by Bill Blunden 1913 to 1998
Editor's Note .. Bill Blunden is Judy Smith's uncle. He was one of a family of nine born to Canterbury farmers, Harold and Henrietta Blunden. The oldest girl was Judy's mother, Joyce, who at 16 was left with the responsibility for her siblings when her mother died in 1923. Bill would have been 11 years old at this time, and this is Bill's story as he remembered it in later life. Unfortunately Bill died in 1998 before completing his autobiography.
This story is not really to trace the history of my parents, but more to follow the lives of their children. I hope my memory allows me to recall the many experiences, both good and bad, that we nine children had, and to be able to relate the way we coped with life under very difficult circumstances. I only hope that my memory serves me correctly as I try to recall our lives. I can faintly remember what happened from the time when I was approximately four years old, however, my recollection of incidents during the very early years of my life will be sketchy. I am now in my eighties, and must admit I have left it a bit late to try and put into print the events of the early parts of my own, and my brothers', and sisters' lives.
My reason for writing this story is with the hope that my great and great-great nieces and nephews, and generations to follow, may be able to look back on the methods our parents implemented to prepare us for our future lives. This generation may think their methods were very severe, but looking back I am convinced that, as we matured in years, we benefited from their actions. The theory of this script is to try and explain it in a simple way, so that young people can compare their own family up-bringing with that of families of my generation.
My parents, Henrietta Denshire and Harold Blunden, were married on December 20th, 1905, and their first home was at Pendarvis, a small district a few miles from Ashburton in South Canterbury. My father had three brothers, one sister and two step-sisters. My mother had four sisters and one brother, who was killed in action during World War I.
My father was born at Bennets, North Canterbury, and his parents were wealthy farmers - hence his chance to establish himself at 'Selma', the name of his first farm. He had a good education at Christ's College in Christchurch, one of the oldest schools in New Zealand, where pupils were selected from the so called 'gentry'. In New Zealand, class distinction was then very evident, and only sons of wealthy families were accepted. As a scholar he was not brilliant, but he was a natural sportsman. Records show that in 1894 he was captain of the First XI, gym champion, captain of cadets, and a member of the rugby First XV. The beautiful old buildings of Christ's College still remain, but the class distinction is no longer evident. When it was established it was a church school solely for Anglicans, but it is now open to all denominations.
My mother was born in 1886, and her maiden name was 'Denshire'. Her father was a farmer, also in South Canterbury, a very popular, hard working gentleman, averagely financially sound. His wife was always known to us as 'Granny Denshire', a selfish, miserly old lady. My Aunties were not afraid to relate to us the manner they were treated by their mother during their early lives. However, it appears that when they reached their mid twenties, they were allowed to travel and mix with others to a limited extent. but the fact remained that Granny considered no man was good enough for her daughters, and unbelievably, this situation continued until she died at the age of 104. Two of her daughters (one was my mother) defied her and married.
And this is where my story really begins.
My father was a good worker and he was fully occupied attending sheep, cutting gorse hedges and always maintaining that 'a farmer's day was never finished'. History confirms that my parents were very much in love and really enjoyed the early part of their married life. Their social life consisted of events like picnics, card evenings and other social events shared with their neighbours. I recall the Watsons, Doigs, Camerons and Gills being my parents' closest friends.
Although my mother spent the first twelve years of her married life in the same district in which she lived prior to her marriage, she seldom visited her old home. Her mother never forgave her for defying her wish, and getting married, however my Aunties took the opposite attitude and spent many happy times visiting us at 'Selma'. I am sure they realised how lucky she was to be able to escape the restricted existence her selfish mother forced her to endure during her adolescence. My mother seldom visited her old home in Ashburton, but her sisters never blamed her for leaving and getting married - in fact I think they hoped the time would come when they could do the same, but it seems their wishes never eventuated. Granny Denshire never changed her views, and remained a selfish inconsiderate old lady throughout her life. Like my mother, my Aunts were very attractive girls, but any male friends they ever met, their mother didn't want to know. I do not know much about my grandfather, but presume he was completely dominated by Granny, and was happy to keep outdoors and carry on with the duties a farmer had to perform to exist in those difficult times.
My mother was married at 19, while my Dad was 28. They both loved children and hoped to have a big family, but perhaps their wishes were granted beyond the extent they had envisaged. Birth control was difficult, because of the slow advances of medical knowledge and education about it. So nature took its course.
The birth dates of our family were:
The above record shows that my mother produced seven children within eleven years, with Peg following two years and four months later, and the last, my youngest sister Alice nearly three years later still. She was born at Rangiora (the only one not born at Ashburton) soon after we left 'Selma' and moved to Cust. I can only record family activities experienced at 'Selma' from information gathered from my Aunties, mainly my mother's sisters.
Mother was very healthy, attractive and tall, and was nicknamed 'Poppy'. (Poppies have always been renowned for their tallness and their prettiness.) I can never recall her being called by any other name. Dad was a well built athletic type, a hard worker, very handsome, and a real family man - but as a father very strict. How my mother coped during the first ten to twelve years of marriage one could never imagine, rearing such a large family in such a short period of time. However, her strong character, and her natural love of children overcame her difficulties, and we children, from a very young age were taught to care for ourselves. As we grew older, we all had our special duties to perform, such as making our beds, preparing for school, washing and drying the dishes, cutting and bringing in the firewood. Children of this generation may find it hard to believe this method of bringing up a family possible, but if the same methods prevailed today, and parents adopted the same attitude, teenagers could perhaps look forward to a much improved future. The first ten years of my parents married life was probably their happiest.
My father was the son of a farmer, and was familiar with most methods of farming. 'Selma' was renowned for producing good crops like barley, wheat and small seeds - grass seeds, clover etc. He took a great interest in his new venture and with the help and advice of his neighbours, his early years at 'Selma' showed a reasonable financial return. My mother, in spite of her arduous task of producing such a big family in so short a time, seemingly enjoyed the farming environment. Housekeeping would not be easy - no vacuum cleaners, washing machines or refrigerators....only an old copper which was used to boil the clothes, and I can well remember the old grooved wooden board we used to rub the garments on. After being removed from the copper the clothes were continually rubbed up and down on this board, until they were clean enough to be rinsed. Mother made nearly all our clothes - no sewing machines, just needle and cotton and scissors. Cooking, as the family grew, was a major job. I will never forget the delicious bread and scones that came out of the old wood and coal-fed oven. Cakes were regarded as a real luxury, and Mum only made a batch about once a week - usually on Sundays. From my parents point of view, social life was almost non-existent. My mother did not approve of drink and as this story progresses I will explain how my father's drinking habits took toll on my mother's married life.
During our ten years at 'Selma' at Pendarvis my father was not recognised as a drink addict. He would occasionally go to Ashburton where he was a keen member of the Ashburton Mounted Rifles, and also a member of the Gentlemen's Club, which was a club for the so-called elite. However, it appears that he was still very much in love with my mother, and dedicated to his family and farming commitments, until we finally left 'Selma'. The above paragraph could be disputed, as I can clearly remember years later, in fact after my brother's death, one of my Aunts telling me that my father was addicted to drink soon after his marriage. My father farmed 'Selma' successfully for approximately five or six years, and although my mother had produced six children during those few years, she never complained about the long days and hard work .. in fact, from all reports, she was very happy. So far, so good, but few realised the consequences of the tragedy that was to follow - I refer to the events leading up to World War I. Relations between Austria and Serbia deteriorated rapidly, Britain was nervous of Germany, and France and Russia had similar fears of Germany and Austria. It was evident that a major conflict was imminent. Finally in 1914, World War I commenced. The Government had to take full control of farming and all industries were under government supervision. No farmers were forced off their land, but were only allowed to produce crops, stock and food that would be of benefit to the war effort. All available men were conscripted into the armed forces, but under certain circumstances (health or essential jobs) were exempt. My father was not eligible for service, having seven young children to provide for. Our final years at 'Selma' were disastrous. Owing to the war conditions, essential food was rationed. At this stage I can only relate what I have read, and been told, about how the war years effected our family lives for the years to follow. I was only five years old when peace was declared in 1918. One physical event that I will never forget during 'Selma' days happened when I was about four years old. My father had some bee hives amongst the fruit trees, and at certain times of the year he would extract the honey. I accompanied him one day and watched him do this, clad in all the necessary gear such as netting etc to protect him from being stung by the bees. I kept my distance, and attentively watched proceedings. The following day I wandered down to the bee hives, and, thinking about all the actions my father performed in extracting those lovely frames of comb honey, I decided I would give him a surprise, and acted accordingly. The only part I forgot about was the protection gear he used, and as I proceeded the bees swarmed and stung me very badly. Fortunately, my mother heard my screams, and no time was lost in rushing me away to hospital.
My recollection of the bee hive incident still remains. How long I was in hospital I do not know, but it appears that many stings were removed from my body, and my life was in danger for months. After fully recovering from this ordeal, a state of self-consciousness, distress and fear crept into my life. For many years my growth was retarded, thus causing me to suffer from an inferiority complex. My brothers grew up well built and healthy boys, but I lacked those qualities, and found it difficult to mix with children my own age, especially in later years. Owing to the bee hive incident, I was nicknamed 'Bumble' by my Aunties, but not so much by my family.
