vessel, and was recovered by the Navy for further use. In our case the runner hit the target and went to the bottom. Both good and bad really!
Copies of the Beveridge Plan, and the quest for security in N.Z. were now in circulation, and gave us plenty of opportunity to discuss what good might come from much unnecessary destruction. Good and bad mixed up again! About this time too I had my first confrontation with a scorpion, a sandy-coloured creature about 3 - 4 inches in length and resembling the fresh-water crayfish which we used to trap in jars in the ditches back in Southland. They also had two powerful claws and a segmented prehensile tail.
(B) 458 Squadron -- Bone -- Algeria
Seldom did the Sabbath pass without some form of service being held even when operations were at their peak. On leave, or attached to a holding unit, the same applied although attendances varied greatly. On a Sunday late in October, I listened enthralled to a Scot who chose to speak around the text "Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but my Word shall not pass away." To prove that he was not tied to theory or semantics he had us playing cricket on the Monday. And the next day we were waiting for a plane to take us to 458 Squadron, which, formed in Australia, had commenced operations at Holme on Spalding Moor in Yorkshire in 1941. The Squadron's story is told in "We Find and Destroy" by Peter Alexander, who is still very much responsible for regular News Bulletins, and a Squadron reunion every second year. This is soon to become an annual event as the number of surviving members has sadly been depleted.
Getting to the Squadron was no easy matter. It was our turn to be hitch-hikers. The final stage of our trip from Castel Benito was made in a Dakota, although only three of us managed to squeeze aboard, and then by truck to Protville (Tunisia) where we arrived in the moonlight. And we were expected! It was grand to meet up with Kevin George and his crew. The C.O. had a record for keeping the aircraft and crews in the air, so on the following evening, I flew as an "extra", on a patrol which lasted for 10hrs 45mins - all over the sea - even as far as Genoa! Around 2am I was taking my turn as "lookout" from the astro-dome, and I'm sure that at some stage I was asleep standing up watching for enemy aircraft. I reported to the Captain who was very sympathetic! Obviously he didn't believe me.
As Eric and Ernie arrived at the Camp on Monday 20th September, we were off , on our first operation on the night of Tuesday, a nine-hour anti-submarine mission carrying depth charges. Even as we landed a signal from the Middle East Headquarters sent all serviceable aircraft off to Bone, Algeria, where the Squadron took over a peace-time landing field just inside the sandhills, where a marshy level tract of land had been equipped with runways of metal webbing.
The Squadron had been at Protville about three months when we joined and we immediately had the feeling that everything was but temporary. With the retreat of the enemy forces, and the surrender of the Italian fleet, Coastal Command Units were highly motivated to exert as much pressure as possible, and also to provide maximum cover for the convoys passing through the Mediterranean, where German submarines were always a threat.
Just after midnight on Oct.2nd, we were called out to escort a convoy passing through the Mediterranean to Malta under a wicked electrical thunderstorm. It was a new experience to see gremlins play along the aerials, and the whirling props enclosed is a circle of light. One pilot was heard to comment: "I'd rather ditch my aircraft, than face another such trip" - and my Rear Gunner lamented: "It's the first time I've had to strap myself in the turret to escape injuring".
Visits to neighbouring tents became quite regular when not on operations, with keen competition to see whether the Australians or the Canadians or the New Zealanders could make the best spread, from the special Red Cross parcels which were eagerly welcomed. Even a piece of toast with N.Z. butter and lemon curd could brighten the evening. Imagine grown men re-telling their favourite childhood stories: Eric with Alice in Wonderland, Axel and Pickwick Papers, and another with Three in a Boat - and so another night would pass.
We had barely fitted into the rhythm of life at Protville, when we were sent on detachment. This meant that at short notice three or four aircraft with crews and maintenance staff would fly to a forward landing field for operations.. Thus it was that we found our ourselves camped in an olive grove at Borizzo, near Trapini, in Sicily.
During October we flew on three day (22 hours) and ten nights (87 hours) sorties and accumulated much valuable experience. There were memories too, of Etna erupting at night as we passed a few miles off-shore. In Trapani we listened in brilliant sunshine to a couple of Italian street entertainers sing popular airs (no more war). At such moments one wondered what made men go to war. Although we had been based in Protville, Tunisia, when we first went to Borizzo the Squadron was in Bone Algeria, when we returned a fortnight later! We were learning to live on the move. With the passing of October we were conscious of the approach of Winter. We managed to equip our tent with a kerosene stove where on occasions we could produce soup, fry eggs and prepare toast.
It was on Oct 30th that Vic informed me that he had been aloft with me as a pilot on more than 80 occasions, in Canada, Ireland, England, Gibraltar, North Africa and Egypt over the past two years. I expressed the hope that our good fortune might continue. With the departure of an Air-Sea Rescue unit which had been operating near-by we organised a raiding party to snap up as quickly as possible anything which might contribute to our comfort. We now had a cupboard with shelves and a carpet on the floor. Attached we had our own ablution unit - at least an alcove plus wash basin.
Kev's commission came through and he left the Sergeant's quarters. For my part I was content to share life with the crew, and it seemed unfortunate that being given officer rank was the signal to team up with other officers. Ruggles was the only officer in our crew, but he was young and a good mixer.
November - December 1943
The first half of November jogged by. Generally the weather was unsuitable for sustained flying and crew members went sick in rotation. However, the latter part of Nov provided me with some tense moments, moments which reminded me that danger was ever present.
"K" for King, a good machine, easy to fly, according to Kev George, who had flown it on three successive occasions, had just passed the 40hr mandatory inspection by the ground staff. Now it had to be taken for an Air Test prior to flying again on operations. Bill, Ernie and I carried out the usual pre-flight check before turning on to the runway. Everything was O.K. I turned into the wind and gradually opened the throttles. I was about to lift off when the port motor cut out. In an effort to prevent swing I cut the starboard and coaxed the port engine to fire, but there was no response so both engines were shut down and switched off. Brake power was insufficient to check the swing and we did a ground loop. I lingered somewhat trying to figure out the cause but was soon made aware of my potential danger as Bill and Ernie did some frantic pantomime alongside the cockpit. They had been exceedingly adroit in reaching the ground - and I followed.
There were repercussions. The fire tender, the Medical Officer and the Engineering Officer were all on the scene. Although I made it plain that I was ready to go off in another plane, the C.O. cancelled our night trip, and put us under the care of the doctor. The following day the engineering investigation revealed that a new type of petrol hose had collapsed under full throttle: all planes were cancelled until checked!
Almost every day was marked by an event - not always pleasant. Quite close by a convoy is attacked by a U boat which makes a "kill". A flap is on and a swamp organised. Crews take it in turn to patrol a given area around the clock with pleasing results. At dawn we hear that a Navy Captain has accepted surrender of the U-Boat. Some credit is given to the Squadron which pinned the U-Boat down until the air supply forced it to surface. One of our chaps had a tyre burst in the air, but made a good landing. Another in our tent line lost his way at night and crashed into a hill killing all the crew. Another aircraft had to ditch but four survived. Saddened we were by these accidents, but we were resolved to do what had to be done to the best of our abilities. After a night patrol of some three hours, the port motor began vibrating. As a stand-by crew was on duty, I asked Gerry to inform base that we were returning. Apparently Eric had not been connected to the inter-com when the conversation took place and when informed by the navigator, who wrote on his pad "port engine vibrating badly", Eric promptly added "So am I". Such ready wit helped us over what might have caused unnecessary alarm.
In mid-Nov I took another pilot to a satellite airfield to collect a new aircraft. Armed with a good met report we expected a quick return. However, we experienced thick cloud with icing and we just touched down at Bone in zero visibility. On the 23rd we again had trouble. An error in navigation and a faulty elevator trim gave us some anxious moments. As if that were not sufficient, we burst a tyre whilst taxi-ing to dispersal! After de-briefing and a meal of potatoes and sausages we collapsed into bed at 2 am.
Could this be true? At 2200 hours on Dec 11th we were one of the crews detailed to escort "Winnie" who was travelling through the Med in convoy "Sandstorm". Two days later the Navy forced a U-Boat to surface and surrender. I wonder. Did they know that Sir Winston Churchill was in the area? And could that have persuaded Bill and Ivan to put on a special meal of potatoes, carrots, peas, lamb
tongues under Ernie's supervision? Or was it to mark a birthday?
The War Years: Here, There, and Everywhere.
