close this bookTeenagers at Woodlands in the 1930s and 1940s
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentLocality
View the documentHomelife
View the documentEducation
View the documentEntertainment and Socialising
View the documentEmployment
View the documentAwareness of Issues
View the documentAdditional Notes

Teenagers at Woodlands in the 1930s and 1940s

An interview with Jack Riddell & Margaret Harris




OH 0230

INTERVIEW WITH : Jack Riddell and Margaret Harris

DATE : 16 June 1995

INTERVIEWER : Christene Mauchline

ABSTRACT BY : Christene Mauchline


Introduction Locality
Homelife Education
Entertainment and Socialising Employment
Awareness of Issues Additional Notes

Click on a speaker icon to hear the interview.

Tape 1 Side 1
Tape 1 Side 2
Tape 2 Side 1


Jack born 28 June 1924, Margaret born 8 February 1926.

Two sons and three daughters.

Father was a farmer, came to the Waikato with his grandfather in 1905, farmed in Woodlands after farming in Waverley, Taranaki.


Rural experience as teenagers. Hamilton considered the centre for Gordonton.

Jack remembers tremendous changes of the appearance of Hamilton, school buses had only started running the year before Jack started secondary school, at the stage Hamilton was quite a small town.

Jack: "Fairfield School was surrounded by farm land in those days"

Jack: "The roads into Hamilton were horrible dusty corrugated metal roads"

Margaret remembers Insoll Avenue being a rural area. Their bus driver was Harold Davies,

Jack: "He always said he had his eye on Davies Corner to settle there"

Harold Davies had been a member of the J Force, had an office named after him. Got to town by car, got to secondary school by bus which started at Orini, left to catch the bus at 8.20am and got home around 4.00pm, school was about ten miles away.

Father was 11 when he came to Woodlands, Woodlands was the headquarters of a big land company that extended from Gordonton to Eureka, when his grandfather arrived is when they were dividing the block up. Three sons farmed 300 acres each.

Woodlands was the centre of Gordonton, completely self-contained, own flour mill, blacksmith shop, Mr Gordon one of the original managers.

The three brothers went to the first World War, one was killed at Gallipoli, one was injured and returned early, Jack and Margaret's father involved in action in France. Father returned and farmed a piece of land on the south side of Woodlands. Margaret used to enjoy visiting her Aunt and Uncle at the Woodlands homestead,

Margaret: "A house with stairs was quite a novelty to us.... I can't say I grew up thinking we were involved in quite interesting family as far as background and that went"


Margaret helped her mother around the house with general duties, helped her father and brothers in the cowshed, sister did gardening.

Jack did a lot of work around the farm, used to help with milking from a young age. Jack enjoyed sports, rugby, running, athletics (discussed inter-school competitions). Jack talks about how strict his parents were,

"I think were very strict thinking about it now"

Remembers how other young people used to go to town on a Friday night and that they were not allowed into town very much.

Margaret agrees that they had a fairly strict upbringing "....but I don't remember minding it", she believes this was probably due to her health. Margaret also enjoyed sport, basketball, tennis.

Jack thinks that religion was very important to his parents,

"Almost to my way of thinking.... it was too much as far as I was concerned, I'm afraid it rather turned me away a little bit from religion in those days"

The family was not involved in any church as such but listened to Sunday radio services, their mother grew up in a strict brethren environment in Scotland and never accepted their father's religion which was strict Presbyterian.

Margaret had many friends, often went to birthday parties, doesn't remember feeling too separated from others.

Jack on religion,

"I don't think it any way effected our friendship with the locals......I had some very good friends in my teenage years"

used to go birdnesting, rabbiting, ferreting.

Went on a holiday to the beach every year, Raglan, Kawhia, Kaiaua, father stayed at home, occasionally visited between milkings,

Jack: "I look back on those times with a great deal of affection"

Had a caravan at the Mount, got there by car,

Margaret: "We were always fortunate to have a car", had a Model T then a Model A, first new card was a 1938 Ford V8

Margaret: "Because of the war we had that a long time"

Extended family very important, visited aunts and uncles in Morrinsville, Taniwha, Papakura, Cambridge. An enjoyable outing was the Ngaruawahia Regatta, used to meet up with family from Tanawa (further describes regatta day).

Margaret: "I think we sometimes had fish and chips", ordinary food,

Margaret: "Mother fed us well I feel, good, plain",

their mother was a good baker. Alcohol was not allowed in the house. Went to a family doctor, had a lot of sickness in family.

