My Early Life

 

My life has taken many twists and turns. It would seem more often than not, what I was endeavouring to achieve was not the outcome that I finally ended up with. Thinking back to the time of my schooling, I only have odd flashes of memory. However one that stands out was on my first day, when I hit Archie Carey on the nose after being wrongly advised to do so by a visiting Uncle. I can also remember being terrorised by a female teacher, as well was everyone else in my Standard Three class. She had the whole class shivering in their shoes, wondering who was going to be the next victim of her terrible bad temper. There must have been something medically wrong with her. I can remember one time, in a fit of rage she actually shook a girl right out her dress.

 

This was during the time of the depression and our family’s business was not doing well. My father had built a new theatre to screen films. It turned out with hindsight to be the wrong time, with the downturn we were experiencing and was getting worse every day. We were barely meeting payments on a small mortgage as the depression deepened. Then the ‘Talkies’ technology came onto the scene. This meant my father had to buy extra expensive new sound equipment, such as amplifiers and speakers even to remain in business, and no prospect of recouping the expenditure when the existing mortgage payments were taken into account.

 

At this time he was giving away hundreds of free tickets for each screening. As not many at this time could afford to attend as paying patrons. The unemployment benefit which most were receiving at the time, was barely sufficient even to buy their food. Unfortunately our Company went into receivership owing $1,000, a paltry sum you say, but when you haven’t got it, you are in much the same position as ‘Dickens’ Macawber found himself in. The firm controlling the enterprise didn’t wind the business up. They quickly paid off the original Bond Holders, then ran the enterprise for their own benefit. I can remember looking at a balance sheet once. I saw that they made a stated Profit for that year of only $2. So in 500 years they could have paid off our Bond, but clearly they had no intention of ever giving control of the theatre back. Well not in our lifetimes .

 

I didn’t shine at primary school partly because I took the family fortunes and shame to heart. I actually nearly failed my standard six exam, and was given only a competency certificate. However at the same time The Otago university were conducting I/Q tests, as a result I was visited at home by the examiners to see how a boy who couldn’t pass his proficiency test, had come near the top of their tests.

 

One day we were all seated at the table listening to the radio. We were all enthralled by a News Broadcast. War had just been declared, and my mother repeated an often quoted statement, ‘Well’, ‘It’s all going to be over by Christmas’. ‘Thank goodness you boys won’t be involved’. I was sixteen then. And who ever made that statement got it very wrong. Both boys, as well as my father, were all involved in the services before the War ended. Anyway, as soon as I was eighteen I was ‘Called Up’ or conscripted into the Army, within days I ended up as a private in the ‘Second Scottish Regiment’, which was quickly being brought up to strength from a territorial unit to repel the Japanese, who had by now taken over most of the Pacific. They also it would seem had their eyes on New Zealand. Initially we were poorly equipped, World War One rifles, and Lewis machine Guns. These were prone to stoppages. Little in the way of heavy guns. But we did have mortars which were basic engineered and being manufactured at the Railway workshops. The reason our Government was scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel was, all NZ men of eligible age, were already ‘off shore’ up to divisional strength, fighting the Germans in the Middle East who were desperate to cut off our trade routes and give them access to Middle East Oil.

 

We were never called on to see if we could have repelled any Japanese landings on our shore. As I saw it the only thing in our favour was that their lines of supply and communications were now getting stretched, as well we were now receiving shiploads of new equipment from the Americans. They too were now using our country as a staging base. After the Battle of The Coral Sea which was the turning point in the Pacific War, the Government decided to stand down the eighteen year olds, and revert to the normal practice of calling up the twenty ones and over. Before my Army ‘call up’ I had commenced an apprenticeship as a fitter with the Railways. I had no desire to return to that occupation. I also had no wish to remain in the Army either, many who were in control of the Home Protection units in my mind were not very bright, which was proved correct, as after the War, many found it difficult to find employment. I wanted to join the Air Force, but my father wouldn’t sign my ‘under age’ papers as my guardian. He finally relented and it was back to school as the Air Force insisted every applicant pass their ‘Pre Entry Exam’ regardless of their education level. So I ended up guarding aerodromes at night and attending school during day. All Air Crew were volunteers.

 

I should have mentioned that while waiting for a place in the Air Force I fronted up at the Man Power Office in Ashburton Looking to escape the boredom of the Army which was now being stood down. While in the Manpower Office I struck up an conversation with another job seeker. He advised me to say I was a Header Harvester driver, they were looking for these as they were in short supply. I was hired on the spot, but didn’t mention that I had never even seen a ‘Header’ and wouldn’t have recognised one if it had been in the room. The Farmer who hired me said he really wanted a ‘Tin Mill’ driver and he would soon show me the fundamentals which wouldn’t be a problem seeing I had been a header Driver. Initially I bluffed my way through which was hard, as I discovered the Driver is the Boss of the whole operation. The ‘Case Tin Mill’ did have an a instruction manual which I devoured. I thrashed wheat, oats, Brewing Barley, and Cocksfoot grass. By the time the short season was over, considered myself an authority. Then thank goodness the long awaited letter arrived for me to report to the Ashburton AirPort.

 

I passed all their exams and medicals and was chosen for Pilot training. I did some fifty hours in Tiger Moths at Taieri Airport and was then selected with half of my course to train in single engine aircraft which was to take place in Canada. The half our course that remained behind in NZ had carried out two tours of active duty flying ‘Corsair Fighters’, while we were still being educated in the snow, waiting for a place in the Empire Training Scheme to start our training. It did happen, after waiting six months. I finally gained my ‘Wings’ passing my Service Flying Tests. However I was thankful for the education, and the fact that no one was shooting at me while I was in Canada.

 

After the War I returned to the Railway but I knew that this was not for me as half of the Work Force seemed to be involved in dodging work as they were overstaffed, and endeavouring all the time to look busy was not for me. As well the working conditions were filthy, and no facilities were available to keep yourself clean. An opportunity at this time presented itself to buy a milk business in Port Chalmers which involved deliveries and freighting milk from surrounding farms to Dunedin. My brother and I took on the enterprise and as a result obtained a good financial base.

 

We both realised we couldn’t grow old in this occupation so we sold up. Brother David bought an Orchard in Alexandra. He knew nothing about orchard word but he soon picked it up. I applied for a position in a Bank as they were short of my age group as they hasn’t recruited during the War years and now found they had a staff shortage. I knew nothing about Banking but once you had a grasp of the fundamentals, the rest seemed to be a matter of common sense.

 

I soon was promoted to an Accountant, and then a Branch Manager. I retired at 60 year of age and this letter covers briefly my life to that point. The subsequent years and occupations will be the basis of another letter.

 

 

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