About 1918, for reasons unbeknown to me, my parents decided to quit 'Selma', but I assume that the war years influenced their decision. During those years the population of New Zealand had to work as a whole rather than as individuals to bring the war to a successful conclusion. All families suffered accordingly, and over a period of approximately five years, farmers' incomes were taxed by the coalition government to the extent that large families like ours were left with barely enough money to exist. Finally my parents decided to leave Pendarvis, and sad to relate, this was really when our family problems began.
Uncle Arthur and Auntie Nora's family consisted of four boys and two girls - all about the same age as we were. I often think back on all the pleasant and wild times we all enjoyed together. Many hours were spent swimming in the nearby river. Bird nesting was most popular. My brothers would climb any tree that had a sparrows nest. They would pluck the eggs out of the nests, put them in their mouths, and descend. We received the large sum of a penny a dozen for the eggs, and twopence a dozen for the heads of these young bird pests. As to whether our efforts decreased the population of the sparrows I would never know, but I DO know that one penny was a lot of money to us in those days. Sometimes when climbing down, a branch would break, and we would hit the ground pretty hard, and the eggs would break in our mouths .... however that was just the luck of the game!
My eldest brother Brian was a boarder at Christ's College at this time. During his term holidays he would bring home with him a cobber named Eric Guard. They were both real bullies, and we boys dreaded their arrival. They would await their chance to pick on us individually, duck us in the swimming pool, and use many other ways of torment. On one occasion they dragged my brother Leo through the blackberry bushes, causing severe injuries, and this act they severely paid for. With the help of my cousin Peter, the twins, Godfrey and Derrick, and Leo's twin John, a mighty fight developed. Brian and Eric were severely beaten up - black eyes, bleeding noses and many bruises. At last Brian had learnt his lesson, and for many term holidays was very reluctant to come home. My youngest sister, Alice, was born at Rangiora while we lived at Cust. Her birth reminds me of an amazing coincidence. Dr Will, who was to become our family doctor, attended the birth. My father was at my mother's bedside when she was taken to the delivery room to give birth. Later, as my Dad was still sitting by the empty bed anxiously waiting, Dr. Will walked in with a newborn baby under each arm, and remarked "You have done it again, Harold!". You can imagine how my father felt momentarily, already having two sets of twins, but Dr Will was only jesting, and only one baby was his, and that was Alice. I cannot resist revealing that, twenty-six years later, that other baby became our first employee when Lou and I went into business after I returned from the war.
I am not sure how long we lived at Cust, but I think it was about 18 months. I had just started school, and my eldest sister, Joyce, had just started at secondary school at Rangi ruru Presbyterian Girls School in Christchurch. Joyce was living with my father's step sister, Mary Anderson, while attending Rangi Ruru. My Aunt Mary and Uncle Fred Anderson were considered wealthy people. They owned a very valuable property known as 'Risingholme' situated in Opawa, Christchurch. Uncle Fred owned what was known as Anderson's Foundry at Port Lyttelton. I think it was recognised as one of the first foundries to be established in New Zealand, and some of its products are still well known and being sold today.
My mother led her usual busy life, and was very devoted to us boys, as we were to her. My father did odd jobs about the district, and kept in contact with stock firms, hoping to find a suitable farm to purchase. Unfortunately he had plenty of leisure hours which he spent discussing his future over hotel bars in Rangiora. During those days stock agents did more business over hotel bars than in their offices. Such was our stay at 'The Priory' on 'The Downs'. It was not a period lacking in zest or vivacity, and we enjoyed many happy times.
One incident I will always remember. My Uncle Arthur had a parrot which was usually caged at the back door of their home. It could speak very well, but was notorious for the bad language it used, learnt from my uncle when working his dogs. This parrot also resented any strangers paying a visit, and told them to depart in no uncertain manner. The real crunch came one day when the local minister paid a call. As he politely knocked on the door he was greeted in the same lingo as any other stranger. When he was invited inside, and began chatting to Aunt Nora in his usual biblical terms, the parrot put on his act, and started "working the dogs" using language certainly not found in any dictionary or bible. He continued talking, with words and phrases taught to him by various members of the family, and these I will leave to your imagination. I often wonder what happened to that parrot, but gather that the minister's visits were few and far between after that initial encounter. Mother's stay at Bennets was not a very pleasant experience, knowing we would eventually move on. With such a large family, chores were never ending .. keeping a tidy house, cooking, mending clothes, and, most importantly, maintaining discipline. Alice was born at that time, thus creating additional work, and the twins, although only 8 and 9, tried to be as much help to their mother as they could. She allocated them their different jobs, and although many arguments occurred, her orders were obeyed. My father, although not a cruel man, was not lenient with the strap, in keeping with the accepted family discipline of that generation, and the belief in the saying "you had to be cruel to be kind".
Back country properties in those days appeared to have no surveyed boundaries, boundary fences were non existent. Rivers, dense birch forests, and skyline mountain tops usually indicated where the property ended. Every farmer had his animals earmarked and branded. Actually we only had one neighbour whose stock could wander on to our property and vice versa. Our properties were divided by a river. About twice a year the sheep and cattle were mustered, driven through the sheep yards, and sorted out according to their earmark and brand.
The ultimate plan was to clear all the useless land and sow it down in suitable pastures. As time marched on very little was achieved. With the use of modern machinery, sprays etc that we use today, the plan could have been more successful. Burning and wielding the old slasher was really doing the job the hard way. After clearing a block, discing it, and sowing it down in grass, the result was patiently awaited. Finally the grass appeared, but so did the rest of the rubbish, and finally the plan was abandoned.
As my thoughts go back to those days, I have to admit my father worked very hard to try and turn that farm into a profitable venture, however his efforts were doomed. War years began to take their toll. There were no handouts from the Government, in fact the NZ population were paying the little they earned in taxes towards paying off the Government war debts. Thousands of our boys went away to fight for the survival of their families and country, many never to return.
The following memoir of our final years at 'The Deans' at Loburn is not easy to relate, as I was only about 6 years old at the time, but I can distinctly recall the horrific changes that our family experienced .
My aunties, uncles, older brothers and sister have all passed on. My two youngest sisters are still alive but were too young to clearly remember that period of our lives. I am the only member of the Blunden family left to recall the Blunden family history in the period beginning approximately 8 years after our parents marriage. It is a unique story, which reflected in some way on every member of the family in future years. Sadly, and most importantly, it records the hardship and determination of a brave mother. Our home at 'The Deans' was a rambling old house barely big enough to accommodate us all. My father overcame the lack of sleeping space by erecting a tent on the lawn. This tent had a corrugated iron roof and a wooden floor, and was large enough for us 5 boys to sleep in. After about 2 years at Loburn my fathers efforts to create a prosperous farm began to fail. New Zealand was experiencing the after effects of World War 1. Farmers received very little return for their efforts, and were completely at a loss to know how to divert. As time passed by, my father became more despondent. He would go to the fortnightly stock sales at Rangiora and would arrive home very much "the worse for wear". He would bring home a keg of beer, deposit it in the stables and would sip at it for the following few days. His drinking habits became a source of worry to my mother, and he would blame her for the problems he himself was creating. He was a gentleman when sober, but his drinking bouts created a nightmare for us all although he was never cruel physically to my mother or to any of us children.
Finally in a last attempt to try and save the situation, twenty to thirty cows were purchased. The plan was that my mother could use the cream produced from these cows to make butter, thus reducing household expenses, and the skim milk could be used to rear the calves until they grew old enough to be turned out to graze. However the cows created many problems. Yarding, milking, separating the milk was very time consuming, and much more work had to be performed to make the venture profitable, so my father decided to enlist the help of my nine and ten year old twin brothers. My mother was fully occupied with her household duties, as dairy farming necessitated preparing early breakfasts and late evening meals. Her work burdens, and the worry about my father and my young brothers, finally caused a deterioration in her health. My brothers' duties would begin about 6am, then after milking the cows, they would have to prepare for school. I was not old enough, or healthy enough, to be of much assistance.
Our method of travel to school was primitive, but recognised as adequate in those days. We would harness up our faithful horse 'Stella' and she would deliver us safely to school in an old four wheel buggy just large enough to carry the five of us. The North Loburn school had an enrolment of only about 25 pupils, five of whom were Blundens. The teacher was a middle aged, crabby lady, namely Miss Philpott. Most of the pupils were boys and a really hard case lot, very difficult to supervise, the Blundens being the main culprits.
From memory I think we lived at Loburn for approximately four years. My fathers plan worked out reasonably well and as my twin brothers matured, their habits improved. However it appears they were evidently not born to be 'angels' and my parents always had a certain amount of trouble trying to keep them out of mischief. We would try and get away with really stupid acts, one of which I will recall. When travelling to school, we had to ford a small river in which we spent many hours swimming during school summer holidays and week ends. Dry seasons caused our pool to become very shallow, restricting our diving and swimming. The pool was about a half mile down stream, situated in a rather hidden position. Our problem was how to deepen the pool. A bright, but finally disastrous idea was planned to overcome the problem and we decided that each day when going to school two of us would be dropped off at the ford and spend the day damming up the stream with boulders to deepen the water. We limited our plan to about two days a week, and we would tell Miss Philpott when we arrived at school that the two missing were home sick. Our scheme did not last long, Miss Philpott knew we were up to our usual tricks and demanded a letter from our parents verifying the fact that we were sick. We had to admit our guilt, hidings were dished out, and swimming was banned that Summer.
