Joseph Melling was a man of his time and these are his views and his words. I have tried to emulate, as closely as possible, the original book that passed into my wife’s possession from her Aunt, a niece of Joseph Melling. The punctuation, the grammar even the spelling have been kept the same. However I have added a few items to the original; an extra photograph of the family (taken around 1905 in Wigan), a basic family tree, maps, and a number of footnotes.

Eric Gaskell - 2021


Few people at ninety years of age have written a book. Indeed, few people at any age have been able to write a book at all. When one considers the quality of this book, and the fact that the author is both blind and deaf, the achievement is truly remarkable. The book reflects the quality of the man clarity of mind, wide interests, deep affection for people and concern for the future of mankind. It records the experiences of a long, full and rich life.

Although the writer’s loyalty to the mining people, of whom he was a part, caused him to be victimised by employers and brought suffering upon him and his family, there is no bitterness either in the book, or the man. He rises above subjective reactions to personal experiences and sees himself at all times as a part of his people, his interests completely integrated with theirs. There is no wavering, no regret, no thought of forsaking the struggle and building a wall of personal ambition around himself.

I know this to be true, not only from what is in the book, but from what others have told me about him.

Recently on his ninety-second birthday, I spent some time at Mr. Melling’s home, where numerous members of his family, as well as some friends, celebrated the occasion with him. When the candles had been blown out and the cake cut, he spoke to us all. One was impressed, as always, by the warm simplicity, sly humour and solid wisdom of what he had to say. I could not help thinking that in terms of his attitude to life he was the youngest person in that room.

I believe that it is because of his interest in people that such a man remains youthful despite his years. It is those who shut themselves up within the confines of selfishness who grow old before their time.

That this book will bring pleasure to all who read it, and especially to those people who played some part in the events it describes, I have no doubts at all. I am certain that the writer’s observations on national and international affairs are worthy of our deep consideration.

President, Waikato Miner's Union


“I’m a soldier. Do you want me?

You will find me in the ranks of Glory”

My earliest memory of these words, sung while marching with a number of other small boys up and down a long yard behind a row of houses known as “The Twelve Houses”. I lived at No. 1, my grandmother was at No. 6, and my Aunt MaryJoseph's Aunt Mary was Mary Daniel, nee Mercer, who married John Daniel in 1868. at No. 12. Ever since, when I hear the old song “Home Sweet Home”, these humble cottages, rent 3/- a week, always come to mind.

One day, that arch-enemy of small boys, the school board man, appeared on the scene and captured our whole army. He took our names and ages, and the addresses of one or two who had already passed the age of five; visiting their parents to tell them to have the children at school on Monday morning, or else…… !

I was still some weeks from this age, but our army was disbanded and never marched again.

I was born in July 1874 and started school at St. Mark’s Church of England Day and Sunday school, Newtown, Wigan, in July 1879. We paid 2d., 3d. or 4d. a week according to the standard we were in. The infants and girls were in one building, which was divided by a brick wall from the boys’ school, which also served as a Church each Sunday. On Sunday, the desks were reversed and used as pews, and curtains across the room which divided the classes during the week were drawn clear. At the raised end of the long room were choirstalls, pulpit and Communion table.

We had two examinations during the year -- one for Scripture at mid-year, and one for the three R’s at the end of the year. The headmaster received a small bonus for every child who passed in each subject, and, if he thought the cane was necessary to produce results, he didn’t spare it. One form of punishment was to box children on the ears or the side of the head. Perhaps lightly, but an angry man and a small boy are not the ones to test this on.

We had one boy who had been expelled from a little Methodist school nearby when the girl teachers there could not control him. He came to us with a reputation which he tried to maintain before the other boys, while the headmaster was determined to show us how he could tame bad boys. After leaving school, I lost all touch with him, but in his twenties he made headlines by placing himself before a railway train. Those who believe in Spartan methods of teaching and learning will not, I think, regard this as a success for such methods.

A boiler to heat the water that warmed the school in winter was kept in a cellar which was dark, dirty and full of spiders, cobwebs, rats and cockroaches. The worst punishment of all was to be put into this cellar for an hour, or longer.

The headmasterThe headmaster was Clement Bancks and his wife Ellen (Birchall). He died in 1885, she in 1889. who gave these punishments lived in a house at the end of the playground. It may have been damp or insanitary; perhaps he was a sick man, for soon after this period he died. His wife died a little later, leaving a little girl, whom the assistant master, a Welshman earning £1 a week, adopted and brought up as his own.

The new headmaster was a different type, a scholar who punished - - and he could punish - - only when it was deserved.

I never received any caning to speak of in my time at school, as I was not given to larking about, and was fairly good at learning. I was always good at composition.

From the age of ten until I turned thirteen, I had only half-time at school, finishing in the top class, Standard VII.

Our midday break for lunch was from 12 to 1.30 p.m., I think to fit in with the half-time system.

One day during that long period, I and some other boys got away in the fields chasing butterflies and bees. We had been told that by dissecting them at a certain point, a boy could get a lick of honey.

I tried this, but only got a sting!

I have had a high regard for bees ever since. I kept a number of hives for many years, and still have enough to supply my grown family and to spare.

That afternoon we lost all notion of time, and I played truant. When I got home, one brother told Father I had been away from school, and I got the only hiding I remember in a lifetime.

Father had had little or no schooling although he had taught himself to read somehow. And here was I, throwing away a chance to become a collar and tie worker. Father, an admirer of Dickens, should have known that Bob Cratchit was a collar and tie worker; and that there were millions like him with no repentant Scrooge to make the burden easier.

Mother was working at the mill at that time. When she came home, she wanted to know where “Our Joe” was. She was told all about it, and came up to see me at once. I was upstairs crying my eyes out. Mother had no show of sentiment about her, but that day she coaxed and petted me in a manner I never forgot.

Mother had no schooling. She went to work in the mill at the age of eight. Her motherJoseph’s grandmother was Ellen Mercer nee Whalley, the wife of Thomas, she was born in 1827 and died in 1891. had worked in the coal mines with her as a girl, and later with her husband. Mother could remember that terrible Lancashire time known as the “cotton famine” during the American Civil War, when there was no relief at all in food or money for anyone out of work.

For miles through the fields around our district ran a small river, the Douglas, with many fine bathing places in it. My parents, like most others, wanted us to learn to swim -- but we had to keep out of the water!

Our favourite place was known as the Sunshine Pool, and we would bathe there with no trunks or towel. To dry ourselves, we would run through the fields; and, if our hair was wet, we could always dry that on our shirtlaps. Then add a gentle sprinkling of dust and nobody would know that we had been in the water.

My parents were told that I had been in. They knew that one of the commandments told us our duty to parents, but they didn’t know which it was, and I wouldn’t tell them. I gave them the second, the fourth (which was the longest) and some others, but when a brother came home he told them the fifth. I forget how many times I had to write out “Honour and obey thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

At ninety not out, I seem to be receiving this reward whether I deserve it or not.

I did learn to swim, but not in the river. Two days a week the Wigan baths were open for boys at a penny a time -- and sometimes I had a penny. The long bath, from three to six feet deep, had a rail all round to which a boy could and kick all he wanted, and so, I learned to swim. Then I could go in the canal, if I wanted, and swim to Liverpool in one direction and Leeds in the other.

One night, I had been at Aunt Mary’s house, playing marbles with Cousin David.Joesph’s cousin was David Daniel, he died aged just 7 in 1891. We played in the kitchen, which was all rooms combined except the bedrooms. How the grown-ups put up with us, I don’t know. They must have been kind “owd fowk”.

In a corner I found a marble that had not been played with. I put it in my pocket, and said nowt. When I got home, I showed it to my brother, who at once blurted out: “Our Joe’s stole Cousin David’s marble.”

This made Mother take notice.

“I hadn’t stole it. I’d found it,” I said.

“You’ve done nothing of the sort” said Mother. “You take it straight back to Cousin David.”

“I’d give it to Cousin David in the morning” I pleaded.

“Where would you be if you died tonight?” asked Mother. “In hell, that’s where.”

There was no answer to that, so I went slowly back to Aunt Mary’s, who wondered what “Our Margaret could be thinking of to let me out at that time o’night.”

I had come to have another little game. David was ready for bed, but was persuaded to have just a little game. I shot my marble quite carelessly until I reached the corner where I’d found the other one. I put it back. A few more shots, and the game was over. Now I could go home, and if I died in the night, all would be well.

This was the finest lesson I ever had that findings is not keepings and to keep my hands from picking and stealing.


At the age of ten, I started as a half timer in Taylor’s Middle Mill muleroom. Hours of work for women and children, thanks to Charles Dickens and Lord Shaftesbury, had recently been reduced to 54 per week, which soon came to apply to all workers. The mill started at 6 a.m. and finished at 5.30 p.m. From 8 a.m. to 8.30 was taken off for breakfast, and 12.30 to 1.30 p.m. for dinner. Halftimers worked from 6 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 5.30 on alternate weeks, attending school in the hours we did not work. Lessons we missed had to be got from our schoolmates in the same standard.

Old Money - New Money
  • Pennies 12d = 1/-
  • Shillings 20/-  = £1
  • 10/- = 50p
  • 2/- = 10p
  • 2/6d  = 12½p

For the first two or three weeks, I worked as a learner without pay. Each pair of wheels had a minder, a piecer and a scavenger; and my wages as a half time scavenger were 2/8½d per week. The piecer earned 7/-, and the minder, who was on piecework, 14/- to 16/- per week. Standard wage for women workers was 10/- a week, so this was one of the best rooms in the mill. All workers had to oil and clean their machines in the meal intervals when the mill was stopped.

One day, a notice appeared on the mill door to tell us that wages would be reduced by 10%. There were no meetings, no conferences, no unions, then. We could still sing “Britons Never Shall be Slaves” and we could throw in the job if we wanted; but on the maxim that half a loaf is better than no bread, nobody gave their job up. We just cut our bread a little thicker and spread the margarine a little thinner. I remained at this mill until I was fourteen and that 10% was never restored.

I never remember being hungry. The Scots were not the only ones who were brought up on thick porridge. We had it night and morning, often with treacle.

Margarine, which we called butterine, was 4d, 6d and 8d a lb. Irish butter was 10d a lb, and Keil butter from Denmark, 1/- a lb. Bread was 10 or 12 lb for 1/-, and one firm near our factory had bread at 13lb for 1/-. To get this extra pound, my brothers or I would be loaded up with a parcel which we had to carry a mile home. Even at this price, Mother did her own baking two days a week.

We could buy a penn’orth of tea at 1d for 1oz. Black treacle was 1d a 1lb, golden syrup 1½d; both, if you brought your own container. Mens’ working boots could be had for 3/6d, and good boots were twice the price. Coal was 4d to 6d a cwt.

When we were all too young to work, to raise a few shillings to carry us to the end of the week, Mother would brush and parcel up our Sunday clothes on Monday morning and send one off across to “Uncle”. The pawnshop was across the street and up a back alley.

I did not like this job. My brother Jim did not mind, but he had to make sure that Mrs. So and So was not looking as he crossed the road. It seemed a high disgrace in those days to go to the pawn shop with a bundle of clothing or an article of jewellery. Today, everything from the lawnmower on the ground to the television aerial above the house can be in pawn, and as long as we can meet the payments we are in high society.

The room that I worked in at Taylor’s mill had all women minders, so when I turned fourteen the over looker told me to look for another job. I got work - I never lost any time - at Brown’s Poolstock Mill, where the minders were men earning 25/- to 30/- a week, a good wage in those days.

The scavenger’s wage at this mill was 7/- a week. They had bigger mules with different spinning, and each pair of wheels had a minder and two piecers. My minder had a craze for tightening up his driving belts. As he did this he stood on the creel tops and a number of bobbins fell out which he would tell me to pick up during the meal hour. He could have prevented this happening if he had wished to.

One day he let the bobbins fall out, and called to me to pick them up, but I didn’t go until after the mill started. He told me if I didn’t do what he told me I should have to go “whoam”."Whoam" is Wigan slang for home.

I at once went to where my clothes were hanging and went home. I called for my birth certificate at the factory office and there met the manager. He didn’t know that minders could sack their scavengers and wanted me to go back, but I didn’t go.

I went home and told my mother I’d been sacked and I was going out to the pit to sign on as a drawer for my father and brother. I met my father and brother who worked at the Park Lane Colliery two miles away and we saw the undermanager who said I could start in the morning.

My brother never forgave me for coming out to the mine in factory clothing.


Park Lane Colliery was immediately west of LNWR Pemberton branch and approx. ½ mile north of Brynn Junction. Map

So, next morning, I’m in the mines as a drawer (now known as a trucker). The term goes back to the days when children were harnessed to baskets of coal to draw them along the skids.

The seam where I started work was five or six feet high, but the roadway soon closed up and was barely high enough to allow the drawer to push the tubs of coal through. Each tub was three feet high and held 17 to 18 cwt of coal.

The thinnest seam I ever worked in was one of the best gas quality kennel coal. It was about two feet high, and when I was 17 or 18 years of age, I worked there, first as a shuntminder; then as a gang rider I rode the ropes that conveyed the empties into the mine workings and brought the full tubs out. My wages then were 3/- a day.

There were at least six seams in this coalfield ranging from a little over 100 yards to 650 yards deep. They varied in thickness from three feet to seven or eight feet, and the thicker seams had bands of mullock or stone three inches to three feet thick, running through them.

To mine the coal, men first under cut it with the pick. The further in this was done, the better, and after the coal was “spragged up” with wooden supports, men would lie down under it and work lying on their side to get a few inches further in.

