Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

Taken south to Kazakhstan

page 60

Taken south to Kazakhstan

My parents were born under tsarist Russian occupation. During the 1918 Communist Revolution, they fled to settle in a small town in eastern Poland. My father was educated, spoke three languages and was a horticulturist who successfully experimented with growing exotic fruit in glasshouses and raised a black rose. I had a very active and happy childhood. On my first day at school, a siren sounded – the Germans had dropped a bomb on a nearby town. After this, I had only two more days at school.

Russian soldiers crossed the Wilia River that ran through our town of Nowa Wilejka, and my father and I went to watch them cross the bridge. The town had some 20,000 people, and was a mixture of Poles, Jews, Ukrainians and Belarusians. Among them were Russian sympathisers. My parents were very surprised to discover that a family who had visited us often turned out to be on the side of the Russians.

When my brother Olek came home from the Polish army, he explained that remnants of the army had crossed over to England. He and my father began hiding valuables, guns and uniforms left by two Polish officers who had stayed with us earlier. Before my father died, he told me where they were hidden. Maybe someone has found our treasure by now.

The Russian Secret Police discovered that Olek was home, and an officer and three or four Jews who were communist sympathisers arrived with guns and took him away. We never saw him again. Life was starting to get very unpleasant. The shops were empty and it was wise to be on guard as even the neighbours could not be trusted. Even some of the children interrogated by the Secret Police unknowingly revealed things they had overheard the adults talking about, causing arrests to members of their own families.

The deportation

The people lived in fear, and there was nowhere to run or hide. The Secret Police seemed to know everyone's movements and deportations were already taking place. Very early one morning in July 1940, at 4am, there was a knock on our door. My father opened it to face four Russian soldiers. The Secret Police officer in charge of the group was well known to us, as during a threemonth period he had constantly visited our house as a friend.

One of the soldiers, shouting at my mother to hurry up and pack, pushed her. page 61I was very frightened that he might hurt her so I pushed him from behind. As he turned around, his bayonet cut my arm and I fainted. We were then driven to the railway station, where people were sobbing and everybody was very distressed. There was a long line of cattle wagons, and the soldiers crammed people in to them and bolted the doors from the outside.

The overcrowding caused many deaths and the bodies were taken out of the wagons when the soldiers opened the doors at stations. The soldiers struck people with rifle butts and some, especially the older people, did not get up again and were shot where they lay. The toilet was a hole in the floor. Some people would hold a blanket for one another while others just did not care anymore. There was no way we could clean up spilt urine, which stank and made us more depressed. Our enemy was treating us like animals, humiliating us so we would obey them at all times.

The dried bread that my mother brought with us was almost gone. I did not know at the time, but she ate hardly anything to make our food last longer. One woman became hysterical, hitting her head against the wall of the wagon. Men were also cursing and someone was saying prayers aloud. I was scared, shaking and holding onto my mother. The noise, the smell, the hunger, the worry about my mother whom I knew was in pain – I wanted to go to sleep and wake up back in our comfortable house in Poland when everything was calm and normal.

In Kazakhstan's collective farms

After four weeks, we got transferred from the train into trucks. Some of the soldiers were mere teenagers trying to show their heroism by manhandling women, children and old people. My father was 70 at the time and worried what fate awaited my mother and me if something happened to him. Most of our group were middle-aged women.

Our family was taken to a Russian house in a kolkhoz (collective farm) of Nova Pokrovka on the treeless, open steppe of Kazakhstan. The houses were made of turf, consisting of one room and a kitchen with a large oven, behind which people slept in the winter. Every week the floor in the house was painted with diluted cow's manure. It made the place look clean and free of dust – but the smell! To enter the house, one had to pass through a shed where the animals were kept – usually a cow, chickens, ducks and pigs.

