Brian Schofield Interview
13 April 2017
I’m talking to Brian Schofield, and he’s going to tell us about his life and the schools he went to and we’ll follow his history through. Good morning, Brian.
Now you were born in 1921?
What made your parents come to Hastings?
Well my father always lived in Hastings.
He was born here too?
Was he from English parents?
No, but my father married an Englishwoman. He was a World War I man. He married my mother in England, and my mother was very useful woman and never changed. But she taught me a song when I was about three years of age … [sings] ‘In the dear homeland far beyond the sea’ … and I’ve never forgotten it. And I never found anybody who knows anything about it, or who wrote it.
It’s a glorious thing, you know. I’ve never forgotten it. My mother belonged to the old Methodist Church here opposite where the old Council Chambers were, and she was a very good singer. My father wasn’t a bad singer either actually. And as I say, I went to Mahora School.
How big was the school then? How many pupils?
Oh, about three hundred. Quite a decent sized school, yes. And they used to have between Primer 1 and Primer 2, sliding doors, so you could open it up into one big room, you see. And that was where we used to hold the plays. Mr Rose was the teacher – he used to teach all that, and we used to hold beautiful plays there. And that was where [the] woman who became my future wife, she was in the play ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – she was the dormouse and I was the ace of spades. [Laughter]
So she was a similar age to you?
Yes, yes. And I got bullied one day at school, and walking past the school was a chap and he said to me after school “I think you’d better learn to look after yourself”. I said “all right”. So he took me home, and he was Artie Hay, the triple title holder of New Zealand boxing. Yeah. Now he was a Hastings man, there you are – the only one there’s ever been, and he taught me to box. And next time … oh, few months later … Mr Chapman, the Headmaster, said “you go and mow that lawn out there”, he said. So I was mowing it and this chap come [came] up to me and he said “I’ll mow the lawn”. I said “no, you can’t”, I said, “Mr Chapman said I had to mow it”. He said “I’ll knock your head off”, you know. And he was going to have a go at me, and I suddenly thought what Artie told me … “get that first punch in on the nose” … which I did. And his nose started to bleed like a stuck pig, and he “ooh, ooh, ooh”, and all his mates left him in the lurch. And unfortunately Mr Chapman, the Headmaster, was looking down and he saw it all happen, and he said “served him right” – you know. And Mr Mawson, the father of the boy, he said “it was the best thing you ever did”, he said, “because he used to bully his other brother”, you see. It was quite amazing that.
And I carried on with boxing and I went to Farndon Park Sports, and I won about – have a guess what my prize was – three hundred cape gooseberry plants. [Laughter]
I haven’t seen a cape gooseberry for a long time.
I planted every one of them beside the house. They all grew, and Mrs Tritt who had the store on the corner of Frederick Street and Tomoana Road, she used to buy them. And I went … after Mahora School … Oh, we had the earthquake, you see.
Yes, you’d have been ten then.
And things weren’t too good and Mrs Keenan down the road had five cows. So I said to her “we’ll milk your cows, and I’ll take your milk round”. “All right”. So she strained the milk and everything, and one of my first customers was
Mrs Barden – you know, the soft drink people? They used to be in Frederick Street. Bardens were very good soft drink people, and Mrs Barden used to say on a Thursday “what sort of cake would you like tomorrow?” Yeah – “would you like a plain cake, or a rainbow cake, or what would you like?” So I’d tell her.
Then Mrs Downing – she had quite a few children – she used to say “hope you haven’t watered the milk today”. I said “no.” She said “well come and get your breakfast”, and I had my breakfast there, you see.
And another one, Mrs Tasker – not far from here actually – she used to give me something, and … chilli punch, that’s right, on a cold day … keep you warm. And I got back to school late one morning, Miss Donnelly said “put your hand out”. Give you the strap, you know, and just as she was going to strap me, she said “who do you work for?” I said “your auntie actually”. “Oh, I’ll fix her”, she said. [Chuckles] So I never got the strap then, you see.
And you were still at Mahora School then?
Yes, yes. And then as things progressed I went to the Herald-Tribune … I was in high school then … the Herald-Tribune to take papers round, you know.
Yeah. They offered you seven shillings a week, but you had to supply your own bike, you see, and I thought ‘ I think I can do better than that’. So I went to Foster Brooks, the bookseller – I said “who does your periodicals on the week?” “Well no one actually”. I said “well I wouldn’t mind doing that”. He said “right, well” he said “we’ll give you £1 a week”, he said, “and your bike money”. So I went straight down the road to Fails … Leon Fails … he was another one. And I said the same thing. He said “that’s all right”, so I got £1 a week from him and the bike money, you see. It was only one day a week on a Wednesday, you see. I did that for quite a long time.
And then I got into the hockey team. I was the captain of the United hockey team, in Cornwall Park we used to play. And I got my nose broken in the last match against the Indians, Hawke’s Bay versus the Indians when they used to come out here and play it for us.
