Margaret Joan Wilton Interview

Erica Tenquist interviewing Margaret Wilton who lives at Hastings and I am recording her on the 14th July 2016, so I’m going to get Margaret to introduce herself now.

Hello. Well my name is Margaret Wilton and you know my address and the date.

Short explanation of life – well I was born in 1924, a year or two back now. My earliest recollections are probably around three, when I can recall we always had a car in the family. My Dad was very keen on the cars – he was a mechanic. And we had all of those old-fashioned Humbers and odd-looking cars until the Thorns came along.

I went to a number of schools in my first year at school because my dad shifted round a lot – not quite sure why, but it was all in Napier, probably because they didn’t own a home in those days, and they rented from where they had the best place I guess. So I started school at Hastings Street which is now no longer there – where the Napier RSA is nowadays. I went from Hastings Street down to Te Awa, which is down the other end of Napier by the Boys’ High School, and it is still there. I went to Nelson Crescent … Nelson Park School … I was there at the time of the earthquake. And I can remember my grandma who was staying with us at the time, she was going into town on the old Checker bus to collect her pension, and she stopped the bus and got off the bus and ran across the road. I don’t know how she knew it was an earthquake, but there’s a little low concrete wall around the school, which is still there, and she hopped over this and came and found me and took me home – we lived in Kennedy Road. So that was … we then, because the house was damaged, we had to go and live in Nelson Park in tents, and it just seemed the ground just shook all night. I can remember that, but a lot of it, for a six-year-old – we don’t …

Don’t remember.

take any notice of it, it was just something that happened.

‘Bout how long would you have stayed in the Park?

Well, my mother had a sister in Wellington, and we were shipped off to Wellington. There was just my mother and I. We were shipped off to Wellington and we must have been down there for about six months I think, ’cause I attended St Mark’s School in Wellington while I was down there. It was while I lived at Kelburn and it was fairly close. I don’t actually remember a lot about that. We came back to Napier and continued on – I think by then I was probably up at Central School.

Your father was still working as a mechanic?

Until the earthquake. He was working at Johnny Peach’s garage when the earthquake hit. And he was a serviceman from the First World War. He was awarded the Distinguished Service … DCM … Distinguished Conduct Medal. And from my memory, and I can’t really prove it, but as a reward for that award he had flying lessons. And he became a member of the early …


there weren’t even Air Force people then and they were still attached to England. So it’s quite hazy, but I remember asking him where he learnt to fly and I’m quite sure that that was the answer, but I’ve got no proof.


So when the earthquake came he went straight out. He made sure we were all right, and then he went straight out to the airport which in those days was on the Embankment where the willow trees still stand, and got in a Tiger Moth and flew over to see the damage, and where help was needed most and all that sort of thing. So we didn’t see him for two or three days until he came and got us and put us on the train to Wellington.

Then … life went on. I had … up until the age of eight-and-a-half I was an only child and then my parents had three children – three little ones, one, two, three – year, year, year – a boy, and a girl, and a boy.


We were living in Kinross White Street at the time the first boy was born and I had been having terrible nightmares. I had men with hairy faces and horrible eyes hiding under the bed and all sorts of things, and the doctor said to my dad, “put the new baby in the room with her”, and he did – or they did. My nightmares stopped.

You just wanted company, probably.

But he was my baby brother. I had saved up my pennies, and when Dad went to get Mum from Nurse Skittrup’s Nursing Home which was in Carlyle Street, I took my pennies to pay for him.

Ooohh …

So he was my baby. And of course with the others coming so quickly he was my baby, ’cause I was big enough to look after him. He’s still my favourite. So, it’s funny because he and I – we had four children in the family – and Leon and I are both listeners and my sister and my younger brother are talkers. And it’s really … it’s quite strange, but you see it time and again. We’ll both sit back and listen, and the others are going …

Nineteen to the dozen.

Yes. Across with another [?], and they still do, you know? Anyway …

That maternity home … what was it, Sister ..?

Nurse Skittrup’s. [Spells]

Was it a big nursing home?

No, it was just like a house, in Carlyle Street. The next ones arrived up in the one up on the hill.

In the maternity home at the hospital, probably – yes. And then you would go on to College?

Ah … didn’t actually. I went to Intermediate and in those days Intermediate was very new. It had just started in the country and Napier was one of the first that they tried it out on, and I absolutely loved it. By this time we were living at Westshore – no, we weren’t, we were still in Carlyle Street when I first went there.

And in those days the Farmers’ Catalogue used to come round, and you’d spend hours looking at all these things in the Catalogue which you’d have if you could, you know? And that’s where my first bike came from. It arrived one day, so I could bike to school – I didn’t have that far to bike, but I biked. I just loved it there because they had physical education in the morning before you went into class. You did it to recorded music. We had ‘Blaze Away’, which was the main … physical jerks. [Speaking together]

Top singing, yes – of the jerks.

And then we had balancing exercises that we did to … music, anyway – I wouldn’t have thought I’d forgotten that, but never mind, for the moment, I have. And I did quite well there and then we shifted out to Pakowhai, so I went to the Pakowhai School because it was closer, for maybe a term. And then we went to Westshore to live, so I had the option of going to Westshore School or going back to Intermediate. So because I had loved it so much at Intermediate, I chose to go to Intermediate which meant I had to bike to school because there was no buses in those days and that wasn’t a problem. The problem was that the local … some of the local children … didn’t like the fact that I was going to Intermediate and not to their School. And one family had pig dogs so when I went past they used to set the pig dogs on to me. So I had to go right round the long road – round the Embankment road to get to school which increased it quite a bit, but it didn’t matter.

