Noel William Sutherland Interview

Today I’m interviewing Noel Sutherland. Today is the 23 July 2014.

First question Noel is date of birth.

31.12.20.

And where were you born Noel?

Palmerston, Otago.

And your mother and father. What did they do in Palmerston?

He was a fat lamb buyer.

So he was associated with farming.

He had been all his life.

And your grandparents, where did they come from?

I think they were born in New Zealand but the great-grandparent – he came from Scotland. The northern Scotland and to some extent the Sutherlands are regarded as the south Norwegians. Or were Vikings, that sort of thing.

Well with a name like Sutherland you would expect them to Scottish wouldn’t you?

They weren’t very successful and they haven’t been all that successful ever since.

So your childhood was spent in Palmerston South?

Yes, I spent primary and up to 5th form and I can remember the time when we had to get 15 people to play rugby football. We had to use every male that from the 3rd form up to the 5th form.

So what school was that?

That was Palmerston District High School.

So when you left High School you then went to University?

No, I spent 2 years in Waitaki as a boarder when my father was indisposed.

When did you then join the Department?

I joined the Department after the war. At University I went to Canterbury for a couple of years and I got half a degree. Then I joined up with the Armed Forces because everybody else had joined up with them. I went down to the barracks in Christchurch because I wanted to join the CYC, the Canterbury Young Cavalry because I liked horses. And little did I know they turned out to be machine gunners and that was quite different but by the same token the bloke looked at me and said “I know you”. He said “you’re wasting your time coming in here because we don’t take anybody with flat feet.” And that’s what happened. So then I thought I had better see if I can join somewhere with flat feet are not so needed so I joined the Air Force.

Okay, well would you then like to work your way through the Air Force –  where you did your training and so forth?

We were the first course to go through Rotorua. Previously they’d been at Levin and nobody was going to tell me what to do. I was not a person who was used to taking orders from someone who knew less about it than I did, I thought, and we had one occasion when we had a weekend leave and coming back into camp we had to be in by 2300 hours and there were two or three of the lads who had actually got married before they joined up. Well, we had a long passage and they were in the process of progressively taking up the carpet from the long passage and everywhere else so I sort of was observing this a bit. I got there about 10 to 11 and you had to go just round the corner and that’s where you signed in. Well I got round the corner and by God who was there – the social Warrant Officer, and I thought he’s wasting his time with me but I’m on plenty of time or pretty close to it.  But the other jokers – there were 2 or 3 of them – they came running down the passage full tilt just to experience – the SWO had taken his pen out and his watch on and 11 o’clock was striking on the radio, and he’d drawn a line and he’d put – whoever it was – he said “you are late, you are AWOL and you’ll be penalised”, and he booked the three of them. And he wrote them down as AWOL. Well, those jokers spent the next fortnight on the parade ground at the end of the day lugging a pack round the square that we had.

Were they trying to enrol?

Of course they enlisted. But they had to obey the rules. God I had to alter my bloody opinion there very, very quickly. So that was an object lesson to me. Yes.  Worked quite well.

Well, once you became enlisted, where did you go to train then?

We had initial training down at Taieri and one or two interesting stories there. It was open to the nor’wester.  The nor’wester could blow and in fact on this occasion it was blowing the same air speed as the Tiger Moth did in calm weather.  The instructor had sent someone up solo for the first time and he got worried that the boy would not understand what was what so he went up. He wiggled his wings and that was the indication to follow me. Well he came down and he landed at the same speed as the nor’wester and the ground crew formed a circle. It didn’t have to be very big for a Tiger Moth and as soon as he touched the ground they rushed in and grabbed hold of the wing and the tail. That held it down until they towed it away and the student came in and did exactly the same thing and that was perfect. I felt that was very good work. He’d figured things out and he knew what he was doing.

So from there did you do further training in New Zealand or did you go to Canada?

We went straight from Taieri over to Canada. But Taieri was interesting. We had to get a pass to get out every night and that was a bit of corrugated iron or flat iron that was scratched with a number on it and you had to hand that in when you came back over the railway line the next day because you were actually on the next property. But if you left the door open of the two man hut that you were in the sheep used to get in and they fouled the floor, and it was nice and quiet and no wind. We were given an issue of nine blankets each but four of them were to go around the wall because the hut wasn’t wind proof. We finally gave up, because up to about 10 o’clock in the morning when some of the blokes appeared on the flights because they slept in, you couldn’t hear anything. You couldn’t hear the siren go because the wind was in the wrong direction. We had mud up to our knees just about, we had to walk through a ploughed paddock or at least it had been ploughed and was in green feed at the time and the stock was being moved through it. It was hopeless.

So then you moved on to Canada from Taieri.

I pulled in at Calgary. The trip up the Pacific was interesting because every night we had to turn all the lights out or blinds down in the train that we were in and we had a bloke looking after us and he had a rhythm – “All the lights down, all the blinds down, grab your pillows and make up your beds as well as you can and goodnight”. They were very conscious of the fact that the Japanese were quite close to the Californian coast. Up that line we called in at a place called Eugene which is just short of Seattle and there were some Australians ahead of us and they were in different coloured uniform and the train pulled in to the station.  And the University students – for morning tea they used to come down with sandwiches and coffee for the boys who were going through – well, that was great. Once they spotted these Australians that are a different colour – they had a boiler suit which was ideal for the job – and “who are these blokes over here?” and a fellow next to me said “they’re English speaking Japanese prisoners of war”. He said “they speak slightly differently to us” and who got the sandwiches and the coffee – the New Zealanders.  And we were escorting them through Canada so we did pretty well out of that lot.

So in Canada then you would have got on with your real training.

We were on…

Single engine bi-plane?

Twin engine. Going into the compound they had a skeleton of two of these aeroplanes that had been burnt with a warning “Do as you are supposed to do” but we didn’t take any notice of that. What happened was that there were some guys ahead of us and they had come in on a Sunday and there wasn’t very much security around and they wandered round and picked on these aeroplanes so they climbed up, got into the cockpit and one notice said “do not touch this” – so that’s the first thing they touched, and they gave it a pull and it fired off flares and they set alight to the aeroplane that was next to it and the next one, and by that time the ground crew had got a whiff of it and they put them out so they had these skeletons at the door saying “please do as you are supposed to do”.

Just a point Noel. What age were you when you were in Calgary?

I was about 22-23. It was interesting at Calgary because [of] one or two things. One was the chinook which was their nor’wester and it cut a line through the snow. We arrived there when the first of the Christmas snows had arrived. It cut a line almost half a chain wide. Just bare ground on one side and 100% snow on the other. Just about as neat as that. And the lines, the longitude and the latitude lines were as you find on a global map. They ran parallel to the direction and obviously the longitudinal lines started to converge when you got up into the north side of the equator and up by Canada they were converging quite a bit so when you swung a compass you had to make sure that you were in the middle of that line to take a reading. And that’s what we did.