The owners of the house we were to invade were in their late 30s with a young girl of five. They were very polite and offered us their best room, while they stayed in the kitchen. The communist officials forced the local Russians to give up their modest accommodation to the Polish families, and there was no way they could protest or disagree with the decision. In a way, the Russians page 62of Nova Pokrovka were as badly off as we were. They had to do what they were told or be arrested. The local peasants were simple and kind people. They were curious about what news we had and how the war was progressing. There was no electricity or newspapers. Food in our kolkhoz was shipped out to the war effort, leaving us just with roughage from wheat, which was only suitable for porridge or flat bread.

Men and women were put to work in the fields behind combine harvesters or driving bullock wagons, and the work was very hard. The people were paid in kind from the produce of the harvests. But because my parents did not work, they had to exchange items of clothing for food. It was fortunate that my father took a glasscutter with him when we left Poland, as he could cut glass for the local Kazakhs who paid him with flour or potatoes.

We then realised that Russia was fighting Germany. Every day for weeks we saw planes flying towards the west. There were thousands of them. One day, I saw a long dark object flying low, almost above me. It reminded me of the submarine pictures I saw in my father's book back in Poland.

The object was approximately 15 metres long and dark in colour, gliding very quietly only 30 metres or so off the ground. At the back, I saw two long tubes similar to exhausts which were discharging bluish flame as the object moved forward, as if it had a combustion engine. I could also see someone inside dressed in dark clothes. We took for granted that it was one of the new Russian inventions. However, years later when I was in the US, my husband asked an air force official what kind of aeroplanes Russia had developed that looked like submarines. He made enquiries and told us that there are no such aircraft in the world, and what I saw in Russia must have been a UFO. Apparently, they were spotted over North and South America during World War II, and were called the "cigar-shaped UFOs".

My mother's illness

My mother developed appendicitis, but the nearest doctor or hospital was 100km away. The communist supervisor refused to help because he said the horses were the property of the state and were used for work only. Eventually, a Russian couple travelling through our kolkhoz agreed to take my mother to the hospital, but none of us were allowed to accompany her. A few days later, we were informed that she had passed away. The hospital had no surgeon. I was told she was calling my name before she died. Her body was brought back to our kolkhoz and buried in a small cemetery out on the steppe. She was 45 years old. From that day on, my life changed. I began to cry a lot and then became very quiet. Then the Poles began discussing my father's condition and they didn't think he would survive the winter.

page 63

My father worried about me and took over the task of caring for me. I helped neighbours with odd jobs around the house in exchange for eggs or butter. I was eight years old now and my father did not want me to attend a Russian school, but he was threatened with arrest if I didn't show up. My maths was the best in class and my hand was always up during question time, but I would not answer questions on Stalin or the communists. Polish children in Russian schools were being told that God did not exist and to pray to Stalin instead, the source of all good things. To prove this, teachers told them to pray to God for sweets. When nothing happened, they told them to pray to Stalin's portrait. A surreptitious shake of the portrait and the sweets would shower down.

Changing districts

My father was not well and arranged for us to move to another kolkhoz about 80km away to live with Mrs Sokalska, whom we knew from Poland and who also had a daughter my age. It was the beginning of winter and we walked all the way.

The winter was very severe and after snow storms only the chimneys were visible. My father had to dig us out every morning, and after a few days we did not know whether it was day or night. There was no proper toilet, our fuel supplies were exhausted and there was no way we could get into the shed to get more. The supply of bread was running out and grease used to provide light in the house was gone. We sat in the dark, hungry, huddled together to keep warm and prayed it would stop snowing. Two people died in the snowdrifts.

We were all hungry and my father had too much pride to accept food from Mrs Sokalska for nothing, so he went away to seek work. Three weeks later, my father's warm jacket and a few other items arrived with a letter from the hospital confirming his death. He had died of pneumonia.

I had no one to talk to about my sadness. Mrs Sokalska seldom spoke to us and I did not have enough confidence to ask her what would happen to me now. I wished that someone would stretch out their arms and take me away from this deep loneliness to a place where the sun shone and there was plenty to eat.