Oh yes. And they used to bounce the balls on the stick ‘til they got to the circle you see. Oh yes, yeah, I know. And of course in those days it was purely one [?] two away, there was none of this hitting like they do now. You had to roll in and we were going very, very well, United Hockey Club, until we struck some youngsters from the Hastings high school and they [were] just too fast for us. [Chuckle] So we packed it in. [Chuckle]
But my name is on the wall of the Hastings high school for men who went to the war.
So how long were you out of high school before you went to war?
Well, it’s a different world in those days, Hastings. Girls were supposed to marry the farmer’s son if he was going to do all right and the boys were supposed to marry the farmer’s daughter if she was going to do all right. So I did my two years at high school, and then I used to go … when I was at high school … go down to a farm at Mangateretere, Mr Meikle, and I actually kept in touch with Mrs Meikle ‘til she died in ’97. And in those days they used to have maids and everything you know, and Mabel used to be in charge – she was the chief cook and bottle washer.
And she said to me one day “you’ve got to take the horse round the sheep”. “All right”. Gee, take the horse … Because Mr Meikle was horse mad, but he was a World War I chap and he had a steel plate in his head, so he had no balance and so he couldn’t ride, you see. So I rode the horse round and when I got back again Mabel said “you’re in trouble”, she said, “you weren’t supposed to jump that horse”. And just as Mr Meikle came out to have a go at me I said “hey”, I said “just a minute – this horse can jump”. I said “he’s a pretty good jumper”. “Oh, is it?” he said, ’cause he was horse mad. So they got Herbie Green from Greenmeadows, came and Ashley Jenkins, a top jump jockey of the day, tried it out – he said “very good”. So he went to Herbie Green for training. Well ‘Charade’ went down to Riccarton and won the Jumpers’ Flat, then won the Grand National Hurdles. Oh, yes.
And that was a Hastings horse?
Yes, and then came back to a meeting in Auckland. And in that meeting to Auckland we had another young chap who was a farmer, and a very good rider. And in the Amateur Riders’ Race – it was run by three or four people, and they were told who was going to win, you know. And it was paying £100, and the chap who came with us won it. It made him enough money to keep his farm going in Porangahau. But he was told never to come again – he spoilt the party, you know. Anyway ‘Charade’ won the Great Northern Hurdles too, you see, and the other horse, ‘Begorrah’ won the McGregor Grant Steeplechase. And ‘Charade’ went back home and dropped dead. [Chuckle] Yes, dropped dead.
Well, I was going to high school then, you see, and after two years at high school – and I’d just served my time with a sort of farm thing, so I was put out on a farm in Sherenden. Know Sherenden, Crownthorpe?
On Mr Reid’s farm, I was put on. And Mr Reid got TB which was fatal in those days. He went to Pukeora Sanitorium and he died. And Mrs Reid had no children, but she’d been a school teacher … didn’t have a clue on farming. So that was ‘bout 1936, and she said “well you’ll have to look after the farm now, you know”. But they were World War 1 soldier settlement farms, Sherenden and Crownthorpe, and Mr Butt up the road who was a very successful farmer, he said “I’ll keep an eye on the boy”.
‘Cause you’d only be fifteen then.
Yeah, so he kept an eye on me, you see. He said “I’ll tell him what to do, and what not to do”. So I was doing that, and then … I don’t know what happened, but I had to leave that place and go to Flag Range which was further away, to a property that bordered the World War 1 Commander’s property … Russell – Sir Andrew Russell. And June and Pam were the two daughters in this place, and of course [chuckle] you know, we were about the same age and we all got on well together, I’ll never forget [chuckle] … those were the days. [Laughter] ‘Cause when I left there Pam said “yeah, I’m going to marry you”, she said. And I thought ‘that’ll be the day!’
Anyway, I went back to the other farm again, you see, and I was running it …
As a fifteen-year-old?
No, I was about seventeen then, running it. And they were going to do some ploughing with these great big Clydesdale horses, and I said “well that’s not for me”. I couldn’t lift the damn collars up and that. And just as I was thinking that another chap, Mr Lowe, came along, and he bought a couple of Caterpillar tractors for ploughing. So he said “I’ll teach you how to plough”. So I learnt to plough with a Caterpillar tractor and look after the farm too, ’cause it wasn’t a very big farm, you see.
And Caterpillar tractors were relatively new then?
Oh yes, oh yes, they were. And so he learnt [taught] me how to plough and disc and that, so I was doing that ‘part from running the farm. And we used to go next door to Hyslops when we did the crutching and the docking, and Mrs Hyslop said – when she heard there was going to be trouble – she said “you’ve got to help the old country”. And they were doing the docking, and she said “I think we should do you too”, you know. And the daughter went … oh, she got stuck into her mother. [Chuckle] ‘Cause Tuna Nui hall, which is on Sir Andrew Russell’s property – I used to play melodion between the times when the orchestra went to have something to drink. And I was also a [yodels] – I was a yodeller then too, you see.
