Top-ranking Girls’ Brigade stalwart looks back on life
Melva Mildenhall had wondered why she had to wear her formal uniform and her Queen’s Service Medal to tea with “the girls” on Saturday, but it all became clear as she enter the back of the Hastings Baptist Church hall and smelt lovely baking smells and realised the room was full of people waiting to wish her a happy retirement.
“What’s this,” she said, “Is it going to be This Is Your Life?”
“How did you guess?” was the reply.
Miss Mildenhall, 75, has retired after Serving 57 years with the Hastings Baptist Chuich’s Girls’ Brigade No2 Company. Her service has been the longest by anyone from Hawke’s Bay and one of the longest times of anyone in New Zealand.
During the surprise party the entire No2 Company gathered with many past and present members of Girls’ Brigade.
Mystery voices from Miss Mildenhall’s past came over the airwaves to wish her all the best for her retirement.
“It was absolutely fabulous. Bob Parker couldn’t have done a better job,” she said.
One of the mystery voices was that of a woman who went to England with Miss Mildenhall and two others in 1962, to meet Girls’ Brigade members from all over the world and celebrate the Girls’ Brigade’s Diamond Jubilee.
Lynette McEwan [McEwen], who will take over from Miss Mildenhall as captain of the company, organised for the original company ﬂag and the three original, girls, now elderly women, to carry it down the aisle.
It all brought memories ﬂooding back for Miss Mildenhall. She served ﬁrst as a lieutenant in the Girls’ Brigade when she helped establish the Hastings No2 Company in 1945, at the age of 17, after moving to Hastings with her family from Lower Hutt.
A year later she became captain, and later still, served as treasurer, secretary and National Commissioner, for which she received the highest award possible for Girls’ Brigade.
She was also the ﬁrst Hawke’s Bay woman to receive a 30-year service award in 1976.
During her six-month visit to England Miss Mildenhall met the Constable of Windsor Castle, Sir Bernard Freyberg, and his wife Lady Freyberg.
She also met members of her family she had never even spoken to before.
She attended the Girls’ Brigade International conference in the Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean, for two weeks 1978.
In 1985 she received the Queen’s Service medal for her lifelong interest in the Girls’ Brigade.
It was presented in Wellington by the Queen, during a Royal visit.
On Saturday she received letters from Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule, the Governor-General, Dame Sylvia [Silvia] Cartwright, Tukituki MP Rick Barker, Women’s Affairs Minister Ruth Dyson, and the National Commissioner for the Girls’ Brigade.
Miss Mildenhall worked for the former Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune for her entire working life of 44 years.
She has two weeks of term left before she bows out of the company, although she will continue to keep the books for the new team, which she feels confident will do a great job in her absence.