The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 3 (June 1, 1936)
Heroic Lives — A Village Heroine
Readers are invited to submit “real life” stories of lives which could be called heroic in the true sense, as lived by people known to them in New Zealand. The following story is typical of the kind of article which would be acceptable for this feature. Stories should not exceed 1,000 words.
Some time ago I spent a holiday in one of those little villages which are still to be found in England, right off the beaten track, down in Somersetshire.
Making the local inn my headquarters, I felt, at the end of two or three days, on intimate terms with nearly all the villagers, as they seldom pass one without their cheery “Good-day!”
Near by was a farmhouse, and working on the farm was a girl, or to be exact, a woman (for she was 32) whose appearance was in many ways striking—an open, pleasing countenance was framed by a head of the thickest black hair I have ever seen. It stood up six or seven inches high and reminded me very strongly of that of a Fijian. She weighed over 14 stone and, although she was fat, one could see by her quick movements that she possessed an extraordinary degree of muscular strength. I have seen her lift a heavy churn of milk from the ground into a cart with an ease which would be the envy of many a strong man. Her huge forearms felt like iron. I have heard many authentic stories of her strength which I can well believe, for once when I shook hands with her my fingers tingled for nearly an hour afterwards.
One day the Innkeeper told me her story: Left motherless at the age of eleven, with an invalid father who had lost his capacity for work owing to an accident on the farm, she had one brother three years her senior and four younger brothers and sisters to care for, and she milked sixteen cows every morning before going to school. When her school days were over she assumed the whole management of the home—cooking, washing, mending and when necessary, nursing. The children certainly grew up a credit to her! Her elder brother married, but lost his wife after a few years, leaving three little children. So Hazel, for that was her name, just when she might have enjoyed a well-earned rest, stepped into the breach, adopted another ready-made family, and the daily round of duties began once more.
However, nothing was a trouble to this brave girl, and the endless tasks were tackled cheerfully and always with a smiling face.
Always cheerful, always contented and always working!
Twice eligible suitors appeared on the scene, for a woman of this type would have been a treasure of a wife to any farmer: but each time Hazel said “No.”
As she told me in her simple way, “It was no use my even thinking of getting married, because I had the kids to look after.” There was no trace of bitterness or regret in her voice; the fact that she had sacrificed herself, never seemed for one moment to occur to her. Her attitude was one of happy resignation.
As for her recreation—well, perhaps once in a month she went to the Pictures, and paid an occasional visit to the kitchen of the Inn for a neighbour's chat and a couple of packets of potato crisps, most of which she took back to “the kids.”
Hazel was a woman of many parts: the nature of her life's work had made her very level-headed and practical. No job was too big or too small for her to tackle.
One day when the Innkeeper's wife was complaining that she could not get into town to have her hair triumed, Hazel volunteered for the job of hairdresser and a first class job she made of it. When complimented on her handiwork she just laughed and said, “Well, I've had plenty of practice. I cut all the kids’ hairs for years.” And then with a touch of justifiable pride, “I can cut a bob or a shingle—I always cut my own.”
One night she arrived in the kitchen and surprised me by her appearance. Her hair was almost flat and in a few minutes the whole room reeked with the smell of cheap brilliantine. When the Innkeeper's daughter remarked, “Hazel, how lovely your smells,” “Hazel proudly remarked, “Yes, I put some brilliantine on it.”page 53
How interesting it was to listen to these country folk! One night the conversation turned to ghosts and Hazel volunteered the statement: “I don't belive in ghosts; I'd like to meet one, and if I did I'd give him a swipe he'd remember.”
It would take a pretty strong ghost to stand up to a swipe from Hazel!
Hazel was very proud of the fact that she had the largest vaccination mark in Somersetshire; not mentioning that she had the largest arm in Somersetshire on which to put it! She explained the terrific blob which disfigured her arm as probably resulting from the fact that she had pulled the doctor's whiskers. “Still, she said, “I believe it did me no harm, for once when four of the kids took measles, and I had to nurse them and sleep in the same room, I was the only one who didn't take it. I reckon it was because of the stuff the doctor put in my arm that kept me safe.”
The reason she did not “take it” was probably a point which either a medical man or a psychologist would have to answer.
Hazel had been to London once, for three days, but she hated it. She said the noise gave her a headache most of the time.
She was quite content to live her life in this little Somersetshire village, giving of her best for the sake of others.
Had one suggested to her that her conduct was noble, she would probably have roared with laughter and told one not to be silly. But she gets lots of fun out of life; much more than is derived by many city women of leisure and money.
One reads from time to time of the heroism and bravery displayed by men in war and in scenes of disaster; but here was work done year after year with indomitable courage, far greater than that displayed in many cases by men under the stress of emotional excitement when performing a heroic rescue. Hers was a life of selfsacrifice without a thought of sacrifice; a disposition concerned only with making bright the lives of others.
So to Hazel, who denied motherhood herself, yet represents the ideal spirit of a true mother of the Race, I take off my hat.