And I used to do yodelling. And we all got on so well together, it was marvellous then. But of course the war broke out, and I went into the … there was five of us in there, in that lot that joined up. And Mrs Hyslop’s daughter, she came too. Ooh, her mother didn’t like that, but she became a nurse. And I never met her for a long … I met her years and years later, and she had a family then and the boy was going to Lincoln College, you know – ‘cause I was doing a job at the International Airport at Christchurch.
And anyway, I went to Waiouru June, July, August 1941 and did my time there, and then I went to Dannevirke. To Dannevirke, yes. And we used to have a place for the trucks to park – we used to guard them, you see, at night. In the end …I took Philippa when we were coming down. At the end there was a big house, and the woman used to bring out scones for us at twelve o’clock at night. [Chuckle] But she had two daughters, and they used to wait ‘til Mum had gone, then they’d put the light on behind the blinds, and do little things behind the … [Laughter]
And Brayden McCracken and I – Brayden was a mate – we bought this baby Austin in Hastings here, and on the way back to Dannevirke it broke down. So we had to get back to Camp, and we were late. So the First Lieutenant said “I’m going to make an example of you”, he said, “you’re supposed to be out on manoeuvres on Weber Road”. So he sent us out there, Brayden and I, and we were just going to go round a corner onto the hill there, and we thought “no, we’ll have a look”. And we looked down and here was a car there, and it was the Officer of the opposing group you see, and his chauffeur. So we captured them straight away.
We made them drive back to the Camp in their own car. And this Second Lieutenant was going to come out and get stuck into us, and I said “just a minute, I don’t want to see you, I want to see Colonel Mitchell”, and he came out. Because Colonel Mitchell was an old man of World War 1, and we’d captured these young officers, and oh, he thought that was bloody marvellous, you know. [Laughter] He might have been old, but when we left Dannevirke to go to Featherston … when they marched us out of Dannevirke with a pipe band … the old Sergeant said “it’s a wonder you don’t break into a bloody waltz”, you know, the way we were marching. [Chuckle]
But Colonel Mitchell, you know, said “the fund that we used to have, you’re supposed to distribute to us”, when we left, you know. ‘Course you never saw the end of it. He got enough to buy a farm anyway. [Chuckle]
Anyway, we went on then. Now this is what still worries me, ‘cause there’s no sign of it anywhere in Featherston. We went to what was called the old campsite, and we were there before it became a Jap [Japanese] Prisoner of War Camp. And we were there, and training, and when we were told we were going to be for active service things changed dramatically, and we had to do extra training. And some that didn’t make it were sent to another unit, you see. And we had … with the trucks, we went on leave – it was water, oil, lights, battery, body, tyres and brakes, so it covered that sort of thing, you know. And we would train there, and of course, when you’re young still, the local girls used to come and look after us on a Saturday night for a dance … something like that. And they got very friendly with one family on Western Lake Road, the Coles family. And I went there one weekend and Mr Cole said “take you down to the wool shed”. And he took me down to the wool shed, and he had this beautiful HMV gramophone, you know, with all the records. And he said “no one else is interested”, he said, so he played a couple to me. And ooh, I loved them, and I’ve still got those records at home that he gave me. Yes.
And Eileen – I kept in touch with Eileen Cole for – oh, after the War, ‘cause she went to a rest home in Masterton. I kept in touch with all of them, all the time. But in Featherston it was a bit boring, so they said “who wants to do a first aid course?” So I put my hand up. I went to Greytown Hospital and did a six-week first aid course – learned how to do bandages and all that thing. And that served me very well actually. And of course, then … we were active service then, when we were kitted out in Trentham.
We went on the ‘Aquitania’ in 1942. and first of all we went to Fremantle because we were being pursued by a couple of U-boats, so we went into Fremantle. And at Fremantle I met a chap there and got talking awhile … he [we] remained mates all my life. I went and saw him in Perth quite a few times. And I represented New Zealand once in Perth … one of the Anzac Day services you know.
But we went, as I say, to Tewfik in the Red Sea. That’s where we disembarked there, and we had to go from their into Cairo, to Maadi Camp. And the hawkers – oh! You know, trying to sell you stuff. And an old hand said “look”, he said “if they want a hundred bucks, offer them ten”, he said, and they’re making a bargain still. [Chuckle]
And we got into Maadi Camp, and … you’ve got to remember, we were only just turned twenty-one. And they lined us up, and Freyberg was there and he said “you boys are the heavy traffic boys, aren’t you?” “That’s right”. “You’ve got your heavy traffic?” “That’s right”. “Well,” he said, “you’ll be going on a bus tomorrow”. We weren’t at Maadi Camp more than forty-eight hours and we went out to Ismailia, the British supply depot, and they said “we’ll take what you’ve got”. We were told we were going to be driving fifty [?] tank transporters. Never seen anything like it in our lives, you know. And you’ve got a week, and we hadn’t learned how to take tanks on them or anything, you know. You couldn’t go up the middle of the road, otherwise they tipped over.
