Railway journeys

During the War and in that period, the main form of transport to get anywhere in New Zealand, was by rail. Bus services were still in their infancy, in fact you could say next to non existent. When we went onto a War footing it brought about many changes. For a start the mobilisation of all manpower. Some folk were being directed into the Armed Services, others into what was deemed essential work. The fabric of the whole Country was disrupted, some women were going to work for the first time, taking over the jobs the menfolk were leaving. As a result many of populous were now living away from home. The main aim for every Soldier, Airman, or Seaman, now in Camp, was when they managed a leave pass, to get back home and enjoy again the comforts we had left behind. Anytime a pass was issued, we were off. Keeping in mind, of how we were going to get back again to our unit, or station within the allotted time. I know with my father who was stationed at Harwood Airport, it was his foremost thought, to get home whether it was by a regular, goods, or milk train. Passenger trains were always filled to overflowing. He seamed to know more about rail timetables, and special trains, than the rail folk themselves. You never worried much about a seat, should you have been lucky enough to find one. Just getting on the train was good enough. You could always sit on the kitbag of dirty washing you were taking home. Some people didn’t need a seat, I don’t know what they were looking for, but they wandered from one end of the train to the other, something they did all night.


I can’t now remember what the cost of a fare was, but it must have been very reasonable, as it never was factor in whether we took the journey home or not. It took about 12 hours to travel from Christchurch to Port Chalmers, with a couple of refreshment stops at one of Stations that were set up for this service. Ashburton, Timaru, Oamaru, and Palmerston. A ten minute stop was all it took to grab a cup of tea or coffee, served in a very thick cup. Ham sandwich made with fresh bread, or a hot pie. All no nonsense food. This you took back on board the train, a guard came round and collected the dishes later in a kerosene tin. A head count had been phoned through, of how many were on board the train to give the caterers some idea of what to expect.


Travel to say Auckland, was another matter all together. The trip to Christchurch as normal, and those travelling on to Auckland remained in the seats, or took the chance to obtain another quick meal at a railway dining room in Christchurch. Not much choice again, but very quick service, savoury mince on toast, or sausages gravy and mash, filling and cheap. Getting back onto the train which was then shunted through the tunnel to Lyttelton, until it was alongside the Ferry. On the Ferry which was a daily service, one Ferry sailed each way. On board you either had a cabin to yourself or shared or even a MOF, which was ‘mattress on floor’. Or you could sit in the lounge, for the overnight crossing, and drink beer. Tea and wine biscuits were served, but if you crossed a steward’s hand with silver, say five shilling, just magic. All sort of benefits flowed your way. Some people never worked this out, and couldn’t understand why some of us seemed to be the favoured ones. You also on board had the chance to order a breakfast for a nominal cost. Normally bacon and eggs toast, coffee, which you were served in the dinning room before disembarking.


The berthing was something they were very good about, and so they should be, they did it every day. You then struggled with your luggage across the road, about 200 metres into the Wellington Central Railway station. Forget the idea of a taxi, as there wasn’t any animal like that back then. Arrival at the station, check in your luggage, and then wait all day until the limited departed in the early evening. There were trains that departed in the morning of the same day, but they would have been specials. Anyway after another night of travel sitting upright in the coach, you arrived in Auckland grubby, tired out.


Now if you thought that was complicated, you should have tried a journey from say Dunedin, to Nelson. Dunedin to Christchurch sector as normal, but the line to Blenheim had not been completed, so you had to leave the train and take a short trip by road. Then rejoin the rail again where it had reached, before building of the track was discontinued. This sector was self contained and served only Marlborough, being completely divorced from all other New Zealand Rail. This section ended at Blenheim, or Picton. The next part of the trip was by road, on what they called a Notional Railway. It was rail again, but in name only.









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