"He's a mighty lucky feller" : American troops in town during
World War II
An Interview with Muriel Bertram
HAMILTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAMME
YOUTH ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEW WITH : Muriel Bertram
DATE : 7 September 1995
INTERVIEWED BY : Sarah Smith
ABSTRACT BY : Sarah Smith
|Employment||Impact of World War II|
|Women's Voluntary Auxiliary Corps||Socialising|
Click on a speaker icon to hear the interview.
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Born 28 July 1923 at Garthowen, Hamilton.
Family lived with Muriel's grandmother in Ulster Street. Father began a carrying business.
Mentions difficulties encountered by returned servicemen from WWI. Oldest in family, three brothers and one sister.
Family moved to Rotorua in 1924/5, returned to Hamilton after two years. Moved to Forest Lake Road, orchard on property.
Mentions grandfather's death in Auckland. Remembers eating crayfish on Saturday as a treat.
Details of family property, entering Waikato Summer Show.
Details of effects of the Depression, remembers strike at Horotiu Freezing Works where father worked. One of first families in the area to get a telephone. Grew own fruit and vegetables, made cream and butter, sold excess to tuck shop near Rostrevor Street.
Recalls Forest Lake district newly established, set up in four acre blocks.
Attended Forest Lake Primary School. Got Proficiency in Standard six.
Recalls class trip in either 1935 or 1936 with teacher "Robbie" (Mr. Robertson) to see construction of Fairfield Bridge.
Mentions Vercoes (stock agents). Recalls 1935 polio epidemic. Details of different teachers -Mr Robertson, Mrs Hill. Had chores to do before school. Took on housework aged 12 to help pay for clothing, made own homemade clothes.
Played basketball (netball) at school, athletics. Recalls Friday afternoon gardening and nature study. Children came to school on horseback. Memories of more teachers.
Went to Hamilton Technical College, took commercial, girls only had three choices.
Played basketball, hockey, athletics- interschool tournaments. Mentions going to Sunday School at Maeroa, taught some classes too. Sunday school picnics, "Anniversary Day" concert, recalls an attempt to set up a youth group by Reverend Allen,
"he was the most lovely person, tried to get the young people together...and they ousted him out"
Not many girls went on to secondary school, "women and the girls were for the home".
Boys did military drill at college.
Had to leave school at 15,
"I was the eldest... and there were four other children behind me ...they had to be educated too"
Went to Brains Commercial College for six months, offered job at Hamilton Borough Council.
Started at Council 1939 aged 16,
"my first job to do that Monday morning, I was to type out the wages for the men working on Garden Place Hill"
Not long after her father was called up for National Reserve (WW2).
Impact of World War II
Didn't really understand what war was about, "just an inkling, not very much". Mentions Primary School book History of Our Nations where children learned about "Maori Wars".
Council department became HQ of Emergency Precautions Scheme, Works Dept.
Increased Muriel's workload, more typing,
"a lot of confidential, and I had to mark secret work".
" I often used to work after 5 o'clock to get extra work out, there was no overtime pay then because there was a war on".
Recalls women's wages as very low. Had to stop piano lessons due to work, mentions Mr Whitehead's studio in Ward Street. As child always wanted to learn dancing but mother wouldn't let her. Details of going dancing at Frankton Town Hall once working (aged 16/17), run by Mr and Mrs Moore.
Worked for 5 and a half years as engineer's secretary at Council.
Recalls little social life outside work.
Women's Voluntary Auxiliary Corps
"I just feel that there was something...I had to get and do something towards the war"
"On Monday nights we used to go have some of our training. There was drill, marching and on the run"
Held at Drill Hall in Hood Street, Muriel's uncle Reg sometimes took drill. Divided into platoons, first aid and stretcher bearing, or signalling and transport. Mentions Whitiora School as dressing station, need to know different gases and effects. Details on Hilda Ross, uniform. About 250-300 in Corps. Details on first aid practices.
"One morning...the engineer burst open the door and said, Muriel, you know the ropes, blackout duty tonight"
Mentions scare of Japanese plane flying over the country, submarines in Auckland and Wellington harbours. One week in four on duty at canteen in Victoria Street,
"We gave drinks, food, mostly biscuits to any of the forces. Also there was cards. darts and dancing for anyone"
Arrival of Americans,
"I remember the first night we saw Americans there. Two marines came through the door. At first they stood still then one went straight to our sergeant Dorrie Radford and the other came and sat by me...there was a lot of NZ airforce boys there that night and one came over and said to the marine `Can I take your girlfriend from you?".
"We feel there was a lot of jealousy amongst the boys".
Discusses troop movements,
"At times the racecourse, Showgrounds, Rugby Park and as far as Cambridge, anywhere where they could put troops, places were full of NZ forces, the army and the airforce"
Talks about dances at Frankton with American troops,
"Many times it was absolutely packed and you could hardly dance properly".
"One American soldier badly wanted to take me home, I said `No, I'm writing to someone overseas'. He then straightened up and saluted me and said `He's a mighty lucky feller".
Local girls impressed by Americans, silk stockings, make up. Tended hospital train at Frankton Junction.
Muriel wanted to join the WRENS but,
"my boss wrote to Wellington to stop me and said I was essential here (Hamilton Council). Later on I did write again and got the same answer back"
Mentions father's cousin Dr. Marjory Lines.
Little spare time as teenager, taken up by war years. Saturday night dances and Sunday School. Tried to start up tennis club at Te Rapa but fell through due to lack of numbers. Mentions dances at Regent Hall in Alexander Street and at YWCA. Films, didn't see many, mentions "White Christmas". Brother and her used to walk into town on Friday night, home by 9pm,
"I wouldn't have been allowed out by myself "
Safe to walk at night, leave doors unlocked. Mentions attack on woman near Fairfield Bridge,
"That was about the only time I can remember of any kind of scare like that"
Not many cars around, walk or bike.
"As a rule when we went dancing down Frankton Hall most of us wore long frocks"
Made own clothes, a lot of knitting and craftwork.
"I always wore a hat to Sunday School"
Not much difference between teenage and adult dress.
Slang = `ok', `gosh'.
"We weren't allowed to swear", eg. `darn', `damn'.
Liked Caruso (opera), `Where the Mountains of Morn go Down to the Sea'(folk).
Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Auntry, Pat O'Brian (country). Recalls sending off to Hollywood and receiving a photo of Gene Autrey. Their first radio,
"This was something that was of great delight to us. When dad built the house over in Storey Avenue there was a little bit of money left over and he bought a beautiful radiola...and we thought we were just Christmas"
War news every night at 9pm, children's serial `Dad and Dave from Snake Gully'.
Not much time for reading.
Saw boyfriend at church or on Friday nights. Discusses boyfriend.
Got on with siblings. Recalls staying with the Carmonts, given five shillings a week to put towards clothes. Didn't go on family holidays but occasional picnics at the lake, short stays with extended family.
Food- "ordinary... very plain meals". Sunday roast. Scarcity of bananas and oranges.
Recalls butcher and baker coming to the door on Saturday mornings. Mostly home remedies used during illness.
Remembers removal of Garden Place hill (mentions engineer Mr Baird), construction of Fairfield Bridge. Recalls swaying of lights during 1931 Napier Earthquake. Mentions royal visits to NZ. No interest in politics as teenager. Race relations- "as far as I can remember we all just [got on]as if we were one".
"Victoria Street used to be called the Golden Mile where most of the shops used to be"
Mentions Hamilton Hotel, didn't used to have many empty shops.