I played rugby for Upper Hutt and we trained over at Maidstone Park. On the way home (where the BNZ is now), there used to be a pie cart. We would all call in to the pie cart and get a pie – pea, pie and pud – and eat that up and then go home and eat our tea. We were obviously growing boys at the time!
During the war, when I was younger, we used to go over to the Wairarapa on the old Fell engine. The services coach would pick us up at Featherston and take us out to the farm. We stayed with an honorary Uncle and Aunt – their name was Herrick, Bob and Millie were their names. They had no children, and we would spend a couple of weeks on the farm with them. It was really good fun.
The first farm was at Featherston. They then moved to Dry Creek and then on to Mauriceville. They had a black rabbit on the farm and nobody could get to shoot it, but Uncle Bob went out one morning and came back with this rabbit. We all asked him how he had managed to get it. He told us he had just made a noise like a lettuce and when the rabbit came up to him he shot it.
In those days, all the Japanese prisoners were interned at Featherston and they would be working on the rail lines. The soldiers would be out guarding them with their rifles and bayonets. We would see them going back to the camp out of Featherston. But I will say that growing up in Upper Hutt we had a lot of freedom. A lot of empty paddocks, very few houses around, and it was really good. The only trouble was that too many people knew me. I used to get into trouble quite a bit. I used to roam a bit, and there was an orchard that we used to go into and raid. Next thing, I would get home and would be confronted – “You’ve been seen raiding the orchard”. Not me.
The local copper saw me one night (he was half drunk all the time anyway). I was going down the road on my bike coming home from rugby practice and I saw him, so I did a detour and went down another street. About three nights later he told me that if he caught me again on my bike without a light on he would be around to see my father. Even he knew who I was.
There was a fish and chip shop in Upper Hutt. We used to go along there after school. We would hop a fence and go across an empty paddock and through the back way. We would ask George if he wanted any chips done. So we would do a whole lot of chips for him on the old grinder wheel, chop them all up, and he would give us a packet of chips. We would go out and sit on the fence and eat them - where the Upper Hutt Businessmen’s Club is now used to be the Presbytery. Old Father Brennan used to come out and would always say “You boys, fish and chips again, jolly good, I like my chips”. He would sit there with us and eat half the chips!
We did not have many holidays when I was a child, apart from going to the farm, as my parents had two big glasshouses and fowl houses to look after. In one of the glasshouses they grew grapes, and the Union Steamship Company used to come and take them for their shops. In the other one they grew tomatoes, lettuces and beans, but mainly tomatos.
As well as that, we had two big fowl houses with about seventeen hundred fowls to look after. That was here in Upper Hutt, in Alexander Street, just around the corner at the end of Royal Street. The road actually goes right through that now. The house used to look straight up Royal Street. Alexander Street is now called McParland Street.
We lived in a few houses when I was young. We first lived in Royal Street, where Pak n Save is now. We then went to Melling, and then came back to Royal Street again, then we went to look after the house in Belmont. Back to Royal Street again after the earthquake wrecked the Belmont house, and then my father built a house in Alexander Street and we moved there – that was just around the corner. The reason why we moved to Melling was because we could not afford to stay in the Royal Street house, so we rented it out for 2/6 a week. The house in Melling was cheaper to rent.
My Grandparents names were Harry & Lydia Rowell. There was also Granny Piper, we used to see her quite a lot. She lived in Stellin Street and used to send us next door. This lady used to make toffee. She would make a pile of toffee for the kids. We used to come back and go down the backyard. Granny Piper had a big back yard, and we would sit there and eat it. When it was time to go in the house, we had to take our shoes off at the back door. We were never allowed to step on the back doorstep, we had to step over it – it was a well polished brass one. We would go in and sit down. I always remember her house. It had big drapes and curtains, it was a real old Victorian house. It has gone now – it has been pulled down.
I did not go on to high school or tech. I got to standard six and my father thought it was time I came out of school and went to work.
Just down the road from here there used to be a big poultry farm, in Gibbons Street. I worked there. I was in charge of cleaning all the troughs. I had an old horse called Jerry – he was a bugger of a horse! I used to go and catch him and put a bridle on him and take him back, and he would kick me in the shin. You would put your hand down to rub your shin and old Jerry would be off! After about half an hour, you would catch him again and put him in the cart. Once you had him in the cart he was alright, he would work all day.
I left the poultry farm and got an apprenticeship with C.R. Neilson, Motorbody Builders, in Lower Hutt. I served my apprenticeship as a panelbeater. That was a five year contract. There was nothing unusual with that, just the usual pranks and bits and pieces that the apprentice boys got up to, and all that sort of thing.
We did have an apprentice there that we did not like; none of us ever liked him. We used to call him putty-nose – he had a very flat nose. He had an old Panther motorbike. This day we thought we would fix him. He used to ride up to the door, skid around, park the bike, and walk in. This day we put a piece of steel down and he came riding up to the door and went to do his usual skid around and away went the bike – crash! He didn’t get hurt, but we were all standing around asking him what was wrong. It certainly stopped him doing that! We also fixed him one other day – we loosened off the spark plug on the bike and drew down it with a carbon pencil and tightened it up again. You can’t see it, but your bike won’t start, it just keeps shorting down the carbon. When work finished, he couldn’t get his bike going, so he got the bus home.
The next day, the same thing, the bike would not go – bus trip home again. The next day he said I think I will replace the spark plug. As soon as he started to undo it, of course he saw the carbon from the pencil. He tried to blame everyone but nobody knew anything about it.