So it was that in 1949 we all scattered to the four winds and though I again lived at home in 1951, by this time we were all looking towards our own careers. As adults we have rediscovered each other, appreciated the different paths our lives have taken, but valued our shared upbringing and background. Moragh created waves in the family with a solo exploration down the main street of Whangarei as a pre-schooler, and a few battles so that on one famous occasion I pushed her head through a window! She was a beautiful child, musical with a lovely voice, an excellent sportswoman and voted the most popular girl of her year at college. Not surprisingly she went on to complete a degree in Physical Education at Otago, then to a successful teaching career and with starring roles in musicals in the Wairarapa before she married Neil McPherson and had her family of three. As the only boy in the family Fraser had a special niche, but he also had a few battles to fight. He was desperate to own a motorbike which was vetoed by the parents. Then he wanted to be a dairy farmer, an idea which Dad hoped to quash by sending him for a working holiday but which merely confirmed him in his intention. With a Massey Diploma under his belt he began the long haul of contracting and share milking to get money together, then won a Crown ballot block which became the nucleus of the large property that is now “Braham Farms”. When he married Dorothy she joined him in the busy farm life and their four children duly appeared on the scene. Shona was still a pigtailed teenager when I left home and was often the butt of the family as ‘the spoilt youngest’, She proved her own determination however, by resolving to do her Nursing training in Dunedin, and defying her strongminded mother on a few fashion issues. It wasn’t until she joined us in Taumarunui that we discovered her marvellous sense of humour -though Denzil gave her a rough time over letters from one Jack Thomson whom she later married. She was a fine nurse and with Jack became a most enterprising traveller. The role we each played in the arrival of our first children (two adopted and one homehrown for them), the friendship that later developed between our husbands, and the travel we have shared in later life have been hugely enriching.
In 1949 however, I was in Auckland, Den in Dunedin, Mum and Dad away for some months on a world trip to visit several overseas Universities, Moragh at Phys Ed School in Dunedin, Fraser at Massey in Palmerston North, and Shona a boarder at Wairarapa College in Masterton. Teachers’ College arranged accommodation, though I have no idea what the basis was as some people were in hostels and some in private board. I was assigned to share a small, dreary bedroom with a Home Science graduate, Helen Barnes in the home of Mrs. Benton JP, 73 Boston Rd., Mt Eden. Mrs. Benton was a Dickensian figure, a large, wheezing lady very partial to onion sandwiches and gossip at the kitchen table. She was frequently called out by the authorities to Mt Eden Prison across the road, and waddled over to witness documents opining that the Prison was ‘a real home away from home for her’! The house was an old villa with toilet out the back though fortunately accessed by a covered porch, an overgrown garden, and it had I think been erected on an ant heap! Helen and I had a small bed and chest of drawers each, a rod behind a curtain for our clothes, and worked at the dining room table or sitting on our beds. But the great thing was that though we were of very different temperament, Helen and I clicked immediately and have remained good friends in spite of time and distance. She combined a first class mind with many practical gifts, an outgoing personality and a lively interest in everything. She was pining for a young medic who had gone off to Edinburgh and that relationship precipitated one or two dramatic experiences for us both. (Taking a phone call from Scotland at 3.0 am and then consoling a distraught Helen. And rescuing her when she was cleaning lady in a large building on the waterfront and was locked in one night. )
Anyway, Teachers’ College seemed to be fairly ho-hum in many ways. Section R consisted of a group of about 40 graduates from all over NZ and our curriculum was supervised by a wise, gentle elderly man, Dr Murdoch and a woman assistant. There were assorted TC lectures as well as ‘section’ in various schools when students observed and also did trial lessons. I had sections at Otahuhu, Epsom Grammar, Northcote and Takapuna Grammar travelling by ferry to the last two schools, and professionally this was the most useful part of the year. There were a few peripheral activities like learning Cricket and other sports so that you could (supposedly) coach a team if you were teaching in a District High School. Students who had previous experience in some interesting area were invited to speak to us, and a fellow student from the UK was the first person I ever heard talk about the miracle of television. Somehow I was promptly elected as Graduate representative on the Student Executive. Helen and I participated in all the TC drama productions – “Antigone” and “Merrie England” and “The Wild Duck”, and had a hand in costuming some of them. On Saturday mornings I crept out of bed and went off to a Painting class, and later in the year made a suit at a Tailoring class. And sang in the graduates’ choir. Having explored one or two neighbouring churches I ended up attending St Luke’s Remuera; it meant a bit of a walk, but the beauty of the church and the friendliness of the Minister and his wife, the McDowells, made the decision for me and I ended up teaching a gang of small boys in the Sunday School. So it wasn’t entirely an idle year, and there were frequent letters to be written to my fiancé about all the doings. Just a month after our arrival in Auckland I had my 21st birthday, but I was more swamped by depression than rejoicing. Den gave me a very fine Bible, Mum and Dad an Omega gold watch, and a friend of my parents (Margaret Shove) delivered a beautiful birthday cake. But I think the thing that gave me most surprise and pleasure was a large ugly plywood key tied with a pink ribbon and inscribed with the names of all those in Section R.
