Who is it?
On the interpretation of photos.
Peter, what did you make of the two photos I sent you? I wanted to know if you could identify them, or see any resemblances to anyone.
I looked at them several times. I’m afraid I can’t put a name to them. They could be Leylands. It’s a bit of a mystery. I’m stumped.
I’ll come clean. The pictures are both of Rewi Alley.
Rewi Alley! Of course we all knew of him. I never met him, but he was often in the news, and there was often talk about him around the family. He was grandmother’s cousin or some such relation. She was an Alley. Irish, of course. Alley’s an Irish name. So the looks could have come through.
Bryan’s wife, Jane Leyland, told me Rewi and your father looked very similar. As your dad got older, he and Rewi looked almost identical. The Irish influence, eh? Shared ancestry.
I didn’t get to see Dad much when he was older. He was in Auckland, and we were in Palmerston North. But it certainly could be true.
Now it may sound silly, but I always thought my father was a handsome bloke. Some Leylands were known for their looks. It all sounds a bit ridiculous but we had an Uncle Syd, the Post Office linesman, and some people thought he was a good-looking bloke. Aunty Florrie thought he was Wonder Boy. I suppose he had the looks too.
In that case there’s no need for us to be humble. We could have been film stars if we’d been inclined. It might have been that Alley connection — an Irish thing.
We made a trip to Christchurch on one occasion. And in the course of our tourist activities we wandered into the Canterbury Museum. Up on the top floor at that time we discovered ‘The Alley Room’, all full of stuff about the family and Rewi. And all about his work in China. He was a big influence over there — for many years. The Japanese had invaded the coastal towns and captured the industrial cities. They wanted to move inland but Rewi and some friends had a bright idea. Let’s organize a movement! Gung Ho. That’s what they called it, GUNG HO! And those words became known the world over, a sort of slogan, a saying, like ‘We can do it’, ‘Get on with it’.
Rewi and these others set up co-operatives, and the government liked the idea, because the people, the small groups, working together, they could do it. They started making the stuff they couldn’t get because of the Japanese occupation.
I remember ‘Gung Ho’. It was the name of one of Rewi’s books. When I was a teenager I was given a copy by my mother’s cousin, Peggy Manning.
Manning? That name rings a bell. The bike shop people?
Funny you should say that. Peggy Manning and her husband Fred were leaders of the Palmerston North Communist Party. I used to pump up my bike tyres outside Manning’s bike shop, and one day I saw a big sign in their window. 'WE ARE NOT CONNECTED TO THE COMMUNIST PARTY MANNINGS!'
But I was connected to the Communist Party Mannings. They had a picture of Joseph Stalin on their wall. We had General Freyberg with his binoculars.
Stalin and Freyberg! Enemies. Communism versus Democracy. There was a lot of antagonism. Being a Communist was a bad mark. There got to be the Cold War. Things were black or white. You took sides. Communist — that was a hated label.
My school friends called them ‘Commie bastards’. The Mannings frightened me. My mother’s father told me that if the Commies took over New Zealand they’d kill all the Christians and teachers, just like they had in Russia. So I sucked up to Peg and Fred big time. Filled their cup. Handed them biscuits. Smiled.
I don’t know how Communistic Rewi was. A bit of a mystery to me.
Peter, I still can’t establish Rewi's link to your grandmother. I discovered that Rewi’s great-grandfather, Captain John Alley of the Royal Irish Constabulary, was murdered by Catholics. 1856. Hanged in his own home. His family escaped out a window. I’ve been emailing your half-brother John about the Alleys. The other day I got an interesting response from him. Can I read it to you?
I’d love to hear it. Go for it, boy.
Here we go, it tells a similar story to what I read.
Hello John and Kathi,
Now it all comes back to me. Dad told me some stories that his mother told him of the IRA, when she was little, and some were quite unpleasant. They were a murderous and drunken lot, and enjoyed making their victims terrified. They tortured them before dispatching them, and quite enjoyed that. She escaped because they all got drunk on the liquor in the house and passed out. I guess that included the rest of her family who were in the house at the time. I never thought to ask more. I did not think that people would behave like that for some obscure political cause, not knowing the Irish very well at that time, but it was just the same in the troubles recently, from 1970 till the 90s, so nothing changed.
Interesting, but I didn't hear that story from our Dad. Mind you, we were just kids and never thought to ask. We just wanted to shoot rabbits.