Dearer By the Dozen

Dearer by the Dozen

By Vera Hyde


This book is dedicated to our wonderful Mum and Dad – who gave their twelve children so much more than life

to my eleven brothers and sisters and their families;

and to my own loving family and their families.

Mum once said that every baby you have is just as dear as the one before, that is why I called this book

Dearer by the Dozen.

“With grateful thanks to Lois Smith, who from sheer interest in the family, typed this story onto computer and made this book a reality.”

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Our Parents & Home   2
Early Days   7
Illnesses & Accidents   16
TWO World Wars   23
The Earthquake    27
Young Adults    34
Courtings & Weddings   39
Highlights of our Youth   43
Appendix  i
The Family   47
Appendix  ii
Family Occupations   48

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“Fancy being one of twelve kids! What’s it like?” one of the girls I worked with asked me this nearly fifty years ago and I told her of the fun it was, making her quite envious. Many years later at a Mothers’ Union meeting in Cambridge when our speaker couldn’t come, one of the members asked if I would tell them a little about our family life, and what it was like belonging to a family of twelve – seven boys and five girls. I found such pleasure in chatting away about the family that after sixteen years and eighty-one “talks” later, and because of the great interest shown by so many people, I decided to write this book.

Our Mother, affectionately “Mum“ to us all, was born at her parent’s home in Waghorne Street, Port Ahuriri, Napier in 1883 and was christened Susan Rebecca Rolls. Her Father Mark Rolls, was a baker who made only a few hundred loaves of bread a day which he delivered only on the flat, refusing point blank to deliver on the hill. He was a very heavy gambler and lost a great deal of money at the races, and was also an avid buyer of unnecessary and sometimes useless articles at auction sales. Once he even bought a chair with only three legs. He was apparently a hard man too. One day he came home and found Granny was out (she was only at the store across the road) and he was terribly annoyed about it. Granny was so upset she declared she wouldn’t go outside the gate again, and she didn’t for almost twenty years, until Grandad died. She was a short cuddly person and we all loved her coming to our place, which she did from when I was quite young. She wouldn‘t let us do the dishes when she was there and how we loved her coming!

One vivid memory is of Granny sitting in the rocking chair singing away to us, and in particular the song, “The Boers have got my Daddy”. She didn’t have any teeth for many years as she got older, but could chew a steak as well as anyone with a good set of teeth. She didn’t wear glasses either, she just said God didn’t intend us to have any of those false things. She died aged 92 still without glasses and teeth.

Mum attended the Port School until she reached standard six then at thirteen went to work as a tailoress for the Misses Laurie and Miller, receiving no pay at all for the first year, five shillings (50 cents) per week for the second year, seven and sixpence for the third and so on, and by the time she married at age twenty she still earned only one pound ($2) per week. The only work for women and girls in those days seemed to be dressmaking, millinery, or domestic work.

Dad was also born at Port Ahuriri – in 1880 – and his father was John Prebble of J, & W. Prebble. Their business was later sold to Messrs. Barry Brothers. When Dad was three months old his parents moved to a house (a little more than a shed) in Goldsmith Road, or rather Goldsmith Terrace, and the only washing facility at the new home was a copper and kerosene tins in the back yard. Grandma came out from England to marry Grandad and was quite horrified at the way she had to live. As their family increased, (they had nine children), two bedrooms and a bathroom were added to their home at a cost of forty seven pounds. Unfortunately the receipt for the payment was mislaid and when another account came it had to be paid again.

Dad started work as a joiner at Bull Brothers at the Port, earning 5/- a week for the first year, 10/- the second, 13/6 the third, and 15/- per week for the fifth year. When he married at twenty-three he was earning two pounds nine shillings and sixpence (not quite five dollars] for a forty eight hour week, and later as

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Foreman the highest wage he got was under six dollars. He held the position of foreman for twenty three years until a heart attack forced him to give up work. He had worked at the same bench for forty years.

Mum and Dad started going for walks after Sunday School when Mum was fifteen and a half and in 1904 when she was twenty they were married at St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Ossian Street at the Port. Mum was married in a navy blue costume and I don’t think they even had a wedding breakfast because of lack of finance.

Our house was built in 1905 – just the complete shell and roof by a builder – and Dad finished the whole of the rest of the house at night and at week ends, or I should say on Saturdays, because he wouldn’t do any building work on a Sunday, and it took him quite a while. Only one room, plus the kitchen and bathroom was really finished when Mum and Dad and three month old Jack moved from their house in Hardinge Road. When number two, three, and four were born they were brought up to the sound of plenty of hammering, planing and sawing of timber.

Mum and Dad’s bedroom was a good size – 12 x 12 I should think, and the second bedroom was large enough to sleep five children because in later years we had two three quarter beds and a single one in that room.

As the family increased another bedroom was finished, and then the only place to extend was the basement, and I’m sure neither Mum nor Dad ever dreamed they’d have to extend their home to accommodate fourteen people.

As the house was built on a sloping section, a wall 10 feet high was put up so many yards from the house and work began on excavating the clay from underneath the house to fill in the ground in front to make a lawn and garden. The wall went right across the front of the section. The work was done at night and at week ends, and Dad and the two eldest boys – Jack and Reg – were busy with picks and shovels slogging away for months. For the room under the house, beams were put in to replace the studs and finally a room 20 x 14 feet was ready. The two eldest moved into this bedroom and as another baby arrived, the next eldest boy moved down, until in the end there were five boys sleeping there. Outside this room which was set back five feet under the main structure. Dad installed a horizontal bar which was used daily by the boys over many years. Luckily there were no falls from it which was just as well because the only thing to fall on was concrete! The bar is still there in 1990.

There was no access between this room and the main house so wet or fine it was a case of out in the open and round the house to the side door of the house. The bedroom underneath was always referred to as “Down below” and when you were down below the inside of the house was referred to as “Up Top.” Later Dad and the older boys made part of the front verandah into a lovely big porch and this held three extra beds so we were well off for accommodation.

Dad was very strict and hard and a stern disciplinarian, but played with us a great deal. He also taught us many things we’d never have learned had we been left to our own resources or if the training had been left to Mum, who said she was just too busy and didn’t have time to teach us, finding it much quicker to do things herself. This of course was only when there were so many young ones. When we were older she taught us a great many things.

Dad taught the older members of the family when they were five years how to wash socks and handkerchiefs and how to scrub the bench and side

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back steps. I can remember so well being stood on a chair with a sack apron tied round my chest and being given the sand-soap and scrubbing brush and shown how to scrub the bench and steps. I think we all loved our jobs too.

Dad also nursed us all to sleep when we were toddlers – quite often two at a time – and he said for as long as he sang songs we stayed awake, but as soon as he sang hymns we went to sleep. He and Mum would carry the sleeping toddlers off to bed and they didn’t stir when put down. It was a different story during the war when I lived at home, Dad nursed our little daughter to sleep but as soon as he put her into bed she wakened and I remember him saying quite sadly “Not one of my twelve ever did that.”

He was always busy in the garden at weekends, but never missed Church on Sunday evenings (that was his only outing) and after Church he always went cross the road to visit Grandma Prebble. In the evenings during the week he was either sitting astride a form in the kitchen mending shoes, or down under the house in the workroom making some article of furniture, or perhaps a toy or cart for the boys. When mending shoes he put the shoe last on the ironing blanket on the form to deaden the sound of the hammering, and he didn’t at any time hammer after nine o’clock at night as he didn‘t want to disturb the neighbours. That applied when he was building the house too. Apart from the big brass bedstead in the main bedroom and a three quarter iron bedstead in the front bedroom, he made every bed and piece of furniture in the house The drawers in the dressing tables and chests of drawers ran in and out as if on satin, and even the very large drawers in the main chest pulled in and out with ease. His work was perfect, and Fred inherited this perfection of work. When Fred was eighteen months old Dad gave him a little hammer and he used to hammer away on pieces of wood, and by the time he was three he could hammer in tacks very well, and during the weeks, months and years that followed, the fender in front of the fireplace in the kitchen and the wooden end and legs of the settee were simply filled with tacks. I remember so well that little wee boy hammering away day after day. Working with wood was surely in his blood. It was no trouble to Dad to make a new fender, and legs and end for the settee.

Dad was just over sixty when he became ill with a heart attack and he had many visits to hospital during the next three years. One of the sisters told us that in all her years in the hospital she’d never before known a man so proud of his family. He did love seeing us when we went to visit him and seemed to take great pride in introducing the different members of the family to the nurses. He died when only sixty-three, and I’m sure he often sees us now and is very proud still of his twelve children. At least I hope he is.

Reg was the first one to have a car and he was so very good with it, often taking Mum and Dad for drives at the week end. I often think now with all the family having nice cars, how Dad would have loved the different outings he could have had. The doctor thinks Dad strained his heart with all the heavy work he did after the earthquake, and after never having had an illness he found it very frustrating just pottering about. He had a very full life up to the time he first took ill and we thank God for his example and help to us all.

I’d like now to write more about our Mum who was the most placid soul one could meet. She really was quite exceptional, a wonderful Christian, a very loving and concerned mother, a very great worrier, and oh so funny with her superstitions.

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One day Bert our parson brother, said to her, “You can’t be superstitious and be a Christian too Mum,” and she replied, “I can,” and she was that way until she died. When Fred went overseas during the war she gave him a piece of ribbon – his lucky colour – to keep in his pocket all through the war which he did to please her. She was so sure it helped him come back. When we were young our finger and toe nails were never cut after our bath on Saturday, but always and only on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Monday was for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday the best day of all, Thursday was for losses, Friday for crosses, and Saturday no luck at all. We were always encouraged to go outside and look at the new moon, never through a window. If we forgot anything and went back for it we had to sit down and count ten. Even when Mais and I were going to work, we’d be dashing off to catch the bus when suddenly one of us would remember something forgotten, tear back into the house, sit down and count seven in a breathless rush, grab the thing forgotten and off we’d go again.

When in later years Mum went to the chiropodist she would go only on the first three days of the week. If ever we were starting something new like making a frock or such like, we were always encouraged to start on the first three days of the week and when the moon was waxing. It didn‘t matter which day we finished the article it was the beginning which was so important

Visitors were asked to leave by the same door as they entered, otherwise, according to Mum, they brought sickness to someone in the family, and this she firmly believed. One day Dr Gilray called to see someone who was ill, and after his visit was standing beside the front door talking to Mum. When he came to leave Mum gently took him by the arm and led him to the side door saying. “You don’t mind going out the way you came in do you Doctor? If you go out the wrong door someone in my family will be ill.” It didn’t seem to occur to her that someone was already ill and that‘s why the doctor had called!

As we got older everyone teased her unmercifully about her superstitions but she took it all in good fun and just went on being superstitious.

I was at a Missionary meeting one day and on the way out dropped my glove. The man behind me picked it up and I looked grateful but said I wouldn’t say anything as it was bad luck to thank anyone for picking up a glove. He just looked at me in amazement, put his hand on my head and said to all assembled, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve just been discussing the heathen and we have one in our midst.” Everyone laughed, but I never forgot that experience and although I was only eighteen at the time. I’ve never been superstitious since.

Mum had all sorts of wise sayings which she passed on to us, like a ‘stitch in time saves nine’. ‘There’s no disgrace in a darn, but there is in a hole.’ ‘Least said, soonest mended,’ etc. She couldn’t bear to hear people ‘going on’ about anything and if it was about anyone she’d say
‘The poor thing can’t help it’ or “You can’t have been meant to do that, or go there.” We were constantly told to turn the other cheek and not to worry too much about what others said. ‘Five minutes with your feet up are worth twenty with them down,’ and this she took note of all her life. She was never too busy to have twenty minutes or half an hour’s rest after lunch every day, and I‘m sure this helped towards her wonderful good health. She still had her forty winks as she called it even with all the family about her.

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Another wise saying she used to have was, ‘There‘s nothing, neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.’ Two of her favourite sayings were ‘Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere’, and the other was given to her by brother Bert and that was – ‘Everything that happens can be so taken, that the net result will be far better than it would have been if it hadn’t happened.’ This gem was pinned up in the kitchen for all to see.

How kind she was that Mum of ours. My last term in standard six I came last in the class of fourteen and went home weeping with shame, but she just put her arm round my shoulders and said, “Never mind dear, you can’t be good at school work and a great help at home too. What a diplomat. I loved staying home if ever she was ‘snowed under’ and consequently missed quite a lot of schooling. Anyway my powers of concentration were practically nil.

As the boys grew up they had several names for Mum. She was called Mom, Momma, Susan, Susie, and occasionally Mother, but mostly Mum. Poor soul, she came in for more than her fair share of teasing from those seven boys, but she took it all in good fun and in her usual placid way.

She was an avid reader of the NZ Woman’s Weekly from its inception and would very frequently quote little bits of information, so much so that if ever she started a sentence with, “I read,’ everyone would volunteer ‘In the Woman’s Weekly!’ One day she read quite a long article about the healing qualities of onions. She had had piles for many years so after reading about the onions what did she do? She cut some up, placed them in a chamber and then in the privacy of her bedroom sat for several minutes each day, declaring later that her piles were much much better. The ragging after that lot was tremendous but she laughed it all away.

When she was seventy Mum said. “Now I’ve reached my three score years and ten I don’t mind when I die, and I don’t want any of you to grieve for me.” She lived another ten years and died in 1963 shortly after her eightieth birthday. We tried not to grieve but her passing left a great blank in our family life. On the evening of the day of her funeral seventeen of us went out to her grave to see the flowers and while we were there, brother-in-law Mick suggested we sing Mum’s favourite hymn – “The Day Thou gavest Lord is ended.’ but although we all started with great voice, none of us could finish even the first verse. I’m afraid it was too much.