Although I have searched ny notes and exercised my mind, I am unable to discover why my diary, for the first four months of 1944 is blank. Perhaps it started when I had to visit sick headquarters,and from there I was sent to No. 5 General Hospital for an injection. However, I remained on duty. At this time a visit from A.V.M. Sir Hugh Pugh came to spur us on - or did the storm on New Year's Day, which wrecked the Mess tent and the library, have a greater input?
For some time we had been aware of a reduction in the number of suitable targets in our area, and a decision was made to place us closer to the critical areas by sending us on detachment. Thus it was, that on Jan 8th, thirteen Wellingtons and sixteen crews moved to Blida airport, near Algiers, for a "swamp" with C.O. W/Cdr Dowling in command. The detachment flew 36 sorties totalling 267 operational hours, made four sightings and made two attacks on U-boats.
Winter was upon us but there was no let-up in the compaign. We had been flying the Mk XIII stickleback version when a new type of Wellington, the Mk XIV, all white, with better detection gear, and a two million candle power retractable searchlight for illuminating the submarine at the moment of strike, appeared. The idea may have been quite good, but in operation it made flying very difficult, and it could not be rated a brilliant invention mainly because the light was effective for a few seconds only.
We had barely returned to Bone from Blida, when, along with five other crews, we were despatched to Grottaglie near Taranto in Southern Italy, to search for a submarine in the Adriatic. It was memorable in that five of the six aircraft had difficulty in returning to base three days later, because the adverse weather made the usual landing grounds unserviceable, and mechanics on the ground were scarce.
In February we were again on detachment at Ghisonaccia in Corsica sharing the drome with an American Marauder Bombing Group. Here we had our introduction to the "chow" line, and the luxury of starting the day with a glass of tomato or pineapple juice. It was here, also, that we had our lectures on health and medical problems, with long discussions. And, yes, we did take advantage of the over-night trips to the west, to gaze on the place where Napoleon had been born, Ajaccio. The scenery through the hills was delightful, although even sealed surfaces did not make the steep gradients and tight bends any easier for the drivers. The detachment was shortlived and then it was back to Bone with more Convoy Escort and Anti-Sub patrolling. With the special equipment on the new planes, targets at nights were more easily recognizable, navigation much easier.
In May we were off to Malta - the G.C. Island, and I, (knowing that pilots had been caught in a down-draught at the commencement of the main runway at Luga airfield, and determined not to make the same mistake), went in too high and floated along. When the aircraft finally touched the earth there was little left of the runway, and despite hard braking we finished in a field of barley with a badly damaged aircraft, but no injuries! Two days later a F/Lt did an overshoot too, parking his aircraft alongside mine! I felt a bit guilty - a bit of an ass - and ashamed. Forty-eight hours later, back at Bone, I was informed that my Commission had been gazetted. No connection you understand! The C.O. and the crew had pressured me into applying for promotion. It was a tribute to all of them, and moving in to the Officers' Quarters, where I shared a tent with Alan Ruggles, (my navigator for more than a year), was quiet and orderly . Skipping back a little it is hard to write about Malta without a feeling of pride in what the people suffered. Valetta and the Grand Harbour, swarming with men and women in uniforms had the charm of being permanent and indestructible. The statistics of the battering they received by German bombers makes incredible reading.
Coastal Command had its share of rumour, of waiting and change. With the Allied advances in Italy and especially after the fall of Rome on June 4th, it was evident that our work would be in higher latitudes, especially along the shores of Italy and Southern Europe. So it was that on June 10th we shifted the Squadron to Alghero, the north-west coast of Sardinia. It was an ideal spot from which to fly on armed reconnaissance, anti-submarine patrols, convoy escort and bombing missions. We did them all. We even escorted a French destroyer through a thunderstorm at night! Losses amongst the crews were much reduced, but there were many close calls from unpredictable weather. On one occasion a fellow pilot was compelled to ditch his aircraft which ran short of fuel after being kept waiting for the drome to clear. Happily he managed to get close in shore and made the model ditching with no loss of life or injury.
On the night of June 26th, whilst on an armed reconnaissance looking for seibel ferries or merchant ships north of Elba, we gave ourselves a well-remembered fright. Flying at 1000ft, all was well, and I decided to hand over to the 2nd pilot, but unbeknown to us he activated the flap lever as he took over my position. He soon complained that the aircraft was difficult to fly and losing height. Even extra engine boost didn't help. At 500ft I took over and a quick cockpit check revealed the cause. At around 100ft we eased off the flap by degrees and eventually we were back on track. I should mention here that low flying at night when there are no visible landmarks, present many problems. The altimeter which works on atmospheric pressure is a basic instrument. A problem arises when flying between places where the barometric pressure can vary by several millibars. As one millibar represents 30ft in altitude, a difference of 20 millibars between two places (due to changing weather patterns) can mean the altimater will read either positively or negatively by 600ft, depending on whether the aircraft moves from a High to a Low, or a Low to a High pressure area. Fortunately, improved radar equipment gave us accurate distances, bearings and altitude, when necessary.
At this time a "tour" in Coastal Command was based on 500 hours of operational flying. Being much closer to our targets cut down the hours available, and with more trained crews reaching the squadron, competition for flying hours increased. Old comrades were disappearing amd we were looked upon as one of the more experienced crews. Ernie, "my second", who had flown on operations before joining us was the first to be "tour expired". His place was taken by F/Sgt Havers. Because of our seniority we were being detailed more frequently to take over the work of Dury Crew, when we would have to spend the day in the Flight Office monitoring all flying. Problems arose when aircraft returned to base because of deteriorating weather or mechanical failure. Frequently they would have to be diverted to another aerodrome, and Elmas in the South of Sardinia was an area we came to know well.
Off-duty evenings were often spent playing bridge which had a wide following. When the weather was warm we enjoyed swimming either on the beach or further afield at an Officer's Club close to town. Somehow I seemed to get rather more than my share of censoring the out-going mail from other ranks, but with the war turning in our favour it proved an easy task. Now it became my turn to have a spell in hospital. I was definitely off-colour with abdominal and muscular pains. No real diagnosis was offered; although sand-fly fever was mentioned. I settled for gastritis and arthritis. Pills were prescribed and no red meat in the diet. Three days later I said goodbye to my American friends and returned to light duties.
If flying was suspended, there was always plenty of interest. On July 22nd I record that the Gestapo had policed Berlin and on the same day I study the educational programme as laid down by Messrs. Hanna, Forsyth and Armstrong, for the Primary Schools in N.Z! Interests vary. On the beach I inspect a home-made boat using over-load fuel tanks and propelled by a small motor.
Promotions and postings continue. And so does the flying with some minor successes and failures. When F/O Aitken crash-landed at Ajaccio there were no casualties. On the 12th August we were "scrambled" on an anti-sub patrol, the C.O. promising that we would be T.E'd if we made a kill. We didn't even get a contact or a sighting! This was the same night that Eric, our S.E. operator celebrated 11 years of marriage. To bring us back to earth, Colin Fereday, who had been on a bombing trip landed with a bomb still hanging in the rack. It exploded on landing injuring all the crew.
Although the end of our tour was now close, the C.O. asked us to continue, promising us daylight anti-sub work, air-sea rescue missions and general ferrying of aircraft. It was obvious that he was more concerned about a potential shift of the unit to Foggia in Italy. On the 15th August when an invasion of Southern Italy began, I had a night on duty organising an anti-sub patrol, finally getting to bed at 8a.m. A week later in glorious weather we fitted in a Convoy Escort mission shepherding more than fifty vessels, merchant and navy to a safe arrival at the Anzio landing. Such trips were most satisfying. Satisfying too was our last trip, a photographic exercise with the Navy off the North-East shoreline of Sardinia.
BACK IN ENGLAND - But What For?
When I was last in England - early in 1942 - life was pretty grim. The U-Boats had played havoc in the Atlantic with the convoys bringing food and supplies for the war effort. This time people were more relaxed with a feeling of confidence in the future. I was soon made aware of my shabby uniform and encouraged to visit David's tailor, who had me up to scratch within the week. Although I stayed in London on odd nights, my main base was with my relatives at Walton on Thames. Forways were made to visit the Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London, and for entertainments? Just imagine free tickets to see Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit and George Black's musical comedy Jenny Jones at the Hippodrome.
