Keeping busy with the Home Guard

Bill WaringThe horn on a Morris Oxford is great for sending Morse Code, recalls Bill Waring in his reminiscences on the early days of the Waikato meat trade.  Old jam tins were useful too…

I can probably attribute my good health not only to the good genes I fortunately have inherited, but to the fact that everything in my younger days was done ‘on the run’.

Even after completing 40 miles of meat delivery, I would leave the delivery van at the slaughter yards for the use of the slaughter man and go home on foot. Plus, at the farm in winter, there was the additional chore of feeding baled hay to the cattle without the aid of sledge or tractors.

I had then to run, and I mean run, the mile and a half to the shop to save the tallow from burning. Father, going by the number of parcels I had to deliver, would time when he lit the fire under the copper of trimmed fat to be rendered. It was my job to pour off the tallow when the fats were ready. Too late and the tallow would burn, and that would be my fault.

Perhaps Arthur Lydiard would have been proud of me, and others like me, because in the days of the Japanese invasion scare of 1942, we not only had to go about our work at pace during the day, but three nights each week some of us were required to climb with Home Guard signalling equipment to the top of Taupiri Mountain, where there was a signal station site beside the trig station. Our fitness would in time help us when we were called up for the armed forces.

Members of the Home Guard train in the Waikato.  Photo: Hamilton Central Library
Members of the Home Guard train in the Waikato. Photo: Hamilton Central Library

At the station we helped maintain night signalling (Morse) contact between Hamilton and Auckland. The signal posts were at Hamilton, Taupiri, Mt Pukemori, Mt William and Mt Eden, in Auckland. Would you believe our signalling equipment consisted of empty four-pound jam tins with a mirror attached to the sealed end, plus a bulb soldered half way along the inside of the empty tin. This bulb was attached to a Morse key and batteries, borrowed from the Post Office.

To relay a message from the top of the mountain to the Home Guard base at Taupiri, there was another lamp (as described) lined up to a Mr Sing’s Morris Oxford car in the centre of the Taupiri football field. The Morris car was selected because of the sharpness of its horn sound. It was one of the few makes that could clearly signal the required dots and dashes of Morse. Later we had a phone line all the way to the mountain top. The trouble then was that this had to be constantly checked to see if tree branches were lying across it.

It was marvellous what messages could be sent using car headlamps, a sharp-sounding car horn, an empty jam tin and, most times, a very cold signaller.

To learn the meat trade at that time was difficult. It was mainly a matter of observation and repetition – almost like the ‘Rote System’ that then prevailed at school. So many tasks to be mastered, and the hours were extremely long. Perhaps it was just as well that a 40-hour week came in later, but back then it was only something in the newspapers, nice to read about. However it gave an indication of what life would be like eventually.

For several years life was made more difficult with meat rationing. Perhaps there was an advantage in that most of our customers preferred to give us their full sheets of coupons from their coupon books. Many a night was spent adding up the coupons to present to the Bank of New Zealand in Ngaruawahia, whose responsibility it was to verify our tallies.

Inspectors called regularly to check coupons taken, versus turnover and number of carcases slaughtered. Also at that time pork was not permitted to be slaughtered for customers, because of the demand for the same by the New Zealand and American Military Forces. Ever tried telling that to the farmers? There were at times some strange-looking wool-less sheep that grunted no more.

I have just mentioned the American Military Forces; their main northern base was at Papakura.
It so happened that at that time we were supplying Mr and Mrs Bill Rabbidge, who were hosts of the Globe Hotel in Papakura, an arrangement that originated from when they held the license for the Waipa Hotel in Ngaruawahia. There was a cook at the Globe who was known as Aunty Sissy, who was renowned for her skill at cooking steaks.

This became well known to the Americans and so the request for frying or grilling steaks became constant, and the quantities went beyond our abilities to supply. Every second trading day, lined salt sacks full of steaks would be sent by rail to the Papakura Station, to be collected and delivered directly to the kitchen of the Globe Hotel. At its peak this supply would have been at least eight per cent of our turnover. This association with the Rabbidges and The Globe Hotel continued over many years, only ceasing when Mrs Rabbidge sold the hotel to one of the main brewery chains.

Today this would be hard to believe, but the phone number for the Globe Hotel in those days was No. 8, Papakura. Just one number – 8. Compare that with the numbers phones require today.

It was a wonderful period of time with ‘friends in business’: there was total trust on both sides. I would have wished that all trading during my time in the business could have been in this manner. I only wish that the ‘steak scene’ (which I will mention later) had been developed around the time when the American forces were stationed in New Zealand.

I also wonder what would be the attitude of the government departments who today are responsible for fresh meat transport to sending fresh meat by railway in lined salt sacks. This system possibly accelerated the aging process and helped to make the meat even more tender.

Bill remembers, Chapter 4, is here.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

5 thoughts on “Keeping busy with the Home Guard

  • February 12, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Great tales Bill. dah dit dah dit dah dah dit dah (howz the morse these days?)

    • February 14, 2013 at 5:56 pm

      Possibly we were not the best signalling section in the loop. compounded further when the officer in charge wasone day complaining to the local headmaster about our signal beams being off line. ” the enemy might be able to read them” The Headmaster’s reply was. ” I would not worry about that, these boys who make up the signalling group were from the same class and were in their school days terrible at spelling. The enemy who might perchance read their mispelt messages would be really totally confused as to the meaning of the said message”

  • April 25, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Bill Warings story has given me food for thought, My father lived in Ngaruawahia and had a block of land up on Te Pora Road we left there in 1945 when I was one year old and Gordon (my father deceased 1979) bought a farm in Wairamarama.
    He was in the Home Guard but I am not sure whether it was before he left in 1945 or when he was in Franklin I think the Home Guard was disbanded by then.
    I would be interested in any information.
    Thank you

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