- Murray Horton
Nancy Hammond (universally known as Nance) was a CAFCA member from 2003 until her death in Timaru in July 2014, aged 85. She was also a regular donor to the CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account, which provides my income, starting in 2004 and continuing right up until May 2014. She was a very keen member who regularly wrote and e-mailed us. When CAFCA asked for local organisers and hosts around the country for my 2014 CAFCA/ABC national speaking tour, she put her hand up. I’d never spoken in Timaru before. She e-mailed me in August 2013: “If you haven’t arranged somebody to cover Timaru, I’d be happy to do it. If you already have someone I’d be happy to help them. I’m a qualified and experienced dogsbody. I’m also an old codger, but with a bit of luck I’ll still be chugging along. If I’m dropping a few nuts and bolts I should have enough notice to hand over to a fellow traveller to mind the shop. All the best. I like the sound of the speaking tour. Good on yer, mate”. A confirmation e-mail in September 2013 said: “My husband and I are old, but not particularly doddery, so with luck we’ll still be chugging on next April. In case we shuffle off our mortal whatsits sooner, we’ll arrange fall-back cover beforehand. I worked for years in Pakistan, where one learned to arrange three levels of back-up, to cover flood, fire, earthquake and polical mayhem”. I remember thinking at the time that she didn’t sound like my stereotype of a little old lady in Timaru. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth.
One Of Best Tour Organisers
Nance and her husband Mo (Maurice) Skiffington certainly were chugging on in April 2014; both in their mid 80s they were chugging along at a speed which left people decades younger in their slipstream. My report on the speaking tour is elsewhere in this issue. In it I singled out Nance as one of the top three local organisers around the country. I said: “She was a most remarkable octogenarian and had an energy and dynamism that would put to shame people a quarter of her age”. She arranged very good media coverage, with the Timaru Herald interviewing me; she did excellent publicity work for the public meeting at Caroline Bay, resulting in Timaru providing one of the biggest and most receptive audiences. She and Mo hosted me for the night in their big, beautiful home (which had suffered some quake damage; we Christchurch people tend to forget that other parts of Canterbury got hit hard as well). CAFCA Chairperson Jeremy Agar was my driver and partner in crime for the whole tour – Nance and Mo treated us like royalty (Jeremy stayed in a B&B directly across the street), lavishing us with food and drink, and taking us on a sightseeing tour of Timaru the morning after the meeting, finishing up at her beloved Caroline Bay. And she followed up after the tour, sending me an envelope of Timaru clippings and a hand written letter saying: “I’ve had some very favourable feedback on your session at the Bay. I think your visit will have some good results!”.
That was the only time I ever met Nance and she and Mo made a big impression on Jeremy and me. They had an energy and a human warmth that is rare to find. Theirs was a wonderful example of a late life, second chance, love story. We were both deeply saddened to be informed of Nance’s death just months after our Timaru visit. Mo has sold up and moved back to Canada (where he’d previously lived for 50 years) and has rejoined his family in British Columbia. I knew nothing about Nance’s life beyond the fascinating snippets she told me during that memorable April day in Timaru. I have had regular correspondence with Mo since Nance’s death and I am indebted to him for his contribution to this obituary and for the photo of Nance. And big thanks to Nance’s good friend Kate Elsen, who sent me her eulogy from Nance’s funeral (which I have edited). Nance Hammond led a truly incredible multi-faceted life (which included being a policewoman, and spending more than 20 years in Pakistan) and then she came home to Timaru in her 70s, a decade older than I am now, and plunged into a whole new life of full on activism across a wide range of issues and groups (not to mention finding love and happiness with Mo, half a century after they’d first met). It’s quite a story. I’m just pleased that I got to meet the woman behind it. My deepest condolences to Mo but as the poet said, it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.
- Mo Skiffington
Nance was born the same year as me, 1928. She had a nearly fatal accident as a child and was not able to have children. She was Dux of Timaru Girls High and also Head Prefect for several years. She went to (Otago) university to be a doctor but she and many others were overshadowed by returning servicemen in the late 40s to get in so she settled for a degree in arts. She went to Auckland and joined the Police Force for several years. She helped in the 1953 Tangiwai rail disaster, by informing relatives. She then became Personnel Manager for Domestic Staffing at Auckland Hospital Board for 15 years. I met Nance in 1955 at Mount Maunganui and we had a romance over those holidays and again in 1956. I went overseas in January 1957 and we corresponded for a year or so till she told me she was marrying a policeman. They went to England, Europe and then Pakistan where, because of circumstances, Nance volunteered at a Swedish charitable school/orphanage organisation and ended up running it for five years. She returned to NZ to look after her mother. Her marriage was failing at this time, she reurned to Pakistan to sort things out, then she divorced her husband and returned to Pakistan for another 16 years. While there she had another unhappy romantic experience.
She returned to NZ in 2001 and got herself heavily invoved in social matters including the Green Party. I returned to NZ in 2004 to look up old friends as my wife had died a year or so before. I had neverforgotten Nance and was determined to find her if she was still alive. It took me several weeks but one day I finally phoned her andwe talked for two hours. I jumped on a plane and went down to Timaru and stayed for a week. Nance came to Canada several times and we took several trips up to Rarotonga and the French Marquesas Islands. We were planning to take a trip through Europe and over to Canada and home. But it was not to be. We had ten wonderful years and she sadly left me on July 19 from a brain haemorrhage in the middle of the the night. She lingered unconscious for five days. Her big horror was to be hit and be incapacitated. As she said so often:“Just push me over a cliff and bury me in a pine box”. On her gravestone we put the thing that she lived by: “Love is not justa feeling but a positive commitment to seek the other’s good”.
- Kate ElsenThis is an edited version of Kate’s July 2014 funeral eulogy for Nancy. Ed.