We had no machines then, and the required holes to blast it down had to be bored by hand with a steel rod, about five feet long having a sharp point at one end and a big bulge, for weight and to grip on, six inches from the other. A man needed skill, strength and weight to operate this.

The hole was drilled to three feet or more to hold the explosive and tamping and then shut down. After blasting, the coal was won, and then trucked one to two hundred yards by the miner or his drawer.

The field rate for this mine was ⅓rd a ton, based on the price in the seventies and eighties; which had been increased by 50% to 1/10½d. a ton. Out of this, a miner had to provide his own tools, and pay for the explosives he used. The cost of these varied from mine to mine, but could be 3/- to 4/- a day, and this had to be paid before he made any wages on the coal he won. If the work was hard or difficult, or the flow of skips was slowed for any reason, the miner frequently had less to take home than his drawer who was on a set wage.

Boys started work in the mine at twelve years of age, working a full time 54 hour week for a wage of 1/- a day. Out of this, a boy paid a penny a day for his safety lamp and threepence a week to the Miners’ Relief Fund - half the levy for a man.

There was no limit to the hours a man could work. The mines started letting men down at 5a.m., and all had to be down and coal coming out by 6 a.m. Coal was wound up until 5p.m., but men were free to come up any time between 3 and 5p.m., whenever there were ten of them to make up a cage.

To get us off to work, Mother got up at 4.30 a.m. My father got up and away, followed by my older brothers, myself and younger brother, Jim.

Mother used to call me from the foot of the stairs: “Joseph! Joseph!”, and I knew I had two or three minutes grace. But when she changed to: “Joe! Wilt GET UP!”, I knew the game was up, and I had to get out.

We all had breakfast, usually with an egg, and finished eating on the way to work. We had two miles to go, and no lamps were served out after ten to six. I never missed, but I had to run many times.

Mother went back to bed until she had to get up to get the younger children off to school, Never did my mother do as many of the women did on a winter morning - look out of the door, shiver and say: “Eee -it’s not fit to put a dog out! Sharp now, off to work and let me get back to bed.”

We took our food for two meals, and a billycan of drink, usually tea. There was no drinking water in the mines, and this had to carry us through ten to twelve hours in a hot dusty mine.

A watercart would be sent in with water for horses if any were employed, but it was unfit for human consumption, and men who drank it frequently ended up with boils or other skin diseases.

The pits were all furnace ventilated by a fire placed near the bottom of the upcast shaft which lightened the spent air and gave better flow of air down the downcast shaft. It was a good system except for the men who worked in the smoky pits, who were paid a few pence extra a day as an inducement.

My Uncle JohnJoseph’s Uncle, John Daniel died in 1892, aged 42. died in his forties after working in one of these. There was no compensation, and it is doubtful if his illness would have been regarded as due to his work. There was no widow’s pension, and no child allowance. My Aunt Mary had six children, and how they lived I don’t know.

The first Compensation Act was introduced in 1897, the Act mentioned here was from 1906. More info

The Compensation Act did not become law until the beginning of this century, and at first did not apply for the first two weeks off work. A payment of half wages, with a limit of 15/- a week was then made, and a man “on the funds” had to go and see a compensation doctor whenever required to do so.

In Wigan, we regarded this man as a butcher. He would rip a bandage off to see if a man was faking, then hand it back for him to do it up himself. His nurse, a big bruiser of a man, pushed anyone who protested out the door.

I have not found any doctor in New Zealand who behaved as this man did.

The compensation for a fatal accident was £200, enough to set a widow up in a little business.


The risk of mine accidents is always greater in winter. In Wigan, there was a superstition that the mines claimed one or more victims every Christmas. Many men refused to go to work on the last day before the holidays.

Frost played up with ropes and couplings to cause more runaway accidents. The extreme variation in atmospheric pressure played up with ventilation, driving gases further in to the waste workings from which they flowed out again in wet and foggy weather. I have seen mine managers show more concern with the rise and fall of a barometer than a master mariner.

One Christmas, after all the men had come out for the holiday, the general manager, mine manager, underground manager and his deputy went down to change the flow of air in one of the old smoke ventilated pits. Three rise places in a far section of the mine had been left unworked, as the flow of air available was not enough to keep them free of inflammable gas; so a new place had been driven to the return airway. By means of bratticing, or dividing the passage with coarse canvas into two airways, an intake for good air and a return for bad air was effected.

Two of the old airways were inspected and found to be clear, although one of the lamps went out when tested at the bottom of the return shaft; but when they came to the third place, they found the passage choked and the brattice useless for its purpose.

The men began to clear the roadway, the two senior officials spelling the juniors. Then the other lamp went out and they were working in the dark. The senior men were up near the top of the roadway, answering calls from the others with a terse command to hold their noise.

A prolonged silence, and no reply to their hails, the undermanager decided to go and see what was up. He called to the deputy: “They are both here, come and give me a hand to drag them out.”

When the deputy reached them, all three men were down. He grabbed the undermanager to him, and managed to drag him away from the foul air, and returned for the others. He tried to get the next man out, but did not manage it, barely getting free himself. After a few breaths of fresh air, he managed to drag the man nearer to the air, but he was dead.

The deputy managed to get help, and as the bells rang in Christmas Day, the stretcher bearers emerged from the cages with the bodies of the general manager and the mine manager. The deputy was subsequently awarded the Albert Medal.

In 1893, the coal trade was very slack in our district. Big stacks of coal were built up around the pitheads, which slowed up the run of skips from the mine and consequently the miners’ pay.

After the August Bank Holiday, when we all had a day’s trip to Blackpool, and “spent up”, the owners put a notice on the pitheads: “All wages to be reduced by 25%.

This was a big knock I do not think they expected us to take. If we had accepted this, we would have worked short time at 25% less while the stacked coal was got rid of.

We remained out for sixteen weeks.

At that time, the unions were very weak. Not 30% of the men employed underground belonged, and none of the surface workers. They were bankrupt after the first two or three weeks and soup kitchens and cadging"Cadging" is Wigan slang for borrowing. had to keep many of the men and their families from starving.

In our home, as in many others, all wages went into one pool, and all needs came out of the same pool. We got pocket money, a ha’penny or penny to start with, up to three or four shillings, and if we wanted to go to a theatre, a music hall or a soiree, we saved our pocket money.

We did not go short during the stoppage, but the money box went down.

At the end of sixteen weeks, the owners had got rid of the accumulated coal at strike prices, and Lord James of Herriesford was brought in as arbitrator. He was not a bad sort, for a lord, and after some bargaining, it was agreed that we go back to work on the old terms.

A victory for everybody! The strike was over and there were still two or three paydays before Christmas.

There had been no winter killings during the stoppage.

One morning, the engine tender at the Bamfurlong mine found his compressed air pipe frozen, and tried to thaw it by using a kerosene lamp that served to light up the engine house. The lamp capsized, and before long the oil soaked timbers of the engine house were on fire, sending vast volumes of smoke through the nearby mine workings.

The engine driver got clear, but thirty men and boys tried to get out of the mine by the only way they knew, and perished.

I have never understood why miners are not told of the alternative way out of the mine. Had these men known of it, not one life would have been lost.

The pits had claimed their Christmas victims with a vengeance.

Sarah Mercer was the younger sister of Margaret, Joseph's mother. She married Moses Aspinall in 1873.

Aunt Sarah and Uncle Moses in a model car about 1900.


I was now nearing my twentieth year. Life flying, and nothing done! We had built a new church, This new church was St. Mark's, Newtown, Wigan. A church the Melling family would attend for many future generations. where I was confirmed by the Bishop of Liverpool. I went to the annual Sunday School treat, where there was a girl I was much struck by. I had two or three dances with her, and asked her to go for a walk that evening, but she told me she was already courting.

I had been taught “Thou shalt not covet”. I never saw that girl again. Before I returned five years later, she had married and left the district, but her memory and my mother’s influence kept me on a more moral path than I might otherwise have walked.

Next Saturday was an idle day; and without telling anyone, I got up early, went to Wigan station and took a train to Liverpool.

I knew Liverpool, and walked around looking at the sights. I saw, a big recruiting poster showing a battleship with Marines in red and blue lined up on the port quarter deck, and sailors on the starboard side.

The poster told us to: JOIN THE NAVY AND SEE THE WORLD,” and gave rates of pay and conditions of service; adding that the capture of a pirate ship, a slaver or an enemy, would mean prize money for all ranks. I never saw any prize money!

I read this and went to the address given, where I saw a Marine Sergeant who was glad to see me. If I passed the medical he would get an extra pound in his pay packet.

A doctor of Fleet surgeon rank, put me through my paces. He was most interested in the scabs and scars I had on my back from work in the mine, and listed them all carefully for identification. He paid particular attention to my teeth, which were good in those days.

As soon as I had passed the doctor, I was sworn in. I had to stay in Liverpool until Monday morning, but there was no question of going home. Both the Marine sergeant and I knew the influence that would have been brought to bear, and the £10 to buy me out would have been forthcoming at once.

He took me to a restaurant boarding house where the beds were 4d, 6d and 8d a night, and advised me to take a 6d bed, which I did.

I went to bed that night in a big room fitted out like a barracks and watched with surprise when a man two beds away took off every stitch of clothing and put it into a kitbag before he got into bed. Those were pre-pyjama working class days, but we usually slept in a shirt.

Before long, I found “company” in my bed, so perhaps he had stripped to avoid carrying his “company” away with him.

In those days it was a common sight to see a woman followed by a string of children, singing and begging in the street. I listened to one such group singing:

“Oh where is my wandering boy tonight?
The boy of my tenderest care.
Oh where is my wandering boy tonight?
My heart o’erflows, I love him, he knows;
Oh, where is my boy tonight?”

This must have touched me, because I went into a public house, had a teetotal drink, procured pen, ink and paper and wrote home.

Somehow this letter was not properly addressed and was sent to the Dead Letter Office, and did not reach home until many weeks later. I have always been sorry about that.

There was no broadcasting for missing friends or relatives in those days, and the first my family knew of my whereabouts was when they received my civilian clothes. We were not allowed to keep a stitch, and I could have sold them for a few shillings, but preferred to send them home.

After breakfast next morning, I took a walk around the back of the boarding house, where there was a big open building with an open fire where a number of people, including several women, were getting themselves something to eat.

I walked around Liverpool and saw the Manchester Ship Canal, at that time nearly completed.

On Monday morning, I met the sergeant at the station, with two other men on their way to Portsmouth to become stokers, and boarded a train for London. We were met there by a Petty Officer, who took us to the Spring Gardens Naval Depot where we had a meal. The others had to hurry to catch their train, but I had two or three hours to wait.

Kent is a wonderful county, and at that time, the hops and other crops were in full growth; but that train ride through the Garden of England was the slowest and hardest I have ever had. It ended at Deal, where a corporal was waiting for me and took me to the receiving room at Walmer Barracks.

Two recruits from Scotland were there. There was a Scotch coal strike on, which always brought a flush of recruits to the armed services. That year it was the Scotch miners who were in the struggle. The year before it had been us, and the year before, the Welsh. So, the keep is divided, and down to the grindstone!

The Confederation of Cinque Ports, a historic group of coastal towns in Kent, Sussex and Essex. More info

Deal is one of the Cinque Ports, guardians over the centuries of the vital coastline of England. The dreaded Goodwin Sands, the graveyard of countless ships, lie a mile or so offshore, and the coast of France can be seen on a fine day. This coastline saw the shattered Armada, and kept Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler from invading British soil.

Walmer Castle, with its two big guns on the front lawn, stands on the waterfront. It is the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a post held, among others, by the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill.


My first barrack room was “D” Attic, the oldest building in the old barracks. If Drake’s Marines had not slept on the beds, Nelson’s and Captain Cook’s must have done so! There were fifteen beds, three of which were occupied by‚ old soldiers.

One, Jacko, we did not see much of. He was near the end of his twenty one years’ service, and was Marine lance corporal in charge of the rifle range. The other two were more or less in charge of us, and one or the other was always there.

They were on a two year job for which they received barrackroom pay, and had to do all the cooking for our mess as well as guard duty. Nore and Spithead were two major mutinies by sailors of the Royal Navy in 1797. More info This was quite unfair, but they had no union, and we know what happened at the Nore and Spithead to those who protested.

The dinners prepared by these old soldiers were always good meals, with duff of some kind almost every day. Once, two of the men used up all the flour ration to make pancakes for themselves. The old soldiers were furious, we rookies were ravenous - no duff- and those two were nobody’s friends.

Sevenpence for rations was deducted from our daily pay of ⅓d including 1d beer money. This provided 1lb bread, ¾lb of meat, plus vegetables, flour, sugar and raisins, with a pint of coffee for breakfast and a pint of tea for tea. Bread was issued in two lots of ¾lb in the morning and ¼lb in the afternoon to ensure that the men had bread between midday dinner and breakfast.

We could spend the other eight pence as we liked. I made a practice of having some supper at the library bar. In the summer I had a ha’porth of bread, a penn’orth of cheese and a soft drink; in the winter, a bowl of soup or broth for a penny with the bread.

The old soldiers hated every minute of their two year duty, but they did a remarkable job of training us new recruits. All terms were used as on ships at sea. The floor was the deck, and had to be scrubbed as it was on a warship, with unlimited water which had to be carried up, then down, three flights of stairs.