So how long did you train in Calgary?

We put in about 70 hours on the aeroplane for flying. One or two experiences that we had too – none the least of which was you had to put in something like 70/75 hours and when you got over 60 you felt you knew it all anyway and you were just told to put in time – do a certain number of landings and takeoffs.  And I remember a mate of mine from the West Coast in New Zealand he was doing the numbers game a bit and he said “ I’ve finished now” and the control tower came up and said “No, you’ve got another hour and a half to fill in” and he swore at them and they came back and they said “we admire your spirit but we don’t admire your language” and that knocked him back a bit.

These aeroplanes, how many flew in them? A pilot – did you have a navigator?

You got to a stage where you went solo and then you did certain simple things and then you got more complicated. I should have said when it came to a slow roll you really had to drive the aeroplane to its capability and then the knowledge that you had things at right angles to each other. Upside down and left and right. I used to do that and you had to do that in the aerobatics which was done above 4000 feet so that if you made a mess of it you still had time to get out of the aeroplane in a parachute and that was the minimum height. Well, I was going for my clearance from Taieri and the instructor was sitting in the front seat and the Tiger Moth … I used to always lose about a 1000 to 1500 ft. And I thought ‘good God what are we doing now?’ He said “You haven’t done a slow roll.” “Oh well, why don’t I do it now” and we were at 1000 feet. And I thought ‘Oh my God that’s that’. Well I thought also, he would pull me out of it. Well I got so bloody scared that I had the nose pointed up all the time and of course that’s the trick that you use because you keep climbing and because you’re losing height and then you’re gaining height and it turned out to be bang on. He passed me as being fit and well. Good Lord, I was the most scared guy you’d come across.

This is before you went to Calgary?

Yes.

Where did you go from there. Did you go to Europe then?

We went on leave and the final leave to go from Halifax across to the UK but some of us, six New Zealanders and there were six Australians too, we got to Halifax and they didn’t want to know us so they sent us down to New Brunswick to do an OTU which is only normally done in the UK and at the OTU we crewed up and that meant you had to pick on a wireless operator, a navigator for a start and then a rear gunner and finally a bomb aimer. At that stage we were (The OTU stood for Operational Training Unit). We got that way that we were doing not too badly and I started to think my gosh … when we did practise bombing you had to come over a target and then swing to one side so the rear gunner could have a go at it as well and we had fine aluminium powder that was dropped on the water and it gradually started to get a bit bigger but as you came across it the closer you got to it the more accurate you were with the bomb or with your shooting. And I was warned that some guys two or three courses ahead of us they got so keen on this that they actually followed the ammunition right into the middle and they pranged, they killed themselves. I could see that sticking out a mile and I thought my God, I kidded myself that we were doing pretty well with an error and at a later stage in my career we came down and I had about a 17 ½ foot error for bombing. The closer you came the bit more accurate you got but wait a minute I came across the target and I thought gee whiz we’re nice and low now, we’ll blow it out of existence. So we lined up and just at the last minute I realised they had a washing line around the top of the target and at the last minute I pulled the nose up and we had a 70 ft error. We just threw the bombs over the top. My God that was a close call.

So then you went from New Brunswick to England?

We got to Halifax again. The second time from Halifax they sent us on leave again. It was the first time I’ve seen a group of fellows, there were six Australians and six New Zealanders and we put all the money that we had on the table and we whacked it into twelve and we had enough money to get us back to New York again or we could have stayed on the station or we could have gone on some other sort of gratuitous leave facility, so we decided to go back to New York and one of the blokes that I had sort of got cobbery with, he knew the people in the New Zealand Economic & Industrial Mission in New York and we slept in their corridor. They put us up for 2 or 3 nights at no cost. We’d spent all our money in the fare down to New York and back again. But it was quite good.

So then you moved to England did you?

We went back to Halifax. They said “we’re going on board” and we said “well how are we going to get there”.   “Oh” they said “you’ve got to route march, you’ve got to carry your packs, at least we’ll carry your packs but you will have to carry your overcoat and the gas mask.” We said “no, that’s not on”, and it was as hot as anything because this is now coming into the summer. We said “How long is the route going to be?”  “Oh” they said “the army are going on first and then you fellows and then the officers”. I said “We can only march to music.”  Now this was a secret business. We had special notes for the buildup of secrecy as security and I agreed with the people who said that, that you are going to get an army full of troops on to a boat and march them through the main streets of Halifax or the same streets to music. Everybody will hear it, everybody will be out there to have a look at it and there will be more noise and people will be all over the place. Oh well, we finished up with four bands and they all had to be in step and we had a ball that time. We put our chest out a wee bit and they carried our kit bags, and our gas masks and our great coats and we did a march. Oh, the Queen Mary was in … oh, that’s lovely a big ship. It carried goodness knows how many troops. We got to the Queen Mary. They said “no, your boat’s just in front.” I said “what size is this?”. They said “it’s carried the troops over. It’s French, the Louis Pasteur” – and I’ve never known of a ship that has been more misnamed in all my life. We were on D Deck because the Army had taken the other decks. D Deck was below water level. Well, holy smoke, it was terrible. It was shocking. You could smell the lower decks when you were up on the top deck. It was shocking. We didn’t know of course at that stage that about a fortnight beforehand the Australians that were on the same deck – they walked off the ship at half past 11 at night when the ship was supposed to sail at 12.  The Australian Liaison Officer, he met the New Zealand Liaison Officer half way down the steps and he said “don’t bother to go down because the New Zealanders will walk off too.”  Well, we’d had a meeting since then and we decided we’d walk off at a quarter to 12.  Well at half past 11 the boat pulled out of the harbour.  OMG. They got the squeeze of it.  Well you’ve never seen such a shambles. So the two other New Zealanders and myself, we got together and said “well now we’d better see what we can do about this”. I think that you’ve got to take your time and we’d been trained to hold our breath for 90 seconds.  “We’ll get as tired as we can upstairs and then we’ll got down the stairs and take a deep breath before you go down and then get into bed and hopefully get to sleep before you wake up again” because the place was stinking. So we decided to do that.

