Far from deterring me from leaving school Dad encouraged me to go to Victoria to do English under Prof Ian Gordon and to ‘get four subjects under my belt in the first year so that I could ease off later.’ So in 1945 I began catching the train, walking along town and then catching the cable car up to Victoria, and that was the pattern for the next four years. The University was very small with just a few hundred students and a scatter of Returned Servicemen picking up their studies. Looking at our B.A. Capping photo for 1948 I realise there were just 77 graduates, 22 of them women. Many students were part-timers so classes began at 8.0 am. and other major subjects were at 5.0 and 6.0 pm. for their benefit. Facilities were certainly spartan by today’s standards and the lino floors and bare wooden forms in the men’s and women’s common rooms scarcely invited relaxation. The Library however, with its hooded lights, stained glass and book-lined walls was mellow and warm, and the refractory tables in the book-lined bays provided peaceful working places. Otherwise I would go to an unoccupied classroom and came to know where the sun fell through the ivied windows and where there were lovely glimpses of the harbour. The Cafeteria was the place for socialising and though I brought my own lunch, I often ate with others there.
My subjects were a mixed bag and I worked as conscientiously as usual with modest passes. Ian Gordon’s enthusiasm and scholarship combined with wit and a robust Scottish accent made his classes a delight, but both then and in later years some of his colleagues were less stimulating. French was a necessity for two years as I required two other language units. Prof Boyd Wilson terrified me with a spate of French on Day 1 and I never gained either competence or confidence in the language. But again he was an enthusiast and did convey some of the richness of French literature while mocking his innocent, earnest students. Stories about him were legion, but it certainly was his custom to cook up interesting meals in his study and the aromas wafted down the corridor. When my Dictation came back marked 0/10 however, I often despaired of getting through two years of French! In History I don’t think I ever got on the right wavelength, and though Prof J C Beaglehole and Peter Munz were able teachers, my results were very average. Psychology under Prof Ernest Beaglehole was still a comparatively new subject. I found it both interesting and to some extent a statement of the obvious, but lab work and a hypnotist working with fellow students were fun. We all sat an IQ test and could then see the Professor for a personal result and comment. The comment on my IQ was that I should cope with University study as long as I worked – which I already knew!
I attended various clubs, dances and activities, particularly Student Christian Movement. And I can still remember the first meeting when I identified a handsome student with dark waving hair and an oatmeal trench coat – Denzil Brown. He was however, fully involved with a beautiful Junior lecturer, Alleyne Crawford. Through SCM however, I began to make one or two new friends, and at the end of the year went down to Dunedin to the SCM Conference at John McGlashan. I began on the wrong foot by arriving without bedding but Aunty Reta and Uncle Bill helped out with that. I was however, pretty shy throughout the week. The War had ended in that year, but again I cannot recall my own response nor celebrations around me – nor horror at Hiroshima which preceded VJ Day. Writing aerogrammes to Jim Galloway during the Italian campaign and following the news on all fronts on radio and in newspapers is all that I can now remember of the impact of the war that year.
By 1946 ex-servicemen were appearing at Victoria in larger numbers, and I was a more confident student doing English, French, and Greek History, Art and Literature as I had no classical background. French II presupposed a knowledge of Latin, and the only way I got through Linguistics was by a complicated series of mnemonics. I was elected to the SCM Executive (with DJB as President) and agreed to do the catering with one or two friends for May Camp held at a disused Army Camp at Paremata. Both then and later I went off to the Market to buy fruit and vegs in bulk and somehow we produced meals in quantity and on time under primitive (or at least unfamiliar) conditions. I went to Easter Tournament in Christchurch at the old central city University campus having trained till then in the unheated pools at Khandallah or Thorndon, or sometimes in the old salt water Ladies’ Pool at Oriental Bay. I was completely unsuccessful, and still pretty insecure, but I think it must have been at that Easter Tournament that Bernie Knowles struck up a friendship and began to take me out. The relationship continued by letter when he went off with Army Education J Force to Japan, and in due course he returned with a triple string of pearls for me. By then I think I must have been caught up with DJB and the relationship tapered off. Also during this year Martin Sullivan arrived on the scene as SCM Chaplain and immediately we were galvanised by his dynamic approach to life and the Christian faith in the University. He needed a base from which to operate and was grudgingly given permission to install a tiny Army hut at the back of the University labs. There we met for prayers, study groups and gossip, and the nurturing of friendships and ideas.
