Merville’s Story

Continuing Merville’s Story

My grandfather James (Chum) Robertson died 30 July 1940. He was only 62.

Merville’s words continue – “We went south to the funeral but I don’t remember much about it as I had to go back to Dunedin to my job. That was in the July and about November our mother had the shingles. Ina had her in bed at her home but I left my job and went south to look after her. She came back to her own home and I stayed a month. Of course I had to milk cows for Eric same as our mother did when she was well. I hadn’t been offered any pay while there but when I left Eric gave me 15 pounds which was a shock.” Normal wage at that time house/farm work was 7 shillings and 6 pence per week. “I needed shoes and spent 7s6p on a new coat. If I’d known Eric was willing to pay me, I would have stayed at home and worked on the farm.

“I invited Jean Main from Kaitaia, who I had worked with in Rotorua tearooms, and played basketball with, down south for a holiday. She decided she had to have a paid job and we took off to Wanaka and got a job at Wanaka Hotel for the summer of 1940-41. Jean had applied to be a nurse and when she got called up went training at Balclutha. I did go for an interview at Balclutha hospital with Jean, but I knew it wasn’t the work I wanted to do. I couldn’t think about poking needles into people. Jean and I wrote occasionally after she went for her training. She lost her boyfriend in the war and shifted around a lot of different hospitals. The last time I heard from her she was in Fiji, that was possibly after the war had ended.

It was during this time in Wanaka that Mum met a girl from Dacre. Of similar age, I wondered if they had attended Dacre school together. Although Mum never verified that one way or the other, and she always talked of meeting Auntie Iris in Wanaka…perhaps Iris’ family shifted to Dacre after Mum went to Winton. Not that this is of any consequence. Iris became a life long friend to Mum, she features in so many of Mum’s stories. We grew up calling her Auntie and the families often spent time together.

Hermitage Mount Cook

Hermitage Mount Cook

“That was how I got to know Iris as she was working there (Wanaka Hotel) too. We enjoyed the summer there but after Easter Iris and I went to Tekapo but only stayed six weeks then moved on to the Hermitage at Mount Cook. We spent the winter of 1941 at Mt Cook. Buses passed through every day bringing guests, the mail etc. In our spare time we managed a little skiing and ice skating. Sometimes Iris and I were sent out to the hut to cook for the skiers. Iris cooked and I was roustabout.

“From Mt Cook I went to Franz Josef on my own for the summer (1941/42). But there were no tourists and they were soon laying off staff so I didn’t stay the whole season. I returned to the farm.

Merville on right

Merville on right

“We heard of work in the North Island so the next Easter we (Iris and I) decided to go to the Chateau at Tongariro but were only there a fortnight when we were given notice. It was taken over as a mental institution. This was during the war years.

Chateau Tongariro

Chateau Tongariro

“There was no offer that we might stay and continue working at the hospital. They had just put in a new dance floor, it was supposed to be something special. I remember going to have a dance on it after getting notice.

Mum and Iris returned to Southland for the winter of 42. There was no work available anywhere. It was at this stage Mum and Iris realised they needed to do some war work. The hotels were closing down and fit and able people were expected to do some special work.

“We then went to Nelson and up the Motueka valley working on the tobacco.” By choosing this before being placed somewhere else they had a say in what work they would contribute to the war effort.


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