I am honoured to have been invited by Mo to speak today about the wondrous life of our dearfriend Nancy. And what a friend she has been to so many of us here today. Look around today and you will see a real cross section of our community, both young and old who have wanted to come together to remember and reflect on Nancy’s life. This is a real testament to her willingness to spread her soul so widely so that we all regard ourselves as close friends with her. Some of you here have known her for most of your lives and others like me have only had the privilege of meeting her recently. I met Nance in 2002 at a local Green Party meeting shortly after her return to her hometown of Timaru. Not long ago really, when youconsider her incredible life. Nevertheless the impact she has had on many of our lives has been immense.
Today I would like to share with you some of Nance’s life story. A story full of chapters of highs andlows, happiness and tears which I have often thought recently could be made into a wonderful film! Every great film has a love story and so has this one, but we have to wait until nearly the end of the book until we learn more about the romance! Many I have spoken to this week have been surprised to learn of her age and even doubted that it was the Nancy Hammond they knew to be so energetic and enthusiastic about any new project happening in 2014 in Timaru.
Nancy Isabel Parris was born in Blenheim way back in 1928. From old photos we have seen she loved Caroline Bay as a child. However, sadly, Nancy was seriously ill as a child and from what we can gather she suffered a lot and her schooling was seriously disrupted during these years. She pulled through though and became determined to succeed and make up for the time lost. She attended Timaru Girls High School in the 1940s, which, as you can imagine was a challenging time for any school after World War Two. As a peace lover I wonder if Nance helped fill in the dug trenches that were scattered around the school grounds? In 1948 Nance Parris was made Head Prefect - as a day girl! I have heard from boarders at the school at the time that this was something quite outstanding and uncommon and that she was remembered as being in the "professionals academic stream "and was very clever”! I was delighted to learn that Nance was actually awarded the top prize and was Dux of the school that year..
With brains and beauty on her side she sailed off to university in Dunedin determined to become a doctor to "help people in darkest Africa" as she told everyone. However the competition to gain entry in to med school was tough in those years with plenty of brilliant young soldiers returning home from service abroad and keen to become doctors too. So Nance changed tack and studied towards an Arts degree specialising in social work. After gaining her degree Nance went to live in Auckland and by 1953 had trained as a policewoman. Personally I find this most intriguing, to imagine our sweet Nance as a stroppy bossy policewoman. But also I can see the link with her social work degree and the burning desire she always had to help others. Mo told me that she was one of the first to be called on duty at 4 a.m. on the morning of December 25th 1953, six hours after the dramatic Tangiwai train disaster. Poor Nance’s job was to break the news on that fateful Christmas Day to many grieving families. I am in no doubt she was a huge comfort to them. Later that same summer Nance, in full uniform, enjoyed holding back the throngs of people at many of the huge public gatherings of keen holiday makers anxious to clamber over the railings towards her young majesty Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip during their tour of New Zealand
A couple of summers later, in 1955, over the Christmas/New Year break, Nance and a group of girlfriends hired a beach holiday house at Mount Maunganui and it was during those blissful summer days (while Elvis Presley and Pat Boone blared over the radio waves) that she happened to meet up with another group of holiday makers and among them was a guitar strumming bloke, Maurice Skiffington, who had developed a couple of bad heel blisters from hitch hiking in Roman sandals from Auckland...He remembered how attentively and tenderly Nance offered to bathe them in methylated spirits. Her nursing skills and quick wit and beauty did the trick and he was smitten!
Like many summer love stories though, it came to an end, the Coppertone was packed away, the baskets and towels were brushed clean of sand and obligations to return to work and real life pulled the two apart. Mo went back to work in Hamilton and Nancy continued her career in the Police. Mo left with a group of guys and took off on his OE and Nance met up with a fellow policeman Jack Hammond. In 1958 Nance wrote to Mo overseas and told him she had married Jack and soon after Mo settled in Canada, married very happily and had four children.
During the 1960's and 70's Nancy was head hunted and asked to work as manager of the Auckland Hospital Board’s Human Resources Department. She often talked of the immense satisfaction of her job there and of the skills it set her up with to tackle the challenges of managing people from all walks of life, the merit of excellent communication skills, and the necessity of methodical office systems and protocols. During the 1970s she travelled to Europe with Jack for some time and also had a stint doing some voluntary work in Pakistan in 1978. She returned to NZ, and paid quite a few visits to Timaru at that time visiting her brother and supporting her mother who suffered bad health. But by 1980 her marriage with Jack had ended and she began to become more politically active, as a member of the Values Party. Fellow member Helen Trew remembers her energy that year, as Nancy rallied others to join in anti-apartheid protests. The two were part of a group who travelled to Christchurch and took part in demonstrations; with Nance’s inside knowledge of the Police Force she insisted on wearing a helmet during those (1981 Springbok Tour) marches. Others here in Timaru remember her strong support and work for the gay rights movement at the time too.
Some of you may think that by the age of 53 Nance may have happily settled down to the easy comfortable pace of life we had in Timaru during the 1980s, but NO way. There were other adventures to be had and Nancy Hammond stored her belongings, packed her bags and flew off across the world to immerse herself again in the totally foreign and fascinating culture of Pakistan. Not to live a life of luxury but to serve others lessfortunate. Nancy worked for, and with, the Pakistan and Swedish Welfare Association, providing health education and human rights-related services to the less privileged in that part of the world. This is where Nancy lived for the following 20 years. She was treated with great respect andgreat reverence and loved by all who knew her.
Aged 74 in 2001 Nance decided to return home to us here in Timaru to, as she often said, LIVE out her days. I wonder what she imagined by that? Living quietly was certainly not on her agenda! A new chapter, the second to last one, was to begin. She quickly resumed her friendship with Helen Trew and consequently took her good advice and joined all of the many and varied organisations Helen was connected to. Where do I begin to list them?