So at about 1 o’clock in the morning we were still up on the main deck. We were just lolling around and then all of a sudden there was an army bloke came up. “Oh” he said “thank goodness, some New Zealanders.  Air Force, that’s right. My God, good for you.” He said “I’ve got no jurisdiction over the Air Force people but I wonder if you could give me a bit of a hand.” We said “What for?” He said “There’s an English RAF bloke, he’s up the mast and he wants to drop off” and he said “I’ve been asked to talk him out of getting off but I’d have to arrest him and I can’t do that because I’m not in the RAF.” He said “It can only be done by someone who has the same rank as him and in the same defence force.” He said “Will you three give me a hand?” We said “Yes, that’s all right.” So eventually he came down but then this bloke went up to point him out to us and he ran away.  Well, we had a chase on our hands.  He tackled him in a rugby tackle just outside the hospital facility so this Sergeant Major said “Well how about you blokes looking after him?” We said “Wait a minute we can’t look after him for 24 hours, you’ll need 3 blokes. In fact you’ll need more than that because if you go right through you’ve got 24 hours to fill in and how is he going to be serviced”. He said “We’ll need another three – six.”   “Oh, well I’m blowed if I know, how do you do that?”  So we decided whereabouts would he go – “down the barracks, down below.”  “No fear we’re not going away down there.”  By this time Smart had opened the door and here was the hospital, 24 beds, all laid out, white sheets, no one in them. Oh well we said “at a pinch we could, but it would have to be on our conditions.” “Oh yes that will be all right, that’s no trouble.” To make a long story shorter, we finished up that we had him getting our food for us because the hospital had a priority on the queue and they could walk straight up to the top of the queue. They could get whatever they wanted and then they brought it back. In the last couple of days we had him trained to get our food and bring it to us. How about that. And we did far, far better than the officers.

So eventually you got to England?

We got to Greenock on the Clyde and I thought this is a long trip by train and they had a lane on the side of the placard. Every station that we came to had the word Hovis and I thought that’s to trick the Germans. They’re not going to tell you what place you’re in and so they all had this Hovis. I found out later that that’s the name of the big bakery factory that supplied all the bread to everywhere in Northern England and Scotland. I saw Hovis, Hovis, Hovis – I thought we were going round in circles. It took a long time to get down to London and then we got to Brighton and that was interesting because they had taken over all the touristy hotels on the front but they put bricks up over the entrance to the hotel and that was to stop the Germans coming in at a low level and firing into the lower parts of the hotel. What we didn’t realise of course was that they had the prime people were on the guns and they were very well trained for firing at th e drogue. The drogue used to come across from time to time and they would fire at the drogue and hit it more times than they missed it. And what they used to do then was they realised that the gunners were fairly good so the Germans came over at low level at a distance that was a wee bit out for the gunners on the shore. They flew up here, let the bomb go and it carried on over the top, and we learnt a thing or two over that.

So when did you start flying again in England. When did you start your real flying in England again?

Well, that took us some time too because they realised that down at Pennfield Ridge we had trained on Venturas which were like the Hudson and we were the only ones who really were available. They said “Well we’ve got Venturas here.” The New Zealand squadron had a Ventura squadron up there in ? and we’ve got a dozen or so of these aeroplanes, they could be flown, where were they flying from? Oh where’s a place that’s not used very much? Down in the New Forest out at Stoneycross and that’s between Southampton and Plymouth. They could fly them down there and that’s where we got posted. Down to the New Forest.

Well these aeroplanes – they’d given up flying them operationally because they were getting clobbered so much. They were suicidal so they gave them to the people who were looking after us. Well, what a bigger mistake they couldn’t have made because the aeroplanes were clapped out and to some extent so was the aerodrome. Well, the first real fright that I got was on one occasion. You still had to keep your flying up. We were out on a cross country just from here to there and back again or in a triangle and lo and behold we got one of these aeroplanes. When we got to the distance that we were going to about an hour and a half out from the aerodrome one motor started to backfire and I thought what do I do. I can close it down and feather it which would cut down the drag a wee bit but by the same token it was actually still firing but it was about half or less power. Or do I just struggle on? We were high enough that I worked out that at the rate we were losing height which wasn’t very much at all that we still had enough room to get on to the circuit at home back in the New Forest. That’s what I thought. So we did that and we came back home and there was a flashing red light that roughly identified the aerodrome but it was mobile and it could have been anywhere within the boundary I suppose – it was handy. So we located that but then there were no lights on, nothing else was on. What had happened was that while we were away they had forgotten about us and there had been a raid alert and they shut down everything. Well then we had been away for so long that the blokes forgot about us, as I say, and they told me “well, we turned everything off and went back to the mess.”  Well, wait a minute I got back there and it was as black as the table here. It was a dark night there was no moon and there was high cloud and it was as black as the ace of spades. I stooged around for two or three circuits and I thought ‘wait I minute – we’ve got to get out of this somehow.’   What do you do? We’ll fire the Very pistol that will stir them up. We had a Very pistol but we didn’t have any ammunition. That was one thing. All right well flash the Orlis light. We didn’t have an Orlis light. We put on the landing lights. They didn’t work. Now it was starting to become serious. What are we going to do? We were getting down to about 1000 feet which was the entry to the circuit and then all of a sudden here comes a flare path, lit up. Oh thank God for that. So I thought ‘now we’ll take it steady because we can’t go round again on one engine. We’ll come in steady’ and this was the first real fright that I got. Came in and we had a little bit of power on the motor that was crook I didn’t like that so we came in and took a very steady approach. We were gradually getting in and over the fence I spotted what this light was that I was aiming for, that was to light up a row of aeroplanes who were doing something else. The other squadron was over there. Their flight had been cancelled for the night because of the air raid earlier on and they were unloading a row of 8 or 10 aeroplanes – Albermarles. Well, we had a choice. Left or right. You couldn’t land on there because you just kill everybody so I took a chance and I picked the right side because that’s the side that the pilot sat on and fortunately, I almost closed my eyes, because I was waiting for the prang. We were either going to land on the grass or on the trees. Fortunately I didn’t panic but I could have and absolutely black – you couldn’t see a thing, but we were low enough that the heat from the exhaust just by the pilot’s side reflected on the ground. We were quite close to the ground. I just missed a forest pony. We used to send a jeep down the runway to chase the forest ponies off and I got a reflection of the light from the exhaust on the runway. And we were on the runway, good God. Then as soon as I touched the ground I jammed the brakes on. I couldn’t care less whether the tyres burst or what-have-you. So long as both of them went at the same time. Well we got to a full stop and I didn’t know which way to go. No idea at all. So we sat there for about 10 – 15 minutes. I was catching my breath. It was beyond me and eventually the perimeter lights came up and we followed them round a bit. What I didn’t realise was that we had landed on the shortest runway that is down there. It was a calm night and at the bottom end of that runway was a gully of about 100 to 150 feet deep. That was a miracle.

Then after that when did you start your proper war time flying?

That aeroplane never flew again. I couldn’t get anybody to come on an air test with me in the finish and the chief ground bloke, the engineer … I said “look if you’ve changed all the plugs you’ve done everything to make sure it’s okay, you’ve run it up, you’ve set it and they spent a bit of time on it, you reckon that it’s going all right, well let’s go and have a go” and I was prepared I was quarter of the way down the runway and I was prepared to stop at any time when this thing started to cough and it wasn’t until we were about half way down the runway that it started, exactly the same thing.  And I just pulled everything off and came back again. But the crew wouldn’t fly with me. My own ground crew wouldn’t fly with me. This bloke he stuck his neck out

Then we went to Leicester East and converted on to Stirling 3s. These were a development of the English built bomber. It was about 1935 it first started off as a conversion from the Wellington which we’d copied largely and they had 4 engines instead of 2. The Stirling was used extensively in bombing but not as extensively as the Lancaster because it had a ceiling height on it because of the width of the wings and the Lancaster could fly higher but with slightly lesser payload so then way back they decided they were going to have a go at Germany.

That decision was taken in the very early stages of the war and they continued making Stirlings and then they converted those Stirlings into Mark 4s because the Stirling didn’t have the height, it had the range but it didn’t have the height to keep out of trouble from the Germans. So they started making hundreds of Stirling 4s and they had a big well in the floor that you could lift up and the static line of the parachutists were lined up here with the static lines behind them. They had to drop about 12ft before the parachute was released because, you couldn’t just jump out and pull the parachute or have a short rein on the parachute because you had to have 12ft clear to clear the tail plane coming across and ripping into all the parachute and so they had down below not only that but they had really done their homework. The parachute clip would be beating up in the slipstream taking the bottom out of the aeroplane taking out the fuselage. So they built what I called the reverse of a rugby goal post so that came down and all these straps with the very heavy toggle on them down here. They were held down and they were wound in to close it down. It made quite a big hole in the bottom of the aeroplane and the crew they were responsible for handling it.

I had one occasion and that was the only time that I really panicked. If you stretched your neck a bit you could see the lights of Switzerland and we were down there and we normally dropped at 600ft and this is to supply the underground, the Maquis, and this was unusually rocky – and these fellows wanted the thing to be dropped at the bottom of the gully. Well I got into this and I thought hells bells that’s too bloody low, we’ll not get out. It’s easy enough to lose height. It’s another thing to gain it and every turn that we made we were losing 150ft. Well, I let it go at a thousand feet and that spread it over a much longer distance than you normally concentrated to drop it in. Well I had three goes at trying to get out of that gully and finally, because each turn – you had two turns in one circuit – oh God it was agony, you could have shot me down with a bow and arrow. So I got that into gear there and finally there was a little low patch over here and I picked that and we cleared that by about 50ft.

This was in a Stirling?

Yes, that’s right, as I say, you could see the Swiss lights over here. It was on the Rhone river not the Rhine. The Rhone and the Rhine both started quite close together.

And so from dropping supplies, when did you start bombing?

I had one excuse. I did one bombing trip when the Normandy invasion was on I took part in the early part of that. We took off at half past 11 on the 5th June and the invasion started on about 12 and it was only just across the English Channel. But interestingly enough and I haven’t heard anybody else say about the conditions, the air conditions anyway, at the time because there was a slight on shore breeze and in fact some of the army fellows they got a bit sick getting in there. Now for an hour before we got there Bomber Command and the US Air Force had been bombing. There had been a concentration on trying to knock out Hitler’s Atlantic wall and that stirred up so much dirt and dust and grime that when we got there you couldn’t see the ground. Now the navigators – we put a restriction on all the air movement for a fortnight before the invasion to make sure that everything was spot on and we had an 8 millimetre photo of the run in. Now we got to the rendezvous and then you turned a short distance to the dropping zone and the navigators had memorized the pin-points on the way and they repeated it and they weren’t allowed to talk. Only two people could talk to each other on the station. The third person was ruled out. When we got there you couldn’t see the ground. You’d wasted your time learning all about it. Sometimes there would be 2 or 3 runs a day. They would go through this and the guys got it in their mind that discussion other than with the air crew even then knew the discussion wasn’t on. And the instruction was if you don’t drop don’t go round again. You had a one chance opportunity. They hadn’t reckoned on the dirt and grime that would be thrown up by the bombing [?]. The naval guns were firing, they played merry hell to stir it along. They thought it was another Dieppe I think. Anyway Bertie who was magnificent at map reading, it was his peace time hobby and he said “Hey chief turn quickly to the left.” He said “I know where we are, we’re about 300 yards out. “Now” he said “If you can drift through with that off” of course there was only about half a minute or so in it and I reckoned we dropped within 500 yards. Shortly afterwards we did our drop we came back I was a bit scared to fly too low because I figured that I might get into someone else’s trouble and I finished up at about 10 or 12 thousand feet I think because there was red and green which was coming like no one’s business. The churning up of the sea with the armada approaching, it was like Cook Strait in a heavy nor’wester. It was just white, white, white. So we got out of that one and just came back and dropped and pulled in.

So what other flying did you do during the war, bombing and so forth?

Well, we had another, this time I did panic, did I tell you that story? We had French paratroopers on board and they had a lieutenant or equivalent in charge of them and we were going down to just by the Massif Central in southern France. It wasn’t too south but it was south of Paris. The orders were to drop these fellows off at a particular place. Well we managed to get there. First of all across the English channel, no trouble, on to French over Le Havre and lo and behold up comes some flak. Well I always used to fly about 5 degrees either side of the course that we were following because I didn’t want the Germans to get the idea that we were following a course and that they were going to fire up ahead of me and explode in front of me, well this is what they did, and we flew through the debris and one bit of the debris came through the windscreen and shattered the windscreen, I couldn’t see out of. It didn’t actually shatter the windscreen it exploded but the verges held together. I then had to drive from the second dickie seat which was just handy enough and we were then at the top of our height crossing the coast going into France.

