Margaret Shirley Magnussen (nee Noonan) was four years old and living in Pakipaki, south of Hastings, when the earthquake struck. Her grandfather was one of 256 people to lose their lives in the disaster, killed by a toppling staircase when he returned to his workplace to retrieve his pipe.
Now living in Owhango in the King Country, Mrs Magnussen recalls the events of February 3, 1931.
Grandad’s fatal decision to save pipe
My granny (Margaret Brooker) had a contract with Borthwick’s Freezing Works at Pakipaki to provide meals to the workers. She employed kitchen hands to assist.
My granddad (Henry Brooker) worked as a meat inspector in the works. We lived in a works house adjacent to the works.
I was four years and nine months old in February, 1931. My brother Trevor and I were being reared by our maternal grandparents as our mother Clarice Noonan died a few days after I was born.
On the morning of February 3, 1931, I took Granddad his morning tea over in my doll’s pram, with six large jugs of tea, to a man who had diabetes and needed to drink large quantities of fluids.
The freezer had been emptied that morning and the contents put in the paddock. After morning tea, the men returned to work and I remained playing with the ice. I was fascinated with it, as it was something I had never seen before.
At that moment the quake started. Every time I tried to get up I fell over and felt very bewildered. After what seemed like an eternity the quake stopped. There was a staircase up to where my Granddad worked.
He came out to tell me to go home as Granny would wonder where I was. I said, “No, I like it here.”
He told me not to be cheeky and to do as I was told.
Granddad then said, “I’ll go back and get my pipe.”
As he went to go back inside the ground began to shake again. The staircase crashed off the brick wall and Granddad lay at my feet. I kept talking to him but he did not answer me.
Beside us lay a man with his leg off, who told me to go and get Granny.
I found Granny outside the kitchen. Her legs were covered in blood. The chimney was down and parts of it had hit her legs. She said to go inside and get some sheets out of the linen cupboard and a pair of scissors. I couldn’t find them so I took out her big carving knife.
We gathered some small stones and pieces of bricks and dumped the sheets and bucket of bricks into my big doll’s pram and went over to the works.
Granny went to Granddad and discovered that he had been killed. She sobbed to me that at least he had gone quickly, as he had always wanted.
Granny then went to aid the injured man who lay not far from Granddad. She applied tourniquets to his legs and then some other men arrived and took over.
Granny and I then returned to the house. We were happy when we were told later that the man that we had helped was still alive.
Relatives came and went into our sitting room as Granddad was laid out there. I was trying to be helpful and kept putting Granddad’s pipe into his mouth, as I had always fetched his pipe and slippers for him when he returned from work. One older family member quietly disposed of the pipe.
The ground was cracked in a lot of places. We slept outside under tarps for about a fortnight and someone put us up a big bell tent. There was broken crockery everywhere and the chimneys had fallen.
Everyone was helping to cook in camp ovens over open fires outside. Everyone was frightened to go inside as we kept on getting aftershocks.
I was taken to Granddad’s funeral.
As he was being lowered into the grave I screamed out, “Don’t put Granddad into that hole.” An uncle led me away.
It was ghastly. To this day I still have a real fear of earthquakes, and have to rush outside when one occurs.
Photo caption – SMILES HIDE TRAUMA: Shirley Magnussen (nee Noonan) stands with her cousin Margaret Mannering (nee Pearce) outside a bell tent on the grounds of Borthwick’s freezing works in Pakipaki just days after the quake.