Later in the month of October I made a special trip to Leicester where Eric's wife and their two little girls lived. Eric, my S.E. Operator was still in the Middle East, but I was able to assure them that he was well and hopeful about his return. More than that, I told them what a valuable part he played in the team, and how he was respected, being a married man and a few years older. We could not see into the future to the time when Eric returned and they had a baby son. Regrettable his wife died suddenly form poliomyelitis, and Eric died in 1990. Happily we saw him in 1978 when he was working as a P.R.O. for his son who excelled in Computer technology.
As each day passed I was hopeful that the N.Z. Government would entertain some scheme allowing personnel to take study leave in the U.K. My own preference would be to opt for advanced study in Vocational Guidance and Selection, once a favourable decision had been made. In the interim it seemed a sensible idea to gather from the experience of any school or place of education whatsoever could help my dream, and Leicester was a good place to start. Dr. Bowley, lady pshcho-analyst of the Civic Education Authority, and Mr. Magnay arranged for me to visit a Special School for socially maladjusted children of normal intelligence whose achievements in reading and number were below espectation, and also, The Gateways School for Boys, where, under Mr White, some excellent technical standards were being achieved.
Back in London a few days later, I attended Church at St Martin in the Fields to listen to an exposition on Education and Religion. Such "gems" of experience were freely available at many institutions day by day. At Halifax House another meeting with F/Lt Beale and Mr. Knowles took place, and I was assured that my post-graduate course in Education had not been forgotten. Things looked even more promising when I met Sir Fred Clarke and Prof. Hambley of the Education Department of London University, coupled with a visit to Dr. Campbell of the N.Z. High Commissioner's staff. Nothing definite, you understand, but doors were opening.
Friends, now tour expired, were popping up every day I went to the City. Clive Mygind was on his way to the Bahamas for Liberator training, and Peter Buck was instructor on Wellingtons in the U.K. Although the war was progressing favourably the odd rocket found London as its mark. One such, which fell on the night of the first of November, destroyed the railway track close to Walton, disrupting traffic for a while.
With no positive decisions from Headquarters, I had plans of my own, and high on the list was a visit to Edinburgh where Education had a high profile. Because Dr. Godfey Thompson was in London when I first called at Moray House, I spent Nov. 7th sight seeing. I visited the Outlook Tower, walked along the Golden Mile to Holyrood Palace and called at St Giles Church and Knox's House on the way. On the following day Dr Thompson, Mr Emmett and Dr Lawlor arrange school visits. Although I was but one chap from Otago University, that was enough for me to receive every encouragement and help - not because I was in uniform; not because I came from N.Z.; but because we were interested in Education, in Psychology, in methods of teaching, in intelligence testing, in statistics and Vocational Guidance. Two days later I bade them goodbye and after visiting Tynecastle School, joined a queue at the station to secure a seat on the train to London, sharing a compartment with two French-Canadian Army Officers and two Naval Officers.
On the next day, passing through London, I meet up with Doug Cruickshank from Gore, with whom I had once shared a room in Dunedin, 13 years previously. He was now a Flt/Sgt bomb aimer, and a happy-go-lucky chap still. London was a good place to be, but I wanted some action. How much longer could I wander about? I was still in the RNZAF. I still wore my uniform, but if the N.Z. Govn. did not come up with a decision soon I might wilt in my resolve. The alternative was to return to Brighton and wait, or continue roaming. I was fortunate in that I had relatives here and there, that transport was quick, regular and cheap; that with so many people in the Armed Services a bed was always available. At Walton there were jobs to do - in the garden or the wood-shed, but even more importantly the dogs had to be exercised and there were four of them! Yorkshire, too, had much to recommend it for there was a choice - with Mother's relatives in Scarborough, or Dad's in the West Country with Uncle Horenze, or Norman and Bessie on the farm.
Thus it was that on Dec. 2nd, with Gladys, we journeyed by train from Scarborough to Ledds and on to Methley by bus. This was coal mining country. It was Winter, the scenery dismal, the air sulpurous, when rain and sleet began to fall. Auntie Nellie and family were there to greet us. Houses were grime encrusted, drab, constructed in long blocks of two stories with backyards and outside communal toilets. Being wartime we dined well at the Leeds Industrial Co-op.
Back in London, where for two days I met others in limbo, like Wally Wasey who is doing a fourth tour on Mitchells as navigator, where a tour consisted of thirty operations, so he has indeed been fortunate.
With no settlement of my future, it was back to Brighton to be billeted on the top floor of the Royal Albion, with a magnificent seaview. Keep-fit activities in mid-winter were limited and wlaking along the coast was popular, whilst indoor table-tennis had many followers. It was time for hockey and although designated a referee in a match on the 13th between the N.Z. Army and the RNZAF, I finished the game playing right full-back for the Army when an Army chap went off with an injury!
I stay one night in London at the K.G. Club, to discover that the King and Queen had been visitibg the previous day. Now I was once more on my way north, arriving two hours behind schedule at Leeds because of heavy traffic and dense fog. At Ripon I discover that it is Market Day and take a stroll to the car park looking for relations. By evening we are back at Warren House where Norman and Bessie declare that I need sustenance - two eggs and pork!
Days merge as I tramp the fields with Norman as he inspects the sheep and repalces stones on the wall fences where they have been disloged. Dressed in my No. 1 Blues I attend service at the Fearby Chapel where a lady spoke to us on the text "No room at the Inn", looking at the implication for homes, businesses and society. Today we know that Churches have been losing members at an alarming rate. It is not new. My observation in England showed that frequently attendances across all denominations seldom reached ten per cent of the seating available, and indeen often fell to five per cent. We were now enjoying beautiful, clear, cold, winter days. Christmas Day was fine following a crisp frost, just the right climate for all the goodies which Bessie prepared for us, ending with plum pudding and rum sauce.
On Boxing Day Uncle took me to Sutton Grange where a shooting party was afoot, requiring some sixty beaters to come into action. Here I met Mr Hoare who had been born in New Plymouth, and had lived in Auckland and Vancouver. I met Will Verity too, one of Dad's cousins, and later visited their lovely home in Fearby.
A YEAR IN THE U.K., 1945
Time spent at the Warren House, in Yorkshire, recalled the worst winters of Southland, especially when it came to feeding the stock. Although they were comfortably housed, catereing for their needs required some outdoor work, and I well remember handling half-frozen swedes which had to be fed into a mechanical cutter, the motor of which was very unreliable. Visits to the surrounding markets of Leyburn, Bedale and Masham were special occasions where goodness and kindness, born of years of association, generally over-shadowed the hard bargaining.
Early in the month I made my second trip to Leeds and Methley. This time there was the taste of soot in the air, although everything was covered, slag heaps and all, under a mantle of snow. Luck was with me for on two occasions I was given a lift by privately driven cars, the first in an Opel driven by a commercial traveller, and secondly in an Austin driven by a W.A.A.F. on leave.
On the 11th I returned to London and was excited by an invitation to Westminster when Parliament was in session, to see and hear Sir James Grigg, Dr. Hugh Dalton, Anthony Eden and the "man himself", Winston Churchill. Although it was question time and the subject matter of minor importance, the cut ant thrust, the repartee even in a relaxed atmosphere were spine tingling. Met more New Zealanders, Claude Pocock for one and later, at Brighton, George Nimmo. Play a game of hockey at Cheam, near Croydon on the 20th, and attend worship at the Queen Street Presbyterian Church on the next day where the Rev Yeo spoke from the Book of Daniel.
On the 25th I left Brighton by bus for Uckfield to visit Rene, Norman's sister , and Frank. Getting to Warrendend entailed many enquries - two men, a publican, the butcher, the P.O., some boys and a N.F.S worker! With six inches of snow there were many toboggans around, but at night we played monopoly and looked at photographs.
At the end of the month I was a guest at the London Rotary Club, where I learnt something of Rotary's place in the community, and heard Sir Alfred Womersley talk about the human side to pensions. At N.Z. House I met F/Lt Arneson who encouraged me to enrol for a week at Cambridge University, whilst leaving my application for a scholarship open. As the Cambridge course did not commence until Feb 19th I was again free to continue my peripatetic exsistence wondering up and down between Brighton and London. I play a couple of games of hockey, the first at Eastbourne in the centre forward position, where we win 4-2. Let it be known that only one goal came from my stick, but it was my first in England. On the second occasion we played at Dover where we stayed the night. The weather was dirty, the food meiocre, the company good, and the discussion circle stimulating. The main subject - the possibility of future wars! I wonder if I used some arguments absorbed from the Sunday's address by the Rev. Yeo, who, deploring the current irresposibility of folk, ordered us to a diet of thought and action with unity in worship.
