Caulton, John Jeremy Interview
Today is the 13th October, 2014. I’m recording the life and times of John Caulton of Havelock North and we’ll start now, John with some statistics. If you can start off and tell me about your folks coming to New Zealand, and just some of the early history of the family.
Right. Well my grandparents on my father’s side I never did meet. They came out I think about 1860 something, and then on my mother’s side my grandmother came out with her sister to a pre-arranged marriage in New Zealand in 1875 – I think I’m right in saying that. And the interesting part about that, it was the ‘City of Auckland’ they came out – about 600 tons, never saw land after leaving Southern Ireland ’til they got wrecked at Otaki on the beach. So there was no sign of land in all those three months when they were on their way.
Good Lord, that’s amazing.
It is really. I remember her talking to me as a child, you know – when they arrived there, there were a lot of fires round about the Otaki area and they thought they were due to be … a cooking session perhaps.
My grandmother was I think nineteen – I don’t know, I think she was the younger of the two sisters. And – well my grandmother married a Conway here, or at Petane or at Bay View, and they lived there but then came to Hastings and different places which I can’t remember. And so – I don’t – yeah, I do remember my grandfather but he died first, so – but my grandmother lived on and she retired – I don’t know what age she died – about 80 odd I think. And I suppose brought up a big family – I think there were sixteen in their family. So that completed my grandmother’s side.
On my great grandfather’s side, I never knew him and I didn’t even know my grandfather because he had died twenty years before I arrived.
So I had uncles on that side and an aunt, and they came to Hawke’s Bay and from Napier they went into the hotel business. My grandfather’s brother had the Masonic in Napier, the old wooden place – it was pictured just a while ago in the paper. And then that side of the family went up to Gisborne and they had hotels all round Gisborne, the Coronation, the Gisborne Hotel I think he built … that brother – that’s my grandfather’s brother. My grandfather had the Pacific in Hastings, the old wooden place. So he died about 1902 or 05 – I don’t remember the exact date. Then my father carried on the hotel business after … well, he was away at the first World War towards the end, but he also left and went to South African war when he was 16 ½.
The story backs up a little bit there that my grandfather had him apprenticed to Sam Tong making coffins and other wooden paraphernalia, or furniture. And he was apprenticed to him but then when my grandfather went overseas to have his daughter married to a horse trainer – Hickey by name, whose horse won the Grand National, the only New Zealand horse ever to win the Grand National – so coming back – he left Dad with enough money to sort of survive until he got back after he’d sold the pub … Pacific.
So they went to Wellington to spend up, I suppose well, and to see the big smoke and city. And the land lady there took possession of their luggage and they had no job … he and a mate I imagine. I never got all the finer details. So they went round to try and enlist for the Boer War and got chased out because of their age, and someone said if you go and see King Dick Seddon he’ll give you a warrant to get up to Trentham, which they did – about twenty of them – and next minute they’re in camp and they’re on horses and they’re off to the South African war. And I don’t know … the things I suppose it upset me in a way, as I never had the name of the ship that they went on. And they went up to Transvaal in South Africa and then the thing fizzled out. And because his sister was living in England he decided to take his demob in England, which was another trip on the free – on the Government I suppose. And I don’t know what ship he went there on.
He stayed there a year, this is my Dad – he wasn’t married of course in those years. So he stayed about a year with his sister … the main racing area just out of London – and I can’t think of the name of that race course.
And then he came back home to New Zealand and eventually married, and I can’t tell you what date my parents married even … just before the First World War. And then he was away again to that. But that fizzled out before he got to France – he didn’t go to France.
And then on his return … yes, he was married before he went to the 2nd World War or went to England. Then – we lived in Nelson Street at the time. My brother was ahead of me by three and a half years, and then after the war I arrived in 1920.
We were there – my Dad worked in a hotel in Hastings, the Carlton, and then he decided to take the hotel at Wanstead. And at the age of four, that was my move into the countryside where there were horses which I disliked entirely and they didn’t like me. And that’s where I stayed ’til I was about sixteen, until Dad sold.
So you went to school ..?
Went to primary school there.
Was there a school at Wanstead?
Yeah, there was a school at Wanstead. Majority of students – there were about eight or nine – not years of age, eight or nine pupils.
And then my mother was very ill – she had TB which was called consumption, and she was very afraid she might hand it on to the family. Then we both got sent to boarding school at Silverstream – St Pat’s Silverstream. And I was a first year pupil – and I might add at the moment – the last remaining first year pupil. One of the Mintos just died recently, Neville in Napier, John’s older brother I think – so that left me with the questionable laurel of being the last. So I had 5 years there. And during that time my mother died.
And I came back to Wanstead in ’36, and my Dad had sold the pub shortly after that and I came back to live in Hastings. We lived with my mother’s sister there for a while.
Now do you want me to go on with the sort of work that I did from there?
Well, it was very hard to get a position – it was the end of the slump period of course and jobs weren’t very easy to find. I hunted for a number of places, even at the Works but that was a closed shop for mates only. And I got a job with Stewart Greer’s. And I was just the local boy that kept the new cars clean and the windows for old Bill Greer. I won’t say what sort of person old Bill was but he wasn’t easy to get on with. And the windows and the pumps – and it was all hand pumps those days – Plume and Big Tree, and I enjoyed the fact of being amongst cars there but I found old Bill just a bit difficult to work for.
So then I left there and went to JR McKenzie’s. I got a job as storeman and I can’t remember how long I worked there either. Oh, it must have been a couple of years at least. And then Jack Blake who was my … I started playing football and we had a lot of local chaps who I’d gone to school with – the Fox brothers and one or two that … I was inducted to the Club, to Celtic. And then Jack Blake said “have you thought of coming to work with me?” And I thought that wasn’t a bad idea either. And it was back to motor cars again which you know, in my boyhood job was quite glamorous. You drove some lovely motor cars and the idea was to try and sell some of them. I wasn’t terribly successful at selling – I did sell a few, but then the war came and that was the end of new cars.
In 1940 of course, the balloon had gone up in England and the Battle of Britain was on and you used to hear that at midday on the radio – a description of who was dying and who was about to live. And I thought that sounded pretty interesting so I joined up in 1940, and didn’t get into the Air Force right away because they had no aeroplanes. I’m going off on my own tangent now. There weren’t a lot of aeroplanes and the few they had were getting broken and they were all old fashioned, so we got set to work – once you joined up we then had our medicals and our introduction to the Air Force and selection.
By that time my father had gone to take another pub over at … oh, he had another pub in between then at the … Taradale pub in between … in 1938 Dad had the Taradale pub which I used to go out to on weekends and help. Then he took the White Hart over in Marton and I went and lived there but I had to do a lot of homework for the Air Force in the way of about four subjects, maths mainly, mechanics and physics.
And then we went to get inducted into the Air Force although we had no uniforms. So it was about a year of waiting time to get in.
So this was – where were you trained?
In Marton, and then we went from when that year turned up … our time came, and we were told to get down to Levin to ground training school. And arrived there about – oh, I don’t know – four in the morning on the Limited from Auckland. And we were met by some … an unnamed person with two stripes on his arm who was difficult from the word go – lined us up on the station and told us we were in the service and all the rest of it in no uncertain manner. And then we had to march all the way down to Weraroa, just out of Levin a ways. And that’s where we did our ground trainings and we got inducted.
The interesting thing – everyone got a service number soon as you entered, and the first two digits on an Air Force number is the year you went in and I didn’t know – I was given a number and I never thought anything about it until I went to get a uniform and they said “what’s your number?” and I couldn’t find that, but eventually found it. But the number is the most consecutive ever issued in the Air Force because it was 414243, so that’s three 4’s and a 1,2,3 – my lucky number, because here I am still and I still possess that number. It’s quite novel really ’cause as I said – those that went in in ’39 they had a 39 digits to start with. So we had – I don’t know, about six or eight weeks – I can’t remember, I suppose I could look it up – but we had about six or eight weeks there ground training, which was all school work and marching, and one or two difficult NCO’s that used to lash out verbally at you – and one came to live in Havelock here and you’d remember him – if I could only think of his name.
In fact I often wonder how they chose them, because they were the most abrasive … it was a little bit of power.
Ooh, by God yes. This chap ran Skellerup’s for a while – he lived down Tanner Street here. Oh, God, isn’t that terrible – I can’t think of his name. He’s gone now. His wife’s still around. He married a letter bride from Germany. I’ll think of it.
Anyway, you’re right – they were thick boned between the ears. In fact he eventually – I heard – that he tried to get in to the flying side of the Air Force from the ground staff only, and that he met up with someone that had ground him into the ground later on [chuckle] and he got his comeuppance and a bit of back pay to go with, as it were.
So then we went from there up to New Plymouth, on to Tiger Moths where we trained and were either in or out there. If you didn’t go solo there you reverted back to other flying duties like gunner or navigator or whatever.
And having passed through that – I had met in Marton whilst I was working for my Dad – there was a fair bit of night trading in those days in the pubs, and this chap used to come up visiting his girl friend in Marton. I asked him about the Air Force, and he was the Chief Ground Instructor at Ohakea. His name escapes me at the moment, but he had a motor business in Palmerston. He said “you come to Ohakea”, ’cause he was the Chief Ground Instructor – Squadron Leader … it’ll come to me in a minute. Anyway, that passed over. When I got to New Plymouth the Chief Ground Instructor – when we left there to be dispersed to different … other training stations, he said … the name is not … has asked for you to go to Ohakea. And of course Ohakea had old fashioned aeroplanes that had fixed undercarts and … Hawker Hinds, as they were. I said “do I have a choice?” He said “oh yes”, he said, but – I said “well I’d prefer to go to Woodbourne”, you know, because they had new Harvards just arrived, and it was a new aeroplane with things that came up and down, and flaps and they were a totally modern aeroplane if you like. And they’re still going, they’re still flying.
So that’s where I finished my training, down in Woodbourne. It was a good station to be on too – we had a very good Station Commander. Quite a famous fellow – oh, God, here’s another name – he had been a First World War hero and his aircraft and his action is depicted in this museum down in Blenheim. God, isn’t it terrible – this is where I’m stuck for names.
But anyway, the interesting thing about that – we’re all waiting for the big day when we get our wings, which was you know, the golden wings for any airman really. Suddenly the balloon went up and our ship arrived and we were given a week’s final leave – if it was a week, or just on, and we had to go down to the stores and pick up our flying boots and helmets and new uniforms. Instead of having a wings parade this stores fellow slung a couple of wings across the desk and said “they’re your Friday nights”. I remember it as though he said it yesterday. It was a little bit of sour grapes, and that was the end of our wings parade. We didn’t get to have them pinned on us at all.
Then we went off on the ‘Warwick Castle’ all the way to England with one … two stops on our own, through Panama, nearly down to the ice and then up to South America. You could tell by the gulls and the cold. Didn’t see any icebergs or anything, but at the Canal, we were off there for … overnight and then up to Halifax where we stayed for about ten days. And we enjoyed the Canadians – their hospitality was overwhelming. We had parties put on – you went from one to another sort of thing. They couldn’t do enough for us, and there was a Club there as well, an Air Force Club, and an Anzac Club.
