““It was an upside down world,” reflected Margaret Mead as she recalled the dances in country halls to farewell the District’s young men as they left for the front line. Her pronouncement reflects a period during World War II when an entire generation of youth put their futures on hold. The hopes and expectations of young men and women everywhere were dashed in the space of the brief announcement that war had broken out. It’s not hard to imagine a young woman’s confusion as prospects for future security disappeared from sight.”
“It was an Upside Down World” Raglan and Districts RSA. 1932 -2007. Fiona Craig and Tony Kay.
Margaret Mead (Nee Hills)
Margaret Mead grew up in Te Pahu and helped on the family farm during WWII. Like many women of this era she simply got on with what had to be done and put her own hopes and ambitions on hold. “Bang, everything stopped with my thinking about what I was going to do so I stayed on the farm to help my father. Cow sheds were pretty primitive in those days. Dad made a water-wheel and put it in the cow shed and should a flood come and the waterwheel break down, we’d milk by hand. Father worked out how to do it. He made the water go upstream,” states Margaret.
Shortages meant making do although Margaret states she and her family were lucky because they lived on a farm. Procuring elastic was a different matter and Margaret would write to a friend from Te Pahu who was serving abroad. “We couldn’t get elastic so he sent me elastic from overseas.”
Olive Smith (nee Smith)
Olive Smith was born in Hawera, Tarankai but spent most of her youth in Otorohanga. As a young woman Olive’s ambition was to become a mechanic because “the boys were going to war and there was nobody else.” When she was 18 Olive joined the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) and became a driver. Responsible for delivering trucks between Trentham and Waiouru the army was a whole new world for Olive.
“We just had as much fun as we could out of it because driving from Waioru to Trentham was a long dog day if you didn’t do something in between to break the monotony,” she recalls.
Olive and her mother had a small farm in Otorohanga. “The land was our living. We always had chooks. They were a godsend because you could always cook something with the eggs. When the hens got old and finished with laying mum would boil them first and then put them in the oven. We never starved. No, well nobody in New Zealand should’ve starved. If you were near the water you’d get fish and things. The sugar was rationed but we actually had plenty to eat here in New Zealand.”
After the war Olive and her husband Les settled in Raglan and the couple constructed the concrete block premises next to the West Coast Medical Centre on Wallis Street.
Coralie Ormiston (nee Gibbison)
Coralie Ormiston was one of 4, 600 women who joined the the Woman’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), which was formed in 1942. Coralie was consigned to radar operations and became adept at identifying flight craft and following meteorological balloons on behalf of the New Zealand Air Force.
One night while on shift Coralie detected what appeared to be an alien aircraft. She notified the authorities, who told her it couldn’t possibly be an enemy plane. “They took it anyway and it was way out over the Firth of Thames towards Coromandel and then it disappeared out of range. We didn’t have a very high range; only about thirty miles I think, and it wasn’t until years later — ten or fifteen years after the war was over — that I read in the paper that a plane had flown up there and it was a Japanese plane.”