Jack discusses the unusually young age in which he had his siblings had their appendixes out. Parents used home remedy for Margaret's chest problem called Kumara Hough. Mother used wholemeal flour and raw sugar at one time. Jack was graded down during the war and so was unable to go to the war, got involved with the Home Guard, father was the company commander, did several courses at Narrowneck, an army camp near Devonport. Early on, the Home Guard had little equipment, got more which was mostly American, had a 300 rifle,

Jack: "I used to have one of those under my bed"

quite well equipped by the end of the war.

Woodlands used as a Battalion headquarters, Jack had the job of driving a four ton covered truck to pick up the Home guardsmen.

Jack: "As far as the social activities......they were few and far between as far as we were concerned"


Did their primary schooling at Gordonton Primary.

Jack went to Hamilton Technical College, their sister went into school on the bus in the first year it ran (1937), prior to that it was hard for country children to get into town to go to secondary school, many left the area to board near a high school, by the time Jack went to high school there were high school students coming from Paeroa, Cambridge, Huntly.

Jack took a rural course, commercial and engineering course were available.

Jack: "We used to go over to Ruakura farm as it was in those days"

Mr Green was the Dairy Science teacher, went to Ruakura once every 2 weeks, also took Maths, English, Geography, History,

Jack: "They were good times"

Margaret and her sister both took the domestic course, sewing. Young sister took commercial,

Margaret: "I would have liked to have done commercial"

her parents did not envisage a career for her because of her health, their parents did not place much emphasis on education. Not many people from the country went on to higher education. Margaret wanted to be a teacher but was unable to because of her health. Science course, matriculation, mostly town children, many who did the science course went on to University, cousin Heather did science.

Father wanted Jack to be interested in sheep farming, because of his education Jack was more interested in dairy farming.

Tape 1 Side 2

Jack felt he learnt more when he left school and joined the Young Farmers Club,

Jack: "I felt I grew up in a wonderful time when Ruakura was set up as an instruction enterprise"

appreciated the new technology Ruakura made available, milk fever, grass staggers, milk techniques, non-stripping.

Margaret discusses the rapid progress of technology following the war. Margaret played basketball at high school, had gym classes in Gordonton after high school years.

Jack found it difficult to play sports for the school as they could not make it in to town on Saturdays. Began playing tennis at Gordonton and played rugby when teams were set up in Gordonton.

Margaret feels sport did not have as much emphasis as today. Margaret went to High School with a friend from Gordonton who was Salvation Army, went to church with her occasionally but does not recall other activities they did together.

Jack made a lot of friends at school,

"They were happy days, no doubt about it"

Margaret mentions that Jack was able to keep in contact with his teenage friends as he remained living in Gordonton whereas Margaret moved around after marriage.

Margaret doesn't feel that World War II effected her education.

Their father was eager for Jack to finish school and work on the farm as there was a labour shortage during the war, he didn't finish his 2 years at high school, left a few weeks early to help put on the farm. Their family was supplying cream before the war, during the war they were asked to switch over to whole milk and to deliver the milk to the local cheese factory, Jack heavily involved in the change over on the farm, first took the milk to the factory by horse and wagon, then go a 15 CWT. Ford V8 1938. After the campaign in Greece and Crete New Zealand's stock had to be replenished and the V8 was claimed by the army,

Jack: "I can always remember having to drive it into town and deliver it to the Claudelands Show Grounds"

Every year at tech they had military training at Rugby Park, Jack remembers one of his teachers, Mr Day being farewelled before he went to war. Jack remembers putting tape on the windows. Jack's home guard company was allocated the area near Woodlands on the Whitikahu Road Bridge, had trenches they had to lay in, had a huge log that was set up beside the bridge ready to roll on to it if the Japanese had invaded.

Entertainment and Socialising

Margaret: "I just remember feeling satisfied as far as that sort of thing went"

fond of handcrafts. Jack didn't have much spare time. Margaret was about 15 when she went to her first movie.

Margaret: "I can remember pestering my mother, rather to go to it, and I can remember after feeling a bit disappointed that I'd sort of pushed so hard to go"

has never been that keen on the movies, enjoys real life stories. Jack was between 15 and 17 before he went to his first movie, never went into Hamilton to see the movies, saw them at the local hall,

Jack: "They used to have a caravan that came around and it used to draw up outside the main doors of the hall and he used to project the film through the door on to a screen on the back of the stage"

Saw serials, Hop-A-Long Cassidy. Jack remembers concerts and a magician that came around. Went to dances through the tennis club, Jack wasn't too keen on dancing in his teens. Margaret believes that to the average teenager film was quite important. Jack remembers talking at primary school about Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby,

"We certainly talked about the stars in those days"