She loved the Drama League because she loved good theatre as well as a laugh. She loved poetry readings, the Museum, the Art Gallery, the Library. She joined a Probus Club and worked tirelessly for Rotary in Timaru. She volunteered for Forest and Bird, the Green Party. She volunteered at the organic food co-op. She loved discussions, interfaith meetings and was heavily involved with St Mary’s parish. Most Fridays in the last 13 years she could be seen throughout the year at 12 o’clock at the stone cross outside St Mary's taking part in the peace prayers. She regularly wrote to the Timaru Herald Editor, sharing her views and values on world political issues. And she endlessly organised and signed petitions on a huge variety of issues. She believed we can all make a difference and every man’s voice must be heard. She was a founding member of Transition Timaru. In 2003, as the war in Iraq exploded into action, she held an all night peace vigil in St Mary’s Church.
Her energy was honestly endless and it was hard to keep up. So much so that many of us really treated her as one of our generation and honestly consciously never thought of her as anything older. She understood my generation and also connected with my children and their friends in such an incredible way that we all felt she was somehow immortal. One would think that all that LIVING and GIVING was enough. Wouldn't you? Could there possibly be energy and time for the last full and happy chapter?
Late Life, Second Chance, Love Story
Well there was. She happened to be home one day in 2004 when the phone rang. She answered and heard a deep and familiar voice from her past, this time with an attractive Canadian drawl to it that initially surely would have jolted her senses. It was of course Mo. His wife had since died and he was visiting NZ from Canada in search of his long lost love. Finding her again had not been easy he told me. He finally tracked her down via mutual friends who remembered that Nance had come from Timaru.
What followed sounds like a fairy tale. After 50 years apart the flame of love still flickered. Nance and Mo had a lot of fun travelling between Canada and New Zealand rekindling their deep affection until finally about five years ago, they bought a lovely home and then, as all true famous lovers do, they ran away secretly one weekend and got married! We have all since been so happy that these last five years for Nancy and Mo have been so special. Mo, you have continued to share Nancy with us and at times it must have been hard to keep up with her pace, but we are grateful that you too chose to stay living here in Timaru and that we could all benefit from being blessed as her friends. Is this not just the perfect ending to a long and fulfilling life? Nance was a woman of worldly wisdom and great integrity; she was humble. We have all learned from her. God bless you Nance!
- Murray Horton
This was first published in Peace Researcher 48, November 2014, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/prcont48.html.
Will Foote, who died in September 2014, aged 95, had already lived an action-packed life before I was born. I am indebted to his final book “No More War” as the source for a lot of this about both his life and beliefs. Amazingly, he was still writing and self-publishing books in his 90s. He rang me in late July to ask if Anti-Bases Campaign would include a flyer for “No More War”, in Peace Researcher. I told him that the latest issue (the August one) had just been mailed out (literally minutes before his call) but that we would be happy to include a flyer with the next issue, in a few months. He duly sent me a signed copy of the book (I’d said we’d review it, but instead it’s been used as the source for his obituary) and then, unannounced, turned up at the back door, on his walking frame, to deliver the flyers, in early August. Thinking about it, I reckon he knew that he didn’t have much time left. I was busy at the time and had no time to talk, so it was the most fleeting of visits. Sadly, that was the last time I saw or spoke to him and I regret that I didn’t sit down with him and have one last face to face chat. I read the book in one sitting and kept intending to ring him to discuss it with him, but never quite got around to it. So, I missed the chance to say goodbye and to thank him in person for a very long and remarkable life well lived – but Will got to say to say goodbye to everyone with his last book.
Four Years Behind The Wire
Wilfred John Foote was born in 1919, in the immediate aftermath of World War 1. All his life he was known as Will (I’ve heard him referred to as Wilf; he described Wilfred as “terribly old fashioned”. At his funeral one of his sons said that the kids went through a phase of calling him Fred but that didn’t last). A non-religious pacifist, he became a peace activist when he was at Teachers’ College and University in Christchurch (1937-39). He felt that the Labour government, headed by men who had been imprisoned for refusing to fight in WW1, had betrayed its principles. Will joined the No More War movement and the Peace Pledge Union. Seventy years later he wrote about those early influences in his 2007 essay “The Peace Movement In Christchurch 1937-41, 1946-47: A Memoir”.
When World War 2 broke out he was the sole teacher in a rural school in Southland. In Canterbury 30% of appeals to be recognised as a conscientious objector and exempted from military service were granted (the national average was 10%). Southland had no such respect for pacifists. He received his conscription papers and duly appealed to be recognised as a conscientious objector (CO), riding his bike 20 miles each way to and from the Invercargill Magistrate’s Court. He was summarily refused.
“Worse than all though, he told the Press in 2006, was being judged insincere by the (‘farcical’) review panel which heard his case, seeing his mother suffer and his family split, having parents withdraw their children from his school and being dropped from his cricket team. Foote declined a non-combatant role in the Army, as even this would have compromised his principles. ‘It was a difficult decision but I saw (the medical corps) as part of the war machine, repairing people to put them back into the slaughter’, he said. He volunteered to work in mental hospitals but was turned down. Some returned servicemen and the newspaper Truth pushed the view that COs were shirkers and cowards resting on couches. Foote said. The authorities needed to show that COs were being punished. The reality was hard labour, minimal food, cold huts, censorship and remoteness from families…He spent most of his time in defaulters’ camps in the North Island backblocks, cutting scrub and weeding flax clumps in swamps. He spent four years in prisons and camps with 800 other COs. He wasn’t released until months after the war had finished, as the Government decided no CO should go free until the last of the war veterans had returned home” (Press, Obituary, 27/9/14, “Four Years Hard Labour For Refusing To Fight”, Mike Crean).