We would be about 10000 – 12000 feet I suppose, and I panicked … oh gosh, I’ve been hit in the arm, and I could almost feel the blood flowing down my arm – get out of here quick – and I stuffed the nose down and I’ve never taken off so quickly in all my life before or since except on the commercial flights. It went through my mind ‘Oh gosh, the police were walking up the path to knock on the door – Mrs Sutherland, Mr Sutherland, sorry your lad has gone’. And then I thought of Colin Rouse, my navigator, what about him. He was going to get married to Kath, poor Kath and Nicks was Margaret, she was waiting for him and then there was Reggie. Reggie had already been married in Canada. Oh God what would you do? And Bertie was already married. He was the other Australian. Nicks and Bertie were the Australians. What the heck would you do? This went through my mind and I just stuffed the nose down and Bertie piped up. He said “Gee are you all right?” “Yes, yes of course Bertie”. And I thought now I’ve got to pull myself out of this and I remember the instructor telling me at Taieri on Tiger Moths, that if you put too much pressure on the control column you will bend it and he said to try and fly straight and level you’d be down here, you’d never make it. And that went through my mind so I put as much pressure as I dared to to pull out of it and I think we came very close to the ground because in the length of that we had 12 or 15 French paratroopers on board too, and a bit of gear that they would have dropped alongside them. By crikey dicks I pulled out of that. The air speed indicator wouldn’t work. Two of the rev counters gave up the ghost but the engines didn’t. I was in fairly course pitch which was a bit of a help but it wasn’t the aeroplane’s fault. The aeroplane came out of it beautifully. You would be absolutely surprised. So much so that we could carry on. We levelled off and carried on.

We were allowed then to pick your own height to travel at over France and I generally picked about 500 feet because we dropped at 6. Well we got over and the dropping zone – “By God where is it?” We were still looking for it. In the meantime, just as we approached for about the third time there was a stream of little lights coming up the road. There were about 20 vehicles in convoy and they were Germans of course, and we’d crossed over a couple of times to make sure that we weren’t making a mistake. I then realised that it was a German convoy and they would be pooping at us before we knew where we were. It was like shooting ducks on Lake Wairarapa. So I said to the bloke, I said “look there’s a convoy coming up there, you’ll be shot down before you hit the ground.” I said “we’re not going to open up and we’re aborting the trip as of now”. I got in ahead of him. He said “we’re not going back the way we came.”  I said “no that’s right, we’ll do something else.” So I got on to the intercom to the navigator and said “draw a line anywhere you like and tell him that’s the line we’ll cross. But if we do that who takes the responsibility if for instance we get shot down by a place that is a damn sight worse than where we came from?” So I decided we would go back the same way we came and what had happened was that in the meantime the Le Havre had been the target for a bombing raid and they were busy cleaning up the mess from the bombing raid and they never fired a shot. Well we went back over them. I almost laughed except for the fact that the moment that we got over the boundary on to the English channel a motor packed up. A con rod had come adrift and it had taken out the cylinder and that had closed that whole motor down.

So then I had three motors with 15 paratroopers and their gear on board, now what do I do? We were half way over the channel. I thought well it’s near enough to being close enough for me. I’ll call up base and tell them to be prepared for a 3 engine landing which I did. They said “look we’ve got 100% fog all over the south part of England. If you can find an aerodrome anywhere land on it”, which is what we did. So the bit of the South Coast that I was on, was clear for about 10 miles in and within that range there was a fighter aerodrome and we came in and made a landing and the rules were that we were to speak to no one, the only person who could have a communication with anybody on the ground was myself. So we landed and it was now breakfast time. We were a fair way out. It was about 7 hours or so and we’d been awake from breakfast time the same day. I complained to the Air Vice-Marshall about that. I said “look we need a second dickie. If we’re going to do this we need to have a co-pilot”. And there were dozens of them. They were more or less idle and they would have been very good. But no it didn’t happen and I was only a Flight Sergeant. So that was the dicey do, because 4 o’clock in the afternoon they gave us breakfast which was bacon and eggs and things we hadn’t seen for long enough and piles of sugar, cereal for breakfast. The fighter boys, that’s what they lived on. And we had white sheets and white pillowcases. The paratroopers, you should have heard the comments they were making. “God”, they said “this is luxury”. They finished up, they were so tired because they had been going most of the day too. They came down with a convoy to take them back. Humber Snipe station wagons and there were about 6 or 8 of those came down and they took them back to London.

How many hours did you do flying in the war?

I didn’t do very many. Just under 1000. The thing was we were just like that. You only had one target, one aeroplane and you had 20 minutes when you got there. The flexibility of getting there and what-have-you. The underground were very good to us in a way because at a later stage we were coming in to the Japanese war when the European was over and we were building up stores on the way to India to have a go. Well we were taking gliders and the rule was you had to have 100% performance from your aeroplane before you got to the English coast. We got just to the English coast and a motor packed in and I said to the boys “will we carry on with three engines?” Because the glider could cut himself off any time he wanted to and he could land at a very small space but we couldn’t and we would be pleased if we ran into trouble we would need to drop him anyway. Well, we took the risk. Some of the ground crew were in the glider. We got down to Istre which is just over the swampy area behind Marseilles. We got down there and of course we couldn’t take off because we only had three engines. We had no show. We were there for about 4 or 5 days and each morning the underground would come around with a …. they had a pilot Ford and they had a Citroen convertible and they took the crew. I had to stay for public relations I suppose, just in case our head office rang but they had to train the crew magnificently and we went out to the movies one Saturday night to Avignon and of course it was all in French and they had English conversions underneath.

So when did your war finish in England?

It was 1945 and by that time they had fired the gun at Hiroshima and that war was over fairly quickly.

Then they said “do you want to take up commercial flying?” I said “yes” and so many guys had said yes, and at this stage of the game they had promoted me to officer rank through no fault of my own, nor the crew, but there came to me a Mark 5 Stirling and it was a civilian rigged up for civilian flying distance and new, brand spanking new. “Oh we’ll see what you’re like for passenger flying.” So with the Stirling 4 we got a bit cobbery, by then, the Stirlings and me, and I got a bit confident too I suppose. So they gave me a test to see if I was good enough to apply the skills for passenger flying and I read the rules and they were pretty simple. Well I got the lift to passenger flying and that’s a great achievement and “we’ll put you on to the Stirling 5’s. Oh well, you’ve only been once to India before, we’ll take you out and show you a bit more”. So Flight Lieutenant (I’ve forgotten his name) “he’ll show you the way and you can share the flying”. Well we got to Marseilles again and we went across the Mediterranean into Tel Aviv Airport and then we went from there and it was my turn to fly from Tel Aviv into the Persian desert, a place called Shiver and we landed there and it was so hot that you weren’t allowed to fly before 10 o’clock at night or 4 o’clock in the morning at least between 10 and 4 you could fly. That’s the only time you could. So we pulled in there and went through a bit of a routine, refuel that was the idea so we got enough to get to India. My mate took over the flying and I got into a bunk. These civilian airlines they were convertible bunks. It was delightful. Brand spanking new. Everything worked – marvellous. So we took off and about 10 – 15 minutes or so on the radio the undercart’s not up. Well, I’ll give them another go so he pressed the button again and he still got a red light. This came over from the cockpit. His Flight Engineer came along and said “it’s practically there. Oh” he said “just give it a manual pull.” This had a very long handle on it so he pushed it in, this was now in our sight. We could see everything that was going on. So he got hold of it and said “I can’t move it. Well” he said “get a hold of Noel’s engineer and give it a good hard pull.” So the two of them got on this and they gave it a mighty bloody pull, enough to strip the rod that was tying these things down. When the rods stripped the undercart weighed half a ton anyway, at least the two of the undercarts weighed half a ton, they were huge. It went out through the roof, through the wing, and on the way out it activated the automatic inflation for the dinghy and the dinghy burst open, it was in the slip stream, the engines were all right, it was in the slip stream and it burst. So there were strings hanging out the back and this thing sitting up there like that then all of a sudden it gave a drop, it dropped about a third of the way down. His nibs up the front said “oh well”, and his engineer was talking to him, he said “it’s dropped down about a third. Oh wait a minute, a bit more than that – it dropped a bit more”. So he said “if one’s down, we’ll put the other one down too and it went through my mind that it was suicidal”. So I said “I’m going up the front and I’m going to ask him if he will drop us at a 1000 feet over the top of Shiver and then he can please himself what he does”. We talked around it and this was a new crew to me. It wasn’t my normal crew. New people altogether. I said “well that’s where I’m off to” and I just got myself ready to go and he asked if I would come up to the top. So I’d gone through this process, over the advantage of that, and he said “have you ever had anything like this before?” I said “Well I suppose I have” and I don’t know why I lied to him because I had no reason to do that but I’d worked it out what I would do. He said “Well if you’ve done that would you give me a hand.” I said “No.” I said “I’ll give you a hand on one condition and that is that I’m the skipper of the aeroplane. I’m in charge, I’m the captain of everything. You can talk to the Control Tower as much as you like but I’m doing the driving.” He said “that’s all right”. I thought thank God for that.

So first thing I did was I sacked his radio operator. I said now look you are going to do a thing that I would never ever think of doing. I said you have got to go and lie down on the bunk and light a cigarette and you’re going to smoke it and you’re going to relax. He was sitting in a ball of sweat. He was just around the twist. So I got my bloke up and he took over and I thought well now we’ve got one leg down, one leg useless, what do you do. Well you go through what you’ve been told I suppose and the thing was as soon as we got over the boundary fence I kind of eased it forward a bit and I made bloody sure that I knocked that other one out. It was down, and she just made the smoothest landing that you ever could think of and just as it was really slowed right down she turned about that much. Just a fraction and it didn’t do the slightest bit of harm except it stripped the undercart of course was buggered. Well that was the first of the Mark 5’s, new aeroplane altogether and I think that would have been one of the last ones.

And so as a result of that flight did they pass you for … why?

No thanks at all.

Nothing. Why? Was it because of the attitude of the chap you replaced? He must have had some influence.

I would have said at least thank you. But it was funny because when the aircraft stopped and slightly turned, there’s a gadget up here that you put your hand on and you pull that down and that gives you the chance to get out the top. Well I had to make sure that the ignition was off and the petrol was off and that all the emergencies things that you do, fire extinguishers on and everything else and I looked round and I could see it was empty. He’d gone. So I opened up the top and it was then only just a small three or four feet drop and down below was a bloke holding a fire hose and I said to him if we peed together we would have a bit more power behind it than you’ve got. He said I know, it hasn’t come on yet. In the meantime the two crews and helpers and fire crew they formed a chain from the aeroplane and took our personal bits and pieces and then all of a sudden the power came on. The hose that he was holding, it went over the top of the wing and it washed everybody who was in the queue. I haven’t stopped laughing ever since. It was a ball. But then the next thing I knew I was on the way home.

And so when you came home then Noel, did you go back to University or had you finished University?

No, I hadn’t finished University but I then joined the Soil Conservation outfit and they had a bit of fun.

Originally you started in Kurow. You spent some time in Kurow.

Quite so. My uncle had a farm up the Akatarawara valley and I spent a lot of time up there but oh gosh the rabbits were…. We had a carrying capacity of about 2,800 odd ewes. They were half breeds but that wasn’t the capacity really if you didn’t have any rabbits and that capacity got down to just slightly above 2000 and that made the difference and there were two blokes who came up and for three months in the winter they took 22,000 rabbits off 1500 acres. Well I had a job taking the stores out to the blokes who were rabbit proofing the back fence and I used to go out, the stores truck didn’t arrive until about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I took off about 3ish and went on the trail. I always had two dogs with me because one I could send home and one would stay with me, if the horse happened to play up. We were walking along on the place that had quite a good covering of top soil. It was very quiet. Then round the corner it was shingle. On this occasion it was a lovely moonlit night, it was August in the school holidays. Around the corner the horse’s hoof struck a rock and that was enough to set the rabbits going. And about fifteen or twenty of them ran into each other, they were so thick on the ground. One night I counted about fifteen or twenty black ones. We had the odd yellow one and we had two or three whites around and there was a white hare on the other side of the road and when it heard the vibration of the horse coming it used to crouch down so it couldn’t be seen and from the height of the horse you could see this hare and you called the dogs off and the sheep dogs wouldn’t chase a rabbit and the rabbit dogs wouldn’t chase the sheep. They cottoned on to that very readily. Well this night the rabbits were tumbling over each other. Not too many but there were some and that was the thing that was news to me.

And how long were you in Kurow?

I went there for the school holidays.

Then when you started full time with the Department where did you start?

My father had a job then at Darfield in Canterbury and I was at University. But after the war I got a job because I didn’t have a job and I had a health problem and I found it very difficult to sit down as we are doing now and I couldn’t even sit in the car and I had to go to the hospital in Oamaru three times a week from Duntroon. We were staying with my uncle and aunt and that was very difficult. So I took on this Soil Conservation job and that meant going to Lincoln for six months. We had a high pressure course. There were seven on the course, six returned blokes and one fellow and he’s the only one that’s alive now and myself and I’m in contact with him in Canada… Canadian rehabilitation authority, doing a similar kind of thing but a different environment.

And so then once you had finished at Lincoln where did you start your field work with the Department?

I was posted to Masterton. One of the things was that there was no authority for burning off grass or scrub. The Forest Service were responsible for any fires in the forest but they had a limit to two chains outside the forest so they could protect the forest and I couldn’t help but get the impression that they weren’t very keen on the native forests, they were keener on the planted forest and that was proven around Taupo. We went on a fire fighting course just out of Taupo over the river from Waiouru and the one stroke there was the method to be using to beat the fires. At a later stage when I was in the Wairarapa and subsequently in Wellington, I had ten years in the field and 10 years in head office and I had separately ten years in Agriculture Department and twenty years in Ministry of Works, they were split, so we came under different kinds of management and different histories.