For drill, for the first three months, we were given backboards. We learned to drill by numbers, and how to do the balance step with the backboard behind our shoulders to teach us how to walk and how to set our feet. It was irksome, tiresome and annoying, but it did give a man something he didn’t get away from.

After three months we were given our rifles - a Martini Henry with a charge of black powder, a .45 bullet, and a kick like an Army mule. Near the end of our training, we were given a course of musketry. Our shoulders became black and blue as we went through this and we had to hold our rifles firmly into our shoulders. It was like a bursting boil. Those who could not swim were taught enough to keep themselves afloat during our basic training.

There was a three months gymnasium course which included all kinds of exercises from trapeze work to vaulting the horse. Physical drill, with or without dumb-bells, was always done to a jingle, such as “The old clock was ticking”; or, “I am a Jolly coppersmith, no-one from care is freer, As long as I have money enough to keep myself in beer.”

We had to go to school until we got a second class certificate, equivalent to the fifth standard. After that we could try for a first if we wanted. I tried, but it was beyond what my half time schooling had allowed me to learn.

We also had lessons in history and geography. We were told how, when William IV was presenting new colours to the Marines, it was found there was no room on the flag for all the battle honours to be inscribed; so, instead the flag showed the whole globe encircled with a laurel wreath with the Marine motto: Per Mare, per Terram. The only battle honour shown was Gibraltar on account of its value and importance in those days.

There was a compact feeling of belonging at Walmer, although men were coming and going all the time.

At night time, one of the boys would have a mouth organ, and we would sing:

“As far as me and Heaven’s concerned,
I don’t put on no side.
If mother ain’t a-going in,
Then this bloke stops outside.”

Or sing of “The Old Dun Cow” which caught on fire, and “There was Brown, upside down, mopping up the whisky on the floor.”


“Go strolling along the Walworth Road,
Every Sunday night,
Singing a song with a chorus long,
That is our delight.
Arm in arm with my young man,
His name is Billy Morgan;
He’s the champion down our way,
Playing his tanner mouth organ.”


We could become

“Soldiers and sailors, no matter wherever we be;
Whether we be soldiers upon the land, or sailors upon the sea
Over the burning plains we roam,
Gallantly sail across the foam,
Nobly we die for Home Sweet Home;
Our soldiers and sailors.”

After this we could return to our straw palliasses and sleep like tops until Reveille went next morning.

By the end of our eight months basic training, we were a real machine. It was a treat to see a squad of Marines passing out.


Usually, men could select their own Division at passing out - either Chatham, Plymouth or Portsmouth - but we did not have the option. The Lee Metford was replacing the Martini Henry, so our squad was kept together and sent to Portsmouth for a course of musketry with the new rifle. The Lee Metford did not have the same recoil as the Martini Henry, and its effective range was 100 yards further.

After this, we had three months training in naval gunnery, with all kinds of guns from old fashioned muzzle loaders to quick firing machine guns. When we passed the examination at the end of this course, we got a penny a day extra pay.

A qualified seaman gunner got 4d a day extra and could qualify as a torpedo man for 2d a day more. I have never understood the difference in rates, nor did the Marines do any torpedo training.

We had a four weeks course of field work to learn how to use field kitchens and dig trenches and latrines. We had many lectures and three things that were instilled into us were:-

Military necessity knows no law; attack is always the best form of defence; always keep ahead of a potential enemy, and if they are catching up make an issue before they do.

We were ready for sea, looking for a big ship and a white helmet, by the time our training was completed.

At Headquarters, barrack room conditions were quite different to those at the Walmer Depot. Men would be away on afternoon or evening leave and now and then on weekend leave. They were not put out of the mess; their rations were still drawn, so there was always plenty of bread in the bread barge. I never had any leave as I lived too far away.

My Company sergeant was a Yorkshireman. Despite the Wars of the Roses, he was like a big brother to me.

From the Gosport jetty to our barracks was a mile or more, with the barracks of the Rifle Brigade and the King’s Royal Rifles in between. Two lance corporals, one a Marine and the other from one of the Rifle Brigades acted as police for this stretch, and they had a notorious name for arrests.

One night I was returning to barracks with a mate about 11 p.m. when we saw a Marine marching along in front of us - quite steadily for that time of night. Suddenly, two men came from the shadows and placed themselves one on each side of him.

I hurried up, with my mate, and overtook them. I asked them to let us see the man into barracks. He wasn’t drunk and should not have been arrested.

They told me to get on, or I’d know what would happen!

The man now protested that he wasn’t drunk.

My mate never said a word.

I saw that things were going from bad to worse, so we walked on. The corporals sung out for us to come back, but we took no notice. Soon a Marine private passed us at the double, and when we reached the Rifle Brigade guardroom, the sergeant marched us in,

When the two men and their prisoner arrived, they made a charge that I had incited a prisoner to resist and had refused to assist when called on to do so. The sergeant could see that this was farfetched and told them so. My name, number and company were taken, and I was told I should hear about it.

For days I was on pins expecting to be called to the orderly room each morning, but nothing happened. My Company Sergeant had a talk with me and wanted to know what I had been doing. He advised me to be-more careful in future.

Had I gone up with these charges against me, it would likely have meant cells and that would have about broken me up. By good luck, I never did a day’s C.B.,C.B. Confined to Barracks punishment was added to a marines record. nor a packdrill while in barracks.

One day I went with a mate for a swim at Stoke’s Bay, but he wouldn’t go in. There was a mooring buoy bobbing about in the water about 200 yards from shore so I said I would swim to that, play around a bit, then come back.

I swam on my side until I thought I was near the buoy but when I looked round I was nowhere near it. I changed sides and struck out again, swimming on my side or using the breast stroke, but could get no nearer to the buoy.

By this time I was well out in the channel, and the South Sea -Isle of Wight passenger steamer passed close by me. The day and the water were warm, and I knew I could keep on the surface for an hour or more if I needed to. But I could not reach that buoy.

I had to swim with the water and make for the coast as directly as I could. I came out at last behind the Brown Down Rifle Range, where luckily there was no firing going on. This was a mile or more from where we went in and the beach, like so many in the South of England, was shingle. The walk back over this was a bigger ordeal than the swim had been.

My mate had given me up and was on the point of packing up my clothing and reporting back to barracks.

If all swimmers kept their heads and swam with the water, there would be fewer drownings.

When we had finished our training, we were given jobs on working parties while we were waiting for a ship, and got a penny an hour extra while on the job. One job I had was working on the Portsmouth Gun Wharf where there were some relics from the “Royal George”, one of Britain’s heaviest peacetime disasters.

This occurred when the ship was anchored at Spithead. “listed over” so that the seaweed and barnacles could be removed. The weather became squally so the W.O. carpenter went to the Officer of the Watch, pointing out that the ship was in danger.

He was told curtly to mind his own business.

A heavier squall came and the ship was blown over, sinking almost at once, as all her air ports were open. It was never known how many lives were lost, as in addition to the ship’s company, there were wives, sweethearts and friends on board.

A disaster that came close to this was when the flagship “Victoria” went down in the Mediterranean in 1893.

The Fleet was exercising in stern tactics, steaming in two lines ahead in view of the Shore. “Victoria” under Vice Admiral Tyron led one line, and “Camperdown” under Rear Admiral Markham led the other.

The signal went up: Perform a Gridiron movement. To do this safely, the ships should have been a certain number of cables apart, but as they were only half the distance, Rear Admiral Markham hesitated and asked for the signal to be repeated.

He was told to carry out the order.

“Victoria” was already turning when “Camperdown” began her turn, and was struck amidships by “Camperdown’s” powerful ram. Several men, many of whom could not swim a stroke, lost their lives.

“Toll For The Brave, The Brave That Are No More.”


In peacetime, men joining the Services were regarded by many people as either bone lazy or drunken louts. I hope these tales of mine prove the lie to both these charges. At best the desire to join up could be just school book patriotism; at worst, a desire by a young man to see more of the world than the corner he was born in - a big factor.

On November 2nd, 1895, a red letter day in my life, H.M.S. “Narcissus” commissioned at Portsmouth for three years’ service on the China Station. I was one of her 65 Marines, out of a total crew of 497 including 70 or 80 stokers.

All were strangers to each other and new to the jobs alloted to them. At General Quarters, Fire and Collision Stations, or anything else denoting that the ship was in danger, all had a job and a place to go.

My special job at Fire and Collision Stations was to get my rifle and take up a position on a machine gun platform where I could see the whole starboard side of the ship. I was supplied with ball cartridge and told to shoot anyone attempting to leave ship before the order to do so was given. Another Marine with similar duties was posted on the port side.

All seemed confusion and disorder for a while, but things had to be in shipshape for the Port Admiral’s inspection before we left for the Far East.

Hard tack and salted food, just as in Nelson’s day, was our food while at sea. The biscuits we had were all broken up, and kept in sacks. They were alive with weevils and one could nibble at them all day and never feel satisfied. A ship’s biscuit soaked in hot water and eaten with a spoonful of condensed milk, would blow a man up like a bugler’s side drum. Lime juice was always available but not compulsory in my time.

Our first call after leaving Portsmouth was Plymouth, where a famous bowling match was once played; then on through the Bay of Biscay which was not unduly rough - or calm; and so to the Rock of Gibraltar where we made a brief stay. This had been one of Britain’s greatest possessions for centuries, with its underground galleries and its two 16.25 inch guns, then the biggest in existence, which commanded the Straits of Gibraltar.

From Gibraltar we had a week’s journey to Malta, with its ancient history of the Knights Templar and the Maltese women with their hood of shame, worn in memory of the time when the French captured the Island, plundered the churches and raped the women. They had vowed to wear the hood for a hundred years, but by the time we called there it had become more or less decorative.

From Malta on to Port Said, at that time the most efficient coaling station in the world; then through the Suez Canal, 97 miles long, reducing by half the journey from Britain to India and the Far East - to Suez, east of which, said Kipling “there ain’t no Ten Commandments”. He could have added that the real Trinity of the western world is greed, jealousy and lust for power.

We steamed through the Red Sea and on to Aden, the hottest place in the world. The next call, Colombo, was quite a change with its spices and tea gardens.

At Singapore, our China Station, which extended from there north to Siberia, began. We reached our furthest south latitude and turned north to Hong Kong.

Our pay when we embarked was 1/3d a day, Naval rations being free. We were divided into four messes which to a limited extent catered as they wished. Mess savings were allowed for any Naval provisions not taken up; any shortage, usually amounting to several shillings, had to be made good at the end of the month when the accounts were balanced. We had two days of salt beef, one of salt pork, two more of salt beef and one of Fanny Adams,Fanny Adams was a young English girl murdered by solicitor’s clerk Frederick Baker in Alton, Hampshire. The expression “sweet Fanny Adams” refers to her and has come, through British naval slang, to mean “nothing at all”. More info with plenty of rice and preserved potatoes.

When we arrived at Hongkong and were given forty eight hours leave, our first since we left Portsmouth, one of the first things we did was to take a rickshaw ride for 5 or 10 cents (1½d to 2¼d). We were all hungry when we came to an eating house which provided a seven course dinner for 25 cents, so we went in for a buster.

There was no limit to the amount we could eat, and when we had finished, the waiter, or “boy” told us in broken English, where we could choose a native girl, at about the same price as one would cost in Portsmouth or any other British town.

Ever since Adam, after food and wealth, sex has been man’s greatest temptation; sometimes his downfall, but always his only means of race survival. In Hongkong, illicit sex was confined to certain localities; in any British town, it is found in the public houses and in the street. In New Zealand, young constables are given the job of tracking down these women and making cases against them.

This I think is quite wrong, and it is doubtful if monks from a monastery could withstand the temptation and retain their chastity.

In our present society, these women are necessary. They do much to protect their chaster sisters from molestation or possible rape.

They should be licensed, controlled and restricted to specified areas.

Above all, they should be medically examined at regular intervals, so long as this is their means of earning a livelihood.

This job, if necessary, should be done by our elder politicians who make the laws, and our higher police officials who have to enforce them. Our present laws are sheer hypocrisy.

When H.M.S. “Narcissus” arrived at Hongkong, stewards, cooks and domestic staff for the Captain’s cabin, the wardroom and the gunroom, were sent back to England and replaced by native Chinese who could do their work more cheaply. All the time we were in the China seas we had about twelve Chinamen serving in these jobs.

They had no hammocks, but used sleeping mats, a strip of matting six feet by two feet which they put down wherever they could. It was the same kind of bed that Jesus told the man sick of the palsy to : “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.”

These Chinese were inveterate gamblers, and when I was corporal of the watch, found them gambling at all hours of the night in some remote part of the deck.

One middle watch I saw smoke coming from a flat on the half deck where the ship’s office and some store rooms were. I reported this to the Commander and he at once ordered the firebells rung, The men tumbled out of their hammocks, cursing and swearing, thinking it was just another dummy exercise. The hosepipe was run out and water splashed around freely.

Out came a Chinaman, dripping wet. He was the wardroom steward, and had been smoking in bed and set his hammock afire. Plenty of smoke but not much fire. Two or three buckets of water would have put it out, but fire on a ship at sea is about the worst thing that could befall anyone.

I do not think the steward was ever placed upon the mat for this happening. Goodness knows what the penalty would have been for a lower deck rating. No smoking was allowed between decks.

We stayed several months in Hongkong while native dockyard workers altered our ship’s appearance to match that of the rest of the Fleet on the China Station. The ship’s company went through a course of musketry at a rifle range on the Kowloon side of Hongkong Harbour. Outside the range was a leper colony and these people would come as near to the fence as they could to get any scraps of food we could pass over to them.

