Margaret (Marnie) Shirley Mackesy Interview
Erica Tenquist – I am interviewing Margaret Shirley Mackesy who is known as Marnie. The date today is 9th April 2019. She had everything ready for me; that’s really good.
I haven’t got much here, some of it’s overseas.
So her former occupation was the Army when she left school, and then later on she became a teacher. She’s going to now tell you a bit about her life, so Marnie, over to you.
I was born down here … my father was a doctor and his first practice was in Norsewood, and we were there for two years until I was about two and a half, I think, and then we moved to Auckland. I had two younger sisters, and lived a very happy life in a big two-storey house in Remuera in Auckland.
Did your mother work in the practice as well?
No. My mother did not work, but we had a wonderful woman called Freda who did the housework, took all the phone calls and appointments for my father, and fed we three girls wonderfully. [Chuckle]
Did you go to kindergarten, or school?
I went to Orakei – there was a kindergarten called … oh, I’ve forgotten its name … in an old house and it moved to three different old houses. It was a little private school, ‘til I was about Standard 3. And one of the places was in Orakei Road; the other one was in Victoria Avenue, and in the Victoria Avenue one the ground sloped away down, and there was a wonderful fruit tree at the bottom of the garden and a curved drive at the front, where I remember we acted “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and all the parents sat on the curved driveway watching, while we were on a bit of sort of oval grass.
And when did you move from Auckland? When you were still at home?
I stayed in Auckland ‘til I got married. Yes, I stayed in Auckland ‘til I got married, and my husband had been away at the war for three years and he was home on leave. And by this time I had joined the Army and was at Papakura Military Camp in the records part. And my husband came – the men who had been out here on leave were heading to go back to Egypt, and they were coming into the part of the military camp where I was and my job was to sign them all in, and that’s where I met my husband. They never went back – that’s another whole interesting story – those men never went back in the end. And they were quite right, because they came home and they found that there were so many men making good money and not going to the war. These boys all signed to go back, but they just wanted it to be brought to people’s notice that it was about time another lot of men went over. So …
Did he have a career before he went in the Army?
No – he went very young, he was away for three or four years … I forget. But he drew an [?LE?] to come home on three months’ leave. So we met as I was signing him into the orderly room, and I looked up and there he was. [Chuckles]
Love at first sight.
It was. And the men, as they were dribbling into the camp, they slept in long huts like we did. The women slept in another part of the camp. But he was there every time I went out to post something on the orderly room thing, there was this man. Anyway, that’s his story.
I went to several schools – I went to Auckland Diocesan, and I also boarded at Waikato Diocesan. And I did my last year at Waikato, and when I finished there my father was going overseas at this stage to fight in the war or to set up a hospital. And I think … he got me into the army in Rotorua; I was working in the Sick & Wounded Office which was keeping records. And we had a cottage at Ngongotaha on the lake, and I had to bike five miles into Rotorua to go to work every morning. And there was a great big sawmill there, and the route for me to go through the sawmill in the mornings – I hated it, I was scared stiff. The men just seemed to look at me in an Army uniform, [chuckles] and I was really scared.
But I worked there for some time. And at this stage the WAACS [Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps] had not been formed, and then they were started and I was called up to join the WAACS. That’s Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp.
How old would you’ve been then?
Eighteen. I wasn’t very old, [chuckle] but a wonderful group of girls, great camaraderie, and it was great. However, a funny thing was that when I was called up we all had to go to Auckland, and in the racecourse at Epsom was where they used to put the girls, and we were all in the grandstand in beds under the grandstand. And we woke to the bugle call of reveille and we went to Taps at night with the bugle, and we sat up in the grandstand to have our lectures. And we all had to line up and have our hair cut – it wasn’t allowed to touch our collars. [Chuckle] It was ridiculous. And some of the girls of course had lovely long hair which they … we did this very hard.
Anyway, after … I think it was about three weeks we were there in training, and then we were drafted to different places, some girls went to the guns around New Zealand; others went into transport; and others went into clerical. I was in the last lot, into clerical and was sent to Papakura Military Camp to work in the Orderly Room. [Chuckle] We used to go back and have a reunion every year, the WAACS that were there. We got together, and one particular year the press were there and they asked us to all march, but unfortunately we were all in the highest of high heels and it was a raggedy lot of women trying to march in high heels that you’ve ever seen. [Chuckles]
So did you come down to Rotorua before ..?
No, I didn’t come back to Rotorua.
And did Dad – was he still doctoring?
My father as I say, started the first Field Ambulance, and every Thursday night he went to the drill hall with his men and they practiced. And every year he took them to camp … under canvas. He was a marvellous man, my father – he was really … Unfortunately he died in New Caledonia; he got TB/ meningitis and he died, and so he’s buried in the military cemetery in New Caledonia. Well, he was so well-known that when my mother died when she was ninety-four, about my age – the Army must have seen it. But they rang me and said could they take my mother’s ashes to New Caledonia and bury them with him. And I have not heard of that happening anywhere before. And they came; they collected mother’s ashes; they flew them; they had a service; they had a minister. I think that it’s just amazing to think that Mum’s there with him.