Then we formed up there with a convoy of five troop ships including our own, full of Canadian troops. Until then there were just thirty of us alone, and fourteen war ships all around us, which was quite a sight. And they were all American ships – we thought they were British until we got … they didn’t have the flag flying – I think the flags flew when we got to just near England. All the rest went up to Iceland, and gave us two destroyers to take us into … port in Scotland – can’t think of the name of that either. Yes, my memory, oh God – it’s shot through for names.
Well, I missed one bit. I was very keen on flying even before the War, and I used to come down to my grandparents for holidays and I remember going – this is before the earthquake, I’m sorry, in 1930 – the last time I was in Hastings before the ‘quake. And this fellow had just flown across the Tasman on his own in nothing much bigger than a Tiger Moth – something Avian aircraft – and he came out to Hastings aerodrome – it was where the prison is now approximately, before it went to where it is at Bridge Pa. And then he came in to Hastings and I biked all the way back and sat on my bike opposite the Grand Hotel when it was a great big five storey brick edifice, and he gave a speech from there. I stayed in a house in Havelock here with a family, and I can’t tell you the name of those people now, because there was a lady that worked for us that gave me this holiday down in Hastings I think. Blue Moon was going then, as an ice cream, and the colour of it was blue. D’you remember the blue ice cream? It used to stain your lips with blue.
Did it? Yes I remember Blue Moon ice cream because they used to buy cream from our dairy farm.
Oh of course.
I probably never looked at my lips when I’d been eating an ice cream.
No, well it might not have arrived I think, because he changed over to fruited ice cream. Originally it was blue ice cream only – wasn’t white.
Is that right. Oh, that’s why it was Blue Moon.
Yeah, I suppose so, I don’t know the reasoning for that. No one ever explained to me, but it was definitely blue. Your whole mouth would turn blue – probably a dangerous dye – who would know? Too late now.
Just before you go. Your father used to work for Tong – Sam Tong.
Yes, as a 16 year old.
Well, it’s interesting. Only about six weeks ago I interviewed Rona McCarthy.
Was that Sam Tong’s daughter?
She might have remembered my Dad working there. But it was a little old place next to the Herald-Tribune – a little wooden place – it was there for many years, and they used to make, well – mainly coffins I think.
Yep – that’s right.
And my Dad had a full set of tools that he carried out to Wanstead and back in here. And I lost the box because – it was my grandmother, who’s my Dad’s mother, died when he was seven – so none of us knew her either. And it was her glory box when she … she was Scottish and she came from down Balclutha. It had her initials in it, and where it went I do not know. It was quite a nice box – it could’ve been … and it had all the tools, you know, my Dad’s collection of tools in it – planes and all that gear, so when that happened I don’t know.
So we’re back in England then … and you’ve arrived in England …
Yeah – and that was a shock to the system as well. There was a rolling fog all the way down through the Midlands in the train, and I thought ‘my God, this is hell in real life’, you know.
It was – well, industrial smog it was called those days – it was fog and smoke together – it was pretty lethal really.
And then we went right down to … I should get my log book shouldn’t I, to tell you where these other places are … Bournemouth. And we waited there for … while we went sightseeing round England, up to London of course to see the big smoke. And it was a waiting game down there – we were supposed to go to classes and one of us would be nominated to take the whole troop to class. Once we got round the corner everyone seemed to dissolve into the neighbourhood. So no one ever got to class there because we’d gone to fly, not to go back to class, sort of thing – a little bit.
And yeah, we could go … there was a wonderful organisation over there to look after so-called empire people, which we were … those days were called Australia, New Zealand, Canada and all those places. Lady Godiva and Miss McDonald of the Isles – now I’ve got those names, and don’t know where that came from. And they had an organisation where you could go into their office if you like, which was an enormous building, and you could nominate anywhere in England you would like to go to, and they would have names and addresses handed into them who they would then sort out and pair you off to, and away you went.
Oh, really? That’s wonderful.
Yeah, it really was. It was a great introduction – kept you out of trouble and showed you the countryside a bit because it was expensive. You got a rail warrant, all you had to hand in was your food rationing card – tea and sugar I think, or meat – can’t remember which.
And this fellow and I, we didn’t know where to go to, and I said “well, how about we go to the pottery districts?” And we went up to Stoke on Trent is the name, and then we went to this new place, it was Wedgwood. So it was a new factory, it was a factory in a garden, as it was called. It was out in the countryside and this elderly man came and met us at the train and took us back home first. And then the next day took us … so we were there for about a fortnight staying with him, and we trooped around the countryside on a couple of bikes and went to different places of interest that he told us about. There were no cars available because petrol was off the list. And that was one place we went to, through the factory, and that was interesting. It was brand new and you couldn’t buy anything there, everything was going for export to pay for the war of course.
There was a pub in the village which they didn’t deny us going to, but they sort of looked sideways a little bit at us going down to the pub at night. But it was a very pleasant little place.
And then we went back after that, and hadn’t been back long and we were posted off to another bit of training in the form of operational training units. Then – I’ll have to go back to my book, but we were there for – I was there for about six weeks. I was retained the second course as an instructor, which wasn’t really instructing, but it was taking … ’cause you couldn’t instruct in a Spitfire because there was only room for one, as you know. So you took people up for formation flying. Oh, in some cases you took them up in a – there was a two place trainer called – I can’t think of the name of that – and you took people up and they were under a hood to do cross country training – or supposedly.
And then of course you had link trainers which was a ground thing that taught you blind flying, and that was ongoing from New Plymouth even.
And then after that it was off to a squadron. And went right down to the South Coast again to join a Spitfire squadron, and things sort of changed completely. A different way of life. You were just the new boy on the block and there wasn’t a lot of action.
And because I had got to know the corporal in the orderly room at the training place over near Wales, I said “don’t post me until after the weekend and I’ll have three days in London on the way.” Well he forgot to post me, and eventually when I got there they said “who the hell are you?”, you know. I could have come home and they would never have known. So then I was re-posted from that squadron and I joined – went up the East Coast of England to Martelsham, just out of Ipswich, and joined 132 there, which I was still on when I got shot down. So there was a long period there.
So you did all your training in the Spitfires at that station?
Yes. You had a little bit of duel in a Harvard, but it was nothing like a Spit. And the other one was a Miles Master – had a Rolls motor, or it had a radial motor – totally different aeroplane to a Spit. You learned all the procedures and the emergency procedures in a Spit, and away you went. Once you got up you had to get down anyway, so …
What age were you at that point?
Twenty – my God!
No, no – it must have been more, hang on – I was twenty one, coming up twenty two.
Still young, though, isn’t it?
Oh, yeah – and of course that was the interesting place. There were a lot of fellows there that … I was bad enough, you know, and everyone was a new boy on the block, and you’d never flown a Spit before, and off you went. And it was like a bird … a fledgling … somewhere off a high cliff, you know. You either made it or you didn’t – and some didn’t make it, you know – there was a few that didn’t. A number of crashes we had there. Not a lot of deaths. Oh yeah, there were a few deaths. Chaps did silly things. I had a New Zealander fellow when I was doing the instructing there – or they didn’t call it instructing, they called it staff piloting which was like an instructor. Take them up for formation flying, and you went up – four of you, then two … and did some formation flying, then two of you paired off in each way, and flew anywhere and you sort of did dog fighting as it were. And this little Chinese boy, Lee I think is his name, from New Zealand – couldn’t find his family out here. He peeled off and he got himself into a position upside down, and instead of rolling out – you know, it was all inexperience – he tried to pull through the loop – he was on his back, and he tried to pull through that way and he ran out of air. And he hit the ground and that was it. And all he needed to do was roll out of it. It was as simple as that.
Yeah – a lot of people came down – forgot to put their wheels down, and it didn’t make much difference if they did, you know – they bounced up in the air, and … It was quite – a bit horrifying, some of the sights – some of the prangs on the aerodrome. It was a big triangular aerodrome and fairly new, and once you ran off the hard standings you were into ploughed ground – well that was pretty fatal – everything went sideways, you know.
Absolutely stopped, yes.
I should get my log book out, ’cause it’s all in there. But – you saw some things – one we ran over to – it was in about three pieces, and someone said “oh, he’s had it” with a few adjectives on it, and a little voice came out and said “no I bloody haven’t – get me out of here”.
Is that right? Oh …
Yeah – still in there. It had fallen in about three pieces – well, it had rolled into soft ground and just fell apart. ‘Cause they’re pretty flimsy really, when they’ve got that sort of …
Oh, we went round a whole lot of ‘dromes in England. We were sent to different places and then sent on rest down to Cornwall at one stage for about a fortnight. We did a bit of flying, a little bit of ship escorting around the end of England and then up to northern Scotland in the middle of winter right on the very top at Thurso, just opposite the Orkneys. And the snow went sideways – it didn’t come down, and it was like drifting sand. Everyone had to get out shifting snow. Had to keep the aerodrome open. Everyone and his dog had to be out there shovelling snow. You’d pick up a big shovel full of snow and it would fill again just as soon as you picked it up. It really was cold.
What’s his name, that famous Scotsman? The day when you eat that awful haggis stuff? We were up there for that.
Robbie Burns. So anybody hears that they’ll give me a broadside. Yes, so had that for the first and only time too. Have you ever tried it?
Yes I have, actually.
Did you like it?
Well, I liked it better after I’d had more whisky.
[Chuckle] That’s something I can’t drink is whisky either.
Well, I didn’t either but this particular night I was in a head party, and they piped the haggis in and they had the blinking guy at the back with the whisky and all the rest of it and … I suppose if you didn’t think too much about what it was made of it was all right.
[Laughter] You wondered about it, you know. Like the pies. Yeah – we had that there. And the other interesting thing was we were invited to … oh, God, there’s another name – he was the Member of Parliament for Ayre – he had a castle at Thurso which we were invited to. And they lined up all these dear old ladies to teach us Highland Dancing.
Not only the ordinary highland dancing but the …
Yes – the schottische and all those – strathspey …
Yeah, they were dear old spinsters or wives that – they’d either lost their husbands, or they’d taken off – whichever, I don’t know which. So that was interesting, it was right on the harbour of Thurso.
And oh – I was going to say there that there was an Australian on our squadron who … this is an incident that I missed out by a hair’s breadth … God, I haven’t got these names, isn’t it terrible? Yeah, he was an Aussie. and he was going with the daughter of the MP for Ayre. Anyway, they struck up this friendship. She was a land girl around about somewhere, but going back to what happened to him – our squadron doctor who was a great friend of mine – he and Jack the Aussie wanted to go down to Edinburgh for a 72 hour break. And we got a loan of the Station Commander’s Proctor to get three people down, you know – went down to just out of Edinburgh and dropped them off there, and then I went back on my own and on my way back I stopped in at Scone near Perth. And you’ll know the next person, it was Kelt – Ian Kelt. He was instructing there on Tiger Moths. So I stayed the night there and went into Perth. And it was a pretty riotous town at that stage because there were a lot of foreigners like – well – servicemen for all kinds, you know?