The temperature sometimes dropped down to -40°C. To keep warm, we burned a lot of dried dung collected out on the steppe during the summer months. But when we began to run out of fuel, we had to pull a sled out into the steppe to pick the frozen weeds in the snow, which numbed and blistered my hands, and the return trip with the laden sled was almost beyond our endurance.

page 64

At night, I felt lonely and insecure, and cried myself to sleep. I overheard Mrs Sokalska's friend advising her to get rid of me because I was an extra mouth to feed. Apart from Mrs Sokalska and her daughter, I had no other company and longed to be with the Polish people back in Nova Pokrovka. I worked out in my mind that God was the one with whom I could share my problems.

When I was on my own, I would say a short prayer and then would talk to Him pretending He was in front of me. Sometimes I would ask questions, to which I never heard the answers. But just when I decided to give up my conversations to the friend above as I called Him, I noticed that my mood had changed for the better.

Political amnesty

In August 1941, news reached our settlement that the Poles were granted a political amnesty. We were excited but cautious, as this could be just a rumour started by someone to cheer up and bring hope to suffering people. The Polish Government-in-Exile in London signed an agreement with Stalin for the release of Polish prisoners from the labour camps and for enlistment in a Polish army being formed to fight the Germans.

The first sign of hopefully better days was when a supply of medicine arrived from the Americans to prevent epidemics of typhoid, scarlet fever and measles. They also sent provisions but the little clothing we received we sold to the Russians for food. I started to visit Russian homes for company. They had large families, but because I was an orphan they always found a place for me at their table, with six people eating from the same bowl.

Remembering comments to get rid of me because I was an extra mouth to feed, I offered to help a neighbour with milking, knowing we would get eggs, milk and butter as a payment for my work. Normally, this was an easy job, but I was only eight years old and became very tired – the cow had to be milked twice daily, the milk strained, butter churned, chickens and pigs fed, and eggs collected. But I had good meals now.

Marushka, my employer, insisted that I drink lots of milk. Visits to her place were followed by waves of loneliness and longing for my parents. One day, Marushka held my hands and asked me to move in with her and be her daughter.

I remembered my mother's words spoken to me so many times before: "Do not speak Russian to us. Do not sing Russian songs. Communists do not believe in God. Never forget you are Polish. We must try to escape from this country." These words were deeply implanted in my mind. No matter how lonely I was, I belonged with the Poles.

page 65

The orphanage

Mrs Sokalska informed me that I was to be taken to an orphanage, which was the last thing I wanted to hear and the thought of it frightened me. The longing to belong to someone or have somebody I could call my own never left me, and I envied the children who had brothers or sisters. Gradually, my predicament made me angry, which later got me into trouble many times during my stays in different institutions. I wished that I was grown up.

Upon arrival at Pavlodar, Mrs Sokalska took me to the Polish orphanage, and without showing any emotion said goodbye and departed. A woman introduced me to a girl and boy aged between 16 and 18 who seemed to be in charge of the 45 children. At teatime we had a thick slice of black bread with lard on it and something to drink. We slept on the floor covered with one blanket and no pillow.

Some of the children were only one or two years old. With no doctor and not being able to be treated, the sick ones were dying. During my stay in this place we buried two little bodies. I attended the funeral of a little girl of about three. She had been found standing outside the gate, hugging her rag doll. The older children examined her and gave her a bath. After she had been cleaned up, I thought she had the most lovely and intelligent face I had ever seen on a young child. She never smiled or cried but just looked at all of us with curiosity.

She had been left outside the gate without any explanation or a name. If it was her mother who was responsible, I can understand why she avoided telling anyone because she knew the girl would not have been accepted if it was known she had a parent. Perhaps she hoped the child would get help. Unfortunately, it was too late and three weeks later the girl died. We did not know what was wrong with her. All of us who could walk attended the funeral. Not far from the orphanage a grave was dug and the little body wrapped up in a blanket was placed in it. We said a short prayer while the two older boys covered the grave with a piece of iron. I am not sure if a cross was ever put on the grave.

