When World War II broke out a Scottish girl living in New Zealand immediately joined the Air Force, not knowing it was there she would meet her future husband.
A tribute to May by her daughter, read out at her 100th birthday celebrations at Courtlands Aged Care in North Parramatta:
On February 21, 1918, a bay girl was born in Glasgow, Scotland. She was named May, and joined her older brother, Dave. They remember a happy childhood, with a large extended family. May’s beloved dad was a draper and her mum, like most women in those days, stayed at home to take care of the family. In due course, a second baby boy, Ian, was born.
About 12 years later, the depression set in, which made life extremely difficult. Unemployment in Scotland was high, and the future looked grim, so May’s parents decided to migrate to New Zealand. They had heard from their siblings that life was much better there.
The family settled in Christchurch where May’s dad was employed in a department store called Ballantyne’s, similar to David Jones. He was very well regarded at work and loved by all who knew him. Before long he was offered a huge promotion as a Buyer in London. All the plans were made, with schools chosen for the children, when he tragically died suddenly. By now May had another brother, Roy.
In those days there was no social security for widows. May’s mother rented a seaside cafe at the beach near Christchurch, left the children with her brother and sister-in-law and worked very hard running the little beach-side business. At weekends, May and her oldest brother Dave took the tram to join their mum and help her cleaning, baking and serving the customers. They returned to Christchurch after the weekend to attend school and help their aunt and uncle.
When it came time to go to work, May was able to get a job at the same department store where her dear dad was still remembered. However, at about this time war was declared for the second time and this included New Zealand. Many young people were joining the forces and May was enthusiastic to do this too. In fact, a teacup reader friend endorsed this decision.
Her mum had begun to take in several boarders to help make ends meet. Most of these were boys from the Air Force. Against her mum’s wishes, May also joined the Air Force. These were very happy days for May and this is where she met her husband Max.
May and Max were married towards the end of 1944. The war finished the following year.
This is where we all come in. I was their first child, born in Christchurch.
Mum moved with me up to Auckland where Dad’s job was. They were building a house on the north shore but building materials were in short supply and there were many challenges. In due course the house was finished in a magnificent location overlooking the Hauraki Gulf where all shops entering and leaving Auckland Harbour pass by. On either side of the house were bush tracks down to Mairangi Bay Beach on one side, and Murray’s Bay Beach on the other. It was a wonderful place to grow up.
John came along next, then Brian then Bruce. The boys especially had lots of fun getting up to mischief. There are many stories of them helping themselves to neighbours’ fruit trees. They used to love rolling rocks down the cliff face, especially when they saw people approaching. Fortunately, no one was hurt and Mum and Dad only found out much later.
Dad was a Ham radio enthusiast, and had his own workshop under the house. I still remember the sound of Dad communicating with his radio buddies using Morse code. Later he built a dark room to develop and print his own black and white photos. We are luck he loved photography so much, because we have a wonderful record of our early days.
The health of Mum’s mother deteriatored, and Dad suggested she move in with us, so he build a bedroom under our house. Granny moved up from Christchurch to live with us and survived much longer than anyone expected.
Granny was a great help to Mum. She used to clean, bake, wash, mend and iron. I still remember the wonderful smell of fresh baking that would waft from the kitchen. When Granny walked out of the kitchen, we children would sneak in and grab handfuls of biscuits before she could transfer them into tins.
There came a time when most of their family lived in Sydney, so Mum and Dad decided to move to Australia. It was a huge transition for them, but they found a house in Baulkham Hills where they were very happily settled for several years.
(From their four children, Mum and Dad have eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.)
Mum you have been a wonderful role model for all of us, always looking on the bright side of life. You were so positive whenever things became difficult for you, and rarely complained. You could calm tensions and smoother choppy waters.
We are all so proud of you and thrilled that you have reached this amazing milestone.