Yes, certainly. [Speaking together]
And the Salutation pub was absolutely chockablock and as wild as any pub could be. Then flew back the next day to Castletown, which is near Thurso. Then I was to go back and pick them up in two days’ time … three days’ time – I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, I couldn’t go because the Flight Commander was away and I was deputy at the time. So this fellow, an Englishman, he went down in the Proctor, picked them up, and you know how it goes in at the top – what I call the hat of Scotland – in and out again – well, instead of going round the border of the land if you like, going down we went across that, and on the way back … and I came back on my own … then this – Redwood, was this fellow’s name. He went down, picked them up and on the way back across that same stretch of water the motor stopped. And it was the middle of winter as I told you earlier. And they went into the drink – and his name will come to me in a minute, just went past, his name – three of them in it. Aussie went to take his greatcoat off and John Averill, the doc, said one minute there was a little wave between them, the next minute he’d gone. And he was a good swimmer. But whether cramp got him or what – so that was the end of him. And Redwood was the only one that had a life jacket on, a Mae West you know? And a fishing boat – they were about twenty minutes in the water, which was just about the limit of their time. A fishing boat had to get its nets up or come in awhile from what they did, and came over and picked them up. But the Station Commander lost his Proctor.
That’s interesting – we used to have a Proctor out at the East Coast Aero Club at Bridge Pa.
[Speaking together] Did you? Is that right? Well after that we left and went by train all the way down south again. I can’t remember how long we were up there – it was a terrible bloody place to have a rest in the middle of winter right on the very coast, and yeah – there was nothing to do there really, apart from that …
You said you were dancing – learning to dance.
Oh yeah I know, but that was – it only happened once. I gave that a wide berth after that. [Chuckle] Stripping the Willow was one …
Yes, that’s right, yes.
And oh God – all those things I’d never heard of before. Not Highland dancing as such.
No – I know the ones you mean.
So that was my introduction to Scottish ladies of – oh, at least fifty to sixty, you know – which were old people at the time. [Chuckles]
So then we went down to – where the hell did we go to – oh, then we went down to near London – Isle of Sheppey, that was at the mouth of the Thames – we were there. Then we moved from there down – oh, a whole lot of different places. By that time we were back doing some work … prior to that we’d done a lot of coastal shipping patrols coming out of the Thames up and down the coast. My Flight Commander was an Australian. He still had his Australian … but he’d been in the RAF from the time of the Battle of France before Dunkirk, and he was in the Battle of Britain. Des … Des … anyway, his – have you been to England and have you been through the Air Force Museum at all in London?
No, no I haven’t.
No – it’s quite a terrific … but his son ran the Museum. And – yeah, I had dealings with him later on in our travels because he had Bill Tacon’s medals given him for the Museum and he hadn’t acknowledged it, so I gave him a bit of a rouse up about that. He said there was nowhere to display them and they were waiting for a cabinet to be made and all that. I said “Well Bill’s …” – this is going back many years later. I went across to the Museum, and I also had a friend with me from England. We went to the board room and Bill Tacon’s name came up and I said “now look, I just saw him just before I came to take a photograph of his medals, ’cause you haven’t acknowledged them.” And he said “well, we haven’t got a cabinet for them” etcetera. And I said “well hang on,” I said “if I hadn’t looked after your old man” I said “you might not be sitting across this table from me.” Because I was his Number 2 – permanent Number 2.
Des Fopp – [spells] – German by descent but Australian national. He’s gone now – Des has gone.
He rocked back in his chair but he said “oh” he said “you’ve got a point there.” So then when I came back I went to see Bill who was in a home in Auckland – Bill came from Hastings as you know.
Yes, I went to school with his son, Bill.
Oh did you?
At Napier Boys’ High in the early ’50s.
Oh, really. Well you knew he was the King’s pilot?
He was a wonderful … he – well I’ll come back to that in a minute but I’ll just finish this little bit. I went back to see Bill in Auckland. I said “well look – I didn’t take a picture of your medals because they’re waiting to go into a cabinet” … told him the story. And he said “over in my locker” – he was pretty late in his days, though too – he was very ill, and on his table was an A4 envelope. And in there was a picture of his medals with a letter apologising for not having … When I got back home I had a smaller one, this size, which I’ll show you in a minute. So it did work.
And – well Bill had – there was only two other people that had … I’m not quite sure – I don’t think it was two DSO… he had a DSO, but he had two DFC’s and two AFC’s, and there was only another fellow who had that summit level of decorations. And I think, from what I’ve heard of Bill, when I went to school with him he was a force on fellow. You know, well, he was the King’s pilot – they thought enough of him to have a safe pilot.
But he was a good service pilot too. He ended up POW. Lots of little side bits – the day that he was shot down, he was shot down over the Dutch Islands by a gun emplacement. It killed his … not navigator, I think they had another name, but he was in a Beaufighter. So he took off down after this gun emplacement and blew it apart, and they blew him apart. And he got burned. And I remember saying to him that he was only the – he and another person were the only person that ever bailed out of a Beaufighter. He said “I didn’t bail out.” I said “but why – how come that?” He said “I was blown out of it.” And he was blown out, and he got burned, and then he got beaten up on the ground when he got down. I don’t know whether it was the gun emplacement people or some German unit beat him up. And he ended up not in the same camp as me, in a place called Barth. But that’s that.
The other thing about his medals was interesting because he loaned them to someone in Auckland one day for a display – never got ’em back. And he had a pretty good … I’ll show you a picture of him in a minute. He really was – he was a brilliant pilot. From what I’ve heard he should have got a higher decoration than that. There’s only one higher than that, that he got anyway, and that was – it should have been the VC because … but there wasn’t anyone up there in front with him, Bill, to recommend him really. He wasn’t a man’s fool. I said to one of – oh, these things all go off on a tangent. I went to a special air show my CO put on in 1985 in Switzerland – drinking a bit of wine with this chap whose name I just can’t recall, and I said “would you know a friend of mine called Bill Tacon?” He said “do I know Bill Tacon?” He said “who doesn’t suffer bloody fools or senior officers.” [Chuckle] And that was Bill. So that’s a little aside for him.
But this chap that had a loan of his medals then said “no – you gave them to me”, and wouldn’t give them back. And I said “well how did you get them?” And he said “well, I had a friend who was a policeman or an ex policeman” near his home, and he said “we’ll go this fellow’s house”, which they did. And they took the medals out, then said “I’m not going to keep them – they’re going to the Court.” They took them to the Court and had the Court rule on them, and he got them back. So you know – there’s some devious bastards out there.
Anyway that’s a little slice of Bill. He was quite a character. I went to school with him and he was – he won everything including his weight in boxing, ’cause he was always a small man in those days – a young fellow – and I used to taunt him a little bit, said “’cause you – you know, you only won your weight in boxing because you’re fighting the juniors, you know.” [Chuckles] And it was a fact because you all went by weight and he was getting the little fellas to beat up.
But you know – he was in the 1st XI, 1st XV, he was head prefect, he was Company Sergeant Major and we had a great cadets outfit there because being near Trentham at Silverstream. So that’s Bill, and we don’t want to go down that track – he’ll give his – well he can’t give it now, he’s gone.
And his son Bill ‘s gone too, so … oh, some years ago.
Oh, did he?
Yes. He was only a small man.
See he had two families – his first wife died and I don’t know how many … he’s got a daughter still living in England, and son John was in the Red Cross in a big way, and then two other sons. I think there’s about six of them at least. And two other boys went into the Army. In fact one of them flew – going to say zeppelins – but balloons, for the chap that – you know, that wild fellow that has Virgin Airways? Yeah. He worked for him at one stage flying balloons in middle America somewhere.
So then coming back to … you made reference to you being shot down. Was this in the middle of your …
Career in the Air Force? Yeah, I had a year there in prison camp – well prison camps. You go through a whole system. All the Air Force goes through a place called Dulag Luft which was the interrogation centre – you’re locked up in solitary there. A lot of little interesting things happened there in as much as the first night in this Dulag Luft they put us in an underground cell, and I was the first in there. And then suddenly they kept on shoving all these – mostly Americans – ’cause they came raining down like confetti. There’d been a big raid on Berlin the same day as I was shot down – there was a thousand bomber raid on Berlin that day that I was shot down, ’cause we were going in looking for stragglers and people re-arming and re-fuelling. And next minute there’s standing room only and the doors are closed and you could hardly breathe. It was getting a bit desperate. No one was company – you couldn’t sit down, everyone was standing up. I thought ‘well someone’s got to say something’, so I went over and hammered on the door. And after a long time the door opened and this goon – we used to call them goons – a dumb looking German, he was just a sentry. And I demanded in a very loud voice “take me to the Commandant.” He looked me up and down, pushed me inside the door and shut the door again. [Chuckle] You can imagine the bloody guffaws that I got, you know, ’cause although they’re all the discomfort but they hadn’t done anything.
But the next day I got my own back because they took us out – well, I don’t know where the others went but I got singled out with this fellow in a room, and he spoke very good English. He was only a boy about twenty, if he was that, might have been 19, a brand new uniform on, an NCO, he wasn’t an officer. And I had to sign this form. It was a bogus Red Cross form – we were warned about it, you know. And I said … so I took it and I put my name, rank and number down and that was it – pushed it back to him. And this went backwards and forwards and – I just said “that’s it”, you know. So then he started, the only swear word he knew was ‘bloody hell’, so he started to swear – “bloody hell”. You know, so I stood up, I said “I’m an officer”, and I said “I will not be sworn at.” He picked the paper up, he pissed off – never saw him again. [Chuckle]
So I lost one and won one. And the next minute I’m into solitary and I stayed there for about – I don’t know, about three weeks.
And it wasn’t very pleasant – it was very cold at night and one blanket, and the bed was full of bed bugs. The meals were just enough. You had two slices of thin bread with rancid jam on in the morning, and a plate of gruel at lunchtime – it looked like stew and porridge and anything else they could find, and a flat plate. I refused it the first night, and all the drippings down the side of this eight gallon can with two bicycle wheels – and I was disgusted. I said – you know – where to go – how to get there. I wouldn’t have it – once. The next day I ate the stuff because I was so bloody hungry, you know. At night time you got two slices of bread again, mint tea, that had just rancid butter.
So yeah – it was an unpleasant place to be in. They had this fellow come round with a wet hand, called me by name and said how good he was and how good I had to be otherwise I’d be handed over to the Gestapo. I said “oh, don’t talk a lot of rubbish” I said “ because my CO knows I’m here. I spoke to him when I was on the ground.” I hadn’t spoken to him when I was on the ground because I couldn’t talk. But I spoke to him just before I hit the ground. That was my defence, if you like. Eventually when I left that cell, he said “my name is Schwarz.” He said “that’s Black in English”, he said “maybe we’ll have a beer together later on.” I said “not on your life.” You know, I wasn’t going to sell out to him at all. That was that.
So then after that we waited out in the big pen with all these Americans. Then an interesting thing happened there because the Yanks being the Yanks, they have the best of everything. Their Red Cross parcels were as good as anyone else’s, no better, but they’re more prolific and there were more of them. We came out, and by this time – through the Red Cross – they’d sent enough of these little suitcases, about this big, where one’s case tops fitted into the other. No edges, a strap round them. When we left that camp it must have been – to the local population we were marched to the train, and I can’t remember how far that was, and this – I might add, I’m bloody crippled, I hadn’t been to hospital at this stage with my broken knee. So I was going through the hobs a little bit. There was … everyone – there was – in that there was a whole lot of food, lots of cigarettes of course – I can’t remember how many packs ‘cause I didn’t smoke – and clean underwear and a little suitcase. And I suppose the locals probably thought that the Germans had given them to the prisoners but in fact they were Red Cross gifts- through the Red Cross. So I don’t know whether anyone enlightened them to the fact that it wasn’t German suitcases given them.