There is a short chapter entitled “Guest Of The Government” in “No More War” (actually, they’re all short chapters) giving some details, with photos, of life behind the wire. “My new career as a scrub cutter started next morning at eight after wake up call at six, compulsory cold shower and porridge. The inmates could be categorised on the basis of religious belief – or lack thereof. The first and largest group was the religious fundamentalists, the main ones being Christian Assembly and Jehovah’s Witnesses, with a few Apostolic and Brethren. I don’t know if Catholics should go here. They were, to my view, more like the second large group, the Christian Pacifists, who were mainly Methodists, with some Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists, Church of Christ, one Quaker and a few who had various home-made options; and, finally, the ‘Hoons’, those who did not profess any particular religious beliefs and had ethical and humanitarian objections to war… (Will defined himself as a “hoon”, which was apparently 1940s’ slang for “humanitarians”. It has a very different meaning these days).
“I’ve long held a fairly negative view of religious fundamentalists, the rigidity of their views, the way they turn up to discuss the state of one’s soul at morning tea time and, for American fundamentalists, their emphasis on patriotism and military might and their influence on US foreign policy. However, the ones in camp were there because they wouldn’t fight and I learnt a new appreciation of their humanity…There were several main issues which concerned the inmates and their supporters on the outer. First, the camps themselves, a form of concentration camp beyond the law which could be used to remove any dissident groups; second, the indeterminate sentence; third, the lack of any appellant tribunal; fourth, the lack of any help for wives and children (they could get ten pence a day of the inmate’s one and threepence); fifth, the useless work…”.
Will was a World War 2 veteran and a prisoner of war but his was a very different war and he was a prisoner for refusing to fight. Following release he was prohibited from returning to teaching and had to work in manual jobs as directed by the Government. In 2012 I was privileged to give a joint talk with Will, who was in his 90s, about the secret history of what happened to conscientious objectors and other political opponents during WW2. It was fascinating to listen to his stories of life behind the wire for these domestic prisoners of war (it’s a subject that I had written about as part of a series of articles called “It Can’t Happen Here”, about the real history of New Zealand, when I was the 1974 Editor of Canta, the University of Canterbury student paper. My original political mentor, the late great Keith Duffield, had been similarly incarcerated, not just in camps but also in prisons, which is what happened to the most “uncooperative” of the COs. And I had also refused to register for military service in the early 70s, been prosecuted and convicted, then went through the business of being recognised as a CO. But, compared to what happened to the WW2 COs, it was a piece of cake. My obituary of Keith Duffield is in Watchdog 18, March 1979, http://www.historicalwatchdog.blogspot.co.nz/2009/12/foreign-control-watchdog-march-1978.html. Another excellent source is Russell Campbell’s documentary “Sedition: The Suppression Of Dissent In World War 11 New Zealand”, reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Peace Researcher 32, March 2006, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr32-120b.html).
Veteran Peace Activist
This is from the back cover blurb of “No More War”: “Readmission to the teaching service in 1948 led Will to spend the next 30 years in a wide variety of schools in teaching and administrative positions; most of this time spent in rural areas. There was also three years as Principal of Tonga High School in Nuku’alofa. He was an active member of both primary and secondary teachers’ organisations, promoting the idea of a combined teachers’ union and a better deal for rural education at secondary level“. As principal he oversaw the conversion of Cheviot District High School to Cheviot Area School in the 1970s. He explained his return to post-war life: “The ex-inmates and outside activists’ main aim, like that of soldiers, was to get back to normal life. I felt the same way, obtained a permanent position at Martinborough District High School, staying there for nine years. I became immersed in local sport, got married (he outlived his first wife, Doreen). Involved in village life, and chased after the growing family. Apart from financial support, I forgot the peace movement, and climbed the appointment ladder” (“No More War”).
That state of affairs remained the status quo until 1970 when “my dormant conscience was rudely awakened” (ibid) by the Vietnam War and the attendant protest movement in New Zealand, and around the world. He resumed life as peace activist with a vengeance. He retired, to Nelson, in 1978 (in the good old days when 60 was the age of eligibility for National Superannuation) and then served as Secretary of the Nelson Peace Group for 16 years. Will represented the Nelson/Marlborough/Motueka/Golden Bay area on the Executive Working Group of Peace Movement Aotearoa for eight years. He is still remembered with great fondness in Golden Bay, dating back to when he taught there in the 1960s. He was a guest of honour and speaker in Takaka in 2011, in his 90s, when the Golden Bay Peace Group (founded in 1978) held a display in the Golden Bay Museum, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Golden Bay being officially declared a nuclear free zone (in 1986). Radio New Zealand’s Spectrum devoted a programme (20/2/11, http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/spectrum/20110220) to the opening of that display. It included a lengthy and fascinating interview with Will talking about life in the WW2 detention camps. The presenter, Jack Perkins, asked if he was mistreated in them – Will said no, that his abiding memory was of the good company of likeminded men, and of the friendships made. Definitely a glass half full view of life!
He churned out a whole series of books, about his life, opposition to war, the arms race and poverty. And he was still churning them out at 94, the age at which he produced “No More War”. Again, from the back cover blurb: “This book discusses the appalling human cost of wars, in particular those involving New Zealanders and shows that there always have been non-violent alternatives to war. He looks forward to the day non-violent people power eliminates poverty, the arms race and war. As a father of four, grandfather of 13 and great-grandfather of seven, Will continues to advocate that love must be the guiding principle in personal and public life. He has lived life leading by example – his legacy lives on”. His Press obituary (27/9/14, Mike Crean) said: “(‘No More War’) discusses in forthright terms the human costs of wars, in particular those involving New Zealanders. His theme was killing and violence and war were not the best way to confront tyranny. He said evil threats, such as Nazism, were best confronted by peaceful means. The process might take longer but was less costly in human life”.