Finally the hard work before and after school began to take its toll on the boys. In fact, the whole family gradually became unsettled. My father's drinking habits worsened and my mothers health declined, all the worries were really on her shoulders. After bed time what went on out in that tent was unbelievable. Arguments and fights would occur. My father smoked yellow 'Three Castles' tobacco, and they would pinch that from his duchess bedroom drawer in his bedroom. They were experts at rolling their own, and if they didn't have enough tobacco, they would use dock leaves. I slept out in the tent with them, but being so small did not become involved in all their pranks. I eventually became unwell and moved inside. My father's task of trying to maintain control was eventually moderately successful. The usual hidings were performed, and he purchased a set of boxing gloves and made them sort out their arguments on the lawn next day. Being only about 18 months difference in their ages some mighty even fights were fought out. I still have photos of that tent and the boxing matches taking place. My brothers, learned the hard way that the hard work they were forced to do before and after school did not enable them to lead the normal life of most boys of their age, and this, I am sure, was more than partly to blame for their sometimes mischievous and unruly behaviour. The discipline my father had to exert was just as hard on him as it was on the boys, and more so on my mother. As time passed by, the twins matured and my father became less violent, and he adapted an attitude of tolerance. He was emphatic in explaining the stress my mother was experiencing.
Up until now I have referred mainly to my own and my twin brothers' activities. My eldest brother, Brian, was a boarder at Christs College in Christchurch. He would have been approximately 14 or 15 years of age. Brian was really the 'black sheep' of the family and was continually in trouble and his school reports were a worry to my parents. My eldest sister Joyce from memory attended Loburn school for about one year and then went as a boarder to Rangi Ruru, while my two youngest sisters, Peg and Alice, were not of school age and remained at home.
I did not know the financial position of my father, but the expense of two children away at boarding school, and seven children at home to provide for, would have made a hole in his bank balance. The farm turned out to be a bad proposition in spite of all the money he spent trying to improve it. My mother's efforts in trying to balance the budget were difficult. A sheep would be killed once a week, a cattle beast would be slaughtered as required, and we grew all our own vegetables. Paying wages was uncommon, and seasonal jobs such as shearing, harvesting etc were a community effort, with every neighbour taking their turn in helping each other. If complete co-operation did not exist many more farmers would have been forced off their land.
I am now going to try and relate an event that happened to me during the latter part of our stay at 'The Deans'. Many readers will find this very hard to believe, but the experience still remains clearly in my mind. I mentioned previously that I became unwell, and as the weeks passed by, my health deteriorated. For a short period I had been experiencing mild stomach pains, and these pains eventually intensified to the extent that I had to be rushed away to Brocklehurst Hospital in Rangiora.
My father had an old Model 'T' Ford and I can well remember being wrapped up in my mother's arms and setting off to the hospital where I was medically examined and my complaint diagnosed as appendicitis. Evidently I was considered very ill and an operation to remove my appendix was an immediate necessity, but the operation was not successful. The operating surgeon evidently discovered I had some type of abscess. Eighty years ago the medical profession did not have the technology of this age. Many lives were lost for this reason and local general practitioners were forced to perform life saving operations without the required knowledge and professional training their counterparts receive today. I will never forget the pain I felt when Dr Will administered the fluid onto the growth which seemingly was supposed to dissolve over a period of time. Each morning that I did not cry, he would put a three penny piece in a jar by my bedside, I do not know how many coins accumulated in the jar. Unfortunately, eventually my body could not take any more and I went into a coma, and my health slowly deteriorated to the extent that I was not expected to survive.
My parents were advised immediately and when they arrived a few hours later, I had been transferred to another room. Their reasons for moving me I will leave to your imagination. My parents were asked to sit by the bedside in the room that I had vacated. Dr Will explained to them that he and his staff were making a final effort to save my life and if unsuccessful he assured them I would be returned back to my old bed to be with them for the final moments of a life they had tried so hard to save.
What I am going to relate now will appear quite unbelievable but I can assure you it is true. I want to try to relate the beautiful feelings and thoughts that passed through my seemingly sub-conscious mind during the period I left and returned to my bed where my mother and father were anxiously awaiting my return. This experience was a chapter in my life which although it happened approximately seventy-six years ago I have never revealed, but these delightful sensations I feel I have to recount, as over the past seventy-five years the experience has passed through my mind many times. It is common knowledge that certain events that happen in one's life are never forgotten and I now feel it is time to share my wonderful memories. I must have been regarded as dead or dying as the nurses removed me from my bed to another room, which I am certain was regarded as the morgue. It was at this stage I drifted into a beautiful dream, I was really happy, nothing was wrong with me, I was not dead, I really felt fantastic. I was sure I was going through some gates, I think today they call them 'pearly gates'. How true that old saying is. I felt really great, nothing was going to stop me going through those gates. How far through those gates I got I do not know.
How long I experienced this weird sensation I cannot recall. Evidently the goings on in my subconscious mind caused unusual body movements. Although I was deeply unconscious, these unusual body movements puzzled the medical staff, they thought that maybe I was going to survive a little longer. Deeply unconscious, I was wheeled across the corridor and back into my old room (I can actually still see down that hall way). My mother and father were sitting at my side. At this stage a miracle really happened. I was in a state of fantasy. It was just like a dream that was too good to ever come true. My mother was cuddling, and kissing me, but I could not respond.
Later my mother told me how that significant episode ended. I must have some how realised she was at my bedside and decided to try to talk to her. Evidently I appeared to regain some consciousness and howled and howled, and the severe attack of howling activated my lungs and I slowly became fully conscious. I am quite convinced that if my mother were not at my bedside during this critical period, my wonderful dreams would have continued until I finally passed through those 'Pearly Gates'. If only my mother had lived another few years, we two would have had a special secret to share, but sadly this was not to be. Finally I was well enough to go home. My two youngest sisters Alice and Peg were not old enough to realise how sick I had been. My eldest sister Joyce was at school in Christchurch living with my father's step sister, 'Aunt Mary' and my eldest brother Brian was boarding at Christ's College. During my months in hospital, my twin brothers' habits completely changed. Their behaviour at school improved and their duties at home were performed without the previous disharmony. My father's drinking habits ceased, as he finally realised the family stress that my illness had caused. My brothers were still working very hard milking the cows and doing their utmost to help my mother, but my recovery was very slow, and I will never forget the consideration and kindness of my brothers to help my mother restore my health.
My mother loved us all equally and was determined to succeed, but soon the strain became obvious and an extra man was employed to help her. Neighbours also rallied to assist, namely the Davidson's, Oliver's and Hiatt's. I wonder if any of their children are alive today.
Owing to lack of finance, farmers were unable to afford fertilisers to improve their pastures. Ground lime was the most commonly used, and on our farm, a huge seam of limestone was discovered. If sufficient finance could be raised to capitalise on it, then financial gain looked promising. The lime was situated at the foot of Mt Grey and a rough track of about two miles had to be formed to transfer the necessary equipment on to the site. The country was hilly and the terrain very rugged . Eventually two gentlemen became very interested in the project, and my father agreed to allow the two men and their wives (namely Mr & Mrs Thompson and Mr & Mrs Dunstan) to invest in the project. My father's responsibility in forming the so called road was to supply the primitive machinery he owned, and horses.
An agreement was drawn up, and my father was to get a commission on the eventual profits from the mine. Eventually the two young couples settled in, and hard work began. They were both under capitalised and had to live under very primitive conditions. After many months of hard work and unforseen expenses the project began to appear less than successful, but finally the lime kiln was completed and crushing began. Their idea was to produce burnt lime, a product farmers preferred at that time, and this meant a larger kiln was required and extra expenses incurred. When the final product was produced, the farmers could not afford to pay the price required by the miners to return a reasonable profit. Eventually the two partners lost all their money, and my father was also a loser, he had spent a lot of money and time establishing the road, and his farm suffered accordingly.
We boys were the only ones to get any pleasure out of the venture. We spent many hours fossicking in the crushed lime looking for shark's teeth. We found a few, which proves New Zealand must have been under the sea thousands of years ago. I still wonder if they were really sharks teeth. I still believe they were. The decision to abandon operations was finalised and it was from then on our family troubles worsened. I cannot remember ever seeing or hearing what happened to the Thompsons after they left, but the Dunstans remained in the district.
My brothers had settled down at school and continued their duties milking the cows and helping my father on the farm. I was still recovering from my illness, and my two youngest sisters were still very young. I guess Alice was about eighteen months and Peg about three years old. My mother's love, care and devotion towards us three never ceased, but with all her other responsibilities the strain eventually took its toll.
The task of solving our financial problems had really come to a head. The farm evidently had a substantial mortgage owing and the creditors were taking action to collect the many debts my father owed. I find it hard to describe my parents' feelings at this stage, but can only explain truthfully what I can remember. All the responsibilities seemed to be on my mother's shoulders. She loved us all so much, but it was obvious her efforts to succeed were humanly impossible. I recall my eldest sister Joyce arriving home from Rangi Ruru for her term holidays. One morning I followed her down the passage way to her bedroom. She was crying and very upset, but I was old enough to understand her feelings. My mother had just told her she could not survive any longer and just wanted to die. Joyce would be about fourteen years old at this time and fully old and sensible enough to realise the difficulties our family was in, and that our stay at 'The Deans' had to be terminated.