Wednesday 7th was a red latter day for me when S/Ldr Arthur Colville told me that my application for a scholarship had been approved, but there were no other delails. I rather imagine it will be up to me to plot a course. At N.Z. House, I met Mr. Fox (N.Z. delegate to the WCTU), who lends me the Ministerial Report on Education (ChCh Oct. 1944); and his congratulations in being the first to be awarded the scholarship under Prof. Hamley of the London University, with whom I am required to discuss the programme.
In spite of all the excitement I manage to fit in a couple of social calls; The first being to Mr. Hoare with shom I take my first look at the Film Industry, visiting the Merton Studio at Wimbledon. A further visit to the home of Mrs Howard at Purley has me completely mystified, but I recall that Mrs Howard was French with a grown-up family in the Services and she had a large empty house complete with tennis and squash court.
The five days spent at Cambridge must rate as a most impressive experience. On the first eveningwe met in the lounge before dinner, and then, the Master leading, followed by guests and hosts and fellows, trooped into the massive panelled dining hall, for a three course meal of curried rice served by waiters in tails. As Henry VIII had re-organised and endowed the College in its infancy, there normally hung from the wall in front of us a large painting of the benefactor, but this had been stored for the duration of the war, leaving a tell-tale smudge.
SERVICEMEN ON LEAVE SPENDING A WEEK AT CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY
It is exceedingly difficult to tell briefly what happened there, and what it meant to us as individuals at the time, but I hope to be able to give an outline of the most important lectures and visits.
Prof. A.S. Cook spoke of The Ever Present - Past, tracing social evolution from Babylonian times. More heady was a talk by the eminent mathematician/philosopher Bertrand Russell discoursing about utilitarianism. It was an honour to be in the presence of such a gifted, witty and experienced sixty year old.
A tour of Trinity College with the Master, Prof. G.M. Trevelyan, the social historian, who came across as a slightly restless, but quietly spoken gentleman, with a shaggy white mane, was something one could never forget. The Library at Trinity, the work of Sir Christopher Wren, is even today, a cherished place in which to work. At Downing College we have a first-rate tea, and I meet Captain Stewart, my American room mate. With three "double-barrelled" Englishmen, we talk far into the night.
"Why Shakespeare?" by D.R.Hardman, a University extra-mural lecturer was a brilliant interpretation of the real quality and value of Shakespearian entertainment. He saw Maurice Evans as the greatest Shakespearian actor and we remember a most inspiring talk. Although not so facile in his delivery, E.J.Passant asked us to remember Germany and the problems peace imposed. He believed we would be called upon to smash the armament industry, control industry, occupy the Ruhr, Sear and Sulesia and face providing an army for occupation for three years.
At the Geographical Department, Prof. Debenham gave us a memorable lantern-slide lecture of Scot's Polar trip; whilst with Prof. Bartlett of the Psychology Unit, we discuss the verbal and practical components of intelligence.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF INDUSTRIAL PSYCHOLOGY
From Skegness with all its fellowship and comfortable living, I go back to London
to begin a course at the Vocational Studies Unit af the N.I.I.P which was a private fee-paying business, established for the express purpose of giving guidance to men and women of all ages. But before I could settle there I had to attend to the matter of accommodation. Peter Beattie of N.Z. House came to my aid and ten days later I had a room at 102 Oakley Street Chelsea.
On the 7th June I have my first meeting with Miss Stott at the Institute, when she presents me with a course of study, as Mr Frisby was in ASfrica. Towards evening crowds thronged Whitehall anticipating a geed news speech from Mr Churchill, with V-E Day on the morrow. Great excitement for the masses, but for some, whose loved ones had been killed, a time to ponder; and for others a re-dedication to peaceful progress. And in the Club there were many newly released P.O.W's. I met Don Luzmoor from Invercargill, and Dave Gordon.
I shift my gear to Chelsea the day after I finish cutting the hedges at Walton where I had been enjoying lovely weather; and the following day I join the crowds in Trafalgar Square to greet the Royal Family returning from St Paul's.
At the office Miss Jones instructs me in some testing and marking procedures, which I find mesh in well with shat I had done at "Royal Arthur", which was not surprising as Mr Rodger of the N.I.I.P was also the Chief Psychologist to the Navy. Later, after conducting tests, we frequently found that in tri-angular discussions - Mrs Clyde, Miss Jones and myself - we were able to clarify our decisions and broaden our aims.
After work I continued to visit the Club where I met many N.Z. service personnel moving to new tasks. Don Luzmoor popped up on several occasions; and Padre Sullivan and his wife. From Invercargill also came Sub/Lieut Cushen and F/O Lyons.
One one Saturday Don Luzmoor and I go to Lords where Ames and Edrich were in action; and I repeat the visit on the Monday, this time with Ian Dunn, an architech from Dunedin.
At 102 I had a basement room about 12 ft by 8ft equipped with a gas ring which was used regularly in the evenings for late suppers. Over the first four weeks I acquired kettle and cups, glasses and bowls. Bread with peanut butter featured regularly. With no refrigeration tinned foods were popular - and a can opener! My month's ration for sweets allowed purchase of one and a half pounds of liquorice allsorts and one and a half pounds of mints. Food parcels from N.Z. were always appreciated. Breakfasts of cornflakes, eggs and bacon, toast and marmalade, were supplied by the folk who provided the accommodation. From Gearge Nimmo I received a 4lb tin of Bycroft's malt biscuits and a tin of honey.
The work at the office was proving to be most interesting and satisfying: satisfying when we were able to concur with the subject's own choice, and just as pleasing when we able to suggest an occupation or career which excited interest. My own skills were developing especially in getting good rapport, and was due in no small measure to working with talented and experienced men and women; people like Betty, the Secretary of the International Friendship League; Frank, a technician; Ruben, a Palestinian trained lawyer and accountant; Mr Mahin, a Belgian anthropologist and globe trotter, interested in community and social planning. In London learning never ceased, and a choice of talks, lectures, seminars etc was always available. Thus during my lunch break I listened to Prof. Mace speak on Industrial Training and Industrial Education. Also present were Mr Rodger, Dr. Wilson and 2nd Officer Love. An interesting visitor during May was Prof Michaud from Louvaine who was studying the recent advances made in vocational psychology as a result of the war. For my part, I was reading Terman's work on Intelligence, and Strong's book on Interests, ending with a screening of experemental films for children at Leicester Square.
When I went to St Martins on Trinity Sunday (the last Sunday in May) I found myself in a queue! Mr Harborough was giving the first of a series of lectures on the Trinity, declaring that our understanding would depend more on Life's experiences than theological exposition!
Soap ration day - four cakes of toilet soap for the month cost 1s 3d. With Mrs Clyde and Miss Stott I attend a lecture on "Training for the Building Industry". There appears to be no limits to the scope of our studies, as this was shortly followed by a discussion at the Overseas League on Psychology and the War. That evening I met Roy ("Cobber Cain" of Squadron 458) who was now a Captain of airccraft. Also met Mr Adcock (from Auckland) who was teaching Psychology at Birkbeck College, and with him had a vegetarian meal at the Africa College. This, I might add, was in very different conditions from the meal we shared at a Civil Defence Canteen which I found was cold, bare almost sleezy- and well below street level - no doubt a good place for eating during the Blitz!
Early in June I visited the Divisional Education Office in Holland Park Ave. to seek approval to conduct tests at a suitable school in the area. I brush up on Binet testing, and further my knowledge of the Wechsler, an increasingly popular non-verbal test. I am called upon to proof-read an article by Miss Stott on the differences in V.G. testing for boys and girls. In London, although very close to all the action, it was most difficult to keep abreast of new publications; so I felt rather pleased when I was able to introduce the Institute to the new material on Post-War Careers being published by H.M. Stationery Office. At the same time I came across a series dealing with Engineering and Trades by the Birmingham Education Authority.
Some of my entries in my diary for 1945 make me realise that changes were taking place. Some shops were choosing to close during the week and offer facilities over the week-end. But when I wanted to get the battery for my radio re-charged the proprietor informed me that I would have to take it in on the Friday and collect it on the Monday!
One day, in mid-Summer, I had tea with Dr.Myers and Mr Exton-Wood. Dr. Myers, head of the N.I.I.P. had a sterling reputation for sound learning and good business practices. He founded the Institute and built it up with the help of many able men and women who were continually engaged in research with the universities and educational institutes.