So then we were on a train all the way to Zagan which was now part of Poland, and then I was taken from there that day – we had our photographs taken and then I was moved to a satellite camp about four kilometres away. And the invasion still hadn’t taken place at that stage, and I was there about a week and I was due to get shipped off to hospital. And that was a false start so it was another week. And in that next week the invasion took place and suddenly a fellow rushed into the room – and there was only two of us in the room, and you would know the other person that married Enid Westerman – Max … oh God, there’s another name … he was a good friend of mine – names I have difficulty with. Anyway there was only two of us in there. He’d lost a leg – Max … Mac – Mac, not Max … Mac. And just the two of us in there – he was a New Zealander – he’d … go all the way to Germany to meet him even. And he’d gone through camp about the same time as me, by his number. And the door was flung open and this fellow rushed in – I can’t think of his name either – he came from Nelson. He said “here, drink this” and he handed me a homemade tin mug that had what looked like water in it, so I knocked that back, then I couldn’t get my breath back because it was straight, hard, distilled liquor. I don’t know who made it. He said “we’ll be home for Christmas”. Well that didn’t work out either. [Chuckle]
Then that next week I left dear old Mac and went all the way to hospital with another fellow, and that was a little bit worrisome in as much that … went on with one guard each – we had one guard each, no rifle. I said to the fellow that … who was with me, I said “where’s your rifle?” you know, by sign language, you know – you can get through most questions I suppose. Oh, he just patted his automatic – they all had a side arm and he was the best shot, he was better than the officers and all the rest of it – and took me way down to Obermassfeld which is – it took about four different trains to get there. Sometimes we were in pretty bleak circumstances, but not in the ones that had six horses or forty men, you know, they were on trains, and I was concerned at one stage ‘cause we were in this long carriage with civilians. Of course we had blue uniforms on, and we were considered terror gangsters, or terror flegers, you know, which is self-explanatory, or murderers of [?]. And I had a couple of crutches, and I’m sitting on the end of my seat with the guards next to me and this other chap was going to an eye hospital was opposite with his guard, and down there on the left hand side – this is the carriage – down there, this fellow saw me – an elderly man, must have been 60 – that was elderly I suppose those days. And he could see … he recognised that I was Air Force. I watched him, and I thought ‘this is going to be dangerous’. He started to get excited, and Germans when they get excited – apart from screaming, they get uncontrolled in their bodily … you know, they shake all over and they scream, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next particularly if they’ve got a gun. Well, he didn’t have a gun, but he started to work himself up and I thought ‘this is going to be a bit dangerous, I’ll prod him with one of these crutches’, you know as a fend off so what’ll happen who knows? And anyway the fellow sitting next to him was a soldier – German soldier – and he had an East Front medal ribbon on his tunic. Now that was a red ribbon with a white stripe through. And you sort of learned and you heard about these things as time went on. And this soldier – well, I couldn’t hear what he said, but what he did – he just did this to the old boy … ‘settle down, cut it out, settle down’ – what he said I don’t know, and the old boy settled down so we never had any trouble from him. But had he not said that, he would have – could have worked up the whole train. So it was one of those things I never had to go through, but I don’t know what I would have done. I wouldn’t have let him hit me, I would’ve prodded him, but yeah – you’re not going to get very far with a bloody crutch. Oh, well my guard was there – I don’t know what he would have done either.
But it was just amazing. They left us on this one station – and I’m buggered if I know what station it was, it was as busy as any English station – while they went and had lunch at one stage, with just the two of us standing there. I thought ‘anything could happen here, you know – ‘if someone recognises the fact we’re terror flegers, we’re gone’. But no, they came back – they had their lunch and had their beer – whatever – off we went again.
So they fixed your knee alright?
Well it was okay. I was the first in the operating theatre. Yeah – my kneecap was smashed in three pieces, and a New Zealand surgeon did it. Then I got an infection in it. The hospital was absolutely full of burn cases and they were all infected – oh, it was a hell of a mess. And talk about basic – it was like a barn, you know – wooden palliasses were wood wool, wooden bunks, wooden floors … just nothing. I had a complete clean wound on the outside – all the facial wounds and that had all cleared up. And then they came out and it just blew up and pulled all the stitches. And I was up the creek without a paddle for a while, and I was there about three months getting over the … Kemble was the chap’s name, and would you believe it after the war he came to Hastings and he had a practice for a short time. He came from Lower Hutt originally, he and his brother – were both doctors and he came up here and I didn’t know he was in the town. And next minute he’d gone back to England. He took over … Graham … his father was a doctor here down by the Police Station.
Graham and Margaret …
I think he took that practice over for a short time, whether it was an exchange I never did find out. Because sometimes Graham used to do it with someone in England. He’d take a practice over over there.
Yes, well we used to go fishing with the chap he used to swap.
And this chap Kemble was – he operated on me – he was … Clarke. Oh, it comes to me sometimes. Yeah, well this Kemble was a nice fellow, you know. He came and sat on the bed next to me one day and he said “you know, you’ve got to eat”. And this Yank next to me said “don’t encourage him to eat”, because he used to get my days’ food – this Yank next to me. And I just could not eat. The antibiotics they had ruined my appetite and I was a bit Uncle Dick there for a while. I wasn’t at all happy and it took a long time to clear up.
So they fixed it up.
Yes. Went back then, all the way back to Zagan. I can’t remember that journey much at all – I don’t know why I can’t – it was quite a long journey from Obermassfeld to there – back to Zagan – back to what is now Poland. It was in Germany then. And I was there for the beginning of winter. And – of course the great escape had taken place just before I became a prisoner, and heard all about that of course. Just as we got in there were signs up saying ‘escape is no longer a sport – these fellows have been shot trying to re-escape’ when they were actually murdered, you know, and there was a lot about that.
Yeah, so … then winter came on and it was bloody frigid there. You couldn’t get warm at all, you know. There was a little sort of stove in each room with about fifteen fellows in three tier bunks, not as – half the size of this room. And that’s where you lived and ate.
All these other things that happened, happened around you but you didn’t see them, or you weren’t supposed to, and if you did see them you were told to shut up, you know. You were well instructed. But you could take up … in that camp – well, two in my room – one was a doctor. He had his first two years in medicine. The other had his first two years at law. So you could take those, as prisoners, but you know – by the time I got there the end was nigh. But you could take any lecture you want.
So you were released at the end of the war?
Not from there. We moved from there when the Russians got there … moved us across to Frankfurt. They left us behind in that camp because meantime … suddenly the camp was broken up and ten thousand people went two different ways. And we were left there, about 160-170 of us that couldn’t march. The doctor came round and said “you’re not going”. My mate had another injury similar to mine. Of course the snow was about a foot deep at this time. Oh God, it was a bloody terrible night that they went out in the snow. And quite a lot of them died. I didn’t – you know, didn’t have any of that, I was lucky really.
We stayed on for about two or three weeks in another compound – in the north compound where the great escape had taken from, and then we were shoved into cattle trucks with you know – just nothing in them – about 160 of us, and we moved over to Frankfurt where we went into an American camp. Oh God, there was bloody thousands of … into an Air Force compound, very small, I think there were about two thousand including ourselves. And that was interesting in as much as the place was a Hitler youth camp originally, before the war it had been, and the facilities were made for them and we were picked into it. And we had about … how long there, I don’t know, I have no record of it – about two months? Then George Patten got near us on the other side so they moved us down south to near Munich – right next door to Dachau, the death camp. Moosburg was the name of the last place. I’ve got one glass of the town, ‘cause I’ve been back to – ‘72 we went back on a trip, my daughter and my wife and I. And we stayed in the town, and I got this couple of glasses with the … we went back to the camp and took some photographs of the camp – and that’s where we were released from. and that was on the 29th of April ‘45. So I had a year, all but two hours, as a POW. That all happened in between.
Yes. So during your war you only flew Spitfires?
Yes. Oh – then I came back to England. And you know, we had I think six weeks leave then we were on a boat home. And – I didn’t know what I was going to do when I was back home – I thought ‘well I’ll stay on in the Air Force’, so Geoffrey Page, my CO – I met him the second night I was back in the south of England, a hotel – I can’t think of the name of it. He said he was going to have his tonsils out and he said I’m going to have some sick leave, and he said “what are you going to do for the next six weeks?” and I said “I don’t know.” He said “Well, I’ll get some leave … having my tonsils out. We’ll count the pubs in southern England, what does that sound like?” [Chuckle] He had a car, and there’s a lot of pubs in southern England. We did our best but I don’t think we ever made it anywhere near. So then in that trip round he said “what are you going to do when you get home to New Zealand?” I said “I’m buggered if I know – I haven’t got any thoughts and no trades and I’ve been thinking,” I said “I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea if I stayed on in the Air Force. I’ve enjoyed it so far apart from the year I had away in Germany.”
And I got in the back door if you like, because Geoffrey was one of McIndoe’s first patients. Geoffrey was shot down in the Battle of Britain – badly burned hands – and they became very good friends. One night we came back to East Grinstead and we had nowhere to put our heads, so Geoffrey said “we’ll go to the hospital – we’ll get one there”, because he’d been a long time patient there and he knew all the nurses and they all knew him well, and it was like a Club really, East Grinstead hospital, it really was, and McIndoe was a very open minded fellow. So we put our heads down in the hospital for the night and that was okay, and in one of the succeeding nights – and I can’t remember – we were invited to McIndoe’s for dinner which we went to at his home. And in the course of the evening he said to McIndoe, he said “what can you do for John?” Because McIndoe had his own rehab air force unit with about two or three air force fellows, where they got people jobs while they were being mended, if you like. And I got asked questions – “you got any wounds?” and I said “no, no.” He said “any problems?” I said “no, it’s all healed. He said “well let me have a look”. I said “it’s only a knee injury”, I said “and it’s healed.” So in his lounge I had to pull the leg of my trousers up and show him. ‘And next moment he said “I’ll see you in the hospital tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock”. And I had to go and get into bed – nothing wrong with me, not a bloody thing – and he came and did his rounds, he had a look at my knee there, sent me off for an x-ray and from there I was given a warrant to go up to London to see the Chief Orthopaedic of the RAF. And he had a look at me, and he said “well …” And I can remember him saying “well, you know, another operation might improve it, but it’s another operation and another injury”. So he said “what’s the story?” And I said “well I want to go back into the Air Force to fly as a career”- which I had full intentions of doing – “and I want to get married”. And he looked at me and he said “well I’ll recommend you go back on to flying for another year to be reviewed at the end of that time. How’s that?” I said “well that’s nigh on perfect – thank you very much.”
