When I was growing up, Mum always told me that my October birth at the Royal Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, England, caused a great amount of interest, and also consternation, amongst the nursing staff. Delighted that the father of the new arrival had been born at the same hospital twenty-six years earlier, they were at the same time concerned that the young mother of this newborn baby was many thousands of miles from her home and family in the town of Hawera in New Zealand. Hence they showered mum daily with love and attention and doted on her new baby daughter, Susan Lesley, showing me off to all the newcomers on the ward, and constantly marveling that mum had travelled so far to have her baby. Mum was newly wed and six months pregnant when she left the shores of New Zealand, with dad, on the immigrant ship Captain Cook. She was leaving her own family behind and heading towards a new family, to my English grandparents who were awaiting the arrival of their first grandchild with great anticipation. My arrival was welcomed too by my young uncle and aunt. Uncle John was a university student and Aunty Josephine a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl, when I was born.
Born early in the morning with my father’s pale blue eyes, soft English skin and a mop of coppery coloured hair, the nurses soon nicknamed me their little ‘copper-haired Kiwi’. I still have a lock of that delicate baby hair, safely wrapped in now brittle brown tissue and stored between the pages of my plunket book. I looked at it recently and thought about mum’s stories of my birth, and the love of those devoted nurses. Did they ever wonder what happened to their little ‘copper-haired Kiwi’?