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Serviceman’s life in letters

Sally Greenaway, Diana O¹Brien and Hilary Zapata at the launch of the recently published book. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED.

Story by Soumya Bhamidipati

The letters sent home by a Masterton man during World War II have featured in a newly published book.

Heugh Drummond

‘The Life and Letters of Heugh Drummond’ is a collection of letters and other memorabilia of Robert John Heugh Drummond [1913-1943], edited by his niece Diana O’Brien.

Drummond grew up in Masterton, attending Lansdowne Primary School and Wairarapa High School before leaving for university.

His father was the first headmaster of Lansdowne Primary School and was later headmaster of Masterton Central School.

O’Brien said Drummond lived with his parents and eight siblings near the Lansdowne Presbyterian Church.

“The Drummonds lived in a big house opposite the church, it used to be part of the old hospital, but it burnt down.”

The ‘Drummond room’ at the church had been named after his parents.

Drummond left New Zealand in September 1938 to attend Oxford University. He joined the British army when World War II broke, before moving to the Royal Air Force in 1941. He served until 1943, when he was killed during action in Tunisia.

The book contained 86 letters written by Drummond to his family, O’Brien said. They gave a clear picture of the community in which he had grown up.

“Nostalgic. Wondering how the garden’s getting on,” O’Brien said, “In reading them, they’re all part of the social history of that era.”

As was usual with servicemen’s letters of the time, there were few references to the war due to censor restriction and the wish not to worry those at home.

The book also contained documents referring to Heugh’s death and other information about the family and some background army and air force information.

The Drummond family lived in Lansdowne from about 1910 until they moved to Eastbourne in 1952.

“His mother had kept those letters,” O’Brien said. Her mother, Drummond’s sister, had then taken ownership of the letters before they were passed on to O’Brien.

“The letters have always been there, but it was a matter of putting it all together,” she said.

“We’ve always been brought up with stories of Heugh. We just felt this needed to be done.”

O’Brien is an experienced storyteller, having written biographies for those in hospice care. The book took her about 18 months to compile.

“I’ve had that interest in telling the stories of people.”

After the war, one of Drummond’s surviving brothers gave a cup to Wairarapa High School [now Wairarapa College] in memory of him and one of his close friends.

The Drummond Chesterman Cup has been awarded annually since 1945 for a boy’s all-round contribution and service to college life.

The family met at Wairarapa College at the end of January to celebrate the book’s launch and showcase some artefacts.

The Drummond clan’s pipes were played and Drummond’s great-niece, who lives in Martinborough, played a song using his violin.

“This is a celebration … of the association of the Drummond family with the district over a long period of time,” O’Brien said.

The family planned to give a copy of the book to Wairarapa College, the Masterton District Library, and the Wairarapa Archive.

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