Then I had to go back and get my flying category back. And this is an interesting one because it involves another Australian. That was the next thing, and I don’t know how long after that but I had to go back up to London to near Regent Street to go through peeing in a bottle, and blowing up the mercury and all those things. Spent a whole day there being examined, tested and all the rest of it. And then I got round to the Chief Medical Officer and I knocked on the door and I was bade come in and I came in, and it was an Australian sitting there – because they had a darker blue uniform than ours, almost a navy – he was a squadron leader, couldn’t tell you his name, something I like to forget. Anyway, he kept me standing in front of his desk. I saluted him and stood in front of his desk at attention as you’re supposed to. I can still see in this moment – he looked at me and then he had a pencil in his finger and he just kept on tapping my papers which were in front of him. And then eventually, it must have been a minute at least, it was a long wait – and in an Australian accent he said “and who gave you permission to admit yourself to East Grinstead hospital?” And I thought ‘well bugger him’, you know, he’s an Australian, the war’s over, he’s only one rank above me. I said “a friend.” He said “what do you mean by a friend?” I said “Mr McIndoe.” “Oh,” he said “how is Mac?” I leant on his desk and said “he’s very well thank you.” And I didn’t expand on that. I’d met Mr McIndoe about three times I suppose in my visits there. Then he said “do you want your flying category back?” And I said “yes”, because I’d passed all the tests apparently. So he said “well sit down”, and he opened a book – and this is as true as I sit here. He said “there’s twenty four categories, I believe and I only remember the first and the fourth. The first one is A1B, which is fit for all duties.” And I got down to one, and it had the explanation alongside it – I was fit to fly but unfit to march. And I hated like bloody hell marching. I had that in Germany for a hundred miles plus. And that’s the one I finished in the Air Force with, and it got me off the Victory Parade, ’cause I didn’t want to walk around bloody London for about eleven miles.
So anyway – this is a lot of aside really, it’s not all the history. I suppose it’s a bit of the history of my life which I enjoyed. And I went back to flying then and I flew Tempests and Spitfires again, and a very – shall we say – unhelpful sort of duties, really – was flying courses for anti-aircraft. You know – you fly back and forwards ten miles and nearly go to sleep under the canopy on a hot day, you know, and – and one fellow did, and he went straight in. But yeah, I enjoyed that, and had a home over there. Our first home was a little old cottage which was six hundred years old.
So you got married?
Got married in between time, after that.
To an English girl?
Yes, from Ipswich. Marie came from Ipswich. She was in headquarters at Martelsham when we were there, and that’s how we met, as you do. And our first home – she was in headquarters, and the old boy that was our Station Commander was a First World War pilot. And you know – houses were hard to get. They’d either been bashed up or they were filled up. We were down at Maidstone in a place called West Hamlet – it was the aerodrome about four miles from Maidstone, or a bit longer. And we were just house hunting, going and door knocking on a weekend. I was flying from there. Marie was on a station up at Martelsham, and anyway, the long and short of it was it was Sunday and lunch time, and we went to this little pub called ‘The Bull’ and I looked across and there was a man that I had seen before. He’d interviewed me for my commission. And I said to her “there’s your old boss over there – Wilkie”, and sure enough she recognised him too and confirmed it was him. And he was on his own and then he got up to leave, and I got up and I introduced myself to him and I said “my wife used to be in your office.” Oh, God – he was tickled pink. He lived nearby, his wife was away and he’d come out to the pub for his Sunday lunch. And when I told him we were looking for … “oh”, he said “you can have my gardener’s cottage.” I said “well, what about the gardener – where’s he?” And … “oh, never mind about him.” And I said “I couldn’t do that.” Well, he said “leave it with me”. And he got this lady just across the road from his place, and she was only there occasionally. And we shared the cottage with her. And it was a six hundred year old cottage – well it was two cottages brought into one.
Oh, that’s wonderful.
Yeah, it was perfect really, and old Wilkie loaned us his Morris 8 to go up to London and you know – things like that. He was still working – I don’t know what he was working at in those days. But he was a very … lovely old gentleman, you know – one of the old gentlemen. And he was our Station Commander and as I said I had met him before and Marie worked in his office.
So it was a nice little coming together, and he couldn’t do enough. And of course the gardener supplied us with vegetables. And the other thing about that was, Marie wasn’t the best of cooks those days. He brought over some broccoli … I’d never seen broccoli before, and I remember he clipped all the little heads off [chuckle] …
And cooked the stalks.
… and all we had was the heads. But I don’t like broccoli, never did like it even in those days, but we were short of food those days.
How did you get into the Morris 8? ‘Cause you were pretty tall.
Yeah, but I used to … well I … Stewart Greer’s had those. But they weren’t too bad really to sit in. Old Wilkie was a fairly heavily built man. I suppose the seats had gone down a bit. Yeah – oh it wasn’t a sports one, it was a … I had a sports one when I came home, it was my first car when I came back to New Zealand, was a little Sports 8. But that was a bit tight too, it was a soft hood. Even when we had our first child and Jill used to be in the back on a rubber inflated tube.
And you had your first child in England?
So you came home from England …
Came home on the … oh, another name. The ship broke down all the way the other side of Panama, so we got to Panama. They went into – berthed in there for two days, tried to fix it – I’ll think of the name of the ship in a minute. And they got it semi fixed and we went into the locks and into the lakes, and we parked it there again for about four days and they still worked on the motors. It was obviously a motor driven ship.
The interesting thing there was some of the crew got off and were swimming in the lake. And we watched this, and of course – salt water in all the showers and baths – very old fashioned ship – had a hell of a life. I said to this fellow that – we sort of got together – from Wellington [?]. I said “look, shall we … do you want a swim?” And he said “oh, not a bad idea”. So we went down to the well deck, climbed down the ladder and by this time the crew had got out so we were down there alone. Someone leaned over the side – “did you know there were some crocodiles or alligators seen?” Oh, sheet! Trying to get up a rope ladder the same time as someone else in a hurry … [chuckle].
So we had a swim in the lake and then they – I don’t know how many days – they pulled anchor and we went out into the Pacific and at 10 o’clock we turned round and went back into Cologne on the Pacific side, and we stayed there a fortnight while they tried to repair this jolly ship. And I must say that the Americans opened everything up for all the passengers. All the Clubs, and there were some quite smart clubs there – everything, the doors were thrown open. … you had to pay of course. But they flew in … or supplied … a lot of children on board coming out here. One girl got off and married a Yank there who was coming out here as her fiancé – she married a policeman. And others rowed out to the boat – we were in the lake – I remember there were about four of them. I don’t know what they were going to do but they’d rowed out. [Chuckle] You know … bit keen.
So we used the beaches, and they were shark proof beaches that we went out to, and we did little tours round about. So yeah, it was a little bit extra really, in a sick way, for the ship.
It wasn’t the Dominion Monarch was it? No.
No, it wasn’t, no. Called in at – an interesting part of it was we called in at Curacao, and the captain was a very jovial older man on his last trip really. And we were only in there for – I think a day, not much more – Curacao. And we were all given a time to be back on board – very hot, extremely hot. Marie nearly fainted there. We went into one shop and you know, it was air conditioned … came out and it was like a blast furnace. Anyway, we got back on board and then the ship started off again and got out to the heads of the harbour, and there was a signal went out that there was two girls off the ship left behind, and they were on their way out in a boat – and I can’t remember the size or the shape of the boat. And the captain turned round and picked them up. That wouldn’t happen very often.
No, it would not.
And I don’t know what sort of a bawling out they got when they got aboard, but he was a genuine old gentleman, you know? He turned round and they had to come up the ladder and … I never did find out what he said to them [chuckle] but he did – he turned the whole ship round and waited for them. And they came alongside and climbed the ladder, but that was just before we got to Panama of course.
So then we came straight on from there after it was fixed to Wellington. Isn’t that terrible – I can’t think of the name of the ship. I remember the one we went over on which I’ve told you about, and I can’t recover that name either now. But it was a fairly large ship that we went on, but we had it to ourselves until we got to Halifax.
So that was the end of the trip, and my Dad was in Wellington and my step-brother was there, and then we came through to living in Marton – Dad had the pub there, the White Hart – and that’s where I …
Had a holiday round the country and showed Marie around and came back to Hastings, and went to the races here which was foreign to me because I disliked horses all my life. Dad had horses, but I just couldn’t bear a horse. In Wanstead I used to have to ride them or I would walk, ’til I got a push bike, you know, so … no they didn’t like me – they either bit me or bucked me off or …
Then I worked for my Dad for a while and then we got a State house there after a bit of a struggle. I had a bit of trouble with my step-mother … and – made life a bit difficult. And getting a State house wasn’t easy because half came to returned servicemen and half went to ordinary civvy requirements. And I remember George Denbow who was the RSA secretary, he knew what was going on and he had a bit of sympathy for us and he was right across from the pub. Marton was a small place – everyone knew everyone else’s business as they do. And I found out there were about six houses coming free, and you had to go before a Board to even … And I had to go to Wanganui for that. Oh, there was none available, that’s right – there was none available, I was told there was none available. I said “well I know of six”, and I had them written down, and I said “I’d like that one.” And it had two bedrooms, I think, or four bedrooms … three bedrooms? Quite a big one. I got a half unit in the finish [chuckle] because I knew that when I went out, old George would be my secretary in the room, still probably telling things that I wasn’t going to speak of. So we got a half unit and we moved in in time for my daughter to be born.
And then of course I … I was looking for a pub all round that district and couldn’t get one and they were an awful price. I potentially picked one out at Wanganui which I thought would be great, but it never happened and another one just out of Palmerston. So – any of them were out of my league really, and then I heard that the Havelock pub here, the old one – you remember the two storey place?
Yes, the Eardisley, or McDuff’s hotel.
Yeah – McDuff’s. He was the fellow that was sick when I came across, and his wife said she wanted to get out of it. And I said “well, I could be interested – will you let me know when your husband …” He was in hospital – he had TB I understand, and he came out cured. Of course I arrived back here on the day he came out of hospital. “I don’t want to sell” he said. “I don’t want to sell.” He’d been cured.
I had often thought … in fact in one camp I was in where the Yanks mainly talked of food because there was none, and then women and other things beside – I said “you fellows wouldn’t know what ice cream is” – they were talking about ice cream as well as other foods. “Unless you had a Rush Munro ice cream from Hastings you wouldn’t know what you were talking about.” And ‘course that didn’t mean a thing to anyone. And that thought passed through my mind and I had thought of it in between. But old Rush was a little bit different. Did you know … remember him?
I’d heard about him but I didn’t know …
Well he had a bit of a short fuse, you know. And he … but he wonderful heart really, I’ve got to say … you know, we had one little upset. But he had a lot of upsets with people – he wouldn’t suffer fools at any stage, and I think I was a bit of a fool this day – I asked him a silly question.
I thought that day – I’m never going to get into a pub. I’ll go up and see old Rush. So I drove straight across in my little Morris 8 open top, and arrived there and he was in the garden. The shop was shut. He was closed a bit of the time – he’d been ill, or he was short of sugar, and he couldn’t make a lot of his products for a while.
Anyway, he was out in the garden, and I thought ‘oh, God – here we go. Shall I leave the gate open so I can get a quick exit?’ [Chuckle] So I turned round and shut it, and I went through and I introduced myself in the garden … and he was doing a bit of hoeing … and told him my story and I said, you know “would you consider selling?” and he said “No.” It was quite an emphatic no. I said “well, do you think in the future you will?” And eventually it got round to – he was going to stay there five years, and I said “all right, well if in five years – would you hold it for me?” And he said “go and start your own”. And I said “no, I wouldn’t know how to”, and I said “what’s more, this has got such a name and I’ve always had an ice cream here on my way to work”. And I said “I’ve often thought about it” and all the rest of it – which I used to. So he said “all right.”
I had another thought of a business of my own which was a taxi business in Marton which never came off anyway, and that was what I had in mind – that I would work at that until he came available. And he took ill, and I heard he was ill. And when he came out of hospital I came over to see him and his wife, and of course she wasn’t making the ice cream, the place was closed. And he had undulant fever. And they told him – you know, if he wanted to live he’d better get out of that and give it up.