And then I stayed overnight with friends of my mother’s when I went to Guides, so that I could bike there and have tea, go to Guides, go back to spend the night and go home the next day. And that’s where I learnt my signalling and other things. So …


Yes. All the things that we did in those days which were different to what is done today because you definitely do more – did more. But there again, it depends on your leaders. If you’ve got a good leader who will do things you’ve got a good troop or company, and if you haven’t – well, you just do ordinary things and you lose your members.

The family of course were all growing up. I did three years at the Intermediate School, because then, if you weren’t going to high school you could do an extra year at Intermediate, which I did. And I in my wisdom, didn’t think that the family could afford to send me to high school when they had three other little ones, so I said “no, I don’t want to go to High School”. And so I got a job scrubbing floors for people.

So you’d left school?

When I was … the three years …


… then I left school, ’cause I …

So how old would you have been when you left school?

Oh, probably fourteen … fifteen. No, I would have been at school leaving age, I’m sure.


Yes, probably. In the meantime life had settled down at Westshore and we used to have a lot of fun. My brothers and sister all attended Westshore, they didn’t go to any other school. And in later life when they’d been having reunions, they questioned why Margaret never came to the reunions. [Chuckle] Margaret never went to their school. [Chuckle]

I met them once playing basketball from Intermediate where I got my front teeth broken in.

Oh – it was an accident.

Of course. [Chuckle]

Anyway, school … so that progressed, and during that time we had marching, and I marched for the Westshore team. We had a lot of fun doing that. We used to have dances – Learn to Dance nights.

Was that Bible Class dances or was it just school dances?

No. They were Learn to Dance …

[Speaking together] Learn how to dance.

nights at the public hall. My mother played the piano and my dad was one of the parents that helped us, showed us how to dance. And that was always good. It developed into quite a social group.

Then the war came along. I had been working in a clothing factory when war broke out and I got very bad sinus making the Glengarry hats. They had fine dust all the time. And the doctor that I went to said I needed to change my occupation because it wasn’t going to get any better, and he suggested I join the Army. So I must have been eighteen by this time.


My dad had already gone off to the Army again – he had joined up for the Second War. And I was accepted but I was not fit for the tropics. I could never understand how they could say I was not fit for the tropics, but in later life … certainly true. I cannot take the heat, so they must have known.

So I went off as an eighteen year old to the WAC camp at Miramar in Wellington. Loved it. I had always loved physical exercise and I just entered into it thoroughly. We went route marching all round Wellington singing at the top of our voices. We had concert nights, and I had … during my growing up I had learnt music and singing and elocution … so I was quite happy to perform, and it was all going very well. And then the OC called me into her office one day and she said “we have you down for a physical instructor in our permanent force. Would you like that?” And I said “I would love it”. [Chuckle] And the next day she called me back again, and she said “you have a choice to make”. And I said “what choice?” She said “you can stay here as a permanent gym instructor, or you can go back to Napier and join the Signal Corp”. And I looked at her. She said “the Sergeant in Charge of Signals has requested a transfer of you back to Napier because she’s short of signal staff, and she knows you are capable of doing what she wants”.

Is that the same person who was your Guide leader? Yes, so what was her name?

Eileen Faulkner. She recently died – she only died this year – ninety-six, I think. And she had thought two ways – that Mum could do with me being home ’cause she had these three little children and Dad was away … because she knew the family. They had a book store in Napier and we always got our books from Faulkner’s Book Shop. So I decided I would come back to Napier and join the Signal Corp.

Did you regret that ever?

Not really. I did what I thought I should do, and that was that. And I have made a point of not looking back. Once you’ve done a thing that’s it – you don’t look back. It’s like that song from one of the shows – it’s ‘Don’t start looking behind you’, you know. And that has been my way all my life.

Anyway, so I came back to Napier and joined this … there were only about twelve … fourteen of us there, and we were in McLean Park. McLean Park at that stage was an Army camp, but I was living at home so I came back and forth each day.

You were still cycling?

I cycled a lot because before I joined the Army – well that’s another gap, you see. Before I joined the Army I was in Rangers, and we used to work … we did … I mean we – between the Army – lookouts round the coast, the Drill Hall. That’s probably where you got the drill hall. And the aerodrome, because the Home Guard was situated at the aerodrome. And we used to go out there and make camouflage nets, and do messages and all that.

So this group settled down working, and we were doing Morse Code and listening to boats out in the harbour or out at sea.

How were you listening to the boats?


And were they radio that were portable or were they fixed in a building?

No, they were fixed, you sat at a table.

Then Lady McLean’s property up on Napier Hill became available. I don’t know … I don’t remember why, or whether she died or whatever. But there was this big old homestead up on the hill, and they made it over to the Signal Corp. We had a lot of fun there. [Chuckle] We used to climb lamp posts, and learn to fix … splice wires and all the things – you know, if a line broke we had to fix it and all that. So that added something to our …

I can’t see you up a ladder now, Margaret.

I got up a ladder this morning to get that picture down. [Chuckle] However – it’s just all part of life. And so that went on for two years.

So you would be listening on the radio, practising your signalling, splicing the wires and learning how to do that, and doing a certain amount of drill still?

No, I don’t recall that we did any drill. It was just all working …

And would you still go back to McLean Park at all, for any purpose or anything?

I learnt to drive …


at McLean Park. The Sergeant – no, Corporal – used to take me round there. And one day I was driving a Ford V8 half ton, probably, truck – and in the old days the Gasworks used to be by the railway lines in Latham Street and Munroe Street – there was a big gasworks there, and we were coming along there one day and I put my foot on the accelerator instead of the brake, and there were men working on the railway. [Chuckle] There were many ribald comments but all was well, [chuckle] no problem. But yes …

And did you get your driver’s licence then?

I had to do that through them, yes.

Later, yes.

But I had my driver’s licence fairly early. I can’t remember whether I got it before I was out of the Army or not. Possible.

I thought you were looking out to sea – is that wrong?

No, from Lady McLean’s you could look out to sea.

And you were looking for submarines or anything untoward?

We were looking for anything that was …

Was moving in the water. Did you see many?


How many hours would you be on that?

Probably – you’d do an eight-hour stint.

With a break for a meal in the middle?


Would you be looking through a telescope or binoculars?

Binoculars. They were powerful.

Were they fixed on walls?


And how many of you would be on at a time?

Probably three. The Sergeant or whoever was …

In charge, yes.

for the day, and two operators.

What rank were you regarded as then?

We were just Privates. We were all Privates.

And if you saw something untoward what would you have to do?

Just report it to you CO, and she or he or whoever it was would come and check and you know, take it from there.

So what address was Lady McLean’s house?

Couldn’t really tell you. She was in Central Terrace, but … Milton Road … Napier Terrace, and there was a back entrance off Milton Road that you could get up and climb through.

Was it barbed-wired-off or anything like that?

No. I don’t recall any barbed wire. There was a sentry on duty at the gate.

So there would be nothing really to show that it was a lookout per se, of any sort?

No, no. It was just a big old house.

And would you sleep overnight there?

No. We did our eight hour …

Shift and then went home.

The men were always on at night, girls were never on at night.

Could you play cards or anything like that?

No, when you were on duty you were on duty.

Did you have to ..?

You could talk, but …

Did you have to cook any of the meals or anything?


And what about the pay – was it enough to live on?

I should have brought my pay book. I have still got that. I can’t remember what the rates were.

‘Cause you’d still have to pay Mum for your board, wouldn’t you?

Yes, yes.

But then the Army would have outfitted you for clothing?

Yes, yes.

‘Cause that was in the time of clothing coupons and things.

That’s right.

And did you meet your husband while you were there?


Going back to the sea, did you notice any differences in tides and all the rest of it? Were you conscious of that – the different tides?

Only if it was an extremely high tide.

Or storms …

Because in those days Westshore was a mile flat beach, it was beautiful. You could walk out for miles and it wouldn’t be over your knees. It was sand, it was beautiful. Now you can’t walk on there at all, ’cause it’s all stony. So you noticed any difference there, but … no.

And what was your uniform, was it trousers or was it skirts?

Skirts. We didn’t have trousers. Trousers hadn’t come in for women at that stage. The mechanics might have had, but we didn’t – we had skirts.

And so what year did you actually join the Army?

’42 to ’45.

Did you learn how to fire guns at all? Not at all?

No, not at all.

And did you have rations?

They would have had them in the kitchen.

Did you have to have Church parade?

No. McLean Park would have had Church parades. We didn’t up there.

Were you working weekends as well as weeks?

No I think it must have been … because all during this time I still took Brownies. So I must have worked Monday to Friday and had the weekends off, I think, I’m not … but I took Brownies right through and they were on a Saturday, so …

And then you’d go out to a Saturday night party or something – dance?

Yes. We also had … if any of our men from Westshore were going overseas we always had a send-off for them and always had a concert and a dance. I used to sing at those.

Can you give us a tune now? [Chuckle]


You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are grey.

The other da dum …

No, it’s gone. [Chuckles] No, I met my husband – we also used to have social evenings for Scouters and Guiders. I met my husband there, and he used to hold the Westshore scouts. Well that was before I went to Lady McLean’s of course, it was earlier on.

You used to sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’.

And ‘Epo I Tai Tai E’. [Sings]

Epo I tai tai e’
O epo I tai tai e’
Epo I tai tai
Epo I tukki tukki
Epo I tukki tukki e’


And you would march.

Pick up your feet.

‘You are My Sunshine’ was the same, and ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ and you know, all those sort of songs that were rousing, and …

And ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’?

Mmm. The ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ and ‘We’ll Meet Again’, and those sort of songs that were … Vera Lynn. Yes, so yeah …

We were talking about semaphore – you wouldn’t really have had much use for the semaphore at all?

No. No. Except of course, you could read it on a ship’s mast down … you know, if they were down at the Port or out in the Bay, and they put up the flags, you’d …

And you had to know what it was?


Would you report that as well? Would you have logs to write it all down?

Yes. You wrote everything down, regardless whether it was …

Pertinent or not, yes.

… just in case.

We were talking about marking everything down on sheets, and they were filed, were they? Would they be sent off to Wellington or Auckland?

I have no idea. I don’t recall that.

At the end of the war, what did you do then?

Well, prior to the end of the war the Signals Branch was closed down in Napier and we were directed to the Area Army Office. We worked in the office there. And then with the men coming back from the war and needing jobs and things like that, the CO one day called me into his office and he said “State Advances have an opening for a Records Clerk”. He said “I think you should go and apply”. So I did, and I got that job. So I ended up as a Clerk for State Advances, which was quite a step up from what I’d been doing before the war.

And then I got married from there, and in those days once you got married you couldn’t carry on.


You had to … so we had social meetings, as I said, my husband was a Scouter and I was a Guider, and we used to have these social meetings periodically and that’s where I met Alec. And that turned into marriage, and we had a Guard of Honour of Sea Scouts and Brownies. Very nice, yes. He actually started the first Sea Scouts in Napier because he’d had dealings … no, it’s the other way round. He was the first Scout Master of the Westshore Sea Scouts. And we later moved to Auckland and he got Bucklands Beach Sea Scouts, because he’d had Sea Scouts.

Did you like moving up to Auckland, losing your family and losing where you lived?

Well, before that when we got married we were living at Westshore and Alec was working at FG Smiths, a transport firm – Alec had been in the Air Force. And a Union man came to him one day and told him he had to slow down, and he said “why?” And he said “because you’re working too hard”. And he didn’t like that, so we started looking at jobs and we found a rural mail run in Waipukurau. So we moved to Waipukurau, built a house down there, and he did a hundred miles a day Monday to Saturday, delivering mail and what-have-you. I continued on with Brownies and he continued on with Scouts.

And you had how many children?


Would that be in Waipukurau?

Nerily and Andrew were born in Waipukurau, Andrew [John] was born in Auckland. So I used to say he [Alec] had a seven-year itch, because his mother moved around quite a lot. His father died when he was eleven and she used to work wherever she could and wherever she could take the children. And she worked in public works camps and things like that as a cook, and you know …

So anyway, seven years. He saw this ad in Auckland and he went up and had a look at it. It was an owner/driver truck which did cattle or whatever, and he decided he liked that. So he came down and he and I and John, who was a baby then but he was still being breast-fed, so he came too. My parents looked after Nerily at Westshore and we went through some of the worst weather we had ever experienced. And we had a little Humber, it got battled around, but we arrived and we found a house and we bought it.

We were in Ridge Road in Howick – Bucklands Beach was just down there. That’s where the Scout group started up, and Alec was actually taking Pakuranga Scouts which was by the Howick School in our old school, and so he took over the Bucklands Beach Scouts and then started the …

And you would still be doing Brownies?

Still doing Brownies … just Brownies.

I hope Nerily was a Brownie?

Yes, she was a Brownie, but the first pack holiday I took her on she was one of the worst at homesick. She wanted her father, [chuckle] she didn’t want me. It was funny as a fight – everyone thought it was quite hilarious.

So you were up there for how long?

Seven years. And then we moved to – I never can remember the name of the place properly – it’s out Albany way. We were going to have a go at … Riverside or Riverdale or River-something. We were going to have a go at sharemilking, and we were happily coping with that and the neighbour came across one day and said “do you know – are you aware that your boss has sold the herd?” And we said “no. We’re supposed to be taking it over on the 1st of the month”. And he said “well he’s sold the herd, and he’s selling the farm”. Never said anything to us. So I rang Mum and said “do you mind if we come back to you?” ‘Cause she had a big house. “No, that’s fine”. So we put everything on a rail wagon and sent it home, and drove back down to Napier.

When did he tell you – the owner?

He didn’t tell us. So we just gave our notice and said, you know – “we’re gone”.

So then he got a job on a farm out at Sherenden where Alec looked after the truck and did all the driving, and I helped the lady in the house. And the children went to Sherenden School. So that was fine until Alec saw an ad in the paper. And the Porangahau Garage wanted a mechanic, and in lieu of overtime his wife could have the dairy. So we went out to Porangahau and looked and liked, so we said yes.

The first morning there we had borrowed the farm truck to take the family out to Porangahau. Alec had taken the truck back and had the boys with him, and Neroli and my husband’s mother were there with us. And I was just standing in the shop looking, you know, and an old Maori fellow stuck his head in the window and said “oh, come on missus, open up”, he said, “it’s hot out here, we want an icecream”. So I opened up. And Alec came home and there was nothing left. Sold everything. [Speaking together]

Sold everything!

He just wanted to see what we were like so they came in and bought and bought and bought. [Laughter] It was hilarious. We had as much fun there as you could have, you know. On a football day we used to get two hundred pies in from Dannevirke on a Friday night.

You didn’t make them?

No. Oh no, we didn’t have time for that. And the football team – they’d be all playing over at the park, and they’re firing the money to the kids … “go and get a pie. Go and get a milkshake”. My husband made a milkshake machine because we had two, but he made another one, and the guys would say “not those machines, missus – we’ll have your husbands. That makes a better milkshake”.  [Chuckle]   They were quite happy to stand and wait while that machine went.

What was that dairy at Porangahau called? The name ..?

Porangahau Dairy.

What year would that have been?

1960, roughly.

And how long were you there then? [Speaking together] Seven years again?

We were there for nearly … no, the children made a difference there because Neroli was High School age and we didn’t feel … she was quite bright, and we didn’t feel it was fair to have to bus into town and back every day, so she boarded. She wanted to do Latin, and Napier Girls’ was the only place that had Latin. She couldn’t get in there, but she boarded with a lady who lived next door to my mother, so they had her. But we all visited so much we couldn’t … we sold up [chuckles] and bought the grocery/dairy in Hastings. And we had the Willowmarket Dairy on the corner of Heretaunga and Willowpark Road for oh, about nine years I think, at that time, while the kids were did their secondary schooling and went off to Varsity and what-have-you.

And was it a family business really? Would the children have helped in the shop?

The children did a stint morning and night while Alec had his tea, and … even Andrew who wasn’t that old then … he used to bag potatoes because we were still bagging in those days. He would bag up things, he did his – you know. But Neroli and John could both … they were both good behind the counter and they just grew up with it.

That dairy’s still there isn’t it?

It’s a photo [?] now.

And then we went from there … my son came home from Turangi and said “you two need to clear out of here. You’ve been here long enough and you’re getting crotchety”. And we said “oh!” He said “I know just the place”. And I said “oh, yes?” He said “the ew Grand Hotel’s for sale”, he said. “Do you fine – dinner, bed and breakfast”. So we went and had a look at that, and while I was standing looking – they had a big Aga and a big bacon slicer thing – and mice were running all over the … [chuckle] I couldn’t believe my eyes. You know – “oh no, no, no – we’ll have it all cleaned up”. To cut a long story short we bought it. We bought it and …

The Grand Hotel?

We leased … [speaking together]

Leased it.

Alec bought the lease. So we leased that. Andrew was the only one home by this time. Neroli had found her love and gone off, and John was heading off overseas and Andrew was at high school. We had a lady in that used to do the cleaning. Alec looked after the kitchen and I looked after the dining room.

Did he do the cooking?

Mm hm. And I made the puddings. And we started golf from there, and we found …

What year would this be?

It would be when the Flaxmere Golf Club started ’cause we were foundation members there. ’65 … ’66?

Where is the Grand Hotel? Is it still there?

It’s still there. It’s opposite Westerman’s. It’s a backpackers’ now. It’s all upstairs. There are shops downstairs.

Did you enjoy it?


‘Cause you were both people people.


And no more Brownies?

Yeah, we kept on going with those for quite a while, both Scouts and Brownies. I did retire from there at the hotel, but only because things were changing. I didn’t always agree with what was happening, so I thought ‘well, get out of it’.

Is that the seventies or eighties?

A little bit later than that. The girls went to Scouts, and there was all sorts of …

Did you get your Totem Wood Badge?

Alec did. No, that didn’t come into the Guide programme. I did all sorts of other things. I got an award and all that.

Now what’s the award?

Just for ‘Services Rendered’ … black and white medal.

And that was from Guides and Brownies?


How did you get on with golf?

Oh, I did very well. But we found later on, we did better at the hotel than we did from the shop, because both of us would go around … hurry to make sure we had done our share so we weren’t leaving the other one rushed … and you’re rushing out there and you’re straight into the golf, and your mind’s all tuned up to it and you get better at it, you know. Alec was – he was quite good. He was much better than I was, but … oh … I actually started the Women’s … what did we call it? The men are Twin City … yes, think we called it Hawke’s Bay … Golf Club Veterans, and the Napier people – they always were a bit hoity-toity – they weren’t too sure about this ordinary woman coming in and starting a …  [chuckle]   However I did – I got it going, and we used to meet at different courses each month.

Eighteen holes?

Yep. Nine holes came in just recently, within the last five years.

And did you all go to the nineteenth hole after?

Well, we had to have lunch.   [Laughter] 

So when did you leave the Grand Hotel then?

When did we leave the Grand Hotel … there again we were starting to get, not cross exactly, but we couldn’t lock the doors because of people always coming in. [Speaking together] And people used to come in – there’s a back yard there, and they used to [revving noise] … we didn’t know what they were doing, and you were on edge. So you know – we decided. And we had bought a flat in case we needed to go out, but we let it and we didn’t have very good tenants. And they made a mess of it so we sold it.

And then we went looking to see where we were going to live, and we couldn’t both leave the hotel at the same time so Alec went with the land agent – she took him round. And he came back and he said “I’m not allowed to tell you anything”. I said “okay”. He said “it’s your turn”. So I went off with her and she took us into this nice new house you know, and I said “oh, no – couldn’t stand it”. “It’s beautiful”, she said. I said “look at the kitchen”. I said “I’ve just been in a huge kitchen for years”. I said “I’d go mad in a little slice like this”, you know. [Chuckle] “Oh, no”. I said “no – forget it, I’m not interested in the rest of the house. Kitchen’s useless – I’m out”. [Chuckle] Anyway, she took me round several houses, and then she took me into this place in St Leonards Avenue, and I said “this is it”. And she said “he told you!” I said “he didn’t tell me”. I said “we’ve lived together long enough to know what we like”, and I said “this is it”. “Yes”, she said “it is”. [Chuckle] I said “okay, we’d have it”.

And what year was that then?

Backtracking? I’ve been at … four years. 1996. ’95 … ’96. While we were there – we moved out of the hotel and moved into St Leonards Ave – and we read an ad somewhere where somebody wanted somebody to look after a motel. And we said “oh yeah – we can do that”. So we did, and we went into this place at the Hutt and they had a huge Alsatian and she was as meek as a lamb. She followed me into the office and the woman was just standing looking at us. And I said “what’s the matter?” She said “he never allows anyone near. He’s not saying a word”. I said “well, ‘course … you’re a cobber, aren’t you?” And she said “well that’s it – you’ll do”. [Laughter] She said “the dog accepts you”.

How long did you look after it?

Oh, mostly just two or three weeks at a time. There were two people at Wellington – we used to look after the Trentham Motels, and … because by that time Neroli was married and living down the coast. They lived at Hokitika, or they lived at Westport first, and then Hokitika. And the people at the motel said “any time, give us a ring and let us know when you are going and coming, and one way or the other we’ll have a week”. They used to go off fishing, and we’d just come in and take over and they’d take off. And the one with the dog was much the same.

But that dog used to be a pain, because if Alec was hitting golf balls …

It’d go and get them and bring them back.

… and we said “what happens if he swallows one?” We couldn’t lift him up. [Chuckle] So we used to shut him inside – he’d go mad out the window. [Chuckle] And mowing the lawn was the same thing, you know.

So anyway, I had said to the owners did they mind if our son came and stayed Christmas time. “No, no, that’s fine”. So we took her for a walk. We were going to the shop at the corner. I said “oh, there’s a park down the road – you can take her down there if you like”. So I went into the shop and got whatever we wanted and when I came out Andrew and the dog were waiting there, and he looked at me, he said “did you see him come in?” I said “no”. He said “he went in there and you were in there, and that was it”. Wouldn’t move till I came out. He said “he didn’t want to go to the park”. [Chuckle]

Yeah – one o’clock one morning the buzzer went and I went down, and he was barking his head off. And the guy said “call the dog off and I’ll come in”. And I said “no – he’s fine”. “Well, I’m gone”. I said “okay – hooray”. [Laughter] The dog knew a thing or two.

So you would do that instead of having a full-time job?

Yes. It was – at the stage we’d reached, because we were in our seventies probably, by then.

So Alec didn’t get to come to Summerset?

No. We moved from St Leonards Ave. He was starting to feel not so well and there was quite a big garden and lawn, and I did it for a while but then I found I wasn’t so good at it either. So we decided it was a good time to downsize while we both could. And we went to St Aubyn Street West, and he said “well, it’s got to have a she – it’s got to have a car shed”. And we found the one in St Aubyn Street had a back car shed, and it was the back unit. They’ve just put a new fence in the front for some reason. And … oh, they must have a dog in the front house. He spent a lot of time in his shed making things, and had a lot of patience.

And then … would you move again?

No. I moved then. He died there.

Well Margaret was a marvellous narrator for the pantomime last November, where she narrated the story of Snow White & the Seven Dwarves. So although she’s in her ninety-second year she is still very active and goes to …

Do line dancing, play the chimes.

and is generally active. She’s president of the Women’s Section of the Hastings RSA, and she’s still very active in everyday life in every way.

I was a volunteer at the Police kiosk in town for ten years, and I was an Age Concern visitor. I used to visit various people who were in need of someone to talk to mainly, so I’ve done that for a few years too – stopped that this year because my last lady died, and they said that would do, because you tend to get involved in their …

 In their everyday life. Do you still do knitting and sewing? 

No, I have a wonky hand.

 But you still look after violets?  

[Chuckle] Yes. 

She looks after different plants, but particularly violets. Orchids? 

No. I look upon orchids as evil. I remember seeing a video of them one time and how they trapped things … 

Oh yes. 

… inside them, and I thought ‘they’re evil, I don’t like them’. [Chuckle] 

Thank you. 

And you see within the Guiding life I was a Brownie trainer for fifteen years, and I used to train women to be leaders of Brownies.

So you’ve had a fair bit of input. I think we’ve done pretty well.

And I’ve enjoyed it.

The date today is 22nd November 2018. Over to you, Margaret.

Guiding in Hawke’s Bay, by Margaret Wilton, née Speakman.

I first became interested in Girl Guides when I was eleven years old – 1935. I joined St Augustine’s Company under the leadership of Eileen Fulton and Topsy Thorpe. We learned many things to enable us to grow up to be responsible citizens; to enjoy life as we knew it, but also to have fun.

Our Guide motto – Be Prepared – and our ten Guide laws: to be honest, to be trustworthy, loyal, friendly, kind to animals, obedient, courteous, cheerful under all conditions; a Guide is thrifty, and a Guide is clean in thought, word and deed. These were the basis of the Girl Guide movement started in our country under the guidance of Lord and Lady Baden-Powell. Many and varied were the ways these ideas were put across to help us achieve our aim.

I enjoyed all facets of Guiding as it was offered. I can remember well going to a camp at Lake Tutira, where now it is known as the Guthrie-Smith Foundation. Two of the daughters who were Guthrie-Smiths were involved with Guiding and so it was no problem to be able to camp at this lovely site. Of course there were no modern conveniences, and we had to dig our own latrines, and service them. All cooking was done over an open fire, and I remember well my parents coming up to visit on Visiting Day and bringing a tin of bought biscuits – a real treat. The Guides had erected all sorts of gadgets to hold basins for washing etcetera. We became experts at all sorts of knotting and lashes. This enabled us in later years to make camouflage nets for the Army. We also became proficient at Morse Code and Semaphore, going off up a hill and signalling to a team on the other side of the road. This also stood in good stead for me when I joined the Army after war broke out in 1939, but that’s another story.

We carried on with our Guiding and growing up. We then graduated to Rangers and when we reached an older age, after the war broke out the Rangers were sort of attached to the Home Guard – I’m not sure how, but we used to act as messengers between the Drill Hall and the old aerodrome which was sited along the Embankment road. We also made camouflage nets to cover guns etcetera, and we were used for practical things which helped us enormously, growing up.

During all these years there had been groups of mums helping behind the scenes and raising money for all sorts of necessary things. The Absolom family at Rissington had made a donation of Omatua, an old home, for the use of the Guide movement as long as they maintained it, so of course all the mums’ efforts – and often dads – were needed and were very valuable, and many were the Guide camps and Brownie Pack holidays that were held there. And of course many more toilets and showers were built, so we no longer had to dig our own.

As an aside, the two Guthrie-Smith daughters married two brothers Absolom, and so the connection remained. They were always very much behind Guiding – and Scouting for that matter – in Hawke’s Bay. I can remember visiting the old house before the Guides ever used it – my parents were on the committee. And one of the bedrooms was a beehive – absolutely full of bees buzzing everywhere. So of course that had to be cleaned up before anything else was done. Omatua was the old family home of the Hutchison family, and this is where Miss Jerome Spencer started the Women’s Institute in Hawke’s Bay.

When I was eighteen I started a Brownie Pack at Westshore … girls from the age of eight to eleven years, when they flew off to Guides which was from eleven to fourteen years, and then Rangers, fifteen to eighteen, then hopefully on to be Guider of their own unit.

We had a lot of fun. As well as working for various badges we used to hike out to the Watchman Island towards Bay View, build a fire – we used to take an orange, a rasher of bacon and an egg. When ready we would cut the top off the orange, scoop out the flesh and eat it, place the bacon around the inside and break the egg into the middle, place the orange into the fire – already burning nicely – and go off and play some games, come back and eat our lunch. Lovely! We would eventually wend our way home, singing happily – tired but happy, having walked a considerable distance. This was of course a time of war and our young men were leaving to go to war, and the district always put farewell concerts on for them, and the Brownies often performed for them, singing and dancing.

I took them on a Pack holidays to shearers’ quarters at Tutira. This was [a] first for me and one of the Absolom sisters, Rosemary, came up to test me, and this I passed quite easily, and I was the second person in New Zealand to earn a Pack holiday certificate. We had twelve Brownies, a mum was cook, and a nurse as our first aider, plus a couple of older girls who were Pack leaders. The holiday was for a week. We went up on the train, and they let us off on the property – we just had to carry our bags over to the building. The Brownies learned all sorts of things during their stay – they helped prepare the meals, laid the table, washed up, laid the fire, did their own washing – generally had fun. And at the end of the holiday they would have passed tests for house orderly and first aid badges at least, while some learned to knit, etcetera. We had Visiting Day on the Sunday when the families came up to collect their daughters. We served them lunch, and their daughters were the hostesses, much to some of the parents’ amazement … great times. The hardest part was to convince the parents that their little girls were capable of lending a helping hand. That really was the hardest part of things, because mothers felt it was quicker to do things themselves. Children had to learn to darn – they had to darn a sock, but mums didn’t have time to sit down and teach them, so we had mums that used to come in and teach them to darn and things like that. And that of course was something that a Pack holiday was ideal for. So they learned all sorts of things at Pack holidays.

I was eighteen then. Then when I joined the Army I was still able to take them for their meeting on a Saturday, pretty well. I had a Lieutenant that could … she was there if I couldn’t be there. But we continued on during the war, you know, for all that length of time.

And then when the war was over, my husband-to-be at that stage, was a Scoutmaster and I was still doing Brownies. And the organisation used to have a social evening for Scouters and Guiders, and that’s where we met, and the rest was history. So …

Did you have a campfire blanket?

I didn’t, he did. But it hadn’t come in for the girls at that stage, it was later on that the campfire blankets came in. Cubs actually started that, because they had their campfire blanket – the Brownies didn’t have a campfire blanket.

You had the toadstool though, and the mushroom?

Yes. We had the toadstool and the magic carpet. And for a child when she was enrolled, she stood on the magic carpet beside a mirror which was a pool, in the mushroom with the ‘L’ on, and she made her promise, you know, to be a Brownie.

Did the Brownies have sleeping bags?

Oh yes … yes. Most of those we had shearing quarters ‘cause they had beds as Brownies weren’t allowed to camp. They weren’t allowed under canvas like the Cubs were – the Brownies had to be in a building and shearers’ quarters were ideal actually – we all had a big kitchen. One Brownie Pack holiday at Porangahau, the children had decorated the table … long table in the dining section … with karaka berries, and it was all pretty. And one of the women who was with me came to me in the night. She said “Margaret, come and have a look in the dining room”, and we went in the dining room and here’s a pair of possums neatly picking the berries. It was lovely, you know. [Chuckle] So I mentioned to the farmer that the possums were there. “Oh, it’s them”, he said, “that’s all right”. The next morning I went out, and I wondered what the children were all doing round the gate, which was a little way away. And I went to have a look – here’s the possum in the cage, caught, and the farmer came along and got him and just bashed …

[Laugh] That wasn’t what you really wanted to happen.

It was the end of the possum. However, that’s sidetracked a little bit.

Okay, well after the war was over and things settled down, Alec and I decided to get married. So we were married at St Augustine’s Church in Napier on 7th February, and we had a Guard of Honour of Brownies and a Guard of Honour of Scouts, which was very nice and made quite a spectacle really, ‘cause there were quite a lot of them.

And then my husband came home one day from work – he used to drive for Smiths after the war – and he was all upset because the Union man had told him he had to slow down, he was working too fast. That didn’t appeal to my husband – he liked working properly. So we set about looking for what we were going to do, and he decided on a rural mail delivery in Waipukurau. So we bought that and we moved to Waipukurau, and we weren’t there very long and the Guiding fraternity came calling and said “please, Margaret, will you take on the Brownie Pack here because they haven’t got a leader”. And “please, Alec, will you take on the Scout Troop here because they haven’t got a leader”. [Chuckle] So that’s what we did. By then I had family starting to arrive, but I had friends around the corner that I could leave the baby with while I took Brownies. And the Brownies used to come to my home to do all their tests and things. So that worked fine, and we had Pack holidays. The first Waipuk [Waipukurau] one we went out to McNutt’s farm on the Porangahau Road, and they were very good to us. Their shearers’ quarters were lovely, and they provided all the milk, and the meat and the vegetables for us, and took the children in to see the cows being milked. And of course in a lot of cases the milk just came in a bucket … and so it was an education. And they took them on the tractor round and showed them all sorts of things, and we went there two or three times.

We had one little girl there who was quite ill, and I thought she might have appendicitis, ‘cause she had these bad tummy pains, and – anyway I rang her mother and she came out, and she said to the kid “have you had a bowel motion?” And she said “that’s all that’s wrong with her, Margaret, don’t worry about her – she’s not worth it!” [Chuckle]

Oh, the poor child!

So anyhow, we don’t worry about that – that’s all right.” So I said to her, “well, just let us know if you’re having difficulty ‘cause we can give you something to help”. Yes, so anyway … the things you learn by the way. [Chuckles]

So when we did that, we usually tried to have the Scout camp at the same time, and my mother would take the children. So they’d go up to her and there were two by this time, and they’d go and stay with Mum. And Alec would take the Scouts up to Tutira very often, and we’d go out to the shearing quarters at McNutts.

How did you travel?

Car. You know, family took them out. We used to usually travel on a Saturday so that the family were available …

[Speaking together] Available to take them.

…to take them. Yes. We’d go on a Saturday or a Sunday, and Visiting Day would be the Sunday and they’d come and take them home. So that was all right.

Then we moved to Howick.


The same story applied there. “The Howick Brownies don’t have a leader, Mrs Wilton. Could you please ..?” [Chuckle] I had three children by this time. And then Alec got the same story with the Scouts. So okay, away we go. And they did have their own home there, they had a lovely little hut that had been built for the Brownies, and the Scouts met in an old hall. And then the Scouts were going to change to Sea Scouts, and my husband had been with the Sea Scouts in Napier. So he was in the right place to set that all up and away they went. And we went okay with the Brownie Pack, and we got on well and things went rather smoothly. And then – up there there’s a Guide home out in the Waitakere’s.

Yes, I can’t remember what it’s called? Never mind, we’ll find it.

And you could take your Pack there for a holiday, but every day of the week something had to be done. You might have to wax the dining room floor, or you might have … you know … it was quite hard work with little girls.

And then we hit upon the Hunua Bible Class camp out in the Hunua Ranges. That was fun. We were able to go there and just have a holiday.

Enjoy it.

And I had girls that were going on – one girl that was very good with them, she’d be about sixteen. She was still a Guide, but I don’t think she was going to Rangers, but she was happy to come and help. And there was another possum story there. There was a shelf a way up high with a palliasse there. And one night we were sitting there [chuckle] and the palliasse started to move … it was [a] possum behind it. So the palliasse lands on the floor, and the possum lands on the table, and the girl screams and goes running away. [Chuckle] So yes.

Cause they can be quite fierce in a house.

If they’re caught – well we had the door wide open [chuckle] so it could go out, so …

So then we moved in there. Where did we go from there … from Howick we went … yep, we went sharemilking. And that didn’t work out, and the neighbour came across and said “I don’t want to interfere, but I just wondered if you knew that the boss had sold the herd?” And we were supposed to be taking it over on the first of the month, and this was a couple of days away. So I rang my mother and said “please can we come and stay? We haven’t got a job”. So we put all our belongings into a rail wagon and headed for home.

So Mum had a big house at Westshore that was … there was no trouble there, and we looked for a job. Alec found a job on a farm – they needed a man with mechanical knowledge, which he had, and so that was fine. We went there and the children went to Sherenden School … no they didn’t, they went to Pukehamoamoa School. Then we saw an ad in the paper where the Porangahau village garage wanted a mechanic, and in lieu of overtime, the wife had a dairy, so we thought that sounded interesting. So we went down and saw them, and yes, that was fine.

So we shifted down there, and Alec had borrowed the farm truck to shift us to this shop. And the boys had gone with him back to return the truck, and my mother-in-law and I and Nerily were in the shop, just sort of looking. I hadn’t been in that sort of situation since I was about ten. And an old Maori man stuck his head in the window and said “oh, come on man, open up – we’re thirsty. We want an icecream”. So I thought ‘well, no harm in that – I can do that.’ By the time Alec and the boys came home there wasn’t a thing left in the shop. They bought everything! [Speaking together] They were just quizzy – seeing the new people there. So that was all right – he couldn’t go to work the next day, we had to go to Waipuk to get some [chuckle] stock.

[Speaking together] Get some stores.

Oh, it was lovely. That’s in the country areas – they’re lovely. And so we settled down there, and once again the Brownies didn’t have a leader and the Scouts didn’t have a leader, [chuckle] so I took the Brownies there and he took the Scouts, and we had Pack holidays there down on … another shearers’ quarters down towards the beach, and that was where the possums were picking the berries.

And all of this time the children were learning and enjoying …

Where did they go to school when you were there?

Porangahau. Yes – our own children went there too. They’ve all been at their own school wherever we’ve been. And then – what happened after that? We came to Hastings.

And what year was that?

64 I think. And we bought the Willowmarket Dairy, because our daughter was high school and we didn’t like … she was boarding at Napier Girls’. Well she wasn’t at Napier Girls’ – she went to school at Napier Girls’. She was boarding … private boarding with a friend, because she was on a bus route, so they wouldn’t accept her to board at school. But we didn’t feel it was fair expecting her to travel fifty miles each way, so … we all missed her so much that we [chuckle] packed up and moved to Hastings and bought the Willowmarket, so … We were there for another nine years.

It was a ..?

Willowmarket – it was called Willowmarket. It was a dairy on the corner of Heretaunga and Willowpark, where that picture framing place is now.

So in the meantime, once I came to Hastings – I think that’s where I started training – anyway, I was training leaders to be Brownie leaders and … mainly Brownie leaders, or Guide leaders that trained for Guiding – Guide leaders. And so we would have training weekends up at Omatua, trying to instil …

The necessities?

Mmm. One girl said “Margaret, how do you teach the Guide law when a child only has a mother?” You know? They have difficulties there. And one Pack only had one child that had two parents.

You know, the Scouts in Featherston went through a similar thing ‘cause all the fathers used to come and do the bottle drives with the Scouts.

That’s right.

And did she still go to Napier Girls? Or did she change?

No, she changed to Hastings. She wanted to take Latin.

[Speaking together] Girls or boys?

Napier Girls’ was the only one that taught Latin. So she gave that up when she went to Hastings, for whatever reason.

Did you have two girls and a boy, or ..?

Other way round – two boys and a girl. [Speaking together] Yes, the first Pack holiday Nerily went on with me she cried, ‘cause she was homesick and she wanted her daddy! [Chuckles] Didn’t matter [that] she had her mother – she didn’t want her! [Chuckles] She wanted her father. Funny as a fight, but yes, so anyway, things just carried on. Then I took the Brownies over at Windsor Park – took them for several years before I finally decided that …

When did you finally decide that enough was enough?

That’s a good question actually, Erica – I’m not sure now. That letter will give us that, where they accepted my resignation. So yes, it must’ve been 1991 that I decided, ‘cause by this time we were in the hotel, and I guess I was getting a bit tired and …

But you ran that hotel – what was the name of it again?

Grand … New Grand. We ran that for nine years after the dairy. ‘Cause my son came home one time, and he said “it’s time you two had a break – you’re getting grouchy”. [Chuckles] And I said “oh, yes – and what are we going to do?” He said “I know just what you’re going to do”, he said “there’s a hotel up town”, he said “dinner, bed and breakfast. You’ll cope well with that.” And that’s a story on its own too, but yes, we did … 

We’ll do that another day. 

[Chuckle] Maybe. But anyway, so yes, so that more or less brought the Guiding to a close.

Well thank you, Margaret.

Original digital file



Additional information

Interviewer:  Erica Tenquist

Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.