Herbert Bramwell Francis & Shirley Florence Francis Interview

Today is the 15th day of January 2018. I’m interviewing Bert and Shirley Francis of Taradale. Bert, would you like to tell us something about the history of your family?

I was born in Woodville in 1924 where I went to school until I was about ten when we shifted to Paraparam [Paraparaumu] Beach and I was there ‘til I started high school in 1937 in Levin – Levin District High School. And when that closed down in 1940 I was a founding pupil at the Horowhenua College, and so I did all my secondary schooling [voice in background] at Horowhenua College.

Where was that? Was that in Levin?

That was in Levin. Yes, it was a new school. They closed down the Levin District High School, of which I was the last Dux Medal, and I’ve still got the medal. But my high school was straightforward subjects, and I sat the University Entrance – or Matriculation as we called it – in 1940, when I started work then at the local Horowhenua County. And I was there for a while working in the County Engineer’s office, although it was a bit of a dead end there because it was wartime and so nothing was doing. So I left there and I applied for a drafting cadet ship with the then Public Works Department which I didn’t get, but they gave me a cadet ship which … I worked in the Land and Income Tax until I went into the Army when I turned eighteen. And it … was in the Army on the searchlights, until … and I’d applied to go into the Air Force, so that came up while I was in Wellington on the searchlights, and I was transferred over to the Air Force. And then I didn’t actually go into the Air Force at that stage because I was called up. Yes, so I’ve had time in the Army. And then when it came up for me to transfer over to the Air Force, I went to Levin which was just opposite where we lived, and I was there for a little while then on to Linton Camp. And then from there, shuttled backwards and forwards to different training courses, mechanics courses, and I finished up – as my Air Force experience – I finished up as a Fitter 2E Leading Air Craftsman.

Linton was the coldest place in the winter.

No, I was there in the summertime. And from Linton I went to Rongotai for six weeks then down to Nelson for the Flight Mechanics Course, back to Ohakea for a while, and then back to Nelson again for the Fitter 2E course, and finished up at Ohakea. We were actually servicing the Skyhawks, so I was there on two occasions. So then I finally got shot overseas to Fiji and I was there for six months and we were servicing Venturas. When we went from there I was posted to the Corsair Assembly Unit which was … they were assembling Corsairs in Los Negros up in the Admiralty Islands. So I was there and that was what I did until the war finished. And one morning I was down working and they came down and said “if you can be in Air Movement by ten o’clock, you can go home today”. So … [Chuckle]

So you’d all be off?

Yeah. So came home expecting to be demobilised straight away but no – no, they kept me in for another year and I was finally demobbed on the 10th of July 1946. I had gone down to Wellington to the Public Works Head Office to see if they’d get me out but they wouldn’t, so until I got out … when I did get out they shot me up here to Napier.

And I was in the drafting room. When I first started I was … well I did a year actually training, printing practise, training jobs, my cadet ship, and once I was through that, the drafting room here was busily engaged in providing roads for returned servicemen’s subdivisions. And so that got me into the roading side. They weren’t very elaborate roads – there were a few little bridges and so forth, but we then graduated on the roading side to doing some of the State Highways. There were several deviations – are you interested in knowing what ones I did?

Yes. We’ll just pause here for a second and come back … if you could tell me where your father came from?

He came from Melbourne in about 1900 and he was a Salvation Army Officer in Norsewood until he resigned and took up farming just out of Norsewood.

Were they dairy cows?

Yes, and he went from there to Woodville and he farmed on different farms on Woodville. And the family was born mostly – well all of the family were born in Woodville. There was [were] seven of us altogether.

All boys … mixed?

Five boys and two girls. The eldest girl had a bad attack of polio and was crippled with polio.

What was her name?

Elsie.

And your brothers’ names, and your other sister’s name?

The other sister was Rita, and there was … next was Walter (Wally), George, Henry, Bill and myself.

And they all went to school at Woodville and then Paraparam? [Paraparaumu]

No, no – they’d all left school by the time I went to …

‘Course you were the young one, weren’t you?

Yes, there was about seven years, or nearly seven years’ difference. So they’d all left and gone. Some were still on the farm, some had gone to work on other farms, some … one had even gone to Australia to work.

Even though your father came from Australia, did he come for England or Ireland?

No, he was born in Melbourne. His father was born in Melbourne, it was his grandfather that came from England – I managed to get a birth certificate which I’ve got in my records.

Well, if you can find it we can attach that and have that copied too.

Oh, okay, yes …

They’re quite special, those things.

I think I can grab that.

Are they all alive still?

No, I’m the only one left.

Are you really? Last man standing.

Yeah, yeah – yes, my last brother, Bill – it must be oh, I’d say about eight or nine years since he died – he died in Hawera, and there was quite a family – he had quite a few children – I can’t remember all the names. The only son died quite young, Ron, but the rest survived and they’re … I think they’re all still alive and they have their family.

So coming back to your life with the Ministry of Works. At that stage you were designing roads and tracks for rehab farms?

Yes, then I went onto State Highway deviations.

Which ones were you involved in?

Well … right. Well, there was the Whirinaki/Tangoio deviation just out of Napier, up on the road to Wairoa. That was done using a new type of transition curve which we actually did a lot of work on. We actually developed special tables to use, and we did quite a lot of work to actually work up those … they were called Royal Dawson curves and they were very laborious ones to use. We had printed tables to work from, but they were so laborious that we finished up generating a whole lot of tables.

Would that have been from this side of the Elbow – from Whirinaki up to the top of the …

Oh, yes – it was just quite a short deviation, just short of – just a little bit further north from Bay View – just up there. And we used those new curves on that, and I can remember sitting out in the sun designing the curves.

The next one that I was involved with was Waihua-Te Kumi, and there was quite some heavy cuttings and that was quite a big one. The work was done by a contractor who was quite a shrewd contractor, because he had to take a big cutting off one point and there was Magi Druzianic. Did you know what he used to drive? A Lincoln Zephyr, twelve cylinder.

It’s funny how names keep cropping up.

Yeah. Well so that was that job. And I had quite a lot of hands on with the village while they were building it. From there, well I did some work up in the Gisborne area which I’m not worried about, but the next Hawke’s Bay one I did was the Turangakumu. Well the Turangakumu – that was actually contoured using aerial mapping photos by Angus Wattie, who was the retired surveyor from Lands & Survey, and he developed all the contours. And from those contours I managed to sort out the new alignment. We actually walked through the bush for that one with the District Highways’ Engineer. We got lost in the bush in there. And so I had a lot of involvement with that one – it was fantastic.

About that time, I’m not sure just where it fitted in time-wise, but the Head Office brought out a system – what they called Highways Information Sheets. They were done on A3 size for the whole of New Zealand, and we did Hawke’s Bay only. And that was done, the surveys were done by Napier District staff. The speed values for all the existing curves were measured and it was decided that … we had a bank indicator mounted on the dashboard of the car, and that when the bubble went out ten degrees, that was a safe speed. So one of the senior engineers and myself did all the speed from Woodville through to Mangatai up to the other side of Wairoa. And he would – going one way he would guess about at what the safe speed was. We’d done a lot of sort of sorting out beforehand, but he would estimate what the safe speed was and take it at an even ten miles an hour – it was miles then. And he would call out the speedo reading, I would read the bubble and I’d note it all down [chuckle] as we drove. And then coming back he would take the same curves at an even five miles an hour, and we’d go through the same rigmarole again. And then back in the office I would correlate the two lots of readings and interpolate to get the safe speed. And that was really, really something. It doesn’t pay to get carsick if you were doing that job.

So that was that, and I was actually involved in – I actually had to prepare the actual sheets. Now those sheets could well be held by Opus and it could be well worth asking a question. We put them up in great big hard covered folders – one for the State Highways and one for the main highway. So there’d be a huge amount of information on that. so if they’re still around they could be interesting.

Today they would just put a computer on the seat of the car, that would do it automatically, wouldn’t it? Plus or minus.

But also I got a lot of the information through actually going through all the old files that were on record, which only came from after the Napier earthquake. And I went through all those files and there was reports – we got reports on them, and Dannevirke town was sealed, and Woodville, and there was reports – and I correlated all that stuff, and then we actually got the whole history. Napier staff did a lot of the other measurement of you know, the slopes and all the widths and all the rest of it. That was quite a job.

Now with the bridge design, that was carried out by a team of survey draftsmen in the Napier Office. That’s a photo there. That was for the …

Norsewood Underpass.

But there was also the – oh no, this was the one I was thinking of. That’s that one. That’s the Kuripapango. Kuripapango was interesting because that was an old wooden truss bridge which you can see there, and the local Member of Parliament, who was also the Speaker of the House at the time, had promised that that bridge would be renewed before the election. So we actually set up a team in the office and did a bit of you know … banging heads together and so forth, and sorted out that we would use a Callender-Hamilton bridge and launch it across, and you can see some of it. So you could take that if you want to.

Oh yes, we’ll copy all of these, because that’s history. When you drive over the bridge that’s there, you’d think that’s been there for a hundred years, but it hasn’t been there that long, has it?

No. And what it was, was the old timber truss bridge had a load on it of ten tons, and the carriers with the wool coming out they had an old truck parked at one end of the bridge and the theory was that when the trucks come down with the wool on, they’d take this old truck over and unload – half off, drive it across, and then reload it. When we went out there the grass growing up under the old [chuckle]

They would have still brought the full loads over the bridge.

Yeah, of course they did. And when they tried to pull it down they had to blast it to get it down. [Chuckle] And that shows the brass of it. But yeah – so that was that. There it is there – the old one and the new one. And the MP, he opened the bridge and we all went out for the opening, had a day out in the sun.

I see Doc Haskell was the …

He was District Commissioner.

Yes, very well-known man.

Yeah. The actual bridge was launched like that – see, they had railway lines.

I see in this morning’s paper they’re talking about having to restrict trucks using the red bridge, because it’s no longer up to the loading levels of our modern trucks. It’s the weight of the whole truck on the bridge all at once, isn’t it?

Yes, yes. My first involvement with bridge design was – we did the Waihua River bridge. Now that’s a five-span reinforced concrete bridge, and the design team, which would probably be mostly those ones – we actually copied calculations that were sent up from Head Office, which was for a three-span bridge. And we added two extra spans on and then we when we did the design – all by hand using slide rule and Hardy Cross and all the rest of it – right back to first principles. And that was my really … first adventure into bridge design. and then we did following that up we did the same with the Rakaipaku River bridge, just north of Wairoa, and there was – we also did another one just north of Wairoa too, Waikatuku, and so it was a very laborious way of doing it. And by that stage the ones that were doing the bridge design – well some of those were designated design draftsmen. Now what they did, they used to take a design draftsman from one of the districts down to Head Office to do a bridge design in Head Office, and from that I designed the Mangaturanga Bridge which is a three-span bridge. There’s photos here of that somewhere. That might be of interest to you.

Now I’ve never seen a photo of Rosie McDonald, and there she is.

That was the whole game.

Yeah – the Mangaturanga Bridge – it was actually conceived … the shape of it was conceived by the District Design Engineer who later became Commissioner of Works, Bob Norman, you may know the name. And he actually conceived the actual form of the bridge and I did the actual detailed design, and we had to go right back to the principles. I’ve still got a copy of the calculations in the contract documents out there if they’re of any interest to you. I don’t know that they would be, but I can grab them if you want. So I went down to Head Office to do that, and I used to live in the hotel during the week – I’d go down on the bus on Monday morning first thing and I’d work through ‘til Friday, come home on the railcar Friday night, and live in the hotel during the week. And I used to work at night to make up time for my travel. And coming home one time on the railcar, the railcar caught fire [chuckle] just out of Dannevirke, so that was an interesting thing.

Another quite interesting sort of sideshow to the Mangaturanga Bridge is they’ve just recently opened that bridge which I went up to the opening, the Matahorua.

Well that is quite spectacular – the new bridge, looking back at the old railway bridge isn’t it?

Yes, but if you look down to the old road, a cousin of Shirley’s got killed on that Matahorua Gorge. And we went up to the opening. Now the firm that bought the Mangaturanga Bridge – they put in alternative design to the one that was advertised and got the contract, and they used the same concept as the Mangaturanga, but bigger. And so that’s how that … that’s how I … and I was able to go up and see that. And they say it’s made a terrific difference.

Oh, has it ever! You drove down into the bottom of the gorge and then you climbed all the way up again. They not only got rid of that bit but they got rid of a few other bends as well.

Yes. And I was talking to a chap that’s a friend of ours who was a draftsman that I worked as a draftsman here, and he’d just been up and there and he said it’s cut a terrific amount of time off.

I don’t know what else we’ve got on the bridge – oh a few other bridges. Well the Black Bridge – Gooseman was the Minister of Works. Wilkins & Davies did the contract. Bob Norman was the District Design Engineer here. That’s the only thing that slowed Bob Norman down, was gumboots and loose shingle. [Chuckle] When Wilkins & Davies put the piles in for the new bridge they drove one set of piles just ten metres out of position. [Chuckle] Had to cut them off and put another [?] in. But we went out to the launching … now the new bridge was a standard steel design, so we were only involved in the substructure and the piers, and Gooseman said that we would call tenders for the new bridge on a certain date. And we did, on that date, and we worked overtime for about a month to get it out. And we went out for the launch. The actual person on the launching, Sid Drinkrow, I don’t know whether you ever heard that name, but he was the District Bridge Overseer and he actually went out, and we went out. Each span was eighty feet I suppose it would be in those days, and they were quite deep steel beams. And he walked out on top of the shear cleats carrying a short length of 8 x 8 timber under his arms across to the pier and put it on the pier for themand the beams were launched with a flying fox. And he did that with every span. He was a great one, Sid, and I have a lot of memories of Sid.

And one of the more humorous things is it that he used to look after the Portland Island lighthouse and they used to fly him up. And he was going up one time and the pilot reached over in front of him – starting reaching in the glove box – and he said to Sid “would you like a roll?” And Sid said “oh yes, I wouldn’t mind”. [Makes engine noise … chuckle] So that was Black Bridge. Waipawa River Bridge – that was also a standard steel beam, and we went to the opening of that on a scorching January day. Well that Waipawa Bridge, it was opened by the then Minister of Works -Labour – oh, what was his name, but we got just about scorched with that one. But when they were building it one thing that stuck in my memory was they had to drive concrete piles. And the firm that was doing it … the son of the principal of the firm was looking after it … and Sid had actually gone and marked in chalk on the piles to how far they had to go in. And while he was away at lunch one day this … well he was really a cheat. He just rubbed out Sid’s marks and shifted them up a bit so they didn’t have to drive them so far. But fortunately Sid twigged what he’d done. The supervision I’ve done – you’ve really got to have eyes in the back of your head. Well that was Waipawa.

The Mangaturanga one which I’ve spoken about … there was another one over on the Taupo Road just near – you know the Nunneries area – the Ruatiti Bridge.

Is that a straight bridge or a curved bridge?

No, it’s just a short straight steel – George Appleby and I did the design for the original and it was very steep and there was a lot of pumice in the area, so we actually redesigned precast concrete reinforced arch, and they were actually sort of hinged in the middle. And we actually designed it, and it was a very economical bridge to build. But we couldn’t get a contractor to build it, they were too scared of it, so we had to scrap that one and put in a standard steel one. So that was the Ruatiti.

Erepeti Bridge is on a back road in Hawke’s Bay up the back – do you know where it is?

That’s where Papuni Road.

Well they actually imported special steel thirty-six-inch-deep wide flanged beams for that, and you’d have seen them. And they were actually cambered by using … down by the Napier Port actually, on some land there … and they actually with gas sort of doing … heating on a taper, they actually managed to get it to sag but of course then they turned it up the other way to use it.

For the deflection.

Yeah. And then the actual roadway was made actually in Waipawa, precast concrete by Humes, and I think they were only five foot wide and they were actually carted up there and skidded out on the beams and then bolted down. And we went up for quite a lot of it. And that was done through Humes’ office. And that was another interesting one. It’s got one short span on as well, but after they’d got the beams up, before they got the concrete decks there, the locals were actually walking across on the steel. [Chuckle]

Waione Stream Bridge on the Taupo Road, just north of the Turangakumu – and we did a design for that in concrete, pre-stressed concrete. But the contractors put in an alternative beam – better to use ready-made steel beams and this was what it finished up as. And so that was another one.

The Kuripapango Bridge which you’ve got – that one there – we talked about that before already. What they did, they set up a team to do that with the Ministry of Works staff. And they set up a camp, and the old roadman on the Taupo Bridge, they didn’t know how old he was but finally they pensioned him off, but they set him up as cook for the camp, and so he was there for that. After he … finally retired him, they brought down a fairly large hut from one of the mills that they donated, and set it up opposite the pub, which possibly wasn’t the best idea. Some of these photos show that very well – see there’s the old and the new bridge.

Gosh, when you look at the amount of timber trusses they used those days.

Yeah, cause the old road went over the top.

And this shows – so what they did to demolish it, they actually got chainsaws and cut through the top cords of the old bridge, then they put a bulldozer upstream in the river with a rope on it and tried to pull it over sideways, and they couldn’t. So they finished up doing that. They had to blast it.

And down she went. And so you left Napier at some stage and went north, didn’t you?

Yes, I went and worked for a consulting engineer, Jeff Entrikin, and we did a lot of the university buildings and so forth. And then the Government put a hold on – they stopped all new construction. And so I was working for Jeff Entrikin at the time, the jobs he had lined up to do were cancelled, so – when there’s only two of you, and there’s only work for one …

And the other one’s the boss.

Yes [chuckle] – so I finished up going back to Ministry of Works in Auckland, so that was…

So how long did you stay with the Ministry of Works in Auckland?

At the time, while I was there one of the consulting Engineers, Babich Partners, they advertised for an engineer to go up to Malaysia to supervise the construction of some bridges that they had designed. The chap that was up there … chap Borringe … he had a young family about to start school and so he came home, and they advertised for someone to go up in his place. So I applied for it and got it, and then … had all our jobs, and both of us were all set to go up to Malaysia. And that was being run by an engineer from another consulting engineer who unfortunately developed Alzheimers, and he let the whole contract slip so the whole thing was cancelled. So we never ever got there. And with a year’s leave without pay from the Works.

So Babich just took me on, and I did a lot of work for Babich’s bridge design, until such time as … what happened there? That work fell through. The Babiches actually went into the kiwifruit growing and fell through, fell flat and went bust. And so I was out of a job from then, so I left and went to work doing house and structural design and so forth. And I did that until after we shifted down here – for about six years. They used to email through all the stuff and sort out what had to be done and send it back. They’d put it on their computer and measure the lengths and everything, and I’d do the design here and shoot it off up to them. And I used to actually do design, and when the architect got too busy he used to use an architect that came out from Germany, and I actually did some work for him when he was back in Germany. And so I kept on going until about – oh, about four years ago. I was started to get memory … I was frightened of letting something slip, so I gave it up about four years ago, but it was really what kept my memory going.

And you play any sport at all?

Yes – at high school I played rugby, I was a front row prop in the high school team in Horowhenua College, and I played tennis – we played when we were at Napier South. Shirley was in the – we used to play inter-club. Think we did that until we gave it up.

All right – well look at this stage I might get Shirley to come over and join the table and she can tell us something about where she met you and where here family came from.

Shirley: Born in Napier – all the family lived in Napier. I was the eighth one of a family of nine, a year old the day before the earthquake. We were living in Thackeray Street, and from there we …

So which school did you – primary school?

Nelson Park, and then Napier Intermediate yes.

And did you go to high school?

No, I was working – I was working in an office when I was fourteen, yes.

Who were you working for?

My first job was Graham England’s garage. My headmaster got me that job. They added on a third form at Napier Intermediate in those days ‘cause there was quite a few of us couldn’t go to high school. And we actually had a secondary school teacher, and she was wonderful.

Then you met Bert and got married, and how many children did you two have?

Well we had three but only one survived. We have an adopted son. Our eldest son was very good, he went on, became an aircraft engineer – right through – worked for Air New Zealand for over thirty years. He was wanting and making aeroplanes from the age of five. That’s all he ever wanted to do. I had three brothers – they were all in the Air Force during the War. Two of them went up into the Pacific but Ken, our son – he just loved it and went on, and he’s now Quality Control Manager of a helicopter firm in Wanaka.

So your son, or your two sons – they’re married?

Yes. Our youngest son lives in Australia … has done for over thirty years.

He’s adopted the youngest son?

Yes … lovely boy, still very special. We have two grandchildren, a grandson and granddaughter, both married, living in Australia. One in Wollongong and one in Sydney. And three great-grandies … three great-grandsons.

Oh that’s interesting. It’s a long way to go – you just can’t just hop down the road, can you?

No, no well – Our neighbour next door has just come back to live from working over that way in the mines for some years, but he’s now come back to live.

My son I was talking to him last week and it was 42c degrees, it was 27c degrees at night.

Yes, well Gary – he said it was 47c in Sydney last week I think it was.

So. I believe that you two met playing tennis. Were you pretty good.

I belonged to a tennis club. It was joined to St David’s Church – quite a big Club, and Bert came there. We went to Church there, and both were in the choir, and …

Bert: When I got out of the Air Force and came up here I started going to the St David’s on the corner of Wellesley and …

Shirley: Vigor Brown Street.

Bert: Vigor Brown Street and – I forget the name of the other – Todd Street.

So how long have you lived here? This is a lovely suburb.

Shirley: We’ve lived here for what – about ten years. We moved to Auckland for Bert’s work, we were up there for over forty years, but been here what – about ten years now.

But you’ve lived most of your life in Hawke’s Bay, or quite a lot of your life in Hawke’s Bay, haven’t you?

Well coming up March, we’ve been married sixty-nine years. Doesn’t it show? [Chuckle]

No … both look and sound as happy as Larry.

I’ll be eighty-eight in what – two weeks’ time.

OK well I think that gives us a pretty good picture of your family. And is there anything else Bert, you can think of? This will go on the internet and it will stay there forever.

I don’t bother with the computer.

I don’t bother with the computer either. So thank you very much …

You’re welcome.

… Bert and Shirley. And your – Jenny Hall, is she a relation?

Oh, she’s a cousin. She’s one of the Halls.

She’s the Hall that you spoke about.

Jenny’s a Hall. Shouldn’t be a Hall, they should all be Suttons. I’ve been to some of the family ‘do’s there over the last few years, you know – when David and those were still alive, and I looked at all these younger ones sitting there and I thought, your name’s not Hall. They should all be Suttons. 

We have a similar thing in our family. There’s nothing wrong with it.

You find all sorts of things. Through our family – I counted the other day, I think we’ve got seven adopted children through the family. ‘Cause even though I had all those brothers and sisters, we didn’t have many children. And I always used to laugh at Bert because his father came from Australia, and of course I used to say ‘yes, I know why he was in Australia’. But it turned out he wasn’t sent there. [Chuckle]

Bert: It’s amazing what you find when you’re doing these things. I can remember when I was doing this family tree, I came across where one of the sons, his wife died very young when the first child … can’t remember … daughter or son, it was only about a year old. And the next thing she pops up with more of a family, but there’s no marriage certificate.

Shirley: That’s the Sutton family crest that – Bert’s got that. That‘s nice – that’s really nice.

 Well I’ll turn this off now.

Original digital file

FrancisHB1991_Final_Feb18.ogg

Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

Accession number

1991/44411

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