Yesterday, I received some real mail in my real mail box. So rare is real mail these days, I feel I should declare real mail days as red-letter days (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_letter_day). The mail, from my maternal aunt, included a home-made card, a handwritten note and an article cut out from the Mid Canterbury Herald. The article gave me the greatest delight because it featured a photograph of my grandfather that I hadn’t seen before.My grandfather is seated with his ‘cobbers’ (friends) outside the Ashburton Soldiers Club. I don’t know when the photo was taken but it was probably either towards the end, or shortly after the end, of World War One.
My grandfather left New Zealand for the war in Europe on 5 February 1916. He was a Rifleman in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, 3rd Battalion. We know very little about his war service and experiences but he was in Egypt and then France . At some stage,in France, he was a batman for an officer. We don’t know what action he saw in France but he was there through the last half of 1916 and some of 1917. But by March 1917 he was an invalid in Codford, England. By July 1917 he was on his way home to New Zealand. Here is an account of what my grandfather may have experienced along with thousands of other New Zealand soldiers in the First World War http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/wars-first-world-war-1914-18/page-5
Whatever scars my grandfather brought home with him, they didn’t deter him from becoming a member of a gun club and a prize-winning member at that. He won many prizes but his greatest achievement was in 1922 when he won the Miniature Rifle Championship of New Zealand.
As a child, I had no idea that my grandfather was an excellent shot, or knew anything at all about guns. They were never mentioned in my hearing. He was kind and gentle mannered and couldn’t bear to watch even the mildest of gun battles on television. It amazed me that even the mere sight of a gun in a Western was enough to make him leave the room.
Reading my mail and looking at the photo of my grandfather in his young days, reminded me of another red-letter day. In 1969, my grandfather and I went to our city’s main bookstore, Whitcombe and Tombs so that I could choose, and my grandfather could buy me, a Bible. It was my first year at high school and boarding school and I think we were required to have a Bible as part of our school kit. I remember my grandfather patiently waiting, whilst I looked through the large selection of Bibles, and finally chose this oneI don’t believe I chose the most expensive Bible in the shop but I am sure my good, dear grandfather had to stop himself from blanching at my choice. He was not a wealthy man and led a very frugal lifestyle. However, I think I made a good choice and I count this small Bible as one of my greatest treasures. To this day, I love the India paper, the Crystal print, the gold edges, the Morocco binding and the words within. Always near to me, it is a constant reminder of a champion grandfather.