We would help in the cowshed, and play endlessly with Tip, the dog. Staying on my uncle’s farm on the West Coast of the South Island, New Zealand was an education for two city kids.
George had been granted land as a returned serviceman after six years away from New Zealand during WW2. There were about forty cows on his farm, running down to the beach at Paroa beside the railway line. It was a summer of adventure.
“ Elsie’s Fingers ” he would announce as he pulled hot trays of swollen shortbread from the coal range oven. “ More like George’s fingers eh? “ They were fat, sugary and delicious.
Behind the bath was always a bottle of whisky – we were fascinated, but the level did not seem to change except when his old soldier mates called and they would reminisce and laugh together.
Much later of course when he came to visit us in Hong Kong, I knew him as a respected elder. He was a passionate genealogist, but I believe his years with his regiment in WW2, his experiences in Egypt, Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy were the soul of the man. There the men, HIS men had fought against the enemy, battled against cold, hunger, thirst and exhaustion. Together they had endured the death of comrades. War bound them together for life.
On our return to New Zealand my uncle was “ loco parentis” to our teenage children, since my own parents were already dead. On one occasion he brought a bullring from the farm and threatened - with gales of laughter all round, to install it in Sam’s nose. Sam already had an earring acquired in his first year at University.
Our children adored their non-judgmental uncle, the old soldier with such a sense of fun.