101. Why Your Dad Said ‘No’
Hi, Peter, I’ve been talking to your son Phil about the World War Two Mosquito fighter-bomber that’s been restored up here at Ardmore airfield.
I remember all those war planes, they’d regularly fly over town, and people got very used to the different sounds of them.
My mother used to take me in my push-chair up to Milson airport to watch and listen to the planes. She particularly liked the way they’d rev the engines up and down before take-off.
That was a regular test, to make sure everything was going right. Your dad, my brother Bill, was very interested in planes, so, very soon after the war started, he signed up for the New Zealand Air Force.
I have his military records, and he …
There were things that coloured Bill’s life, and maybe the accident he had before you were born was one of them. He got pretty smashed up when he was knocked off his motorbike — the Panther — up Rangitikei Street. He was a bit damaged in the body for a while, sort of semi-crippled in a way, and it may have influenced his mental wellbeing. There was one story about him, after he got called up into the Air Force, and they must have been checking him out to be a pilot, because one of the head men in the Air Force Training told me he did an exam on Bill. See, there were people who, once they got into the Air Force might make a case for themselves to get into some role, like my other brother Fred did in the Navy, by describing himself as ‘a dynamiter’, so we know what he was interested in doing. Others might make an excuse to try and get out of some area of service, but the bosses were alert to all that and would check things out for themselves. And this chap explained to me that he’d done a practical exam of your dad, to try and make sense of things. So they were flying along in one of their dual control machines, and the instructor was telling Bill, ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that’ and putting him through his paces, and all the while he was checking to see if Bill was doing it. And he decided that Bill had no real trouble with his leg or anything. So his checking to see what Bill’s condition was didn’t reveal any problem.
But he never got to train as a pilot! What happened? Why didn’t he continue with the aircrew training?
I can’t recall the reasons, they’re lost in the mists of time, but I think he did get to train as an air-gunner for a while, probably on account of his record and reputation as a marksman, and being at one time the Rifle Association’s cadet champion.
I wish I knew what really went on. There’s nothing in his record, except he seems to have done some aircrew training, and ended up as part of the Airfield Defence Unit. They had 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns.
He travelled all over the country, to different bases, including down near Blenheim.
I know he went to Hobsonville, and met Fred there who was in the Navy, and they visited your dad and his new family on Waiheke.
Yes, Dad was doing bush-work over there, and they had a place near Man O’War Bay.
I heard rumours that my Dad may have had a dalliance with the school-teacher who boarded in the Leyland house on Waiheke.
There’s another incident that might shed light on the whole situation. I remember reading an old letter I saved from back in those days. It was a letter to your father, probably about the time of the end of the war. I’m pretty sure it didn’t come from Waiheke, but from down the line somewhere, maybe down South.
It turns out that Bill had got very keen on a certain lady at one of the airfields where he was stationed, and had kept company with her. And things must have got serious between them, because, after Bill left and came back to Palmerston, a letter arrived, and it turns out that she’d taken the bull by the horns and had proposed to your father, and it seems like he’d turned her down. In her letter she was very polite and proper, and explained that she was in love with your father, and you could tell from the letter that she was quite keen, and wanted him to change his mind. In fact she’d really fallen for him. And we weren’t meant to be reading things like, ‘Boy, we’re very much in love, and been keeping close company.’
The family talked about this some time later, trying to make sense of it in the light of what had happened to Bill, and how things developed with his problems. Our very dear family friend, old Blind Maggie, she was very close to Bill, and she understood him better than most. She was blind as a bat, but knew everything that was going on. Blind Maggie said, ‘You have to realise that Bill didn’t have the capacity to follow through. Oh, the lady is keen, and although she’s very much in love and that sort of thing, your brother isn’t functioning well enough to follow through on a day to day basis — and he’s becoming aware of it. It was best for him to say ‘No’. If he got into it, he couldn’t be certain he could maintain it.’
Perhaps, after one divorce, he didn’t want another disaster on his hands?
He did get assessed by the professionals, and eventually he was a voluntary patient at Lake Alice. So, he and this girl ‘had their episode’ shall we say. I think she may have been in the Air Force too — a WAAF or some-such. Bill explained it to me during those years, that there were strange things happening in his life and experience, and they were mysterious even to him, and when he talked about it I could tell he had enough brains to realize that things were not normal, not at all usual. And we think that's why he said, 'No'.
Did the knowledge scare him?
No. He wasn’t scared, but it bothered him, and he was a bright guy and certainly knew things weren’t right. And of course things deteriorated and I ended up spending quite a bit of time visiting him in Lake Alice. It was a special psychiatric hospital, and we’d sit and chat for the afternoon, or he’d come out for a ride.
I’d like to see that letter.
It might still be around. Ask Phil to have a look.