Mum had died quite peacefully after a fairly short illness, leaving behind twelve devoted members of her family, plus sons-in-law and daughters-in-law and daughters-in-law and grandchildren equally devoted. I’m glad she lived to see how well her family had fared. If ever anyone deserved a medal for everything connected with family life, she did.

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After the experience of having baby No. 1, which by the way she had at home with only Dad to help her, Mum said she didn’t really want any more but the other eleven were all welcome when they came. At one stage there were four under three and a half, and later eight under ten, and when Mum was thirty two she had nine children under thirteen and Dad was earning three pounds, seventeen and Sixpence (about $7.75) a week. With no Social Security what a mammoth task it must have been feeding and clothing all those children on such a meagre wage, By the time there were twelve it wasn‘t at all bad because some of the older ones were working and contributing to the family income. The most difficult time must surely have been when there were nine children under thirteen.

The first eight babies were born at home, and the other four at McHardy Home in George Street. Incidentally the only holiday Mum had in those days was going into the home to have a baby. She said she loved that rest.

Dad was foreman of Bull Brothers when the big house was built for Mr and Mrs McHardy in George Street, and in later years when it was given as a Maternity Home, Fred was one of the first babies born there.

It is hard to believe that Mum managed without a pram for the first seven babies, but if there had been one there wouldn’t have been any outings with so many little ones to cope with. She was quite content to stay at home as her husband and family were her life and she was passionately fond of babies. When she was young she used to dream of the time when she would be married and have a baby to nurse while she was having a meal. I wonder how many times she did have a baby on her knee at meal times.

There always seemed to be a baby in bed with Mum and Dad and I well remember the swinging cot near the bedroom wall in their bedroom, and the cradle beside the bed. At night Mum tied a string to the swinging cot and on to the wire wove of their bed and if the little one in the cot cried she would pull the string and rock it; if the one in the cradle cried she would rock it, and if the one in bed cried she fed it! What a remarkable person she was. She surely was born to be mother of a large family and was able to cope with surprisingly little sleep.

We all, except Tom, had dummies when we were babies and toddlers, and Tom was the first one of the family to have his tonsils and adenoids removed which rather quashed the idea held at that time that dummies caused adenoids. Mum believed that dummies if kept clean, were worth their weight in gold. My fervent belief too.

On Saturday morning when we were young we weren’t allowed out of our bedroom until 7am after which we went in on to Mum and Dad’s bed – Six or seven of us and were given our sweet ration for the week, and that was a halfpenny Sante bar of chocolate. How we loved those moments which unfortunately weren’t very long because Dad had to go to work at 8 am.

After breakfast there were many jobs to do and these were listed by Dad on Friday nights and the list was hung behind the washhouse door. He divided the jobs out between us and we had different chores each week, but didn’t know until Saturday morning what our particular job would be. There were steps to scrub, plus the kitchen bench and these jobs were kept for the young ones. Then the kitchen scullery, pantry bathroom lavatory and washhouse floors all had to be done. One would scrub and the other wipe up following the scrubber

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with a bucket of clean water and cloth. When scrubbing the bench and steps we had to use sandsoap and would scrub away until there was a nice lather, then draw pictures or print and generally play round with the soapy film until the steps or bench came out as white as snow!

Window cleaning was another of our jobs of work, and we cleaned them with a wet cloth rubbed on white stuff called ‘Bon Ami’. This left the windows covered in a white film and on these too we would draw and print. With one of us either side of the window, both sides were done at once, and when cleaning off the film it was easy to see if smudges were left, consequently the windows positively gleamed. They were the old fashioned pull up and down type and we were able to reach most of the outsides from the verandah. When the sun porch was built outside panes were left to Dad and the boys to do from a ladder.

Knives had to be cleaned with a cork dipped in water and then in some brown powder, rubbed until all the powder disappeared, then polished with a dry cloth.

Soot had to be cleaned from the coal range and the range cleaned and polished with black lead. It used to look so beautiful when finished and whoever was doing it would feel very proud of their efforts.

Bedrooms were tidied, cleaned and dusted and as we didn’t have a mop we had to go on our hands and knees with a duster on which was a dab of kerosene to collect the fluff and dust. The floor and skirtings were done properly too, beds were shifted out and dust removed from behind the bedposts, because Dad inspected our work when he came home from work at lunch time. If it wasn’t done properly we were sent back to do it again, consequently at a very early age we learned, ‘Lazy bones takes the most pains.’

For many years the floors were just stained in passages, lounge (or dining room as we called it) hall and bedrooms, then later Mum and Dad bought a narrow strip of carpet for the passage and hall. Not having a carpet sweeper we cleaned this by sprinkling damp tealeaves then sweeping backwards and forwards with a stiff broom until the tealeaves were coated with dust and swept on to the woodwork at the side of the carpet. These had to be swept up and the woodwork cleaned and polished. What a miraculous article the carpet sweeper seemed when we first had one, to say nothing of the vacuum cleaner in later years when we had more carpet.

Lamps had to be cleaned and trimmed in the early days, and wax removed from candlesticks which were then cleaned and washed. Another job was cutting up newspaper for the “lavatory” as we called it. There was no such thing as toilet paper in our young days, or if there was it wasn’t in our home. Hundreds of squares of newspaper were cut up each week and for these Mum had made a holder out of sugar bag trimmed with fancy braid or binding, and Dad nailed it to the wall in the lavatory, or toilet.

Slops had to be emptied every day of the week and we had turns doing this chore. Armed with a bucket, a jug of clean water and a cloth, we had to empty the chambers, rinse them out well then dry them. As we were not allowed to leave the bedroom once we’d gone to bed, chambers were kept in every room.

Gardening was a job most of us disliked but which we did uncomplainingly. We wouldn’t dare complain. When Dad said he wanted so and so to weed between the tomatoes, beans or somewhere else, we didn’t dream of objecting but got on with the job.

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When eventually the back yard was concreted, and the side path too, the yard had to be swept. It all looked so nice after it was done I don’t think we minded doing it.

When I was about eleven, Mais fourteen, and Bert twelve, we used to get up at 4.30am on Monday mornings to do the washing which had been put into soak the night before – two tubs full.

Bert always got up first and lit the fire, then called Mais and me. I fed the clothes into the wringer while Mais turned the handle. The sheets were then put into the copper, boiled for five minutes then Bert with the copper stick would lift the clothes out onto a board. The washing was then lifted over to a tub, rinsed in clean water, wrung again, put into a tub of water made blue (for whitening clothes) with a blue bag. After this final rinse they were wrung out again before being hung out to dry

On fine days they were hung out on a long line down in front of the house, and on several lines on the side lawn. On wet days they were hung on lines on the verandah which were zig-zagged all along the side and front verandahs. The washing was never cancelled as there was always the verandah.

My job was to rub all the soaked handkerchiefs, (the soiled ones were boiled in a large old pot on the gas stove in the scullery.) Towels, socks and nappies were next, but of course socks didn‘t go in the copper. We had a busy time but Bert used to make us laugh so much we didn’t notice the time. Mum frequently came out to remind us of our neighbours!

When jobs were all finished we were allowed to play for the rest of the day. Playing shops was a favourite pastime and Mum would give us oatmeal and sugar mixed together in an enamel bowl, and this we’d sell by the spoonful. It was lovely to eat. On occasions we were allowed to buy liquorice straps from the store at the top of the hill, and these we’d tear down in thin strips and from our shop we’d buy a strip at a time. We also sold broken biscuits which could be bought in the real shop for a penny a bag. Biscuits in those days were not packaged in packets but came loose in large tins, and by the time the shopkeeper had handled a tin of loose biscuits many times during the day he finished up with many broken ones.

We had imaginary homes in different parts of the yard or lawn, and our imaginary dolls, husbands and wives were very real to us and we played quite happily for the day. Our dolls at that time were pieces of wood wrapped in a duster or piece of fancy cloth and were our only toys, but we were so happy.

If we ventured inside Mum always found a job for us to do, so we kept well out of the way.

Turns doing the dishes from quite an early age was a good idea, and while Dad washed up, two or three would help him. Dishes in the early days weren’t so bad because we each had our dinner on an enamel plate, then we were given half a slice of bread with which to clean our plates ready for the pudding. It was difficult to tell whether or not the plates had been washed when we had finished rubbing them with the bread, they shone so beautifully! We ate the bread we cleaned our plates with so it wasn’t wasted.

I remember someone once speaking to Dad about their children arguing while doing the dishes, and he told them to get the children singing, because as he said, “They can’t argue while they’re singing.”

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I have such lovely memories of all the singing and how wonderful the harmony was when we were older. Dad and Bert sang tenor and the other boys bass. Even if it wasn’t our turn for the dishes we would stay about to join in the singing.

There was no shouting or noisy argument in our home, and no talking at the meal table unless we were spoken to. Dad had a six foot piece of dowelling which lay along the table and if anyone had their hands too far on the table. or elbows up, or talked out of turn, ‘The Stick’ was used to advantage. We had very chatty meals but only spoke when asked questions, or we had something to tell Mum and Dad. Punctuality at meals was a must, and grace was not said until everyone was seated. It applied to every meal all through our lives at home, and there were no stragglers coming in to any meal, breakfast included. We were all there ‘on the dot’.

We all, boys and girls, had to take turns getting the breakfast from when we were eleven years old. The boys gave up when they were twenty-one, but the girls went on forever. I remember longing to be eleven as I thought one must be very grown up at that age to be able to get breakfast for such a number, of course when I was eleven there were only nine children.

Every night after tea Dad played games with us. In the summer time out on what was called ‘the Green’ outside our property in Goldsmith Terrace, and on the verandah if it was wet. In winter we played indoors. Outside we played Bar the Gate, Leap Frog, Hide and Seek, French Cricket, cricket. etc. and inside Leap Frog, Hide and Seek, Hunt the Thimble, etc. What a noise there must have been on winter evenings on those bare boards in the passage and hall. I asked Mum in later years how she put up with all the noise and she said, ‘Happy noise never bothered me: arguing or grizzling I couldn’t tolerate.’

Most times we made our own fun, and while I’m sure there must have been arguments we took good care Mum and Dad weren’t about to hear.

Some cold wet Saturdays in the winter time, Mum showed the girls how to make ordinary clothes-pegs into dolls, by putting faces on them and dressing them up in pretty material, tying the material on with a spare piece of ribbon. Dad helped the boys make carts, and these were always used when we were going to the beach for a picnic.

Saturday night was bath night and the water had to be heated in the copper and carried across the yard in buckets to the bathroom window and handed in to someone old enough to take it. Dad or the boys would keep the copper fire going until all had bathed.

We of course used the same water for two or three baths, and were always in two at a time. On rare occasions Mum would have to boil a couple of sheets on a Saturday, then the water was used for the bath and we used to love having a bath in the lovely soapy water. I couldn’t think of anything worse now, but we loved it particularly when the water was being emptied out and we could slide up and down the bath.

We had three large galvanised iron baths hanging on the fence in the back yard, and on very cold nights Dad brought one of these into the kitchen, put it in front of the range, carried in two or three buckets of water from the copper, and there we’d have a lovely hot bath in a beautifully warm room. The kettle was always boiling on the stove and that water was used to top up the bath water when needed. The front of the range was left open so we could

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see the fire in the grate and feel the heat. At a time when there were eight young ones to bath it must have been a real contract for Mum and Dad. How wonderful it was for them when eventually electricity was installed and we had plenty of hot water, and how magic we thought the electric lights, instead of gas light, lamps and candles.

On Sunday afternoon after Sunday School, and when later Mum had a pram, we were taken for a walk down to and over the embankment and home over the Westshore Bridge. Mum quite often wheeled the two little ones in the pram, Dad had one on his shoulders, and we others walked along with them. It was a long walk for children but I‘m sure it was good for us as we were a very healthy bunch

Sunday nights after tea we sang hymns from the old Sanky hymn book and when old enough to go to church at night, Dad and six of us were in the choir. We loved cold wet Sunday nights when we were young, because Dad would light a fire in the big front bedroom fireplace and there we would have our tea of toast and butter or toast and jam, all sitting on the floor round a lovely fire. After tea until Dad went to Church we would have a concert when those of us who could would give an item, after which the Sanky hymn books were brought out and we’d have our hymns. Bed time was always at 7pm, until we were twelve years old for we older ones, when we were young. As the younger ones came along times were changing and Dad was more lenient.

Mais and I loved going to bed on the nights we’d had a fire and tea in the bedroom. The glow of the dying embers gave a wonderful feeling of security and warmth and we felt so very comfortable. Life for us was very uncomplicated.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard a radio, but I remember it so well.

Neighbours down the road bought one and they used to open their front room window and let the sound of the music echo round the hill. It was beautiful. The first piece of music we heard coming over the air was ‘In a Monastery Garden’ and I shall remember it always as I heard it that night. We were all out on the back verandah on that lovely moonlight night listening to the magic sound.

Something that created a different sound was a strap! One day Reg was coming home from school and he found a long black leather strap on the sandy road near the gasometer and near where the Port School now stands. He brought it home and no doubt was sorry ever afterwards because he was the first one to get a hiding with it. That strap hung behind the kitchen door for many many years and was used quite a bit. I think our parents thought ‘action speak louder than words.’ It didn’t seem to do us any harm though.

There was lots of mischief afoot at times, and getting into mischief without Mum and Dad finding out was quite a feat. Sometimes when parents are very strict at home their children aren’t so well behaved at school, and I often wonder if we were a little bit that way. I remember being strapped an awful lot in Standard six and at the end of the year when I was leaving school I asked the teacher why he strapped me so much, and he said, ‘You took it better than the others’. Some excuse. I know I was always blamed for talking whether I was or not, and the strap was always used

Reg and Jack I know once or twice took fruit from the neighbour’s garden, and also played knick knock on people’s doors, but I don’t dare think what would have happened if Dad had found out.

