Monday, 18 April 2016

Just an orange for Christmas: memories of war

Chris Daniell is on the Board of NZ Pacific Studio and she was the one who took me over to Mauriceville School (including negotiating her way past a herd of cows going for milking with much more skill that I would have managed!)

Chris has written several wonderful books including Just an orange for Christmas: stories from the Wairarapa (HarperCollins, 2013).  I found a copy on one of the many bookshelves here, and was entranced by her interviews with ordinary people who often have extraordinary stories. One of the most captivating speakers was Evie, a centenarian born in Pahiatua who told stories such as walking to school along a track that her uncle marked with hatchet marks cut into the trees so she knew which way to go, and the instruction: “You must never speak to anyone who comes onto this track Go and hide.”

Evie could remember the outbreak of the First World War and told a story about it which I’ve asked Chris if I can reproduce here:

"I’ll tell you something: I remember the outbreak of the First World War. I clearly remember my cousin Charlie going away to the war when I was eight. I used to worry about which men and which horses would get shot. Now they just bomb everything, don’t they? Charlie was only eighteen. He put his age up so he could go. Well, all one night his dogs howled and howled - they didn't just make a noise, they howled.  I said, “What are the dogs making all that noise for?” All I got told was: “We’ll know tomorrow.” I remember that very clearly: “We’ll know tomorrow.” Next day the telegram came. Charlie had been captured. His dogs knew. Once the man came and delivered the telegram, the dogs shut up. You wouldn't think, across the other side of the world, they could know. But they did.

Yes, Charlie did come back in the end. The dogs? I don’t remember how they reacted when he got back home. It sounds as if I've dreamt it all, but I haven’t.

Evie was born in 1905, so she would have been about nine at the start of World War One. Hearing someone talk about the war like this seems to bring it much closer.  

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