Anyway, we mastered them and we did all North Africa with them you see. And – nothing, we had to sign – lease – for them. And so when we got back to return them to the Camp after the desert, we made them sign that we’d returned them.
And then of course in Egypt after we came back from the desert, Freyberg said “well you young men are not going back to Maadi Camp”, he said, “’cause”, he said “I don’t like the older ones there, so you’re going to an English unit, a Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers Unit, in Abbassia, Heliopolis, Cairo”, which – we did that. And we were walking back … I was walking back to the workshop with my tools ‘cause we had to maintain the trucks, and the Commandant of the Camp used to ride a white charger … horse … and he went past. And then the Sergeant said, “you’re in trouble”. “What do you mean?” He said “you didn’t salute him”. I said “how could I salute him when I had my arms full of tools?” And he said “you’re in real trouble”, he says. “You’ve got to salute – you should have dropped them and saluted him”. Anyway, I’d no sooner got the words out of my mouth – he said “the Camp Commandant wants to see you”. So I went in and he said “you’re used to driving big trucks, aren’t you?” I said “that’s right”. “Take this letter”, he said “and carry out what’s in it”. So, when I came out the Sergeant said “did you get [a] bollocking?” “Well, I don’t know.” “What happened?” he said. I said “well that’s my business”. I said “all you’ve got to do is make sure the bus” I said “is all gassed up and ready to go in the morning at eight o’clock – ready. That’s what you’ve got to do”. And I got hold of my mate, Shagger McDonnell, I said “you’re coming with me”, I said, “on this trip”. “Oh … oh, all right”, he said. Anyway, we went past the Pyramids next day, out to Helwan.
This is what the letter had said?
Yes, go out to Helwan. That was a New Zealand Forces Hospital there. And the Matron said “well you’ll be here for the night,” she said, “and you’ll be getting people to take you in the morning”. Well. The morning came. Twenty-eight young women, and the woman who were going with them, the older one. And of course she wanted to sit in the front with the driver and the co-driver had to sit in the back with the girls. They were English girls you know. [Chuckle] We had to go all the way to Alexandria. And you can imagine what happens at the stops, and it’s stinking hot and …
How long a journey was that?
Oh, twelve hours. And of course at every comfort stop the Egyptians come [came] up and the girls used to throw their arms around us [??]. [Chuckle] And of course we told a lot of lies, we said “oh, we never work a load like this in New Zealand, just [chuckle] … don’t need to. [Chuckle]
Anyway, we had two days in Alexandria, and I got in touch with the CO back at Abbassia and I said “no one knows anything about these girls”, I said “I don’t know what to do”. He said “oh, come back to Cairo again”. So I went back to Cairo, and we were doing picket duty in Cairo for about a fortnight and then he called me in again. He said “go and get those bloody girls”, he said “will ya?” He said “they weren’t supposed to go there, they were supposed to go to Kasr el Nil Barracks in Cairo”. So we had to go all the way up to Alexandria and pick the girls up and bring them back.
And years and years later when I was a principal tenor for the Napier Operatic Society in a thing there, one of the girls in the chorus …
Was one of those girls.
… yeah, one of those girls.
We will get to the opera bit in a wee while.
We went to Italy then of course, and as I had a first aid certificate I then had a Jeep fitted out for my first aid, you see. And we were going from Taranto where we landed, to Bari and Italian woman Commander said “un momento!” So I stopped, and she brought this young woman out with her. She’d lost her mother and father but this girl had run a petrol rod through her hand and it was going sceptic, you know? And I never had my gear on my truck then, so I said “I’ll take you to Bari with me”. So I took her to Bari to the hospital there while they fitted my truck out. And when we were there there was a chap standing there. I said “who are you with?” He said “I don’t know”. ‘Cause the 10th Reinforcements arrived from New Zealand and then they went again, and he was left behind.
I don’t know because I said to him “how old are you?” He said “I’m twenty-eight”. He was a bit old, you know. I said “well you make sure you get a meal, and say I said to get a meal”. ‘Cause I had a rank then.
What rank was that?
And then while they were getting a wagon fitted out one of the chaps said “come with me, I’ll take you down the line a bit to a place called Monopoli”, which was down below Bari. It was a place where all these rich people [who] didn’t want to be involved in the war, lived there during the war. It was a hotel area, you know … a holiday area. A beautiful lake, boats … And that was where I saw my first brothel, ‘The Green Shutters’. And if you weren’t satisfied you got another girl. [Laugh] No, that’s true. Anyway, you had to all change into civvies to go there.
