Moran, James (Jim) Interview

Today is the 7th March 2017.  I’m interviewing Jim Moran a retired signwriter, aged 101 at the time of interview.   Jim would you like to tell us something of the life and times of your family?  What you can recall?

I can just recall being told that I was born in Grays Road, Hastings, and …

This must have been before the War or during the First World War?

I was born – during the First World War I was born, and I had two brothers, brother Ian and brother George and we lived in Hastings.  And as far back as I can remember it was in an ex-dairy that was opposite Slaters Auction Rooms in St Aubyn Street.  We were not there for too long when we moved to 417 Queen Street West, Hastings.  Now we were there for a long time renting, and the owner of the house, Mr Hyde from Napier, a hairdresser.  We got to the stage that my Mother had actually paid in rent the house and Mr Hyde wished to sell the house.  So we didn’t want to have to move, so my mother had an arrangement with Mr Hyde that she would continue paying the rent.  And amazingly enough for the hard times that my mother had, she actually paid it off a second time, and when she died my two brothers and I – we sold the house, because it was quite a good bonus out of the will.

So you said initially that you were only one when your father died and your mother had to bring up five children …  

No, three children, under five.

So which school did you go to when you started school then?

Well my Dad from what I gathered over the years, was a Catholic, but my mother was not a Catholic.  So the three of us started at St Joseph’s School Hastings, Catholic.  And I was taken away from that school after Standard 3 and I finished my education at Central School up to Standard 6 – that’s where I finished.

Now my brother Ian and I as the time went on, after he’d – he was only a year ahead of me – we were both at home at 417 Queen Street and we were playing a game called “Bobs” which had wooden ball about a little smaller than a billiard ball.  And we had to pot it through some holes on this board across the table, at the end of the table.  And next minute, the earthquake struck us on the 3rd of February 1931.  Now that was a very frightening experience.   I won’t draw on this too long.

So you would only have been fifteen or sixteen?

I was four days short of fifteen. We kept having these aftershocks, so the whole four of us – George and Ian and I and mother – we walked up town, and it was very foolish thing to do.  But it was hard to believe because when we walked one block from Queen Street to Heretaunga Street where Thomsons’ Suits are now, right down to … the next one was King Street … was absolutely flat.  I have a book about that.  But anyway there was a lot of very quick good work done.  And the very first night of the earthquake everybody seemed to sleep outside, so we slept in this tent down near the Fire Station, just for a few nights and then we went back home. The only thing that happened at home was the chimney collapsed on our pathway.

Yes, it must have been very frightening because no one had experienced anything like that in our lives before.

Oh, it was a huge bump, you’ve no idea.

So were you at High School at that stage? 

I didn’t go to High.  Brother George was the only one that went to High, and brother Ian had a job in a second hand furniture shop.  And I didn’t have a job except for selling newspapers on the street.  And from there, a few months after the days of the earthquake, there was a shop built called Clausen’s and that was just short … nearest the railway lines.  And the man in charge of the boys selling newspapers had to sack one of his other mates, and said “oh I see Clausen’s want to always sweep the path and clean the windows and you know, the … dressed …  And he took me round there and I got that job at Clausen’s. Now they had a bigger shop in Napier and there was quite a clever guy in there who wrote all the tickets for all the …

Yes, signwrite the tickets, yes.

Yes, and cards as well, and I got interested in that and I started practising doing tickets.  Anyway to end up I then do the tickets and cards for the Hastings shop where I worked.  And that went right through ’til Woolworths started over the road from Clausen’s as opposition.  And the Labour Government – or National Government – put their wages up for men you know?  And they put my wages up nearly as much as the boss which was silly.

Well that got to 1938.  And I had been a friend of Gordon Spurdle because he got me to play badminton … learn to play badminton.  And I used to go into his studio – Heretaunga Street.  And anyway we became quite friendly, and after I’d lost my job at Clausen’s he offered me a job … four years’ apprenticeship, £2 a week.

Gosh!  It’s not much money is it?  [Chuckle]

[Chuckle]  So, I served the four years and then I was taken into the Army and ended up in a Tank Corps in Italy and that’s when I still had to do a little bit of sign writing on the tanks, changing numbers that we were told to paint off the tank and I painted quite a lot of silver ferns in white paint on the front of the tanks. But what did do me good, because I had to do that while all the other guys in my unit were having a rest, I was made Sentry Sergeant to get me more money.

So how long did you serve overseas Jim?

Well it was in 1942 and I didn’t get home until ’46, but it was – transport was the trouble – couldn’t get a ship so I didn’t get back ’til just short of my birthday in 1946.  Well of course I was looking for a job to do and I went back to Mr Spurdle.  And the law was made – I don’t know how long after the war started – that if a man left a job he was either called up or volunteered to go overseas, he must get his job back when he came back.  Well that’s what happened to me, and I worked for Gordon Spurdle for some time and after a few years, I don’t know how many I’m sorry, I can’t remember – he took me in as a partner, junior partner you might say.  Well we worked for … a lot of years I did there, and Mr Gordon Spurdle actually built a new shop, a signwriting shop in Heretaunga Street just down from where he had his temporary one after the earthquake.  And that’s where I came back to and that grew very well and we had a lot of apprentices.

Was that shop near Bull & Hodgins?

Yes, still there. yes, still there. Built in 1940 by Mr Abbott, the builder at the time, and it worked very well that working there.   Gordon Spurdle, he did most of the teaching of the apprentices and we had a lot of guys that went through there and we kept some of them. I can remember – oh, I think it might have been a guy named Ross McKee and Charles Bartlett.

I didn’t realise he was a signwriter.  I thought he used to do things with cars didn’t he?

Oh I don’t really know. But he – you know this is going back a bit isn’t it?  In the end another chappie came named Brent Cullen, he’s still round here.  And he’s in the shop.  Gordon Spurdle was not keeping well so he decided to retire, and myself and Ross McKee and Brent Cullen built a building down Queen Street West at 400 and … it’s still there, as partners.  So I was getting on a bit then, but it went well, and … well – bit hard to say, but at that time it was mostly signs, hand done.  And that faded, and it came out as all … what is done now on machine.  Computerised.

Well unfortunately my wife died after forty three years together, and so I sort of just did a little, pulled out of the firm CSM Signs, and I used to help them out if they were really busy.

Well just coming back, if you can just recall – you went through the War – you weren’t taken prisoner?

No. No I was in the tanks and very uncomfortable sometimes.

Were you a gunner or a driver?

I was on the radio and also fed the gun.  But the tank was never hit by the Germans so when it finished on the 7th of May 1945 wasn’t it?  1945, 7th of May, we had to stay in Italy till we could get a boat.  It was  about six months at least and I had a rather nasty experience.  We had a lot of time off, so we went in … this was Trieste, we weren’t far from Trieste.  And I recall going into a building, it wasn’t completely built, but I was on my own for some reason, I remember this, and I went up to about the third floor and I got sick of looking around there, and it had a lift.  Now I – round the lift there wasn’t the … what there should be as far as safety goes, so I could just go in a wee bit and look down or up to the lift.  Well, I thought ‘oh well, I’ll go down’, so I thought the lift was up – was downstairs and it was coming up.  But it wasn’t.  I was looking over after I’d pressed certain buttons and that, and it came down – you won’t believe this – it hit me on the head.  Not hard because that’s where it was stopping.  And that was rather a nasty experience.  Well after that there wasn’t much happening.  We just waited until the boat came and I came back as I said before, back to New Zealand arriving on the 3rd of February.

So were you married before you went away?

No.  I married Margaret Kitching.

And she was a local lass from a good Catholic family.

Yes.  And they lived in Williams Street and there was – I’ll go from young to the old.  Noel, Margaret, Dolly, Agnes and Jack. That’s the five.

Yes I knew Jack very well.

Well, he was in the Army, he did training and he was a Warrant Officer.

Yes, so you came home and you met your wife.

I met Margaret at a dance, Noel took his sister to the dance in the Oddfellows Hall and I had a – I was very keen on dance – and I had a dance with Sue and Margaret and I thought ‘oh, this is jolly good’.  So next – they had these every Saturday and the next time I went Noel was there but she wasn’t there, and I said Hey where’s your sister? Bring her next week. So that’s how my romance started.

We all remember the Oddfellows Hall because those days there were dances in the Oddfellows Hall, the Premier Hall – everywhere there were dances.  

Even the Labour …

Labour Trades Hall, yes.

And I think one of the first ones I … the Drill Hall there was some dancing.  Well anyway I married Margaret in 1948 on November the 13th because all the caterers were so busy I had to get married on the 13th.  Well it was a lovely marriage and we had three children.  Peter is sixty seven, and my daughter is sixty three and Richard is fifty eight.

Are they all local?

Oh no, well they were, but Peter – he was a worker, that’s all he thought about, was working, and he’s ended up with a nice bit of property down Tukituki Road. And he now also works for the Army, but he has got a lot of gear.

Did he have a truck at one point, did he work for the Spackmans?

Keith, he did.

So – and grandchildren?

Very few grandchildren.   Well, I’m a bit dumb about it because I’ve never had any living here.

I’ve got – my daughter – Peter didn’t have any children and Richard had one.  So we didn’t have many.  My daughter married and moved to Tauranga, had a lovely big house on the hill, but to cut a long story short, she … the husband did a bit of wandering.  Well the first husband was in Hastings and he was not a good person, and she found out something about him and that finished that.  So she went to Tauranga and she met this other chappie and … oh, for some reason they sold this big house, and her and – Stuart was his name – and they lived in another one, but he unfortunately caught something … a throat problem and he died.  He died, yes.

So when your wife passed away, were you still working at that stage?

Oh yes.

And so you carried on working?

Oh, well I … no, Marion … hospitals were different then. I looked after Margaret quite a lot at home and then … hospital or the doctor suggested I needed a respite, so they put Marion – oh, Margaret – in the hospital and she was there for five years.  People would be surprised to hear that.  But anyway she passed away after five years in hospital.  So, Margaret and I had built this house in 1948.  I stayed there for seven years and I got a bit sick of it because I got used to playing golf, but I – it was a quarter acre section, just short of a quarter acre.

Whereabouts was it?

In Tawa Street.  And I said “oh well, I think I’ll sell this”.  So I sold that and I came to here, where my brother George and his wife … were here, and I’ve been here now twenty years, hard to believe.

‘Cause they were brand new when you came here weren’t they?

Well there was a person – just a widow came into this one and she was – her husband mended radios – I’ve just forgotten his name, his shop was between King Street and Nelson Street half way down.  And I know he’d been to …

Wasn’t the chap Milne​?

That’s the one – Guy …

Guy Milne, that’s right.

And she died and it was offering, there was two offering, but I took this one and I think it’s worked out quite well.

I always remember Guy Milne.  He was a good man, he was lame.

He was lame, that’s right.

And of course his brother, Edgar, was down the road from Noel.

That’s right.  I remember all that.

Edgar and Ray Milne.  So, it’s interesting looking back at, especially your signwriting days.  And it called for a very steady hand.  And as time went on these machines printed these signs they just stuck on things, didn’t they?

Brought on – put onto a computer and that came on and went to the cutter, which cut the letters, and then you just … suddenly you wanted a truck done and you knew – ’cause we did a lot for Sherwood’s … they were in and out of there, didn’t have to wait for anything to dry.  But I really enjoyed hand signwriting, and I especially liked doing gold leaf and – like the lawyers and the jewellers and that.  They wanted a sign which was always on the inside of the glass.  We would do this gold leaf and it was expensive.  And you don’t see any now, it’s all – what’s the material?  Gold material if they want gold – doesn’t look the same.

Now you mentioned golf.  You were an ardent player, what handicap did you get down to those days?

Oh the best I ever got to was 14.

But I mean you enjoyed it?

Oh I enjoyed it.  I was sort of fifty three or something when I started, but I did have a hole in one. Only one.  I’ve got the … there it is over there.

So you carried on playing for …

No, I… The sub got too much. It was $1,000.

This was Bridge Pa?

Yes – next door.

So did you play any other sport Jim?

Oh I didn’t play rugby.  Oh, badminton, I played badminton.  I didn’t play cricket.

‘Cause those days what hall did you play badminton in?

I started in the Baptist Hall because Gordon Spurdle’s brother, Leslie – he was in the Harriers as well – and he was a much better player than me.  We played there and then I think I went over to the Methodist Hall where … Gordon played at the Methodist, Leslie played at Baptist because they were different religions of course.

‘Cause later on the YMCA … badminton was in the YMCA building wasn’t it?

YMCA, I could tell you something about that.  I somehow or other, when I was very young, got into doing things at the old YMCA where the National Service Club is.  A man named Eric T Price – he took us there, and he was a good bloke, very strict, but I recall being taken with a few of us out to Kereru to Andersons who owned a good farm, two storeyed house.  And they gave us dinner.  You wouldn’t think I’d forget that.

Other highlights of your life, because over 101 years, there must have been some other highlights, just funny things that happened?  

Oh, yes.

Did you travel much in New Zealand?

No, because my wife, Margaret, ended up with MS.  We couldn’t travel. We travelled down south on a really good … we flew to Christchurch and had a bus trip, nine days, and they’d booked us into all Government – what do they call ..?

Tourist Hotels.

Tourist Hotels – it was a great holiday.  And it was unfortunate, you know I’d like to have gone to Britain, I never got there.  But oh, I took up playing cards.  [Chuckle]

What bridge, or 500?

No, 500.  And I’m still playing it over here in the hall.

I notice your hands are very steady, you don’t have any tremors in your hands at all.

Well, if I came to write sign writing now, I think they may be not quite as they were, but they’re not bad.  I have been extremely fortunate with health.