I look back with some astonishment that at the end of the year and soon after finishing our exams Barbara Corkill and I set off on an ambitious bike trip with Taupō as our Northern objective. Our bikes were very basic ones without gears and we were quite unfit and untrained for such an enterprise. We had a small tent and sleeping bags, and we set off about 3:00 pm to reach Māoribank for the first (sleepless) night. A purse lost and found gave us a late start on the Rimutakas next morning, but with a lift on the back of a truck and then a ride up the Wairarapa plain we reached Masterton next night. Our later husbands, Jim Battersby at Trentham and Denzil and his parents at Masterton gave us help and counsel. But for the second day the sun beat down mercilessly, a dog stole our meat (from a pannier bag) while we lunched with friends at Mt Bruce, and the vandalised Motor Camp at Eketahuna provided a bleak welcome when we staggered in there. Barb was by now quite severely burnt and we spent another sleepless and uncomfortable night after a cold meal and decided next morning that we couldn’t face cycling through the Manawatu Gorge. So it was train, taxi and tears in the Palmerston North Motor Camp before we capitulated and rang friends of the Corkills’ – the Headmaster of Palmerston North Boys’ High. Barb was really quite ill and was put to bed, and I crawled ignominiously home by train next day.
By that Summer however, I had more self-confidence and had a marvellous time at the SCM Conference at Ngatawa School, and numerous invitations out afterwards. I had some job overseeing catering again, the weather and the surroundings were lovely, and there was a great spirit altogether. Unlike Denzil I’m afraid I recall little of the programme. I met Basil Kings for the first time and was very taken with Jim Young for awhile afterwards. In January Barb and I and other friends went down to work as waitresses at Te Mahia in the Sounds, and that was a memorable working holiday. I had written to the English proprietors offering to organise a roster of students so that they had consistent workers through the Summer, and that worked well. The location of the guesthouse was superb, and as waitresses had time off during the day I could swim, sunbathe, read or paint. Staff quarters were pretty spartan but that didn’t matter and we were not kept away from the guests. A waitress usually went out on a launch trip to serve morning or afternoon tea or lunch anyway. I think I went in to Picton only once to visit a dentist as I had toothache. We could finish up leftover desserts or anything else, and though the cuisine was far from elaborate, I was heavier by the end of the holiday than I have ever been since.
Then back to Victoria for English III and Geography I; a running battle with Anglo Saxon and Middle English, but a satisfying year otherwise. I was on the SCM Executive which meant editing the Students’ Handbook, helping on the secondhand bookstall we ran, planning camps and studies, and enjoying an excellent group of friends and the influence of Martin and Doris Sullivan. When Easter Tournament came round there was a national rail strike. So forms were loaded onto the back of covered trucks and we roared off into the darkness for a hideous overnight journey by road. For some reason we went via New Plymouth and I can still remember the swirling dust as we chugged over Mt Messenger on unsealed roads. Someone offered me a cigarette, and deciding to be very sophisticated I accepted it and then held it out in mid-air to be lit! Again I wasn’t particularly comfortable at Tournament and can remember walking back along Dominion Road to my billet having left a hop before the end.
I was dating several guys at this time, but by the end of the year was aware that DJB was the one who really set my pulses racing, and there were deep meaningful conversations about poetry, art, religion, film, life. We went to the Boyd Neel Orchestra, to “Brief Encounter”, for walks along the wharves, for coffee at the “French Maid”, and though neither of us acknowledged it, we were falling in love. Under Martin Sullivan’s influence SCMers had also become more involved in other aspects of University life and I think it was in this year that we both had roles in Drama Society productions. There were hot, noisy hops in the old green Gymnasium building, debates, meetings of all kinds. When the VUC Students’ Association Executive (which included a few Socialists if not Communists at the time) sent a telegram to Gottwald congratulating him on “the triumph of democracy in Czechoslovakia” all hell broke loose. With Martin’s encouragement several SCMers had also been elected to the Students’ Association Executive and four of us voted against sending the telegram. After the whole Exec had been sacked at a rowdy meeting, this quartet – Suzanne Ilott, Jim Battersby, Denzil and I were re-elected, and this time I came in as Women’s Vice President. Only men had been Presidents I think until then, but there was provision for male and female Vice Presidents!