Anyway I got back to Bari again and my wagon was ready, so I wanted to know what happened to Tosca. They said “well, she’s going to have to go to Naples, for her hand, to the hospital over there” – the British Standard Hospital. She wrote me a lovely letter [quotes in Italian] … “when you return home please take me”. [Chuckles] And she told me where she lived.
Well, [as] I say after Cassino … well, first we went to the Sangro, which – to me was worse than Cassino, and there was [were] more people killed in the Sangro than at Cassino. We were getting hell out of this, and I said to Freyberg when he came round – ‘cause it was snowing at Christmas … Christmas, New Year … snowing, and the guns stood out like sore toes, you know, when they fired a bit. And I said to Freyberg “if we don’t get out of here in the next week, there’ll be no one to get out”. Because we were putting in a driveway down to the river, and the pontoon bridges. And the Colonel was told he was not to be there when daylight started – you had to get out. But he stayed longer and a whole lot got killed. Yeah – it was bad, that.
Anyway Freyberg took note. But we had to take all our epaulettes down, everything down that showed who we were. So if we got caught, well it was just too bad. And we had to go up over these mountains and that was to Cassino. Went the ‘mad mile’ which they called it, and the ‘brick works’ where you could be picked off by the Germans because the Germans were just up the mountains behind us, you see.
And you’d stand out against the white snow.
Yeah, they could pick you off. Anyway this chap – as I said to you – at Bari when he didn’t know who he was with, I said to Captain Kay after the third day, “he can come with us, we’ve lost some men in the desert”. So – Joel Sunder was his name – he became one of us. And the Germans broke through on a patrol and sprayed everything with machine gun fire. Fortunately, when you went to the toilet – you had to go in pairs behind a great big rock – and while we were behind this great big rock the Germans came up and they sprayed machine gun bullets, you see – otherwise you wouldn’t be here today. But when we got back to the truck Joel’s coat was full of holes you see, and he said “I can’t get another one”. And they used to issue you with a kit ,you see, for mending things, so he stitched up all those holes. That’s remarkable … more to come on that. He stitched up all those holes.
Well then we went across over the Alps, back to Cassino, and the Germans were bombing us so badly that we would have got beaten there but for our tank transporters. We had to go back to Naples and load them up with ammunition to come back to Cassino, you see. But two or three of our chaps – they were always bad eggs – they’d pinched something, you see, and when we got back to camp this Major Coutts said “I’ve had a call from the Red Caps that you’ve stolen something”. And these … three of them … we called them the three musketeers – they’d pinched all this grog, you see. And so the Germans had shelled, and there was [were] great big shell holes that they … So they panicked – they put all the bottles in the shell hole, you see, and of course Major Coutts said “if you don’t give me a bottle”, he said “I’ll pop the lot of you”. Anyway, they gave him a bottle, and when Freyberg came round inspecting a couple of days later they said “where’s your Major?” “In there … in his car … wagon”, you know. And Freyberg “[??] … oh, I’m dying”, you know, and a few choice words, you know. [Chuckle] “Get the hell out of here”, and he was demoted on the spot . Oh yes, he was demoted on the spot. He was a bit of a character actually, Major Coutts.
Anyway, when they shelled again a couple of weeks later, I was going back to my RAP tent [Regimental Aid Post] where I used to keep the stuff, and there was a ‘clink’. “Oh, what’s that?” I come [came] across the bottles of grog, you know, in the case, that they’d tried to plant, you see. They’d been brought to the service again, so I put them back in my tent. They were still covered with mud. And these three – one of them became a top All Black – and they used to say “who the hell’s got our grog? We’ll pay anything for it”, you know. But I never let them have it, I said “no, I’ve medicinal purposes for that”. [Chuckle]
Anyway, after Cassino, went onto Rome, and Freyberg said “you can have a week off before we push on further”. And we went to have a swim in the Tiber … skinny dip of course … and Italian girls arrived. And they didn’t know we had two guards, and they were just going to interfere with our clothes and the two guards grabbed them and they said “right! You skinny dip too”, you know. So they had a skinny dip with us. [Chuckle] Oh, that was marvellous, that!
But this is getting back to Joel – anyway, we took him back to camp with us and gave him a feed. And the next day we had to go on patrol but Joel was still in the camp, and these girls turned up at camp. And what do you think Joel was in real life? A fashion designer. Need I say more? [Chuckle] While we were skinny dipping he was trying to get fabrics in Rome, you know. And he showed these girls how to do dressmaking …oh, they loved him! Yeah, they loved him.
And then of course, we went on further to go towards Florence and we used to have planes over the top keeping an eye on things, you know, but of course they disappeared because of the Fifth Front being opened from Britain to the Continent … to Europe. So we had none … we had no air cover then. And Andy and I were on patrol – we got to the end of the street at Arezzo-Omo … oh, before that, that woman Tosca – that’s where she said she lived.