Before we went North, our ship went into dry dock on the Kowloon side and had her hull cleaned and painted.

We British have much to be proud of in Hongkong, but we have more to be ashamed of. On two occasions we invaded China,There were two Opium Wars (1839-42 & 1856-60), in the first the British occupied Shanghai. In 1860 British and the French trooops destroyed the Imperial Gardens. penetrating as far as Peking, and let all Hell loose in the Imperial City of the Celestial Empire. After the first invasion, we compelled the Chinese to open their Treaty Ports to opium, and took possession of the island of Hongkong.

Our first port when we went north was Chee Foo, one of the Treaty Ports; then on to Chemulpo in Korea, about twenty miles from Seoul; then to Nagasaki in Japan. We steamed between these three ports and some smaller ones in between, for some months. Lower deck leave was given only in Nagasaki, so we spent a lot of time there. I have spent many interesting days in this city going around its bazaars and curio shops, so it grieved me when the U.S.A., with British approval, so wickedly and wantonly destroyed it.

The Japanese public bath houses were just off the streets with only a bamboo curtain separating them from the public view, and were open to men and women alike; but our men preferred to patronise the private baths which were on the same model as a Turkish bath. There were no baths on board for the lower deck, so these were a real luxury and were well used by us. A Japanese girl always came in to wash our backs, but she would never do anything apart from what she was paid for.

One of the biggest features of Japanese life was their “Yoshiwara” establishments - in plain English, brothels. These were in central positions, and quite legal. The girls were all licenced and medically examined at regular intervals.

After “Narcissus” had been around these parts for many months, we were looking for a spell down south in sunny Hongkong. Winter was coming on as we made our way south as happy as sandboys, and the ship drew into drydock for a regular cleanup.

We were no sooner in than orders came to rush the job through and proceed north again. Another Russian scare was on!

So we came out of dry dock and provisioned ship. All our 6 inch common shells were replaced with the new lydditeFirst tested in 1888 Lyddite was named after the area in southern England in which the substance’s initial trials were performed. Lyddite was composed of molten and cast picric acid. shells. “Narcissus” was the first ship to have these.

We went north again, under sealed orders, with the wind and the sea against us, and not happy about it one little bit. The sealed orders, when opened, ordered us to join the Fleet further north, and in the meantime the ship had to be cleared for action.

We joined the rest of the Fleet at a given rendezvous and cruised around for a while showing the Flag. The Fleet then separated and we were sent back to Chemulpo where we spent Christmas.

It proved to be the best Christmas I remember either in the barracks or afloat. In the Service, Christmas was always a big day, but after the midday meal the party usually broke up. Here there was no leave and nowhere to go, so our messes made their own parties and kept going until 10 p.m. Whatever item a man could give, he gave, and each song or turn was greeted with unstinted applause.

Gangway Corporals lI.M.S. NARCISSUS (Names) White, Samways, Mills, Melling.


Early one morning in February, Captain Mercer, Sergeant Pitthouse and Corporal Whitmore, with nine privates including me, were landed on the mainland of Korea on our way to Seoul to act as the Legation guard. We were in light marching order, and our hammocks and other baggage were carried by “jiji” coolies. The “jiji”, a common means of transportation then, was a wooden contraption fitted over the man’s back and shoulders enabling him to carry heavy or clumsy loads. Long legs attached to the “jiji” allowed the carrier to squat for a meal or a rest while they took the weight.

The journey was a little over twenty miles. About halfway, we came to a resthouse run by a Japanese family. We wanted a meal, but they had nothing but a few scraggy hens running around. We could stay for an hour. Could one of these be killed, plucked, cooked and eaten in one hour with only charcoal braziers to cook them on?

The family were willing to give it a go. I think they allowed the hens an extra quarter of an hour, but I was glad the Captain and noncoms had the legs. I don’t know what I got I hope it was the giblets, the only part cooked enough to eat. We all had good teeth, and that day we needed them.

After this meal, we set out on our journey again across undulating country until, near the end, we came across a sandy patch. We had heard a lot about desert marches and here we found all the tales we had been told were true. It was the worst part of our journey.

We were met by Sergeant Boxwell, on loan to the Korean Government to train their police force, and conducted to our destination, where we had a scrap meal and turned in for the night without posting a guard. A well slung hammock is a comfortable place to sleep, but, laid out on a board floor, the horsehair mattress that covers it is little better than the floor itself!

We found the Koreans (which we spelt C-o-r-e-a-n- then), a quaint, likeable people with many ways which seemed funny to us. The young men shaved the crown of their heads, and the married men let their hair grow into a topknot, on which they wore a pudding bowl hat. The women wore a long veil covering them from their head to below the waist, and only chanced one eye when they passed a whiteman foreigner.

We received 1/6d a day ration allowance with 6d a day hardlying money, and found we could live pretty well on 1/- a day. Our stove was broken and the oven cracked, so all food had to be steamed, boiled or fried. We engaged a native “boy”, Kim Toximo, a married man with two children, at five dollars a month, equivalent to 10/- in our money then. This worked out at 4d a day or 1d each for him, his wife and each child. It was standard pay and he seemed to prosper on it.

Kim did our errands and rough work and carried water from a well some distance away, using four gallon kerosene tins. He had never tasted butter, and at first when he tried it, did not like it, although later he got a taste for it. Butter was then 60 cents for a pound tin. Wages are, I think, paid on a similar scale today, and it is beyond me how we can expect such people to be a good market for our butter, milk and other food stuffs.

At the time of our arrival in Seoul, workmen were digging a moat outside the castle gates and from early morning until night, they would chant as they worked.

Twelve months previously, a Japanese led Korean mob had broken into the women’s palace and murdered the queen and a number of her women, The queen was identified only by a ring on one of her fingers. Her body had been kept for twelve months and was only buried when we were there, after the kingdom had become an empire and the king an emperor by making ruling monarch of all the heads of provinces. The lady was then buried with all the ritual and ceremony due to her rank.

Our quarters were next door to the palace and so was the British Legation. We often had visits from the Palace eunuchs, who seemed to be the only well fed men in Korea. Perhaps they were pulling our legs when they told us that the emperor, a venerable looking old man with a nice white beard, had 300 women. The crown prince, a frail looking man in his middle twenties, had only 50.

The queen or chief wife had been murdered because she was loyal to the Chinese not the Japanese, Korea had been a suzerain country to China for centuries.

Missionary efforts were being made at that time to improve the lot of the people, especially the young men, for whom there was a missionary school. The Americans were doing most of this work, and one of them, who was a qualified medical man, treated the white community and natives alike. Two or three of us had bouts of dysentery which he cured rapidly and effectively, I think by the free use of opium.

During our stay in Seoul, we celebrated the Diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1897, with a big display of fireworks on the Legation grounds. When the Americans wished to celebrate the Glorious Fourth of July, there were no fireworks to be had. We had used them all. We shed no tears - We remembered Bunker Hill.

While we were there, we had a visit from Sir Claude McDonald, the Ambassador at Peking, his wife and entourage, who were paying a visit to Seoul. He was attended by several Naval officers, including a midshipman from “Narcissus” named Rashleigh. This boy wrote home to his relatives and friends describing how they had been received by the Emperor and how they had fared; saying they had been regaled with inferior gooseberry champagne.

This is the British Legation in Seoul 1897 at the time of the visit of the British Ambassador in Peking, He was in that city during the Boxer Rebellion. The persons in this photo are Sir Claude MacDonald, Lady MacDonald and the Secretary, Mr. ]ordan, Consul General in Seoul and his wife and Mr. Willis, Assistant Consul. The man sitting in civilian clothes is Mr. Brown, then chief Official in charge of the Korean Customs Dept. He was made much of by the Ambassador. Then we have Capt. Mercer, Sergeant Corporal and privates of the Rt M.L.I. Joseph Melling is standing, fifth from the right.

This letter was published in newspapers which in due time came out to Korea. The authorities were furious. They doubted if the midshipman knew the difference between inferior and any other champagne. He had poked fun at one of our puppets, and as long as they danced to British string pulling, this was not allowed. He was severely rebuked.

The Collector of Customs was a Scotchman, Mr. Brown. What he collected was a mystery, but Sir Claude and his lady made much of him.

After nine months in Seoul, we were relieved by another detachment from “Narcissus” who had done the journey by river boat. We were to return the same way, so late in the afternoon we went down to meet the boat.

There was no boat there, and no-one knew when there would be one, so we had to march out. We came to some railway construction which we knew was between Chemulpo and Seoul, and followed it thinking it would lead us straight out, but after two or three miles we found ourselves in a paddy field.

We were quite lost. We tried to get directions from the people living nearby, but as it was the middle of the night, they were too scared to open their doors to an armed roving band; especially as neither side could understand what the other was saying.

So we kept on, moving in the right direction by the stars, and somehow we must have rambled on to the main track, for in the early morning we reached the waterfront and signalled the ship. A boat was sent to bring us off, and we were given breakfast and allowed to go to our hammocks before reporting for duty.


About ten of our detachment were selected to become wardroom officers’ servants. They ran the wardroom and were exempted from shipboard duties as well as getting a little extra pay. Senior officers had a valet each, while juniors shared one between two. Minimum payment for those who served a senior officer was 10/- a month, while the junior officers gave their valet 6/- each; all of which could be supplemented by the officer concerned according to his generosity and his private income.

The wardroom servants took it in turns to act as pantryman, sitting all day long in a little cubby hole surrounded by piles of crockery and cutlery. The lance corporal in charge, was a nagging, complaining sort of man, and one night when the officers were at dinner, something was sent in that did not please him.

He complained about this to the pantryman, who had had all he could take from this non-com, so he struck out, hitting the lance on his nose which began to bleed freely. The lance corporal returned to the wardroom, covered in blood from his nose, and complained that Private Hall had struck him.

Hall was arrested at once and at the court martial, got six months in the notorious Hongkong prison. The lance corporal was valet to the Marine captain who acted as the Prisoner’s Friend at the trial. This lance corporal was just finishing his first term of twelve years’ service and wanted to re-engage for another nine years to qualify for a pension, but the Captain sent him home without a reference.

“Narcissus” went north and when she returned, Nobby Hall had finished his six month sentence. He had been sent to another ship, but was then returned to us. We were all the essence of kindness to him, but he was a broken man, and soon after was admitted to Hongkong hospital.

We went north again, but before we returned, he had died, and was buried in the Happy Valley cemetery. We put up a gravestone to his memory and to that of Corporal Percy King, who had died and been buried at sea. Many men would have taken this punishment without blinking an eyelid, and may even have boasted about it, but to Nobby Hall it was a death sentence.

For most of my time on board, I was one of the cabin door sentries. We were in four reliefs, with one man standing down in turn. This was an important post, near the Captain’s and officers’ cabins, and the keycase with all the ship’s keys in it was kept there under the sentry’s charge. We were not allowed to leave our posts except on the Captain’s orders.

One evening, the midshipmen, who were dressing for dinner, kept calling to the sentry to do this or do that. Midshipmen Rawson called to me to go and tell his servant he wanted him.

I replied in a Lancashire burr that I was not allowed to run errands for midshipmen SIR.

Soon after, the sergeant appeared with my relief and took me to the quarter deck where I was charged with insolence to an officer. The Officer of the Watch had power only to give me two hours on the first watch standing at ease, looking at the paintwork. He put me off to go before the Captain of Marines who had power only to give me seven days’ 10A, not enough for this crime. He put me back for the Commander, who could give me ten days’ 10A, which he did. Midshipman Rawson was in high favour just then, as his father, Rear Admiral Rawson, in command of the West Africa Station, had just led a punitive expedition up the Bening River against the “juju” men.

On 10A punishment, which was equal to CB in the Army, a man’s grog and leave was stopped. (I didn’t take grog and could have got savings for it and been regarded as the meanest man on earth by my messmates for the sake of ¾d. a day.) If properly carried out, 10A could be very severe, the last two hours of the day being spent facing the paintwork, but somehow I did not have this applied to me. I was kept on at my post as cabin sentry during 10A, a most unusual thing in the Navy.

Commander Gore-Brown, and Captain Mercer R.M., were the two finest officers I served under, and both were born leaders of men.

I shortened many a middle watch on the cabin door by “borrowing" a book from the wardroom and reading while on watch by the light of a hurricane lamp. This was quite against all sentry duties, but there is no punishment when not found out. The hardest job was to keep awake while standing at ease or marching held a dozen paces fore and aft. The corporal of the watch made a round every hour during the night watches but he never said anything. I read Hall Caine’s “The Christian” in this manner, and have remembered the moral of the story ever since.

On one of our summer cruises up north, we dropped anchor off the Siberian coast near the mouth of a river, and our skipper, Captain Lang, with Captain Mercer R.M., Midshipman Dalrymple and a galley’s crew, went up the river to fish.

Another boatload later went ashore and found when they tried to return that the wind had risen and the water was too rough where sea and river met, to allow them to return. They signalled to the Captain that it was unsafe, but he was anxious to get on board his ship which had begun to drag her anchor, and decided to make the attempt.

The boat capsized as soon as they reached the rough water. A boat from the ship went to the rescue at once and picked up Captain Mercer, the midshipman, the cox’n and two of the boats’ crew. Captain Lang and the other three crewmen were lost.

The wind was still rising and the ship was dragging her anchor. We had the engines going to help hold it and now we slipped anchor and put to sea where we stayed for four days until it was safe to return. When we returned, we learned that the bodies of the three men had been recovered but not the Captain’s.

