Our six months in London gave us an opportunity to meet Slade/ Burch relatives on Denzil’s side of the family and to make a few other contacts., some through our attendance at St Columba Church of Scotland. The church had been destroyed in the blitz and the congregation worshipped in a large hall with the distinguished minister, Dr R F V Scott whom we came to know, a professional choral octet, and Elders in morning dress for Communion. Other Sundays we took the train down to Gillingham, Kent where Den took the service in a charming little St Margaret’s Church of Scotland there (founded by families of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who had been stationed there and married local girls) and we were befriended by a pleasant Headmistress. The weekends were filled with exploration, travel arrangements, chores and letter writing. At Easter we hitchhiked round Devon and Cornwall staying in Youth Hostels. By Whitsun we had purchased a heavy old tandem and set off in Friday afternoon traffic across London hoping to camp in the New Forest overnight. We hadn’t bargained with our own inexperience and the traffic, and by 9.0 pm. we put the bike in Kings Cross left luggage, caught the tube home to sleep, and resumed the journey next morning. (In spite of a stealthy entry and exit, our unpleasant landlord realised “The Times” had disappeared from the doormat and was very sardonic.) We did manage the circuit of Ely, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge but resolved to add a Cyclemaster motor -less than 1 horsepower – to help us in our Summer travels.
These plans took shape as tandem to Dover, hitch hike to Paris where we stayed uncomfortably in a sports stadium and visited a French family, return to Calais, and then head North on our tandem with overnight stays in Youth Hostels. In Belgium we arrived in Bruges and discovered the celebration of the ‘Festival of the Holy Blood’, a magnificent openair drama in the ancient city square which later inspired my own outdoor plays. And in Holland we had a memorable encounter with two doctors and their families who had concealed Jewish families and who later gave evidence at the Nuremberg trials. An overnight train to Hamburg as we were running out of time, and then on by bike through Denmark and finally to Lund in the South of Sweden. Here Denzil was to attend a Theological Students’ Conference run in conjunction with the Lund Faith and Order Conference of the World Council of Churches. I had arranged to act as an ‘usher’, a task which introduced me to an interesting international group of students who were fellow ushers and helped our costs. Then with the bike consigned back to Scotland we took the train to Stockholm for a few days (and bought the bronze candlesticks), then crossed to Gothenberg (and bought the red rug in the study), took a Swedish ship to the UK and then a train to St Andrew’s.
Six weeks’ travel on the Continent, but now Denzil had to begin his work for a B.Phil degree under Donald Baillie and I had to try to find work to support us. Accommodation had been arranged for us in a large home, Balnacarron House on the outskirts of St Andrews at two guineas a week. Our aristocratic English landlady did not quite know what to expect of two NZers (‘I expected you to be wearing grass skirts’) but we were duly established in a tiny flat created out of the erstwhile billiard room. Lovely outlook over the garden to the Autumn trees and fields and two other congenial couples in other flats in the house. One of the other occupants, Jim Minto, suggested it might be worth enquiring about a job at his school, Waid Academy, Anstruther, and after a rather snooty interview at the Kirkcaldy Education Board where they informed me they were unlikely to appoint a Colonial graduate, the job was eventually mine. That was of course a great relief, for Beth and Frank Nichol who had preceded us in St Andrews had been able to get only domestic work for Beth. Denzil also got an Assistantship in the linked Parish of Cameron and Largoward, and his supply fee there neatly covered our modest rent. Teaching children from the farms and fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife was a new experience, and often I could not understand them even though they were not supposed to use dialect words in school. Scottish literature was of course a component of ‘English’ classes and that taxed me, as did the emphasis on formal grammar in which I was not well grounded. The staff were friendly and the children were used to a pretty disciplined curriculum, and I suppose I was adequate. But the days were long with a tandem ride into town to catch the unheated bus which ambled round the beautiful Fife coast with its historic fishing villages and returned late afternoon. Then there was marking and preparation and exams and reports, not to mention our social commitments, weekend and holiday planning, and the domestic round.
