My father, one of six siblings, was born and grew up in Petone, a lower North Island town in the Hutt Valley. His mother must have been a bit of a fighter, for I found an old newspaper clipping, telling of the court case she took against his brother’s teacher, who had apparently beaten him very severely, doing corporal punishment, during school time. This was a bit unusual way back then, to question the powers that be.
Dad began his working life as a steward on the Shaw Savill Line ships, before changing to a position as a 1st class steward at the Grand Hotel in Wellington. My mother’s sister, Bonnie, was also on the ‘Grands’ staff, so its possible that through her, he and my mother may have come across each other at that time.
However, like most able bodied men at the time, the middle of World War Two, wanting to do their bit for King and Country, my father, attested for the New Zealand Military Forces in July of 1941. At the completion of his initial military training at Waiouru Army Camp, he was posted to Palmerston North.
My mother who grew up on her, Grandfather Jones’ farm, at Bainesse, was also living in Palmerston North, and employed in the, Adams Bruce shop, selling their famous, chocolates, ice-creams and cakes.
Somehow they found each other and together were regulars at the popular, old-time dances, with real live band music, held each Saturday night, in local social halls dotted around the district. Another popular date was biking down to the river-side for picnics.
They married, on the 13th March 1942 in Wellington, while my father was on a seven day furlough from the Army. One year later, I arrived into this world, at Palmerston North Maternity hospital, on the Third day of the Third month, 1943.
August of 1943, my father turned twenty one, and became eligible for a posting overseas, which worried my mother a lot because of having already had her cousin,’Digger’, killed in the war. His name was really, Gilbert Seaton, but for some reason the family called him, ‘Digger’
He wrote this letter home to my mother and her sister, his cousins, after his arrival overseas, very poignant to think of a young fella wishing to be home for Christmas, but instead, facing the real possibility of death.
Dear Bonnie and Mona
Well girls just a few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter. I hope you both are fine getting on well in your positions. As for myself I am feeling fine never been better in fact. You both will be looking forward to Xmas I suppose. I wish I was home for Xmas. Well we have moved into our new billets and they are great. Our troop have a Nisson hut to ourselves. There are only 14 of us so we are not crowded. We have electric light which is a privilege since leaving N.Z. I have sent Aunty Edie and you two girls a Xmas card about a week ago and am wondering if it will reach you before Xmas. Well I had a great birthday down at the local boozer that night. I was near going to ask for the day off but I knew they would not of give it to me. I expect you are both still going to the Saturday night dances. Our troop (No. 1.) and N0 2 have picked a football team to play 3 and 4 at footy shortly. I will have to get in some training as I am fat and short winded. Well news is short and am feeling tired so will make the old bed and crawl in.
Lots of love to you both Digger.
Sadly, six months later he died from the wounds he had sustained in the fighting, on the 30th May, 1941, while a prisoner of war.
I remember how sad my mum and Nana’s voices got talking about ‘Poor old Digger’ as they called him. Every Anzac day we attended the special services to remember him and the other boys they knew from our area who never came home from the war.
September of 1943, my father, after transferring to the RNZAF, (non flying), embarked from Linton Camp to join, No 62 Squadron stationed at Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands. He was away for 11 months taking part in the big fight to run off the Japanese and re-take the islands. After spending a stint in the American hospital with Malaria, he was transited back to New Zealand from the forward area in 1944.
While he was away, mum and me lived in a rented room at, 271 Grey Street, Palmerston North. Like most other families at the time, our life was on hold waiting for the war to end and the men to return home for good.
Mum’s only income while dad was away came from a small allotment out of his Army pay, yet she still managed to accumulate some savings for their new start in life. On his return, Dad, mum and me, moved into one of the brand new ‘State Houses’ the government was building all over the country, Twenty Five, Rangiora Avenue, Palmerston North.
It was so new, that dad had to get the grass growing. Mum said, I was only allowed to go outside to play once the grass was up. I’m guessing I was probably not the only kid in that street of new houses, at that time, standing on a ‘Morris’ couch peering out the window, hoping to see grass growing.
One vivid memory from this time, is the Sunday mornings. All the neighborhood kids stood out in the street, lined up along the edge of the footpath and waited for a ginormous, square, black car, that came crawling slowly along the kerb and swallowed us all up into its cavernous interior. Kind of like, in my Nana’s story, she told about the ‘Pied Piper of Hamlin’, where all the kids disappeared into a cave never to be seen again. Our car, however, only whisked us away to Sunday School to hear stories about Jesus and God before returning us home again.
In another strong memory, I recall, I am sitting in my old cane pushchair, surrounded by a mass of noisy people, shouting and waving like crazy at a long, black, smoke puffing train, pulling slowly out of the train station. When I got older I asked Nana about that one. She reckoned it must have been when the troop trains shipping our boys out to the war were leaving and most everyone living in Palmerston North turned out to make sure they had a good send off.
In the middle of town was the square, all laid out with gardens and a ladies’ rest rooms that mum and me used when we were up town shopping. The toilet walls were all covered with fancy patterns done in black and white tiles, and just for kids they had special little low toilets, with half size doors. The ladies had to ‘spend a penny’ (put a penny in the slot on the door) to have their pee.