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Century marked in sky

A chopper flight across Wairarapa skies marked David Holliday’s 100th birthday last weekend, with family joining him for the lofty experience.

David enjoyed a helicopter ride across Masterton and around Mount Holdsworth with one of his sons and three grandchildren, after a meal out in Masterton with extended family.

“He thought it was fantastic and thoroughly enjoyed it,” grandson Jonathan Rees said.

David was born into a farming family in Berkshire, England, on May 12, 1923. The youngest of three, he joined in with farm work as early as possible.

“I didn’t like school much,” he revealed. “I was the child who looked around the room, thinking about other things.” Sports such as cricket, tennis, hockey and football kept him active.

When World War II broke out, a teenage David joined the Home Guard, which was charged with helping to defend Britain in the case of aggression by the enemy. “We marched up and down and were trained for invasion,” David said.

At 18, he joined the British Army and was sent to India, learning Morse Code to work in radio communications. “It wasn’t bad – I was amongst a lot of people my age, but we witnessed the hardship of the local people.”

After the war, David returned to farming in Berkshire and married Jean in 1959. The farm transitioned from pigs and poultry to dairy and, to combat England’s winter temperatures, the couple had to burn empty feed bags to warm up pipelines in the milking shed and get them flowing.

“One day, we’d been burning bags, when David said he wanted to see about emigrating to New Zealand,” Jean said. “He went upstairs, changed his clothes and went to London for information.”

With four young children, the Hollidays set off in 1967 on a six-week boat trip to New Zealand, made longer because of war in the Middle East making the Suez Canal impassable. Their ship had to sail around the west and south coasts of Africa, stopping at the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

“It was a hair-raising journey with young children,” Jean said.

One unforgettable event was when someone offered to buy their youngest son, Richard, aged 2, in Mauritius. “We said no!” Jean said. That was followed by a cyclone near Australia, during which all passengers had to stay below deck.

The Hollidays settled in Taranaki, sharemilking for a time. There followed a move to Greytown, where David worked in orchards. He became known as someone with skills to be called on and could turn his hand to building maintenance, including “steeple cleaning”.

David and Jean have been in Masterton for 40 years, involved in community-focused projects including the Masterton Foodbank, the Open Home Foundation, and a training scheme for young people – for which they sold the government some land in Oxford St.

The couple still lives in their own home and takes the bus to town. They grow fruit and vegetables in their garden, with apples and pears a specialty.

Asked about the milestone of turning 100, David said: “I haven’t made a fuss about things and I haven’t been to the doctor much. I think good feeding is important, with lots of fruit and vegetables. I enjoy drinking fruit juices.”

David wondered why people would be interested in his life. However, Jonathan said his grandfather had always been humble, “which is something we like so much about him”.

David added: “It’s good to just get up in the morning and be normal.”

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