So you went to see her?
And she did, she lived there. Yeah, she lived there. She’d lost her mother and father in the war, but she lived there. And so I said “I’ll see you in a couple of days time if I can”.
Anyway, we were patrolling – we got to the end of the strip and there’s two Tiger tanks behind, like Mt Maunganui. “Let’s get the hell out of here”, you know.
Well, on August the 20th 1944 I received a letter from Mr Usticke that I was to leave the unit on the 29th to become the tenor singer for the Kiwi Concert Party. ‘Cause I’d won a competition in Cairo too, you see, and … well on the 22nd you see, I bought it – that was the end of my war. I was killed. I was killed, but Joel saw me kick up in the body bag and got me out of there, and I went to Caserta Hospital.
Now I only found this out about thirty years later, all this, and I found out at an Anzac Day ceremony in Auckland one day. A matron said “I remember you “ … this nurse said “I remember you”, she said. “I was in the Caserta Hospital, the only New Zealand one there,” she said, “I remember you coming in”, she said. “And we fed you on penicillin to keep you going”, you know. Because when I came back to New Zealand again I was told in Wellington Hospital I wouldn’t be there long. I came back on the ‘Maunganui’, the hospital ship, you see. I was told I wouldn’t be around long.
[Chuckle] I think they were a little wrong.
Well, they did. And I got in touch with the woman who became my wife …
Now was that Pam?
No, Patricia. “You get me back to Hastings”. So she did, and … well, I recovered didn’t I? I’ve never smoked or drunk, ever.
Even though you had those bottles in your tent?
I’ve never been interested in it. Well, we were had a very good unit actually, apart from those three, we never had any problems like that. I used to handle the rations for the unit, you used to get your bottle of beer a week, and a cake of soap a fortnight, and a cake of chocolate a week. And then I used to get the mail, and sometimes you’d read the mail out to some people, you know, who never got any mail … have to read to some of them to try and cheer them up and that, you know.
No, we were a very good unit, but we used to have our trucks in a circle like that. And I used to run the canteen and this chap … we’d always been a bit suspicious of him, you know … he’d been to Naples and he’d got some drugs. And chaps sitting on the back of the truck at dusk, smoking, and the red tips of the cigarettes, you know. He said “if you don’t give me such and such I’m going to shoot the bloody lot of you”. And all the cigarettes went out like that, you know. And just as he was going to shoot, his mate shot him in the foot. Otherwise he could have done untold damage. And he went back to base – we never saw him again.
So we’ll go back to … you’ve come back to Hastings with Patricia?
Came back to Hastings, yes.
Were you engaged to her then?
She was just someone you knew?
Yeah, she worked in the National Bank. She went from high school – Miss Steele, who was the Principal woman in Hastings High School.
Was Hastings High School boys and girls then?
Yeah, that’s right yes. Tricia was runner up for the dux, so she said “you’ve got to get a better job – you’re going to the National Bank as a teller”. She became the first teller, and also looked after the books.
And of course when we came back from the war again, the girls wanted to get married, you see. There weren’t many of us in Hastings then.
Yeah. And there was seven girls wanted to get married. Well I was engaged to Patricia. I said “we’re not getting married”, I said “’til New Year’s Eve 1949”. This is 1947, but I slipped a ring on her finger. And then we had to get men for the rest of the girls. You can imagine what a job that is. [Chuckle] And there’s one girl in Hastings now, Vera. She had six sisters, and they used to give her hell for not being married, you know. She couldn’t find someone. And I knew this young chap … he’d been in the army … he was a Scotsman. And he said to me “I’m going back home”, he said, ”I can’t find anybody”. I said “you come round home”, I said, “on Friday night. I’ll introduce you to someone”. And so Vera came round – Vera was buxom woman, you know? I said “are they real?” “Yep – they’re real”. [Chuckle] Anyway Reg came round … introduced them, and I said “come and have something to eat after”. Well they disappeared …
[Chuckle] Instant match was it?
Yes it was, they got married. She lived at Havelock North for … Reg Morris was his name, he was a plumber, and they had three children. And he was a gunner in the Air Force, and by being in a cramped position he eventually … his legs went. And so he was hospitalised most of the time and he gradually lost his marbles too. And I used to go and see them, out there at Havelock North they used to be. And Reg died, Vera’s got three children. And she wrote me a letter when Reg died, and she said “it was the best thing that ever happened to her.”
Yeah. The best thing that ever happened to her.
Ooh, no – those days in Hastings the girls – there weren’t a hell of a lot of girls here, you know. There was one girl who married a boy Ebbett – she became a top New Zealand artist. Eva Burfield was her name. And then we had a couple married farmer boys, and one girl wanted to marry a certain man, and he liked her sister better. And she never ever got married, she never ever got married.