Well fancy Peter being your son. [Chuckle]  Oh that’s good that he’s got some land ’cause he always wanted some land didn’t he?

He did.  Well he’s got over twenty acres out where he is, and he does grow on that lucerne hay for horses.  But he liked vehicles, he had cars – he’s had a lot of cars.

He’s had a lot of trucks too.

He’s still got ‘em, and he’s just bought another one.  Did you know that?


It’s done quite a big mileage but he’s really taken with it.  I think he paid $30,000.

So is there anything else you can think of we might not have covered?  You’ve been living here for twenty years and it’s rather nice isn’t it, faces the sun?   Nice garden out the side.

Oh no, I don’t get … only get a bit of sun first thing in the morning.  But in the hot days it’s good, ’cause I’ve got one of those for the winter.  Yes, it’s – oh I’m sure there’s …

Yes.  Going back to these tanks – it must have been very claustrophobic the first time you went in.

Well, you’ve hit the nail on the head because I am claustrophobic but I got in there and – but a British tank, a Valentine, were shocking things compared to the one I was in, the Sherman.  But they’re not so bad.  One experience I had – the Germans were lined up on a riverbank and they were firing shells … all at us.  So we loaded up, fully loaded with these shells, and we went up, stood back from the river, and blew these houses … blew the tops of them.  I was loading the gun and then the smoke – they have two fans at the back takes the smoke out, but it got me, so the gunner – he started off firing the shells and after a while he said “you getting a bit too much of that smoke so you fire the gun”, so he …   That was one experience.  We were lucky we weren’t shelled.

‘Cause if you were shelled you wouldn’t have had much chance would you?

Well not with a Tiger tank.

Okay, well that’s probably pretty well covered the history hasn’t it?

Well I’m sure there’s other things I’ve forgotten but you know, my memory’s not what it ought to be.

You know it’s interesting looking at the way Hastings has changed …


… the city itself.

Very true.

It’s once upon a time I could sit down with a friend and write down every shop on both sides of the main street.  Today they’ve all gone, there’s only a few left.

I’ve got a little story about that.  Brent Cullen one day … it was about shops, and you know, we did a lot of work in a lot of shops.  And I reckoned I knew every … there weren’t so many then … I reckoned I knew all the shops.  “I’ll bet you £5 you don’t”.  I said “I’ll take that”.  ‘Cause he knew that one shop had moved and it was at – it was in … somewhere near where that shoe shop used to be – good shoes, now what’s his name?

I buy my shoes there they cost me twice as much as anything else, but the shoes are twice as good.

That’s not a Reiker’s is it?

It is a Reiker, yes.

I’ve got some.

Yes, no they’re wonderful shoes.  But that’s the shop you’re talking about.

That’s the shop.  Yes, I had this twelve months … just about twelve months ago.  But I can get a shoe on now.  The District Nurses come twice a week, so I’ve got lot to bless my God for. So, yes.

And what do you … do you have any interests other than what you do?

Well I record history.

Tell you what, we’ve got a lady here named Ivy Roberts – she has seven daughters, seven or eight daughters and a son, and she’s got heaps of grandchildren and great grandchildren.

She wasn’t married to Bill Roberts was she? [Trevor Roberts]

No, no – now … oh, I should remember the name.   Excuse me a moment.  Oh, that annoys me, I can’t remember, but he died – her husband died.

And so television, do you watch?

I do, not a lot.  I’m normally reading here.

Yes, I noticed you’ve got lots of books around.

And I drop off to sleep.  Now I don’t normally get into bed until about 11 o’clock.  [Chuckle]  Easy to do.

Oh well it’s great to have caught up with you Jim, and I think if you think of something else that you’d like to add to it, we can always add … we can always do an addendum to it, just tag it on the end.   But this will give your family probably …

Well I’m pleased you’re doing this because I have a nephew who brother … my brother Ian’s son. And he got Ian to write it all out, and he’s trying to get me to do it.

Yes.  So that’ll save you the job won’t it?

Oh, thank you so much, thank you.

That’s all right.  So once I take this back it goes into the computer and a girl types it out, someone else edits it  – goes through and takes out any gaps …

Sort of putting it together.

… and then eventually it goes onto the website, and it’s available there forever.  It’ll be there … family members can print it off, they can look it, but it’s in your voice.  That’s even better.

See I had a computer for a while because my daughter went to Britain, stayed there for three and a half years, had a good job in an accountant’s office and I used to email her all the time.  And she’d just got there when that – those buses were – you remember some people were killed in a railway ..?   Yeah, well I was able to get onto her.

So do you still use it?

No, no – it’s not worth anything now. Hope I haven’t kept you too long.

No, that was lovely actually.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper


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