On my way back to the inner city on the last "tube" journey for the day I was approached by a total stranger who asked me to eatch over an eight year old boy who had to get out at a station down the line. The boy was half asleep and I was not much better but I felt that I should be able to read the name of the required stop. Luckily I managed to prod him now and then to keep him awake, and I was somewhat relieved to see him get off at the right stop and finally disappear along the platform arms thrust into his trousers and whistling gaily. Children who had survived the war were very hardy specimans and very self-assured.
Work and study were never boring - there was infinite variety, and my expertise with the many test approved apace. If the work was interesting, so were the walks which we took during the lunch breaks almost every day. As the office was in Kingsway, Old London was close at hand, and although I did not frequent the "Pubs", I was familiar with many eating places.
At Bayswater I visit Mr. Exton Wood (Knox College, Dunedin, 1928), and his wife, and have dinner with them at a Cafe. Later we sit in Kensington Gardens in glorious sunshine, and when we returned to the flat we listened to a fine address by Sir Stafford Cripps. Winston Churchill spoke a few days later but this was the voice of an old man - a man who had just recovered from illness, a man who had spent himself serving his country.
After a phone call from Mr. Rees, Head of Chelsea Central School, an appointment was arranged for 25th June at 2pm. In the meantime I visited the area on foot to discover the school in Upcerne Road in a badly damaged area close to the Lots Road Power Station. On Sunday Pater and I wander through the Battersea Gardens and have dinner at The Blue Cockatoo. This is followed by a political meeting at the Chelsea Town Hall to hear Wilfrid Brown, the Secretary of the Commonwealth Party, give a lively address which placed them a little to the left of the Socialists.
As arranged, I report to Chelsea School to test groups of children. Everyone was most co-operative - in fact some teachers were very keen to have a stranger take over the class for an hour, but I had to keep to my plan. Lunching at the Lake School Meal Centre I heard many stories of the blitz,
including that of a 12 year old who had been bombed out of four homes!
MODERN TRENDS IN EDUCATION 1945
On the day that I began testing at Chelsea School, I was being pressured to join a three-week Refresher Course for Teachers entitled "Modern Developments in Education", at the Institute of Education, University of London, sponsored by the Australian Government and to commence on July 16th.
What a privilege it was to be accepted for this course. With three lectures daily presented by men and women of great learning, experience and wisdom; the memories still lie deep in one's psyche. Professor Sir Fred Clarke, the Director of the Institute began the opening day by presenting what he termed "Contempory Problems", which he listed under four headings:
The Problem of Culture
The Problem of Truth
The Problem of Loyalty
and The Problem of the School
----and although fifty years have gone by one wonders if we are any closer to solving them. He said then "A very real effort is required if a positive solution for world peace, and the democratic way of life is to continue." How do we bring together the Old World, and the New World and the East? There has to be sensitivity and integrity, and the curriculum must relate to the realities of life. There has to be an unrelenting fight by the teachers to make the school a sanctuary for Truth; which is not only accuracy but embracing a moral freedom, hard to achieve: and which must eventually outgrow nationalism, and be woven into the League of Nations as human justice, human dignity and human decency. He concluded by saying: "The school is the sanctuary of all that is best of human desire, and that teachers would do well to tell Society and Independent Organisations to keep hands off the School."
It was a welcome surprise to find that women lectured on most days - Dr Susan Isaacs' "Social and Emotional Aspects of Education" and Dr. J Macalister Brew on "Youth Service, a Method of Informal Education", really excelled. The latter left us with some inspirational ideas for informal education like : appeal to the stomach; a skilful worker may begin with an egg but end up with the history of China. Most education comes through the eyes, so use colour and cartoons. Fellings are important. Happy families make for a happy society. To the Social Worker her message "Be brief, be adaptable, be humourous, but if you wish for immediate results, take up knitting."
IN LONDON: AUGUST TO NOVEMBER 1945
On looking back the three weeks speaking to such talented, informed and eloquent speakers, dealing with all aspects of Education, which must have been of great interest to me during my years at Otago University, must have been a major factor in my decision later to leave the Vocational Dream and return to teaching. The Dream had been that with certain skills, proper training and adequate resources, our young people, on leaving school, would be directed to employment which would bring efficiency, and success to their life's work. Learning skills, right relationships and right attitudes would be the prelude to my dreaming.
We were passing through momentous times. Life was a whirl. In the middle of this exciting series of lectures, the country was astounded at the landslide victory on July 26th. Shortly we were in the August Bank Holiday period and heard that a "new" bomb had been dropped on Japan. If we were glad to think that such action would shorten the War, we were not too happy about the long-term possibilities. The Air Ministry was obviously delighted judging by the streamers descending from their windows the next day. And then came Aug 15th - V Day - a time for rejoicing. With a party of Wimbledon friends we walked up hill and down dale in beautiful weather. Our wanderings took us to a lovely church, St Martins on the Hill, where we lunched and rested in the bracken. Eventually, pretty weary, we reached Guildford, wondering no doubt, what the State opening of Parliament on the following day might bring. And could that have been the day that an accountant who had started on 15 shillings a week, but was now earning 1200 hundred pounds a year taught me something. An accountant requires perspicacity, a stock jobber has to have a head for figures; but a stock broker is just a plain fool - so he said.
One Saturday in August, Peter asked me to supervise a lady who was sitting a pre-entry examination for Oxford, and as a result, she asked me to go home for dinner where I met her Mother, and a man who was my senior at Southland Boys' High. Now Managing Director of Weymouth Gauges, a top company in the manufacture of aircraft instruments, he was soon to go to America to exchange information. Henry gave me a lift across North London in his MG which was quite an experience. London was capable of making each day special.
By this time I was becoming quite familiar with the work, and was increasingly called upon to assist with the many problems regarding special needs. At one stage I suggested changes to office practices which were accepted; and when I was trusted to interview an applicant for a staff position, I thought I had arrived!
Frank Petyt, his sister Muriel, and her friend Margaret and I met at the Winter Garden Theatre for my first straight ballet comprising three parts. "The Sailor's Fancy", which was a lot of fun, "Company at the Manor", where moonlight in the garden was very impressive, and "Pandora", the most dramatic of the presentations.
My hours of work were very flexible. Generally the day began with a customer (an increasing number of whom were ex-service personnel) being given two or three or more tests depending upon the extent of their past scholastic and employment records, and age; and the afternoon would be taken up with comprehensive written reports. I was not an official staff member, but took over cases for the regular staff - all part of my professional training. As time passed we found that employers were sending staff to us for assessment, and my reports were subject to close scrutiny by Miss Stott or Mrs Clyde, before going to the typing pool.
Saturdays were generally spent at Walton or Wimbledon. At Walton there was a garden to cultivate, dogs to exercise and bicycles to ride. At Wimbledon tennis was usually on the list, but more memorable were the walks we enjoyed; as on Sept 8th when from Leatherhead we walked The Priory Way (some say the yew trees were a legacy of the Druids) and eat lunch in a wild ferny spot on Ransmore Common. From the Common we trekked down the hill, across the railway by Sir George Haye's beautiful garden to Wotton Hatch, to Abinger where there were stocks and a blitzed church, the memory of which was cancelled out by the peace and tranquillity of St Mary's at Holmsbury. Over the hills we walked through mist and haze, back to Abinger and the Dorking Road for the train to Wimbledon, which we reached at ten p.m.
On a slack day I read "The Problem Child" by A.S. Neill, another book which was recommended at the Education Course. Child psychology was being enriched by many penetrating studies, and it seemed desirable reading for all concerned with education. As Miss Stott's guest I go to a meeting of the British Psychological Society and am introduced to Major Angus, Capt. Weatherall, Dr. Straker and P.E. Vernon, who, in 1960 when Prof of Educational Psychology at the University of London, wrote a highly rated text, "Intelligence and Attainment Tests" which I still have. Although I was small fry in such exalted company they were willing teachers. Major Angus issued me a personal invitation to visit the Army Psychological Centre at my convenience.
At the Fernleaf Club, I met several old acquaintances: Jim Ashton, now a Sqd Ld, Warren Trainor and his friend Ivy Hammond, John Heggie from Dunedin, "Shorty Gamelin" and Colin Henry a teacher friend from Southland, with whom I discuss work prospects on his return to N.Z.