Den had applied to be capped at Victoria so that we could be capped together, but the Hall authorities would not grant him two days off lectures! So Helen and I duly made our graduation frocks (mine short sleeved and in pale mauve taffeta so that I froze in Dunedin in May) and then went off to Dunedin by train, boat, train. That at least gave me a chance to see Den’s location and to meet a few Knox men, and at some stage in the proceedings to spend time in Masterton too. In Auckland I had queued and got a ticket for my first opera, “La Boheme”, and in Dunedin Denzil had got tickets for “Aida”. This Italian Opera company was the first to visit NZ after the War and I found “Aida” particularly, a memorable experience. I can’t retrace my journeys that year, but I went to Teachers’ College Easter Tournament in Wellington and must have had quite a few Main Trunk overnight trips. Den visited me in Auckland also, and towards the end of the year Mum and Dad returned laden with gifts from overseas – American tee shirts and junk jewellery and such exciting novelties. With a long and somewhat difficult engagement I was keen to get a Dunedin job, and the only one on offer in my subjects was at Columba College under the redoubtable Miss Louden who had been Principal of Epsom Grammar.
Thus in 1950 I headed for Dunedin and a teaching post at Columba College, a Presbyterian girls’ boarding school with both primary and secondary pupils drawn from mainly well to do Dunedin homes and the farms and orchards of Otago and Southland. Four teachers occupied Iona, an old house used to accommodate house mistresses across the road from Columba College. I became particularly friendly with Paddy Simmers, their Phys Ed mistress who shared a very similar Wellington background, and though the old house was somewhat comfortless, the four of us got on well enough there. Teaching should have been a piece of cake in this all girls’ school, but I made the usual beginner’s mistakes and found English, French and Scripture + housemistress duties + establishing a decent school library + other pursuits made it a very busy year. Denzil was equally busy, and I suppose money was scarce, for our usual activity was walking, and occasionally a film. Aunty Reta and Uncle Bill Jeffery were very good to me, particularly when I had a root resection and needed some TLC. The other big drama of the year was a thunderous crash one night at Iona and the whole plaster ceiling in the hall crashed to the floor.
During the August holidays Den and I, Alison and Trevor Morrison, Mary Kerr and Albert Moore set off for Queenstown and a tiny two roomed cottage on the lakefront. It was perishing cold, and none of us had proper gear or money for trips. But we did go up to Coronet Peak and spent a day in brilliant sunshine which turned the snow to ice so that we slipped and slithered everywhere. So much so that Albert wore out the whole seat of his trousers. We also took the “Ben Lomond” up the lake and I remember open charabancs at Glenorchy. The farms up the lake were remote, and the lakefront at Queenstown had only a scatter of buildings in those far-off days.