Months later, we found out that some Japanese fishermen had found the Captain’s body but had kept it quiet and divided his clothing, gold watch and other valuables among themselves. Later, they had quarrelled over the division of spoils and gave the game away. The watch and other valuables were recovered and sent to his widow in England.

This extra steaming made us run short of coal, so we took in fifty tons of Siberian coal at a Russian port. It was loaded by Czarist exiles watched by a guard with revolvers in his belt.

When we started to use this coal, it came out of the funnel in sparks and soot, covering everything astern of it. Everything seemed to be pitted and soiled by this burning rubbish, so the rest was dumped overboard.

Coaling ship was the most unpleasant job of all, and it had to be done after every two or three thousand miles’ steaming. Coal dust everywhere. But when the job was over, we had all the water in the ocean to clean ship with and was freely and lavishly used.

It was not so simple to clean the men, as we had no bath facilities and our mess tubs with three or four gallons of fresh water had to clean fifteen or sixteen men, but we contrived somehow.

Britain at that time held nearly all the coaling stations on the seaways of the world.

Flogging and keelhauling were long since past during my service, but boys charged with slackness or other slight misdemeanours were birched. This was done in the presence of all the other boys, and in that respect was wrong, as the boy showed how well he could take it, and the ship’s corporal and Master at Arms showed how well he could give it. Midshipmen were beaten in the same manner by the senior midshipmen in the gunroom with all those not on duty to witness it. After the age of eighteen, boys were rated as ordinary Seamen and were not punished in this way.

One day after we returned from Seoul, I was stationed at a 6 pound gun on the mess deck during firing exercises. I had my head through the gunport when a gun directly overhead was fired. I felt as if I had lost my head. After that, my hearing, never of the best since my factory days, became much worse.

I had been given my lance stripe for gangway corporal and had to report the time to the Commander and take his orders. Commander Gore-Brown had been invalided home and died soon after. He was replaced by Commander Napier, a grandson of the Napier who was concerned with the Indian Mutiny. I have read that he was not beloved by his men. Neither was Commander Napier of “Narcissus“.

I went to him on one occasion and did not get his reply correctly, so the order to clear the decks was not given. I was placed on the mat and soon after lost my stripe. By this time the glamour of life on the ocean wave had long since faded, and I had no intention of serving twelve to twenty-one years as a private Marine.

I applied to go on the quarter deck with a request to have £20 of my savings transferred to my discharge by purchase. Each Division was allotted a given number for discharge by purchase each month, but the number in was so great that there was a period of nine or ten months before one’s turn came round.


In 1842, Hongkong was ceded to the British after they had fought their way in to Peking, seventy miles inland., and the Chinese were compelled to open their Treaty Ports, for opium and other trade. This was done by Britain, a country then of 35 million, 14,000 miles away, to a country of 400 million defending their homeland, so they could not have been a very warlike nation at that time.

Ever since this treaty of 1842, up to recently, Britishers, and probably most of the white nations, enjoyed extra-territorial rights in China, Korea and many other nations. This means our residents living there were exempt from the laws of the country, but subject to our own laws administered by the Embassy or Consular offices. I wonder what we should say if this applied to the Chinese who smoke or smuggle opium into our country, and yet our “private enterprise incentive” forced opium into China 120 years ago,

Our relations with the Japanese were very friendly. British officers trained the Japanese Navy and Japanese officers served in British ships, and their Naval methods were modelled on ours. Their recent victory over China had given them a swelled head and their jingoism was greater than that of the British or Americans. They considered these three nations could conquer the world.

When our detachment returned from Seoul we found big changes in the Fleet. H.M.S. “Powerful”, then a new cruiser, had been sent to the East, with H.M.S. “Barfleur” from the Mediterranean, and two torpedo boats, the “Handy” and the “Hart” added; making by far the strongest Fleet ever sent out there.

The British standard at that time was to be not less than the combined strength of the next two strongest Navies, usually France and Russia.

It was quite clear that something was brewing, for the Fleet cruised about in all sorts of unlikely places, showing the Flag. We went to one place near the Great Wall of China and both watches were given a few hours leave to see this wonder. It was just like a broken down built up railway embankment, but must have been a formidable obstacle to an attacking enemy when it was built and manned with sentries.

ln the late summer of 1898, the Fleet was assembled at CheeFoo. Early one morning H.M.S. “Narcissus” received orders to proceed to Wei-hai-wei and take over. We were accompanied by the “Handy” and the “Hart”. This port had been held by the Japanese since their war with China, pending an indemnity payment of £3 million which the British Government provided.

The big Powers were making a mad scramble for the choice parts of the Chinese coastline at this time. The Russians took Port Arthur, the Germans took Kaiuchow and the French took part of the territory of Cochin-China.

Later, the Japanese captured Port Arthur, and later still, between the two wars, overran vast territories of China. The Germans lost Kaiuchow in the first World War, and the French have been pushed out of what is now Vietnam, and Japanese pressure forced Britain out of Wei-hai-wei.

But in 1898, “Narcissus” was sent to take it over. Wei-hai-wei harbour is formed by an island offshore, and has two entrances, one deep water and one shallow. Remnants of the Chinese Navy in their last fight against the Japanese lay aground there. We took over the island first, sending a handful of men ashore for the purpose. Next day we took over the mainland, our first sentries relieving the Japanese as they left their posts.

They had had a big garrison at Wei-hai-wei of about 10,000 men, and 3000 left in transports after we arrived, so we had all their buildings to choose from. As we landed only 50 men, we took over the officers’ quarters. There was a big camp near the landing jetty and three out camps two or three miles away,

The Fleet was still at CheeFoo forty miles away, and as there was no means of signalling further than the eye with the telescope could see the “Handy” and the “Hart” acted as messengers between Wei-hai-wei and the Fleet. We remained there several days with our men ashore.

After the Japanese Flag had been hauled down on the first day, the Chinese Flag was run up to show the place had been transferred back to them, together with the Union Jack. Next day, some Chinese wanted the two flags to be hoisted again, but Captain Mercer gently but firmly refused.

Then the whole Fleet came along and, we were considerably strengthened ashore although no resistance was offered. There were now enough men to man the place in two reliefs.

Our No.1 Lieutenant, Guy Gaunt, was made Governor of the island. He was a strict disciplinarian and I do not think was suited for the job. One of his methods of punishment to offenders was to have their pigtail cut off. To a North Chinaman at that time, this could be as bad as losing an arm; but to him it would not seem any more severe than the cutting off of all a man’s hair who had been committed to cells or prison.

To give this man his due, he officered the boat that went from our ship to pick up the men struggling in the water when the Captain’s galley capsized.

We had been a long time without any shore leave, so part of the Fleet left for Japanese ports, visiting Yokohama, Kobe and some smaller ports. We were given five days shore leave at Yokohama, the longest I ever got while serving afloat. One day a few of us arranged to go to Tokyo to see the sights. We went by rickshaw and the cost for the twenty miles was 11/2 to 2 yen, about 2/-.

We returned to Wei-hai-wei for another spell ashore. We employed natives to do the rough work at the same wage as was paid in Seoul, 5 dollars a month, or 4d a day. We got the 1/6 a day ration allowance and for a time the 6d a day hardlying money; until one day we had an inspection by Captain Jellicoe Jellicoe would become an Earl and Admiral of the Fleet during World War Two., then Flag Captain on the Station.

Everything was spruced up for the inspection. Captain Jellicoe expressed a liking for a silk tablecloth on a long table at which the officers had dined, and it was given to him,

He was so much impressed with the luxury that we seemed to be living in, which he said was better than his officers had, that he reduced our hardlying money to 3d a day, which we thought mean of him. Later this officer was Lord Jellicoe of Jutland and our Governor General. In spite of this incident he was a fine and well liked officer.

At the time we took over Wei-hai-wei, British troops and Marines stationed in and around Hongkong took over the Kowloon area. These two places were leased for I think 60 years, and Hongkong when taken was leased for 100 years. It is as well to remember that we hold these places only so long as the Chinese wish. It is easy to run a country when the natives themselves are divided, but impossible when they become united.


We had two or three spells of being landed for a time then taken for a cruise, by which time “Narcissus” three year commission was well over. At last we sailed for Hongkong, so much nearer home.

Before we left the China Station, we had a trip to Manila which the U.S.A, had just taken from Spain. To do this, they had provided the Filipinos with rifles and other arms, telling them the country would be theirs as soon as the Spaniards were driven out; which did not happen. While we were there, fighting broke out between the Americans and the Filipinos. The Americans held the ground within range of the Navy’s big guns, but could not penetrate further.

After three or four weeks, we sailed for Hongkong. As our coal bunkers were getting low and far away, volunteers were put on the job for extra pay of 1d an hour plus 1/- a day for stokers when steaming in the tropics, I took on this job, and the extra money was well earned

We were in Hongkong for the last time and soon on our way to Merry England. The trip home was uneventful, but when we reached Portsmouth, we were told that one of our officers had seen a sea serpent in the Mediterranean, which was the first we had heard of it.

Back in Portsmouth, we got ready to disembark, and as our ship was to be transferred to the Reserve, there was a lot of work to be done. This took a month, then we returned to barracks and were given eight weeks furlough, after three years and eight months away.

South African war fever was brewing up, and Germany, Holland and one or two other countries were showing more sympathy with the Boers than with the British, so Naval manoeuvres were being held on a bigger scale than usual. We were called back from our furlough for these exercises.

When I got back to barracks, the detachment I was to serve in had already gone on H.M.S., “Europa” and all of the billets had been filled. I became one of a double bottom (bilges) working party under the supervision of a Stoker Petty Officer. There was an extra 1d an hour for this job and we always got on well with Stoker Petty Officers.

This ship with two other cruisers had a meshwork of wires rigged up from foremast to mainmast to give and take wireless signals. It was their first appearance in the Navy and Signor Marconi was on our ship for short periods. In Milford Haven, we got signals from a ship off the Irish coast and from another stationed midway in the Irish Sea.

After eight weeks of exercises in the western English Channel and the Irish Sea, we returned to barracks and went on furlough with an extra week for the interruption, I was recalled after a week or so to go to Canterbury to identify a former squad mate of mine who had joined the 10th Hussars and then given himself up as a deserter from the Marines. I spent a few days there and saw where Thomas-a-Becket had been murdered, then I had to report back to Headquarters; and went on to finish my furlough, again with an extra week.

By this time the warThis refers to the second Boer War 1899-1902. in South Africa had broken out. I was still a Jingo, believing all that we were told the war was for. I wanted to go out there but the only Marines out there were those on the Station, or from special ships like H.M.S., “Powerful” diverted on the way home from the China or other Stations. Some of “P0werful”’s 4.7 inch guns were got into Ladysmith and did good work during the seige.

In the attack on Graspan, the Marines lost heavily, which did not please the Lords of the Admiralty. It took so much longer to train a Marine. It was clear that a battalion of Marines would not be sent out as had been done in the past. If it had, I should have tried to be among them.

Royal Marines always served under their own junior officers commanded by senior Naval or Military officers. They are not so well known as the American Marines today, yet they have seen two or three hundred years more service. As a tribute I recall these lines:

“Who are Marines?” asked the Man in the Street.
“Are they soldiers, or sailors or something betwixt?
On their rifles, are bayonets or cutlasses fixed?
And do they march past in bare feet?
Does Captain Marryat’s lubberly loon
Exist any more than the Man in the Moon?”
Asked the typical Man in the Street.

Just then the War Special cabled:

“Just think what it means
To crouch with your pals in a whirlwind of lead;
And duty’s stern forefinger pointing ahead
At a kopje of charge magazines:
To win those grim heights through that murderous haze;
To go on advancing with odds on the grave;
To be christened the bravest where all men are brave -
Then you’ll understand who are Marines.”


I was still in barracks awaiting discharge, so could not be sent away. To fill in time, I applied to go through a course of butchery at the Clarence Naval Victualling Yards at Gosport - nearly all our ships had a Marine butcher on board. I did not get far with this, for a few days later my turn came for discharge.

The South African war was going badly. There had been several British reverses in what was at first regarded as a field exercise. Two top generals, Lord Roberts and General Kitchener, were sent out, and it became a full scale war. We were accused of using dum-dum bullets which was strongly denied. Where the truth lay, only those who were there could say.

This was the last war fought with orthodox weapons and methods. There were rules to govern warfare then, but there are none today.

As a result of these reverses, time-expired men were asked to rejoin the colours for a period. After writing two or three letters, I was allowed to join the Royal Lancashire Reserves made up of all the Lancashire Infantry regiments. All the men were several years older than I was. After some weeks of settling down at Preston Barracks, we marched to Chipping Camp, about fifteen miles away, for a course of musketry, field training and general service. Then the tide turned in South Africa, and it became clear we would not be needed, so were sent on furlough for the rest of our term of service.

The jingoism of the South African War, would have to be seen to be believed. People went quite barmy, but at that time “we sat at Home while Tommy took the brunt.”

All districts seem to have their equivalent to the Walworth Road in London where young people parade and mingle, especially on Sunday evenings. In Wigan, we had the choice of two; Wigan Lane, past Mabs Cross, and through the Plantations, or, on the other side, Pemberton Lane as far as the Abbey Lakes, and back home again; both walks about five miles. Here, groups of young people of both sexes would jest and jostle and so become acquainted. Couples would break away in pairs, and start courting in earnest. Then they would want more private walks, which we had in plenty, as many of the fields had footpaths through them with styles to climb over into the next field.