On the 21st Sept I follow up the invitation by Major Angus to visit the Army Psychological Unit at 71 Eaton Square. With Miss Stott we look closely at the material used in the verbal and non-verbal testing, and the Job Analysis Profiles put together by the staff - Col. Davies, Capt. Netherall and Commander Reeves. More specific tests for specialised abilities were now becoming prominent. Of an evening I would read "Constructing Tests and Grading" by Rinsland; but I also read "Reconstruction in the Secondary Schools" by Earle to keep in touch with education. When Audrey introduced me to a friend who had spent some months with the War Commission in Germany, I felt relieved that what I was now doing was more valuable than being engaged in actual combat.
Although there were good opportunities for me should I choose to continue working in the U.K., I was determined to return to N.Z., and although my course at N.I.I.P. ran till November, in late Sept. an interview with W/Cdr. Crighton gave me hope that by Dec. I would be in N.Z. At this time the Povey household was rejoicing as Jean's husband, John, had been discharged from the Army and was home.
Looking back I find it difficult to realise that I had never had an office at the N.I.I.P. but moved around wherever space was available. Generally I would be found in either Miss Stott's or Miss Jones' office, although I do remember using Mrs Raphael's room when she was absent on sick leave. Hardly a day passed when I did not visit the Fernleaf Club and Halifax House weekly, to collect mail, parcels and cigarettes!
Petrol rationing, due to the was, was being lifted gradually, so on a visit to Walton, David who was home for the week-end took me back to the city in his 9hp Riley. More frequently I travelled by bicycle and one day in late Sept. after a game of tennis at Wimbledon we visited the East Moseley Cricket Grounds (1735), a round trip of 25 miles, with roe on toast at the end.
On the first of October, after spending the morning at the office, Miss Morton-Williams and I set off for lunch - but we went further - we went down to the Thames, strolled along King's Reach, past the Memorial to W.T.Stead, the journalist, and so to the "Discovery" which, under the patronage of the Sea Scouts was open for inspection. We were impressed by Scott's tine cabin, and gazed with wonder at the history trapped in the chart room. The three and a half hours spent at my desk in the afternoon was hard work! And the problems continued throughout the week, the Cambridge Graduate being the most rewarding. Friday bought relief, for with Mrs Povey and Audrey we attended the School's Thanksgiving Festival in the Albert Hall. It is difficult to estimate the effect of such a celebration on those fortunate enough to be present; but besides being joyful, it was an historic and spiritual occasion. Something wicked had been trampled down, and the future beckoned us to higher purpose.
On the 6th Oct clocks were put back one hour giving us more opportunity to play tennis. My interest in the game was regarded by all of the gang as a keep-fit measure, and a chance to get free of the office mentality. Many times we would find all the courts occupied, when singles matches usually ended up as mixed doubles! With the austerity of was receding it was good to see the lights come on again.
Mystery surrounds a visit I made to Alexandra House where E.V.T. was mentioned as a topic of concern. After seeing F/Lt Maxwell I was passed along the chain of command, from the Wing Commander to the Group Captain who left me with Dr. Marshall (Training and Research) with whom I discuss Vocational Advice and the work of Dr. Warner.
On my second visit to the Albert Hall on Oct. 10th with Peter, sho was still working at N.Z. House, he told me that I was going home on Nov. 18. Regardless, we were at the Hall to hear the Hon Clement Attlee and Anthony Eden and others discuss The United Nation's Association, the new organisation to replace the League of Nations! Let us hope that their efforts did not affect my disposition, but on the next day a young chap who failed to appear for his interview at 10 a.m. actually came at 2.30 p.m. From my records it seems I told him to go home and return the next day!
Pay a return visit to the Army Psychological and Test Unit at Eaton Square. Again Major Angus shows me an impressive array of tests for assessing both trade and verbal intelligence potential. On the 17th a note tells me that I went to N.Z. House to paint my name, number etc. on a couple of trunks for my deep sea gear, which I then took by taxi to Chelsea. Unfortunately I left my attache case behind and was in a bit of a stew as it contained several personal Vocational reports which I could not replace. Panic dissipated when I visited the Chelsea Police Station where the Sergeant assured me that I would have my case returned the next day. Regulations required that the cab driver handed anything left in his car within 24 hours or he would lose his licence. I was happy to pay the police the levy (15%) paid on the value of the goods; I was glad too that the Sergeant had advised me on this point, as to me they were of very great value!
Around my birthday I received a letter from Blanche, my youngest sister telling me of Cousin Vernal's death. I hope I had sufficient understanding in my heart to write to Aunt Kate, although something tells me that I was too pre-occupied with my own affairs, but I hope that my sisters would make up for my thoughtlessness. By this time I had been away from N.Z. and I was immersed in a very different lifestyle. Basically there were no heart-felt loyalties. Life was lived very much from day to day but having a base in London at the N.I.I.P. provided meaning and stability albeit a little selfish. It was certainly filled with new experiences including visits to the Institute of Science and Technology at Kensington, the City and Guilds Institute of Biology and Zoology; and later visits to Birbeck College where Mr. Adcock and I discuss the Cube Test.
Peter Beatty was packing cases with books ready for the trip home. Together we worked through several evenings, interspersed with social visits. "Perfect Strangers" was a film I recall seeing at this time; a film which blended the factual and fictional in telling how the consequences of was changed lives. At the Institute, Mr Vincent and I talk about new ways of working out correlations; and I do what I can to assure Exton-Woods that his new job at the I.C.I. would be a step in the right direction. One evening I took over Mr. Vincent's workshop to make a filing box for Peter, who was still processing material for his Dictionary of Abbreviations.
On the second day of November I talked with Charlie Arneson and Ken Crighton at Halifax House and again the 18th was spoken of as my "D" (for departure) day. Even though it was indefinite, it was time for me to prepare. Make a farewell trip to see Mary Shaw, whose fastidious bachelor uncle used to live on a bush section 500 yards from us at Tisbury when we were young. Mary cooked whitebait patties for our tea! With so many matters demanding attention I miss out on the 5th Nov Command Performance at the Coliseum. At N.Z. House I find the Sept. copy of National Education which contained an article which I had sent forward earlier in the year. Even under pressure time was found to see "The Valley of Decision" featuring Greer Garson as the Irish serving maid who married a Pittsburg steel owner. It was the best picture that I had seen in months.
There is no definite mention in my diary of the termination of my engagement at the N.I.I.P. but entries show that I was preparing for change as I told Miss Jones that I would be going North for a few days. Actually my immediate target was Birmingham where I had been informed of a deep interest in V.G. by the Education Department. Birmingham always signified for me the heart of Industrial England but my view was very different from reality. One of the first publications to be placed in my hands by Percival Smith, a charming man, was "Scientific Vocational Guidance and its value to the choice of employment work of a local Education Authority" by Hunt & Smith! Incidentally my first night was spent in a dormitory at the Eye Hospital, a cheerless place, which I soon vacated in favour of the Imperial Hotel.
As usually happens in Educational circles, I was welcomed on the recommendation of officials with whom I had worked in London. Mr. Smith passed me on to Mr. Mason, and in turn I meet Miss Gossart, Mr Brett, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Lynch. One of my special memories was being invited to join the panel which interviewed students about to leave school. Present were the Principal, teacher, sometimes parent and V.G. officers and the student. It seemed to me to ensure that each individual received the best of advice. In the evenings I was free to visit the theatre - King John - (Shakespeare) and - The Millionairess - (Bernard Shaw) and the University Overseas Club. Birmingham certainly did not confine it life to industry. I meet a F/Lt from Wellington on attachment at Dunlop's and find that Mr and Mrs Forrest of 25 Alcester Road are charming people. However trams were noisy and uncomfortable!
Being launched on a farewell trip I headed for Scarborough, the place of my birth and the town where Mother's relations still lived. The rail rook us through Derby, Sheffield and Pontefract to York in dull weather causing us to be an hour late. In Scarborough I was introduced to the latest H.M.S.O. pamphlet dealing with the proposal set up by County Colleges to provide for educational opportunities outside the recognised schools and tertiary institutions. Here close to the people I both see and hear about current hardships. A cousin has been de-mobbed and is out of work. A family friend has just seen his 9 year old daughter go to hospital in Leeds with an incurable disease. Even so I was re-introduced to the quiet sincere friendship which existed amongst the regulars who visited the local night after night. Two cousins, Kathleen and Mildred who had done their best to keep the home fires burning were as surprised as I was when a wire came from Peter in London - Report H.Q. Nov 23rd / Embark Nov 28th.