And I remember sitting in their bedroom, and it was like a game of tennis because she was on one side and he was up the other of course. And it got – we talked of this and that, and then it came to “well, you say”, you know. He’d say to her “you say … whether we sell or not. She said “no – you say”. And I was in the middle. [Laughter] I was doing this, you know. Eventually he said “okay”.
And so I went up to the solicitor, old Mr Gifford – Dick Gifford. He drew up the arrangements, and then I had to look for the money. I had saved all the time I was away. All that I had saved and put aside – those days used to incur 25% exchange. And the number of times I nearly gave that away because I thought ‘if I die I’ll never get to use it, and I could be having a better time than what I’m having. Instead of walking back I’d sooner be getting a taxi’ and all that sort of carry on. And we weren’t getting paid a hell of a lot. I thought it was a lot, but I think it was 2/6 a day I allocated to my account, and it built up. But then it wasn’t building up enough to buy Rush Munro’s.
And I remember going back to Marton. Oh, that’s right – I said to the President of the RSA over there – and his name escapes me – Tom … a very nice … thorough gentleman. And I said to him “how much money can I get from Rehab?” You know, for a business. Oh – first of all before I got that far I’d been to Napier to see them in Napier. And I didn’t want to tell anyone in case someone slipped in ahead of me, and this fellow in Napier at the Rehab said “where is it?” And I said “well – I’d rather not say”. And he said “you’ve got no show of getting any money if you don’t tell me.” It was at that stage, and I said “well, this has got to be strictly, you know – quiet”, I said “it’s Rush Munro’s.” “Oh,” he said “that’s a two man place. That’s a rehab place for two people.” I said “to hell with that,” I said “I found the bloody place, I’m not sharing it with anyone else, I don’t want a partner. I want to know how much money …” “Oh, well” he said “you’re going to fight, you know”. ‘Cause I didn’t – I hadn’t got any loans at this stage. Tom Barton was the fellow’s name – he was mayor of Marton. So I said to old Tom Barton, I said, you know “how much do you think they’d let me have?” He said “what is it?” And I said “well it’s a place in Hastings”. I think I gave him some indication – oh, I think I said it was an ice cream place in Hastings. “Oh” he said “there’s a place over there – there’s a big grape vine down the garden.” I let him go on for a little while … I said “that’s the place”. He said “don’t worry about the money,” he said “get it”. He said “worry about the money afterwards.” And you know, it makes sense when you think about it.
And there I was struggling – I’d say about four figures, but you know – it wasn’t enough to buy Rush Munro’s. And anyway, we needed a home. And eventually I got the house and the business on Rehab, but Len Gray … Len was a great friend of mine, and he was a great … he roused around looking for places to get finance from and … yeah, we got enough together and bought it.
And then I had to learn the business of course – I knew nothing about it. And then when I got the business I had forgotten all about the stock which was £500, so I had to go along to Gifford and get a promissory note for that. Then when I took the money back to him – when I got that money – I don’t think there’d been an agreement … oh, that’s right, I think there was a figure of interest for that time, and I think it was within the year – oh, about six or eight months when I had £500 to go and pay him. Wouldn’t accept any interest. No – and when he said no he didn’t muck about, you know, his eyes stood out and he started to wind up a bit. So I remember going to Harvey’s and getting one of those Westminster chime doorbells for his new home and … oh, God, it was like giving him gold.
But he was – he – Rush Munro – did a lot for Hastings that no one ever knew about. For instance the nurses always got ice cream at Christmas time; the orphans always got … I don’t know, at Christmas time as well. I think the Fire Brigade looked after the orphans I think, here at that time. And no, he never made public that – the high school – he used to close it every year and go to the High School and give all the funds for the High School.
And did he teach you how to make ice cream?
Well, he stayed with me three months. And of course I had all the confectionery to make as well. God! You know, the ice cream wasn’t bad, it was mechanical. But the other was – you know, a couple of degrees out and you’re in trouble. I remember I made a batch of fudge and I think the thermometer was a bit out, and I turned it out of the tray onto the big steel table that was there … couldn’t get it off the bloody table [chuckle] – it stuck there. I had undercooked it, and it was a little bit softer than what it should have been instead of being caramelised a little bit.
So I went down with the sad … “got to throw the whole lot out – I want to get it off the table.” He said “oh, don’t do that” he said. He came up and had a look “Oh, no” he said “don’t worry about that.” We got it off the table between the two of us, and it all started to … go soft.
He said “now leave it there” he said, “and I’ll show you what we’ll do. The next batch you make” he said “you tell me and I’ll come up”. ‘Course he was coming up every day from the beginning and I can’t remember how that accident happened, but we added a third or a sixth or an eighth of it in each batch and it was just the same fudge, it just melted and away it went.
So he’d obviously done that himself.
Oh, he obviously had, ’cause a lot of the recipes … he was taught by his parents and his parents were taught by a German confectioner in London apparently. That’s how they came … but he had changed a lot of the recipes. I had his old recipes and he had altered them to suit, not beneficially I suppose, maybe – because it didn’t become a hard article to carve up because you had to cut it up, and if you cooked it too much, you know, it used to splinter like a bit of caramel.
Well it could go that way if you weren’t on the ball, because you get an interruption at the wrong time and suddenly it was either sticking to the table or splintering like – you go to cut it and it’d sheer off like caramel.
So that was a hard wicket to run. It was hard work, and I was so aware of … you didn’t bring anything up in the way of politics. He had his own politics. He was … friendly relations with Russia was one organisation he was with. They said he was communist but he really wasn’t. He’d been National and he didn’t get his own way there, and then he became Labour and Walter Nash always called to see him on his way to see his sons or his family in Napier. You walked on tiptoes a little bit with some situations.
It was always interesting you know, when we were kids we used to go there and when we were first married and took our kids there – the spooning of the cream – no one else spooned the cream like Rush Munro’s did, and it must’ve been a nuisance because the spoon handle was not at the right angle.
You can imagine what it was like to teach some of the girls that I had.
Oh, I can imagine. [Speaking together]
Oh my God it was difficult. But some got it, and some never got it. The weekend girls … I had some great staff. The first three girls stayed with me, one for six and a half years and the other two about three each I suppose. So I never had to teach anyone. I hadn’t gone … opened on Sundays in the early stages. We used to finish and have Sunday and Monday off, you know, I couldn’t cope … the plant was small that I had. The factory was quite small and I had to make it within that category of serving, otherwise you were running out.
During this period you had your daughter. You’ve got a son … just one son?
Yes. And then I’d promised Marie’s mother that she could come home, you know, ’cause she was going to the other side of the world in those days. I sent her back in five years. Well, the five years came and I didn’t have the wherewithal to send her back – I think it was six years before she went, but meantime Anne Marie had arrived and she took Anne Marie at twelve weeks when she went, and so the three of them … she took the three of the children. And she nearly got off at Panama and came home because my son started to play up, and he was found out on deck on his own during the night. You know, the Captain called her in and said “you’ve got to look after him” because he was wandering. The baby was crying most of the time and she was just about having a heart attack. And anyway she saw it out and it was about … she was away about 6 months you see, total, because a ship both ways.
In the meantime I used to work at night time and I used to go up to the Windmill – that started while they were away, and I used to have my tea up there and then make a batch of fudge, 40lb of fudge each time – 44lbs – two big trayfuls, all cream and – probably cream from yours.
Could have been too. That’s interesting – you were lucky there was no sugar shortage.
No it came right. Prior to that it had been short and he’d closed at one part, just before I took over. And then of course he took ill and he was closed for a while. The place was shut, and the long and short of that all was – oh, God, yes – all the toffees and the coconut ice and fudges. Yeah I made some clusters only for a while in the way of peanut and almond and things like that in chocolate, and then a woman that worked for Rush Munro for … from the age of fifteen – her family had grown up and she’d left and the family were still at school I think. And I heard about her and she agreed to – Mrs Cunningham – she agreed to come back to make chocolates, and she was an expert. Bloody awful stuff to handle, chocolate. In the hot weather you’ll … if the weather wasn’t right and the chocolate wasn’t right it’d go grainy. But she was an expert, and just a couple of forks and I had a special thing to melt the chocolate with and a new table for her and off she went. I only used to make the centres. She made some of the centres even, and she was a wizard.
We made some for the Queen Mother you know. Yeah, we were asked to make some. That’s another story – better go on the record I suppose. A Mr Hudson came in, that was from Greenhill when … he came to me one day and he said – he was a little bit superior – “oh, we’re having an important visitor”. I knew the Queen Mother was going to Greenhill – I’d heard on the grapevine of course. “We want some of your chocolates.” I said “well” I said “I’m very sorry but I don’t make chocolates between Christmas and Easter.” I said “it’s too hot.” And oh God, the wall fell down, you know – the snow melted [chuckle] – all in one. Then he had to tell me who it was, you see. He said “well it’s the Queen Mother”, and he was at a loss what to say next. I said “well … oh well, for a special customer like that … a special person like that” I said “we’ll make them for you.” Then … ‘course I had to make all the centres, and Mrs Cunningham came back and she did a wonderful job. We had just ordinary gold boxes, 2lb gold boxes, two of those, and two 1lb boxes, one for Mrs Hudson and one for the Queen Mother, and one for the Ladies in Waiting and one for the other lady that came with them, the dresser I think.
And of course she had some passionfruit ice cream. I had … and I lost … I don’t know who ever got it … the special pass to get out to Greenhill – it was as tight as a drum out there.
Mrs Hudson was very nice – she was a nice woman, but he … old D A V was a bit haughty about it all. Yes, she took me round and showed me round the house. It wasn’t – it must have been a bit of a shock to the Queen Mother – it was a bit old fashioned. It wasn’t a palace but it was tidy and clean.
It has since been taken over by a couple of fellows who now own the Masonic. I think they may have sold Greenhill but they certainly owned the Masonic – turned that round into the most beautiful hotel again.
Yes – no, they’ve got a really nice dining room.
Oh, it’s a wonderful building.
It is. But isn’t it interesting that you should talk about the Hudsons at Greenhill and earlier in your conversation, your family having the Masonic.
Yeah, well the little old wooden place.
Yes, but I mean – it’s still …
Yeah, but that wasn’t a direct – that was my grandfather’s brother that had that.
That’s right, yes, but I mean it’s still family. So how long were you at Rush Munro’s then?
Forty odd years. I can’t tell you the date we went there, but we left and came here when … oh, God no … We built here as soon as we sold there and this was an empty section, four and a half acres here. Big house was on it – d’you remember the big house?
I do indeed.
Have you been in that since it’s been moved? It’s out Mt Erin Road. The fellow that bought … built … moved it. Worked on the oil rigs I understand. I’ve lost his name.
Interesting. So forty years … sold Rush Munro’s and then retired to Havelock North.
Yeah. The only place where … away from the floods, ’cause – see my Dad always said that – you know, he remembered the 1897 flood I think I’m right in saying.
At Clive, that’s the big one.
And he said it will happen again. And I watched them build the river banks and they built them with sand, so [?] to be happening again.
It will, it will.
Only needs some – it nearly came over once at Morley’s Road. They’ve topped it up with a bit of shingle but it’s still sand.
It was bubbling through underneath. It was sand that had nothing to hold it together.