There were no formal engagements then, and very few, if any costly engagement rings. The couples usually married in the course of a few months or a few years. Sometimes it may have been forced, but the standard of morals in the working class has always been higher than that of the wealthy classes and the lapses of the poor could be blamed mainly on their poverty. My old mates were all married, so I joined up with younger ones, and in about two years, got married.Joseph married Mary Ann Marland, daughter of Samuel and Sarah, in 1902 at St.Mark’s Church, Newtown.

After we won the South African war we found that it had not been fought for our ill-treated countrymen out there as we had been told, but to get cheap labour for the mine owners from any part of the world. Shiploads of indentured Chinamen and Indians were brought out to work and to live in compounds.

The Labour Party as a political force in Britain began when these facts became known, and it has grown steadily ever since.

When I returned to civil life, I began to think things out for myself. I listened to all the soapbox orators speaking around the market and street corners. These are becoming a thing of the past which is a great pity. I used to question these people.

I listened to one decrying the halftime system for what it really was. I had experienced it, and the question I asked was: “Was it better for these boys and girls to go to work and sit at a full mealtable, or not work and have little or nothing on the table?”

His reply was: “As long as the employer could get cheap child labour, he would not pay higher wages. The position would soon right itself, but, as is the case in all reform measures, some may have to be hurt in the meantime

I became a confirmed Socialist then, and have remained one ever since, I don’t care if it comes according to Jesus of Nazareth, Thomas More’s “Utopia” or Karl Marx’ “Das Kapital” or all three combined.

I was brought up in a Church of England home and atmosphere. My father was an Orangeman as long as I can remember. My brother became one, and when I married, I was persuaded to join also, mainly for the benefits - doctor and in sickness or death.

I had some misgivings as I had then come to believe in Socialism, which in their eyes, was like going to the devil. However, I was soon given perferment and could have gone far, if I had been more in sympathy with their outlook.

My father died Thomas Melling died on 22 January 1907, aged 55. He left £473 1s 5d to his wife. when he was fifty three. For some winters before he had been troubled with asthma and bronchitis, due in some degree to coal dust and bad mine ventilation. He was given a full dress Orange funeral, and I was Deputy-Master of our Lodge. I knew nothing of the grave ceremonial and I went to the Master, who had placed himself at the end of the grave.

He whispered something to me which I did not hear. I asked him to repeat, but again I did not hear. Then I was pushed to my place at the graveside.

Later, I found out what the Master had said: “Prepare to meet thy God!”

In other words, the same urging I got from my mother the night I stole Cousin David’s marble. I have had plenty of time and warning to prepare.

At the general election of 1903 or 1904, two men were expelled from the Orange Order in Blackburn for voting for Philip Snowden. They contested this, but it was upheld. The Orange Order stood for the Constitution, The Crown, The House of Commons and The House of Lords and the Labour Party wanted to upset the Constitution.

I had voted for the Labour Man, For more info on Stephen Walsh click his name.Stephen Walsh, in the Ince division, so considered I had no right to be an Orange member, either. My brother members, some of whom had voted this way, in the secret ballot, tried to persuade me against this. I could not see it in this light at all, so I let my membership lapse.

At that time, Lloyd George was in the middle of his crusade against the House of Lords. I don’t know what stand Philip Snowden took, but he later became a member of the Upper House himself, which shows how he could somersault.

During the South African war, and for some time afterwards, work in the mines was plentiful, but now things were quietening down - and that’s when the boss could tighten up. I had long had a notion of migrating and South Africa was now out of the question, so it meant Canada or New Zealand. Somehow I never fancied Australia. I had a brother in New Zealand, so decided to come here with my wife and three children.

The Melling family taken sometime between 1905-06. Standing (l-r): Peter, Peter,with his wife Ann (Derbyshire) and children; Joseph, Lily, Peter, Thomas and John, emigrates to Canada in 1912. Joseph, Thomas, Thomas had already emigrated to New Zealand when this photograph was taken. William. Seated: Alice, Thomas, Mary, Margaret (Mercer), James.


In 1907, when our youngest child was seven weeks old, we sailedJoseph, Mary and their children Mary, Edith and Joseph set sail on the 28 June.from Liverpool in the S.S. Devon via Capetown, taking nine weeks to a day to reach Auckland. The Devon, which had carried troops to the Boer War, went on the rocks at Wellington two trips later where her remains are still.

We were assisted emigrants and it cost us £27.10.0 for a four berth cabin. The ordinary fare was from £14 to £18 for each person in a six or eight berth cabin. The “Devon” was a one class ship, and we had the run of the ship.

We arrived in Auckland on a fine sunny day, September 1st, 1907 and berthed at the Queen Street wharf, which was a wooden construction with wooden piles, in those days.

I wanted to get to Howick as quickly as possible, but there was no means of getting there till Monday morning. We then travelled to Ellerslie by train and from there to Howick by horse drawn waggonette. On two or three hillsides the men got out and walked and sometimes they had to push.

My brother Thomas Melling had emigrated on 6 November, 1904 on board the SS Ionic. lived in a small, two roomed cottage, built probably during the invasion scare of the Waikato Maoris, when Howick was a frontier post for Auckland.

Howick was as pretty as a picture postcard, but as poor as a church mouse. I got a few odd days work, then a job as a labourer and painter on the Knox Presbyterian Church. When that building was finished, work petered out, so I came to Auckland, to find a job.

Both jobs and houses were scarce and hard to get. To get a house, I bought the contents of one in Hayden Street from the people who were leaving. It was a big house divided into two, and the rent was 8/- to 10/- a week.

I trailed around Auckland trying to find work, usually of a casual nature. Firms such as Craig’s and Winstone’s would employ men for a day or two when busy, then put them off again. J.J. Craig had somehow juggled the position so that they paid only 7/- a day, against the accepted standard of 8/- a day.

I got a job with the Auckland Harbour Board on the Birkenhead Wharf, the first concrete wharf in Auckland. This lasted twelve months, but when the wharf was finished, I was put off when several single men were kept on. I had been foolish enough to join the Labourers’ Union, and had got the Union Secretary, Oliver Nicholson, to come out to the job and enroll new members.

Perhaps that helped my early dismissal.

We had men speaking almost nightly at Grey’s statue where the Auckland Town Hall now stands; or on the waterfront.

Newcomers were classed as new chums then, not Pommies, and were blamed for the unemployment situation. I had been lucky enough to get reasonable work and wages, but all this, with a substantial sum of money I had brought out here, had been spent; so it seemed to me that I should have given at least as much work to someone as I had taken away.

The chase for a job began again. Sometimes one lasted for two or three weeks and sometimes for two or three months. My last job in Auckland was as a bottle washer at the Newmarket brewery where M.J. Savage, who was to become our first Labour Prime Minister, was working at the brewing vats. My wage was £2.2.0 a week.

I got tired of this kind of work, so when the Maramarua Colliery advertised for coal miners I applied for and got a job there. The change from bottle washing to coal mining was severe, and I got a poisoned hand before my hands hardened up again.

Underground coal mining in New Zealand was different to that at home but just as hard. The seams were high and instead of undercutting, the coal was won by cutting ahead on one rib for three feet or more, then shooting the coal down. There was no need to work in the cramped position necessary in the low seams in England.

We used black powder pellets as explosive which cost 8d per lb and one man could use three or more pounds in a day. Skips were filled with a fork with prongs an inch apart to screen the coal. Slack coal, often three or four skips a day had to be shovelled in and sent out for nothing. The price for sound coal was 2/2d a ton, with a limited amount of hand filled household coal at 2/8d a ton.

I remained at Maramarua for two years, then in 1911, came to Huntly.Click for a link to the history of Huntly. Here, conditions were much the same, except that all coal was filled in with a shovel. The tonnage rate was 2/3d. Houses were scarce and hard to get, so for some months, my family had to live at Mercer, twenty miles away. I bought a section at Huntly South, and built a big shed on it. This, with a big tent, was our first home in Huntly, and we lived in it that first winter while our house was built. I still live in this house.


Of all the days’ pleasures I know in our district, I place the Ngaruawahia Regatta at the top of the list. This has been going over seventyThe first unofficial regatta in Ngaruawahia was held in 1892. years, and takes place on or near St. Patrick’s Day. It is attended from a hundred or more miles around.

This was our first experience.

I was working at a little coal mine, about ten miles up a creek that started from the Waikato River about one mile south of Mercer. The mine I worked at employed only about twenty men, and about a dozen houses comprised our settlement, of different kinds and sizes.

The one we lived in had two front rooms about 12’ by 12’ each, and a lean to along the back about 6’ wide. At that time, my mother and sister, Mary, came from England to see our Tom and me and the family.

Our TomRifleman Thomas Melling of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade, died in France  September, 1916. He is buried at Caterpillar Valley Memorial. is in France now, where he has been sleeping the last fifty years.

Mother was staying with us, but our Mary was in Auckland with friends. Mother’s visit caused complications, but children, from six to four months - we had four then do not require much sleeping room. Difficulties were made to be overcome, and we overcame ours.

The settlement was served by a bi-weekly service from Mercer by the two Roose brothers. Sammy Hicks, one of our miners, had a boat with a cabin, often brought into service. It did useful work, but sometimes did not want to go.

Sammy’s main tool was a big spanner, with which he would tighten a screw up here, and a tappet or two there, and the boat went on - sometimes. He was sometimes helped by his brother-in-law George Paton, who, I think, knew as much about it as Sammy did.

On the morning of the Regatta, we were all up before daylight, as we had to get down the creek to Mercer to catch a train at about 10 o’clock. In those days, everything had to be carried - billies, baskets, babies and all the picnic requirements.

It was a lovely winding creek. The “Albatross” was on its best behaviour, and we reached Mercer in time to see the train puffing into the station. There were three trains due to go, but we didn’t know which one this was.

Everything was bustle and confusion, but the station was nearer to the river than it is now. The locomotive man could see us, and gave us a warning hoot or two to make us bustle as we were already doing. We knew he would not leave us, but we didn’t loiter, anyhow.

These were the horse and buggy days, when a four mile an hour speed was the limit around corners. There were a few carriages on these trains, but most of them were made up with freight trucks fitted with seats, and covered with a tarpaulin.From an old Irish folk song: “Those days in our hearts we will cherish, Contented although we were poor, And the songs that were sung, In the days we were young, On the stone outside Dan Murphy’s door”.These were hard to sit on, but quite as comfortable as “the stone outside Dan Murphy's door” and we enjoyed them the same.

I shall not try to describe the beautiful river and the scenery, as we chugged along the single railway line, nor give the strange sounding names we saw as we went along. When we neared Huntly, we were all agog, as we were miners, and this was the famous mining town.

The first sign we saw was the Extended Mine pithead, situated near where the Domain gates are now. Next we had the school and playground, and then we came to the Ralph Mine pithead - the one that blew up and on to the station which was then a little lean to affair, almost on to the hotel steps.

Numbers of men got out (there was no dividing fence then), and had a quick one. The driver would always give them a warning whistle to sup up or miss the train.

The station was full of men, women and children, when my mother sung out to me: “Why, there’s Bill Jolly”. Bill JollyWilliam Jolly emigrated to New Zealand, with his wife, in 1909. was an old classmate of mine. I hadn’t seen him for many years, so it was a thrill to come across one another, 12,000 miles away from our home town of Wigan. He was there with his wife and two girls and was as excited as we were.

Bill was the surface engineer at the Ralph Mine, and it was he, when the explosion happened, who saw to making sure that the cage stuck at the poppet head could not fall down the shaft before the rope to liberate the cages was cut. Bill was one of men to go down the mine. He told me what a terrible state things were in. No fire, but the deadly afterdamp doing its work.

But we were on our way to the Regatta.

We passed Taupirr, and were soon nearing our journey’s end at Ngaruawahia. A wonderful scene, and all was commotion. Everything was new and strange.

In those days it was more of a Maori gathering than it is today. We had three big Maori war canoes, all fully manned, waiting in the river. The Maori warriors, in their old time dress, were doing their fearsome hakas, and the pretty, lovely maidens were doing their poi dances with all the body movements, singing and the “little ball on the end of string”. No wonder they won the hearts of some of our men.

One of the main river events then was the riding on horseback across the river by a number of competitors. The riders could ride, or swim with their horses, as they raced to reach the other bank.

We had all the usual number of sideshows, with wonders of all kinds to be seen for the modest “ikapeni” (sixpence). The chief attraction this day was a circus. Six elephants were brought to the river bank to have a drink and a frolic in the water. When they had had enough of this, they filled their trunks and started to spray themselves and everyone around them This was a joke for all of us who were not getting the spray.

This reminded Bill and me of a story we had at home, where an elephant, the first they had seen, visited a country village.

None of the residents knew what it was, so they got the oldest man in the village, who was bedridden, put him in a barrow and took him to see if he knew what it was.

They wheeled him around the elephant a few times, and then after considering, he asked to be wheeled around again. Then, he told them: “Its an India rubber ball, with two tails!”

If anyone wanted to tell that story in that village, for years after, he had to be sure he was the biggest man, or the best runner.

On the Regatta ground, we all staked out our own little patch, and that was ours for the day. Boiling water in plenty was provided. I have never enjoyed a better meal anywhere than on that river bank.

I have been going to Ngaruawahia Regattas for over fifty years and for years it was the best meeting place one could have for seeing old friends not seen for twelve months.

As many had long distances to go, the party had to break up early, and about five o’clock, the crowd began to get ready for the trains. The station at that time was right near the railway bridge, and the marshalling trains could be seen getting ready for departure.