Enjoy a quick return trip by bus to Masham, to feel the soil beneath my feet once more, to enjoy farming activities, feeding the stock, burning hedge trimmings using dry straw as accelerant, to talk to the German P.O.W's : and sadly, to say goodbye to Norman and Bessie. In the West Riding, the isolation, the climate, the land, has moulded a people who are suspicious of strangers, a little dour; but kindly too, and honest. Good Yorkshire Folk. Back at Scarborough I catch the train for York, with clean clothes and a hamper of food - thanks to Gladys and others. In London, at the Club, I meet Jim Ashton and Charlie Arneson before going to Chelsea to pack my new metal trunk - my deep sea kit.
On the 23rd I make a final visit to the Institute to say "Thanks & Goodbye" to Miss Stott, Mrs Clyde and Miss Jones who had for five months been good companions, thoughtful teachers and straight talkers. From there my path took me to Harrods where in five minutes I find the purchase of a gift for Molly resolved. Nine months out we were to be married although at this stage no pledges had been made.
Perhaps it was inevitable that I should spend my last night in London in the company of Mr. & Mrs Povey who had been "in parentis" for a long time. After seeing "The Seventh Veil" we go home to a meal of filleted plaice.
On a cold but fine morning I say farewell to Mr & Mrs Luck and guests at 102 and with Peter as escort leave with the luggage van for Waterloo Station. Hail & Goodbye Peter and hello to S/Ldr Wigg and F/O Thiele for the trip to the dock. There were more meetings on deck. Surprise! First was W/O Laming (Ernie of 458 Squadron); and then F/O Ken Gray whom I taught at Waihopai School in Invercargill. Although on the first night I had the cabin to myself, new arrivals came blundering at 5a.m.
THE VOYAGE HOME Dec 1945
By evening on the 30th Nov. we are aboard the Athlone Castle, clearing Southhampton and the Solvent, sharing the cabin with a couple of F/Lts (pilots) and and Army Captain (dental). Two surprise telegrams, one from Warren Trainor and the other from Mr and Mrs Forrest came to me via the Duty Officer. It is hard leaving so many good friends. In the evening Capt. John Neville and I stroll the deck meeting up with many chaps from 458 Squadron including F/Lt Hamer who was but a F/Sgt when I left the Squadron.
Organinsation on board was pretty good, especially the provision of meal ticketing, which was based on much experience and operated from day one. S/Ldr Campbell asked me to organise the chaps for the afternoon and evening film sessions. When John Neville manages to scrounge a folding card table we enjoy playing bridge in the cabin. By the 3rd Dec. we are off Gibraltor where conditions are now very different from our past visits, although we did not get ashore. Through the Meditteranean we glide - Algiers, Benghazi and Malta - names and places we knew from the air. How glorious, how peaceful. how different! No enemy planes, or ships or submarines. This was the place where we had spent many hours of darkness patrolling our convoys or tracking enemy subs. Now we could cheer the odd friendly destroyer going about its lawful business.
Early in the evening of the 8th we were in Port Said, surrounded by boats with traders selling their wares. Mostly I saw leather goods, hand bags, humpties, satchels, shopping bags, cigarette cases etc. Haggling went on. For one pound I bought a camel hide sports bag complete with zip. Harold bought a humpty and cloth. John managed to do his shopping ashore, and everyone sported a fez. Cameras clicked away incessantly. At Kantara we were side-lined to let North bound traffic pass, first in line being the "Louis Pasteur" with sun-tanned troops from Burma.
Whilst manouevering the ship we run aground and spend the whole day in limbo; but I read "Never So Young Again" by Don Brennan, which can be recommended to those who want to know what operational flying was really like.
As we go Southwards with Mt Sinai on the port side, there is a welcome rise in the temperature, and groups form on deck playing cards, chatting or even dozing. S/Ldr Campbell asks me to join the Welfare Committee, whose main job was to organise activitties for those below deck. Unfortunately all were not returning as Officers, and we felt some responsibility for the other ranks many of whom were close friends. From the Captain I learn that we are scheduled to reach Bombay on the 14th and hopefully N.Z. by the 8th Jan 1946.
By the 13th Dec. we are in the vicinity of Aden, and along with others I join the queue for an inevitable "jab", this time for typhus. We read, we play "housie", go the the pictures, discuss, argue and relax. Most of the informal talking is concerned with the future welfare of homo sapiens. There is a hope - a hope that we will not let mankind drift into another war. We have to work for peace, beginning with self. I find Jimmy Stewart a good bridge player; but fail to find Ken Gray! When I wanted to write a letter I had to borrow ink from Harold Lusk.
With our Eastward passage clocks had to be adjusted frequently, but boat drill was not very demanding, although necessary. It is surprising how much time can be spent hangiong over the rails watching the bird life or just the play of light on the water. There was a fascination following flying fish as they made their re-entry - not at all graceful, more like a destructive death wish.
At 10.15 on Monday, the 17th, we tie up at the wharf in Bombay, but as I have a stomach upset, I am not keen to go ashore. Eventually, however, with leave from 1400hrs to 2000hrs, Harry, Brian, Bill and I set out on a leisurely stroll. First impressions were of dirt and flies, of crippled bodies and beggars, of heat and filth; goods were plentiful but prices high; taxis and cars were up to standard, but buses ramshackle. It is hot even at sea, as we cruise along at a steady 15 knots about 30 miles off shore, where all we see are dhows moving quietly and gracefully along. The carpets acquired in Bombay go into the hold; and the parrot (guess who purchased that) in the cage, to the Dental Surgery. Lounging in a deck chair in Summer garb, with a book at hand, and no responsibilities - ah, the best part of the journey.
Being seasoned travellers "Crossing the Line" no longer followed the pantomine of former days; but clocks still needed adjusting. Now we had reached Christmas Day and carolling drifted up and around from F deck. That too, had not changed.
Our position on Christmas Day 150 .37' S, 980. 00' - 980 miles from the N/W Cape of Australia. Clock advancement half an hour, have a good lunch, both ham and turkey. There was an allowance of two half pints per man of beer. The Church Service in the Troops' Recreation Room was simple and sincere. 200. 47' S 1030 E - now 400 miles from the N/W Cape, with deteriorating weather and a bit of a roll. With so many souls on board it amazes me how smoothly everything is managed. How do the galleys manage to have the food prepared on time? How much fresh water do the tanks hold? The ship provides for all our needs. Here we eat, sleep, shave and shower, read and write, visit the cinema or library, the M.O. at Sick Parade, and we are even paid if necessary. Quite an achievement, and a credit to the Officers out front and the other ranks. 260 S 1080 22' E , temperature 72o, adjust clock half an hour. Last day's run 430 miles. I read, (of all things) an HMSO publication on Juvenile Employment.
Friday, 28th Dec. See land at 10 a.m. Berth at Freemantle at 8 p.m. It was a time of great excitement for all, but especially for those whose homes were in Western Australia. Everyone crowded the rails to see the upturned white faces which cheered us no end. With all the chaps crowded against the dockside rails the vessel had several degrees of list which made the job of the wharfies just a little more difficult. But we, and they, were exultant. With shore leave on the morrow everyone was anxious to visit Perth, and everyone had to visit the Pay Parade.
We enjoyed the trip in the tram with time to view the beautiful homes and gardens. I was initially in the company of Harry, Bill and Brian; but we soon broke up when Harry and I found a restaurant with steak and chips with eggs, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, to be followed by tea, bread and butter at 3/- each was a must. We visit King's Park (not to be missed), the University Campus, the Cathedral and Wembley Park , but go back to sleep on the Athlone Castle.
Early on Sunday morning, with tugs fore and aft, we are guided out of Freemantle. After arranging the Cinema programme I retire being so tired that I do not wake for the Boat Drill at 11.30. Later, Harry and I could be seen taking the air on F- Deck with Mary, a Red Cross Nurse who specialised in social and psychiatric nursing. An issue of fruit - 3 oranges and 2 apples, to each was most welcome, and a tribute to the commisariat who must have been busy in Perth. Clocks go forward half an hour, and the ABC tells us that we are due in Melbourne on Thursday, and leaving for New Zealand on the Sunday. The year ends with gratitude for good health and Life itself; and inner excitement at rejoining the family soon.