We have reviewed several of Will’s books in the past. For example: “The Power Of People (How Nelson Province Became Nuclear Free)” was reviewed by Greg Jones in Peace Researcher 19/20, November/December 1999, https://www.scribd.com/doc/110159799/Vol2-Issue19-20; ”Bread And Water”, also reviewed by Greg Jones in PR 22, December 2000, http://www.scribd.com/doc/33726234/Peace-Researcher-Vol2-Issue22-Dec-2000; “Going Uphill Backwards” (which Will described as being about “incidents from a storied life”), was reviewed by Robyn Dann in PR 26, October 2002, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr26-71.htm; “Saving Trees, Stopping Wars” was reviewed by Jeremy Agar in PR 33, November 2006, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr33-131a.html; and “Passing Bells” was also reviewed by Jeremy Agar in PR 38, July 2009, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr38-175f.htm.
It wasn’t all work and no play – he also wrote about his beloved cricket, which he’d played at provincial level in his younger days. One of his books (fiction this time) was “Poetry In Motion”, which he described as “a young NZ cricketer dreams of being the best”. Jeremy Agar, a fellow cricket tragic, wrote in his review of Will’s “Saving Trees, Stopping Wars”: “For many years Will Foote, a cricketer of note for decades, played in the Hawke Cup (second class competition) for Nelson and Wairarapa. His writing has the qualities of a good batsman who long ago saw off the opening attack. He’s content to deflect and nudge his singles and put the odd loose ball away to the fence. The pace men breathed their fire but Will’s still out there in the middle, 87 not out”. In “No More War”, under the subheading “And God Created Cricket”, Will wrote: “…In matters of cricket I’m true blue. I froth at the mouth when a batsman who knows he’s out refuses to walk and I absolutely detest sledging…My sporting obsession is shared by many in all classes of society…CB Fry, England’s pre-war captain, was one of the aristocracy in Hitler’s pre-war social circle. A story, which might be apocryphal, claimed that Fry tried to explain to the Führer the lbw (leg before wicket) law. Hitler just couldn’t get it and, in frustration, ordered his troops into Poland, and thus cricket caused World War 2”. At his funeral, various sons and grandsons spoke of Will’s attempts to instill in them his love of “incomprehensible” cricket. In his 2011 Radio New Zealand Spectrum interview, Will said that the worst part of his whole World War 2 experience was not being locked up for four years – no, he reckoned it was being kicked out of his (Invercargill) cricket team!
Active ABC & CAFCA Member
When I first met Will he was already retired and officially an “old man”; years older than I am now. Obviously, somebody forgot to tell him that he should behave accordingly. We met through the campaign to close the Waihopai spy base, which led to the foundation of the Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC) in 1987; the first Waihopai protest was in 88, when it was still just bare Marlborough paddocks. He was attending Waihopai protests until into his 80s. He was an ABC member since 1993 and renewed his membership (with a donation) as recently as August 2014, just weeks before his death. He was involved in organising and hosting my Nelson visits during my CAFCA national speaking tours in the 90s and early 2000s (he hosted me on one Nelson visit).
Will was a CAFCA member from 1996 until his death, and he was an active one – after moving to Christchurch in the 2000s he regularly helped at Watchdog mailouts until into his 90s. Watchdog mailouts in our dining room are always social occasions and he was always great fun to have at them - he and Jeremy Agar used to talk cricket. His second wife, Anne, used to drive him to and from them, so we got to know her as well. She was the absolute rock in his life in its latter decades. Being a former schoolteacher led him to offer to proofread for me (I remember being amazed that he could read without the need for glasses, something I haven’t been able to do since I turned 50). I never took him up on it, so you can’t blame old Will for any typos that you may have spotted in recent years. He regularly made donations to ABC, CAFCA and to the CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account which provides my income (from 1996-2013, in the case of the latter). And in the decades since he “retired” in 1978, he was incredibly active in the peace movement, firstly in Nelson and then in Christchurch. His Press obituary was illustrated by a photo of him, in one of his ever present, splendidly unfashionable hats, holding a placard saying: “To Israel – Stop The Slaughter!” (I’m not sure which particular slaughter that was referring to)
Will was more than a member, he was a good friend. He was the oldest guest at my 60th birthday party (held in those chaotic first few weeks after the February 2011 killer quake). Sadly a prior commitment had prevented me from attending his 90th birthday party in 09, to which I’d been invited. He was as sharp as a tack, always good fun and with a wonderful dry sense of humour. One example: he said that, after 2011, “we (Cantabrians) are all Quakers now”. His writings are full of humour - talking about the Christchurch peace movement’s open air public meetings at the start of WW2, he wrote: “Apart from receiving occasional remarks about our cowardly nature, it was all fairly peaceful. I remember a soldier once threw half a pie at the speaker, but it may just have been disgust at the quality of the pie rather than at the speaker’s words” (“The Peace Movement In Christchurch 1937-41, 1946-47: A Memoir”).
He regularly poked fun at himself in his books e.g. in “No More War”, he refers to himself as “a balding old man with half a left ear” (in old age, he got various bits chopped off due to skin cancer – hence the ever present, splendidly unfashionable hats). I kept teasing him that it was only a few years to go before he’d get the telegram from Queen Camilla (I hope that the thought of that wasn’t what decided him to turn up his toes). He was definitely the oldest of all the people for whom I’ve written an obituary, and he was active to an extent that put to shame people less than a fraction of his age.
“No More War” concludes with a quote from Indian writer Arundhati Roy, which sums up Will’s philosophy of life: “To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar display of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. To love all, to try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget”. Will, you were an absolute inspiration to us. Rest easy old friend.