Every day was the same and there was not much for us to do. Most of the children were very quiet. The older ones would sometimes tell us stories, but I do not remember anyone laughing or playing like children normally do. The meals we received were very simple – usually black bread with lard three times a day, with a thin soup for lunch. So we were undernourished. I discovered a couple of boils on my body and had difficulty sitting. With the relief warehouse only 30 metres away, we watched all the provisions being unloaded from a stationary wagon but I do not remember the children ever getting anything from it.

page 66

After two months, the orphanage was to close due to a lack of money and the children transferred to a Russian institution. We all were frightened to end up among strangers. So one day I asked a girl to escape with me to my old settlement, but she explained that her brother was too small to walk the distance and would not leave him behind. I planned my escape and started to eat only half portions, filling my pockets with bread. Because I arrived at the orphanage barefoot, I helped myself to a pair of shoes from a large box in the hallway. I felt no fear or danger.

Escape from the orphanage

After six days of preparation, I got up one morning before everybody else, picked up a pair of shoes out of a trunk, put on my coat and was on my way. I had pushed my bag under the fence the previous day so I could easily grab it on the way out. There was no one at the gate this early in the morning, and I had no trouble opening and shutting it after I left. As it was only a few months since I had travelled down this road, it was easy to remember how to get out of the city. Once past the houses, I was all alone on the road and glad everything had gone as I planned.

Next, a buggy came alongside driven by a man in a Secret Police uniform with his little boy and agreed to give me a lift. He wanted to know where I was going, whom I was going to see and whom I lived with in Pavlodar. I told him the name of the town where I was going, that my mother was in hospital and I wanted to see her, and that in Pavlodar I stayed with my aunt. He wasn't going my way, so I thanked them, got off and walked.

It was a warm day late in the afternoon and I was getting tired. I came to a roadhouse where I hoped to spend the night but the woman in charge only allowed me to drink water from the well. The wooden bucket was too heavy, but fortunately already had a little water in it. With a little of the bread and water, I ate my first meal of the day. The sun was still high and I continued walking for a few miles. There was no traffic, so I decided to spend the night on the steppe. I found a level spot and lay down. The earth was hard and smelled of mildew and rotting grass. The moon was out. Lying still in the dark, I became aware of a hundred night noises. Every little snap made me jump. The sounds were all around me.

Then a beautiful animal startled me a few feet away. It was a thin grey dog, shaggy and twice my size. I took out some bread and put it on the ground by my side hoping it would come nearer, but it didn't move. I encouraged it by speaking to it gently, but it bared its teeth. But I was not afraid of it, and leaving the bread on the ground I went back to sleep. The next morning the bread and the dog were gone.

page 67

On my second day I came to a crossroad and knew I was lost. All three roads looked the same. I picked the middle one and kept walking. I was hungry and thirsty. Around noon, I reached a place with several rough huts made of clay and turf. Everything was quiet and no one was visible. In one of the huts, a dirty small window was half opened and I could see some food left on a bench. Putting my hand inside the window of a hut, I snatched a cabbage leaf.

Then I came upon a young, ragged and barefoot Kazakh boy of about 16. He didn't look normal and made lewd suggestions. The prospect of getting food, water and the answer to where the road led to had diminished. I left in a hurry, dropping and losing the rest of my bread and the stolen cabbage leaf.

Darkness fell and the temperature dropped. There was lightning and rolls of distant thunder. I curled up in long grass. On two sides of my bed I had a wall of wild rose bushes. Then the storm struck in earnest. The pelting downpour drenched my clothes and filled my shoes. Brilliant crackles of light split the black sky. I have never seen anything so magnificent before or since. The wind was so strong I had to hunch down on the ground so as not to be blown over. The rain was coming down in sheets now and the wind was howling.

For a long time I sat in the puddle in the pouring rain, my head bowed. I felt defeated. Not knowing what to do next, I said my prayers and tried to sleep. Early in the morning, wet and cold and without any sleep, I decided to get back onto the road. It must lead to people. Hours later, crazed with hunger and angry at everything that was happening to me, I got down on my hands and knees, and scooped dirt and grass into my mouth. In my haste, my eyes got their share of the dirt. Tears ran down my cheeks into my mouth and mixed with the sandy loam, which stuck between my teeth and I vomited.?

For the first time since my departure from the orphanage I lost control. I collapsed on the ground, pounded with my fists and decided it was better to endure the hunger than try that again. I must sleep, then I won't feel hungry. Can one grow accustomed to starvation? I would say so. After a while the hole in the pit of my stomach became second nature to me, a dull pain that accompanied me everywhere.

I slept the rest of the day, survived the night and in the morning I decided to continue walking. Tears were running down my face. My mouth and throat were very dry. Keeping one foot in front of another, I made myself move forward. I accepted a ride in a wagon with a kind young man. He covered me with a long coat, calmed my shivering, and handed me a chunk of bread and a piece of cheese. He told me he was married to a Polish girl and invited me to stay with them, but I wanted to get to my destination.

By nightfall, we reached a kolkhoz where his mother lived. She helped me to clean up and washed out my eyes, gave me warm food and put me to page 68sleep in a real bed. In the morning after breakfast, we were on the road again. We picked up a hitchhiker who was a Polish man in his late 30s. He had been released from a labour camp a couple of months previously and was now wandering the country looking for his family. He promised the driver he would deliver me safely where I wanted to go, as the driver was heading in a different direction. The two of us thanked him and proceeded on foot into town.

Mrs Sokalska showed no emotion at seeing me. However, when I explained that I did not want to be a burden and would move in with Marushka, Mrs Sokalska was not prepared to give me away to a Russian. After some months had passed, Mrs Sokalska advised me that I was to go to a Polish orphanage again, but this time to a place further south in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan, near the Iranian border. The orphanage from which I escaped was closed and the children had been taken to Polish families.

Early the next morning we left the kolkhoz on foot and walked in silence mile after mile. Mrs Sokalska and I never had much to say to one another. It started to snow and I could feel pain in my joints between my hips and legs. Gradually, I began to take smaller and smaller strides. I could hardly walk and Mrs Sokalska almost dragged me for the next 80km to reach the trucks which would take me to the orphanage.

As I was getting ready to board one of the trucks, Mrs Sokalska took me in her arms and for a few minutes held me without saying anything. She had tears in her eyes. After she got her composure back, she said to me: "When you are in another country, try and get me out of here. You know my daughter is ill and will probably not survive the winter. God be with you." Then she was gone. This was the first time I ever witnessed her express any emotion.

With a group of about 40 orphans, I travelled on to Pavlodar where we boarded a train for Ashkhabad, picking up more Polish children on the way. After a long journey, we were delivered to a transit orphanage. Following a quick medical examination, we were issued grey blankets and slept on the floor, jammed 50 to a room.

A girl of 16 was in charge of 10 of us girls. One morning I fell ill and, because no one seemed to know what was wrong with me, they put me in isolation in a local hospital. To this day, I still do not know what was wrong with me.

Escape to Iran

The diplomatic relations between Russia and Poland had deteriorated and we in the Ashkhabad orphanage experienced unpleasant changes. The Russians arrested the adults, leaving the older children to run the institution. Under the supervision of only one adult, they did the cooking, washing and took care of page 69us younger ones. The Polish ambassador was forced to leave the Soviet Union. On the way out, he stopped at the orphanage and promised to do everything possible to get us out.

Our escape route out of Ashkhabad, south over the mountains into Iran, was over fearsome, steep, dangerously narrow and tortuous mountain roads with no room to pass. The wheels slipped on the gravel. On arrival in Tehran, we were quarantined in a transit camp for Poles. This was the first time we were served good food since our deportation from Poland. After a month, we were sent to Isfahan. Travelling by buses through the desert regions was very tiresome and always in thick clouds of dust.

Many of us children did not know our true age. During our stay in Russia we had changed it so often to suit our circumstances that after a certain time we were not sure how old we actually were. I was confused and it wasn't until I arrived in New Zealand that I found out my right age. In Isfahan the children were taken to various compounds in the city. We started school and life was tolerable with nutritious food. The rules of the institution never appealed to me and I always found an excuse to do something else or make mischief. It seems to me now that the more I attracted attention to myself the better I felt.

To New Zealand

On 7 September 1944, we left Isfahan with its warm and sunny climate, which had helped us to regain our strength and health. I will never forget Iran – a country of mosques, palaces, gardens, and shops full of decorative silver and copper.

The journey by sea was very exhausting. On board the Sontay to Bombay, we were accommodated in holds with piles of mattresses and no bunks. But it was too hot down in the hold, so we dragged our mattresses to the decks at night and slept under the stars. In the morning, the sailors woke us up by swishing water across us and shouting: "Washing deck! Washing deck!" I did not know then what the words meant. For breakfast that morning we had Persian flat bread and salty cheese, which made us very thirsty. Later, we lined up in front of a large container with water which tasted oily, but we encouraged one another to hurry up and drink it.

A week later we reached Bombay and boarded the troopship USS General Randall, which was a luxury vessel in comparison to our previous one. Most of us were too young at the time to be aware of the danger that the journey presented. It was because of the suspicion of Japanese mines and also the likelihood of their submarines attacking that the ship was escorted for a short while by US destroyers.

page 70

During the voyage, we became concerned with what would really happen if the ship was attacked by the enemy. One of the soldiers explained to us that the ship was partitioned into three sections. If one or two of them got hit, a third section could operate on its own, so we should not worry too much. I am not sure if he had any knowledge of such things. Perhaps he was trying to give us hope of survival in case of the inevitable.

Finally, on 31 October 1944, we sailed into Wellington Harbour. After a month at sea, we were pleased to see land again. We all came up on deck to get a good glimpse of the capital of New Zealand. The colourful roofs of the houses fascinated us and we could see green hills. This was very new to us after all our time in the barren and dry country of Iran.

The next day, we docked at the wharf and were taken by trains to the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua, where it was good to be in school again – we had to make up for lost time. I had a happy life at the camp. From time to time, I broke some rules and was punished by not being able to see a film. But gradually, I became older and a little wiser.

I remember our first English lessons. At that time, I am not sure who was more nervous, the teachers or us. Many years later when I met my New Zealand teacher and we discussed life in the camp, I discovered it was just as difficult for them as it was for us children. They had no experience in
Halina (second from right) and Ernie Morrow (right) represent New Zealand at the 1984 World Field Crossbow Championship in Wolverhampton, England

Halina (second from right) and Ernie Morrow (right) represent New Zealand at the 1984 World Field Crossbow Championship in Wolverhampton, England

page 71teaching foreign children and we had no idea how to learn the language, which was so different from ours. English is a language in which the grammar is simple and easy to learn, while the pronunciation is difficult, irregular and inconsistent. The Polish language has a complex, yet largely regular grammar, but pronunciation is consistent and easy.

The teacher began the first lesson by telling us there were only five vowels with 18 distinct sounds between them, which had to be recognised. Then she wrote on the blackboard the examples and explained the consonants. We had no idea what she was saying and it must have been very uncomfortable for her when she was speaking to us, knowing well that we could not understand her yet still being expected to learn. We did not know how to learn to pronounce and spell correctly, and did not make much progress. For a spelling test, we memorised the words the way we pronounced them in Polish and then wrote them down.

My attention was drawn to the older girls who by that time were working in factories or similar places, and were stopping occasionally at the camp. They seemed happy, had lovely clothes and the stories they told about life in the cities were very appealing. But I was told to stay in school because an education would give me better opportunities later in life. Geography, maths and sport were my favourite subjects, and I was good at writing essays. But English words did not appeal to me. It required too much effort, so I learnt enough to show the teacher that I had studied but not enough to remember. The New Zealand families we stayed with during the school holidays were wonderful to us. Some wanted to keep in touch, but I became very shy and my lack of English prevented me from writing.

On completing Standard 6 of Polish school, I was sent to a college in Gisborne with three other girls from the camp. We realised that we needed more help with the English lessons before handling other subjects. We soon discovered that the three of us had a better knowledge of geography and arithmetic taught in our class than the New Zealand girls. We were taught typing and represented our school in basketball championships.

But we had difficulty conversing with anyone. One woman joked about the way we spoke English instead of correcting us. Not to be ridiculed, we began speaking more Polish and avoided conversations with her. About this time, I realised that because I was not getting help with English in school, it would be impossible to accomplish my dream of becoming a veterinarian.

I started work in a bookshop's printing department in Gisborne, and learnt to print wedding invitations and bind accounts books. Then I worked for State Fire Insurance, attended night school and learned shorthand, which I liked. In normal circumstances, I believe I would have been very good at it, page 72but again I found my lack of English was a barrier to me. On transfer by my employer to Wellington, I went to live in the Polish Girls' Hostel in Lyall Bay. I enjoyed being with the Poles again, but I was rebellious and didn't like the rigid hostel rules.

One day, my friend Aniela and I made plans to travel overseas. We found a cheap bedsit in the centre of the city, took secondary jobs and had our main meals in town. We were young and strong. To save for our boat fare, for three months I worked at three jobs daily and on Sunday mornings at Wellington Hospital. Then I found out that the Transport Department was paying women almost a man's wages, so I left my lesser-paid jobs with the longer hours and became a conductor on the trams, and worked fewer hours. At first I liked my new job, but the six o'clock swill was not fun. The trams were crowded with intoxicated men anxious to get home. I quit the trams after nine months and went back to work for an insurance company.

In England

At last the day arrived and we sailed for England on the Rangitoto. After many weeks of sailing we landed in Southampton. It was autumn there and I was homesick for New Zealand already. I passed a typing test and for three years worked for an insurance company in their typing pool. I was happy in my work and would have been quite content to settle in London with its social life, West End picture theatres, dance halls and various clubs.

In London, I met my future husband Ernie, who was a US citizen, and went to Vermont to join him. Later we moved to Fort Worth in Texas, where he worked in a service station and I as a waitress in a racially segregated cafeteria. Not able to have children, we tried adopting but without success. We eventually decided to move to New Zealand and settled in Gisborne where we built a house. I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. In Texas, I had learned to tool leather and took it up as a hobby in my spare time, but the demand became so great that it became more like hard work.

We joined the Poverty Bay Archery Club and twice represented New Zealand in the World Field Crossbow Championships in England in 1984 and 199, where we won many prizes and medals. We are both qualified coaches and my husband was the New Zealand Archery registrar, judge, selector and coordinator. We also imported archery items and operated the Gisborne Archery Supply business.

I was once asked if we were happily married. After 32 years of marriage, I would pick the same man again. None of us gets the partner with all the qualities we like and it takes a long time to understand another person – perhaps never. Without discussions and compromise, misunderstandings page 73can have serious repercussions. I like to believe that we each contributed to making the other becoming a better person. His memory is still with me and I hope it will never vanish.

My spiritual life was affected by my rebellion against the small role women played in the Catholic Church. Sometime after the Second Vatican Council, I returned with a more positive view of the Church. These days I live alone, but my life is always busy with voluntary church work and my hobbies.

In a way, I consider myself lucky. What I experienced during my younger years taught me how to survive, and it made me stronger both mentally and spiritually. Sometimes I think about my years as an orphan and how little life meant to me in those days. I felt strong anger at something, the whole world I guess. This led me on occasions to ignore the rules. My regret is that I am unable to apologise to those who were involved in my welfare at the time. Now I understand, admire and respect people that help those who are less fortunate.