Margaret remembers her father disliking Bing Crosby because he didn't like the new "crooning" style of music. Margaret thinks that radio was very important, their mother liked to listen to the radio, the Cinderella program came on at 5 o clock,

Jack: "If you had a birthday you'd hear your name called over the radio and you had to go and look in a certain spot for something that you'd wanted for a long while"

Jack go his first blue and white football jersey in this way, parents sent in the request. Margaret thinks most women probably listened to Aunt Daisy which was on at 9 in the morning. Margaret read a lot because of being sick, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, Pencarrow books. Always had comics. Jack's reading was never very serious, light romantic stories, Jeffrey Farnol, belonged to the book club in town. Family got the Waikato Times and The New Zealand Herald which they read. Jack didn't do much dating as a teenager,

Jack: "I was pretty bashful in those days"

Margaret didn't do much dating because of her health mixing was more general in those days, socialised in groups, didn't start steady relationships. Parents weren't very keen about steady relationships but they don't recall it being much of an issue. Margaret feels the war made socialising easier.


Jack went straight from school to working on his father's dairy farm, had a tractor to plough the farm to get rid of blackberries. Margaret never went out to paid work, in the late twenties worked at the council, did some fruit picking in Nelson in early twenties. A lot of farm girls stayed home to help their mothers with the cooking and looking after the household. Did some V.A.D., nursing training. If Margaret had had better health she would have liked to have been a teacher, sister did nursing training, Margaret took some bible classes. World War II created a shortage of labour in farming, had some land girls. Jack was involved in home guard during the war, remembers the fall of France and how it upset his father, discusses activities of home guard.

Tape 2 Side 1

Awareness of Issues

Margaret remembers Hamilton when became a city, doesn't remember any celebrations, remembers the cathedral being built, thought that made it a city. Margaret remembers Garden Place Hill being removed. A & P Shows were a regular event, Margaret remembers taking a yearling that won a ribbon.

Winter Show was an important event, displays of new cars, milking machines, Summer Show was also enjoyable. Jack was going to tech at the time Garden Place was being removed, saw the operation almost from the start to the end, Grinter was the contractor, had a fleet of 1938 trucks which started off looking good but by the end they were almost wrecks, there was a water cart that kept the streets clean because dirt was always coming off the trucks.

Margaret remembers Mr Caro as the Mayor, Hilda Ross as MP and Mayoress. Jack remembers Mayors Burrell, Fow and Caro, remembers Caro's store had a beacon on the roof which could be seen from Gordonton.

Margaret remembers Sid Holland. Jack remembers Michael Savage, remembers when he died his body was brought from Wellington to Auckland by train which stopped at every station so that people could pay their last respects, Jack remembers going to Frankton where people were crowded.

Margaret thinks that they go more overseas news once World War I began, remembers when King George died.

Jack remembers the build up to World War II, heard about Hitler and his troops, Mussolini, the war in Abyssinia, Spanish civil war.

Jack recalls being at the cowshed when one of his brothers or sisters brought a note from his mother to say the news were terrible, Hitler had invaded Poland. Jack remembers when the atomic bomb was dropped,

"I didn't really know much about atomic bombs in those days"

his father was almost excited about it. Jack remembers the American troops in Hamilton,

"I can remember this particular day when they suddenly descended on Hamilton, they were there in their hundreds"

Margaret also remembers the American troops through being involved in the Patriotic hut in Garden Place, doesn't remember the resentment towards them from New Zealand men, doesn't remember women going overboard about them, they always had lots of money and had smart uniforms.

Margaret was on the school bus when Pearl Harbour was attached, after Peal Harbour Jack realised just how close the war was coming to New Zealand. Margaret thinks politics were just as important to teenagers back then as it is today, no protesting,

"I think we took a reasonably intelligent interest"

Their parents were not very politically minded. Jack, listened to the radio a lot and listened to parliament and made up his own mind about politics. Quite a few Maori families lived in Gordonton, there is a pa (marae?), one of the chairmen of the Tainui Trust went to school with them,

Margaret: "Looking back I feel we had really good relationships with them"

At school there was a lot of mixing between the races but not so much socially,

Jack: " school we all treated each other as equals but as they go older we tended to drift apart a little and I was always disappointed that way"

Additional Notes

At the follow up interview, Jack adds that the office Harold Davies had named after him was a post office at Davies Corner which is no longer open. The Davies Corner buildings are called the "Rita Buildings" they are named after his wife.

At the folllow up interview, Margaret adds that although at first her mother did not accept her father's religion, in time she began to accept the Presbyterian religion.