My father really did his best to succeed, and his drinking habits had ceased. The task of milking the cows before and after school plus many other jobs became an impossible task for my twin brothers. I was still more or less an invalid and my two younger sisters Alice and Peg were too young to realise the serious position of our family's affairs. My brother Brian's behaviour at Christ College was becoming uncontrollable and under normal circumstances he would have been expelled, however the school principal was considerate of our family's affairs. My sister Joyce was still living with my father's step sister, Mary Anderson, while attending Rangi Ruru.
My father was having regular visits from stock agents pressuring him to sell, while my mother's health was slowly deteriorating. Mrs Dunstan, whom I previously mentioned, was still in the district and offered to come and live with us to assist my mother. She had terrific admiration for my mother, and when she was up at the lime kiln she always made herself available to give my mother that extra moral support when required. She was still very young and was married just before coming to Loburn, and although a great worker, her ability to mix with such a large family soon became a problem. We boys were certainly 'no angels' and her harsh attitude toward us at certain times was warranted and understandable. To be truthful, I can honestly say, we boys totally disliked her. Little did we realise the value of her total commitment to our parents during those difficult times.
Finally my father's financial position deteriorated and he was forced by the stock agents and his creditors to sell, and leave 'The Deans'. Many other families in New Zealand suffered similar hardships. The after effects of World War I had to be lived through to believe, and family assistance from the government was never considered or expected. The Government's main object was to pay off the war debts and rehabilitate the returned men who sacrificed the most important years of their life for their country and loved ones. It took New Zealand many years to recover after World War I. Class distinction was almost non-existent. Before the war the rich looked after the rich, and the poor looked after themselves, but the war years altered that. Although our parents were experiencing very difficult times, I can still remember the effort they made to try and provide a normal, happy life for us children. I recall the happy times we had during the summer time down at our swimming pool at the river. The twins would go out pig shooting with my father, and we were always very proud of our ponies and often won prizes at the Rangiora show. Sunday night was always awaited as it was the only night we were allowed cake. On Tuesdays we would patiently await the arrival of our father from his visit to the Rangiora Sale. We would all get equal share of aniseed balls and licorice straps. I cannot remember ever being given any money, but I think my brothers were given the odd penny now and again. In those days, luxuries were never affordable, consequently never missed.
I will never forget the friendship which existed between the neighbours of the district. When in need, help was always available, when in trouble sympathy and understanding was unlimited. Leaving 'The Deans' was the hardest decision my parents ever had to make. My fathers finances had come to an end, my eldest brother and sister were still at boarding school in Christchurch, seven of us were still at home. Finally we boys were informed by my father that our stay at 'The Deans' had come to an end.
I do not remember much about our departure from 'The Deans'. We boys were taught not to converse with adults, in other words, we were only allowed to speak when spoken to, although at times we could not help but over hear certain conversations. Great sacrifices were to follow, my fathers pride and joy, the old 1914 Brass Radiator Model T Ford was claimed by his creditors. It was a marvellous old car, regarded as modern in those days, with no battery or gear levers, but most reliable. We boys had our favourite ponies to lose, however the cows did not get many pats when their final milking was completed.
It was a very sad occasion when we finally had to leave 'The Deans', but thinking back one could not blame our parents for their failure to succeed. Only people born in my generation can recall the drastic effects World War I created throughout New Zealand and many other countries. For possibly ten or more years, the total population of New Zealand struggled to achieve victory and finally allow families to return to normal living standards. When hostilities ceased thousands of fit and able men had been killed, many returned disabled, and the remainder had to be rehabilitated. The perplexity of the after effects of the War for many families was as hard to tolerate as the fighting era. Unfortunately, I think our family came into that category. When war began in 1914 my eldest brother, Brian, was eight years old and when it ceased in 1918 my second youngest sister, Peg, was one year old.
Our family's birth dates were - Brian born in 1906, Joyce 1908, Godfrey and Derek 1910, Leo & John 1911, Bill 1913, Peg 1917, and finally Alice in 1920. The proximity of the above birth dates proved how obvious my father's chances of going overseas on active service was.
My memories will never allow me to blame my parents for having to leave 'The Deans'. my father was forced to give up a career he was born and bred to enjoy, my mother's only wish, I presume, was to regain her health and try to keep the family together. Her effort in bringing into this world nine children within the short period of fourteen years was an achievement not many mothers would be willing to accept. Unfortunately, seven of us were born between the years of 1910 and 1920, because it was during these years that the impact of World War I had its greatest impact on our country and its population. History records that for three years (1911,1912 and 1913) the whole world was in disarray and a world war was inevitable. Such predictions were correct, war was declared in 1914 and was to last four years, finally ending in 1918.
It was four years after the war that we left Loburn, and at that period many farmers were forced off their land. Families as large and as young as ours without financial backing had very little chance of survival. Three years prior to the war, the four years it lasted, and the three years after, were critical years of our lives. My parents were expected to do their duty towards the war effort, rear a young family of nine, and most important, strive to make enough money off the land to feed, clothe and educate us all. Looking back over those many years of sadness and dejection, the beneficial methods applied by our parents (although very harsh at times) were of great advantage to us collectively and individually during later life.
Finally the inevitable happened. My father received instructions from his creditors that he had to sell out and leave 'The Deans'.
My father had come to the end of a career. He was born and bred to be a farmer. My mother had enjoyed many happy years during her early married life but latter years were disastrous. In narrating our family history I have reached the stage which I consider was the saddest and the most tragic part of our family life.
When we moved to Rangiora my eldest brother Brian was I think 16 years old, and just about to leave Christs College. My eldest sister Joyce was 14 and still at Rangi Ruru. Twins Godfrey and Derrick were 12 years old, and twins John and Leo were 11 years old, while I was eight, Peg was five and our youngest sister Alice was only two years old.
To change the total lifestyle and remain as a family unit would appear almost an impossible task, but with the financial help and assistance from our parents relations we were finally settled in Rangiora. Recollections of events that occurred in the following months remain firmly in my mind. Settling down to our new mode of living was not an easy task. We were lucky to discover our next door neighbours were a family of two girls and three boys, all within our age group. Their father, Rex Parsons, was a stock agent and their mother was of similar nature to our mother. Over the road lived Mrs Bailey and her two daughters, Naomi and Agatha. Mrs Bailey had distinctive characteristic qualities and her two daughters who were in their late teens inherited similar natures.
At this stage of my story I feel it appropriate to relate an amazing incident that occurred a few years ago. Our local Motueka Bowling Club organised a bowling tour which included Dunedin, Invercargill and surrounding districts. On our way home we spent a night in Rangiora. During the evening, a few of us who were RSA members decided to visit the local RSA club. During the course of general conversation, I mentioned briefly my Loburn experiences that had happened about seventy years prior to this occasion. I also went on to explain the sad and unforgettable events that took place at Rangiora after we left Loburn. I noticed an old dig about my age listening very intensely to what I was saying. He informed me he had lived in Rangiora all his life, and asked me if I could recall any names of people who shared and comforted our family during those tragic months, and I mentioned the Bailey and Parson families. As the conversation changed I noticed the 'old dig' had disappeared, but I did not attach any significance to his disappearance, I just thought he had joined other company, or gone home. About an hour later he re-appeared, patted me on the shoulder and informed me I was wanted at the secretary's office. As I walked in the door, an old lady slowly approached me, threw her arms around me and burst into tears. It is hard to explain the emotional scene that followed.
She just said, "I want you to meet my oldest friend and I am Naomi Bailey". I was speechless and full of tears, but when we regained our composure, many memories of 65+ years were revived. This coincidental meeting was of great assistance to me in compiling this story, as Naomi would have been about eight years older than me, and consequently she was able to remember many important events from Rangiora times which I had forgotten. Strangely enough, forty years later, the Parsons family also came to my assistance. (I wonder if I will survive long enough to recall these incidences.)
Memories of my early days in Rangiora remain very sketchy, but do recall the problems encountered changing schools. Unlike our school at Loburn, classes were much larger, and teachers showed no mercy punishing pupils for misbehaviour. My twin brothers had no problems in adjusting to their larger school. They were strong physically, well built for their age, keen on all sports, and really enjoyed their new environment. In the classroom, although not brilliant scholars, they managed to behave themselves, as it soon became evident they could not enjoy the latitude they had previously experienced under their lady teacher at Loburn. I, on the other hand, found it more difficult to adjust. My previous illness stunted my growth and I was consequently very small for my age. I was not mature enough to mix with children of my own age, and although very fond of sports etc could not enjoy it as did my brothers. After school I would prefer to wander home to my mother, and play with my two younger sisters, whereas my brothers would remain at school and indulge in their favourite sport.
My father was born and bred in North Canterbury, and consequently was well known and was able to obtain odd jobs around the district. He was away from home for long periods which put more pressure on my mother. My meeting with Naomi Bailey at the RSA reminded me of duties performed by my brothers during those troublesome times. She explained to me that my brother Derek was very fond of cooking , always prepared breakfast, and loved cooking the evening meal, no easy task for seven hungry children. However from Naomi's remarks we others also shared the household duties. It was evident we all loved our mother to the extent we could not do enough to enable her to remain in a reasonable state of health. My father curbed his drinking habits and with the few pounds he earned weekly and the help of neighbours, relations etc, we children appeared to be living a normal, happy life. We were never endowed with the luxuries etc many other children enjoyed, but consequently we never expected or missed same.
