Ways and By-Ways of a Singing Kiwi with the N.Z. Divisional Entertainers in France
Chapter IX. — Home Again
Yes, there could be no doubt of it, we were nearing New Zealand; and as we huddled together on the deck and tried to get a look at Wellington through the heavy curtain of rain, one wondered where on earth it was possible to play Rugby there, for surely, with the city stuck like that on the side of a mountain, each side would be forced to play one spell up-hill.
In spite of all our anxiety to reach our home-land, I should not have cared at that moment had the ship turned round and sailed straight back to England.
However, once ashore we began to feel more at home. Yes, it was Wellington, for though it wasn't blowing that only proved the rule, probably, and there was Lambton Quay and Willis Street and Cuba Street; oh, and there was Kirk-caldy & Staines, and Hannah's boot shop and the D.I.C.
That settled it; we were home alright, or nearly so, for after the usual formalities we South Islanders were soon safely aboard the ferry en route for Lyttelton. Fortunately I knew the captain, and was fixed up with a deck cabin, where I had Capt. Farr, also returning from overseas, in the upper berth.
The trip across from Wellington offered the occasion for more thoughts about the way Bill Massey's tourists had spent their leisure hours, page 154and how well they had done in that intensive period of sport when, just after the armistice their crew had won the Inter-Allied Eight-oared race on the Seine, and when after a thrilling victory, at which the French President and all the heads, civil and military, were present, Darcy Hadfield further showed the Division's prowess by annexing the Single Sculls against all nations.
Had not our Rugby team won the Inter-Allied Cup at Twickenham.
What a day that was, when the Aussies—thousands of them, wearing our silver fern—stormed the long grandstand from each end in turn, and finally took their objective without loss.
And though England led in the first spell, our boys did the trick magnificently after the interval. I had previously seen them beat the French Army team on the same ground.
Then we had some notable athletes, among whom were the famous hurdler, Harry Wilson; and Mason, with his great relay team.
One of the biggest surprises was created when one of our Kiwi orchestra entered for, and won the coveted King's Prize at Bisley.
I don't thing any of us connected Les Love-day with the famous shooting family of that name.
The Aussies, too, had had their victories: for had not Gerald Patterson won the tennis singles at Wimbledon?
And what is to be said of the great cricket side which carried all before them, many of its members being in the Australian Test side for long after the war.page 155
There was no doubt about it, these home-bound colonials had left a great name behind in sport. And now we were in the train and speeding down over the beautiful Canterbury Plains towards the Edinburgh of the South.
The actual arrival at the station may better be imagined than described.
It was good to be home and to change into "civies" once again.
A man had become so used to putting on puttees that he felt positively undressed without them.
Unfortunately it was not long before I was in hospital again; and early in January, 1920, I was sent north to become a patient at the Narrow Neck Military Hospital at Devonport, Auckland.
The doctor at Dunedin had been very helpful in telling me not to worry, as I would never be able to sing again; and as that was about the only thing I wanted to do, it may be imagined that life held very little for me at that time.
However, under the expert-treatment of Dr. Maxwell Ramsay, the M.O. at Narrow Neck, I made gcod progress, and often used to try my voice out at the Y.M. when no one was about; and I remember leading the patients in a sing-song there, when we welcomed General Bird-wood, who arrived late, with "Birdy, Birdy, Birdy my boy, what are we waiting for now," a la Abie, of course.
There were several Maori patients, including George Taranaki, Billy Te Tau, and Tamiana, and it was here, having picked up several Maori ditties, that it occurred to me to make a special page 156study of Maori songs, a decision which has meant a great deal to me since.
One of these songs I learned parrot-fashion from my friend Ned Mark, a Maori from White Island, who had lost both legs in the war, and whom I used to look after when I was convalescent, taking him down to draw his pension at Devonport Post Office, and helping him generally.
He was a hard case, and had some extra-ordinary yarns that he could hardly tell us for laughing. Anyway, this song he taught me must have been a bit hot, as I found out at Rotorua some time later, after I had aired it to all and sundry, including the famous Maori Guide, Maggie Papakura, the late Mrs. Staples-Browne.
This is how it fell out.
I had been singing at a lecture Maggie gave in London in 1925, and when it was over, I sang through Ned Mark's little song to her but Maggie only raised her eyebrows, and made no comment. I thought it strange, and on enquiring of my friend Paul Thomas some time later in Rotorua, he asked did I know what the song was about, and when I replied that it was just a little love song, Paul said, "Oh yes, but if you sing this song in English, you get put in jail."
Poor Ned: I forgave him for having fooled me, though I was careful ever afterwards to obtain a certified translation of every Maori song I learned. I say "poor Ned," because he died in terrible agony from excruciating pains in the two stumps where his legs had been amputated.
The good people of Devonport were always willing to do what they could for us, and one remembers kindly Mr. H. H. S. King, the then, Mayer, his good wife and daughter; and also Mrs, Roberts, as among the many who looked so well to our needs.
On January 24th, when the Prince of Wales arrived in Auckland's lovely harbour, we were all taken per launch to join in the magnificent welcome accorded H.R.H., afterwards having the pleasure of shaking his left hand.
Another of the Good Samaritans of those early post-war hospital days was the fatherly old Brigadier Stone, of the Salvation Army, whose cheery personality was always in evidence, especially at the splendid picnics he arranged to Brown's Island and other places on the waters of the shining Waitemata.
They were very happy days at Narrow Neck, which, with its little strip of sandy beach, was an ideal spot for a convalescent hospital, and one must pay full respects to Lt.-Col. Maxwell Ramsay, Matron Brookes, Sisters Watt, Cunningham, Cox, Steele, MacC[unclear: o]rmick, and all the others, not forgetting poor Marks' particular but uninformed choice, Sister Everett, all of whom looked to our health in such a painstaking manner.
Although offered accommodation and instruction in farming matters at Waipukurau page 158when the hospital closed, I took my discharge and secured employment with the City Council in Auckland in July, 1921.
I sang at several concerts in the Queen City, including a performance of the tenor solos in "Hiawatha" with the Auckland Choral Society.
I liked Auckland tremendously, and had some wonderful friends there; but on receiving several severe warnings that my chest condition was fast becoming worse, I was in a quandary as to what I should do for the best.
All the doctors had told me I must keep in a warm climate, which seemed to rule my home town, Dunedin, out; and I decided, after much thought, to throw up my position and try the more congenial climate of Australia, eventually crossing to Sydney in March, 1922.
I will conclude this rather long-drawn-out account of the "Ways and By-ways of a Singing Kiwi" with the hope that it will be found of sufficient merit to warrant the trouble of perusal, and should there be any plodding reader still with me, I offer him my sincerest thanks.
Some there may be who began the journey in high hopes, only to drop off at intervals along the route, at one or other of the many obvious "wobbles" on the way.
But as I said in my foreword, it is not by any means certain that this attempt at a book will ever see light; and should it eventually not prove worthy of production, all my sincerest apologies will have been in vain.