My job was preparation of the soil conservation part of the agenda of the soil conservation council. That covered the whole of New Zealand and to some extent we had an inspectorial arrangement there. I should mention that mostly when I referred to the fire business earlier, the only authority that there was other than life being threatened or buildings was in fact the Catchment Boards. The County would be responsible for life and buildings per se but any other fire that was not controlled at all. I give top marks to the people whom I shared the training with at Lincoln. They first of all got to know what they were doing and then they had to talk to farmers because in the summer time and that applied to Hawke’s Bay as well as the Wairarapa to Canterbury, to Otago in particular, and the Manawatu. The burning was such that the sun was a dull orange in the middle of the day and that was not restricted and Bryant & May had the name of being one of the main items of use to set alight to the fire in the summer time. I have trailed on a horse soaked in kerosene a trail and you drive and get the biggest fire that you can. I used to be able to strike a match on my trousers and have it in the tussock before the phosphorous of the header had gone out.

So I’d had some experience there of doing the wrong thing. With the rabbits it was awkward, very awkward, because the rabbits would eat anything and even the flat weeds that grew the rabbits would eat that too and the greatest difficulty was the windblown faces where the top soil is very small and the back faces had overly large top soil. The grass grew here that was not eaten because they were eating the fresh stuff here.

Then when I got to Palmerston North we took a keen interest in Grasslands Division. They had cut and measured the grass growth where there was a concentration of animals and on one occasion, Eddie Suckling was the promoter in the field and he measured the grass growth equivalent to 28 head of sheep and we reckoned that if you could split that up a bit you’d get better growth more evenly and you’d start moving into farming proper. That was borne out by Hugh Morrison of Tinui way in Masterton. During the period between the first war and the second there was a depression and the local fellow who was the headmaster of the school, the school didn’t work, and he was put on shorter hours and Hugh Morrison got him to put an alarm clock on the gate post of the paddock and that was to allow the grazing to go on for twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the afternoon. And then the stock were driven off and they were taken up on to the easy hills that he had. With that transference of fertiliser, of what it turned out to be fertiliser, that was a winner and he started to increase the growth up here and he got into some tiger country that he was only running dry stock on. That is the principle of rotational grazing. And that’s what we have our socks on. We found a bloke Linklater at Pohangina. He did a similar kind of thing and that stimulated the soil conservation use of the manipulation of the grazing animal.

I should say this about the time in the Manawatu and it applied also to just around Dannevirke here – similar types of soil. The soil and the rock that was underneath made a big, big difference because pumice sand – pumicious sand existed over the Wairarapa. In fact if you have a look at the… on top of what you think of as mud or mud stone that was in places so steep that they were protected really by being steep because they couldn’t stand either being wind-blown or rain-blown. You’d see the pinnacles, there’s some at Otematata in the South Island, there’s some at Palliser Bay down here and when a stone on top of a column of this brew really forms a spire and they get up to twenty feet high.

So when you left Palmerston North and Masterton somewhere you must have got married.

Palmerston North. I’ll tell you a story about the Palmerston North one. There was one place there of 575 acres and he had a mile and a quarter of cavern cutting through the stuff on top and it was about a 150 feet to the ground. The wind blew, a nor’wester, and it started to blow the sand with a heavy wind and it formed little micro dunes on the top side. We had an Australian assistant to Dr Bennett whose bible we used a large amount – the American chief soil conservator and I said to him what would you do if you were here. Well he said it’s a bit like this he said. I have no experience of this at all. What I would do I would put a track in the top end here and I’d collect $5 from everybody whose in the car whose driven down and had a look at it. He said that would be the solution I would put on it. And I thought ‘if that’s coming from the World’s No 2 what are we doing?’   Now on one occasion, in one night, there was a fairly big rain storm on this pumice sand and it missed the house by about a hundred yards and it cut a hole. The next morning I went out and the fence was up here about forty or fifty feet. It just cut it straight through because it found a weakness and once it started it to cut it was just like soup and as far as I know it’s still there.

Coming back to Palmerston North, you married Margaret. How many children?

Two boys, no daughters. I left that to the great-grandchildren.

And so at some stage you left Palmerston North and came to live in?

I went to Wellington to do a tour in head office and also I finished my degree there. That was a degree in geology. That was very useful to me and I’ve got some samples mainly on the east coast but samples that I’ve got mainly of mud stones we identified one mud stone from another from another from another. They wanted me to have a go at [?] Water which is moisture that has been trapped for millions of years. I had a young family and I would have had to give up work to do it. So I didn’t. But the beauty of this was the understanding of pressure. That was exemplified when John Porter and his mates found a place down in Central Hawke’s Bay, Christmas time. So the guy went up to the woolshed to make sure that the water supply was on and everything was right. So away he went and he came back again in about 2 or 3 weeks and he came to where he had stopped before and holy smokes, he had the brakes on. She dropped about 100 feet. Now this was at a time when there was no rain whatsoever over Christmas and New Year but the whole face had moved down and there was about 20 acres in terms of having a look at it and there’s another 10 or so acres down below where the top soil had bouldered up. Why should that happen when there was no storm, there was no reason for it.

There’s obviously underground water isn’t there?

Correct. And that was proven when the same sort of thing happened down at Te Apiti Road down here in Waimarama. The deep seated pressure had come on and had pushed the mud up the top and it didn’t stop and it kept flowing and there was no rain at all and there was no way of controlling it. Now that happened up in Gisborne at Ihungia valley, at Ihungia Station. And the slope had little or nothing to do with it. Absolutely remarkable and of course down just below Patangata they’re still mining it and have been using it in medication for stock food. It’s so slippery that they can use it as a base for stock.

That’s not bentonite isn’t it?

That’s right.

Then you moved from Wellington to Hawke’s Bay and worked with the Department for 20 years in Hawke’s Bay and you lived in Selwyn Road for all that time. Your children grew up there and then your interest in conservation up the East Coast all developed during that time.

It’s very interesting because from time to time I took some of the students from Woodford House on a trip up to the Coast and the different types of erosion that occur along that road is remarkable.

I’ve fished the Ruakituri Valley for many many years. The Hangaroa through Waimaha Station up to the Huias, Waikaremoana and they all have those huge mud stone slides. They have that huge pressure ridge that drove everything up in a certain direction.

New Zealand has got a whole host of situations. The deposits on the Wither Hills in Blenheim they were all aerial born which means that there was a big dry patch of land over out of the Tasman and it got whipped across from there to there and we had a bulldozer that was lost down one of the holes.