- Murray Horton
I’d known John for decades, he’d always been part of the scene, but I knew next to nothing about his life, which is why I’m so grateful to Paul Corliss who accepted my invitation to write John’s obituary (see below). I learnt a lot from reading it. John richly deserves a Watchdog obituary because he was a very active supporter of CAFCA and specifically of my work. In 2010, despite being old before his time because of the constant struggle with physical and mental health problems, he rang me (he never did e-mail; his tool of choice was a typewriter, not a computer) to say that he wanted to become a pledger to the CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account, which provides my income. As I routinely do in cases like this when the new pledger is not already a member, I put him on the mailing list. In 2012 he asked me to remove him from it, because he wanted to be a supporter, not a member, and he didn’t want to receive Watchdog. Fair enough. The astonishing thing is that, despite the fact that John died in June 2014, aged 75, he is still a posthumous pledger to the Organiser Account. This is unique and I am doubtless tempting fate by mentioning it. But, even if it stops forthwith, it needs to be recorded that John Case continued to financially support my work after his death. For that I am eternally grateful.
I had something in common with John (apart from our mutual fondness for denim jackets). John suffered for decades from bipolar disorder (originally called manic depressive illness) and it is likely that he inherited it from his mother, who was a committed mental patient. My late mother suffered from the same illness, and for the first 21 years of my life I witnessed its debilitating and irreparable effects. Poor old Mum thought that being diagnosed with manic depressive illness meant that she was officially labelled a “maniac”. She too was committed more than once and was a committed patient when she died in 1972, aged 60 (like John she suffered from the double whammy of cancer and mental illness). It is only in the last decade that I managed to secure her medical records, which make for harrowing reading. Like John she endured shock treatment, powerful drugs, confinement and all the other tricks of the trade of the NZ mental health regime in the third quarter of the 20th Century. But fortunately, unlike John, neither my late sister nor I inherited Mum’s condition.
It took a lot out of John. The last time I saw him was at my 60th birthday party, held on our back lawn in March 2011, in those chaotic first few weeks after the killer quake. There is a group photo, where John is sitting in front of Becky and me, and next to Will Foote (see above for my obituary of Will). The three of us (and everybody else) are smiling and laughing, but John is sunken into his chair and looks like he’s grimacing with pain. He probably was. I remember him that day as a shrunken, hunched old man, constantly smoking and muttering. He left early. He was obviously very unwell but he had made the effort to come. I never saw him again. I did hear from him one more time, in 2013. Paul’s obituary (below) mentions John’s memorable phone calls to friends when he was in the manic phase of his illness. I got one of those. I answered the phone while watching TV one Saturday night and John just started raving like, well, a lunatic. I could get no sense out of him, so I hung up. He immediately rang back and continued raving to the answerphone, which he mistook for me. Poor bugger. Rest in peace, mate. You suffered more than any one person should have to, but through it all you maintained your humanity, your dignity, and your very strong political beliefs. When you had virtually nothing to live on yourself you insisted on offering financial support to help my work. John, I thank you and I salute you.
- Paul Corliss
Most fittingly, the following thoughts and memories of John Case’s life are a collaboration from just a few of his friends, his death notice didn’t appear in the papers and many of his mates even now are likely unaware of his death (his ashes were scattered from New Brighton Pier by family and friends, in November 2014).This farewell has been put together by Dave Welch, Ron Currie, Pam Hughes and Paul Corliss (and with support from Pete Bloxham) – and no doubt Muz Horton will also graciously extend his editorial and fluent pen to add comment, analysis and anecdote (yes, indeed. See above. MH).
Born in Newmarket, son of Sydney Drackett-Case, on the 4th of December 1938, John Reginald Drackett-Case (Case became his preferred surname) died in Christchurch aged 75, on the 7th of June 2014 (it was revealed at the event to scatter his ashes that he died at exactly 12 midnight, which is not legally allowed to be listed as a time of death. It has to be one day or another. So, his time of death was listed as 11.59 p.m.). Ironically (or not) John Case came from a wealthy family - his father owned a large fish retailing company in the horseracing city of Newmarket (England) and drove an older Rolls Royce.Tales of the horses, the races and huge markets figured in John’s earlier tales. His mother suffered from what was then called manic depressive illness (now bipolar disorder) and was committed to a mental hospital - John as a child was never really told why his mother had disappeared - and in the 1950s he was taken to New Zealand by his father and “the other woman”.
When his father and partner returned to England in the mid 1950s John stayed on as a 15 year old living with an orchardist and his family in Nelson. Dave Welch recalls that about ten years ago, he and John were walking through the Christchurch Arts Centre Market when a passing man suddenly turned back and said: “It’s John Drackett-Case, isn't it?” The man had been an older child, about 12, in the orchardist’s family.He had not seen John for 50 years but still recognised him, unmistakeable in a passing crowd. After John had left school he worked in a sawmill in the King Country and in the opencast coal mine in Huntly, all occupations that figure high in the pantheon of classic unionised Kiwi toilers. Dave recalls that John was called up in the NZ ballot to do three months military training in the late 1950s, after which he returned to England.
Whether in rebellion at his family’s relative wealth and societal prestige or simply as a result of a young man’s romantic notions, John signed up at the Newcastle firemen’s training school (maritime), under the auspices of the then Shipping Federation, in August 1964. His first formal sign-up was crewing on the Queen Mary out of Liverpool/Southampton to New York. From memory, other vessels he went to sea on included the Aragon and the SS Gothic - which left the Victoria Docks for Wellington. It was to be here that John finally opted for Godzone as his preferred turangawaewae. While the term used is “jumping ship”, as John recalled it he simply walked down the gangway and didn’t bother to walk back up again when it came time to depart.
