The War (World War Two) still cast a shadow over my early childhood. We always knew that my father’s younger brother had been killed early on. He was a pilot who had learnt to fly in NZ before the War and then gone off to England and joined the RAF. This was a common pattern. We know that he was killed in a training accident over East Anglia but that is not the story I remember from my childhood. I remember being told that a lone German had come over and shot him down and I now wonder if my grandparents were perhaps given a sanitized version of his death. I know my grandmother nearly died giving birth to him and that he was particularly close to his older brother who would not talk about his death so my cousins knew very little about this man. On our wall was a Morden map of Huntingdonshire that my father had bought when he was in England towards the end of the war. We knew that this was where his brother had been shot down. My mother used to say how she met my father shortly after this brother died and how the family all went to see Gone With the Wind and walked out because they found it too upsetting. Walking out of films was not something we ever did! Also, because my grandmother lived near us, every time we visited her we saw the photo of him in his air force uniform and his cap was on show in the sitting room.
We knew another war veteran. This was someone who had been a school friend of my uncle. He was in a wheelchair but I have never known what his injuries were. He lived with his mother in a small bungalow on Marine Parade in Napier. I remember going to visit him on several occasions but we were brought up never to ask questions about disabled people, nor to look at them in the street. There were a lot of them about and we were taught that it was rude to stare. As an adult my aunt told me that on one occasion during the War she and my grandmother had gone to visit this soldier’s mother and been fed home bottled tomatoes which had been ‘off’. As a result both my aunt and grandmother had been very ill. My mother never did any preserving despite living in a fruit growing area and I seem to remember thinking that this incident was one reason why she did not. I cannot remember any preserving being done in our household until when I was a student I went to stay with one of my mother’s Hawkes Bay cousins and returned home with a case of peaches. I was very pleased about this (my mother’s cousin had taught me how to bottle them) but my father reckoned that they had spent far more on buying preserving jars than we saved in bills from home preserving! Everyone else we knew preserved fruit and I felt a bit ashamed that our family lived on Watties’ tinned peaches. I have recently read that home baking and preserving reached its highest level in nineteen sixties New Zealand so perhaps that is one reason why I feel we were out of step.
As I was born at the very end of the Second World War and came from quite a military family, I have a lot of memories of the commemoration services. The most important day in the calendar after church festivals was Anzac Day on 25 April. Both my maternal grandfather, who had served in both wars and had a distinguished war record, and my father, who described his war service as being as a ‘potato peeler’ always went to at least one service. My grandfather lived in Wellington where there was a large ‘dawn service’ followed by another one at the Cenotaph in the afternoon. The only time I went to a Dawn Service was when I lived in Canberra in Australia. It was a very moving occasion. I do not remember going to the service in Hastings although I remember the atmosphere was always a bit like Good Friday. My main memory of the parades was of vast ranks of ex-military personnel beginning with a few who had served in the Boer War, progressing through people who had served in the First World War and then huge numbers of people of my parents’ generation who had been in the Second World War. We also all wore poppies with pride and we would look out for people we recognized in the parades. There were marching bands too. I only learnt about Armistice Day once we moved to Wellington.