HAND OF FRIENDSHIP SPANS 25 YEARS
BY VALERIE BOWES
Chance meeting in a bus in 1946 between a World War I bride and World War II bride led to the starting of Hastings British Women’s Overseas Club.
A CHANCE meeting in a bus in 1946 between a First World War wife, Mrs Malcolm Mason, and a young wife with her baby who had just arrived in New Zealand led to the formation of the British Women’s Overseas Club in Hastings.
The young wife, Mrs Mason said, found on her arrival in New Zealand that her husband had to rejoin his ship in three days – she had nowhere to live and no friends or relations to help her.
Luckily, Mrs Mason was on her way from Hastings to Napier for a Red Cross meeting, and they were able to find accommodation for the young wife.
Mrs Mason realized that many war brides would be coming to New Zealand and felt there might be the need for an organization to help them.
Mrs Mason sent a letter to the local newspaper asking if anyone would be interested. The replies not only amazed Mrs Mason but the numbers staggered the Editor.
Along with all the enthusiastic replies was one from “’Tui,” who said, “These Englishwomen have been thankful enough to come to our country and enjoy its privileges and benefits. Surely New Zealand women are good enough to associate with. Needless to say I am New Zealand born and proud of it.”
The number of replies to that letter proved good publicity with women pointing out that “Tui” overlooked one important fact – that being fortunate enough to be born in New Zealand she had many friends and relations, but the young war brides soon to arrive would have none.
As Mrs Mason said “Like Ruth, they were following their husbands, and if it could be made easier we were going to help.”
The inaugural meeting was to be held due to the interest of the then Mayor Mr A. Rainbow, in the “Mayor’s parlour” as both he and Mrs Mason thought “about 20″ might come. In a last minute panic it was switched to the [newspaper text incorrectly ordered] Hastings Assembly Hall because 200 women arrived!
An interim committee was set up with Mrs Mason convenor, Miss M. Silvester as honorary secretary, Mrs A Laing as assistant secretary, Mrs- D. H. Stewart treasurer and Mesdames L. J. Macersey [Mackersey] and A. Reeve as committee members.
One of the first functions was a highly successful Christmas tea and “get together” for which the Mayor allotted £50. Rules were simple – no discussions of religion, politics or husband’s occupations.
This year the club celebrates its Silver anniversary, and Mrs Mason, its founder and first leader, is looking forward to the planned reunion.
Refusing to take credit for the club’s success she says, “It doesn’t matter who begins an organization – it’s the people who belong and carry it on who make it successful.”
When a new member from overseas joins she is introduced at the meeting as “Mary Smith from London,” then the president requests that all other members from that area stand, and they take care of “Mary Smith” until she is settled in.
Hospital visiting is considered important and Mrs Mason recalls the day the Matron of the hospital rang to say a patient from England was very ill and had no relations or friends in Hastings as she was passing through. Mrs Mason got one of her members to visit. By an amazing coincidence the visiting member was from Derby, so was the patient – in fact, they lived almost in the next street at one time.
At the 10th birthday party Mrs Mason proposed a toast “To our long suffering husbands who have to put up with their wives crying on their shoulders when the letter expected did not come from home.”
Mr Harold Wilson, replying gallantly on behalf of the husbands, said “On looking around I think we Kiwis are to be congratulated on our choice – Britain’s loss as regards their brides is Hastings’ gain.”
As Mrs Mason explained at one of the first meetings, “These young wives have fallen in love with their husbands and are willing to follow them to a strange land, but they haven’t yet had the chance to fall in love with the country.”
Members going overseas for trips are able to visit members’ relations and friends to give them first-hand news of their loved ones in New Zealand.
At the last Christmas party one of the items was community songs from different parts of Britain, and women from each particular part of the country led the singing with actions.
A member who had lived most of her life in South Africa before coming to New Zealand, told of her horror in trying to make the washing machine work and the stove to cook. In the end she had to ask one of the members to show her how to use them.
Another member said one of her most memorable days was when she had learnt to make bread and soap – they were living then in an isolated area and she was from a town in Great Britain.
This is an interesting club to visit – there’s friendship and a helping hand from all British women – an opportunity to meet someone from your part of Great Britain, and to the visitor, a fascinating wealth of accents.
N.Z.W.W. MARCH 15, 1971