Decades Of Mental Illness
As Dave recalls, John was arrested (in just his underpants)in a hotel room he had rented in Hamilton when the hotel owner had reported John's behaviour, suspecting he was mentally ill. After initially being held in Mt Eden Prison he was taken to Oakley Hospital in Auckland, and was originally diagnosed with schizophrenia. The accepted remedy in those days (and even occasionally when he was hospitalised at Sunnyside as late as the 1980s and 1990s) was to be whacked with repeated doses of ECT (electro-convulsive therapy – electric shock therapy where seizures are electrically induced to sometimes provide relief for some psychiatric illnesses).Only later would it become clear that he suffered bipolar disorder - a mental affliction which has a statistical history of being passed from mother to son and son to his daughter i.e. afflicting the opposite gender to the parent.
His generosity was the more laudable in that, being perpetually on an invalid’s benefit in his last two or three decades, he could never accumulate more than a three figure sum - at the very best of times. But if a mate needed to put “a few bob on the slate” he would rarely hesitate to dip in to his meagre account, if humming on the upper edges of a manic phase he could spend all his money in a single hit - once on a cheap second-hand car for a “pal” crying of his need for mobility. John appeared to regret none of his largesse, even when he failed to call the occasional tab back in. No doubt Murray Horton will also record here John’s open-handed support from his benefit to ensure that Murray’s fine work did not go unrewarded (yes, again. See my tribute to John above. MH).
One personal example of his gratitude and appreciation involves...my underpants. He had been committed at Sunnyside once again and asked me to bring him some clothes in as his committal had been rather rushed. I recall maybe a shirt or two, a jersey as it was winter and a couple of second-hand underpants. Some six months after his release, a gift-wrapped parcel appeared in my letterbox. Tidily tucked inside, all neatly folded and ironed, with a thank you card for “the loan”, my remnants of well-employed underpants... and not a skid-mark to be seen. Now that’s thoughtful.
He loved the country, its culture and the strong connections and friendships he made. He was proudly working class in the staunchest way. Perhaps one his greatest tragedies was his constant yearning to be able to physically work again, his talk of driving buses or crewing shipping vessels a constant refrain as he struggled to keep himself on “the outside.” He held the value of people first. This was apparent when he used his times in the bin (psychiatric institutions) to get to know the other inmates and staff. It would have been beyond his comprehension to judge them. Despite some of the treatment he must have experienced over the decades, he rightly maintained enormous respect for his health caregivers and spoke glowingly of their value (and atrocious pay levels).
Excerpt from “Rehabilitation” by John Case: “...Mr Manic Depressive leaves the premises as quietly as possible, though definitely more manic than depressed. Presumably Mr Senior Rehabilitation Officer remains behind and continues to shuffle papers and to try to turn out as many people as possible into embodied jobs; and dreams of ‘1984.’ How long did this whole rehabilitation process take? About five minutes supposes Mr Manic Depressive. Mr Manic Depressive feels rehabilitated not because of them, but in spite of them...”.
Staunch Political Views
He found it hard to believe the love of his life, Ana Piri, was really gone and would rewind his life with her over and over. He was as politically active as someone could possibly be, while at the same time trying to survive the tortures of his bipolar and his cancer illnesses. Often physically or mentally unable to front to actual protests or demonstrations he still held firm views on the critical need for a Left political change. Unable to determine if he was an anarchist or socialist, he would often lament that he couldn’t bring himself to become a full-fledged Communist “like Ana.” He found them too complex and contradictory and felt the right answers should be simpler than some made them out to be.
He often used to visit me for a union/waterfront/seafarer chat when I was with the Harbour Workers Union and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU), and we had an office at No. 2 Wharf at Lyttelton port. He didn’t require an appointment of course, so would wander in, feeling equally at home regardless of what was happening in the office. I recall this lovely afternoon where all our delegates and Executive members were crowded around the main table, most of us biting our tongues. Mike Moore (a Labour Member of Parliament, ephemeral Prime Minister and I can’t recall if he was a Minister of anything then or not) was trying to convince us that “The Compact” (basically a formal but highly controversial understanding on “rules of engagement” being debated between the Council of Trade Unions and a Labour government). I spotted John and his pipe trailing smoke as he casually walked in and simply sat down at a spare seat at the table. I guessed he was a bit manic as he was normally very proper with protocol and courtesy. As Moore worked his way around the room trying to get delegates’ comments his panda-eyes fell on John. “I don’t know who you are mate,” John boomed with serious and customary baritone, “but I believe you are talking absolute shit. I think I’ll finish my pipe out on the wharf”. He departed quietly and with dignity as the meeting cheered at such an eloquent summary of the debate. I’m sure he never even realised the drama he had created or the sense of occasion but his timing was impeccable.
Mention of his ever-present pipe reminds me. There is a photograph of John writing a dedication in a book that was soon to be gifted, taken in his Christchurch flat. The limestone sculpture in the photo was crafted by his mate Dave Welch. Be assured that all the upper surfaces of the statue were deep stained and tacky with cigarette and pipe smoke residue. The curtains were originally cream. As Ron Currie recalled: “He was an unreconstructed smoker, the walls of his otherwise impeccably tidy Riccarton Housing NZ flat were dripping with nicotine and tar. He wasn't one to smoke outside to save his guests’ lungs or the curtains”.
I am unsure whether he wrote to others as prolifically as he wrote to me (even though we kept in touch two-monthly and lived in the same city). In his manic phases friends would endure his lengthy phone calls, which were endurable for the first half hour, but the endless loops of repetition that sullenly drove John’s poor mind soon palled. He usually had three or four central themes (often centring on politics in general, driving his beloved buses in Auckland and his times in the Tramways Union, working as a seafarer, aspects of Ana, and whether I thought Jim Anderton had “really sold-out” or was he “biding his time”). In his last few years, usually without fail, some three or four days after the phone call I would get an envelope addressed in his usual spidery script which unerringly repeated our conversation but in inked writing. The four or five pages were always an accurate reflection of what would always become a monologue.
