Birthday present sent waves round the world
By MARION MORRIS
Staff reporter, Hastings.
Frank Peach was just eight years old when the great earthquake of 1931 struck.
But it was not until 50 years later that he found out that his birthday present was central to the subsequent rescue of a devastated Hawke’s Bay.
The valves from Frank’s new radio were taken by the captain and the signal-man for use in the HMS Veronica’s radio – the ship’s communication equipment had been smashed when the sea bed had risen during the quake.
“I didn’t know whether they had been used or not. When the plans were being made to mark the 50th anniversary of the quake and we’d heard that some of the crew from the Veronica were to attend, my wife said ‘why don’t we try to find out’.
“I knew a reporter who knew that one of the crew had been a signalman aboard the Veronica so we arranged to meet him in Napier.
“As his story unfolded, it was obvious that it was the same story as mine and that Oliver Randall was the signalman to whom I’d given my valves,” said Frank.
“He was able to tell me that the valves were used. The first messages of distress were sent in Morse code, but later the valves from my radio were used for contact with the HMS Diomede and the HMS Dunedin steaming toward stricken Napier.
“Mr Randall told me the valves remained in use on the Veronica until she returned to Devonport Naval Base a month later.”
The incident at the time meant little to Frank. The captain’s white uniform and its gold braid were much more impressive to a small boy who lived at the Iron Pot and who played around the boats moored there.
It was not something he had either the time or inclination to worry about during the next 50 years either. Now he can see that it’s a fascinating story – but only one he hastens to add, among the many that have still yet to be told of February 3, 1931.
Not, he says, that he remembers everything that occurred
He says like many others he has talked to there are big gaps in his memory.
“Maybe it is better that way.
“Today I feel sure .there would be psychological help for children who must have all been shocked by the experience.
“I remember having to attend Terrace End School after the earthquake and being terrified as I had to pass high brick walls.”
The day the earthquake struck was on the first day back at the port school after the Christmas holidays. Morning playtime had gone on longer than usual as the teachers were having a meeting.
“I was thrown on to the ground. Everyone was really rolling around all over the place.
“I don’t remember being frightened and my subsequent actions proved that, in fact, I was not.
“When the shaking stopped I climbed over the fence and headed toward West Quay where the Veronica and all the big fishing boats were moored.
“The thought in my mind was to see if the boats were all right. I used to play around them. We lived opposite the Iron Pot.
“They all appeared to be tied up – they all looked the same as usual.
“Then, satisfied all was well with the boats I gradually made my way home.
“My mother was in a state of shock. I had been reported missing. I remember being nearly smothered to death by her hug.
“Meanwhile, my father was expected home in a new car he had bought in Hastings.
“A while later we were all standing outside admiring it.
“It was one of the few cars around at the time so that is why Commander Morgan and Signalman Randall came to us.
“The commander asked my father if he would take him and his signals officer into Napier as they needed parts for their radio set. Theirs had been smashed when the sea bed rose and jolted the ship.
“My father said: ‘It’s no use going to Napier. I’ve just come through it and it’s on fire.
“I wasn’t paying too much attention to their conversation. I was too busy looking at this naval officer in his sparkling white suit and feeling thrilled that he had picked us out to talk to.
“Dad said, ‘what is it you want,” and the commander said, ‘valves for our radio.
“Dad said ‘we’ve got a radio, but I don’t know anything about it. You can have a look if you like. A family friend, Tom Frater made it for Frank’s birthday.
“So they came into our front room. I remember seeing our piano on its side and the room looking a mess. But my great big radio was intact and the two men took all the valves from it.
“Until 1981, that as far as I was concerned, was the end of the story,” said Frank.
‘While Frank says he doesn’t remember where he slept during the following week his sister says they slept in the car.
He does remember however the delight of himself and his family at being given bottles of fizz and food by a Chinese family who had a shop nearby.
Vivid too is the memory of he and his sister being given a full sheep carcase from someone on the wharf. Their triumphant arrival home with such a prize came to a disappointing end when their father said: “What do you think we are going to do with this? We haven’t any stove to cook it on.”
Barbecuing was never thought of then.
“I think we were told to take the carcass away and give it to someone else,” said Frank.
Vivien Peach, whose efforts brought Frank’s story to its conclusion, lived in New Plymouth at the time.
Her only contact with Hawke’s Bay’s big one was seeing a large number of small children playing inside a large tennis pavilion at the east end of New Plymouth.
“When I asked who they were I was told they were refugee children who were staying there after the earthquake, she said.
Photo captions –
Frank Peach’s English mother dressed her eight-year-old son in sailor suits a common practice in her homeland.
Frank Peach, retired now from New Zealand Aerial Mapping Ltd, in his garden.
The general store opposite the Iron Pot prior to the earthquake, visited by the officers of the HMS Veronica in their quest for radio valves.