[Speaking together] What a fantastic thing!
Yes. It’s a lovely cemetery. I’ve been there.
Yes. So when you’d met Dick … you called him Dick, but his real name was Richard?
Richard, yes – it was always Dick.
What year did you get married?
Straight after the war finished, really?
Well, it was two years. He didn’t go back, he was with the men who argued about … they argued that other men should have a chance as well. They were quite happy to come back because they all came back into camp to go. But I don’t know how it all started, but it was quite …
And what did he do after he had retired from the army?
Well he had to decide what to do, and he wasn’t allowed … when these men didn’t go back to the war they were drafted to do what the Army said, and oh, it was so funny. For a while he delivered the milk to schools, and then he was driving a truck for the Americans, picking up goods from the wharf … harbour and taking it out to the camp. And he never got out of the truck; he wasn’t allowed to get out of the truck. He used to say he didn’t know how much was getting … what was happening to what was coming out, because they would unload the van, then they’d bang on the back, so that was ‘Okay driver, you can go now.” And so what was being unloaded and where it went – he used to say “I have no idea – I’m quite sure that some was going other places.”
Then he was moved up to driving Americans … Officers … and was mostly picking them up at a big hotel while they were upstairs with their girlfriend, then going out to El Rey to the dance hall and he’d have to wait in the car so they’d give him a bottle of whisky or a bottle of something, or a box of chocolates … then he took them home. [Chuckle] However, they were all pardoned these men. So then he went back to work. When he had left school he went into the Post Office, so Dick went back to the Post Office and we moved to Whangarei for ten years.
What year would that be?
‘46 we went up to Whangarei, and we were there for about ten years . And then we moved to Invercargill and then we kept moving all over the country, ending up here – my husband ended up as Chief Postmaster of Hawke’s Bay.
And what year would that be?
Can’t remember. [Chuckles] Well he went back to work after retiring. Oh – might be on one of the …
So you came to Hawke’s Bay, and where did you live first?
In Hawke’s Bay … oh, we had a State house because I got polio.
Oh! 1953, about?
Yes, I got polio, and I’ve got a paralysed right arm. So we moved into a State house so we had a State house from there – we bought it, it wasn’t a rent one, we bought it and then when we were transferred to Invercargill we swapped and bought one down there, and bought one in Wellington and … all the time, until we bought my old family home in Remuera.
Oh, for goodness sake! What a roundabout way to do it!
[Chuckle] I think I’ve had twelve houses – twelve homes.
So when he was the Postmaster here, was it in Hastings or Havelock North?
Hastings. ‘Cause it was the whole of Hawke’s Bay – it wasn’t just Hastings, it was the whole of Hawke’s Bay. And he was head sherang. It’s a mess now.
And would you travel much when you were posted?
No … Dick and I’ve travelled the world a lot, a lot.
But you still came back here – how long have you been back here now?
We came back here … well I’ve been in this house sixteen years. We came back here about twenty-odd years ago, because we loved Hawke’s Bay – both of us liked it.
And are you happy living in a Summerset village for fourteen years?
Yes. This is a very good one ‘cause it’s small and it’s very good. But when we come none of the houses across the road were built.
So how many people would there’ve been here then?
I don’t know; I don’t know how many are here now. We actually came in and were not very good at being sociable, we both had outside interests that we were doing, and we just felt this was our home, but …
But it was still your home …
We had so many outside interests that we belonged to.
Did you go to golf or ..?
I always played croquet. Croquet, and bowls – Dick was a bowler. And so the croquet took up a lot of time -I played croquet for about twenty-five years.
Did you go and be a referee with croquet?
No. I didn’t do referee, but I’ve got a picture here when the croquet club opened up along here. The press came and I happened to be the person they asked to break the first hoop. [Laughter] So it’s in here somewhere, the photograph.
Marnie, you were born in Norsewood, and so you are ninety-four now so … I’ve forgotten which year you were born?
1925. And your father was a doctor there?
Yes. I don’t know where I was born actually.
I could have been born at home. It wouldn’t have been at Norsewood; would’ve been down … what’s the big town there?
Dannevirke – probably would have been Dannevirke if it had been anywhere.
And was he a specialist doctor or was he a country GP?
Oh, he was a country GP.
And what was his name?
John Herbert Harold, always known as Tim.
What was his surname?
Tim Wood. His father was a … chemist shop in Masterton. And there were four boys, and my dad was named Tim because his surname was Wood, and at school he was called ‘Timber’, and it stuck. He was never ever called by his name, except Timber.
Did he go and be a doctor in Masterton at all?
No, he was a country doctor, from Norsewood.
When did he come out to New Zealand?
Oh, he was born here – he was born in Masterton. His father had a chemist shop in Masterton, and it’s still there – the chemist shop is still there with the Wood name on it, so I believe. And there were four sons; my dad was the oldest, and then the next one was a lawyer. And then the two younger ones went to England, and I … there’s no offspring. I just know this house that I was born in had a circular drive in the front. I can just remember that the bread was delivered in a horse and cart and it went mad going round our drive – [a] dog or something must have frightened it, and it tipped out and all the bread fell out.
And it wouldn’t be wrapped in plastic or anything in those days. [Chuckle]
Is that your sister or you? [Looking at photos]
Me. Yes – those are my two sisters, young sisters. But you see I was in the Army in those days, and they were still at school … boarding school.
So can we keep them out, and I’ll take a photograph of them, is that all right?
Yes as long as it comes back, I’m scared stiff of losing anything.
No, no, no – I won’t take it away. Your husband, what did he do for relaxation?
He was a bowler. We both played bowls.
No playing golf?
He played a bit of golf. I couldn’t do it because you see, of my polio. [Speaking together] I had to do everything left-handed … had to learn to be left-handed.
Were you in hospital in this area?
No, I was sent to … we were living in Whangarei, and I was sent to Auckland for six months. I was in the Auckland Hospital, and there was one other woman and both of us were pregnant when we got it. And we were put in with all the children.
Oh, for goodness sake!
‘Bout ‘52,‘53 – that was the main epidemic?
That’s right. Came down from Whangarei and Dick had to come down, we didn’t have a car, he used to come down in a bus for the weekend and go home on the Herald bus, sleeping on the Heralds, on a Monday morning.
Why I asked you about that was because a lot of people went to Pukeora above Waipukurau, who had polio …
Oh, I know, yes.
… and that’s where ‘Over My Dead Body’ was written.
Oh … Opie?
June Opie, yes. Did you ever meet her?
No, I don’t think so.
Because I did in a funny way – I met her when she came down to see if she’d like to stay at Silverstream Hospital instead of up at Waipukurau.
And she took one look at the place and didn’t like it at all.
And said no?
I had an original copy of the newspaper, and it was stolen. We went on one of our trips overseas and rented our house to a lawyer – thought it was fine, and didn’t lock anything away because we just thought ‘safe’. We were quite thrilled. And I had a teaching room downstairs and I had the first copy of the paper in a … plastic, and I just stuck it between my school books. Gone. And the family bible, which was signed the ‘Wood Family Bible’. So that really upset us.
Can we talk a little bit about how you’ve noticed modern technology? How does it affect you as a ninety-four year old?
Oh, I have to have help with shopping … yes, I have to have help. I can’t see what’s on the shelf. I used to push the trolley and my husband would do the shopping. But I have a wonderful woman, who’s almost a friend now, comes every week. And she does the house – tomorrow morning she’ll be here – and then next Thursday we go shopping. And I’m very lucky, ‘cause she’s absolutely lovely.
That’s a great help.
Oh yes. Up ‘til then – I’ve only had her for about six months but prior to that I would just go to the supermarket and give them a list, or just say … out of my head sometimes … just say I want this, this, and – they were very, very good.
Was this Havelock supermarket?
Anywhere. They’re very, very good with people with a disability. I would love to suggest to them that they have one person doing that, sort of thing, ‘cause you see particularly with people in wheelchairs – they can’t reach up high to some of the stuff, so they need help for somebody to get it. But I’m not backward in asking people to help me, and they’re very good. I mean, I don’t say …
Would you listen to the radio now more? Do you listen to talking books or anything like that?
Talking books, mostly.
And with that machine that you can read by, do you still do crosswords or anything like that?
It could do – I’ve got quite a lot, but I just don’t have time [chuckle] to do too much, ‘cause I’m a passionate gardener, and I grow all my own vegetables still down the back here, along the back. We’ve got bins … big bins … so that I don’t have to get down to that level, and I’ve got spinach and celery and lettuces and tomatoes and … I’ve got leeks in now, and broccolini, and more spinach and … I grow everything. But I had a garden in Auckland that was open for a garden session, and I had thousands of people through my garden in a day.
You must miss that busyness?
Oh … I’ve always loved gardening, I think ever since I can remember visiting my grandmother in Masterton. And she had a rockery and a path, and I can remember walking around with her and tumbling over the rocks were blue forget-me-nots. And I’ve never forgotten that, and I think from that moment I fell in love with flowers and plants.
We were talking about the boarding schools in this area. So your …
My two younger sisters went to Woodford House, and I just think they were … such a proliferation of the boarding schools here – the two girls’ schools and there were boys’ school, wasn’t there? Lindisfarne.
And then there was Hereworth.
And because of the farming community around – it was such a big farming community in Hawke’s Bay, and they had [to] send their children to boarding school.
Did you have anything to do with Hereworth?
No, but my young grandson went to Hereworth. The youngest grandson – from America. They came out to boarding school here.
And tell me, did you know anything about Peloha?
No, I don’t know that. Something’s ringing a bell about him, but I don’t really know or remember.
So Marnie, do you think we’ve done enough today?
Probably … okay.
Original digital file
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- Margaret Shirley Mackesy