But we used to go and play table tennis up on the top of the National Bank, and they’d wait in their room while they would find a ha’penny and a penny, you know, to balance the books – yeah. And d’you realise in those days, Jim Wattie and the Tomoana Works – they used to bring armed guards to the bank then. And my wife was first teller – she used to have a Smith & Wesson revolver. She used to have to go to Roys Hill here, to practise. Yeah – I tell you.
I don’t think people know that.
No, I bet they don’t.
But Mary Bell was a prominent pianist here, and Bessie McCutcheon.
And that was your choir?
No, this is before that.
When I was in Wellington before I got married I was busy, and I used to have the contract for the visiting singers to come into Wellington Town Hall – Lawrence Tibbett, Peter Dawson, [??], all those beautiful singers – I used to have to make sure they were happy before they went on. And this young singer came along and the Council said “we don’t know him, he’s no good, so put him out in the Hutt Valley to sing”, you know. So they put him out to the Hutt Valley to sing, and he sang eight arias just like that. They realised just how good he was. And when he came back … they wanted him to sing when he come [came] back and sing here. He said “no, I’m going home”, he said, “blow you lot”. And I used to get free tickets because of that to go to the Opera House … I saw some lovely shows.
And that was – when I wanted to get my breathing right I started learning singing from Hamilton Dixon, who had been the head of the Musical College in Sydney – he was the head man – and he put me in for a tenor competition. I had to sing [sings] ‘Sylvia’s hair is like the night’ – Oley Speaks. And then I had to sing [sings] ‘Have you seen but a white lily grow’, and I won it, you see. And then he got me a contract to sing over the air. You had to show eight songs and they picked four, and you got six guineas and the pianist got four guineas. I did that – I did quite a few shows over 2YA, and then I did some on 1YA – and I used to be a regular from Napier. And that was when I got my male voice choir going in Hastings, in Queen Street. And Mary Bell was the pianist.
And how many in the choir?
‘Bout thirty-eight. And I was very strict, ’cause if you don’t turn up its a waste of time. But we had two Catholic Fathers, the Reverend Cattanach of the Presbyterian Church, one from the English Church – I know there used to be five of them to do with the Church, and with me it made up a sextet for singing, you know. And we did our first concert in the Assembly Hall, Hastings. And we had a fish and chip man in Hastings, Peter Druskovich, had a fish and chip shop. He could sing one song, [sings] ‘Macushla, Macushla’. He could sing that, you see – beautiful. So the Assembly Hall put him on to sing, and the women’s eyes were … [Chuckle]
Brought tears to their eyes.
Yes. Anyway, we did out first concert there and Mr Kershaw, who was a furniture manufacturer here, he got up and he said I will make you a cabinet for your music. How many shelves do you want?” Told him, and three or four women got up and said “we will pay for all your music from now on”. Sutcliffe’s were the music shop, so we just … “what you want, just put your order in to Sutcliffe’s and …”
That was for the choir?
That’s right. And I did that for eight years. But then I got a ring from the Bank … National Bank … they wanted me to go and build some houses in Taupo.
You were building here though, before …
Oh, yes … oh, yes.
So when you came back up here and got married you began building?
Well … well when I got married, and I served my time with a builder in Hastings and …
Lascelles Street was the name of the street, I think. I finished my time there, and he said “I’m going back to Wellington, but” he said “you’re a fully qualified builder now”, he said, “so you can build this house for these people”.
And at that time there was an epidemic. My wife had twin girls, and they all died of the thalidomide epidemic. Yes. And Lascelles – there was a mix up in the hospital, and she got the black children, and the black people got the white children. Now work that out.
Sounds hard to do.
Fortunately Lascelles had a bit of money, and they shifted out of the country when they got sorted out. Took two years though, to sort it out. They shifted out of the country.
Then I – where I’d milked these cows as a kid – told you – I said to Patricia “find out who owns that land, will you?” ‘Cause we’d got married by then. And I went to Max Pledger – he became a High Court Magistrate in Auckland. So he looked into it and he got the National Bank involved – it was owned by the Lands & Deeds [Department] and they didn’t know they owned it. So it took five years with the Council’s help to get it roaded, channelled, temporary titles, and I designed and built the houses for them. And I started to build the houses there and they sold well. And then the Government started giving me sections all over the place, odd sections.
So that bit of land that you developed, what [which] streets is that now?
That is over by Windsor Park.
D’you know the name of any of the streets?
Norfolk Crescent, Anson I think … Anson Avenue.
That just helps pinpoint it.
Yeah. Yes, yes, it’s over that way … Beattie Street. I built some State houses there too, so I built a whole lot round there. And Collinge Road. [Chuckle] Yeah, I did a lot round there.
You’d have been very busy?