At the end of that year and the following one as part of his training for ministry Denzil had the task of surveying the Murupara/ Kaingaroa/ Galatea area for the church. The vast Kaingaroa Forest had been planted during the Depression years, and forestry, farming and the Fire Service were the main occupations of the area with small scattered townships and unsealed pumice roads. There were Māori and pakeha and a few new NZers – Scots, Latvians and others, no church buildings, and no transport for Den apart from an ancient motorbike his second Summer. It was arranged that he would stay with the Hill family, Jean Hill being a devout Presbyterian and the hardworking wife of a farmer struggling to make a dairy farm on pretty marginal land. Den was given a one-man Forestry hut and had meals with the family of two daughters and three sons. It was certainly an introduction to a totally different NZ lifestyle for Den, and I went up for a few days to share the experience, stay with the Hills, and make a trip into the Ureweras with a friendly doctor going to Ruatahuna. The memory is now hazy apart from a brief visit to the Irwins at Te Whaiti, and the doctor’s discussion of the frequency with which the Tohunga had been consulted before he was called in. I also remember going to a ‘horror’ film in the local hall where we were seated on backless benches and the local Māori kids scared each other witless on the way home afterwards.
The next Summer I was supposed to go to Murupara again after Christmas On Boxing Day the Hill family decided to go to Ohope Beach for a picnic and Denzil was invited to go. He opted however, to stay at home and catch up on letters and reading, and Mr. Hill stayed to work on the farm. Late afternoon Jean Hill came home and told Den of a tragedy. The children had been swimming when Ernest, Michael and Pat were caught in a rip, and the two boys had drowned. She asked Den to go out to the milking shed and break the news to Mr. Hill – a man of uncertain temperament anyway having possibly suffered brain damage in a fall from a horse. The support Den gave through that devastating experience however, was valued till the day Jean Hill died. Rightly or wrongly I felt that I would be an intruder as a guest at that time and I cancelled my visit. (Some years later another son, Geoff was killed by a ‘sailer’ in a forestry felling accident, so the family had a tragic history yet Jean Hill’s faith remained strong.). In that Summer of 1951 I did go with the family on a camping trip round the far North. Again my memories are overlaid with later visits to Waitangi and Kerikeri, but I do remember the delight of camping on a farmer’s property at Coopers Beach when we virtually had the place to ourselves, got a billy of milk from the farmer, and enjoyed the beauty of the pohutukawa fringed bay. Undoubtedly many of the roads were unsealed, and Mum and Dad deserved full marks for enterprise.
In order to be registered as a trained teacher I now had to get a job in a State school and so this year I found myself teaching English and some Social Studies at Hutt Valley High School. Once again I fell on my feet in many ways, for I got a ride out each day with another teacher who lived in Khandallah, and I had Kath Langford (whom I knew well through SCM and Varsity) as a special crony. The Principal, Mr. Millard was a Rugby fanatic but also ran quite a good school. After an exhilarating time with 6th Form English while the Deputy Principal was on sick leave I came down to lowlier levels with 3rd and 4th Formers and a year which again taxed my resources. Kath and I also tried to run a school SCM group – with square dancing in the school hall during lunch hours as a drawcard which proved rather over popular. The tempo must also have been fairly brisk as my fiance and I were now exchanging letters debating what degree at what University and later which ship on which date we should sail – not to mention some wedding arrangements. There was a trousseau to be made. I didn’t own a bought frock or other garment apart from top coat, and I duly made both my wedding and going away dresses. In the midst of all this and the end of year exams and reports I had various inoculations on the inside of my upper arm as was fashionable just then and spent a miserable few days with an arm like a balloon.
School finished at last and there were a few free days before Saturday 15 December when we were married at Khandallah Presbyterian Church – the old church which had recently been moved from Cockayne Road. Jack Somerville who had by now become a close friend of us both officiated. Moragh and Shona were bridesmaids in pale turquoise homemades, Basil Kings and Albert Moore supported Den, and family and friends surrounded us. Biggest drama was the night before the wedding when the bulk of our luggage destined for the hold on our overseas trip was consigned to the Limited for despatch to Auckland. Fortunately, Den began asking questions about a particular bag and discovered to his horror that it had been mistakenly taken down to the train though it contained his wedding suit and other essential items. Much pleading with a stony-faced guard, and the bag was retrieved from the guard’s van in the nick of time.