Well Angus Evans – he and his brother had one of the first mechanical … and I remember when they had horse and drays then – he had a grader there or a front end loader before he went into it in a big way. You know, he helped to build Wellington and Auckland Airports eventually with the Euclids. And he and his brother had the only mechanical plants out there in Pakowhai Road and I remember seeing them there. They won’t stand up to a decent flood.
And the Tukituki’s the same. The actual river bed is coming up.
Although I think there’s a lot of shingle in the Tuki banks whereas this is just sand and silt.
Well, that’s interesting. So at some stage then during your retirement you lost your wife?
Yes, fifteen years ago, yes – came here … fortunately we had a number of trips because we had decided that you know – in our working life, when the kids had been educated and had jobs we decided to close the place. Only way to do it. You couldn’t have someone make the ice cream otherwise the story went out and the wherewithal went with it – the goodwill – whatever it might have been. So we just closed. I think it wasn’t the first time … the first time was 3 months, we closed … one was three and a half months. I used to put a sign up over the winter, and I had one or two compliments that were unusual. One lady came along one time when we were about to close over the winter, and she said – one Monday morning she came along and she said “Mr Caulton, would you mind telling me when you are going to close this year?” And I said “well” I said “good question. ” I said “We hadn’t decided” … ’cause you had to get staff placed somewhere else. All those things. I said “why do you ask, though?” And she said “well my son’s an accountant in Switzerland, and he won’t come home if you’re going to be closed when he gets home.” [Laughter] So that’s one of the nicest compliments I think I’ve ever had.
Isn’t it amazing – Rush Munro. – it was a name that became synonymous with something quite special and different, wasn’t it? And we were all touched by it. And I always remember that big pansy.
Yes, I know. I had to change the pansy for a rose ’cause I thought a rose might go with Rush Munro’s a little bit, ’cause it was just blocking off a little bit of the peak.
Our first trip away was ’72. Anne Marie came with us. Now I found out that this German was alive still, he had survived the war, and in a book – I knew he was alive and I made a contact. When Jill went to England on her big OE when she finished nursing, and she went to my brother-in-law and said “how will I find this …” I’d told Jill, I said “when you’re going through Germany see if you can find out … this is his name”. And I didn’t know where to start.
Well, just for the record – the German you’re referring to is the pilot who met you on the ground …
In 1944. So then I read a book – his name being Hans Joachim Jabs. [Spells] And he was interviewed about the Battle of Britain which he had flown in himself. And he had about a two or three liner only about when he was interviewed, and the main thing that he said was that he always wore – when he was flying against England – ’cause it was flying against England, you know, it wasn’t the Battle of Britain as such, called by them. “I always wore a clean white shirt in case I got shot down.” So that was all there was, so I then I knew it had been written since the war and I knew he was alive. And then I told Jill my daughter – eldest daughter – when she was going on this big trip, I told her the story. I said “see if you can find this fellow”. Well she couldn’t find him in Germany because they passed through in a hurry and all the rest of it. She said to my brother-in-law, and I don’t know why I didn’t ask him before, he was in RAF security. She said “how can I find this fellow for Dad?” And – picked the phone up … she told him the story, his name … he picked up the phone, rang the German Embassy – said “yes, he comes from Ludenscheid but you can’t have his address until he okayed it.” And that’s the way it stayed. So then he okayed it through the Embassy back to me, and I wrote to him and told him, you know – what had happened to my life and he was tickled pink that I’d survived and I had three kids and all the rest of it. All went in the local paper of course in Germany … which I’ve got a reproduction which I’ll show you in a moment.
So then we decided about a year later that we’d go on holiday and we’d go to Europe, and I said to Anne Marie – she was working for Wattie’s at the time on the switchboard because for a blind person – she’d worked in McCulloch’s for a while but couldn’t cope with the visual side of it. There were three of them on their large switchboard there and she was one of them and she quite enjoyed the work there. And I said to her that we were going on this trip. Now the meeting wasn’t enlarged upon at all. I didn’t want to enlarge upon that because I didn’t want to encourage her to go if she didn’t want to. And I said “go and think about it. Tell me in a fortnight whether you want to come with us, you know – this is what we’re going to do”. And she came back – she said “well I’ve thought about it,” and she said “yes – I’ll come on one condition.” I thought ‘God, here we go – family laying the law down.’ “I pay my own way”. Because we were going to Italy, we were going to Germany and points in between you know, as you do, and round England of course. So I said “well, okay”.
And then we got into a little bit of trouble with our Italian trip because John Kennedy – I think he’s a councillor, or he was a councillor in Napier – well he was doing Air New Zealand work at the time. And between there and London … the London people thought we weren’t getting the right trip, because we were going down a step or two so that Anne Marie could afford it. Well, we got a new bus but no air conditioning, and by God was it hot in Italy where we struck the hot weather! And they didn’t rotate in the bus. We went to all the places but we had to suffer … one fellow who smoked cigars all the time and they wouldn’t circulate in the bus.
Anyway I got the notebook out and I noted everything … oh, some of the food was shocking. We got to one place in Venice and … had the signs on there for … and we thought they were our … signs for us so we went down, but we got hooked out of there and put over there, with a different menu. Lots of things like that, and some of the places we ate at were pretty ordinary. Well you know – gave up in one place and went down the road and got an ice cream [chuckle] to change my diet.
So I made a note of all these, and when I went back to … and I can’t think of the name … the oldest travel agency in England – goes back into the last century a little bit – quite a famous one. But anyway, we got back there, and I had my little notebook full of these complaints, you see – one of which was not circulating, smoking in the bloody bus and different foods and stuff. And I thought ‘how do I get past the front desk, you know, ’cause you’ve got to have a name’. So I said to the old Commissionaire who was walking backwards and forwards – I said to this old boy “who’s the chap in charge of the Italian tours?” So he gave me a name. ‘Course I went up to the desk and asked for Mr Joe Blakes, whatever his name was. And there was this enormous room with half offices you know – this high? And I got down to him and I introduced myself. He said “how the bloody hell did you get in here?” [Chuckle] I said “that’s my secret – but wait till I tell you the rest” I said. I got the notebook out and I was bade ‘come in’, and he was reasonably annoyed and reasonably pleasant about it all. And he said “well I checked on that”, he said, “and I checked with John Kennedy” he said. And he came back and he said “no, that’s the right one.” So he had checked on it all but we had taken the third grade trip I suppose, if you like … of the tour because it didn’t have any … that was the big thing – air conditioning, really – but … and anyway, he said “it’s the last trip. There’s not going to be – there’s going to be circulation around the whole bus.” I said “that’s a bit bloody late,” I said I’m not getting anything out of this,” I said. “I’m telling you this for someone else’s … someone else who’s coming on.” I said I’m peed off with, you know, smoking in the place, cigar smoking was even worse for me, plus some of these Aussies who wouldn’t move and Anne Marie was limited with what she could see, although her eyes weren’t as bad as later.
So anyway, he said “oh, God” he said “let’s go and have a liquid lunch.” There was a pub near by so we went over and finished the story over there. He was pretty good about it, and I didn’t expect any rebate at all, but …
So that was that, and so then it was on that same trip that we then went up the Rhine and I could recommend that to anyone but don’t go on for the first two days because the flood banks are too high to see over from the house boat. But it was – we went right up to Switzerland on that. Saw my mate up there, Geoffrey – he was my best man. Had time with him and then called … on the way back, got a car and drove back from there to Ludenscheide. And then we stayed with them and they couldn’t have been nicer. You know, it was a great friendship in a way – he was such a decent fellow, because the day that he came to see me – that day I was pretty roughed up, you know, I was knocked about, it was like being through a washing machine. I got rattled around, and pieces off here and there and stuff. And I wasn’t very happy, and I was sitting in this tall tower, in the bottom part of it and a car drew up. And I thought … well it was someone coming to pick me up, and I could see the car through the window and there wasn’t room for anyone else. It was only a small Opel style car with four people in it anyway. And then I watched … I watched through the window and they came through and crossed a little canal with a small bridge about this width, and the next minute there was a knock on the door. And I said “come in” [chuckle] – and I’m in Ger … and this character came in. And he saluted me and I stood up and acknowledged it, and in very good English – broken English, he had to stop and think – he said “you were flying the Spitfire.” I said “yes.” He said “I was flying the other one” you know – he didn’t say what it was.
So that’s the way we met, the first time. And he said “are you hurt?” and I said “no I’m all right.” You know – I knew my knee was … my leg was giving me a lot of trouble really – couldn’t bend it. It had stiffened up with the cold and all the rest of it was worse.
So that was okay. He was in there with me alone, and he said “would you have your photograph taken?” And I said “well – what have I got to lose?” You know, so we went outside and we had the photograph taken. The fellow who took the photograph spoke excellent English, you couldn’t fault it. He was the political agent. They had them in the German Air Force and Army and – like the Russians had their Commissionaire – the political side that they didn’t let anyone go thataway.
Anyway, oh, I upset him about his camera. Anyway we had our photographs taken, and I said “well I, you know, I’ve got nothing to lose – why not?” And we had a little talk, of which I’ve already told you about, you know – and then they went off to have a look at my aeroplane which was about six hundred yards away from where we were, and then they just flew out and never saw him again until I caught up with him twenty six years later and then I saw the photographs for the first time.
So it was quite novel really, and so every time we went to England, we went to see her Mum of course, and we’d go to Europe and have time with them and stayed with them. Yeah, he was a thorough gentleman that day – he was decent and everything was good about him. You know, he had give the Nazi salute – he didn’t to me that day, but of course it became mandatory after the attempt on Hitler’s life. He saluted me the right way, and ‘course he only did it once. Yeah – his crew were there with him, and I said “well, is it an American camera?” You know – to this soldier. Oh no, he was very aggrieved with that – “we make the best cameras in the world.” I upset him a little bit and he didn’t – he wasn’t a terribly pleasant sort of a fellow, he was a young fellow. And that’s right – later on Joachim told me in our conversations and our jokes and all the past happenings. He said “I wasn’t supposed to come out and see you that day.” He said “I was told not to” he said. And I guess it was this fellow, I don’t know, he didn’t qualify that, but he said I was told not to go out. He said “well I shot him down and I’m going out to see what he looks like.” And it was as simple as that.
It’s interesting how sometimes little things like that can make other things worthwhile can’t they?
Just a human touch.
Well that’s right … that’s right. In successive times he was always pleasant and took us out to … I wasn’t a member of Rotary ’cause I was taken to a Rotary meeting and there must have been two or three hundred there at that time. He was a prisoner of war himself for about a year and he was let out if you could produce food – don’t know whether you want this in the story, but he was let out because he heard that if you could produce food, he could get out of prison camp because they were short of food. So he said “I’m a fisherman”, and so they let him out. And then he said “I never fished except off the wharf”. [Chuckle] And the British authorities who had him imprisoned up in southern Denmark … in that area … came round and said “where’s the fish?” And then he said “I had to buy fish and set up a fish shop”. So having got to the fish story he had to become a fish seller, and Ruth, his wife, she said “oh, the smell” she said “it was terrible.” [Chuckle]
So that was the life. And then because the West – the Americans didn’t want West Germany to go communist they poured money in, and he then started making in a small way I think, insulating things for electric fences and he developed into all things … drinking cups and agricultural machines and vats and the lot. And he had twenty six travellers on the road at the finish. He was a really efficient sort of a fellow but a decent bloke, you know. Well, I mean we had some pretty unfortunate fellows in New Zealand – we had plenty of nice fellows too, but he was one out of the box in my book, you know, because I suppose we had that relationship. He was decent to me, and subsequently he looked forward to our visit.