We reached Melbourne on the 3rd Jan at 1315 hrs whilst we were at lunch. It was raining and blowing, and although I was in no hurry to go ashore I got ready - and redoubled my efforts when I heard that a couple of ladies were on the wharf to meet me! Women, with the barest of details hinted at in a letter written long ago, seem to be able to draw the right conclusions for, there on the wharf, were my Aunt Ruby with Freda, her daughter. Off we went to Caulfield, travelling by bus and tram, to meet Uncle Arthur, and several cousins last seen in 1920. Just imagine trying to cram twenty-five years into two and a half days! There were eight cousins - Watson, Freda, Len, June, Alan, Eric and Ray - I've missed out Esse who comes between Watson and Freda. Not all were born before 1920 but five were now married with children. I'm not sure how I fitted in but we managed. Ray became my Tour Manager and took me around all the recognised sights of the City, including The Shrine, St Paul's Cathedral, Flinders Street Railway Station, Myers Emporium, (to find that Coles Book Arcade had folded seven years previously), to the Library and the Atheneum. At least ten of us spend as afternoon at St. Kilda Beach trying out our skills. At Luna Park we finish our time together, say our thanks and goodbye before returning to the vessel.
Early on Sunday, although shore leave was cancelled, Harry and I went off hunting for fruit. With bananas at 5 for 1/-, apricots, peaches and plums at 1/- a pound, and cherries at 2/- a pound we returned with enough fruit to fill a sugar sack. By midday crowds began to gather and two hours later the embarcation of passengers was in full swing. Around half past three I saw Aunty Ruby, Alan, Freda and Don down on the wharf waving their farewell. How good of them to come! Revellry held sway in our cabin that night till well past mid-night. It seemed to be the beginning of the end. Good-bye Australia!
Monday 7th -- 390 00'' S and 1500 09'' E - adjust clocks. This day was marked by the issue of various official forms which were to expediate our disembarcation and demobilisation. I was still in Uniform, and still under Orders. Among the signs covering our approach to N.Z. were a deterioration in the weather - our new position of 390 30'' S, 1590 17'' E - and a radio telegram from Vera Hayward, who, although a busy teacher, and an Officer of the N.Z.E.I. had kept in touch with the boys overseas through a self-imposed newsletter. The dancing arranged for our last night on board went flat, so we switched to a song session which seemed to express much better how we felt. In the cabin, Betty, Harold and Sheila prepared a fruit salad which we ate using Harold's special gift of silver forks!
Thursday, 10th was spent in Wellington - that is those destined for the South Island. I failed to make contact with the authorities in the Education Dept., but Vera Hayward took me to the home of her brother in law, at 35 Harrison Street, Brooklands. Their kindness was greatly appreciated as no one from the family had the freedom or resources to travel. The night was spent on board the ferry.
On Friday at 7.45 a.m., I have my breakfast at the Christchurch Railway Station, where everything looks small in scale except for the helpings. Alas the dining room now no longer functions. Now I felt I was back home for good and that my work would be with the young people and Education. The years overseas, the countries visited, the experience of serving in the Air Force, friends lost and new ones made, inspired me to push on with peacetime duties.
Travel on the Southern Express had not changed. Even a seat in a 2nd class carriage next to the engine was joy to men returning, with excitement at every station. It was not until we reached Timaru that friends and relatives were on hand to greet me. Uncle Vernal, who took part in WW1 and Aunty Kate, cousin Grace and the Budds (Alf and Bubs). The train stopped just long enough for me to discover that my sister Margaret was in Wellington to meet her husband who was being de-mobbed, I think. The next stop of importance to me was in Dunedin where Alf and Myrtle Butcher took time out to welcome me back. During my years at College their home had been a welcome place to visit at the weekends. Alf, incidentally, had been a soldier friend of Uncle Vernal and it was through him that we met. Back in 1939 I had driven them through to Timaru and back when Uncle was negotiating to buy land there. Returning to Dunedin at dusk we had an accident when a fellow on a motor cycle smacked into the front off-side door at an intersection, causing some damage, but no serious injuries. Bob McNeill was on the platform too. Bob was the third member of the group which cycled to Auckland and back to attend the 1930 Conference of the S.C.M.
About three hours later the express pulls in to the Invercargill Railway Station and I am home. This is the end of the line, and I am looking for two faces in the crowd - my father (66years), and my sister, Blanche, now twenty. They had often met me there on my journeying back and forth during College years, but never was there a greeting like this. As a family we had weathered a few emotional upsets - this was the pay-off. To be re-united was just grand. But you might well ask "where was Mary, the eldest daughter"?. In a nursing home, if you please with her fourth daughter, whither I would go as soon as possible. But Dad and Blanche were there- Dad somewhat more creased of visage, and Blanche fit and well as a 20 year old should be, and an enthusiastic partner in Dad's interest in providing suitable horses and equipment to cater for a small group of her friends. About two years before going overseas I bought a Willys 77 which Blanche learnt to drive, as we commuted between home and Invercargill, where she was attending the Technical College and I was teaching at Waihopai. It was inevitable that she took charge of the car when I was away, and I like to think that both Blanche and Dad found it convenient and helpful, especially when Blanche began working for AA Southland. My return put greater pressure on the use of the car but it was some time before I took possession, when Blanche had help from a number of her friends. It would have been sweeter had there been funds to get her a car as the trip on a bicycle in all weathers could be tough.
What does one do on the first day back home? After reading some letters, I took Blanche to dinner at The Brown Owl, and surprise, surprise! I meet Frank and Eileen Winton at the Railway Station where I had gone to collect my baggage. Frank, a College friend, was now serving a rural community as a Presbyterian Minister. Then I'm off to the Nursing Home to see Mary and baby Gaye.
Getting into the swing of country life happened very quickly for on the second day I was off to recover some stock which had strayed. In the harness shed, in spotless condition, I found several racks of saddles and bridles, collars, hames and britching, and I saw in my mind's eye, my father spending his evenings polishing the metals, and greasing the leathers as he listened to the news of an evening beside the kitchen range. Yes, he would be listening to the news --- and wondering ---and wondering , about the stupidity of war.
Every day I was on the move - to Motu Rimu to see Strnach and Edith Thompson, who were to leave soon for Beaumont Station; to see Wattie Simpson and Chrissie, and Mrs Ross, who was not at home. I really wanted to discover how Harold, with whom I had vacationed in Otago, Canterbury and the West Coast, before the call-up, had fared as Captain in the Army.
A poem I have always remembered:
Breathes there the man, with Soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said
This is my own my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish could claim;
Despite these titles, power and pelf,
The wretch, centred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprang
Unwept, unhonour'd and unsung.
O Caledonia! stern and wild,
Meet nurse foe a poetic child!
Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood
Land of my sires! what mortal hand
Can e'er untie the filial band
That knits me to thy rugged strand!
Sir Walter Scott
1771 – 1832
Ron Verity wrote the above account of the first 30 odd years of his life in the late 1990’s. He typed it all out on an old portable typewriter and I re-did it on the computer.
In 2005 Ron also contributed a chapter about his War years in North Africa in a book entitled
The Desert Road (New Zealanders remember the North African Campaign) edited by Megan Hutching and Published byHarper Collins, ISBN 1 86950 511 5 .
I am the second daughter of Ron and Mary Verity (Mary was known as Molly for many years). My parents married on 26th August 1946 and were married for over 62 years until Dad died on the 16th January 2009 when he was 96 years old.
After the War, Dad became the head teacher at Isla Bank and then at Makarewa schools in Southland where Heather Margaret (6/11/47), Pamela Mary (28/5/49) Alison Dawn (9/9/1950) and Peter Herbert (31/7/1953) were born and then on to Blenheim in late 1957 where Dad took the position of Headmaster at the new Bohally Intermediate School. Here Barbara Elizabeth (12/8/1958) was born – the late baby!
He lead a busy life with 5 children and he was a dedicated advocate for providing a rounded education for 11 to 14 year olds. He was always fair and hard working. He was a member of Rotary, President of the local PPTA assiciation and senior elder at St Andrews Presyterian Church.
In 1971 Ron retired at the age of 58 after 40 years service and he and Mary shifted to Christchurch. Dad took up an office job for a few years learning a great deal about the commercial world. They then bought a large glasshouse and in their retirement had a wonderful time growing long stemmed roses for the market. This was a warm interesting occupation which they both throughly enjoyed. The glasshouses were sold in late 1980’s and Dad died after just one month in a retirement home in 2009. At this time (2015) our Mother is still alive and well aged 94 years. They have 13 grandchildren and now 18 great grand-children.