Denzil’s fellow postgraduate students were nearly all Americans and we made friends with them as well as the Scottish undergraduates. As the first student doing a B Phil in Theology Den’s supervisor, D M Baillie was most anxious that the standard should be high, and he kept Den’s nose to the grindstone. But there were interesting visiting speakers and lecturers – some related to the Church of Scotland’s involvement in African affairs, plays at the Byre Theatre, a Drama Society which I joined and in which I briefly took part, typing classes we both took at Madras College. On Sunday we took the bus to the country churches where Den preached – high pulpits in little stone churches with a gallery for the farmhands. At night we went to one of the four Churches of Scotland in the town.
Christmas was only the briefest respite, but we had Phil Spencer, Ken Orange and Albert Moore with us and then hitchhiked and bussed from Edinburgh down through the Lake District to Blackpool, Chester and Manchester. But it was all very brief. At Easter,1953, blithely disregarding the wintry conditions we planned an extensive tandem tour. From Deeside we climbed to the snow-capped Cock o’ Mount in order to visit my mother’s birthplace at Wester Lethendry and a surviving relative at Tomintoul. We stayed in Youth Hostels most of the time, visited churches, castles and monuments – and rode furiously to accomplish the circuit to Inverness, Kyle of Localsh, Fort William, Iona, Killin, Perth and home. Then there were all the other extras like the Kate Kennedy Procession in St Andrews, and the General Assembly in Edinburgh, and a Retreat at Iona for Denzil. We also applied for seats in the NZ stand in Hyde Park feeling that it would undoubtedly be a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a Coronation.
I think we caught an overnight bus from Edinburgh to London, stayed with Den’s elderly cousin Winnie Harbord for a day or two, and dressed elegantly (me in my new linen duster coat and refurbished straw hat) for the NZ stand where we were to be seated by 7.0 am. The day was actually rather grey and showery and we pitied the lightly clad Ghurkha troops lined up in front of us. Queen Salote in an open landau endeared herself to everyone, and the Royal coaches were fairytale stuff. We found NZ friends in the stand, and when Hillary’s conquest of Everest was announced, the stand went wild. Again I have written elsewhere of this whole experience and London with banners and crowds everywhere was marvellous. But our hosts had hired the brand new novelty of television and we were equally rapt when we returned to the house and could view the closeups and the events in the Abbey.
Denzil’s work with D M Baillie was important, but he was also being enriched in so many other ways. Theological student Retreats at Aberfoyle and Iona (where he got to know George MacLeod again, who had been a visitor to St Andrew’s Manse Wellington in Denzil’s year with Jack Somerville) were part of that, as well as conversations with some very distinguished people. In the early Summer we were thrilled to have a visit from my father who had come for international University conferences at Durham and Cambridge but caught the train first to St Andrews to see us. It all fitted extraordinarily well, for Denzil and Albert went off to hitch-hike to Bossey (near Geneva), and Dad took me with him to his gatherings – with exploration on the side. Somewhere along the way I met Helen Barnes (Nicol) and again we hitch-hiked and spent time in Paris and Switzerland before meeting Den at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey.
None of us can quite remember how it was all organised, but the previous Summer we had met Alasdair MacDonnell, a student at New College, Edinburgh and the owner of a car! He had invited us to make a camping trip with him and somehow we included Margrethe Jorgensen, a charming and highly intelligent Danish theological student. So it was that from Geneva we visited the newly formed community of Taize, drove down through France to the Riviera, as far South as Florence, up to Venice, then North right through Germany, Holland and Belgium, and back to our new term in Scotland in the nick of time. The camping was certainly minimalist, and the food simple, but again we had wonderful experience with two people who became lifelong friends.
So back for the last frenzied term, and as Balnacarron House was being sold we also had to face a change of location. We had two rooms with an elderly impoverished gentlewoman in Golf Place, 25 watt light bulbs and very little heating, and we were both working hard, planning a complex homeward itinerary across the United States, and expecting our first baby. Our American friends assured us that we could cross the country cheaply by Greyhound bus, and they devised an itinerary with stopovers with friends and relations so that we spent one night at a hotel in the whole trip. We had made the remarkable discovery that the Orient Line was experimenting with two trial sailings from San Francisco to NZ and so we booked on the “Oronsay” which had taken us to the UK two years earlier. Leaving Scotland however, was frantic with luggage despatched in different directions, a round of farewell parties and the usual workload, so it’s not too surprising that I had a few early pregnancy alarm bells.