All was bustle and confusion again, and, when we were leaving the ground, loaded up with all our kids and gear, we found our youngest boy, Joe, three years old, was missing and the train was getting ready to go. Luckily the grounds were emptying, and we saw him coming along. He was gathered up, hurried to the train, and all was safe again.

All we had to do then was to get back to Mercer, catch the launch and make our way up the winding creek. This we must have done safely, as I don’t remember it, and I am sure we needed no tablets to help us sleep that night.

And now I am 91, nearly blind, and have been made a V.I.P. by the Regatta committee. No charge for admission, and the best possible seat on the riverbank. Thank you gentlemen. I hope to attend your Regatta for many years to come.

Soon after the Regatta, my mother left for Home. One of her objects had been to see her new grand-daughter, who had been named after her, Margaret. On her last trip down the river she was nursing the baby, and found she had cut her first tooth.

An event in a baby’s life which it knows nothing about, but gives some pleasure to the one who first finds it.

Since those early days, the Regatta has changed a little, by the Scotch coming in with exhibitions of their piping and Highland dancing. There can be none better than these anywhere.

I think it is the British garrison artillery whose motto is “Ubique” - everywhere. No nation have a better claim to this, than the Scotch, for they are to be found in all ranks of life, wherever one may go. As ambassadors, as generals, and even as Prime Ministers, they are to be found in the picture.

In our town of Huntly, they have long dominated the top jobs in our mining industry. During the depression, it was often said, to get a job at the mine, one had to have the Scotch burr.

In any case, this is only natural, for any of us holding a position of that nature would do the same. They would give preference to a man coming from their own district if everything else seemed equal. Anyway, I have a high regard for the Scotch, and remember they gave Robbie Burns, not to themselves, but to the world.

Of their women, I need only mention the Queen Mother, of whom, in Bible words, we could all say, we are very well pleased.

The best feature of the Regatta gatherings is the free and easy way all colours and classes mingle together. In this respect New Zealand has not only led the world, but shown it an example, At no time and in no place have I known the Maori asked to accept a lower wage than his white workmate, which is one cause of the trouble and dangerous position the white man is facing in Africa and in many parts of the world.


In 1911, the Huntly miners had had a new agreement with the owners. Judge Sims had inferred that any man not making the minimum wage was a loafer. This was 10/6d per day, plus tool allowance; truckers’ wages were 9/- a day, and shift workers 10/6d.

So dissatisfied were the men that they had withdrawn their registration under the Arbitration Act, but this did not absolve them from the terms of their agreement which had still three years to run. A split in the Industrial Labour movement, with some wanting to break away from the Arbitration Act and some wanting to remain inside it, led to the formation of the Red Federation against the Arbitrationists.

The main cause of the Waihi goldminers’ strike which began at this time were industrial unionism and the popper drill.

The men wanted all men in the industry, including carpenters, fitters and engineers, to belong to one union; to which the employers objected.

Naturally, the employers made the most of this split in our ranks.

The employers wanted the pepper drill to be used in place of the old method of hammer and steel hole boring. The men objected to working in a cloud of quartz dust that would shorten their lives considerably, and make invalids of them for years before they died.

The employers said the drill method was working satisfactorily in the South African gold and diamond mines, and they did not see why it should not be so here. The South African mines were worked with indentured labour, and if the men were active for the three or five years of their engagement, the mine owners did not concern themselves further,

In Waihi, the men wanted an extra man to be engaged in watering all the time the drill was in operation. Later this was done mechanically.

At this time, Bob SempleRobert ‘Fighting Bob’ Semple (1873-1955) was a leader of the Federation of Miners in 1908 and elected to Parliament in 1918, becoming Minister of Public Works in 1928. had one of these machine drills fitted up at a rock face near Parliament House, and invited members to see it at work for themselves. Some did so, and this was all to the good; but the conditions were nothing like those at the working face of a closed mine.

For several months the strike went on. The men were not being allowed to starve and were enjoying a holiday.

Then the 1912 elections were held. The two parties were returned almost equal, with Sir Joseph Ward’s party in the majority by one or two. He was not in general favour, so a change was made in leadership without success,

The goldmine shareholders in London were becoming angry and were pressuring for the strike to be broken. So, with a little bit of juggling and the promise of a few prominent posts, the Massey party gained control and became the Government.

At Waihi, a radical change took place. The peaceful strike of many months was overnight termed seditious and subversive. A few strike breaking bruisers were brought in to give a lead and the place was flooded with police.

Bill Parry, the president of the local union, and some of his executive, were put in jail. The miners of New Zealand, and other workers protested and the Huntly miners took a day off to voice their protest.

The Huntly miners were not working full time, and next morning when we went to work, we were told all our executive were sacked.

We refused to go back without them.

While we were on strike, our local constable, Tom Ingram, went on holiday, and was replaced by a big constable who was reputed to know all about Maoris and their ways. There were a number of Maoris in the mines, whom the employers tried to keep at work while we were out.

The constable spent many hours in the Maori pa, telling the men what would happen if they didn’t go to work, and coaxing others to join them. He was ordered out of the pa by King Mah uta, and the effort to use Maoris as strike breakers failed.

I have had a lot of confidence in the Maoris ever since, and I mention Kio Terawhiti, Johnnie Kingi and Wetere Paki as a tribute to their race.

At the end of two weeks, several of the executive members of the Miners’ Federation, including Paddy Webb and Bob Semple, came to Huntly. They met the local executive, then called a meeting at which they proposed that the men return to work, leaving the executive out. Some protest was made but not carried as things were going badly at Waihi, and no one wished to spread the trouble. They offered to pay the executive full wages while they were out, which was possible when confined to them alone.

During the time the executive had been out of work, a new union had been formed. Fifteen names were needed, and some Huntly businessmen put theirs down to make up the number. Semple and Webb told us we should join this union and then capture it at the first meeting.

This did not prove to be so easy as it sounded.

At Waihi, the strike breakers, with the aid of the police, were getting stronger. They met at a central point and marched in formation to their work.

One morning as they passed the Miners’ Hall, they suddenly rushed across the street, broke into the Hall and chased out the two strikers who were guarding it.

One man, Evans, fell, and was brutally beaten to death.

Then a raging mob ran through the town, beating up men and ordering families to be out of the town by a given time, or they would get the same!

lf the police did not help, they certainly didn’t hinder.

There was a general exodus from Waihi, the Government and scores of victims came as far as Huntly where many of our homes were open to receive them.

Having won that shameful victory at Waihi, the Government and mine owners turned their attention to Huntly.

The bogus union had had its rules approved and the new agreement made while we were on strike - surely a record.

One rule was that all workers must belong to the bogus union, and no man was to belong to another union. This was expressly to kill the Waikato Miners’ Union, which had built a Miners’ Hall and wished to retain membership.

The scab union executive were given the power to decide who should become members, and could summon any applicant to appear before them.

I did this and was allowed to join, but after I had paid my entrance fee and one contribution, they refused to take any further payments.

We all went back to work; and on the first fortnightly pay day a number of men were given notice of dismissal. This went on payday after payday until there were seventy men off plus one executive and myself.

The executive were still getting full pay, some of the others strike pay and some no pay at all. The miners organisation was bankrupt.

Two or three months went by without a general meeting, but at last one was called. It was picketed to keep out “undesirables”, but with my member’s card, and general pushing from behind, I got in.

At the first opportunity, I moved a vote of no confidence in the president, secretary and executive; and as I had just been reading “The Virginians”, I ended up with two lines:

“Now, by your children’s cradles and by your fathers’ graves, Be men today, ye Miners, or be for ever slaves.”

The motion was seconded and forced to a vote which was almost unanimous against the scab executive.

The secretary started to gather up his books and papers, and although we protested, he was allowed to keep them. He left the building with the president and a few men and we set about choosing a new executive, with Bill Wood, a South African war veteran, as president, and Ted Moore as secretary.

For some time, the two executives carried on; but winter was coming on and the Company wanted full production, so the scab outfit slowly died out.

With Jim Fulton and Bill Wood, I represented the Waikato miners at the Unity Congress in 1913, when the warring groups in the Labour movement came together and set the stage for the general strike which took place at the end of that year.

They agreed that 60% of the capitation fee should go to the industrial side of the Labour movement and 40% to the political side. Unions could support one or the other but the amount of their capitation fee remained unchanged.


From then until the General Strike the Government propaganda machine was going full force, with the object of incensing the farmers, white collar workers and professional men against the miners and watersiders. The Tower of Babel brought up to date.

The farmers were told that the men were waiting until the wool was thick on the sheep’s back, and then everything would stop. The general strike started at the end of 1913, and on the waterfront everything was held up. Men and women by the thousand were sent from the country to the towns, and what looked like military encampments set up in Auckland; but the men were armed only with batons.

In Huntly, the employers opened their campaign by sacking sixty men which the miners of course could not accept. Little notice was taken of Huntly until the issue on the waterfront was settled and the men were having a quiet holiday.

The waterfront stoppage lasted many weeks, but finally the men were beaten and the strike was called off.

Huntly’s peaceful strike became “Seditious” overnight, and scores of mounted and foot police invaded our town. To prevent a rout, Bill Wood and his executive officially called the strike off and advised the defeated and demoralised men to apply for their jobs.

Bill himself, never worked in the mines here again.

When the Company started to sack men, a number of us, including myself, got work in the district. The Huntly railway yards were being altered, and the first road and rail bridge and the Pukemiro railway line were under construction.

Men were sacked by the hundreds all over the country, and the disease of men thinking for themselves was scattered everywhere by the Powers that Be, Semple, Parry, Webb and the others became widely known.

The scab union secretary was now in full power again. He was a good customer at the local hotel. His reputation with married and single women was not of the best.

One day at the local hotel he began to paw a young girl who was working there, and to make certain suggestions to her. She smacked his face. She lost her job, and her father was sacked. He was getting on in middle age, and had never worked anywhere apart from coal mines here and in his native Scotland. He went to the West Coast mines, but his name had gone before him and there was no work there. The same thing happened when he and his daughter went across the Tasman Sea to New South Wales.

They returned to Huntly, all their savings gone, and unable to carry out their contract to buy their home. The owner of the house was nearly as poor himself and wanted the sale to go through or else to take possession.

One day, his wife was having a big washday and father was helping all he could. Someone commented: “He’s hanging on his wife’s apron strings.”

He looked at the man and replied: “Before long, I’ll be hanging on her heartstrings.“

That night, like Socrates of old, he drank the poison cup and passed on. Like Socrates, so far apart in time, place and station, he was a victim of man’s inhumanity to man.


“If blood be the price of your cursed wealth, Good God, we have paid in full.”

From the general strike until the mine explosion, a reign of terror existed in Huntly. After the invasion of the police, the scabs got the idea that they could do as they liked. The scab secretary’s brother burned down the Union office, but nothing was done about it.

Men were afraid to be seen speaking to one another. There were spies everywhere. Tom Leather, an examiner, now a farmer and prominent citizen, went to Wellington to tell the Minister what was going on in Huntly, but no notice was taken.

Bill Mayland was reported as having spoken to me on parting one night and for this he was sacked. The Methodist minister, the Rev. Evans, took the case to Court, and after a long trial, Bill was re-employed.

His son, young Bill, lost his life in the explosion. Rev Evans went to the foreign mission field and died there a few years later. A real Christian.

One weekend, Bob Semple, on a visit to Huntly, was billed to speak in the Miners’ Hall. As he had a bad cold, the meeting was called off, but a number of us had assembled, so we called a committee meeting. We finished about 9 p.m., and I went home and had got ready for bed when Fred Knapper, our old caretaker, came running down the road to tell me they were trying to burn down the Hall.

I got dressed at once and returned to the Hall with Fred, taking a .22 rifle and cartridges. We did sentry-go in and around it all that night.

A new-born baby had saved the Hall. Dr. John McDiarmid was called out on a maternity case and had need to use one of his instruments. He found if was faulty and took it to Mr. Calder, the picture proprietor, for repair.

Mr. Calder had a workshop in the Hall, and when the two men went there, they found it was full of smoke. A bundle of material was found burning in the ladies’ dressing room, where the window had been forced open to allow it to be thrown in. It had burned through the floorboards, but luckily was not near the wall or nothing could have saved the building. It was a stormy night, and nearby buildings would have gone too, as we had no water or fire brigade.

Several years later, the Hall was burned down, but I do not think it was deliberate.

This is the hall they tried to burn down, and a few years later was burned down, perhaps accidental.

For about three weeks, Fred was on duty during the day and I went on in the evening after the Hall engagement and stayed there all night. We had two or three basement windows taken out and others were shuttered from inside. Some of us had made up our minds that if the same state of affairs came about in Huntly as there had been in Waihi, all the casualties would not be on one side. However the only weapon employed was that of starvation.

Conditions in the mine went from bad to worse. Jim Fulton had been elected as one of the men’s check inspectors, but the Company refused him entry into the mines.

A nominal fine was imposed when the case went to Court.

The scab secretary, who hadn’t the least idea of the duties involved, got the job.

The Inspector of Mines complained of this when the enquiry into the explosion was held.

Men who dared to ask for the ventilation to be brought nearer the working faces were told by one deputy that they were afraid to ask for the necessary bratticeBrattice cloth is a fire-resistant fabric or plastic partition used in a mine passage to confine the air and force it into the working place. cloth.

Both the Huntly mines, Ralph’s and the Extended, were naked light mines. Two or three minor explosions of gas had taken place and had not been reported.