It was from now on and for the remaining years of our lives that the discipline, devotion and love our parents displayed in our upbringing would benefit us individually during the sad years that were to follow. I now refer to the saddest and most unforgettable moments of my life. While preparing for school one morning, my father called us into the lounge and informed us mother was going to the hospital for a short rest. Mother shortly appeared in the room, gave us all a kiss and a big cuddle and said, "Be good children while I am away, I will be home in a few days." As we all gazed out the large lounge window the taxi slowly backed out of the narrow drive. I was suffering from an attack of the flu at that time, and when I returned to my bed, although distressed, I do not think I really realised the seriousness of the occasion. My twin brothers were too upset to go to school and my two young sisters played around as usual. I clearly remember later on that day my brother Brian and my sister Joyce entering my room, both in a very distressed condition. They had arrived from their respective schools in Christchurch to visit the hospital to see their mother. Later on that day two of my mother's sisters, Aunty Kath and Doy, also arrived. By now it was obvious my mother had not just gone to the hospital for a rest, it was evident she was really very ill.
I cannot recall what eventuated the next few days but it appeared my brother and sister returned to school in Christchuch, my Aunty Kath remained with Dad and us children. I was still confined to bed with the flu, my father's office was next door to my room and in the early hours of the morning I was awakened by a conversation which was taking place in that room. Although I could not clearly hear the trend of the conversation, I recognised the voice of Dr Will. I remember Dr Will leaving, but cannot recall if my father followed him. I do not know how long I laid awake in stress, it was obvious my mother's condition was critical, however finally I fell asleep. I was awakened next morning by my brother Derek bringing me in a plate of porridge. He appeared very distressed but left my room without comment. At this stage an incident happened I will never forget. I appeared to be hearing a lot of children happily playing in the distance. I immediately thought mother cannot be so ill after all. However I can only conclude my brother interrupted a short doze I was enjoying as he entered.
I hesitate as I wonder if I should carry on and try to emphasise the emotion of the information we were to receive that day approximately seventy years ago.
Later that morning my father entered my room followed by my Aunty Kath, my four brothers and two younger sisters. My father did not ponder, he immediately exclaimed, "Are you going to tell him or shall I, Kath?" Aunty Kath bravely replied, "Dears, your mother has passed away."
I cannot remember the mental and physical reaction that followed. Experience has proved that after such a severe shock, one's mind becomes a blank, and it is often days or even weeks before reality returns. I happily relate the fact that God has allowed me to retain the strength and will power to never forget those final cuddles and kisses my mother so courageously performed before saying her last goodbye to us all seventy years ago. None of us were fully aware we were never to see our mother again, however I feel she knew it could be possible.
I feel I have completed the saddest part of my story, many questions have been unanswered. We do still not know the cause of our mother's death. Was it from natural causes or was it from a broken heart?
Most of all we knew we had lost a mother that could never be replaced. She was taken from us at the early age of thirty-seven, fifteen of those years having been dedicated to preparing us for our future lives. For a young family of nine children to lose their mother at such a crucial time of their lives would leave a huge query as to their future. I cannot now resist emphasising the true meaning of that simple word, 'love'. Five of my brothers and my eldest sister have joined my mother during the past seventy-three years, what a wonderful thought it would be if we only knew they were able to pass onto her the knowledge of the benefits they derived from all the love and devotion she passed onto them before her death. We all have our own religious beliefs, and I often wonder if the above could happen. However I believe we will have to await our turn before this question is answered.
It would appear I have made little reference to my father as my story has progressed. He was fortunate enough to survive a further thirty years after my mother's death. I must admit I referred to his drinking problems at different stages of his married life but I have since learnt this in no way caused the premature departure of my mother. During the last few years of my mother's life I am convinced he accepted his responsibilities and did his utmost to try and avert a situation that eventually left nine children virtually orphans.
Finally Brian passed away at the age of seventy-six, at the time he was living in Greymouth in a defacto relationship. My eldest sister Joyce and I attended the funeral, and I will never forget the final words of the minister at his graveside. His remarks were "Brian sinned many times throughout his lifetime but is now in the hands of Jesus who will give him complete forgiveness."
So much for brother Brian.
My sister Joyce was fifteen years old and remained at Rangi Ruru. My twin brothers Godfrey and Derrick (thirteen years old) and Leo and John (twelve years old) were sent as boarders to Cathedral Grammar School in Christchurch. This was a church school and at that time this school was regarded as a preparatory school to Christ's college and most pupils usually completed their primary education at Grammar School and then went to Christ's to complete their secondary education.
However at about this time the Board of Governors of Grammar School decided to turn the school into a primary and secondary school and retain their own identity, so pupils could complete their education without changing schools . This suited my brothers as they had no wish to attend Christ's College after my brother Brian's experience as a pupil there. History records that thirteen Blundens attended Christ's over many years. Included were my father and his brothers plus their sons. Of our family my brother Leo's son John was the only one, apart from Brian, to attend Christs College.
Peg was six years old at the time, she was as I suppose one could explain it as 'adopted' by my father's step sister Mrs Fred Anderson, commonly known as 'Aunt Mary'. Aunt Mary and Uncle Fred owned a property known as 'Risingholme' situated in Opawa, a suburb through which the railway line to Lyttelton passed . 'Risingholme' was a lovely old home, possibly one of the most unique in the Opawa suburb. The old home was nestled in the middle of about five acres of lovely old trees, spacious rose gardens, a tennis court, and they even milked their own cow. I will never forget the orchard, apple, plum, cherry, in fact nearly every fruit tree one could name, also many walnut trees. Peg was one of the lucky ones regarding rehabilitation but I am sure although only six years old she spent many hours grieving the loss of such a loving mother, and the dissolution of losing the company of her father, brothers and sisters. Our Aunt Mary was a marvellous person and when we all eventually attended school in Christchurch she made sure her home became out second home. When we five brothers were at Grammar School we always eagerly awaited our turn to be asked to Aunt Mary's to enjoy that luscious Sunday meal which consisted of luxuries we never received at school. Alice, the youngest of the family, was only three years old. She was idolised by us all, but as the years passed by her circumstances did not really allow her to really get to know her brothers and sisters. She was adopted by my father's only other step sister. Although she was known as Aunt Margaret, none of us really knew her. She was a spinster and a real 'old maid'. She lived on her own in the small country town of Oxford, North Canterbury. Her home was a very old cottage situated in the area known as 'View Hill'. My father, in his efforts to keep in touch with his family, visited Aunt Margaret on different occasions, but was not very popular as he had very little to occupy himself there so he used to sneak off to the Oxford Pub.
For the following five or six years from all reports Alice really was very happy, Aunt Margaret took over from where my mother left off and I think Alice really regarded her as her mother. Finally Alice's turn came to attend Rangi Ruru, where she remained as a boarder for approximately eight years. I think Peg was still a pupil there when Alice first started, possibly for two years.
In latter years Aunt Margaret remained very kind to Alice and never restricted her from trying to fulfil her ambitions. I do not know how she ever received the chance to become interested in motor vehicles but she evidently had a 'kink', as the saying goes, in that direction and when World War II broke out she was accepted as a trainee for the transport department of the New Zealand Air Force. After completing her training course she became a permanent driver for the Air Force for the latter three or four years of the War. Although Alice was the youngest member of the family, she was old enough to join her five brothers in the New Zealand forces during World War II. I think my mother would have been very proud if she had lived long enough to know five of her sons served years overseas, and a daughter did likewise in New Zealand. Owing to the fact that Godfrey and John were killed in action, Alice never really knew them, and it was not until after the War that she really go to know the remainder of our family. However her war efforts were rewarded in that she met an Air Force engineer, namely Malcolm Reeves, who still remains her dedicated partner. They were married soon after the war, producing three daughters, and now have three grandchildren in their late teens.
Earlier I mentioned Mr and Mrs Dunstan, who were, as I explained, partners in the lime-kiln venture at Loburn. They eventually rented a lovely old homestead and about ten acres of land at Fernside, a small district about five miles from Rangiora. They offered to look after me for the remaining nine or ten months I had to wait to go to Grammar School. I was to go to Grammar School at the beginning of the 1924 term. They also offered to store the valuable bits and pieces of furniture my father did not want to part with. Amongst this old furniture was a lovely old oak roll top desk which my parents had received for a wedding present, and the remainder was comprised of lovely chairs and tables. Unfortunately our family were never able to inherit any of this furniture as the Dunstans gradually sold it off , unbeknown to my father. Today it probably adorns some homes as very valuable antiques. It was too late when my father realised what dishonest people the Dunstans turned out to be, and only the Dunstans knew who acquired those lovely bits and pieces which were all that was left of our last old home. Also no one knew I was to become their prey. Mr Dunstan knew the farm was not big enough to produce enough to pay the rent and feed and clothe his wife and ten month old son (a son she never wanted and treated accordingly). He decided to buy eight cows and establish a fowl run and go out to work. He was an expert rabbiter but this occupation meant he would have to live away from home, however he went rabbiting and came home the odd few weekends. Mrs Dunstan hated the farm life, did not know how to milk a cow, and consequently confined herself to the house. She was never really kind to the baby and never attempted to create a pleasant living atmosphere.