John self-published his poetry and he certainly looked the part of the Lefty/hobo poet/writer, with his piles of books, his intense bushy brows and hooked nose, fuming pipe and clacking typewriter. One nickname he acquired was “Hemi” after James K Baxter (another was “The Brigadier” for when he accentuated a plummy British accent). Recalling his poetic praises I think of him reading the Chinese poets Tu Fu and Li Po (he felt Rewi Alley was too sombre and doctrinaire) and his love for all things Mäori which placed the home-grown poet, and ex- railway boilermaker Hone Tuwhare at the top of John’s local pedestal.
John’s association with the Canterbury Left and his manic repetition of their comings and goings as he worked his collegial and comradely phone traps, led to, as Ron Currie maintains “...the SIS probably just sacking all of their operatives and tapping John’s phone to keep tabs on the NZ Left...” His denim-clad roguish image was physically patriarchal with his greying Zig-Zag man beard, gorse-like eyebrows and often stern look (probably the best he could do when suffering). From the early 1970s John was involved with the Auckland Progressive Youth Movement and the People’s Union and at times on the fringes of the (China-aligned) Communist Party of New Zealand. John moved to Christchurch himself in the mid 1970s, meeting up with many of his Auckland “fellow travellers”. John became involved with many Leftwing and progressive movements, including CAFCA, though usually fairly much on the margins. John was an Auckland Regional Authority bus driver and very active in the union movement, briefly a delegate at the May Road depot, at a time when the union movement was fairly strong and active and the Leftwing radicalism of the 1970s’ protest movement also had an enriching influence.
Dave Welch suspects that it was perhaps because of the inherent instability of his condition limiting too much free thinking, that he remained very loyal to some core beliefs without really moving forward. New concepts and new activities become difficult for him to grasp and he would rather steer clear. Like many people who suffer mental illness he could have trouble “hearing” other people and the first hour with John could be something of a well repeated mantra, old stories emphatically retold, only slowly would the warmer, generous and more empathetic man he was emerging.
This said, it says a great deal for the spirit that John exuded that about a dozen political radicals and activists ranging from socialists, Marxists, Communists, anarchists, et al - all ten or more years younger than him - remained lifelong friends and made occasional (in some cases regular) contact and visits - he was always considered “part of the crowd”. After what he rightly viewed as the traitorous and unforgivable sell-out by the Rogernomes, John struggled with the Labour Party, joined the Alliance and then was left bewildered and saddened when it too disintegrated, soon after gaining some small but positive influence in Government.
Love Of His Life
Pam Hughes notes that in the mid 1960s John met Anne McDonald, a Maori woman who later reverted to her Maori name, Ana Piri. She became his lifetime love, even long after they had separated. They were together eight years as a couple. She had been adopted as a child, reputedly after her parents died in a murder-suicide tragedy in the Far North. One imagines there would have been a lot of mutual empathy between these two, both with their huge inexplicable mother-loss as children. John and Ana also lived in Wellington and Christchurch, in both cases John obtaining work on the buses in each city and maintaining an active profile in the Tramways Union. On one occasion John was transferred from Sunnyside to Christchurch Hospital to have an operation on a rare cancer in his throat. Although they had been split up for many years Ana came over to Christchurch from the Coast especially and went with Dave Welch to visit him. Post op John was still very anxious and disorientated and not even aware where he was. Ana sat by his bed and stroked his hair and said the most beautiful things until he was at peace again and then fell back to sleep. As Dave said, it is rare to see another couple’s intimacy or to do so and not feel embarrassed. As they walked back down the corridor Ana said to Dave: “The tragedy of John is that he is an intelligent man trapped in a crippling condition”. Amen to that, John. Ana predeceased John, dying in Westport some years ago.
Brave, Stoic, Steadfast
The last time Pam saw John he was terribly thin, yellow and quite a bit out of it. Over the years he seemed to battle his cancer to a point of, if not winning, then holding his own. He was one of the most brave, stoic people she had ever met. He had been dealt a hand that held no picture cards, but he still managed to turn them into trumps. He shone, never moaning, and was unfailingly kind and generous. He held friends’ memories close and would delight in recalling stories about them. As Murray Horton has noted, when John still socialised, he would often be seen grimacing with pain in the background while everyone around him were smiling and laughing, but he courteously never hesitated to strike up a conversation.
John viewed the liver cancer, which he had fought for years and that was to finally claim him, with the same level of disgust as the global system of capital and corporate culture. Within the limitations imposed by his physical and mental illnesses, he never faltered in his abhorrence of the tragedies and injustice that the system imposed. Surprisingly, he didn’t appear to share the same disgust in regards to his mental health, simply viewing it as just another aspect of who he was. John, you may have often thought that your contribution to the various causes diminished with age and illness, be assured you re-taught and reconfirmed valuable lessons to the many of us that had the pleasure of your friendship and your often repeated philosophies.
Travel well brother, you’ve well earned a smoother path.
The introduction from John’s book of story and poem:
“What is this life if, full of care
- Murray Horton
Garth Spooner, who died in 2014, had been a Hastings member of CAFCA since 1981. And that’s all I know about him, I never met him, spoke to him or know what he looked like. But somebody who had been a member continuously from 1981-2014 deserves CAFCA’s heartfelt thanks. We take this opportunity to thank the many other members who have been with us for decades; some right back to our foundation in the mid 70s (we are celebrating our 40th anniversary in 2015). In Garth’s case his membership lives on because his wife Diana has taken it up. Thank you Garth, and welcome aboard Diana.