When you were in Hawke’s Bay you did quite a lot of work with erosion control using trees, undergrazing of trees didn’t you?

We got into some sorts of things. We thought we had a deterrent for stock wanted to eat them. John Porter got the idea that the lombardy trees that were used here could well be used for planting and striking and growing on the hill and obviously the better the soil the better the growth but by the same token these things were very versatile and in fact we started up with Chris van Kraayenoord at Tangoio and he finished up at Aokautere. We had a research area at Aokautere and we built on millions of tissue culture and that worked very well except that when I was in the Hakataramea Valley on the Kirklistone range you used to be able to see in the summer time the remnants of the snow were covered with the ash from the fires in Australia. Australia at that stage of the game had an outbreak of a disease that attacked the new growth on poplars and Bryant and May were using Australia for growing these things. They were so impressed with the growth rates that we get here in Hawke’s Bay that they actually, they either acquired or had the lease of some land at Meeanee and they grew their own because we were putting on roughly an inch a year. They were taking that and splitting it into match heads. Well, it got so bad that we couldn’t help but get some coming across the sea. It’s a microscopic pollen.

It’s like a rust isn’t it?

Yes, that’s right. Valencia.

The Chinese poplar is the only one that doesn’t get it. Unithensis. So you were known as the District Conservator.

Yes, that’s right and that included the Gisborne/East Coast area as well.

Was there anything else you can think of that you did that was different within the Department. The river control was with the Catchment Boards wasn’t it.

There were two blokes, one did the north island, one did the south. Senior engineers in Wellington but mostly the engineering was done and they were the executives for the Catchment Boards and the Soil Conservator was an add on. Increasingly when we got into gear things moved a wee bit more smoothly and wider, for instance aerial top dressing and I can tell you a fair story about that.

Community service. You were a member of Rotary. You still are a member of Rotary and of course Margaret was ill….

She was teaching in Wellington. She was teaching at a satellite school to the Khandallah school and she was asked by the one principal teacher. He said “look there’s more kids here than I can handle, how about you having a go.”   So she did. We got friendly with some people who had a lad about the same size and age of our youngest. And she said “well look if you’re good at teaching the twenty or thirty kids that you’ve got” she said “you have to stay at home to look after your kids, I’ll take him because my kids have got to be taught as well.”   So she became great friends and Margaret made a bit of history there. She carried on to the extent that when we came to Hawke’s Bay we went and had a look at what the possibilities were of Havelock North including the churches and the good appreciation of religion here. Swimming, a good appreciation and teaching, well just Te Mata school and an orchard within view of the school boundary, and it’s so attractive and it’s a good climate. I think it’s got the best climate in New Zealand. That’s not the reason for my having to move out. Margaret made quite good friends with the Rotary Inner Wheel and she kept that going for a while.

And of course Rotary as well. You’re still an honorary member since you retired from Rotary.

Well, it wasn’t my fault. When I came here first I worked in Napier at Ministry of Works, at least we worked in agriculture in Hastings and then it became Napier because we changed back to Ministry of Works from Agriculture. I didn’t know anybody who was in Havelock North and I thought Rotary has got a wide range of activities and I made friends enormously. Through Rotary I got to know how the place ticked a wee bit more. How’s the time going?

I’ve got one little one to show you. To give you an idea how we spent our time, Masterton, the Wairarapa. I had a call to go to see someone on the Coast. They said “well look, if you are going to come this far could you possibly bring a passenger.” I said “that will be all right”. They said “well, it’s the piano tuner” and I said “that’s okay.” I said “I’ll pick him up about 7 in the morning and it will take us a while to get there but I’ll give you a ring from a little place I know not far away and let you know when we’re there so that you can bring the horses across and we’re right”.

So we started off at about half past seven and he said “you work for Soils”. I said “yes I do a bit”. He said “why aren’t we on bicycles because Gibbs & [?] have just done the soils of the lower Wairarapa”. I said “it’s a bit too long for that”. “Well” he said “that will be all right”. We plodded along and of course in those days the car didn’t travel very fast. 40 mph was about the limit. We got to this little place with the telephone. I said “I’ll probably be about 10 minutes”. So I rang up and said “we’re on our way. You’ve got about half an hour or so to get the horses over” and I didn’t know what I was talking about either.   Never been there before. So we got going and we found that we were on a one way track and it was cut under a cliff.   There had been a bit of rain the day or so before and there was a little bit of a trickle coming down the top and over the road and then down. He said “what did you ring for?”   I said “just to give them some advance notice that we were on our way and they will bring the horses over.”   “Horses!! What are they for?”   “Oh” I said “we’ll need the horses to get over the creek”. I said “have you ever ridden a horse?”   “No, I’ve never ridden a horse.”   I said “you are going to be educated”.

We came to this bit that was trickling across the road. “Oh” he said “we can step over that”. I said “yes that’s right but the bit that we’ve got to get across is that bit down there”. It was a tidal entrance from the river, an exit from the river. I said “that’s the bit we have got to get over.”   “God” he said, “I don’t know about that”. I said “it’s too late now.”   So I left him trembling a wee bit. The bloke brought over three of his staff with him and they tried to get this fellow right. They had a loading bank fortunately and they said to him “now you sit as though you’re sitting in an armchair at home because that’s the way you sit on a saddle”. He was stiff and there’s no quicker way to fall off a horse, is to be stiff.  So they finished up, there was one bloke here and one bloke there and the boss bloke and they brought a horse over for me and those horses just about knew where to walk and he was trembling, he was really, I’ve never seen a bloke so scared. And we got over to the other side and that was fine and he couldn’t get off the horse quick enough. They had a loading bank there too. We went up and did the job we had to do. They gave us a bite of lunch before we left and as soon as he hit the ground he couldn’t get into the house quick enough and the piano became alive. So he spent the rest of the morning and afternoon tuning the piano and we got back about half past three. They said” look we’ve got my cousin here, a youngster from school. I don’t suppose you can take her back when you go.”  “Oh” I said “that’s all right”. So by the time we got down to the river again the moon was just floating out here in the eve and it was calm as could be and you could hardly hear the splash of the horses’ hooves. It was absolutely awe inspiring. I had the girl’s suitcase in front of me and we finished up. Once again it took a wee while to get home and then I didn’t have the guts at half past nine at night to say we should have done that with a bike.

A good finish to the story. Thank you Noel.

Original digital file

Noel Sutherland Edited.ogg

Format of the original

Audio recording

Additional information

Interviewer: Frank Cooper

Accession number

898/1286/36987

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