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Sometimes, when it was wet when we came home from school we took off our shoes and socks at the bottom of the hill and walked home in the gutter to enjoy the water flowing down, and then put our socks and shoes on again before entering the house, because on wet days Mum inspected our shoes when we got home to see whether the sides of our shoes showed we had walked in puddles!

School in those days was just lessons all the time with one period of sport per week, and once a year lots of practice for the Grand March in readiness for our wonderful School Ball. School wasn’t school without ‘tables’ and the twelve times tables were ‘sung’ every day, consequently it was very easy to remember them. I remember Mum saying how they used to sing some of the spelling words and always remember how to spell across with just the one c A C R O S S I unconsciously sing it to myself whenever I have to write or type it.

The strap or cane was used a great deal in those days, sometimes unfairly, but I doubt if it did much harm. At least the teachers had discipline in the classes and everyone was able to hear what was being said by the teacher and they were able to get on with their work.

What little horrors children are at times. When our basketball or football teams were playing one of the other schools, the children would go round chanting – ‘Port’s a sport’, ‘Napier Central have all gone mental’, ‘Napier South needs a kick in the mouth’, ‘Nelson Park are afraid of the dark,’ or something like that. At the time we thought their chanting quite humorous, but it wasn’t very nice to have such rivalry, although I expect it exists today.

On occasions someone at school would report that a diver was going down in the Iron Pot (where the fishing boats were tied up) at about 4pm, so we’d tear home after school and ask if we could go down and see the diver and it was fascinating to watch him preparing for his dive. Donning the very heavy suit the huge great boots which made it almost impossible for him to stomp to the side of the boat, and lastly the massive headpiece which had to be screwed, and with all the air pipes and chains attached to him he looked like someone out of this world. The men on the boat held the chains while the others assisted the diver over the side. Coming up out of the water later he looked like a huge monster breaking the surface of the water.

Another great interest for us was to watch Mr Riddell busy in his blacksmith shed shoeing the horses. We were fascinated with the fire and the anvil, and the sound of the big hammer on the red hot shoes, shaping and turning them. Whenever we had to go on a message to the Port we used to ask Mum if we could watch Mr Riddell for a little while. The bottom half of the shed door was closed, and the top half open, and we would lean on the closed half quite carried away with what we saw. I used to wonder how on earth Mr Riddell could get clean each day!- his hands used to get so dirty, and so did his face.

At one period in our school lives, Dad had an ulcerated leg and was home from work for six weeks. We children were home part of the time because of a polio epidemic, and Dad used to set our school lessons for us there on the verandah, and we’d sit at the long desk doing our work. Dad or Mum would ring the bell for playtime in which time we’d climb the walnut tree, skip, play ball and generally have fun. After a quarter of an hour, the bell would ring again and it was back to school work until lunch time. It must have been easier organising several of us than it would have been giving lessons to one child, because when they’re shared, lessons are much more enjoyable.

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Every member of the family attended the Port School and there was a Prebble at the school in an unbroken line for fifty-three years, Dad’s family all attending there. Bert and Peg seemed to be the brainy members of the family as they were both Dux of the school in their respective years.

When Mais was eighteen she took five of us out in the train to the Hawke‘s Bay Spring Show. I was fifteen and a half at the time and the other four younger. She looked very pretty in a new dress and hat, and felt very elegant until a man called out from one of the sideshows and said to her, “Come on Missus and bring your kids in,” Poor Mais felt like a pricked balloon, to think that at eighteen someone thought she was the mother of five children the eldest one fifteen. I’ll never forget that day.

On holidays, after school on school days, if it wasn’t our turn for doing veges, etc, or when we’d finished our jobs, we played all sorts of games outside and in, and with friends from up the road we had a wonderful time. Sometimes we played up the hill sliding down on cabbage tree leaves, but we just had to hear the bell ring and we were home like a shot.

As can be imagined, money had to stretch a long way when we were young, and as the family increased another new bed was needed. Dad made the bed, and Mum made a mattress case and we children spent hours and hours cutting up old material with which to stuff it. We cut up old socks, worn out blankets and any worn out clothes, and many blisters on our fingers and thumbs were the result. The mattress wasn’t at all comfortable really, but I don’t think we noticed it too much. A friend told me that Mum said she had to stuff cushions with newspapers at one time, but I don’t remember that.

A very dear friend of the family worked in the Salisbury Tearooms in Hastings Street, and every Friday night at about 8.30 or 9pm two or three of us would walk all the way to town from Goldsmith Terrace and collect left over soup and other food. The soup was carried all that way in a large gallon billy, and many rests we had to have on the way. We weren’t very old at the time either. Sometimes there were scones and sandwiches too, but we could carry them only if there were three of us. I think I was about eleven when I first went with Mais and Bert, and I know I thought it wonderful having to stay up that late. This period was all very early in the nineteen twenties.

When we had our hair cut, Mum or Dad would slip a basin on our heads and cut our hair that way to make sure it was straight. When I see myself in school photographs now it just looks as if it was cut that way too!

It looked awful, but I can’t remember it concerning me at the time. Of course that way of cutting hair didn’t last long, thank goodness.

Mum had a passion for cleanliness and many a time she‘d lick her finger and rub behind our ears, on our necks, wrists or ankles, to see if “grannies” appeared, and if they did we were sent to rewash ourselves. Our heads were also inspected for lice or nits as I think they were called and I remember being very embarrassed going to school late one morning because Mum had found a couple of lice in my hair. The teacher had to have a note about it and I felt awful. A girl in our class who had long hair, wore a black velvet band round her head and we could see the little grey things crawling on this band. The lice mostly seemed to occur in long hair and when short hair came into fashion the position eased quite a bit. I think mothers were better able to cope with the hair washing more often when the hair was short.

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I don’t think any of us possessed rain coats, consequently when it rained we couldn’t go to school. If it rained when we were at school and we got wet coming home, we weren’t able to go next day if our shoes and clothes were still damp, as we had only one pair of school shoes. Later on when Mais and I were older, if it rained when the children were at school, whoever was home helping Mum at the time would take all the lunches down and so save them – the children – getting wet at lunch time.

Mum was very particular about anyone going out after a hot bath, as she said all the pores of the skin are opened and they let in the cold air. Another thing we weren’t allowed to do was go for a swim immediately after a meal, as we were told the blood rushes to the head when eating, and ‘If you dive in the water straight away you’ll sink to the bottom and not come up again!’ She was most careful with us all and I’m sure it contributed greatly to our good health. It needed endless patience to instruct so many children, but Mum had an abundance of that and she said she reaped her reward in later life.

Going to our Aunt and Uncles in the country for a holiday was supposed to be a highlight, but oh dear how homesick some of us used to be. I remember one time on a Sunday out at “Okawa” in Fernhill when I was eight, I was swinging on the fence and singing to my self very fervently, ‘PLEASE Mum and Dad come and get me’, when in the gate at the end of the paddock came Dad’s friend’s car and he had brought Mum and Dad out for a visit. I managed quietly to beg them to take me home, which they did, and oh how thankful I was. I think it was the pitch blackness of the country that worried me so much. Also the toilet was out the garden gate and down a track in the paddock near the house. One day I was held up there for over half an hour by a big billy goat.

Many tears and much calling and banging hailed one of my cousins who came to the rescue. There was no gaslight at all at my aunts, only lamps and candles, and I think this helped to make things seem so eerie, particularly when we were going to bed.

Home was such a wonderful place, and what happy serene times we had. We look back on our lives with very thankful hearts for such a happy childhood.

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[Photo of adult Prebble family]

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Each member of the family seemed to have one serious happening apart from the usual childish ailments, but it was amazing how few accidents there were with such a large family.

Jack, the eldest, was helping Dad erect a fence by the back yard. The posts were in and Dad had cut the slots out to take the top rail which was sixteen feet long. They put it in place and Dad asked Jack to hold it in the middle while he went to get a chisel to fix the alignment. He told Jack not to knock it, but a boy like Jack gave it one bang with the hammer thinking that would fix it and down it come right on his foot, cutting through the leather of his sandal and into the base of his big toe. Mum very nearly fainted when she saw it and there was nothing she or Dad could do to stop the bleeding. Of course it needed stitching. Dad carried Jack on his back all the way up to the hospital and we used to wonder how on earth he did it, as Jack was about twelve or thirteen. The hospital was at the top of the hill so it was some feat carrying a boy of that age. Jack spent over a month in hospital mainly because of blood poisoning and the wound taking so long to heal. Incidentally he put on so much weight through just sitting about in hospital that when it came to getting dressed to come home, he couldn’t do his trousers up, he was so plump! The weight was soon taken off when he was able to move about again.

Late in 1919 Jack went to his work at Richardson and Company at the Port and did all the jobs he was supposed to do first thing in the morning, then was told he could go and see the ship Pamir coming in to port. He hopped on the old office bike and rode to the wharf, stopped alongside a stringer and as he put his left foot over the bar of the bike it caught on the bar and over into the water he went. He swam to a pile, put his arms round it and surveyed the scene. No-one saw him fall, but the Te Aroha, one of the coastal boats, was berthed about a hundred feet away, and Mr Jackson the engineer, a negro and a very fine family friend of ours, was reading the paper on the after end of the ship. Jack called to him several times and when at last Mr Jackson heard the calls, he grabbed a rope, ran along the wharf and threw it down to Jack. By this time half a dozen or more men arrived, and a very embarrassed lad was pulled up on to the wharf. He hopped on the bike and pedalled home dripping all the way. Poor Mum had quite a job finding clothes for his return to work as in those days we had very few clothes.

Jack also had two motor bike accidents. The first was when he was riding home from Rongotea – near Palmerston North, with a friend as pillion passenger. Coming down the Sanatorium hill in Waipukurau, the bike skidded round a bend and Jack and his passenger were thrown. They were both dazed, and Jack said when he came to he was on the bike again. They found a doctor’s residence but the doctor was out, so his daughter, Miss Read, took them in and cleaned faces and hands. Blood was everywhere because Jack had taken a lot of skin off his face and hands. Miss Read gave the boys a meal of scrambled eggs, and when her father came home he said the best thing was to leave the raw parts uncovered so the air could dry them. Jack also had a good lump on his head where he had hit the bank. It’s not hard to imagine Mum’s reaction when he walked in home!

The second accident was at Westshore. Jack was giving the same friend a ride home after cleaning out a bach, and they wanted to clean up before going to a dance at the Sailing Club that night. As they were riding along the highway at

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Westshore, a car coming towards them was passing a horse and trap. Jack made sure the car would move back to its right side of the road, but it didn’t and he hit the car head on, or rather the car hit the bike. His passenger went right over Jack and landed on the bonnet of the car, but Jack was still on the bike. The handlebar had punctured his stomach, his upper leg was grazed and these injuries kept him home from work for a week. The car driver explained later that the person with the horse and trap was known to her and she knew the horse shied at cars. Jack and his friend consulted a well known solicitor who advised them to accept what the ladies had offered, so all they got out of it was a new pair of trousers for his friend, and the bike repairs were paid. After these episodes Dad spoke to Jack and told him how much Mum worried every time he went out and suggested he get rid of it. This he did, much to Mum and Dad’s relief.

In 1921 or thereabouts, there was a Battery Camp at Eskdale, and Jack and Reg were there. They slept in bell tents and had four eighteen pounder guns and six horses with them in camp. One night the rain came, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and they finished up with 16 inches of rain in 24 hours. They were up early in their swimming togs digging a trench round the tent to keep the water out when the order came to abandon camp as quickly as possible as the river was about to burst its banks.

They had only just had breakfast and gone out of the marquee when lightning struck the iron pin on top of one of the wooden poles. The pin was driven down through the pole and sent hundreds of splinters through the big tent. What a blessing no one was there.

About a dozen of the boys walked home sometimes up to their armpits in flood water. Cattle and sheep were being carried down the valley and drowned. The boys had to feel their way out on to the road and once they reached Petane were OK. Later, quite a number of them were asked, and went out, to clean things up after the floodwaters receded. All the tents were demolished and covered in silt. The canteen was all buried, and they had to dig up out of the mud all the tinned provisions!

The six horses were drowned and the guns were rolled over and over and half buried in silt. Jack’s pyjamas were found up a tree a couple of miles down the river. The camp piano was found pushed up a tree a long way from the camp site. The worst job they had to do was to bury the horses which had “blown” as Jack said – ‘stank to high heaven’. They had to work right alongside them because they were too far gone to be moved. They also shovelled out several hundred feet of mud and silt from the houses of nearby residents. They all slept on the floor of the Eskdale Hall and one night four of the boys decided to help themselves to some water melons growing among maize on a nearby property. They took an army great coat to carry the melons, and they had to feel their way as it was pitch dark. They duly collected a dozen or so melons and carried them out to the road by holding on to four corners of the coat, then broke a melon on the road, struck a match and much to their horror it turned out to be a pie melon! All the rest were the same. One of the boys kept on[e] and as they entered the hall he bowled the melon down the centre of the hall. As Jack said, “All hell was let loose” and they just had time to dive under their blankets before the officers came in, and switched on the light. They wanted to know what the trouble was but of course no one owned up. The boys then had to undress and get into their pyjamas after the lights went out. We used to hang on to Jack’s every word when he was telling us.

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Reg had the worst accident of all the family. When he was about six he was watching Dad put a new handle in an axe and when Dad was hammering the head of the axe off the broken handle, a piece of steel shot into Reg’s left eye. He had a dreadful eye and was home from school for nine months. When the accident happened, a young doctor said the eye should be removed, but an elderly doctor said he could save it, and his treatment was successful. When Reg went back to school the Headmaster let him skip primer three so he could be in the same class as Jack and they could do their homework together.