And what rank did you finish with in the Air Force, John?
Flight Lieutenant. That was the end, I then came home. I decided … yeah, the Air Force was running backwards. There was not a lot of future – you could see the things were drying up, plus the serviceability of aircraft was quite a worry. I had an engine stop on take-off with me. I’d just got the wheels up and got them down again, and ran out of runway. And another fellow was killed in a Tempest – no he wasn’t killed, sorry, he was killed flying, of course, but he went to sleep. The other fellow went down the end and turned over in a Tempest … you know, serviceability had gone because the chaps had had five years with cold hands an hour before dawn, and they’d had a gutful. And they didn’t care if they did get reprimanded or court-martialled even – it didn’t worry them. So it became dangerous plus the fact I could see no future. So we decided to come home and I’d got to get started and I was going to get a pub. And it went from there and it didn’t come. I’m glad it didn’t come really.
But it was still with people wasn’t it? Still serving people. And it was unique.
Yes, yeah. Well it was.
I had one other experience I’ve got to tell you about. On our first trip in 1972 we stopped off for two days in LA as you did because it was always a stopover and we did all the touristy things. We went out you know, to Disneyland. Now, there’s two or three places we went there, and one of them is the Chinese theatre, and I can’t think of the name of it – where all the hand prints are in concrete … film stars? And right next to the Boulevard. And – I wasn’t particularly interested – Marie and Anne Marie were there and they were going round looking at the hand prints or foot prints as well. And I went across the road to take a picture of them, and while I’m taking the picture I looked in the view finder, and there’s a bearded man leading Marie away by the arm. And I thought ‘sheet – you know, I’ve heard of some strange places, but this is a bit different.’ And I hurried back and I couldn’t find them – they weren’t in the forecourt. And what had happened was … yes, well I eventually found them in an alley way. And that was the film crew chief that had the beard … had led Marie away because she was being photographed from the two way glass of the ticket box. She was being interviewed by Betty Jo as it turned out on the … Junction films? Betty Jo was the broken down blonde – and she was a broken down blonde to look at – looked it. And she said to Marie – she had a foolscap of questions and answers. She said “I’m getting married and my fiancé wants me to sign all these, what would you do?” to Marie. And Marie said “well,” and she looked at her sideways, and said “I wouldn’t sign any of them – wouldn’t sign that … wouldn’t sign that.” So she wasn’t being very co-operative, not knowing that she was being photographed of this interview. And he took her out of circulation. They were down with their big truck, down this alleyway when I found them. And I thought “oh, God!” And I said to him “what did you do that for?” I said – and I didn’t know what had happened. Anyway they just got a dollar each – signed dollar – for their performance. And we got talking, and he said “where are you from?” And I said “I’m from New Zealand”. “Oh” he said “I was out in New Zealand last year.” I said “really? Whereabouts?” ‘Oh” he said “a place called Hastings”. He said “I did the gannets – went out and photographed the gannets. He said “what do you do?” and I said “I make ice cream.” He said “oh,” he said “there’s a place there,” he said “it’s got a fish pond in the front [chuckle] with a lot of gold fish in it. Oh, God” – this is as true bill as I sat here. He said “that’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had,” – oh, he went into raptures. I let him go on. I got my wallet out. I said “you’re not going to believe this” and I showed him my card. I said “that’s my place.” He said “well, bugger me,” you know, he couldn’t believe it. And I couldn’t believe that I’d struck a fellow that went into raptures about my ice cream. And I never got his name, would you believe – I never got his name.
And there’s another person whose name I didn’t get somewhere along the line too. Oh, yeah, one of the fellows that had helped me in Holland when I got into strife with one of the Dutch guards, through another American that had drawn his finger across his throat talking about a Dutchman fighting for the Germans – and I got hauled over the coals. I was accused of being the person that had done it. Well – I got over to this fellow. Oh, God … look you wouldn’t believe what happened after that. We were all in this … there was about sixty or eighty of us, mostly Americans, in this big room … barrack room. And these Dutch people came in to service our food, and they had German uniforms but a green – bright green. Everyone gathered round and said “what are you?” and they said they were Hollanders, they didn’t say Dutch because they call themselves Hollanders I think. And no one could speak German or Dutch. So someone said “wait till Prince Bernard gets here” and this Yank said “wait till Uncle Joe gets here.” And this guard, they went out and the next minute they arrived back and I’m lying on the bunk and two of them came back in, one with a German guard and this fellow, and he pointed me out and I’m lying on my bunk. I didn’t know what it was all about. The guns were drawn and I had to come out. We went across the yard to this officer who was the deputy Commandant I think. He was a Captain – Hauptmann – and he spoke very good English. He’d worked in England during the war in an orchestra, and it was quite interesting because the records follow you round like a piece of gum, really. He knew my name. And – oh, there was a couple of British, the rest were Yanks. And he said “what is this?” He said “you threatening one of my guards”, and I said “what!” And of course then I realised what had happened. This Yank was near me when he drew his finger across his throat – like that All Black does. And I said “I might be accused of it” I said “but you’ve got to either believe me or not believe me.” I said “I have not threatened in any shape.” “Oh that’s right” he said. I said “I can’t speak the language, how could I?” But I realised what had happened, that this finger across the throat … and he said “[German]”, and then ‘course that’s what brought it down to earth. I said “get the fellow back here and see if he’s got the right fellow.” I wasn’t going to tell him there was someone else … I wasn’t going to be laboured with trying to tell him, or asked to tell him.
So – and this is a funny episode. He came in this room, it was quite a small room, about half the size of this room, and the door he came in was over there. By this time he said “you’ve got a sore leg.” I said “yes.” And I was sitting down beside the table with him. This guy came in – this’d put him off his shot – I’m sitting next to his boss, the Hauptmann, and he took off his hat shoved it under his arm and gave the Nazi salute. And the Hauptmann said “Mr Caulton has given me his word that he hasn’t threatened you in any way. Have you got the right person?” or words to that effect. And it was all explained to me in English afterwards. And anyway, then he was dismissed. Well he’d come in over there, he took off his hat and put it under his arm, spun round and went over here where there wasn’t a bloody door in this wall at all. [Chuckle] He got completely embarrassed and he did another spin round, and another jawohl salute and then he buggered off out the door that he’d come in. And I said to this German Captain – Hauptmann – “is he Dutch?” And he said “yeah.” I said “he’s supposed to be on our side.” And he said “Mr Caulton”, he said “I am a soldier not a politician.” And this is a fellow I never got his address from or his name. Because he accepted what I told him.
‘Course it carried on from there. We talked a while and he asked me – hummed me a little tune – he told me that he worked in a hotel in England during the wars. I don’t know what he played in the orchestra but he hummed a little tune about – it was a Yankee tune … God, and I’ve forgotten the name of that. It was one of those ’28s jazz songs, anyway. And I said “no good asking me,” I said “I couldn’t play an instrument of any kind.”
Anyway, we had a little talk, and oh, that’s right, he told me he had just got that day the Canadian who was in the room with us away from the Gestapo in Amsterdam. That’s when he told me he was a soldier not a politician. He said “if you see him being touched in any way or abused in any way, you tell me.”
So when I got back, this American had been kicked in the backside as he went to the loo. And he came out – his name was Bob Salzarulo – that’s a good Italian name for you. He was taken his time washing his hands, and he was told to hurry up in German and he ignored it or turned his head and told him where to go, in English I suppose. The next minute he got kicked in the backside. And Bob turned round and took a step towards him and he unleashed his sidearm, because he only had sidearms in there. So Bob shot back into the barrack room that we were in. And when I got back – I hadn’t met this Salzarulo at this stage – and armed with that knowledge that he had said to me, you told me about if this Canadian had been abused in any way. So I then heard the story. And I said “well he’s coming down to see us ’cause we’re going to Germany tomorrow and he’s coming down to talk to you fellows about not spitting”. ‘Cause the Yanks used to spit a lot and he said “if that happens in the public anything could happen.” You know, it would unleash the population. Bad enough being a POW.
Anyway, that’s when I went and made myself known to Bob Salzarulo, and I said “if you want to do anything about it I’ll introduce you to him. He’s a decent fellow, he’ll hear you out.” Sure enough he came down and he gave us a talk, and he told them about spitting, and to be orderly, or words to that effect, as Prisoners of War – how to behave really. And I suppose in a quiet way, quite decently. Then when I introduced Bob to him, the guard was described to him, and he was a German guard – he wasn’t a Dutch guard – he was a German guard. He was sent for. Well, would you believe it? I was back on my bunk by this time, and I watched this fellow come in and he was called in front and he was – all explained to us afterwards – he was spoken to in German of course. And he was told to apologise to Bob, that he was a major. And Bob was a major but he had no rank showing. And he was told to apologise and the guard said no he wouldn’t, that he was a prisoner of war and he refused to apologise to him.
Well you wouldn’t have believed it … it wasn’t a yell, it was a scream – put the bloody hair up the back of your neck. This Hauptmann screamed at this guard, and he tried to get away, he saluted two or three times, and eventually he was sent out. Then he turned to us and he said what had happened and what he’d asked him to do, and he refused to because he was a prisoner of war. And he drew himself up to his full height and he said “gentlemen, I apologise to you all in the name of the Luftwaffe”, and those were about his exact words in English as I remember them. And that was an incident – boy, I tell you, it was … well it was frightening because, you know, if he’d pulled out a revolver and shot someone out of the excitement of the moment it wouldn’t have surprised me.
Oh, well that’s great. I think that’s probably a good note to finish on, isn’t it?
Well he came back in. He sent for him and he brought him back in, and he apologised to Bob. Yes. Oh, what he’d been threatened with outside, he was away about quarter of an hour. And then he said – ’cause I asked this question again, ’cause we’d had very poor food – very little – he said was there anything that he could do for us?” And I got up and I went across and I said “yes” I said “we would like some more food and a razor”, ’cause we were all … got a bloody growth of beard, you know, and it was uncomfortable and grubby looking, and you couldn’t support your own Service really. Well we got the food, but we never got the bloody razor. [Chuckle] So, you know, what would have happened if we had got a razor out of about sixty or eighty men, I don’t know. First up first served.
So that’s about it. That was quite an exciting experience and the next day we were on the train into Zagan. We went through Cologne in a decent carriage – we had to draw the blinds but we saw what we wanted to see and then after that we had box cars.
Yeah, well – I think I’ve talked enough.
Well, I think that’s been a wonderful story of your life because you’ve actually covered a huge amount.
Well, I suppose the most exciting survival part was my prisoner of war life really.
Yes. But I mean it all made up the mosaic of your life from starting; the war; Rush Munro’s.
Well I suppose yes. Now for Rush Munro’s, well it was a lot of fun … it was a lot of eating and you know, I’d go out in the morning to see how much fudge was there and eat half a pound before I went in. [Chuckle] But while you’re still here, I’ve got a couple of things over there. One is an old Tribune about the fire in Hastings, the big fire … you know about it? I don’t know whether you want a copy of it, I think I’ve got one copy there that’s …
I can … we can copy … we’ve got all the most sophisticated …
Well, you’ve probably got a copy of it.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper