Hugh William van Asch Interview
Today is 5th December 2016. I’m interviewing Hugh van Asch of Havelock North, and Hugh’s going to tell us something about the life and times of their family. Thank you, Hugh.
Well I’ll talk about the van Asch family, and Aerial Mapping is something I know a bit about rather than the Wrights of my mother’s side – that would really be a different thing.
Well van Asches came to New Zealand because my great-grandfather was hired by Sir Julius Vogel to teach the deaf in New Zealand. German measles caused many people to have deaf children, and there hadn’t been much hope for them earlier on. Well that was Gerrit van Asch. He was born at [?Laaken?] in Holland, and went to Manchester having been teaching in Germany for a few years. In Manchester he set up, and was helped by many Jewish families who had these deaf children. Well then after a few years Julius Vogel had heard about him and on interviewing him, offered him the job.
So he came out on the ‘Scottish Prince’ with his wife and one son, and that was in 1879. That landed at Wellington, so they then went down to Christchurch where he set up the School For Deaf at Sumner. He increased his brood by four daughters and four sons, totalling nine children altogether, and many of the girls helped with the teaching of the deaf, or even just looking after them, because it was a boarding school establishment where they went at an age of seven or eight. So that was Gerrit van Asch. And … 1890 I think it was … he’d been twenty years, and he had another twenty to 1910, and that was when he retired. And he went off to London with his wife and daughter, and died over there, where he was buried in a cemetery which has been subsequently taken up for a motorway. So his headstone has been put against the wall … doesn’t recognise where he is any longer.
William van Asch, his eldest son that was born in England before they came out, had a lifetime – the first pupil, Toomes, and Toomes lived with William van Asch for the rest of his life … that’s William’s life. He was farming in Lincoln, and his dog Crusoe used to go and get the paper and a couple of articles, which was about a ten mile walk for the dog, and he’d take this basket down and get things and the bill was settled up later.
William then went to Waitotara, having gone first to Australia with his wife. But he walked round a few cemeteries and thought that there were far too many people dying young, so Australia wasn’t the place for him. That was the reason that William then settled down in Lincoln in Christchurch, but then he went to Waitotara, where he set up, and had help from his brothers and quite a few cadets, some from the Deaf School. Waitotara was where my father Piet was born, and he was the third child. He was born in 1911, and 1912 they came over to Hawke’s Bay, having bought Craggy Range from the Belchers.
Craggy Range was three thousand six hundred acres, and it was covered in scrub. Ivan van Asch said they’d never had such good grazing as just after they’d burnt the scrub. It was inclined to have drought as you all know, in Hawke’s Bay – it had good seasons and bad seasons. And I’m afraid that my grandfather poured a bit too much money into building a great big house – half was for show, and half was necessary. It made him go bust, and then the war had come along. And so Derek and Ivan had stayed to work the land. Gerry van Asch went into the Air Force, and he wore glasses, which … I think he has the unique distinction of being the only pilot in the Second World War wearing glasses. He was lucky like that, ‘cause he joined the Air Force and he went to Gisborne, and he was teaching navigation. The he went to Rotorua where he was wanting to fly, and an ex-instructor from Bridge Pa had said you know – what can he do? He said “get me out of the navigation”, he said “I’ve made a fool of myself, ‘cause I quite like it, and I’m good at it. But I’ve been too good – if I’d known, I would have thrown a few things to get a lesser mark. I want to fly”. And this chap said “all right, you’ll fly on my say-so. So if anybody questions you, just tell them I say so”. And he flew … not the Lancaster, but the Halifax. And the Halifax was flying in the UK dropping window and things rather than bombs. He didn’t drop bombs.
They went out to India at the end of the European war and crossing the Bay of Bengal, suddenly the navigator said “Oh!” And they missed a lighthouse by not many feet, and he said “well – we’re right on course”, ‘cause he [chuckle] [?] for that thing. So that’s Gerry up to his war-time things.
So going back again, these four brothers and a sister – apart from my father, who was not a farmer, he was a city-slicker – and he was keen on photography, and more keen when he was at school – more on photography than he was on his other subjects. He had appendicitis, and when his appendix were [was] taken out, he recuperated at an uncle … at Harry van Asch. And he was there, and Harry said that if he won the school photographic competition, he’d give him the camera. Well, he duly went about and he won this and that set him off. And on the 1st of January 1931 he went for his first flight in a Tiger Moth … sorry, not a Tiger Moth, the one before …never mind. The under-powered Moth before the Tiger … and he was at the Bridge Pa aerodrome, and flying on the 1st with Brian Boyes.
At Bridge Pa the local instructor at that time was Gerry Durand, who was an Australian who had flown in the First World War and knew quite a lot about aerial photography. So my father was lucky in that respect that he got off to a good start. But he cut a hole in the Club Moth and had the camera firing vertically down, which was the way of making maps and things. Sir Ernest Marsden wanted to do a soil survey and could see the advantages of mapping from the air for that, so he was commissioned early on by Sir Ernest, who really was a mentor to him for the rest of his life.
Ernest Marsden was an interesting character. He was told by Rutherford to leave academia, and to come out to New Zealand and start up the DSIR. And he said “why was that?” ‘Cause he had worn his fingerprints off with radioactive playing around. Only three people in the world – one was born without them, one had them medically taken off, and he was number three, where they just wore off.
Yes, so the soil survey went away, and then the war came along. Piet van Asch was most fortunate – he was like James Wattie – the war certainly didn’t do him any harm. He had in the UK bought a Monospar … a little aeroplane, twin engine, eighty-eight horse power in each motor. As my father would say, “seats for five and power for four” – it was a bit gutless. And as height was the crucial thing for aerial mapping, or aerial photography – it could go up to about ten thousand feet which is when you need to go on to oxygen. I think my father was lucky that in all his years he never suffered from the lack of oxygen that he must have in those early flying days. So when the war came he needed an aeroplane that would fly higher and faster and so on. And they worked out that Air Vice Marshal … of Dambusters fame … Cochrane, Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane … had been sent out by the RAF to the New Zealand Government to go round and see how he could make improvements quickly on the war. And he had deemed that Aerial Mapping’s Beechcraft that subsequently came, should be able to land at Air Force bases and get refuelled, both aeroplane and crew, and off they would go. They were not part of the Air Force, and they were in mufti clothes. It was an outstanding effort in my belief, that a private company could import a war plane from the United States during the war. It was not so much given to Aerial Mapping as lent to Aerial Mapping, and they used to pay a charge of half a crown for every square mile of photographs, and that was how the aircraft were paid off. And this continued building up so that the subsequent aircraft also dipped into that fund, or contributed to it.
Living in Wanganui and then going to Craggy Range, the boys went to Wanganui Collegiate, but they suffered from a polio epidemic, and so they were kept home. And my grandfather didn’t approve of the bill, so he took his boys away and they subsequently went to Christ’s College.
Piet van Asch had an aunt, Syb Hamilton. Syb was mother of Dennis Hamilton who was in the Air Force here too. Now Syb looked after him – he’d land there and often stay the night with Syb and Uncle Velvin, and that was really lucky.
He also had a cousin, Max van Asch, in Marlborough, and he’d frequently land at Burtergill and stay overnight and have breakfast. He was a skinny fellow, was Piet – he was six feet one, and twelve and a half stone, and he maintained that weight all his life. But he had an enormous appetite, and he’d have a breakfast at home just after four o’clock fly down to the south, and he’d have another breakfast at Burtergill with Max. And of course you have to wait for the sun to come up before you can take photography of any note.
Should talk about the girls?
Just coming back to the farm, where was the big house that was built?
Well, it was a brick house built just by the same fellow that built the Chambers’ house – I’ve forgotten his name … I’ll get it. So during the earthquake the only thing they lost was a couple of windows and a chimney. The rest of the house shook and whatever … so this was the 1931 earthquake I’m talking about.
Was that the house on the right?
Belmount it was called, from Felix Campbell. Poor old Felix always had his house referred to as the van Asch house – he said he owned it for a hell of a lot longer.
And so those bricks were brought from the Havelock North thing with Reg Eves, I remember – I don’t know who had the … what’s the pottery place called?
The Kiln … The Brick Kiln – his father did.
Kiln – brick kiln. And they were taking bricks out on a dray.
My grandfather was … he was very determined that people learn things young, and driving a car, it was unbelievable what they used to get up to. One would be down on the floor and pushing the pedals with their hands, one would be steering, and grandfather William van Asch said that they drove till they made a mistake. Make a mistake, you’re out – someone else has a turn. And so they all ended up quite competent. Ivan was sent to pick up a shearing gang from Havelock when he was aged ten, something you’d never do nowadays.
And out on the farm they had quite an imaginative … they were lucky to have that … and they made a self-propelled combine harvester. And they thought ‘well, this could be a bit of a go with the big manufacturing people’, but Allis Chalmers said “no! We want to sell tractors. No point having a thing that’ll pull itself along – we want it to be pulled by one of our tractors”. So they never went any further than just using it themselves. Silage was another thing that they were pretty keen on – cutting and storing silage by using belts and pulling it with an old truck.
Horses – they had horses … draught horses … working for many, many years, and with the driver they all took turns in it, but not too many of them – I think Ivan was the only one that was dead keen on horses. The rest used them as a means of going round. They probably preferred the motorbikes of today.
Coming back then to your father and the Beechcraft, and the fact that it was paid for … half a crown ..?
A square mile.
… and when you’re up ten thousand square feet, you’d cover a hell of a lot of square miles, wouldn’t you?
Flying height is crucial, and the camera … the lens, you need a wide-angle lens to take photography for mapping. We have two eyes, and because of our two eyes we can see stereoscopically, because we’re getting one view from the right eye and one view from the left eye, and the brain converts them into one image and it shows the relief. Aerial photography is the same – you fly along and you go forty per cent of the coverage of the photo, and then the camera fires again. So you’re having forty per cent gain which gives a sixty per cent overlap, and it’s this overlap which enables you to do 3D mapping. In the old days they used to use it by having coloured glasses, a red lens and a green lens. So the red lens would drop out the red light that was illuminating one photograph, and the green light was illuminated by the other lens and therefore you could map in three dimensions.
Carrying on from mapping like that, it got fairly sophisticated, and war benefits and things like that, so about 1952 they bought a Wild plotting table, and that was brought out. And the Government in New Zealand wanted one at the same time, and they were a little bit cheesed off that they couldn’t understand how Aerial Mapping could jump the gun and get one. Piet got on very well with Albert Schmidheiny, a double doctor who ran Wild, or Vild, and still kept it as a family business until quite recently. The thing … was trained by Lyall Trory, a Canadian who came out to show them how it was run.
And there’s some wangle with cars, too … you couldn’t get cars unless you had overseas funds, and it was quite strict. My father Piet, he turns up with this Hudson Hornet … a 1953 Hudson Hornet … which was the first car wider than it was tall – go like hell – capable of a hundred and nine miles per hour. And in the back seat it had an armrest that was wide enough that my younger sister, she used to sit on the armrest so she’s head high with the rest of us, looking about. But there’s something not quite right about that – he brought it in when he shouldn’t, and chased the car round to the Cook Islands. And in the end it got confiscated, but you won’t read that in the book.
He then went to Zephyr cars – MK II Zephyr – and he put three carburettors on it and it had overdrive. I remember going up to Te Pohue on the way to a holiday with a family of six in the car, and a tubular trailer with a Mosquito Craft plywood boat with a dog in the middle. And we were going up Te Pohue and we were overtaken by a single fellow in a Zephyr – same car, and as it got steeper he had to go to second gear, which was quite a low ratio in those days, and we passed him in high second. And the look on that fellow’s face as this car with all these accoutrements on – he couldn’t believe it.
You had a Mosquito sailing yacht?
No, it was a catamaran, a Young-designed thing. Mosquito Craft was the manufacturer of it – plywood.
We had a Mosquito single hull, and it was a ten-foot sailing dinghy. It had three sails, a jib, a spinnaker and a mainsail.
Oh, that was a bit flash, Frank – we had groundsheets. [Chuckle]
You had this souped-up MK II Zephyr – you’ve got three carburettors on it?
Three, so no idea how much fuel was flowing through but it certainly gave it a bit more zing than the other ones.
Then, carrying on the car … he liked flash cars, and then he got a Daimler Dart which was a stupid car – it was a sports car that was a lot of fun to drive but not very practical. I blemished there ‘cause I spun it on the Waimarama Road, and had some films that were in the boot flew out, which didn’t do them any good, but it was a lesson for me. After the Daimler Dart he had a three-litre Rover which he called ‘the dray’, ‘cause it was so sluggish by comparison. But that was a really nice car and it was good for towing the boat too – it was a weighty job. He smacked into a couple of Aberdeen Angus steers in the dark going to Wellington – didn’t wreck the car, but he fortunately had aeroplane safety harness on, over the shoulder and round the waist, so he was wearing a seat belt. So he was a bit of trendsetter on the seatbelt front, so he was very lucky, he suffered no injury at all.
But after the Rover he had a NSU with a Wankel motor. But he was bad, he used to drive on the side of the road with a passenger, two wheels on the hard and two on the grass, and then take his hands off the steering wheel and stand on the brake. He never did it with me – I said I’d give him a karate chop to the neck if he was to try and go off the road.
But he drove very well, I must admit, my father. And we were all very lucky that he had no problem about children driving his cars, no matter how flash they were.
Well in 1931 – the earthquake – my mother’s family were coming to Napier. The earthquake struck, so they sailed to Nelson instead. And the earthquake, other than recalibrating the equipment, there’s been very little damage to anything at Aerial Mapping through the earthquakes. But we’re still getting them, Frank, and even more so now.
When the business was in Russell Street, there was a rental business upstairs in Russell Street, and once there was a flood, and Poppelwell said “you need to pay us a few bob for the raincoats that’ve been wrecked”. “How do you wreck raincoats in rain?” my father said.
But then they moved to corner of Warren Street and Avenue Road in a purpose-built building, and Harry Abbott who was a great patron of my father’s, was there with a timber business. And he had bought a section in Havelock North, but he then suffered a heart problem so he said to Piet “you buy the section”. ‘Cause I said “I can’t use it any more”, I said “I like the trees, so don’t take the trees out”. So he got this section and built the house, or half the house, in 1940, which was a bit unusual at that time of the war.
And alongside Harry Abbott was a little building for the barber, Mr F W Whisker, the barber, and when I came back from UK I saw this building that was racked in the car park at Mapping, and said “yes.” I bought it. And we still use it today, move it with us, because the cedar timber is marvellous … it’s very warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Have you still got the building?
We’ve got the building. And we had the window nicked that had ‘F W Whisker’ on it, but probably just as well.
Yes, so that’s a good … building’s out at Bridge Pa. Every time an aircraft turned up of course it needed to be housed, and one thing that Mapping didn’t stint on, money on aeroplanes. Other places it was a bit tough, but on aircraft there was almost like a free-for-all. And hail’s a problem out there because you get a huge roof with guttering, and then when it hails, the hail goes down into the valley and blocks up – it freezes as one chunk. And then the water’s still coming of course so you need to be very circumspect with planning where your …
Where you store things.
… store the water.
The Monospar you see, only really worked for six years, but it did the foundation work. Peter Marshall was one of the first employees and he was navigating, and they were down in Foveaux Strait and my father said “Peter, can you give us a course, or a drift?” And back came the … “Christ, we’re going backwards!” There was about a forty-five knot wind [chuckle] and he throttled back, just as a joke.
The Monospar unfortunately … flew nearly fifty years from when the company bought it in May of 1956 in the UK … and it was destroyed by fire in the hangar – Mapping’s hangar, which was also destroyed. Great RSJs holding up the roof, and another thing, it was so hot with … basically what it was was a forty-four-gallon drum of fuel on fire, and it twisted these steel members and burnt the aircraft.
I was the one opposed to doing anything with the aircraft as a wreck – I thought … it was tubular aluminium and fabric, and the engines were okay, but the rest of the aeroplane was in my view, a disaster, and I didn’t want it to be carried on.
The Monospar was replaced by the Beechcraft as I mentioned before. That had forty-five horsepower either side, and sounds like a V8. If you’re a lover of power it sounded perfect. That could go to sixteen and a half thousand feet – a sort of a ceiling is when you’re flying and you no longer climb at a hundred feet a minute. And that was very useful for forestry mapping, and the National mapping had small seven by seven-inch cameras on the format, and they subsequently became – seven by nine they’d started with – went to the square format and then raised it to nine inch by nine inch.
And the Aero Commander was the next one to come out in 1963. That had less power but it was a much lighter aeroplane, and that went to twenty-five thousand feet. And with the camera that you’ve got there you’re covering the whole of Egmont, which is a twelve-mile radius. There’s one photo, quite good, it shows the whole thing.
And then 1978, the Rockwell Commander which is a turbo-prop aircraft and that could go to thirty thousand feet, and problems of height were no longer any problem.
Haven’t spoken much on the farming. Ivan van Asch was very keen on Perendale sheep, which I think is genetic engineering. And I see all this anti-genetic stuff, and I’m thinking ‘well the Perendale sheep doesn’t seem to be too bad a property’ … a Romney and Cheviot cross.
And so Ivan stayed on – Craggy Range had been split up after the war. Felix Campbell got the house and the front part of the farm. Leonard Williams was next door at Longacre and Broadacre when the Cullinanes had owned … so Leonard Williams bought them out. And then there was Ivan, Jim Miller and Gerry on the rest of the farm.
Jim Miller and Gerry had Studebaker cars which were about as flash as that old Hudson. They looked a bit … but one of the problems was the mudguards were not too good for the sheep muck that was on the roads, and it would wreck the mudguards in no time at all with rust.
So coming back then, Peter Marshall used to fly the first plane?
Piet flew the plane only – he was the only one to fly it until Cyril Whittaker came along, and he started with the firm in 1953, and so he became the dominant pilot really. They went to Samoa in 1954. Previously Piet had flown to Fiji – with an Air Force navigator – to Fiji during the war. And then apart from Samoa, they then flew to the Solomon Islands – Guadalcanal.
The Beechcraft – were they six cylinders?
No, they were nine cylinder radials.
That’s a perfectly balanced motor.
And Jim Frogley – he has one with the Beaver … the Beaver has the same engine. Piet used to come in sometimes and feather the motor, just to sort of make a show, I imagine. And I thought that I could tell the difference with the Beechcraft engine compared to the Beaver engine. But Piet was a bit keen on feathering engines. He was in the Wairarapa, up high, just on [his] own coming back from Christchurch where he’d stayed, and the crew had flown home on the airliner. And he was the only one in the Wairarapa, and he got into a thermal-type thing where [he was] going up at five thousand feet a minute. But he didn’t need too much altitude so he throttled right back … throttled right back, and then he saw an NAC DC3, so he thought he’d have a bit of fun. So he feathered both engines … both propellers, so they were stationary, and then he dived at a higher speed than what the … NAC were doing, and he went past them on the left with the props standard. Apparently it had been the same in the UK – the Americans couldn’t get over it – when the jet engine was put into a Wellington bomber it could go faster than most other aircraft. But I don’t approve of that flying – it’s a bit like air shows – I’m a bit edgy about air shows, ‘cause I think you have too many people flying with only minimum hours of practise, and it gets a bit important.
So many people round Hawke’s Bay remember flying with Piet van Asch. It dried up when Hugh van Asch had anything to do with the firm, because I thought ‘well, it’s a business’. And my father used to put in his logbook “blowing out the cobwebs.”
But it’s really enough of … we don’t mention the draughting or the other things … 1967, Aerial Mapping had sixty-seven staff. Majority were girls on the contact printing. Women can see better than men – they see about eleven shades of grey and men see about eight. And the women were far better at churning out these contact prints which went out by the thousand. They laid them out in a line to recreate the actual flying system, and of course you had drift, or whatever. You set drift with the wind by countering with the number of degrees to turn the camera, so that you … you want to get a straight line. He had to buy morning tea at Lands & Surveys once, ‘cause they had one photograph there which required no alteration at all, which nobody had ever heard of.
He was lucky really with the business of mapping – it was given a shot by the Government Departments – it was almost like a Government Department. And they worked for … Lands & Surveys was the predominant one for the mapping of the country, but there was a lot for … roading and railways benefitted terrifically by the ribbon photography – they could see what’s what. And Forestry is another big user, and they also with Aerial Mapping, did a lot of mapping of forestry blocks.
Really was a factory, wasn’t it?
It is a factory, yes.
A lot of the machinery that you had – what are those huge tables that were used for tracing? Some very sophisticated machinery for those days, wasn’t it?
Well it was – it looks … now when you see the cameras and lenses and goodness-knows-what … you think how was it? But I imagine everybody does that. When they look back they think how on earth did they cope?
Half the people I knew worked at Aerial Mapping – they were very proud of it.
It did seem to have some esteem if you worked for Mapping. I … for the life of me, I … I imagine it was the high regard in which Piet was looked up to. But he was a great flag-waver – complete opposite to his son – I’m hopeless. The fewer people that know, the better, I reckon.
But this is difficult for Frank, churning out one’s voice.
No, I think this is very interesting. Well let’s come back then to you children – you all went off to school. You’ve got no brothers?
No, I’ve got no brothers, and three sisters. So my mother was Diana Wright whose father was a Major Hugh Wright, and Sybil. Sybil came from a very wealthy family, and they said that she had the capital, and Hugh Wright had the income. So they had two … a house at Okere Falls, and one at Havelock North. And they used to go to one depending on picking the peas, or the sweet peas, as the garden held their interest. And Hugh Wright was really an eccentric – if anybody came to visit he’d put his hat on and jump over the back of the hill and run away. We were almost scared of him – not quite, but … A school friend and I were staying there once and we nicked some of the strawberries. And he shot over us to the corrugated iron shed, with a 410 … we didn’t come back until well after dark.
But Hugh Wright was a bit of a wag. Earlier on – he had two brothers, and they were called the mad Wright, the bad Wright and the sad Wright. [Chuckle] I come from the mad one, which I think is the one I’d choose to come from.
He used to fish in Okere Falls, and later on when he was over seventy, his doctor said “you’ll have to give up fishing”. “Why?” “Well, you know, it’s dangerous for you”. “No, I treat it with respect”. And he said “no, well you … waders up to your armpits, you know, you’ll get washed over and you’ll drown”. “So?” he said. He subsequently died of liver cancer at eighty-two. His wife was about fourteen years younger than he was and she really looked after him a treat. And if he grizzled at all she would drive him through a cemetery and that would [chuckle] settle him down. They were a lovely couple if you knew them well, but they didn’t suffer fools gladly.
So they were your grandparents?
Grandparents. And my mother, Diana, was … son, Peter, died of diabetes at eight. Pamela died of Hodgkinson’s Disease. Diana, she lived well, she was eighty-eight. Unfortunately she was diagnosed as a coeliac at age sixty. If she’d been diagnosed with … ‘bout age twenty, it would’ve made her life much better for her.
And then there was John Wright who was a bachelor. He used to own at one stage the camping ground at Tarawera, and he’d also been the understudy driving the boat the lake to Rotomahana, and that one as well. And he was the one that had a lot of the furniture. We’re very lucky that we’ve got lots of hand-me-downs from the Wright side, and I think our children think they’re quite nice pieces too.
And Henry Wright was the youngest brother. He was the contemporary of Colin Blackmore and John Nimon at Hereworth, and he was a mad sportsman. And he died quite young – he was only about sixty-eight when he died.
And they’ve got umpteen cousins. My mother and father – they were married in 1940. Pam was born in ‘42, Jackie in ‘43, I was born in ‘45 and Alice, the youngest, is four years younger, born in ‘49. My mother, who was the Pom, went back to the UK in ‘58, and so I was sent to Hereworth – where I had been as a day boy, I became a boarder, and I absolutely loved it. I was far more interested in sport than I was in school work, and that seemed to be the way of life. If you were in the teams, you got off school, and that seemed to appeal quite …
I only went to Christ’s College, which was following in father’s footsteps, and the same thing happened. I was much more interested in sport than I was in school work. I think I’m a bit dim compared to the others, but I don’t believe it matters.
Pam and Jackie and Alice started at the high schools in Hastings, and then they finished off the last few years at Marsden in Wellington. So that was the schooling.
Well it must have been while you were still at College that I met you.
I used to go and pick fruit after work – I worked at the National Bank for a start, and when you’d balanced the books you could go home. So we’d balance and we’d go home at half past four, rather than five o’clock. And I used to go home on the bus and change at Mary … Aunty Molly, we called her … and pedal down to Archie Ashby-Palmer, and the other one was Vince, in the A-frame house … and pick apples there at a shilling a case. And then when it got too dark I’d pedal down to the other … to Archie Ashby-Palmer and put the wire cages round wooden cases that had pears. And I’d pick at his place at the weekend, and once I got a ton of pears of the one tree. Trees are quite different to what they are now – I was on a twelve-foot ladder, and probably only halfway up the tree. I’d climb the tree at that height so the branches were still pretty sturdy. And after he’d come back – he always used to take the Sunday afternoon, have a kip – and he came back and I said “you’ve got power steering on the Ferguson”. “What are you talking about?” He said “God! What have you done?” I said “that’s one tree.” I said “I’ve been slacking, waiting for you to come”. I said “one tree going into that bin is beyond me”.
They were big trees, and the pears were not that big.
Winter Cole and Winter Nelis.
I used to pack the small ones.
Well your sister used to … she packed.
When you put them in a wooden case, pulled the lid down over with a clamp, and then put the wire round to hold it together – they were under a lot of pressure, weren’t they? Ashby-Palmer as you remember – he had a sense of humour that was so dry …
Yes, he certainly did – he always talked about [??] and some tennis players from Japan from years ago. But he was an interesting old character.
He used to be very fearful of someone coming and stealing his wife. Oh dear.
Yeah – guns and bangs in town are not really … oh, it wasn’t in town though was it, in those days?
No. So anyway, we had a lot of fun, those days.
Well I was very fortunate, ‘cause I used to work at the pack house and so on to pay enough money for my golf sub – I was nuts on golf. And Barton Hobbs was a partner at Rainbow & Hobbs where I worked subsequent to the bank, and he died and he left each member of staff a month’s salary. So I managed to pay my month’s salary into the golf course in one whack, which was very helpful. I also benefitted from Aerial Mapping shareholders – Stan White and George Tilson gave me their shares in Mapping. They had become shareholders when they sold the hangar to Aerial Mapping at the war – those two, along with Dan Greenwood had an engineering business basically, which supported Mapping and others round there. And they went off to the war, and the building was sold to Mapping as an expedience really.
I didn’t mention, Ardie Brown was a very significant fellow in the life of my father and Mapping. He was the first … one of the first … director along with Hugh Chambers.
Hugh Chambers was an unusual man – he’d fought in the RFC in the first war, and he could see in the dark, or he could see a lot better than anyone else, in the dark. And so he used to go off in the aircraft in the dark and come back. And one serious blemish in the Beechcraft was it didn’t have any feathering early on. You couldn’t feather the props so if it ran away, things were bad. Well one day it seized up, so it was grinding around not doing any good at all, and Hugh Chambers dipped into his pocket and paid for the conversion to have those things – he was a very helpful fellow.
So they converted both engines ..?
Converted to where they could … He subsequently feathered them both, which is bad news. I thought I was pretty lucky there.
Pa was … he was keen on pushing his barrow, and Aerial Mapping wouldn’t have been what it was without that, but it used to make me cringe. And one interesting thing was, he had recuperated at Harry van Asch, and he tried to hit him up later to be a big shareholder. And he was told he was a harum scarum guy – go away! And subsequently Henry van Asch turned up at Derek and Marion’s and we met them there, and Henry was trying to get some money from his relations, and he was turned down. I said to Pa “big mistake!” [Chuckle] So I said “dear old Henry – he’s a more important guy than you”.
So, now coming back to your three sisters and you, you all went to Hereworth?
Hereworth … by coincidence, the neighbourhood seemed to be predominantly female, and so to get away from all these girls plus my sisters, I went to Hereworth as a boarder, and it was marvellous. I then went to Christ’s College and they went to Marsden, and then we went on our merry way. Jackie became an occupational therapist, but unfortunately she died aged forty-six in 1989. But Pam has just been out here – she comes over every two years from Adelaide. And Alice is in Banks Peninsula – she built sort of a holiday house in the middle of nowhere. If you get there, you’re further away than you’re going to be anywhere, takes a couple of hours to drive out – it’s quicker through Akaroa than it is the other way.
My parents had fourteen grandchildren. We have three, Pam has two, and Alice has four grandchildren. So we’re slowing down, unlike the breeding of the early days. Looking back on one’s family history [you] see countless people born.
Coming back, we’ve got grandchildren but we haven’t met Peggy yet. How did you meet Peggy, and where are her folks from?
Well I did an apprenticeship at Hunting’s, which was a part owner of Aerial Mapping. They had about forty per cent shares, which was when my father went over in 1936 when he got the Monospar, and with George Tilson they began flying over there and earning money. He earned a third of the aircraft – I said “you should’ve stayed there to be [??]”, [speaking together] but he was homesick. And so he’d learned the business over there, and I did that – I went to South Africa for nine months, and then UK. In South Africa I worked for the Aircraft Operating Company. The local … Tiederman, can’t think of his name, young fellow … he did the same thing, he went to AOC.
And they taught you what?
Well it was … really I just learned by osmosis, because of different departments. And then at Hunting’s I was told that – you know, “you’re a bit vociferous on complaining – don’t complain that …”, you know. And I thought ‘this is crazy’, ‘cause one of the jobs I had at Hunting’s was looking after the survey gear, tellurometers, which were worth about £1,000 each. And they’d start a new job, they’d just buy another one. And there was a bright guy that was terribly good at fixing things – anything at all, you know – he used to fix an enormous number of toasters, apparently – people didn’t buy second toasters. But he could make these tellurometers go, so in the end he said “well, we’ve got ten perfect ones, and ten which are also-rans, so we don’t need to buy any for ages”. “Oh, go away – we want a new one”. And the way that they spent money upset me.
But that’s where I started my beard, was at Hunting’s. Some were pretty straggly, and I thought ‘oh, this isn’t good’.
And we had Boxing Day with Pat Hunting and his wife. He was keen on golf. “You play golf, Hugh? Smack one over the house”. I said “no – it might hit the house – I’m not that good”. And he had a go, and he shanked his and it missed the house anyway, but I thought, ‘he’s a bit keen, to hit a seven-iron over the house’.
I had an interesting one in the photogrammetric branch – I answered the telephone and this girl came out and said “what the hell are you doing on the telephone? You’re not allowed to ring”. “Somebody rang me, I didn’t ring them”, I said. “Well you can’t use the telephone – I think you’d better get lost”. And she went and saw the telephonist and said “who did you put the call to Hugh through?” And the telephonist rang me – “what’s she want to know for? Nosey beggar, that’s all”. And then when she was told it was the Chairman, I had a quiet grin.
So Peggy … in Hunting’s on the survey party, we went to do an oil pipeline from Holyhead to Liverpool. And because I had a car and they had some things that needed to be taken there, I got to go to Holyhead rather than the other ones. And I had the time of my life, and in the pub there was a girl at the desk, and that was Peggy. And I babysat her nephew ‘cause her brother came back from South Africa with his wife, and they went out while I babysat the nephew. I think that was the best thing in my hand. And anyway, after about six weeks I asked her to marry me. We’d never been out, but I saw her across the desk, and she said “I thought you were joking”. But she’s here now, so we’ve been very lucky. Debbie, my third daughter, said “Dad! The two most important things in your life you just do glibly – marrying Mum, and buying the house when it was unconditional [conditional?] – that was a stupid thing to do”. I said “it was a stupid thing to do, but we got away with it”. ‘Cause we were very keen on this house, it’s got leadlight windows for Peggy. I said I’d never live in a wooden house. And our first house was on a lifestyle block and it was concrete – concrete tile roof.
I remember that.
Concrete blocks. Dairy cows grazing. Well!
Well see, that was 1976.
Yes, well we were there in ’74. Yes, there was a flood – a cloudburst on Te Mata Peak, and the rain went through the schools. And they kept the children in because it was about a foot deep, just flying across. Well I didn’t know that, but it made a hell of a mess of our fences. [Chuckle]
And they built detention dams – there were five dams in Havelock that will back up. And it hasn’t rained since, to the same extent. I’ve seen it where the pipe’s covered, but haven’t seen the dam full.
So you saw Peggy across the desk, you ask her to marry you, she said yes. Did she live in that area?
Yes, she lived in Llangefni, which is about the middle of …
Is she Welsh?
No, but we were in North Wales when we met, in the island [Isle] of Anglesey – that’s why we called the place Anglesey. And so we had four daughters – Sarah, Alex, Debbie and Hannah, and life’s quite good.
And so you’re quietly sitting here enjoying the fruits of your life, I guess.
1932 it was built. There’s not too much on my bucket list, Frank. I would have liked to have gone to Istanbul, that’s about the only thing.
Lake Hawea … not Hawea … we were in a campervan. Well I say it’s Lake Hawea – and the poplar trees, they were absolutely fantastic. And subsequently I read of a court case where this chap had bought twenty acres, and the first thing he did was cut down the trees. And they’d been protected, and he turned up and the magistrate said “well, you thought you’d be smart – you’d just pay the bill and get away with it. Well I am confiscating your land for twenty years, while you care for it. And when the trees that you plant today are the same height as those that you cut down, you will have your land back”.
How wonderful! [Speaking together]
And I thought ‘that really is [??] thing’ – I thought it was marvellous. Well we went there I May, and it was marvellous. And in the campervan – it had a heater. We only ever had the heater on once – it was too hot. We drink countless cups of tea, so just by heating the kettle, that warms the campervan up.
Was Aerial Mapping taken over?
No, I had an entrepreneurial type, Craig Aitcheson, I got him to be a director to start with. And then he really did reduce the average age of the directors, who were nearer eighty than they were seventy. And then he said “oh, I want to buy them out”. I [said] “all right”, so I sounded them out. They weren’t too keen about being pushed off, but I said “oh look – no you’re not being pushed, you have to sign your life away”. So I thought that was reasonable. He did, and then I acquired Aeroplan, which was a company he had. And he subsequently said he should never have done it that way round, but anyway …
And then we joined up with a fellow from Auckland who was a computer man, Mike Bundock, and the Dunedin mafia, the three big guys down there, and they backed Ian Taylor who was on a bit of this work. And then Craig sold the whole show to Australia, and his method was to sell it and then buy it back. And he bought the flying side back, and the Australian lot never really got going.
And then the Arabs came into it, and it was a Saudi Arabian owned it for a few years, and then unfortunately last year it went ‘ping’ and it was sold up. Nobody wanted it as a single unit, and the bits and pieces were probably of an age. It’s now defunct. It was seventy-eight years … 1936 to 2014.
So the last plane, that’s some other ownership?
Well, Craig was keen on aeroplanes. I can say that I was in the unique position of flying in the first twelve aircraft that Aerial Mapping bought, and in my father’s day they only had three.
Did you ever have a flying licence?
No. I flew a Tiger Moth solo and went off, and then if you remember, it crashed, and Glen McLeod was hurt, and Dougherty … Pat Dougherty. And I hopped in the Piper Cub, and thought ‘this isn’t anywhere near as good as flying the Tiger Moth’. And then I had a hell of a good round at golf. And the flying ceased, much to father’s fury, and I became nuts on golf and I’ve never regretted it.
My old boss Barton Hobbs, I played with him … “Hugh, you remind me of a temperamental player – half temper, half mental”. [Chuckle]
And so now, Peggy’s very involved with historical and garden groups in the village?
Duart House – she and Carrie Greenwood got a lease over it for a peppercorn, and the Duart House Society leases it out for music, weddings, meetings – anything you like. And they had their birthday last week or the week before – thirty years, they’ve been doing that. And prior to that they’d been keen on the library job in the Function Centre. But if it’s not one thing it’s another – I said “for God’s sake, chuck up these things and just do your own pottery”.
She’s obviously got a mind that needs something to get hold of and …
Well, she’s a gregarious type – I’m the other way round. I think the fewer people I see the happier I am. Oh, it’s learned – it takes a long time to work through. [Chuckle]
Well I think we’ve run to the end, Frank.
We have actually, I think. So I notice you have a campervan or a motor caravan they call them today – I hope you get many years still of that, ‘cause it’s a great way of having a look round, isn’t it?
It is, it is.
Hugh, thank you for giving me those words We can never cover it all, but we can cover some of it. Thank you, Hugh.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper