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Tough times of past recalled

Some of the widespread damage in Masterton caused by the 1942 earthquake. PHOTO/FILE


A trip down memory lane by former Masterton man ROYCE DOYLE takes us back to the days when times were tough and rationing was needed to survive.


Royce Doyle.
Royce Doyle.

I was born in 1930 during the Great Depression when life was not easy but there were improvements in terms of jobs available and the country was making progress after the difficult times of the depression.

Appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators were not in many homes, very few people owned cars or had telephones and there was no television — all information came from radio and the press.

I started school in June 1935 and one of my first recollections of an unusual incident was the great storm of that year when a lot of damage was done, particularly to the Masterton Park (now Queen Elizabeth Park).

Large and very old trees were uprooted with large sheets of corrugated iron being torn from St Matthews Anglican Church in Church St, where my family lived at that time.

Masterton was a great place to grow up, the economy was improving, everything was available including sporting development, and schooling was good for both primary and secondary.

However, there were no luxuries in life and people worked hard to make ends meet, but difficult times were accepted as part of life, but if you never had something you didn’t miss it.

From 1938, the world scene showed some very worrying signs with the rise of Socialism in Germany, and the threat of war loomed large which culminated in the declaration of war on September 3, 1939, following Great Britain’s declaration on September 1.

Things would never be the same again.

Although I was quite young at this time, my father kept abreast of what was happening and I remember many discussions with him on the situation — the likely outcome and what the future would bring.

With the advent of war, rationing was introduced which included clothing, food, and petrol.

Everyone had a ration book from which coupons were taken out at the time of each purchase.

In 1940, my father went into the navy and remained there until 1945 and subsequently my brother and sister were in the army and navy respectively, which left me at home with my mother.

This happened to many people of my vintage and we matured very quickly.

In that environment, you learnt to accept what you had, make the most of it and adapt where necessary.

Then in June 1942, a major earthquake struck the lower North Island and there was tremendous destruction in Masterton.

But until the war finished a lot of buildings were boarded up as supplies were not available to rebuild and make repairs.

At this time, I was in the scouts and was rostered on to deliver telegrams as there was much anxiety by people out of the town for those living in Masterton.

Also in 1942, a contingent of US Marines arrived in Masterton and set up camp at Memorial Park in Dixon St.

They had recently been in action in the Solomon Islands.

However, life went on and in January 1943 I commenced my secondary education at Wairarapa College where I took apart in all activities playing rugby and cricket.

Many of the male teachers were at the war but every effort was made by the teachers to operate as normal.

Things changed in 1945 when the male teachers returned and there was greater flexibility on how courses were constructed, and there were wider choices for pupils to decide what subjects they wished to study.

I left school in 1947, and in January the following year, I joined the Bank of New Zealand in Masterton where I worked until May 1951 when I was transferred to the Waikato and subsequently moved to other places.

As an aside, one aspect of my banking career was in 1964 being seconded as Bankers’ Representative to the Special Division of The Treasury set up to handle the changeover to Decimal Currency in 1967.

The role was liaison between all the banks and Treasury raising the awareness of the many changes that had to be made to achieve an efficient and smooth change over.

This was a challenging role and involved many hours of “brainstorming” to determine what changes had to be made to coinage, notes, office machinery and advertising etcetera to keep the public aware of the upcoming change and keeping in touch with all the parties involved.

The changeover was very smooth as a result of good co-operation of all interested parties.

It was pleasing to have been a part of it.

Other memories of growing up in Masterton include playing rugby and cricket for the Red Star Club on the Masterton Park Oval, boating on the Park Lake, playing tennis at the Masterton Lawn Tennis Club in Dixon Street.

Swimming at the Municipal Baths opposite the tennis club, swimming in the Waingawa River and being kept awake by the night flying Harvard training aircraft from Hood Aerodrome during 1942-43, and climbing Mount Holdsworth with five school friends in 1947.
*The now Wellington local visits Masterton from time to time as he has family and friends still living there and while there has been a lot of expansion to the town the street names are very familiar to him.


Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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