Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 3, November 1983
As the late Herbert Watson of Renwick grew old he became well known to many thousands of visitors who had the good fortune to be escorted by him through the little museum which still stands next to his home in the main street of his beloved town. Herbie, as he was almost always known, fortunately wrote down many stories of his youth and the wonderful and sometimes difficult times which he experienced as he grew up in the early years of this century. This is just one of those stories, written in the shaky hand of the then old man in 1977.
Walter Samuel Watson was a young man who had joined the mad rush for the Onamalutu goldfield on the north bank of the Wairau River. Like so many others, he arrived too late and found all the easy gold had been panned from the creek and its side stream. Forced to look for other work, he was lucky enough to be offered an apprenticeship with Mr McAllister who had established a wheelwright and blacksmith shop opposite McAuly's Woolpack Inn in lower High Street, Renwicktown.
As a powerful young man, Walter joined the Renwick Militia to train to be a soldier to defend the country from a savage enemy, the Maori, who had taken up arms against the Pakeha in the North Island. Every Saturday, members of the Militia met at the Woolpack Inn dressed in full uniform, complete with bandoliers, mauser rifles, blue trousers with a red stripe down the sides and highly polished boots. Topping all this they wore magnificent helmets with a white metal spike on top.
After assembly the company would form into a column and led by a drummer boy they would march in grand style to the butts built behind the Lake Timara homestead, in those days named Goulter's Hills. At the time the deep gully was filled with manuka and cabbage trees with the rifle range in a cleared area on the western side. It was made with huge boulders set in hard clay. Behind this mound was a deep trench where the soldiers marking the targets, could work in safety.
In later years our fathers favourite walk each fine Sunday was to the butts where we children dug up huge lead bullets which we melted down to make sinkers for our fishing lines. Some of these bullets are to be seen in the local museum, also a mauser rifle of the type which fired them.
Mr Sutton at Lake Timara tried to locate the butts in recent times but with no success. Instead of the mound of large stones and mud, the eroding agents have levelled the surface. The only evidence will be the buried bullets and stone now covered by a forest of trees and dead timber.
The memories of militia days came to life for us when as school boys we dramatised the battles of the Boer War. "Daddy" Watson, as my patriarch was known, kindly loaned his uniform to us if we acted like soldiers and not like stupid monkeys. Naturally we took every care of it because a tall boy dressed in that red coat and helmet with a bright silver spear on top, gold figure 11 on the front and blue trousers with red bands on either side, really looked the part. The boy who wore the uniform acted as Lord Kitchener or Lord Roberts who was related to John Boyce our carrying contractor and led the school boy procession which pretended to celebrate a victory in South Africa. The rest of us were dressed as Queen Victoria's soldiers with slouch hats while others as her sailors, had round straw hats. Our guns were wooden ones made by the original user of the uniform. That precious uniform really made our parade of Her Majesty's junior army and navy.
A crippled boy in our gang who got around with the aid of a four wheeled page 30cart drawn by a large long whiskered billy goat, headed the column balancing the Union Jack. Her Majesty's glorious flag was greatly honoured and in recent years this treasure was discovered by the late Ray Fraser, a retired grocer, who came back to his home town to finish a life of many happy memories. It was a thrill to see such an honoured flag become a relic in possession of our little museum beside a photo of our noble Queen Victoria. To us she was the greatest of all monarchs, one who built up the greatest Empire the world has ever seen.
As the make believe Lord Roberts, Kitchener or other famous leaders led the young army and navy along Renwick's High Street, two members, one in navy uniform and the other in soldiers uniform armed with a cash tin, collected small coins for the bonfire and fireworks display in Uxbridge Street.
Our tin can band, tin whistle and gazoo in syncopated time and our efforts dragged the people out to their front gates to see their patriotic sons on parade. The station hands who came from outlying stations were the most liberal givers. They put in those large silver half crowns. The money was turned into double bangers, packet crackers, rockets, fire wheels, etc.
After the excitement connected with the procession, we assembled at the Uxbridge gravel pit and picked up forces of Boers on one side, British on the other and used ammunition of soft clay, the size of very large marbles we dramatised the battles being fought by our fathers and uncles in South Africa. To prevent serious injuries, the clay ammunition was inspected to make sure the clay was soft enough to spread and mark our clothing. There was to be no aìmìng at an enemy's face. A clay stain on the body was a dìrect hit and constituted a casualty who either sat down or lay prostrate. A bugle call to those on eìther side ended the battle and casualties were counted. Over the victor's or the defeated army's fort there appeared a British or a white flag and there was a proper clean up and a new combination of members were drawn or arranged and a renewed battle took place.
In the evenings, materials for the bonfire were gathered up at dusk. The whole village assembled at the bonfire site to enjoy the fun which practically every person in the community took an interest.
In the Hall of Memories in Havelock Street, there is an early photograph of the blacksmith shop and staff, also of Walter Watson's wheelwright shop and smithy and two roomed cottage. He and his brother Charles had pit sawn the timber for all the buildings at the Kaituria swamp and transported the lot across the Wairau and Opawa rivers in a three team bullock dray. A replica of the dray and team are shown pieces at the Renwick museum frontage.