Reg wasn’t allowed to read much, so Dad and Jack would read all the homework out to him and he would memorise it that way. When he went to India in 1933 on transfer with the South British Insurance Co. for which he worked, his eye gave him a lot of trouble and on more than one occasion he had to stay in a darkened room for long periods.

How terrible it must have been for him having to be indoors in that heat and listen to the mosquitoes trying to get through the netting. He came back to New Zealand and after four years had to have his eye removed because it had ruptured. He didn’t have any sight in it from the day it was injured, and incidentally the piece of steel which hit or went into his eye was never found. Reg only occasionally read a book as he found his clerical work during the day and the daily paper were sufficient strain for his good eye. He had a glass eye which had to be removed and cleaned every night and if it got chipped at all it caused nasty ulcers. He later had a plastic eye and was able to drive cars from 1924, and although he had restricted vision he participated in rugby, tennis, athletics, swimming, rifle shooting, duck shooting and bowls, all after leaving college.

When Maisie was only three months old she was lying crying in her cradle when all of a sudden there was quietness. Mum went to investigate and found Jack, aged two, had put a pillow over her face and when Mum grabbed the pillow the baby’s face was quite blue. Jack, who could talk well at a very early age, looked up at Mum and said, “We don’t want her, she cries too much.” Mais also had a very bad time when aged about 20, when she had her tonsils and adenoids removed she came home from hospital but during the night I heard her weeping and on investigation found she was bleeding badly and in great pain. Mum called the doctor who returned her to hospital where because of the haemorrhaging she had to have her nose plugged. She was quite ill, but recovered quickly even after losing so much blood.

Bert had three bad mishaps, one incident affecting him all his life. Mum used to make a drink called Boston Cream which had citric or tartaric acid in it. To make a fizzy drink we put a little Boston Cream in a glass, filled it with water, and added about half a small teaspoon of baking soda. It fizzed beautifully and we all loved it. One day when Bert was about four years old he wanted a drink. He poured himself some Boston Cream, then, knowing something was added to it to make it fizz, he climbed on the bench reached up to a high shelf and got the tin of caustic soda and proceeded to put some in his drink. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture what it did to him. He screamed of course and was violently sick which undoubtedly saved his life.

Mum had to run to a friend’s place down the road where the nearest phone, was located, to telephone the doctor, who when he came said the vomiting had saved Bert‘s life. This accident has affected him all his life, and he has never at any time, been able to drink hot liquids.

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Another time he fell out of a tree at the bottom of the garden, onto a corrugated iron fence, and had to have several stitches in his scalp. He was put into the wounded soldiers’ ward at the hospital, and was there for a week. Each time these accidents happened the child had to be carried to the hospital as there were no cars available then. Later when he was a paper boy Bert had water on the knee very badly, and I did the paper run for him. One wet night a man was waiting at his gate and gave me 2/6d (25 cents saying “There you are son”. I didn’t tell him I was a girl. With Bert’s rain coat and hat on no-one could tell.

Fred was very ill after having his tonsils out when he was three. Three of us went into hospital together, Fred, Nancy and I to have tonsils and adenoids removed and for some reason the children’s ward was closed. We were put in a very large dreary basement and in the middle of the floor was a great long table on which were many many wooden arms and legs the memory of which I can never forget. They were such a gruesome sight in the dim light in the middle of the night. Why they hadn’t covered them I wouldn’t know. I was twelve at the time, Nan nine, and Fred three. Fred had to be left behind when we came home as he was quite ill. By that time (after three days) the children‘s ward was open again and he was taken there. Poor little chap how heartbroken he was when we had to leave him behind. He was a very happy little boy when he was brought home a week later.

Peg had a nasty accident when she was about four years old. Mum was in the Maternity Hospital having Dick – baby No. 12. I was fifteen or sixteen at the time and was minding house. Peg was running up the concrete steps at the side of the house when she tripped catching her face on the edge of the step, and split her upper lip from nose to mouth. Oh what an awful fright I got and what a gash it was. I had no idea what to do for it apart from putting a pad on it, and fortunately Dad arrived home from work at that very moment, so he picked Peg up and literally ran part of the way up the hill and to the hospital, where she had to have several stitches to her lip. The scar is still there, very faintly. Peg also fell out of a tree at one of our New Years Day picnics, and a wonderful friend who was a nurse, just sat beside her and bathed and bathed the bruises for what seemed like hours. Peg suffered very few after effects and Mum was sure it was due to Mrs Norman’s wonderful care.

Eric didn‘t have any accidents when young but had some heart trouble he reached fifty, then at the early age of 56 when out on the farm with his daughter, he lifted a gate off the truck and collapsed and died immediately. We were all devastated. He was the first of our wonderful family to die.

Dick – the youngest – was very ill with jaundice and had to be left in the Maternity Home after Mum came home. How very worried we all were about him as he very nearly didn’t survive. But he did! When he was about four he rushed out of the bedroom and bumped into a table in the hall splitting his head badly right between his eyebrows. How quickly accidents happen. The butcher was at the door at the time and told Mum he didn’t know a child could lose so much blood and live. He couldn’t help with transport, he just had his horse and cart. How fortunate we were that we lived so close to the hospital. Yet another accident befell Dick when Dad was turning part of the front verandah into a lovely porch. Dick was about seven, standing watching Dad high up on the ladder when the level slipped out of Dad’s hand and landed on Dick’s head causing another nasty gash which had to be stitched! He still has a ridge on his head from that wound.

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No wonder Mum said ‘you die a thousand deaths with every child you have’. She was about right.

One thing, not one of the twelve ever had a broken bone.

I was next in line and I‘m afraid I caused my parents an awful lot of worry as I was a very delicate baby. (One would never think it to look at me now!) I had projectile vomiting, (which also has a very high sounding technical name) and every scrap of food or milk seemed to be returned. I was apparently so thin that Dad carried me around on a cushion as he felt I would break because I only weighed 9lbs at nine months. Three times the doctor said I couldn’t possibly live through the night, but with Mum’s wonderful nursing I pulled through, Dad told me that many times he said “Mum was quite wonderful and pulled you from death’s door”. One day an elderly nurse who lived up the road asked Mum to try Slippery Elm compound and from the moment of the first feed my tummy accepted it and I wasn’t sick again. The slippery elm apparently relined my tummy. Unfortunately the nurse asked Mum not to tell the doctor as she said it was more than her job was worth to offer advice against the doctor’s. He said it was an absolute miracle that I recovered and he couldn’t understand it at all. What a pity it was because if he had known about the Slippery Elm it might have helped save the life of some other baby. When he asked Mum what she had given me she just told him she’d given me ‘Groats’ which was a type of baby food in those days.

As a schoolgirl I was prone to heatlumps (hives) and these when scratched turned into nasty festered sores. One year I was home for just on three months with these sores and at one time had as many as seventeen festered places on one leg. The doctor came quite regularly and he told Mum that he’d always thought only dirty children got sores but he said that now he knew better.

Tom was lucky to escape very serious injury when one day he was running up the three steps on to the side verandah and missed the second step. He fell with great force landing on his chin and had a very nasty cut which needed several stitches. Another day he was helping with the digging in the garden and when he went to put his foot on the spade it slipped and the sharp edge of the spade caught his leg and made a horrible gash. It was an awful injury, needing several stitches at the hospital. Mum’s acceptance of these traumatic situations was quite remarkable.

Nan was always very quick in her actions and one day Dad asked if she would go to the workroom under the house to get a certain tool. She ran off down the path and through the door along to the workroom and on the way caught the side of her head on a large nail from which a spade was hanging. There was lots of room, the passage being nearly six feet wide, but she must have been running too quickly and caught her head. The nail missed her eye by a fraction and she had a very nasty wound which the doctor said could have been fatal.

Bet was only three months old when Mum had to go into hospital with suspected scarlet fever and was in the infectious ward. While they were in hospital the bedroom had to be fumigated and after it was done the door was sealed with a sort of tape all round to stop all possibility of air getting in. I expect the window was done too but of course I couldn’t remember that. Mum was in hospital for six weeks and had to have Betty with her because she was breastfeeding her. When Bet was about six she had a nasty abscess on her leg and had to go into hospital to have it lanced. When Mais and Bert left after visiting her one day she

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cried so loudly they could hear her all the way down the hill as they were going home. Very upsetting for them. Bet recovered well.

One after the other we all had the normal childish ailments of whooping cough, mumps, chicken pox, measles etc and what a wonderful nurse Mum was. Nothing seemed a trouble to her – rubbing chests when we had a bad cold, dabbing itching spots, making tea or mutton broth, sponging hot little bodies and such like and generally looking after us.

When five of us had chicken pox Mum was up to us quite a bit in the night soothing itchy spots etc. and someone suggested giving us half an Aspro each. She had never used drugs but thought she would try the Aspro and at three o’clock in the morning rushed out of bed to go and look at us as she hadn’t heard a sound and she thought she had killed us all!!!

Her endless patience was displayed more than ever when we were ill or ‘off colour’ as she called it. She had some wonderful cures. If we had a cold she would sit beside us and rub chest and back for at least a quarter of an hour with camphorated oil, and I remember how her ring hurt us when using her left hand. Then we were dosed with home made cough mixture made by Mum and Dad. I can’t remember the recipe but know it contained caragene and solazzi liquorice which were bought from the chemist.

In winter time we had sulphur and treacle every week for a while – one teaspoonful at a time – and in the spring were given spring medicine made from 1 packet of Epsom salts, one teaspoonful of Tartaric Acid and one lemon cut up and a pint of boiling water added. We were given an egg-cup full each morning, and if we didn’t like it we had to hold our noses to drink it. In the early days sulphur was added to this too but left out later.

During the flu epidemic in 1918 Dad would make a cone of paper once a week, pop in a little sulphur, then putting the wide end into our mouths blew the sulphur down our throats. It was awful but I’m sure it must have saved us from getting the flu badly. I remember we had bluegum sprays hanging above our beds but don’t remember if it was to keep the flies at bay, or what it was for.

A great cure for a baby’s chapped bottom was having Vaseline rubbed on then dusted with cornflour. This was a never fail cure and so very soothing. In fact it is a good cure for chapping anywhere for adults or children.

When any of the babies had colic and there was no magnesia in the house, Mum’s cure was to pour boiling water onto a blackball in a saucer then when cool teaspoon the peppermint mixture to the baby. Very effective it was too.

Eucalyptus was a great standby for colds and wonderful for helping children and babies to sleep when they had a cold. Mum would pop a drop of Eucalyptus on her finger and just dab it on the baby’s nightgown or dress. When we were older a teaspoon of sugar with one drop of eucalyptus on it was given and a great help it was too. Too much could choke a child so it was measured very carefully. For sore throats we had to gargle with salt and water or condy’s crystals in water, and of course there was always Mum’s and Dads home made cough mixture.

For dysentery (when we were very young) white of egg was given as a cure, then later on we had to take that awful castor oil which is not recommended now. Later still we had boiled milk with a lot of honey in it.

The milk was boiled very hard, then a tablespoonful of honey added. It was awfully sweet but very effective, and this together with grated apple gone brown.

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has been our cure throughout our lives. Mum’s brother Dr Charles Jubilee Rolls, (born the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee), was a missionary in Abyssinia and he told her that dysentery was almost unknown there. One time a white woman arrived in Abyssinia with dysentery and she was gravely ill. Specimens were sent to the laboratory at the hospital and they were fed with sugar, but one day one of the assistants couldn’t find the sugar so fed the germs with honey and they all died. They gave the sick woman boiled milk with lots of honey and she was soon well after having been desperately ill. Apparently in Abyssinia people used a lot of honey. It would be interesting to know if this was still the case.

Several of us suffered with very bad leg ache at times – called growing pains in those days – and even in the middle of the night Mum would come and rub our legs with embrocation until they were better. They seemed to get better quickly and I’m sure the psychological effect of having someone awake and doing something about the aching legs helped in the healing almost as much as the rubbing did. Mum was a very light sleeper and would waken if one of the children were crying quietly.

A tiny lamp was always left burning if a child was ill and this was a great comfort when lying awake in the night.

If a baby or little one was ill, the cot which Dad made large enough to be used even for a five year old was taken to the kitchen during the day so whoever was ill could be near Mum while she was working, and this saved her many thousands of steps to the bedroom.

One time when I was working I remember having a very sore shoulder and somehow the typing at work seemed to aggravate it. In the evening Mum would prepare a bucket of soapy water with Sunlight soap and had me put my arm in as far as it would go, then she would bathe my shoulder for quite a long time, and after that rub it with liniment for about 10 minutes. After three days it was completely cured. She was never in a hurry when it came to doing something to help us.

After the war when my brother-in-law Mick returned from overseas, he suffered from migraine headaches and Mum would get a basin of hot water with a tablespoon of mustard in it and get him to put his feet in this while she or Bet put cold poultices on his forehead. This treatment was very effective in relieving the migraine. I think I remember Bert having the same treatment.

Quite often at our New Year’s Day picnics, or when we had been to the beach for the day, we got rather sunburnt and the cure was to mix oatmeal with water and dab it on face, shoulders and arms, or rub the affected part with cucumber. Both treatments when dry felt awful and made our faces feel as if they had masks on but they certainly “did the trick” as Mum used to say.

Mum used to say that “Mothers die a thousand deaths with every child they have”. With the accidents, sicknesses, and narrow escapes we had I think she was about right.

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I was about five or six when Dad’s brothers Harry and Fred went away to the first world war and when Uncle Fred came in to say goodbye, everyone was being very brave until I suddenly put my arms round his neck and said’ “Please don’t go Uncle, please don’t go.” This completely upset all the plans for a nice bright farewell, and everyone was crying in the end.