Mr Dunstan was actually a sensible and good living man and when he finally settled us in his new home I am sure he was convinced his wife would co-operate when he was away trying to earn those few pounds necessary to balance the budget. Rabbit skins were readily saleable in those days and expert rabbiters found the occupation quite profitable. Many people also regarded roast rabbit a real delicacy, consequently he received a few shillings for their bodies. I do not want to exaggerate the responsibilities I was expected to face, but believe me, Mrs Dunstan's attitude never changed, She was determined to make sure I completed the outside duties to her satisfaction. I did not always have eight cows to milk, as at times some were dried off for calving. As well as milking the cows night and morning I had two horses to stable and feed, fowls to feed and the usual chores of cutting the fire wood for the wood and coal range. After milking I would pour the milk into large enamel pans and after several hours the cream would come to the top. She would skim the cream off and make butter and sell any surplus as she did with the eggs. At one stage she was convinced I was not stripping the cows properly, consequently not getting enough milk. She warned me if I did not milk the cows properly I would get another one of the many hidings I used to regularly get for minor misbehaviour. I was really scared as I was really milking the cows properly, and she was not aware cows usually gradually dried off before turning out for calving.
I had a bright idea and decided that after milking I would mix water with the milk before putting it in the large creaming pans, however the result was that by diluting the milk with water, the cream did not come to the top. In other words, the final setting was a mixture of thin watery cream which was almost impossible to make into butter. She picked what I had done and the beating I received I will never forget. She had a terrible temper and just took to me with anything she could lay her hands on. I was bruised, scarred, and sore for many days. I received many hidings over those nine or ten months. Mr Dunstan came home for the odd weekends and relieved me of a lot of my duties. He was a very understanding man and always gave me a few shillings pocket money. I am very sure he was unaware of how she was treating me but I was frightened to tell him.
As soon as we arrived in Rangiora we would immediately look for Dad. He was usually at the sale yards or in the pub. After finding him Mrs Dunstan would shrewdly extract from him a few pounds to help her buy her groceries. I would remain with Dad as long as possible, and it would be impossible to explain the joy I derived from that meeting, he would buy me sweets and always gave me a few shillings to depart with. One meeting I will never forget. After explaining to me I would be joining my brothers at Grammar School the following year, he then took me along to the cycle shop and purchased me a cycle, this bike became my proudest possession for many years to follow. In those days a really good vehicle could be purchased for about five pounds.
After I left school, I was always curious to know where the money came from to educate five boys. Seemingly my old Granny Denshire had hidden qualities, and although she never completely forgave my mother for clearing out and marrying my father, she always followed our family progress. Although at the time she never appeared to take any interest in the difficulties my parents were experiencing, she evidently visualised the fate of such families as ours if conditions throughout the world did not improve. At heart she evidently still loved my mother and respected my father enough to prompt her to take precautions with the ultimate aim of providing sufficient finance to keep our family together during uncertain times. Little did she foresee that my mother was to die at such an early stage of her life. After leaving school, I often paid Granny and my Aunties a social call. On one occasion I recall having a private conversation with Aunty Kath and during that conversation I asked her about the family's education costs. My mother's eldest sister Beatrice, commonly known to us as Auntie Kidd, married a gentleman, namely Charles Seymour. He eventually produced two sons and two daughters, and was well educated, a dentist by profession. Granny evidently suffered from a premonition that if any of her daughters married, no man was capable of adequately providing for them if they were to have families. Consequently, over a period of years she invested money with the Christchurch Gas Company at 3% fixed interest. This money was only to be withdrawn if her daughters' families experienced extreme financial difficulties. The Seymours survived the difficult times, but my parents were less fortunate, and when Mother died Granny withdrew this money to provide five boys with four years board and education at Cathedral Grammar School. Brian already had received his education and Joyce partly hers, while Alice and Peg were provided for by their Aunties.
I will now refer back to my final days at Dunstan's and the beginning of my school days at Grammar School. My final year at the Fernside School ended towards the end of December 1923 and I was to begin school in Christchurch at the end of January 1924. As I was leaving permanently at the end of the school holidays, Mr Dunstan came home before Christmas 1923. I am sure he never realised what a horrific year I had spent, however I think his conscience pricked him to a certain extent as he immediately took over, and I was allowed to enjoy a happy six weeks swimming in the school baths and playing with my cobbers. Mrs Dunstan never interfered and I am pleased to think I never succumbed to telling Mr Dunstan how she treated me during one of the most unpleasant years of my life. Even thinking back seventy years ago I do not regret never seeing or hearing of them again. I was really enjoying my last holidays at Dunstan's, but eagerly awaiting the start of my first term at Grammar School which was scheduled to start late January 1924.
However, in early January 1924 a serious infantile paralysis epidemic broke out. As the weeks passed by, this epidemic reached serious proportions and many young and teenage children throughout New Zealand become severely paralysed. All New Zealand schools were closed, and I was quite depressed expecting I would possibly have to remain at the Dunstans' until the epidemic subsided. I finally confessed to my father and Aunties about the beatings, and the hard work I had been forced to do over the past year. I had never previously complained, and they found my complaints hard to believe. My father made enquiries with my close friends and neighbours and came to the conclusion that my stories were not exaggerated. He informed me I would be released from their care as soon as alternative arrangements could be made. Each day became longer as I awaited my departure. I really felt my future was once again jeopardised. The epidemic was spreading rapidly throughout New Zealand and it was obvious schools would be unable to open for weeks or even months. There were no government welfare schemes to assist families in our circumstances, and parents were completely responsible for the well-being of their own families.
Our family was very lucky in that my sisters were being well cared for, and my four brothers were spending and enjoying their school holidays at Kaikoura with their school mates, namely the Lee brothers. I was the only 'thorn in the bush' as the saying goes. Finally my predicament was resolved, when my Aunt Mary (Anderson) decided to visit Rev S. Parr, Headmaster of Grammar School, hoping to obtain some idea of the approximate date when school might re-open. She explained my predicament, and Mr & Mrs Parr suggested that I immediately leave the Dunstans, and live at school with them until school re-opened.
The arrangement was of great benefit to me, Mr & Mrs Parr had two children, a boy and a girl, a few years younger than me, but we were able to play and enjoy each others company. Mrs Parr fully realised the problems I had had in the previous few years, and consequently was very kind and understanding. I found Mr Parr too hard to get to know, but he arranged games of tennis for me with school pupils, and made me aware of the rules and regulations I would have to follow when all the boarders returned and school re-opened. He allowed me to visit my relations during the weekends, and I soon became aware my lifestyle was to become completely changed, and I would have to adjust accordingly.
The epidemic was now beginning to reach a crisis. Many children were paralysed for life, but fortunately none of our family or relations were affected. The two months I spent before school started were just like living in 'paradise' after my previous year at the Dunstans.
When finally the first 1924 school term began, I had not seen my four brothers for about fourteen months. Their presence at school, and their affection enabled me to begin school with confidence. I was eleven years old and realised if I was sensible enough to behave and take advantage of the four years education I was about to receive, then it would be of great benefit for my future. My four brothers had attended school for one year and, fortunately for me, had three years to follow. They warned me of the vigorous actions that characterised Rev Parr's means of ensuring discipline throughout the school. He served in World War I as chaplain, and reports indicated he suffered from 'shell shock'. After returning, he entered the ministry and later became headmaster of our school. As a headmaster and teacher his ability could not be faulted, but his war injuries were the cause of his severe temper. If pupils today were punished by their masters as we were, they would lose their position and be severely punished by law for assault.
My first teacher was Miss Musgrave, a very understanding lady, and it was my luck to be taught by her for the three years of my primary education. Lessons became a pleasure, rather than a chore. She had her own methods of controlling our misbehaviour, such as writing so many lines, or staying in after school. Only really uncontrollable pupils were reported to the headmaster.
As a boarder I was under the supervision of Mr Parr and received many canings, but there were two occasions on which I deserved reasonably severe punishment.
On Thursdays each week Aulsebrook's biscuit factory sold broken biscuits for fourpence for a large paper bag. Two boarders each week would take their turn in cycling down and returning with as many bags as was possible. The factory was only a short distance from school, but on the way we had to go past the Christchurch Girls High School, which in those days was on the Armagh St corner. On one trip I was returning with my supply of biscuits but I was travelling too fast and lost control of my bike on that corner resulting in my coming a terrible cropper. Biscuits went in all directions, and to make matters worse the tragedy was witnessed by a few pupils of the girls high school. One called out 'Do it again sonny!' When I arrived back at school I had to receive treatment for bruises etc, and all was revealed. I cannot remember how we were all punished, but to miss our supply of those luscious biscuits was bad enough.
I recall another amusing incident that happened in the dormitory one night. Mr Parr had a bedroom adjoining our dormitory which was part of his private living quarters. There was an entrance from this room to the dormitory. At night after lights out he would stand at his door and listen for any misbehaviour, such as talking, pillow fights etc. During that era the manufacture of wireless sets was in the experimental stage. One of our masters, Mr Keys, became very interested and made a hobby of finding out ways and means of improving the sound of music etc from the studios to our earphones. He formed a class for interested pupils, and experimented with what he called a crystal set.