Motels didn’t really exist then, and I can’t recall just how many people were at 17 Everest St. But Joan and Howard Anderson with a young family of their own seem to have had numerous people staying with them including the bridegroom and his parents, Basil Kings and Albert Moore. It was a superb day and Mum and the girls went off to do the church flowers with hydrangeas and probably set up for the Reception, and at least at one stage I was at home alone and everyone else away doing jobs. There were power cuts at the time and there was the question whether the power would be on (for the organ) by 2.30. Dad insisted that my very plain homemade wedding dress needed a proper veil and this had been chosen, but I improvised a rather clumsy headband with artificial lily of the valley. to hold it on. After the years of waiting I just remember it as a very happy occasion, sunshine, friends and family, and my face with a smile glued on it. The Reception was a very modest affair by today’s standards – just a glorified afternoon tea in the church basement with speeches and telegrams, sandwiches and cakes. The guest list was compiled by our parents and mainly composed of family and friends of their generation. There were photos at home in the garden, and then we changed and departed in Den’s father’s little car for a few days at Waikanae. The Milnes had lent us their bach there, and I thought it was wonderful that Joan had made an evening meal for us with cold chicken. Quite a delicacy then! We walked on the beach and unwound, and then returned – to the twin beds!
Apart from an Advent service at Otaki next night I have no recollection of how long we spent there and I think we may have returned to the city fairly rapidly to complete organisation there. Both Den’s parents and mine planned to be in Auckland to see us sail on 28 December, but when his father became ill we went up to Masterton to farewell the Brown parents there and then I think caught the limited to Auckland. Where we spent Christmas I have no idea, but we spent at least a day or two in Auckland where my family were staying in a friend’s house at Mt Albert. And then on 28 December we excitedly boarded the “Monowai” and waved to the little group gathered on the wharf.
As there are exhaustive diaries of the next two years, I am not going to record all that detail here. Suffice it to say that we crammed every day with new experiences, lived very cheaply on what we managed to earn, made friends from around the world who have enriched us in many ways, and returned home in February, 1954 with most of a B.Phil degree completed and our first baby on the way. The Suez route on the “Oronsay” travelling via Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Colombo, Aden, Naples, Marseilles, Gibraltar, Southampton introduced us to overseas travel. We also made friends with other young couples, particularly Americans, Lila and Jim Kuhn and Australians, Helen and Peter Rushton. We arrived in London the week that King George died and so were free to stand in the snow and see the Proclamation read at St James’ Palace, the Lying in State at Westminster and later the funeral procession. I began supply teaching fairly quickly, and after several abortive attempts to get other work, Denzil joined me in the exhausting business of trying to teach in secondary modern schools. We were complete greenhorns of course, and the secondary Modern schools had a fair number of tough, worldly- wise youngsters who had plenty of experience of innocent young supply teachers from overseas. Nor was it easy to meet a strange class, issue textbooks, pencils and paper, find out what they were studying and then try to contribute something useful to their education. The hazards of collecting in the dinner money and getting it to balance was another nightmare. Britain in 1952 still had food rationing, bomb sites and derelict buildings were very evident, and life was austere, but at least we were earning and discovering the city.
Then a chance encounter led to a Religious Education job at Wandsworth Grammar School, Southfields, for Den and that proved much more congenial for him. In the evening (after a 1s9d meal at a Lyons Corner House perhaps) we went to theatre, concert or ballet – another feast of experience though it entailed queuing for seats in the Gods or sometimes standing throughout a performance. At Sadlers Wells, the Old Vic, the Festival Hall and many theatres we heard and saw the great actors, dancers and musicians of the era – Margot Fonteyn, Alexander Grant and Beryl Grey, John Gielgud, Sybil Thorndike, Lewis Casson, Wendy Hiller, Dirk Bogarde, Margaret Leighton, the pianist Solomon, and many others Our first bed-sit in a charming house in Baron’s Court was a good introduction at 3.5guineas a week including gas and electricity. But because we were uncertain whether I could get work in St Andrews we decided to move to the cheaper but much less salubrious area, at Stile Hall Mansions, Chiswick, and a Fascist landlord who was probably on the run from the Police.