Oh yes. I had twenty-eight staff then. But things were tough … one or two families weren’t getting on too well, you know. So my wife being what she was … bright … she put a suggestion to Bill Rowling, the Labour Prime Minister – ’cause I’d kept these men out in the country working, doing woolsheds and all that sort of thing – the wife and children would get so much a week, and they’d get so much, and the rest went into a bank account. I had them handled by a private person, and after eight years they were back together again, you see. And they had money in the bank. And the woman who handled the money was Mrs Luttrell of the Palm Court Hotel. And she was strict … she was strict, but she handled it.
And anyway, as I say, after that I was asked to go and build at Taupo by the National Bank. And I built for the hospital – Dr Haldane and …
That’s in Taupo?
And a couple of others, you know. And then I went building in Gisborne and Wairoa, all for the National Bank. And then of course I went back to where I was in the country – I built the Waiwhare School, and then … yeah, Waiwhare. Anyway, they were going to get a woman teacher in there and these farmers’ wives said “well, she’s not bloody well coming to live here”. [Chuckle] So they built a school house too, you see. [Laughter]
Now what about your family, do you have children?
Yes. Two boys. That one – that’s Phillip, he’s a doctor.
And the other one?
Well he’s not much in New Zealand. He’s out of New Zealand quite a lot, yeah.
But they went to school in Auckland or Hastings, or both?
In Auckland, yeah, yeah, yeah. Ooh Christ, now you got me going there – terrible isn’t it?
No, it’s normal.
No – they went to Mt Roskill Grammar, that’s right – in Onehunga. Yeah.
What about brothers and sisters?
Yes, Rachel – my sister Rachel became Mrs Plank, and Dudley Plank was the head of McCullough, Butler & Spence Accountants in Hastings. My sister was a very good singer – she got runner-up in one … those competitions you get in once a year. And we used to sing duets together here in Hastings.
And you have a brother here as well?
Brother’s here in Hastings. He lives in Havelock Road, Bill.
Is he William or Bill?
Well we just call him Bill … William James Schofield. [Chuckle]
Well I think this is lovely, and I want to say thank you very much for telling us all this – fantastic.
I’ve always found the Hastings people are very good, never had any problems, but life takes different turns. I built us a block of flats in Auckland which I’ve still got. And after about 1978 I went to a builders’ meeting in Auckland, and I’d just built a big block of flats for a friend of mine, and I built my own block of flats. And I thought ‘I’m getting a bit old for this’, you know, and I just happened to say to someone “I’m thinking of giving up”, and he just tapped me on the shoulder. He said “come and see me tomorrow, will you?” “Oh, all right”. He gave me his address and I went out there at eight o’clock in the morning. He said “you’re prompt, anyway”, you know, and he gave me just a sheet of paper. He said “look at these”, he said, “tell me if you can handle it”, he said “’cause that’ll be your office” he said. I became of the bosses of the Marley company – I travelled New Zealand, Australia, the world. They had three hundred and eighty-five thousand staff.
I can’t imagine that.
This is the time when we specialised in operating theatres – special types of flooring – all over New Zealand and Australia, and West Indies, and I was with them for eight years before I retired. I had two trips to England, and then they sold … when he died of course she had nobody to leave it to, so it became a French company, and we all left together. Any rate, I decided I’d had enough anyway, with life and working.
Well it’s been fascinating hearing about all the people you know in Hastings. It’s people like you letting us know, that help put the links out there and join people together.
Now also, the Murtaghs – they lived in a big homestead not far from here, and someone threw a fire cracker in. They used to have the doors, then a gap, then the main door into the house. Someone threw a …
A cracker through the gap?
And it caught fire. They all got killed. Luckily a son wasn’t home, but the mum and dad got smoke inhalation and died, you see. So I said to Dudley – as I said, Dudley was the accountant for the St Matthew’s Church at the time, and I got on well with Dudley. And I said “that St Matthew’s Manse is exactly the same as the one those people just got killed in”. So they demolished and built a new Manse in Hastings. ‘Cause oh, that was a terrible thing, that for the Murtaghs. Because they were a nice family, and the son just went to pieces you know.
No … ‘course the … we used to ride in all the way from the country, for the Showgrounds in Hastings and – oh, I’ve got some marvellous memories of people, you know.
And I’m just thinking here – you were in the Napier Operatic Society?
Yes, I was their principal tenor. And I had a lovely young soprano. [Sings] ‘No, you do not love me,’ and Alma used to say “no, I don’t”!
You can still sing …
[Chuckles] Oh dear, yes. Yeah, she used to … No, I was a very regular one on – is it still 2ZL Napier?
I don’t think so.
No, I used to regular there. Oh dear. But [as] I say I had a very good choir, and when I left it just went to pieces apparently.
What was its name, the choir?
It was just the Male Voice Choir. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We used to have an Italian, Caccioppoli, with us. And he had a lovely voice but he would shoot off to tangents sometimes. You had to hope to Christ it wouldn’t happen when you were … [Chuckle]
Oh, I’d never have left Hastings except for … just opportunities happened.
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Interviewer: Barbara Haywood
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