Uncle Fred was wounded when a piece of shrapnel severed the main artery in his thigh and his leg had to be amputated, just before the Armistice, and he died when Grandma and in fact all of us were awaiting news of his homecoming. It was a very sad time for all the family.

I remember Armistice quite well when I was eight, and all the boats at the Port were blowing hooters or whistles or whatever they blow, trains tooted by blowing their whistles in a hip hip hooray way, and the church and fire bells rang out. Mum gave us old tin trays and wooden sticks, and one of us had the family bell and what a merry noise we made – all standing on the front verandah. Every few moments we’d stop our noise to listen to that coming from just about everywhere.

When the celebration of the Armistice was held in town a day or two later I remember so well going to town and Nan and Bet being dressed in pretty little white dresses and we all had red white and blue ribbon tied diagonally from shoulder to waist across our chests. I remember the crowds of people, the red white and blue everywhere, particularly on the trams, also the band and the singing. What a gay scene it was.

I remember all the war songs Mum and Dad used to sing, but one in particular Mum sang and that was:

Knitting, knitting, knitting, with the khaki wool and grey:
Mufflers, socks and balaclava caps and knitting day by day.
Knitting, knitting, knitting, with a prayer in every row,
That the ones they hold in their hearts so dear,
May be guarded as they go.

I used to love that song and always pestered Mum to sing it.

The second world war affected us all personally as Fred and the four girls’ husbands went overseas.

Jack was turned down because of his foot, and Reg couldn‘t go because of having only one eye, but he served in the Army for three and a half years in a clerical capacity. He worked in the orderly room in camp and in the Area Office.

Bert had an important position in Auckland and couldn’t be spared. Tom was ready even to being on the train but was taken off and not allowed to go because of a foot defect. Eric was in the Army, then transferred to the Air Force and was very disgusted when they kept him in NZ as an Instructor. Dick was too young to join up.

My husband, who was a Chaplain, went away with the first Echelon in January 1940, first going into camp in September 1939. When he arrived in Camp no one seemed to expect him, yet he’d been asked to go, and for about two weeks he wandered about without a uniform and without a job. He found it very frustrating.

What an awful time it was with all the men going away. In 1940 on Christmas Day the Prime Minister asked if we would tune into our radio station for a

Page 24

nationwide toast to our boys overseas, which we all thought a wonderful idea. We put the photos of our men who were away, on the table and as soon as the Prime Minister started to speak we knew it was going to be hopeless. Bet had to leave and go to her bedroom because she was so upset, then followed Mais to try and help her, then Nan had to go, then I went and we were all weeping. None of us were there to hear the toast or to drink it. Apparently the whole idea was a disaster because all over the country people were weeping just before dinner on Christmas Day. The thought of the toast was such a lovely idea but put into practice it was an absolute flop. Needless to say it wasn‘t tried again in the years following.

What lots of knitting and baking we did to send overseas to our boys, and what endless letter writing went on. We spent our evenings knitting or going to the movies and at the theatre it was awful to see so many women and girls without their escorts.

In 1942, after being away for two and half years, my husband Claude was asked to go as Chaplain on the hospital ship Oranje, and my joy knew no bounds when I realised they would be calling at New Zealand.

One day I received a telegram advising me to go to Wellington by a certain date and to be prepared to wait awhile as the Oranje would be coming in some time, but security wouldn’t allow the date to be known. Our little daughter Margaret and I were booked on the service car one Monday and on the Sunday when I was packing, the telephone rang and it was Claude. They had arrived in Wellington earlier than expected and would be there only one night. It was wonderful the way the family got into action and how all neighbours rallied round even to offering money for me to go to Sydney on the Oranje with Claude. We rebooked our seats for the car for 1 pm that day giving me just an hour to get packing finished and ready, and family and neighbours gave me sufficient money to go to Sydney, but when we reached Wellington we were advised that this wasn’t allowed in wartime. After seeing the ship off the next day I felt so wretched it would almost have been better if it hadn’t been in at all. When the Oranje went back to Sydney after that first trip of one night here, they spent thirteen weeks in Sydney and Claude had nothing at all to do apart from going visiting, visiting Scout groups, and taking some of the Javanese boys who were crew members, out for the day. These boys were given very low wages and had scarcely any pocket money and Claude found the bus companies and lots of business people were so kind to them when he explained their circumstances, so he was able to take them on several outings.

While he was in Sydney after one visit of ten days to New Zealand, Claude visited a boys’ school and while playing with the boys he fell and fractured his ankle, and was invalided home with his leg in plaster, and was on crutches. Everywhere we went people thought he had been wounded in the war and he was given V. I. P. treatment, particularly at the picture theatre. We were quite truthful and told what had happened but the preferential treatment didn’t stop! After his ankle healed he was sent to Linton Military camp where he remained until 1943 when he returned to his parish in Wairoa.

From the time of Claude’s first visit home until he was out of the Army there were lots of comings and goings and it was a very unsettling time. However, he was safe and that was wonderful.

Nan had been married only five months when one night that dreaded knock came on the door and when Reg went to the door he was handed a telegram to

Page 25

say Nan’s husband was missing believed killed. She was in Wellington at the time but fortunately living with Mais, so it came to Mais’s lot to tell Nan about Ron. She took the news very bravely and was quite wonderful.

As can be imagined, the news about Ron cast a gloom over the whole family. It felt just as if one of our own brothers had been killed. Just a few nights prior to this, on our way to church, we had been discussing the war and saying how lucky we’d been with all our boys away and still safe, and I remember someone saying, ‘Oh, please don’t tempt providence.”

Dad, who was ill when Fred went overseas and had been ill for quite a while, died in 1943 while Fred was away and he was the one we felt most sorry for, so far away from home and being without any family when he heard the news. I remember though the day he came home from the war. Most of us waited at home to welcome him, and when he came with those who had gone to meet him we were all standing outside the gate as the car came down the hill with the driver tooting the horn all the way, but when they drew up at the gate the car door opened and Fred burst out not looking to right nor left and he ran straight inside where Mum was waiting to greet him. It was a very emotional moment for us all and particularly for Mum and Fred. We left them for quite a few moments, then all burst in and the merriment began.

It was during the war that Dad was ill with his heart trouble and when he was able to potter around, he found a great deal of interest in lining the air raid shelter, on our side lawn, which the boys had dug when it was thought the Japanese might invade NZ. Dad spent hours and hours in the shelter lining the walls and making it very comfortable. He made a cupboard, complete with sliding doors, set into the wall, and stocked with everything necessary for an emergency – bandages, plaster, Aspros, medicines and brandy etc. He even put a small carpet runner on the floor and one of our long forms was taken into the shelter for seating. Fortunately the shelter was never used for the purpose for which it was built, so for a while it made a wonderful playhouse for children.

What a wonderful time it was when at last in 1945 we knew the war was all over and the air raid shelter could be filled in. Although by that time we were in our Vicarage in Waipukurau. I shared in the fun there must have been in filling in the big trench. That was done after V. E. Day (Victory in Europe). Then of course V.J. Day (Victory in Japan) came later. What wonderful processions there were, and what merriment there was at those times.

We had quite a lot to do with the American Marines during the war and had many, many of them to our home for meals. There were never too many for Mum to cope with and of course we always helped. They were all such nice boys and we often wonder how many of them survived.

We also billeted boys from the Air Force band, and any others who needed beds when the public were asked to help with accommodation. Although there were so many at home, we always found room for more. I forgot to mention previously that Mum and Dad asked me to go home and stay for the duration of the war, not long after Claude went into camp, and I was so grateful to them for having Margaret and me.

After VE Day the powers that he announced there would he processions and fun about a week later but wanting to celebrate is a spontaneous thing and I think postponing it look some of the fun away from the occasion. However they wanted successful processions and this gave people time to decorate their floats

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and really it was all great fun. We decorated our car with sheets and had Peace on Earth in large letters printed on the sides. The car had a sun top so we had a young friend sitting on top of the car and she was dressed as an angel. Incidentally the petals on her wings were made with toilet paper! as crepe paper was unprocurable at that time.

We had so hoped that that war was the war to end all wars but it was not to be.

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The day of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake, February 3rd, 1931 most of our family and Mum and Dad (apart from Jack and Bert) was scattered over quite an area of Napier and not one of us was hurt.

That morning at three minutes to eleven, I was banking money for the Diocesan office, where I worked but at the same time showing a photo of the family to the teller, when all of a sudden there was an awful rumbling and the building started to shake. The teller said, “An earthquake, for God’s sake run”. I ran to the door but in that short time there’d been a terrible jolt and the architrave had fallen right across the doorway. While the building was pitching and tossing I was holding on to the fallen architrave trying to decide whether to try and get over it, or under it, when the earthquake decided for me, and I was just pitched over the top of it and down the few steps on to the footpath. How it was I didn’t have a bruise or scratch was a miracle. A young man came and pulled me to the centre of the road and just as well he did as the Bank’s coat-of-arms came crashing down just where I had landed, My friends later blamed me for the hole in the footpath! The dust, noise of the ‘quake’s rumblings and of falling masonry, and the calls and cries of people live long in my memory. Everyone was on hands and knees or sitting in the middle of the road as it was quite impossible to stand. A little later, I have no idea how much later, Reg came down from his office to find me and take me to the Marine Parade. He left me there while he went back to help one of our cousins who also worked in the South British Insurance office with Reg, and who was trapped in the toilet on the flat roof of the two storey building. This was a newer portion which had not collapsed in the first big shake, Harry (my cousin) started to come down the cast iron drain pipe, but it gave way and he fell from ten feet to the corrugated iron fence below, but which fortunately had a wooden rail flush with the top. He bounced off this on to the ground and was alright with only a number of bruises. Shortly after this the second severe shake came and the part of the building where Harry had been, collapsed, and the flat roof was then within a few feet of the ground. The base had splayed out into the street cutting off at almost ground level the plane tree outside, (one of a row in the street). Harry had nightmares for many weeks after that.

After the first two great jolts the ground settled down to a swaying and rolling, interspersed with jolts rather as if a great giant was underneath kneading a lump of dough.

While I was on the parade waiting for Reg, a man nearby was saying to a very frightened woman. “And if a tidal wave comes, hold on tightly to the chains of one of these swings.” That was enough for me and I took off like a frightened rabbit, running as fast as I could along the beach. Where I was running to or what I was running for I had no idea, but miraculously I met my sister Maisie and some friends just on the beach opposite the Masonic Hotel. There we watched a drama. The whole front of the hotel had fallen out and there on the second floor was a woman sitting at and leaning forward over a table, and a big beam was right across her neck pinning her there. She didn’t appear to be hurt but she seemed as if she couldn’t move. The fire brigade men were quickly there with a ladder but every time a fireman attempted to go up another earthquake jolt would force him back on the ground. He eventually got to the woman and somehow was able to release her, and with a great sigh from the watching crowd, she bravely descended the ladder herself, but immediately she reached the ground she fell in a dead faint.

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After the tenseness of that half hour or so, we decided to try and get home to let Mum know we were safe and we had to go along the Parade as far as Sale Street before there was a street clear enough for us to walk through. Going at least a mile out of our way we eventually managed to find our way to Hospital Hill and as we reached the Botanical Gardens the hospital staff were transferring all the patients from the hospital to the gardens. We felt we must report home first then return to see if we could help at the gardens, so we went on our way, and to my dying day I shall never forget the devastating sight of the once three storeyed nurses’ home lying in ruins. The sailors from HMS Philomel were searching for the bodies of the night nurses who had been asleep at the time of the tragedy.

Two young men we knew – Jack Shirley and Bill Taggart, both perished in or under that building as they were working in the hospital office which was situated in the nurses’ home. Although both of them were uninjured and could be heard they both suffocated.

The hospital was a shambles as several wards built in FP brick just collapsed and all were a mass of rubble.

When we arrived home safe and sound and found other members of the family all safely there, we went back to the gardens to see what we could do. We helped mostly with the babies and little children and what a sorry sight they were. They were so bewildered by all that had happened. It was a dreadfully hot day and they were all perspiring, and the brick dust just covered their little faces, and ours, and their little heads were covered in grit. The poor little souls had drops of blood in their hair and on their faces, arms, and legs, where pieces of flying brick had hit them when the hospital Walls collapsed. How so many were saved was another miracle.

There were urgent operations needed and as there were a few spots of rain by that time, a tarpaulin was thrown over the archway near the entrance to the gardens, and this was used as a very temporary theatre. The doctors and nurses did such wonderful work there and later also, when the hospital was transferred to the Napier Park Racing Club grounds in Taradale Road, they continued their fine work.

Eventually we went home and surveyed the damage and what a mess it was. The coal range had slipped out on to the kitchen floor, all the cupboards had opened, and bottled fruit, crockery from the dresser, and sewing from the sewing cupboard had all cascaded on to the floor. The mess really had to be seen to be believed. On the shelf in the pantry, near the door into the kitchen Mum had had fourteen dozen eggs preserved in waterglass in a kerosene tin and they were all over the floor.

Mais decided that broken eggs in a mass were a wonderful invitation to skate, and promptly proceeded to slither round on them, or in them. She had us in fits of laughter. The whole house was rocking all the time, and when a particularly heavy shake came, we all rushed outside but were soon back again to watch more skating. We had to make light of everything because it was all so dreadful. There was no water at all for clearing up, and it really was a major task until we had it. The wonderful men of the navy delivered water to all who needed it and when they arrived at our home that night with the truck containing the tanks of water, the man in charge called out, “How many here?” and when Dad replied “39” the sailor said, “Good God.”