By 13 December we were in Southampton to join the brand new “United States” for a very rough Atlantic crossing which kept me in my bunk most of the time. In New York we were received by Albert and Viola Hoch, a childless couple with comfortable home and income who were extremely kind to us. Albert was a relative of Denzil’s maternal grandmother’s German family. After the austerity of Britain the American lifestyle was affluent and we soaked up another range of new experiences as we spent Christmas with them. The ground was frozen hard and the air icy, but homes were so warm, my Scottish clothes were oppressive. We did the sights of New York, were taken to see the Rockettes, a day trip to Princeton, a slapup turkey dinner on Christmas Day. But that morning we had been shattered to hear on radio the news of the Tangiwai disaster and wondered what friends we had lost in the huge death toll.
We left the Hochs on Christmas Day and began our four week trek across the country via Carlisle, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Johnston City, Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas, Flagstaff, Los Angeles and San Francisco staying in ten different homes on the way. As it was midwinter, the more Southern route was preferable but also provided a great range of experience as we stayed in different homes, communities, churches. Greyhound busses and bus stations were not rundown as they are today, but they provided our first experience of segregation with Blacks required to sit at the rear and segregated cafes and toilets. In Washington on New Year’s Day we walked miles but most places were closed. Our hostess had taken us to a church dinner with scores of young adults and where the speakers held different chaplaincies and church vocations in which they sought to interest recruits. In Tennessee we were taken over a HEP plant that was part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and our host was an FBI agent with interesting stories to tell. We were hugely impressed with Williamsburg which my parents had encouraged us to fit in. In Memphis we stayed in a Bank President’s pillared and porticoed mansion. In Arkansas we got out of the bus at a roadside stop in the darkness and were taken off to a cotton plantation where we slept in a four poster bed and our hosts employed fifty Negro families who lived in shanties without electricity or water laid on. (In 1968 Denzil returned to visit Don Campbell, the friend who had sent us to his parents here on the outskirts of Little Rock. The Civil Rights Movement had by then changed everything so that we had first-hand experience of that huge social change here and in other places. However, the patriarchal Mr. Campbell Snr, had provided a teacher and nurse for their black families, but the new owners of the plantation mechanised it and dismissed the Black families. ) In Dallas, Texas we spoke to teenagers in a huge church and were gratified recipients of a fee! We stayed on the bus for a 23hour stint in the hope spending a day at Grand Canyon. Only to find when we arrived that snow and mist obscured the canyon most of the day and certainly prevented any ventures away from the lookout. Across the Mojave Desert to California to Los Angeles and San Francisco to stay with two families we had got to know two years earlier on shipboard en route to Britain. In San Francisco, where we stayed with the FBI son of our FBI Tennessee host, we did a final desperate shopping spree in Macy’s and collapsed on the “Oronsay”. In fact I was so exhausted we had a row when I refused to drag myself up to experience the wonder of sailing out under the Golden Gate bridge.
But the journey wasn’t quite over for we also had a day in Waikiki and another in Suva- both pretty unknown and unspoilt in those days. And so after just over two years we sailed back into Auckland harbour for a McKenzie family welcoming party. With hindsight I suspect my blood pressure was already up and my pregnancy in jeopardy, but we spent two days driving South with an overnight stay in Taupō and then the unsealed Desert Road.
Then followed a rather tense three months or so largely based at “Lethendry” but with periods spent with Den’s parents also. He had already received various feelers about parishes including the classic cable we received in New York: “Would you accept call to Taumarunui, minimum stipend?” Den went off to look at various Auckland possibilities as well as Taumarunui and in due course the decision was made. The B.Phil thesis hung over him like a cloud and he tried to work on that, too, in early mornings before breakfast and on days ‘off’. We had returned home with meagre funds but had to furnish a Manse, buy a car, and provide for a baby, so (with my parents’ very practical advice) we bought unfinished furniture which we painted, and some new and second hand furniture. Our new dining room suite and lounge chairs were as close as we could get to the Swedish light oak furniture we had so greatly admired overseas, and we were inordinately proud of them.