A New Start on the Land
In August, 1914, the Gregories’ idyll was shattered. The Empire went to war. With his service background, Fred was not a man who could sit idly at home in retirement while ship-loads of soldiers left New Zealand to join their British and Australian brethren in France or Gallipoli. He had to work — to play his part in the great war effort.
Fred bought Gorge End, an 856 acre (327ha) farm on the Pahiatua-Makuri Road, about 24km from Pahiatua and a short drive through the picturesque Makuri Gorge from the village of Makuri. It was good land — the hill-country was high but stable and the flats were extensive and relatively easily drained. The farm extended from 1843ft Makuri Peak at the back through steep to rolling hill country, past the homestead and across the Makuri Road to the flats and the Makuri River, which curved in a great question mark from behind the peak, through the gorge and past the lower boundary of the farm.
In those days there were still plenty of fallen logs on the hill farms of the district, remnants of the 40-Mile Bush that was felled, or burned where it stood, in the 1880s and 1890s to provide farms for the land-hungry settlers who were pouring into the country. There were protests, of course, at this reckless destruction of millions and millions of feet of immensely valuable timber, but they were brushed aside. New Zealand was seen as the farm of the Empire and trees did not count.
Makuri village was not a village in the traditional English sense. There was no cluster of cottages, though several settlers had their homesteads quite close together. There was a pub, the Makuri Hotel, which was very popular with anglers in the season, as the Makuri Stream was rated one of the best trout streams in the country. A one-teacher school, a hall and a store with a hand-operated bowser-pump for Big Tree petrol — and that was the village.
There was a cross-roads just before the Pahiatua Road reached Makuri. The right branch led through the village and then sidled up the hill behind the pub, climbed over the bleak and wind-swept Puketoi Range and ultimately reached Pongaroa on the Dannevirke-Weber-Alfredton road. The left branch served a few settlers up a side valley and the road straight ahead followed the Makuri Stream valley to Coonoor and then branched to Horoeka and Oporae, where Fred and Edith had started their married life some 16 years before.
The Gorge End homestead was smaller than the Havelock North house, though not much. It had a big kitchen, where most of the domestic life of the farm took place, with a scullery and pantry, a sitting room, a large formal dining room and four bedrooms. It was set well to the sun and had views all round — the home paddock and the hills to the north-east and the extensive flats to the south-west. A well-tended macrocarpa hedge provided shelter for the garden to the north and east of the house with a clipped archway and a picket gate giving access to the home paddock and a glimpse of the hay field and the shearing shed below.
Mary had left Woodford House and was living at home; David and Eric were at Nelson College.
David left school in 1915 and came home to work on the farm. Eric came home at the end of 1917. David volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps and went to Sockburn, near Christchurch, to learn to fly. He graduated on 6 February, 1918, and was immediately posted to England to complete his training, receiving his commission as a lieutenant in the Royal Air Force and his RAF wings later that year.
The war ended before David saw active service and he and his other New Zealand comrades — two of them, Ernest Miller and Ron Sinclair, from Pahiatua — sailed for home in 1919 in the s.s. Manuka. Judging by the photos that David took on the way, it was a very pleasant and leisure-filled journey.
With two grown sons to help him, Fred could now take full advantage of the farm’s great productive potential. These were the post-war boom years and the Gregories made the most of them. Fred bought a succession of Model T Fords, which made it possible to drive into Pahiatua and back in a day — barring land-slips, floods, road subsidence and other natural disasters. And they all happened — regularly.
One day, the current Model T caught fire as it steamed up a steepish hill on the way into town. Fred and Eric shovelled road dust and dry silt onto the engine to put the fire out and then left the car where it was. It was cheaper to buy a new "tin lizzie" than to have the old one repaired.
In some respects, life at Gorge End was an echo of that at Havelock North. Although everyone worked very hard, there were social gatherings, afternoon-teas, tennis and golf parties and picnics.
Fred and Eric were both keen on sport. Fred liking fishing, swimming, tennis and croquet; Eric being a keen golfer and tennis player. David was a good swimmer and an excellent shot and he enjoyed a game of tennis, but was not very keen on other sports. He retained his interest in flying and returned to Sockburn to fly with the Air Force Reserve once or twice a year.
Fred, David and Eric dug out and levelled a lawn tennis court on the slope in front of the house, with an 8ft (2.4m) netting fence on three sides and a sloped grassy bank on the fourth so that spectators could sit there to watch the games. Fred organised a tennis club and held regular tournaments in the summer.
In the late 1920s, or early 1930s, Fred established the Makuri Golf Club, the extensive Gorge End flats providing plenty of room for a 9-hole course. Clubrooms were built into one end of a dilapidated hay barn not far from the road. There were regular tournaments and competition was intense.
Mary left home sometime before 1920 and went to Wellington where she worked in a tobacco shop. Donald Kinnell, an Englishman visiting his brothers in New Zealand, dropped into the shop one day to replenish his tobacco supplies and he and Mary became friendly. They were married in Wellington in 1924 and went to England. Their daughter Jean Mary (Jenny) was born there on January 12, 1925.
The 1920s were prosperous years and early in 1926 Fred and Edith could afford a trip "Home" to England to see their daughter Mary, her husband Donald, and their first grand-daughter, Jean. They visited Fred’s sisters in London and South Wales and then went to Scotland to stay with Edith’s McKinnon relations at Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
In 1920 Fred had arranged for a young Welsh woman, Lilian James, to come to New Zealand to work at Gorge End, presumably to fill the gap left by Mary’s departure for Wellington. Lilian had been trained in domestic service at a school in Cardiff and was variously styled "housekeeper" or "companion-help".
What she did was cook and clean, clean and cook, and learn about life in rural New Zealand — so different from life in the tiny, packed terraced houses of working-class Barry, a coal port near Cardiff, where she grew up.
The attractive Welsh girl captivated David completely. The two became engaged in 1925, but it was 1929 before David and Lilian could afford to get married. They set up house together in a little one-bedroomed cottage on David’s 13 acre (5.25ha) farmlet on the edge of Pahiatua, where David had started his Forest Nursery four years before.
But that, as they say, is another story.