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When there is a crisis one feels safer if there is a crowd and knowing there was a ready made crowd at our place, friends and neighbours came to join us. We had quite a sing song that night on the lawn as we were all congregated there, and how fortunate we were that the rain kept away. We had 153 shakes that night, but in between them the ground seemed to be gently rocking the whole time.

At midnight it was so light with the glow from the Port, and town burning, that it was possible to read a book or paper as if in broad daylight. What an awe inspiring sight it would have been from the air.

Later in the night, some of us decided to try sleeping on the verandah but soon gave that up as the shaking house and rattling windows were too noticeable. So back to the lawn it was.

The next day some members of the family went down to the HMS Philomel and sent messages to Jack who was in Auckland, and Bert in Christchurch. That day also the Vicar, who was with us, went down to the Port school and was able to get an emergency ration of meat for those of us who were left at home. Dad and the boys rigged up a fireplace in the garden and all the cooking was done there. I think there were only about twenty of us that second night as several were evacuated that day. Anyway we all had to sleep on the verandah because it rained, but I’m afraid there wasn’t much sleep because of the rumbling shaking, swaying and noise. It was all very frightening but on looking back we had a tremendous lot of fun.

Most people were evacuated during the first two or three days and we had a message from Jack in Auckland – per HMS Philomel – that he had billets for us all. Dad sent just four of us to Auckland – Nancy, Betty, Fred and me, and Mum and three others went to Granny Rolls in Featherstone. The other boys stayed home with Dad, but only for about a week as both their offices were moved to Dannevirke and they had to move down there to work. When Nan, Bet, Fred and I went to the railway station on the third day we were issued with refugee tickets which we had to have pinned to our clothes so they would be easily seen. We were also given a ticket which read, “Please issue meals to the Misses Prebble 3, and Master Prebble 1,” and these we had to show when we reached the Palmerston North Showgrounds, where we were given a very acceptable meal before going on our journey north.

Although I was twenty one I had never been further than Hastings, twelve miles away, in a train, so it was all a new experience for us all, particularly travelling at night. On reaching Auckland we were met by Jack who asked us to stay together while he went away to get our luggage and in the short time he was away, no less than seven people came and offered us hospitality. How wonderful everyone was when they saw we were refugees from Napier. We were so happy in our billets and our hosts and hostesses were kindness itself. We shall always be grateful to them – Mr and Mrs Graham, and Mr and Mrs Insul. We were sorry to hear later that the behaviour of some refugees left a lot to be desired. Some even stole from their hosts.

On the evening of the earthquake one of our friends from down the road offered to sell his house to Dad for 50 pounds. Dad just advised him to wait and see when things settled, and if Mr S. still wanted to sell his property for 50 pounds Dad would buy it. Mr S. said he would never come back to Napier as the town was completely finished, but of course he did come back and was very

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grateful to Dad for not accepting his offer. As for our house, it didn’t move an inch and all doors and windows still closed, which was a great tribute to Dad’s building. When one remembers how the earthquake pitched and tossed things about it’s hard to understand how the house escaped very much damage and how no windows were broken. The only structural damage was to the chimneys – the dining room one came down and made a hole right through the verandah. Moments before, three year old Dick had been riding his tricycle and was in the very spot talking to Mum through the window asking her if she would take his bike down on to the path, and that’s how Mum happened to be on the back Verandah when the shake occurred. She could so easily have been hurt in the kitchen or scullery

The kitchen chimney was located about seven feet from the outside wall of the house, and alongside the wall was a path five feet wide, and then the boundary fence. The severity of the ‘quake can be gauged by the fact that the chimney was broken off at roof level, in one piece, and lifted clear off the roof and landed in the neighbour’s garden still in one piece – about thirteen feet away. In one bedroom a huge chest of drawers three foot six long and four feet tall moved from alongside the wall right across the room and was across the doorway. There was no way anyone could get in the door, so a ladder had to be used to get in the window and move the chest of drawers.

The kitchen clock which was an old pendulum one with a long glass fronted case was standing on the kitchen mantelpiece just over five foot high, and it finished up standing on top of a pile of bricks which came down when the range fell out into the kitchen and the glass wasn’t even broken, and the clock was still going!

The day after the earthquake, Mais went for a walk up to Park Road near the hospital where several new houses had been built, and all the houses had moved about four feet, leaving the chimneys just standing on their own. The houses must have jerked in one great heave and landed several feet away.

Dad worked far too hard after the earthquake, really straining his heart, and within a comparatively few years had a heart condition which made him an invalid off and on for the rest of his life. At times he was able to do small jobs at home but was very limited and he found being an invalid very frustrating and trying.

For many months after the ‘quake our Church Hall, (St Andrew’s) at the Port, was the only hall available for dances and what wonderful times we had. We paid fifteen cents (1/6d) to go in and that included supper of tea and sandwiches. Each time there was a dance, Mum, with our help, made all the sandwiches with very tasty fillings of egg and onion, cheese and onion, egg, cheese and parsley, etc. and they were much appreciated by the dancers. These dances made quite a bit of money for our parish and people came from all over Napier to attend.

What happy dances they were. Drinks and drugs didn’t plague us in those days, and unescorted girls were quite safe. I wonder why life had to become so complicated. Lack of discipline is probably to blame and as it’s universal there doesn’t seem any solution.

While the shops were being renovated in the town, a little township was built right round Clive Square. The town consisted of shops and banks, and there was a covered verandah all the way round. It was possible to do ones shopping

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without getting wet in the wet weather. Our little town was called “Tin Town” as it was constructed mostly of corrugated iron. It was a very efficient makeshift.

When the new town was partly rebuilt we had a wonderful procession to celebrate the opening and what fun we had that day.

Napier has now emerged a very beautiful city, rising from the ashes one might say, and proud we should be of all those who have worked so hard to make it as it is.

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(if prepaid in stamps, affix in this space)

ORDINARY: 12 words, 9d. Every additional word, 1d.
URGENT: Double the ordinary rate.
LETTER: 27 words, 9d. Every
Additional 3 words or fraction thereof, 1d.

Code:   Time:   No   Sent   Checked
Instructions:   To
Charges:   Words:

This telegram is presented for transmission by the undersigned, subject to the authorized conditions,

TO PILSON (Diocesan Secretary)



SIMKIN (Bishop of Auckland)

Note. – When it is not intended or desired that the sender’s signature should be telegraphed it must be written on the back of the form.

At Palmerston North Show Grounds

Please supply
Misses Prebble   3
Master Prebble   1
With 1 meal.



Town Clerk’s Office,

Feb 28th 1931

Miss V. Prebble
12 Goldsmith Road

Is registered at the Town Hall, Auckland, as a refugee from Napier


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N. Z. R.   6647 -32   P. -35


Date available from   28 2 1931

Date available to   28 3 1931

From Auckland
to Napier

Officer of [?]
Per J

Route: via
Refugee Order
Repatriation from Napier
Miss Vera Prebble
12 Goldsmith Rd, Napier

Issued at 23 C.B.O. AUCKLAND Station
on 28 2 1931

Issued subject to By-Laws and Regulations of New Zealand Railways


Signature of Refugee: V. J. Prebble

(Note. – This permit is not valid unless signed by the person in whose favour it is issued.


E   3472

This will permit V. J. Prebble a bona fide refugee from the earthquake area (whose signature appears in the margin), now authorized to return home, to travel from Auckland to Napier

S. Averill

Registration Officer at Hastings
[Date illegible]


This permit can be exchanged for a railway ticket at the commencing station shown hereon without charge to the holder. The railway ticket given in exchange, therefore, will entitle the holder to travel by rail and will serve as a permit to enter the earthquake area. The railway ticket will be collected by the guard before completion of the journey. If the holder desires to travel by any other means than the rail he (or she), will require to himself (or herself) meet the cost of transport and must carry this permit with him (or her), and must produce the same when demanded before entering the earthquake area, otherwise he (or she) will be prevented from doing so

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In our young days we weren’t called teenagers. We weren’t heard very much so I suppose it wasn’t necessary to concoct a name for us. I often wish I’d asked Mum if we were very much trouble to her during our adolescent years. I don’t remember her ever moaning about us. We never argued with our parents, or moaned to them, so perhaps there weren’t the problems. At this time eight of us were teenagers.

The age limit for leaving school was fourteen years, and Jack had one and half years at secondary school, and Reg two years, Tom and Bert I think were exceptions when they had more at Te Aute College. All the girls in their turn had to stay home for three years (after just one year at secondary school) and learn to help in the home. We learned all the jobs there were to do in a home – housework, cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, baby care etc. and were thoroughly prepared in the art of housekeeping when the time came for us to be married.

I don’t remember much about my young teenage years apart from going to Guides, being in the church choir. teaching Sunday School etc but I remember one Saturday afternoon when I was fifteen, asking Dad if I could go to the pictures with a girl friend. He looked so surprised and said, “No, you went about six weeks ago, and I don’t want you getting into the habit!”

When we were older we had a wonderful lot of fun, and on Sunday afternoons would set off with friends who had an Oakland car, and go off to the country for a drive, picnic and swim. Sometimes, in fact quite frequently, there were six and even seven of us in the car and one of the boys who owned the car made up a song about the girls and boys in the car. It went like this:

When we’re in our Oakland car
All the girls know who we are,
We’re the boys in the car in the spring
Now there’s Nancy, and there’s Jo, and there’s Bet
and Sam you know,
With the boys in the car in the spring.
Now it doesn’t take them long to discover
That the Oakland is a wonderful thing
‘Cause they all want to be with the boys in the car in the spring.

Nancy and Bet are my sisters, I’m Jo, and Sammy was a girl friend. I think I was probably twenty at the time. I don’t know how we all fitted in the car, but fit in we did and our outings were such happy occasions, our fun so clean and bright, and with no drink and no regrettable incidents, we had nothing to trouble our minds. Singing was always very much part of our lives, and the whole time we were in the car we sang. Some of the old songs are hard to beat. One of our friends, Dulcie, had a car later on, and with two car loads our fun increased. We were always home in time for tea, and to go to Church as several of us were in the Choir. I don’t think Dad would have let us go out if we hadn’t promised to be home at tea time. Going to church was just an accepted part of our lives and one which we loved. At least I know I did.

All the years before we had a radio, and also after we had one, we were quite content to sit and knit, sew or play cards or games in the evenings, and as we older girls weren’t allowed out with a boy until we were nineteen, we had plenty

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of time at home! I remember the thrill it was when Reg bought a little portable gramophone and the wonderful pleasure it gave us all

Having only one toilet and bathroom in the house for such a tribe created problems, and was particularly difficult in the mornings when we were all preparing to go to work or school. One time when Bert was home on holiday from University he thought up the idea of issuing queue tickets for the bathroom and toilet! He cut the numbers from an old calendar and issued the “tickets” to those of us waiting. It really was a marvellous idea because we could go away and powder faces, clean shoes or whatever, and when one was coming out of the toilet or bathroom, the next number was called and he or she would dash down the passage so there’d be no waiting, no delay. In cases of urgency tickets were swapped!

As I’ve stated before, Dad was very strict about our going out. When Mais was seventeen she badly wanted to go to a church social, so rose at 3 a.m. to do the ironing thinking she’d please everyone by doing the lot. When evening came she asked Dad if she could go to the social and he said she couldn’t because she’d been up far too early in the morning and needed a good night‘s sleep. What a bitter disappointment that was. Dad was unfair really, but we always accepted his decision and wouldn’t dream of arguing.

When Nan was about seventeen she was invited to an Insurance Company Dance, but unfortunately on the day of the dance, instead of bringing the groceries straight home from the store, she went to the Iron Pot to see a diver go down to one of the boats, and because she was late getting home, Dad wouldn‘t let her go to the dance. I remember too wanting to go to a Church Ball when I was seventeen, and I helped down in the Coronation Hall all day with the preparations, then discovered at tea time that night that I would be minding house so Mum, Dad and the older members of the family could go. What a disappointment that was, but I realised it was only fair that Mum should have an outing now and again. They were few and far between, but how well she deserved them. I hadn’t asked if I could go to the Ball, I just hoped Dad might say I could go.

We all had disappointments at times, but wouldn’t dream of saying a word about them. We thought our parents knew best, and I suppose they did. We had plenty of time in later years for all our outings, and we had some wonderful times.

Mais and I made a few pence by cutting Jack and Reg’s lunches each day, which they gave us sixpence a week, and they also paid us sixpence for pressing their long white cricket or tennis trousers. It was much better for the two of us to do the extra lunches than to have everyone in the scullery trying to do their own. There was no greaseproof paper in those days, so it’s not hard to imagine what the serviettes looked like after tomato sandwiches.

On Ben’s twenty-first birthday he received some advice from the late Bishop Cruickshank who was a great friend. His advice was: “Keep your head high, your eyes clear, your feet warm, and your bowels open. Fear no man, do right. Fear all women, don’t write.” This was written by Bishop Cruickshank long before he was a Bishop. One holiday time when Bert was home he’d been reading a book which Mum kept in the toilet. It was called “700 Hints for Housewives”. In the back of the book Bert had written. “Hint 701- a boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Mais was a real comedian at times and I remember so well one evening she took an egg and went into the dining room to where Mum and Dad were and

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asked if she could have it. Mum asked what she wanted it for and Mais said, “Oh, just something I want to try. Mum.” She came back into the kitchen and asked Bert to stand by the pantry door, and after tying a tea towel round his neck, she threw the egg full in his face! Bert was a willing part to it all and it was hilarious. Mais had seen it done at the movies and had been dying to see what it was like to throw an egg at someone.

Another time she read where egg was good for one’s hair, so she rubbed one well into her hair, then proceeded to wash it, but, she forgot hot water cooks eggs! Oh what a mess her beautiful hair was in and what a lot of rinsing, brushing and combing it took to clean it, or to clear it.

In 1929 when the Reverend Bert Brierley became our Vicar, at his welcome he said he knew only one family in the parish, “But,” he said, “they’re more than a family, they’re a tribe!”

Later when he talked to people about us he would say, “But have you seen them feeding? That’s really something.” He just loved to call and find us all round the table at a meal, not that he ever stayed to a meal, but he said it delighted his heart to see a family all together like that. Mr Brierley was a tower of strength to so many during the depression years, and his good humour kept us all laughing.

An earlier Vicar and his wife, the Reverend and Mrs W. T. Drake were great entertainers and sang so beautifully together. One year they staged a play called “Princes Chrysanthemum” in the Coronation Hall and nine of us were in it, and Dad pulled the Curtain. Jack, Reg and Maisie had principal parts, and the rest of us were in the chorus – some fairies and some Japanese girls and boys. Mum made all our costumes too. We all thought the play was quite marvellous and were so proud to be in it.

During the depression years there were marvellous Old Time dances held in a large hall in Hastings Street and they were such fun. Mais and I in our twenties used to go every week, The old time dances are lovely to watch as they are so graceful and attractive, but we didn’t really have many opportunities of watching!

During secondary school days of the younger members of the family, many visiting sports team members were billeted in our home – footballers, cricketers, swimmers etc and there was always room for extras. If we had friends to tea or had anyone staying they all seemed to love the way we sat round the table after a meal and had a good old sing song. The singing carried on when we were doing the dishes so all hands were on deck for the dishes.

The first family photograph we had taken was in 1927 and we had to hire the Hospital Hill bus- a sixteen seater – to take us to the photographers. When we had another photo taken in 1936 (the night before I was married) – we hired two taxis. When we reached the photographers and were standing on the footpath outside, Jack suddenly called out, “Prebble family, form two deep, quick march.”

It was hilarious as we did what he ordered and all marched into the photographers, it set the tone for a very happy photograph as we had no trouble smiling that day. It’s a pity the 1927 photo was taken in the days when it wasn’t “done” to smile in a photograph, and it made us look so glum.

Mais and Bert were both very musical and Mum and Dad had them taught piano lessons for about eighteen months. They were both wonderful players and still are. They played duets together and one of the favourites was “Chopsticks” which they learnt early in their lessons. They used to act the fool

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so much they had us in fits of laughter as they both bobbed up and down on the piano stool in time with the music. They still play in the same way when they get together and they‘re both in their seventies. Unfortunately Bert is in England so the occasions he is with us are few and far between.

A number of us have been plagued with sore feet – I think they must run in the family, and on dewy nights Mum and several of us would go out and shuffle up and down the lawn in the wet grass and how soothing it was to our feet which had walked to and from work, Another thing which helped our feet considerably was wrapping them in a dock leaf, Or just placing the dock leaves on the soles of our feet before putting stockings on. I remember doing this at work on numerous occasions (there were docks growing in the section next door) and when I took my stockings off at night, the dock leaves were completely dry and withered.

On the morning Dick was to sit a Chamber of Commerce exam, Mum suggested to him that he lie flat on the floor for ten minutes, then gave him a cake of Chocolate to eat before and during the examination. She said lying flat on the floor helped with relaxation and the chocolate fed the brain! It must have worked because Dick was one of the very few who passed the exam that year.

The beach at Westshore before the earthquake was all rugged and wild, but the Inner Harbour was used extensively for boating and swimming. We loved to watch from our front verandah, the yachts setting out for a race round Watchman Island which was a much larger island than it is now. It was during the Earthquake that it collapsed rather like a crumbly cake, making it the small island it is now.

The Sailing Club Pavilion was, before the earthquake, where the Westshore Motels are now – close to the railway lines and embankment, and wonderful dances were held there.

The verandah of the pavilion came just to the water’s edge, and I can remember having very sore feet at a dance one night so shedding shoes and stockings I sat on the step with my feet dangling in the water – a most refreshing interlude.

After the earthquake a pavilion was built on the beachfront at Westshore on the same site as the Surf Club rooms are now, and many enjoyable dances we attended there. That building later burned down.

We attended some simply wonderful Balls in the Forresters Hall which is now the R.S.A. and in the Drill Hall in Coote Road, and had such happy times. I think back on all the fun we had and not a drop of liquor was needed. It makes me very sad to think of some of the young ones today and some of them are very very young when they acquire a taste for alcohol. There were many who did drink in those days, but it wasn’t the threat it is today. I just know we didn’t need it to have a happy time. We also had some lovely evenings at home playing Charades, Blow Ping Pong, and many games of Cards including Sevens, Grab, Coon Can, etc plus the games of Ludo, Draughts and Dominoes. We loved Blow Ping Pong but it made our ears rather sore with the blowing. We had a team each side of the table and one or two players at each end, and we’d put a ping pong hall in the middle then see which side could blow it off the table, and it was great fun watching the ball roll from side to side or end to end. Sometimes we had boys against girls, and sometimes mixed teams.

Charades were a great favourite and we had some hilarious times, sometimes acting and speaking and sometimes just miming. I remember well the surprise

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party we had for our Vicar, Mr Brierley, on his birthday, and we played charades there. One of the words acted was Kleptomaniac and what a laugh it was. We had to explain to the ones guessing the word that we had to change the letter “e” for the letter “i” on the first syllable to make it sensible. The boys pretended to have a barber’s shop and were cutting hair, and the Klep became Klip. The Vicar was in that team and entered wholeheartedly into the spirit of the party. When it came to the syllable ‘toe’ they had a wrestling match and someone got a toe hold. The last syllable ‘maniac’ was really hilarious. The Vicar and Maisie did that, and came into the room minus their teeth, arm in arm, and dragging the teapot on a string. They really looked the part and the word was easily guessed when they went round – for the last syllable – taking things from the assembled company and that was the whole word, “kleptomaniac”.

Games, happy talk and supper took up the evening, and what a happy party it was. We did the same things when we entertained friends at home.

Throughout our growing years, and in fact all our lives, Mum and Dad were behind us in all that we did. We are very fortunate to have such memories and we are all grateful.

(Sadly three of the boys have died since writing this).

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It must have been rather like a continuing television show for Mum and Dad, watching the comings and goings of different girl and boy friends. I’m sure they wondered quite often whether or not a boy or girl was THE one. There were four broken engagements for them to contend with. I say for them, because when a member of a family is emotionally upset it affects everyone, and parents must have almost as hard a time as the member of the family involved.

One of the boys said not long ago, wonderful Mum was with all the young people coming and going and how she was the same to everyone. She didn’t at any time, or in any way, show whether or not she disliked a person, so never interfered in our choice of partners. Dad was a little more outspoken, but as far as I remember didn’t interfere.

My husband used to tell the story of when he took me home the night we were engaged there was nowhere to say goodnight! There was a couple standing under the walnut tree, someone under the plum tree, someone on the side steps, someone on the front steps, and when we went inside there on the dining room door was a notice “Please keep out, wooing session now on” pinned there I know by one of the younger uncourting brothers.

When Mick, (Bet’s husband), first came to tea on a Sunday night, he had a very embarrassing moment, We were just about to have tea when Dad asked. “Have you a tie Mick?” to which Mick replied, “No Mr Prebble, I’m sorry I haven’t” and Dad said. “Well, will you borrow one from one of my boys. I like them to come to the table on Sunday with a tie on and I’d like you to have one too.” Poor Mick, he didn’t come back for six weeks, but he did come back! He says now, ‘No wonder I loved that mother of yours, she just took me by the arm that night and said “Come on Mick. I’ll find a tie for you.”

When Mais was twenty-eight and I was twenty-five, Mum asked us if we were being too fussy as far as boys were concerned as neither of us looked like being married. However, Jack was married in 1931, and I was married in 1936 and from then on weddings seemed to come in fairly rapid succession.

I know Mum wore the same frock to five of them because she couldn’t afford new dresses each time, and apart from that, as she didn’t go out a great deal, it would have been foolish for her to have a lot of new frocks.

She wouldn’t have been in the least disturbed if anyone had criticised her for wearing the same frock but I’m certain no one did. They probably thought what a wise woman she was. And so she was.

Some of our sisters-in-law told us how terrified they were when they first came to tea. Such a sea of faces facing them, and knowing everyone was probably being critical must have been an awful ordeal. However, after the initial meeting, everyone loved coming.

I think it’s worth mentioning Claude’s courting because before we were engaged we’d never been out together! We’d known each other for four years and had met frequently at Church gatherings, Scout meetings and in the Diocesan office where I worked… He was the Vicar of Puketapu and one Sunday night he came to take the service and preach at our Parish and he asked if I would go and help him after church to count the collection. This was just an excuse as the Vicar never ever had to count the collection. Anyway he proposed to me and what merriment there was when we joined others

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in the Vicarage lounge that night, particularly when I offered my husband-to-be a cup of tea and called him Mr Hyde. I hadn’t even called him by his Christian name before we were engaged, so he wouldn’t take the cup of tea until I called him Claude.

It’s not hard to imagine the scene when we got home. Dad was visiting Grandma and Mum was sitting in the dining room with the others who’d been to church.

I introduced Claude to everyone, then said to Mum “You remember meeting Mr Hyde Mum? Well we’re going to be married,” Mum didn‘t do or say anything so I asked wasn‘t she going to kiss me, and she said “What was it said after you introduced Mr Hyde?” in such an enquiring way. When I told her again she was delighted even though she had met Claude only once. When Dad came home, we younger ones went out into the kitchen while Claude had a talk to Mum and Dad, and we all joined hands and danced around, and the others sang “Jo’s going to be married, Jo’s going to be married,” What hilarity there was. That was in May and we were married on the 9th of December that year, Mum and the family did all the catering – just sandwiches, pikelets and cakes in those days – and everything went so wonderfully well. We had what I call a delightful wedding with brother Bert, the Vicar Mr Brierley, and Bishop Williams all officiating. What a hot day it was too.

On the eve of our wedding we were expecting my oldest brother Jack and his wife Mercia from Auckland, when my husband-to-be arrived at the door. He went into the dining room, took one look at the stranger sitting there and immediately went over to her saying, “Ah Mercia, my long lost sister-in-law” and promptly kissed her. The stranger happened to be the newspaper reporter and she was very tickled. Said it was the first time she’d been kissed by the prospective bridegroom. In those days the reporters came to the house and viewed the bride and bridesmaid’s frocks and wrote a description of them for the newspaper.

I remember so well going on my honeymoon with only one shilling and sixpence in my purse, and how embarrassed I felt having to ask Claude for some money to buy a recipe book before we went to Waiheke Island where we were to spend our honeymoon. I didn’t have another penny in the world. Mum and Dad had already paid for my wedding dress and provided the wedding breakfast and they certainly didn’t have any extra. No one knew until we came home that that was all the money I had. I had saved to buy the material for my going away outfit (which Mum made) and had to buy new shoes and stockings etc with what was left of 2.14.6 a week and after paying board there wasn’t much to come and go on.

When Claude and I returned from our honeymoon we were at home at Mum and Dad’s for ten days before going to our first parish in Wairoa. We four older girls had a lot of fun during that time because part of the time there were holidays and the girls were home. One day we went down to the boy’s room and each got a pair of shorts and a shirt and dressed up in these and had great fun on the lawn. We did mad things like singing a haka, and instead of the proper words we sang, “One tin of cocoa, one tin of jam, two tins of cocoa, two tins of jam, Oamaru, Timaru, Waipukurau, He Ho Ha!”

Then some one dared us to go for a walk down the hill to a friend’s place dressed as we were, and we went! We were really old enough to know better but we did it for devilment. I was 26 and Mais was about 29 at the time. Nan and Bet

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were in their early twenties, so we were still able to get up to tricks, even at that age. Claude took a photo of us doing the haka, and also one sitting in the old bath under the walnut tree.

All the weddings went off wonder fully well, but Dad was able to go to so few of them because he was ill.

Mais’s husband John tells of some of his experiences when he first came to stay and he has us in fits of laughter with his description. He speaks about trying to find somewhere private to change his trousers when he wanted to change from longs to shorts, and his commentary on how he was disturbed at every turn makes such amusing listening. Likewise when he describes the time we sat down to afternoon tea and a huge plate of pikelets was placed in the middle of the table. He said he tried to speak to whoever was next to him, and glancing back to the plate it looked as if an octopus was busy at the pikelets, and when the tentacles disappeared, so had all the pikelets! A little bit exaggerated I think.

Sometimes there was such a crowd of us with our boys and girl friends, I know one Christmas there were nineteen of us staying in the house, but that was when a couple of us were married and had children.

When Jack was married Peg was about seven and asked did she have to call him Mr Prebble now. And Dick who was three wanted to know if Jack talked funny now, and when asked what he meant, he said “He’s Maoried now isn’t he.” Mercia and Jack were married quietly in Auckland. Unfortunately several of the family weren’t able to be there so soon after the earthquake. In any case there wouldn’t have been the money available for so many to travel so far, and there would also have been the problem of accommodation.

Peg and Arthur were married at the time of the ‘black out’ during the second world war and when she and Arthur left from the wedding breakfast to ‘go away’ everyone went down to see them off and they made as if to go across the street to get into a car but once across they ran along Hastings Street and up Tennyson Street to the Masonic Hotel and hid behind a pillar. When all was clear Peg and Arthur strolled nonchalantly into the hotel not wishing anyone to know they were just married when suddenly Peg discovered she had a white, ribbon trimmed horseshoe hanging from her arm!

Their wedding was held just a month or so before Dad died and as he was quite ill at the time the boys had to carry him up the stairs to the tea rooms in Blythes.

