A 100-year story continues
By Marion Morris
Staff reporter, Hastings
“It’s a very long story,” said Lindsay Gordon this week, referring to his life.
Today Mr Gordon is 100 years old, physically frail but mentally very much up with the play and a splendid raconteur of his century of life.
So good, in fact that the entertaining hour-long interview touched on only some of the aspects of a life that began on the Gordon family property of Clifton Station on July 30, 1894.
His memory doesn’t stretch quite that far but he remembers being told of his birth.
“Many years later, Mr Anderson, who set up Anderson’s Nursery said to me: “Your father made me ride a horse all the way to Napier to get Dr Moore to help you into the world’,” said Mr Gordon.
It was a world that was to see two world wars – neither of which could be ignored by the farming family.
When war broke out in 1914, Lindsay and his father, Frank, set sail for England to join up with the British Army – not for this family the New Zealand Army.
(Not surprising when a dip into the family history shows that Mr Lindsay Gordon’s grandfather Thomas Edward Gordon – was a captain in the 14th Hussars and Inskillings [Iniskillings] and served in the Indian Mutiny and Sikh War and in New Zealand commanded a troop of cavalry during the Maori War.)
An added reason for Mr Gordon’s desire to serve with the British Army was that he was educated at Eastbourne College for four years.
“Actually when I was born my name was put down for the United Services College at Westward Ho, but it went bung before I could go and it was decided I should be sent to a nice healthy seaside climate.”
So there he was with his father in London ready to do their bit for the war effort, when a call came from the French Army.
The Germans had nearly taken Paris, the French Army had no ambulances available, and could Britain possibly send an ambulance unit over urgently?
“You’ve heard of the mad English, haven’t you. So I volunteered and somehow 25 ambulances were converted from private cars and outﬁtted.
“We were an extraordinary bunch of volunteers. The author, Jerome K. Jerome, was one of us.
“We eventually arrived in Versailles from where the French, who regarded us as the mad British, sent us to the most dangerous and difficult zones. Each ambulance had an English driver and a Frenchman.
“Some of us spoke French, some learned pidgin French. It was a great adventure and the unit obviously did a lot of good work.
“We were all given the rank of lieutenant and we were in teams of eight – four on duty in dugouts and four bringing the wounded back from the front line.
“I can tell you it was very exciting, but no fun at all in the dark in the dugouts.
“Remarkably, despite all the shrapnel that was ﬂying around not one of the unit of young and old, Canadians and British was injured.
“However, the work we did was appreciated.
“The unit was given the Croix de Guerre. It had to be painted on the side of the ambulances.”
Mr Gordon returned to continue working with his father on Clifton Station after the war.
After a short time he sold his third share of the station to his half-brother John.
He married in 1922 and in 1923 bought a property he called Farndon and a house which he called Farndon Farm House.
“Farndon was a very rough place to farm. It was always being ﬂooded and we had to be out, often in the dark saving sheep from ﬂoodwaters. We had to paint all the gates white so that we could see them at night.”
Mr Gordon now lives in Farndon House, down an avenue of plane trees off the main highway through Clive.
His home is now a substantial building which has grown from what he called a “tiny cottage on a broken down poultry farm”.
He is proud of his avenue which he planted in 1924 because as a small boy he had loved the plane tree avenue on his maternal grandfather’s property at Riverslea off Napier Rd. (That avenue still stands).
But farming at Farndon was not to continue.
Mr Gordon decided to go into horticulture.
“The old man told me I was mad.
“What do you know about growing ﬂowers,” he asked me.
“Imagine taking on a sissy job like that.”
The sissy job was to prove successful and Mr Gordon was to build up a large cut-ﬂower business selling, as well as to Hastings and Napier, to Auckland and Wellington.
When the Second World War came along and the Home Guard was born in New Zealand, a unit was set up in Clive.
“I thought to myself that this was one war I won’t have to be involved in,” said Mr Gordon.
“They asked me to take charge of the Clive Home Guard but if I were to become involved I wanted it to be as one of the boys,” he said.
It wasn’t to be.
“Finally I was persuaded to take it on, but I insisted that it was to be done my way. There would be no nonsense.
“On the very ﬁrst night on duty I gave them a talk. All lights on parade were turned out with only one spotlight turned on me. I told them to listen to what I had to say and that was no one was to come on duty tight. Then I went and sat in the dark and the sergeant major took over.
“As I sat there a man came and sat alongside me. He was a very anti-Gordon fellow and I thought ‘I don’t like this at all’.
“Then he said to me ‘I want to tell you this. No one could take this job on as well as you’.
Mr Gordon said he was unfortunate not to have had the large family he and his wife had hoped for.
“We prepared for a very large family and my grandmother had a very large oak table made for us, but it wasn’t to be.”
Mr Gordon expects that friends and family will call in to see him today.
Photo caption – Mr Gordon . . . 100 years old today and his companion, Mag.