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Wilderpeople for pensioners

Mike Ledingham, author of ‘They Don’t Just Fade Away’ is launching his book this weekend. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN



Going bush was a last resort for former Kiwi soldier Bill Secombe, the main character in Mike Ledingham’s new book ‘They Don’t Just Fade Away’.

Launching this weekend, the book tells the story of what one “barroom wit” has dubbed “Wilderpeople for pensioners”.

Protagonist Bill Secombe’s world falls to pieces after the love of his life dies.

After remarrying, he is injured in a bike crash and is shuffled off to an old people’s home where he is bullied.

Bill hits out and goes on the run with an old army pal, disappearing into dense West Coast bush, and becoming the subject of a nationwide search by the police and army.

Ledingham, formerly of Featherston had served in the Canterbury Nelson, Marlborough West Coast Regiment from 1973 to 1975, spending about four years in Asia and various other countries with the New Zealand Army.

He used his experience to write this latest book, and two other books previously published, ‘Once a Grunt’, and ‘Always a Grunt’.

“The main thing that got me was the humour of the guys,” Ledingham said.

“A lot of the incidents I write about actually happened, or something like it, and a lot of the characters are based on real people, but I’ve changed the names obviously.

“What I learned in the army is it didn’t matter what race, creed or colour you were, we’re all the same.

“We all had to work together to get things done.”

In 1971, Ledingham did national service and joined the army to go to Vietnam, “but they called it off when we were waiting up in Asia”.

“We were a bit angry at the time, but as we got older, we realised we were probably lucky, given what happened to a lot of the vets.

“As you get older, you get a bit wiser, and realise you’re not bulletproof.”

In Ledingham’s new book, Bill Secombe, and his army pal are both Vietnam veterans.

On the front cover, the two “old codgers” are portrayed by Ledingham himself, and good friend Andy Bearpark of Featherston – a former chief of staff for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“Andy bought two doors down from me in Featherston about three years ago,” Ledingham said.

“I used to see him, this old guy with long hair and a beard and two little white dogs going up the street.

“We got talking and he told me what he’d been and done and I told him what I’d been and done, and I gave him copies of my first two books.

“When my publisher was looking for a cover, because there’s a lot of bush in the story, he wanted someone in the bush.

“I suggested Andy. When he came down to take the photo he wanted both of us.”

The book is launching on November 25 from 11am-12pm at the Featherston RSA.

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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