This set contained a crystal, which when pricked in the correct place transferred the current from the aerial to the earphones. This needle was similar to a primus pricker, but the needle had to touch the crystal in the exact place to receive any sound, which required a lot of patience. One night I persuaded my cobber, Pat Heasley, who occupied the next bed to me, to take our sets to bed with us, and connect the aerials to our bed mattress wires after lights out. We had no sooner put on our headphones and were pricking away at the crystal when the door suddenly opened and the lights went on. We were caught in the act, and marched down to Mr Parr's study for 'three of the best', which was rather painful in our pyjamas. While showering next morning our house master and other boarders derived plenty of amusement from the marks on our backsides. When hearing the story, being the sport he was, Mr Keys had a good laugh, and congratulated Pat and I on our interest in his project.
Boarding life had many advantages, and during that period the teaching of good manners was a very important issue, to quote a few examples:
We were supervised by a house master before and after school. This master was usually an old boy of the school who attended university during the day. One I particularly remember was Reg Gibson, who became headmaster during the years 1946 - 1954. As I write this (19/01/1996) he is still alive, presumably in his late eighties. Another very popular house master during my time was David Lindsay. Dave was a very talented sportsman and at that time held the New Zealand record for the mile freestyle over arm swimming event. All the boarders went to the Christchurch tepid baths from 6am to 7am once a week, and Dave was eventually best man for my brother-in-law, Len Moorhouse, who married my sister, Peg. Both David and Len represented New Zealand as swimmers at the Olympic games in the mid thirties. Unfortunately David was killed in action during the Battle of Sangrove in Italy, Christmas, 1943. By coincidence, I was attached to his battalion that night, and was shocked to hear the sad news next morning. He was one of the many soldiers killed in their first night of action during World War II.
As a boarder, life was not terribly interesting, it took a long time to get accustomed to the daily routine that never seemed to change. Reveille at 6am, followed by a cold shower, Winter and Summer. On Saturday morning we were allowed to turn the hot tap on. Other mornings our house master made sure we remained under the cold water long enough to have a good soaping down. After showering we would make our beds and tidy up the dormitory, then a brisk half hour walk down Park Terrace would follow. On returning, it was into the classroom for half an hour prep before breakfast at 8am. Every morning before school began, the whole school would attend a semi religious session in the assembly room, usually two hymns, a prayer, and a short talk by Mr Parr recalling the events of the previous twenty-four hours. If pupils misbehaved, he would mention their names, and warn them of the consequences that would follow if their behaviour did not improve, however he never failed to give credit where credit was due.
I recall one occasion when our class had to write an essay on the autobiography of a cricket bat. Mine was judged the best and he read it out to the school during assembly. He also never failed to mention any sporting events that were of special mention. In cricket I once made a century, 101 not out, against an opposing school. Although he gave me full credit for my effort, he criticised our captain for letting me bat on for so long, enabling us to draw the match, rather than winning. To be more explicit, if our captain had declared before I made my century, we may have won the match. Apparently it was the first century made by a pupil of the school, and in recognition he presented me with an inscribed silver pocket watch. A few years ago I gave this watch to the school to put in their school museum. Surprisingly, after about sixty-five years, the watch was still going. I left The Cathedral Grammar School in 1928.
The school was established in the year 1881. It was then known as the Christchuch Cathedral School, and Cathedral choristers combined their choral work with their school work. Boys under nine years paid two pounds ten shillings a term, and boys over nine years paid three pounds ten per term. At the beginning of 1895 the Cathedral School amalgamated with Christ's College to become the lower school of Christ's College. The amalgamation continued until 1923 at which time the new school was formed, known as The Cathedral Grammar School. Rev S. Parr was released from the position of Christ's college chaplain and became headmaster of Cathedral Grammar School.
It was evident the amalgamation of the two schools no longer worked. Dr Bradshaw, the then choir master, was emphatic that it was difficult for the choir boys to fit into the full curriculum of the college, consequently, a new primary and secondary school was established. Dr Bradshaw came to Christchurch from England at the age of twenty-six, with an impressive list of credentials having graduated as a doctor of music in 1901. He was the youngest doctor of music in the British Empire, and at that time was regarded as one of England's most eminent organists. He was a perfectionist who gave his all to his work and expected the same from his choristers. Leisure was one thing, but complete dedication was expected of choristers, and such things as outings with the family took second place to choir business. Their school hours were also severely affected. In the early days of the college years, practice times were from 8:50am to 9:50am, and again from 4:30pm to 5pm, and 5:15pm to 6pm. These hours were observed from Monday to Friday followed by a full practice on Saturday mornings. The hours were slightly relaxed in 1923 when the new school was established, as Wednesday afternoon each week was recognised as sports afternoon and the choir boys did not have to practice that evening. When choristers passed the probationer stage and became permanent, they received a scholarship which entitled them to free education at the school, which was compensation for the expected five or six years of practice, plus the dedication to the church which the governors of the cathedral expected.
As a pupil I did not have many problems, I was usually top of my class in most subjects, but must admit I was a terrible writer. My first year was in Standard 4, in a class of only about twelve pupils, none of whom were very brilliant scholars, hence my top placings. In my second year at school, I received the distinction of having my name put on the school Honours board. To receive this recognition, I had to average 80% in every subject at the end of school year examinations. I am sure my examiners were very lenient in marking my papers as two years later when in the secondary department, I was not so bright in coping with such subjects as French, Latin, Algebra, Geometry etc.
My four brothers were not bright pupils, but clever enough to satisfy their teachers and keep out of trouble. Their only ambition was to complete their four years allocated education and then return to the country and carry on where their ancestors had left off. They were all strong and very mature for their ages and were able to protect themselves in the typical school arguments and fights, whereas I was not so lucky, as the health setbacks throughout my early life had retarded my growth, and I sometimes found it difficult to protect myself from children of my own age. However my brothers were never far away, and consequently bullies who took advantage of my inferiority complex, paid the penalty for their actions.
Sport was a major activity of the school and the masters, including Rev. Parr, insisted that every pupil took part in some sport. My four brothers were well matured for their age and were assets as forwards in the First XV. They could adapt to any sport but rugby was their choice. We always eagerly awaited Wednesday afternoons when we competed against other schools in the Christchurch secondary and primary school competitions. Football teams were selected according to weight, but the First XV was picked from the best players.
I enjoyed most sports, but cricket was my preferred game. I was in the school First XI for two years, and was above average as a batsman and a bowler. In my last cricket season at school, I was selected as a trialist for the secondary school reps, but I was hit by a cricket ball during the first trial resulting in the loss of one front tooth and a badly injured jaw, and that was the end of my chances of becoming a rep.
After leaving school I joined up with the Riccarton Cricket Club for about four years. I was a member of the Riccarton Cricket Club's second XI when my cricketing days ended. I also enjoyed my tennis, and after leaving school joined up with the Avonside Tennis Club for six years.
In Rugby, I was finally selected as a half back for the school First XV. It was my brothers' last football season at school and possibly I was selected for sentimental reasons. I often wonder if there has since been five brothers in the First XV, a unique record I should imagine. Two of my sporting associates carried on and became New Zealand representatives, Arthur Barnett at tennis, and Sid Elmes at cricket.
After leaving school, about six of us joined the Christchurch Football Club. We played in the lower grades and were coached by the famous 1924 All Black winger, Allan Rabilliard. Allan was a fantastic coach and very popular amongst us all. We remained together for about five years and won most of our matches as we advanced through the grades.
Looking back I consider I was very lucky to have had such a successful school career, although as a boarder life became very monotonous at times, and we had no option but to accept the continuous routine which had to be obeyed for 24 hours of the day. Our generation were lucky that in most cases our mothers fed, clothed and gave us love and care, and created a happy family atmosphere. Our fathers were the bread earners and were expected to maintain family discipline.
During my life span this century, many changes have taken place, and it seems strange to think that as we all grow older, a memory that never leaves out mind is our school experiences. I still think of the good and bad times I experienced during the four years I attended Cathedral Grammar School. Being an Anglican church school, religion was pumped into us so much that when leaving school we felt like never attending church again. (However we did.) At school, putting that precious penny in the plate which was part of our sixpence a week pocket money was the 'last straw'. The monotonous weekly work routine seemed unbearable. However we must not forget the luscious feasts we were allowed to enjoy with our day boy mates and relations on a Sunday evening.
We spent our May and August holidays with our respective mates, but always eagerly awaited the six week Christmas holidays. During my first term at school, I met three boarders, Bill, Ben and Dick Lee who came from Kaikoura. Bill and Ben were about the same age as my brothers and Dick a year younger than me. A friendship developed between the Lees and the Blundens. We eventually found out that the Lee boys' father and our father went to Christ's College together. Also Mr and Mrs Lee were friends of our parents before and during World War 1, and as farmers with six children, experienced the same hardships, but I must have been too young to remember them at that time. We five brothers were invited to spend time with the Lee family during the Christmas holidays in 1925.
Their farm was about twenty miles North of Kaikoura and about one mile up the Blue Duck Valley. Mrs Lee was a lovely lady, similar to our own mother, and Mr Lee was a hard working farmer. Besides Bill, Ben and Dick, they had a son and daughter in their early twenties and unfortunately a daughter who was injured at childbirth and unable to take any interest in life. Their farm consisted of about three hundred acres of scrubby, unproductive country. Mr Lee milked about thirty cows and ran a few sheep and cattle. Their house was on old rambling three bedroom home with no power, and kerosene lights were used of an evening. Huge wood fire places were used to heat the place during the winter months. The ever popular wood and coal range was used for cooking, and I will never forget the tasty home cooked meals produced by that stove.