Peg reminded me that they had two ministers to marry them as she had made arrangements with the vicar at the Port and Arthur had arranged for the Camp Chaplain to marry them! They were married in St. Augustine’s Church which at that time was in Edwards Street and is now Dunstall’s Funeral Parlour.

Bet was engaged to Mick in about 1938 and they were to be married in 1940 but the war came and spoilt their plans,.Mick went into camp in 1940 and overseas in 1941, and was away for four years. He arrived home in 1945 and they were married three weeks later. Their honeymoon destination was Auckland so they first had to catch a train to Palmerston North, then travel through the night on the Main Trunk Line. After a long wait in Palmerston North where Mick met lots of his soldier friends, they climbed aboard the train at the appropriate time and there were people everywhere (soldiers and civilians) and luggage. There wasn’t room in the guards van for the mountain of luggage so it had to go

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in the carriage too. The train was so crowded and there were no seats left so people slept in the aisle and when anyone wanted to go to the toilet they had to pick their way over bodies and around luggage. An unusually unforgettable wedding night.

Dad was very much against drink of any kind and for one of the weddings was too ill to go. When the photos of the wedding reception were printed lo and behold there were a couple of bottles of beer on the bridal table. Dad was shocked to see them. No one thought to move them and so save him a lot of worry.

I’ve mentioned only the weddings with the unusual happenings, but all the family weddings were wonderful. Unfortunately Dad was unable to go to several because of ill health, and it was a great disappointment to him as he loved his family so much.

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One year two days before the Ball I said to Mum, “We won’t be going in fancy costume this year will we Mum?” and she said “Yes you will dear, I’ll make the costumes.” She did too – five of them in two days before the ball. It was a pity she had to miss so many of the balls but there was always a baby to mind in those early days and we certainly hadn’t heard of baby-sitters then! We were always taken home at 11pm and can all remember how we used to pretend not to see Dad looking for us. We always had a taxi to the ball, costing one and sixpence for all of us, and if it was a wet night we had a taxi home. On fine nights we walked.

Another outing we loved was going to the circus on a Saturday afternoon when it came to town – probably once a year or every two years. A taxi ride was necessary as it was on a patch of land somewhere near Taradale Road and that would have been a long walk for little children. Still, one and sixpence was pretty reasonable for about eight of us.

The annual Mardi Gras on Napier’s Marine Parade was one of the highlights of our year. Mum and Dad took all of us to see the sights, and watch the wonderful procession of floats and exhibits.


Life for us was anything but dull when we look back and realise all the treats we had. Even though Mum and Dad had to watch every penny, we always seemed to be included in whatever was on. Our Parish Picnic was an outing we all looked forward to and when we were older we would be early at the Parish Hall helping to prepare the sandwiches. In those days the church supplied all the food. It was during the preparation of sandwiches for the picnic we first learned how to make butter go further by adding boiling water, and we also learned that 1 pound of butter spread a two pound loaf of bread.

Going to the picnic was probably our only journey on a train during the year. One year two or three of us went to our Aunt and Uncle’s in Hastings for a holiday – and we travelled by train.

On the day of the picnic we boarded the train at the Port Ahuriri station, and amidst lots of fun and singing, were taken to Eskdale where we had all sorts of games and races and of course, swimming. At lunch time the huge boxes and babies’ baths filled with sandwiches were placed under a tree, then plates of them handed around to everyone. Likewise the large currant buns – sugar buns I think they were called – and there was always plenty for all.

The fact of travelling in railway carriages which had long wooden seats along each side helped to make it all such a friendly affair and everyone knew everyone else by the end of the day – that is if one didn’t know them all before, as most of us did.

Going to Church and Sunday School was so much part of our lives and for my part I loved it all. I’m sure the rest of the family did too.

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New Year’s Day was a great day for us as every year we had a wonderful picnic. Dad’s bosses – Messrs. Bull Bros. of Port Ahuriri –  would give him the use, first of all of a wagon and horses, then from 1918 the Packard lorry, as a Christmas bonus. The lorry had hard tyres and no tubes and had to be started by hand with a crank handle. It had seats either side of the tray with a double one down the middle where we sat back to back, and it held about thirty or forty of us counting little ones on knees, and for twenty nine years, without once having to postpone it, we had our marvellous picnic, always at the same spot

Sometimes the weather looked very threatening, and at times it was even spitting with rain, but how we pleaded with Dad still to have the picnic. He would look at the sky and say, “Yes, I think we can go,” and go we always did. Once we heard that magic “yes” our day was made. Now and again at a picnic we’d have a downpour and the huge tarpaulin which was usually used on the ground for sitting on, was hastily strung to the trees above and made into an excellent shelter for the older folk.

As for the younger ones, we just went swimming in the rain.

Dad cut the side out of a kerosene tin and this would be filled with sandwiches. (The tin was used as a sink after lunch). We had tasty fruit cake after the sandwiches, then bananas and apples, Dad always bought a case of apples for New Year’s Day and we were well satisfied with our quota.

Waiting for the lorry to come when we were fairly young seemed like hours, but the arrival of relatives and friends helped us realise the time was drawing near, then when the lorry was heard coming up the steep hill our excitement knew no bounds. Mum, with some of the other women folk would walk to the bottom of the hill as she and they were too nervous to ride down in the lorry, and when we came home they would walk up the hill. As for us we just loved the thrill of riding in a motorised vehicle and of nearly sliding off the seats as the hill was negotiated.

In the days when we had the wagon and horses, we all had to walk to the bottom of the hill, carting the food, swimming togs, towels, sports gear etc. and the same when we came home as the horses couldn’t have pulled a load like that up the hill. At least Dad didn’t want them to.

Our picnic spot was at Hakowhai on Mr Drummond’s property just past Puketapu and on the way Dad would call for the key of the gate into the picnic ground. At that moment we knew we were nearly there, and always sang “Here we are again, happy as can be, etc”, after singing the whole way out to the picnic. As soon as we packed up to go home and were all on the lorry, we would sing. “Show me the way to go home, etc.”

One year when we went back to school after the Christmas holidays my teacher asked our class to write an essay about our holidays, and I wrote about the picnic, I wrote that we went to Hakowhai, but the teacher said I should have written Pakowhai. When I told him it was Hakowhai we’d been to, he strapped me for contradicting him. However a note from Mum soon put things right, and the teacher was most apologetic.

We used the same lorry every year for twenty one years and Reg drove it on its last journey to Hakowhai in 1939. Poor old lorry was really ancient by that time. For the last two or three years, when I was by that time away from home, Mr

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Bull loaned Dad the big Oldsmobile lorry which was such a luxury after the old one.

What wonderful times we had at those picnics, swimming, playing rounders, cricket, bar the gate, leapfrog, etc. The moment we reached the picnic spot, things were unpacked and we were allowed to go for a swim, staying in the water until lunch time. After lunch we had to sit still for about ten minutes, then we played all the games because we weren’t to swim for an hour after eating, then it was back into the water again. One year there was lots of mud at the side of the river bank so several of us smothered ourselves from top to toe with it and the caption under the photo in my album is ‘The Muck Brigade’.

They were happy times indeed and times to remember.


The Port beach was a favourite venue for ordinary picnics and on very hot days in mid summer Mum would decide we could go to the beach for tea. The boys would get the cart ready and it would be packed to the brim with food, togs, coats, towels etc. and the baby’s pram laden with the baby and toddler and off we’d set. When we reached the Port Mum would send two of us along to tell Dad we were having tea on the beach, and how we waited for Dad’s arrival, because we weren’t allowed in the water until he came. In later years friends would often come with us and it wasn’t unusual to have a least twenty of us there swimming and playing together.

One Friday night a friend lost her wristlet watch on the beach and everyone searched and searched for it but there was no sign of the watch. The next week we had another picnic and this same friend was with us. She was sitting talking and letting the shingle sift through her fingers, and lo and behold there quite suddenly was her watch. It was a miracle because the week before we had formed a straight line and gone slowly and carefully almost to the water’s edge moving the top shingle gently, but found no sign of it.

The same thing happened at one of our New Year’s Day picnics. One of our friends lost her engagement ring and we all searched and searched but couldn’t find it. We had another picnic the next day, as we sometimes did, and someone found the ring. What rejoicing there is when something which was lost is found.

On all these picnics we had billy tea and there’s nothing quite like it for flavour. I was reading a short time ago how to make billy tea properly and we apparently did it “properly”, sprinkling the tea on to the boiling water, then taking the billy off the fire immediately and tapping the sides to make the tea leaves fall to the bottom. Most times Dad would put a twig across the billy as the water was heating, and this was to prevent the water tasting smoky. It was lovely to be able to light a fire on the beach, and Dad was most particular about removing all trace of it when it was finished with. It was buried deeply in the shingle.

At the New Year’s Day picnic we boiled a kerosene tin full of water for the tea and washing up and then of course we used a tea pot for the tea.

Those were the “good old days before people” started abusing picnic spots.

We are all grateful to Mum and Dad who made time to take us and be with us and none of the family will forget those highlights of our young lives.

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Tin canning after a wedding was very popular in our young days and we all thought it very exciting when anyone in our road was married. All the “young things” roundabout collected kerosene tins and sticks, and that evening congregated very quietly at the bride’s parents gate, then at a given signal we all began to bang our tins or blow whistles. The noise was terrific and quite quickly someone from the house would come out and give us a lolly scramble.

Tin canning was always expected and the hosts were prepared. At one of these events, the host Mr George Fenwick brought out a bag of threepenny pieces and used them for a scramble. None of us could believe our eyes and that evening was long remembered.


All our boys were paper boys at different ages and how thrilled they were to earn a few pence each week. In these days the boys all called out “Paper” as they threw it on to the verandah or over the fence, and people knew exactly when it arrived. The papers were rolled up then banged across the knee so they could be thrown well. Someone remarked to Dad that their paper was always dry when the Prebble boys delivered them, because they made sure the paper landed in a dry place or delivered it right to the door. One day when I did the paper run for Bert who was home with painful water on the knee, it was dreadfully wet and I wore Bert’s sou’ wester and rain hat, Mr McRae was at his gate at the bottom of a number of steps, and he handed me a two shilling piece (20 cents) and said There you are son,” He had no idea I was a girl.

Dad isn’t mentioned as often as he should have been in these stories, but he helped a very great deal in our upbringing. Discipline was very necessary with such a crowd, it is anyway with a small number too, and our young people these days would feel much safer with more discipline and a bit more spiritual teaching. Children know exactly what to do and what is expected of them, and it serves them in good stead in later life.

At 82 years of age I have such very happy memories of days gone by and the wonderful companionship of my brothers and sisters.

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Appendix i



Dad   18-10-1880   Ernest Prebble. Died 1943

Mum   30-5-1883   Susan Rebecca Prebble (nee Rolls).   Died 1962.

Jack   21-5-1905   married Mercia Hine Sigley.
Their children are – Brian, John, Diane (died at 10 months), and Jill

Reg   12-4-1906   (Reginald Langley) – married Mary Turtle.
Their children are John, Russell, Jane (died 15.9.77), David and Richard

Mais   8-6-1907   (Maisie Evelyn) – married John Ogilvie.
Their children are Janet and Philip.

Bert   14-10-1908   (Albert Ernest) – married Alice Margaret Cawkwell.
Their children are Rosemary, Elizabeth and Mark.

Vera/Jo   19-8- 1910   (Vera Jocelyn)   – married Claude Edward Hyde. later an Archdeacon.
Their children are Margaret, Patricia and Michael.

Tom   24-6-1912   (Norman Leslie) – married Moira Bodley.
Their children are Graeme, Carolyn and Jennifer.

Nan   15-3-1914   (Nancy)   married Ronald Devine (killed in action).
Married Alan Joll and their children are Bruce, Christopher and Susan.

Bet   15-9-1915   (Betty Susie)   married Harry Knight (Mick) Thomson.
Their children are Judith and Michael.

Fred   26-1-1918   (Fred Leslie] – married Maire Mitchell.
Their children are Christine, Anne, Dale and Ray.

Peg   21-4-1922   (Margaret Rolls)   married Arthur Gempton.
Their children are Paul, Douglas, Gary, Pamela and Brian.

Eric   4-4-1924   (Eric Philip)   married Jean Stevens. Died 1981.
Their children are Ronald, Robert, Marion and Graeme.

Dick   31-10-1926   (Richard Keith)   married Valerie McCullough.
Their children are Amanda and Dean.

Page 48

Appendix ii


Jack   Managing secretary of the Dilworth Trust in Auckland,

Reg   Manager of the South British Insurance Company first in Napier, then in Wellington.

Maisie   Typist with the New Zealand Insurance Company

Bert   Archdeacon and Vicar General of Auckland, and Vicar of St Mark’s, Remuera. Earlier Vicar of Pukekohe, and Whangarei, later as Vicar of Harrow in the Diocese of London

Vera   Typist in the Diocesan Office in Napier for two years and packer at the National Tobacco Company.

Tom   Manager of the New Zealand Insurance Company in Napier.

Nancy   Worked for the HB Rivers Board, and later a typist at the National Tobacco Company. After her husband was killed on active service five months after they were married she worked in Wellington for the American Embassy.

Betty   In charge of the office at Bestalls Limited in Napier.

Fred   Established his own cabinet-making business, Prebble Bros, Napier.

Peggy   Took Nan’s place at the National Tobacco Company.

Eric   Farmed his own property in Patutahi, Gisborne.

Dick   Owned a Men’s Outfitters in Taradale – Prebble Menswear.

Updated, typed and printed by Lois Smith, June 1993

Copies available from:
D. Prebble
11 Windsor Road

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The story of the Prebble family – Betty Thomson was formerly Betty Prebble

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June 1993

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