As soon as exams were over at the end of the year the SCM went to Wanganui for a Mission. Martin had liaised with all the churches, arranged for students to speak at services and other meetings, persuaded church members to provide billets, and organised an ‘act of witness’ for students in this way. It was all great experience for us, and it’s interesting that the great majority of students who participated in this Mission and in others at Naenae and Masterton are active in the church (and/ or ‘Sea of Faith’) to this day. The week had a special glow for me too, for during it Den and I first acknowledged something of our feeling for each other and he suggested I might come to Masterton to spend a few days with him and his parents. My mother did not think this was very seemly when I told her, but we duly shared a few special days and his parents were kindly and left us alone. I returned to Wellington and Den shortly afterwards went to the South Island on a hitch hiking trip down the West Coast with Basil. We both wrote letters and poems to each other, but the Summer is a blur. The NZSCM Conference was cancelled due to a Polio epidemic, and I camped with the family and I think worked in Social Security for a time.
So to 1948 which was to be Honours year for us both in addition to our Students’ Assn. and SCM activities and those plans were now really complicated by the intense relationship that had developed between us. It wasn’t a very formal proposal, but about the end of March or early April we were talking in the tiny SCM hut together – and began to speak of marriage. It was all so marvellously exciting and wonderful we couldn’t keep it to ourselves and soon had to share the news with Martin. He was enthusiastic and promptly urged us to make it a formal engagement with the best engagement ring we could afford. So now we were on a roller coaster which nearly ended everything. Denzil formally and awkwardly went to see my father at the University office in Bowen Street, our parents were told, the ring was bought, we planned to make the announcement the night we were both capped BA. We did announce the engagement, and friends and family were delighted. Looking back I realise how immature we were, and the four year engagement which was necessary as Divinity students were not permitted to marry until their training was complete, was probably a useful time of leaving families and becoming independent. Iit was not until I was middle-aged and discovered something called PMT that I realised that my doubts, dramas, and tearful episodes probably occurred at a certain time of the month! It also says something for the mores of the time that though our sexual drives were quite normal there was no thought of going beyond kissing and cuddling in all those years.
Quite apart from our somewhat fraught romance, there were good things in our final year at Victoria. We canvassed energetically to raise the $10,000 for the Building Appeal – an attempt to replace the battered old Gymnasium with a decent Student Union building. I went as one of the Victoria delegates to the NZUSA conference in Dunedin. I lapped up the Victorian novel and some of the other papers in my English Honours programme, and slogged away at Anglo Saxon. Den was immersed in Philosophy and instead of Weir House was spending this year as a resident at St Andrew’s Manse with bachelor, Jack Somerville. That became another significant and lifelong friendship for us both. Martin Sullivan having put up the idea of a boarder to his fellow army chaplain and friend. At the end of the year we both went to SCM national Conference at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch and Den was student Chairman. Afterwards we had arranged jobs in Havelock North so that we could earn some money, spend time together, and see another part of the country. Again it seemed a golden Summer. Den worked in an apple orchard and I helped at the Presbyterian Children’s Orphanage, “Hillsbrook” where we both lived in. Goodness knows what use I was, but it was a happy time and on days off we got to Napier, Hastings by bus, or round Havelock North.
My career opportunities had wavered from time to time. I went off to interview Army Education when Bernie (in Japan with J Force) was the centre of attraction. Then I met the Director of CORSO as Jim Young and I both thought of going to China. During the Wanganui Mission I thought perhaps I should be a Deaconess and was very offended when Helen Hercus told me I was a bit young to make up my mind. But National Library holiday jobs had really convinced me that library work was what I wanted, and the Library School under Mary Fleming was a brand new venture. I know that I got as far as an interview with thought of becoming a Library School student in 1949. But it was then spelled out to me that a 3 year bond for library work was part of the deal. We planned to be married as soon as Denzil finished Knox at the end of 1951, and to go overseas immediately. To remain in NZ for me to serve out the bond was pretty unthinkable, and so, without any great conviction about teaching, I then applied for the Graduate Teacher Training course in Auckland knowing that only a two year bond was required.