There was delicious bread and scones, and roast beef and mutton produced off the farm, plus vegetables and fruit in abundance. Thinking back, what a great way of living! No telephone or power bills, rates and taxation at a minimum, and an old Buick car which ran on 'the smell of an oily rag' and spent most of its time in the garage. They had three lovely ponies for us to ride, which were our pride and joy. We were really a large happy family, five Blundens, six Lees plus their Mum and Dad. We slept in a tent and bunks on the large verandah which surrounded the old home. We would have our morning wash in our swimming pool which was in the river a few hundred yards from the house, plus a hot bath once a week using hot water from the old copper which washed our clothes. We all had our respective jobs to do before we were allowed to enjoy our daily activities.
We spent many hours down at the beach, a ragged rocky coast line about ten minutes walk from home. We would make spears out of No.8 wire and a manuka stick handle. Low tides would leave deep stony pools where crayfish would be left stranded, crawling on the bottom. The crayfish were limitless, they were just there for the taking. We would make crude punts, and paddle out to deeper waters covered in kelp, under which butter fish swam, and they also were easily speared. At this part of the East Coast there were large caves and some nights we were allowed to take our blankets down and spend the night in these caves. We would light a big fire and fill our large pot up with salt water plus a few spoons of mustard, then bring the water to the boil and in would go the crayfish, and believe me, what a feed followed. We would take a variety of fish home, and fish was on the menu for a few days.
Other activities included swimming, riding our horses, and the older boys would go out pig hunting with Mr Lee. We had a few fights at times but most of the time we were one big happy family. On Sundays we would all have to go to Sunday School, where we would mix with about five other families in an old hall a few miles down the coast. I will never forget those happy days. Leaving Mr and Mrs Lee and returning to school was a very sad occasion. We all spent three Christmas holidays up there together, but the fourth year my four brothers left school and went to work, and I went up on my own.
When I returned for school for what I thought was my final year, I could not accept the fact that my brothers had left. We were all so close and they were always there when I wanted support in any way. Consequently I fretted so much that I lost interest in my school work and sports. However my teachers were very understanding and over lenient on many occasions. My eldest sister Joyce and my younger sister Peg were still living with my Aunt Mary and Uncle Fred Anderson at 'Risingholme', Opawa, and I would often go to visit them on Sunday afternoon and evening, and their comfort and encouragement helped to a certain extent. Money had run out, and I was supposed to leave school at the end of that year (1928). Aunt Mary never told me, but it was her intention that she would pay for school for a further two years until I completed my secondary education.
As that final year at school passed by I really never settled down. My brothers used to write to me, and at times I would receive a parcel of small coins such as pennies. Three or six coins were wrapped up in an old piece of cloth covered by brown paper. I presume the cloth was to stop the coins rattling en-route, as when posting money in those days a registration fee had to be paid.
I received a great thrill when the first term holidays began. I received an invitation to spend these three weeks with an old mate whom I went to Fernside School with, namely Lou Carpenter. His parents were farmers, wonderful people, and I really felt at home once again. I do not remember where I spent my August holidays, but when the year ended it was up to Kaikoura once again and sadly for the last time. By now I had become accustomed to my twin brothers not being present, but not so the Lee family. Those empty chairs at the huge dining table reminded us of their absence. Derek always pottered around in the kitchen helping Mrs Lee, and the boys' presence in the cow shed was missed by Mr Lee. Being the second youngest of the gang, I must admit I missed their company and support during the fun times but we still enjoyed life as we had in previous years. During these holidays I had a feeling I may have to go back to school for a further two years, however I was determined to find ways and means of preventing this.
In Christchurch, Aunt Mary, my eldest sister Joyce (who was now working in a solicitor's office), and my father, were trying to work out plans for my future. Their final decision was that I should go back to school for two years and complete my secondary education at my Aunt Mary's expense. About two weeks before the end of my holidays I received a letter from my sister Joyce informing me of their decision. I confided with Mr and Mrs Lee and my morale was really lifted after receiving their support and sympathy. I really think they knew I was determined not to go back to school at any cost. They assisted me in constructing a very pleading letter to my relations explaining my feelings for not wanting to go back to school, and offered to look after me until such time as I was able to procure a suitable job. I was still determined to follow in my brothers' footsteps and remain on the land.
The last farm at the top of the Blue Duck Valley was owned by Mr and Mrs T. E. L. Shand, who had one son, Tom. The Shands were related to our family by marriage. Tom, our second cousin, attended university during the year and went home during his holidays to act as a rouseabout who milked the cows, cut the firewood etc. His father paid him a few pounds which he used at university. During the last few weeks of my holidays, when I was scheming how to evade going back to school, Tom happened to call in. I explained my problem to him and he informed me he was going back to Christchurch a fortnight earlier than usual and he would ask his parents if I could take over his job. This he did, and his parents along with Mr and Mrs Lee agreed to the arrangement and up to the Shands' I went. Mr and Mrs Shand ( whom I called Uncle and Aunty) were very kind to me. They had a huge farm, a lot of which was non-productive mountainous country, however I was able to help in many ways.
I advised my Christchurch folks of what I had done, hoping they would allow me to remain at the Shands' but to no avail. My sister was convinced I was not mature or robust enough to handle the hard work required on a farm. Maybe she was right, as an entry in my 1928 diary recorded my weight as 8 stone 2 lbs, height 5 ft 4 inches. Finally in early March 1929 my many happy times with the Lees and Shands came to an end. My memories of the holidays I spent with my brothers up the Blue Duck Valley will never be forgotten. A few years ago when my sisters Peg and Alice and my brother-in-law Malcolm (Alice's husband) were on our way down to Timaru to my brother Leo's 50th wedding anniversary we went up that valley and had our dinner on the side of the road opposite where that old home still remains. I must admit many memories of approximately seventy years back passed through my mind and a few tears were shed during that dinner break.
Briefly referring back to Tom Shand, he became one of New Zealand's most criticised politicians. He became a cabinet minister in the 1930's and will be remembered for his persistent efforts to protect the common working class. His stubborn efforts to succeed in the portfolios allocated to him will never be forgotten by the many who benefited from his efforts, and his name still remains as one of New Zealand's most famous politicians. I must admit many of my generation have a lot to thank him for.
When I finally arrived back in Christchurch, I found my sister Joyce had arranged board for me with one of her boyfriends, John Scott, at 126 Bealey Avenue, and she had procured for me a job with the solicitor's firm for which she worked.
Great friendship and loyalty existed amongst families during our years at 'Selma', Loburn and Rangiora. It was evident our parents' close friends followed our family movements from the time we left 'Selma', Ashburton, and until my brothers left school in December 1927. At that period jobs were almost impossible to procure by pupils leaving school, but family friends came to the rescue, and the following addresses of my brothers are of interest and confirm my above remarks:
Derrick Blunden Godfrey Blunden c/- R. Mulligan c/- J. Mulligan Lismore Lismore Ashburton Ashburton Leo Blunden John Blunden c/- Mr Jackson c/- O. Parr Pleasant Point Fairlie South Canterbury South Canterbury
The Mulligans and Armstrongs were great friends of my parents when we lived at 'Selma' and offered Derek, Godfrey and Leo jobs on their farms. Our old headmaster 'Banger' Parr, thinking John would be the hardest worker of them all, shrewdly placed him with his brother Oliver Parr who owned a farm at Fairlie, South Canterbury.
Oliver Parr was a really hard man, as John soon found out. I will never forget a week of my term holidays I spent with John at Parr's. It was my May holidays, consequently mid winter. We slept in an outside room, and at 6am each morning we would be awakened by a loud bang on the door. We would jump out of bed, have a cold wash, get dressed, feed the horses and milk three cows before 7am breakfast. After breakfast John's days work would begin. After I had been there about a week, our first job after breakfast one morning was to pick mangoes, throw them onto an old dray and feed them out to the cattle. Over night there had been a very hard frost and the mangoes were white with frost and ice cold. The job lasted about an hour after which my hands and fingers became very sore, and next morning my fingers were so blistered that I could not use my hands. Mr Parr suggested I go back to Christchurch which I happily agreed to. I spent the remaining time of my holidays with Aunt Mary at Opawa.
I told my Aunt Mary about the treatment John was receiving and she passed the information on to my father who immediately contacted an old Loburn friend, namely Colin How, who had already offered to take John when he left school. This gentleman was a neighbour when we lived at Loburn, and whenJohn eventually arrived a very happy relationship began. John was regarded not only as a worker, but as a member of the How family. Here was another example of true friendship. It was really great for John to meet all his old North Loburn School mates again after a period of about seven years.
My twin brothers were all very hard workers, and I am sure their employers never regretted giving them a chance in 1928 to prove their worth in their first jobs after leaving school. My brother Brian still chose to disassociate himself from the family, and evidently relied on his good looks and strong personality (which he certainly had) to survive the difficult times. At times we received reports about his movements.
Joyce had been in the law office about two years, and Alice was still living with her adopted mother Aunt Margaret, my father's step sister, at View Hill, Oxford, and attending Rangi Ruru as a boarder. Peg was living with Aunt Mary at 'Risingholme', Opawa, and also attended Rangi Ruru with Alice. My father was managing a farm, 'Thornbury', for a very old acquaintance, Mr J. McIntyre Southland.
Note .. Unfortunately Bill passes away before completing his story, however there are a number of tapes he made which will be eventually transcribed to here.
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