On the morning of Saturday, September 14th, five weeks after the outbreak of the first World War, I was waiting with other men to start work on the subway. The time was 7.30 a.m. It was pay Saturday, and only the officials and maintenance men had gone to work at 7 a.m.

Suddenly we heard a rushing roaring sound and our eyes went to the Ralph pithead, 200yds. away. A dense cloud of dust came up the shaft then a sheet of flame followed by a smaller cloud of dust.

The explosion had travelled like this through the mine galleries, the coal dust acting as gunpowder.

We rushed to the pit top, where the surface cage had been blown into the pithead and hung suspended on the safety hook.

Men were ringing from the pit bottom to ascend, but first the cage had to be freed, so Bill Jolly, the engineer and his men, caught the rope of the stuck cage and left the other cage free to ascend.

Six men came up this shaft alive. There were O’Brien and the boy Alf Peckham, who were at the pit bottom, but had sheltered from the blast in a manhole, and when it had passed, they were in fresh air again. Both were burned, the boy very badly,

The four others wereDan Weir, his mate,Tommy Hughes;Joe Brownlie and his mate, Glen Mottram; all had been beyond where the explosion started and although they got the shock, had been able to get clear before the afterdamp flooded the mine.

Joe Brownlie is still in Huntly, and Alf Peckham in Auckland, the only surviving men fifty years later.

Sixteen men came up alive at the Taupiri West shaft a mile away across the river from the Ralph pithead. If they had been compelled to reach the Ralph shaft, not one would have lived; which shows the urgent need for men to know an alternative way out of the mine, in case of disaster.

One man, Bill Brocklebank, came out of the mine twelve hours after the explosion. He had fallen unconscious near the joint of a compressed air pipe, and the fresh air flow from a leak there had kept him alive.

There was no lack of rescue teams. One of the first to go in, from Glen Massey, under Tommy Thompson the mine manager, was accompanied by theRev. Father Edge, in case he could be of assistance to any members of his flock.

All the men were brought out and laid in the Lyceum Hall. Some were so badly burned that a boot or a handkerchief were the only things their relatives could tell them by. Forty three men and boys were lost - had it been an ordinary working day, the loss would have been more than two hundred.

I did two rescue shifts in the mine for which I neither expected or received any payment; after that it was just a matter of restoring the ventilation and damage done.

The next fortnight was a sad black time for Huntly. Funerals daily with the coffins covered with the Union Jack and a bugler playing at the graveside.

When the last man was out, a combined funeral service was held at the old railway gates. Coal trucks served for choirstalls and pulpit, and the sermon was taken by Father Edge, and a better one could not have been given.

He consoled the relatives of those lost in a manner that could displease neither atheists, agnostics or free thinkers. The combined choir sang as an anthem, Tennyson’s beautiful and appropriate lines Crossing the Bar:

“Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning at the bar,
When I put out to sea, But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam, When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
When I have crossed the bar.


Many thousands of pounds were raised all over the country for the relief of those affected by the explosion. One set of funds was administered by the Town Board through the Town Clerk, Fred Harris. There was bitter feeling among the workers throughout the country, and many funds were sent directly to the Union, of which I was secretary.

These monies were administered separately for a time, but finally merged into one fund administered by the Town Board, and arranged so that relief could be given until the youngest dependent had reached the age of sixteen.

At the public enquiry, some startling evidence was given. The Company tried to put it over that some reckless miner had gone where he had no right to, but we knew too much about it. The man who started the explosion had gone where he was sent to bring some rails and sleepers from a rise place that had been unworked for months and thus allowed the gas to accumulate.

One ex-deputy, whose job involved travelling through the whole workings, said he had found accumulations of gas at certain points. He had not reported these as he would have got the sack if he had.

The district Mine Inspector complained that he had received no help from the check inspectors, who included the scab secretary, or the mine officials.

The case for the miners was conducted by a clever lawyer, Tommy Wilford from Wellington. A few of us met him once or twice to verse him in mining terms, and he was an apt pupil. He knew how to test for gas when we had finished, and protected our interests during cross-examination by the Company’s lawyers.

The Company sent their agents to those bereaved, offering sympathy and urging them to sign compensation claims, knowing full well that more than the usual amount could be claimed due to negligence. Some people, wanting to keep in with the Company, fell for this. Others did not, and obtained £250 more than those who signed, in the final settlement.

The mine manager was found guilty of negligence and fined. He never worked in the mines again.

The real accused should have been the Chairman of Directors and his committee, but he was a prominent member of our Upper House, helping to frame our country’s laws. It is one thing to twist or ignore laws of men’s making; but quite another to twist the Laws of God, or ignore the Laws of Nature.

As well as explosions, flooding was always a potential danger in the Huntly mines. Frank Reed, Chief Inspector of Mines, who gave technical evidence at the enquiry, drew public attention to this fact. There was no solid strata above the coal seam; only a band of fireclay between the surface soil and the coal.

Frank insisted that solid concrete barriers were necessary at certain danger points to prevent flooding, The Company resented this suggestion and said it would be throwing money away. Flooding had never happened before, so why should it be a danger now.

Some time later, the Massey Government abolished the office of Chief Inspector of Mines. Frank was sacked, just as so many miners had been. He was about the most capable and competent man in mining in the country, but that did not save him.


I had been working for more than two years under the Public Works, on the construction of the Huntly-Pukemiro railway line. One day I was told to go to the manager’s office, where he paid me to the end of the day.

I was sacked, I was told, because I had written a letter to the Public Press, which was not allowed to public servants. The engineer added that the men I worked with had complained about me.

I went to see Michael Connor and Bert Trail, the foreman I had worked under. Both assured me they had never complained about me, and Bert said he had given me work away up the track because he could depend on me to get on with the job.

There was no General Workers’ Union then.

I had written to the Huntly Press to explain about the Labour candidacy for the forthcoming 1914 election. We had an elderly man who wanted his name put forward as a Labour candidate We knew he hadn’t the ghost of a chance, and we wanted the Ward (Liberal) candidate to get in. We were smarting under the treatment we had received from the Massey Government, and two or three hundred votes could make all the difference. I almost went on my knees begging this Labour man not to throw his money or our chances away, but he insisted. It was to explain our position that I had written the letter.

After I was dismissed, I wrote two or three letters, to the Minister of Labour and others, and I was offered a job at Waiuku, where the Pukekohe-Waiuku line was under construction. My home, wife and five children were here in Huntly, so I did not go to Waiuku.

Pukemiro Collieries were setting on men, so I went out there and saw Teddy Wight, the general manager, and Andy Burt, the under manager. Mr. Wight spoke to me like a Dutch uncle, but would not give me a job. He thought it would be better if I left the district.

I then tried the Huntly mines. Jimmy Bishop, the general manager, had come there after the explosion. He asked me if I had worked there before, and why I left.

I said I had been victimised.

That put the fat in the fire. A nasty word and he did not like it, but his company had done the deed in hundreds of cases. He referred me to Alex Penman, who said they had no lamps. They were on the oil safety lamps by that time.

He sent me to see Wally Woods, the manager of the Extended mine, who said as soon as he saw me : “I will not give you a job, Melling.”

He was the most honest of the three, and I thanked him for it.

So now I was chasing jobs anywhere. I got a spell at the Taupiri quarry, then at Bailey’s quarry. Then a fine old lady, Mrs. Sedgeman of Huntly south, herself as poor as a mouse, gave me a job cutting gorse and blackberry. I can recommend this as a job of work.

I got the job of levelling the first bowling green in Huntly, and on the western bank of the combined road and rail bridge, and a few odd jobs in and around the Miners’ Hall, but all this was only patchwork.

Charlie Morris, who was working at the Waipa Colliery at Glen Massey, spoke to Tommy Thompson, the manager there, who gave me a job as a trucker. This mine was known as the Red Fed Sanctuary, and the manager was a clever man who knew how to handle men. There were many victimised men working here, most of them living in shacks of their own making and going back to their own homes at the end of the week

We were working short time, and I backed up there during the week, biking home over the hills at the weekend. One payday I set off with £3 in pound notes, a fortnights pay. As I was biking down the hillside, I lost the £3 out of my pocket, but did not discover the loss until I got home.

I was going to advertise but I was told there was an advertisement in the Ngaruawahia paper to say someone had found the money and would return it to the owner on application. The address given was that of a farmhouse a mile out of Glen Massey. I went there and the farmer and his wife gave me the money. They refused to accept any reward or even payment for the advertisement.

These people did not think findings were keepings. Such acts give us faith in our fellow humans.

At Glen Massey, the coal seam was not so thick or so continuous as the seams at Huntly or Pukemiro. Only a thin band of coal could be left to form the roof, which meant many more props had to be used. A seam would work out at the side of a gully, and this would have to be crossed and the seam connected at the other side, which meant extra cost and work.

An eight mile stretch of railway line had been laid over the broken country between Ngaruawahia and the mine, with a bridge over the Waipa river. The colliery worked itself out many years ago, and I do not think it would have proved a good investment for those who put their money in it.


I remained at Glen Massey for about two years; then one Saturday I went out to Pukemiro to see Andy Burt, the manager, who gave me a job. He had been present when Teddy Wight refused me on, so I always appreciated this action.

Pukemiro was about nine miles from Huntly, but a railway service enabled men to work there and live in Huntly.

Soon after I had started there, the check inspectors, on their rounds with the under manager, came to some locked doors and asked to go inside. The under manager refused and was backed up by the higher officials, panicky as so many bosses are when they make mistakes. This reduced the inspection to a farce, and we struck and remained out about three weeks. In the meantime, the doors were taken down and the parts bricked up, which was all we wanted.

Some years later, I became a check inspector, a position I held for a long time. I had three mates during that period, Frank Angus, Jack Garrick and Jim Hall. We always agreed on our reports, which I wrote. We were usually accompanied on our rounds by Jack Brownlie, the under manager, who at all times gave us every facility and freedom to go anywhere we wished. I was always more concerned with the out-of-the-way places, as I considered the men knew what was wrong in their own working places, and it would be time enough to bring the check inspectors in if their complaints were not attended to.

Ever since the Bamfurlong explosion I have always held keenly that men should know more than one travelling road in and out of the mine. As a result of much barracking, I got this tried out in the south section of the Pukemiro Colliery.

At the new cable when the men changed working places, the deputy, Guy Fleming collected all the men in his section at the entrance of the return airway and showed them the way out. There was some delay in getting the men together, and as we did not rush out as usual, we reached the surface a few minutes late.

Some of the men were very angry about this, and I was blamed as the cause of it; so much so that I didn’t care if the men knew the way out or not.

I don’t know what the rule is now, but to me it is a crime that men should be deprived of this chance of reaching safety in case of fire or explosion.

Right from its inception, the Pukemiro Colliery has been a “goldmine” paying high dividends, I think up to 30% one time, with some bonus shares. They bought valuable city property including the Anzac Avenue area in Auckland,

Pukemiro was the best managed and best provided colliery I ever worked in, either at home or in New Zealand.

The introduction of bath and change houses at the mines about 1924 proved a godsend to the man and his wife and family. All the dirt and dust was now kept out at the mine and not around the house and fireplace. We came out of the mine hot and sweating, and it was after six o’clock before we reached home.

The train service to Pukemiro was shocking, and despite all attempts, we could get no improvement Our train had to pick up every truck of coal, and sometimes there were sixty or seventy trucks, to bring in to Huntly. To get such a long train in to Huntly, it had to be broken in two over the bridge and brought into the station in two parts. The last in of course, was the end with the carriages.

At one time, by delaying the previous train for a few minutes at Rotowaro, it was made possible to bring the Rotowaro men in earlier, but this made the late train later still and split our ranks.

One wild, wet, winter night, we steamed into Rotowaro station, seven miles from Huntly, and stopped. We were always due for a long wait, so for a time no one took any notice. The stop became longer, and some of the men, looking round, saw the train crew and station manager sat around a nice cheerful fire in the station building.

Two or three of us went to see what was the matter. There was a slip at the three mile peg. Nobody seemed to be concerned or to be doing anything about it. However, after some argument they got in touch with Huntly.

The station master had a locomotive but no carriages, so it was arranged that he would send the locomotive with some empty coal trucks as far as the obstruction on the Huntly side; while our train went on as far as the Rotowaro side of the slip. Although it was a terrible ride, it was the best possible under these circumstances.

As a result of all this trouble, we set up a small railway committee -Jim Stirling, I think was on it - and although we didn’t get much benefit in service, we did induce the authorities to let concession tickets extend over a fortnight instead of a week when the mines were working two or three days a week.

Since the introduction of the shorter working week, the train service has been changed and the men are all home by four o’clock.

I worked at Pukemiro Colliery about sixteen years, the longest I ever had with one firm.


When I came to Huntly in 1911, I joined a little Socialist party. We were very few, but took an active interest in Union matters, in education and town affairs. We tried to get men elected to their committees without much success. On Sunday nights we held open air meetings at the railway gates between the Farmers’ Trading Co. and the hotel, where there were some bluegum stumps for us to stand on.

The Town Board at one time threatened to ban these meetings. We were up in arms at once, and the Methodist and Presbyterian ministers joined our protest against this closing of the open forum. The threat was not carried out.The Church of England ministers and the Roman Catholic priest kept aloof, as anything that sounded like socialism was “the devil and all”. I wonder how these men reconciled this with the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the Bible. I wonder, too, how many pews would be empty if the rule of the firs Church at Antioch was in force.

Billy Bullough and I are the only two left now of that little Socialist party.

One of Labour’s great handicaps has always been a lack of means to put its views and case over to the public. In the past this has been done by meetings in the marketplace, in the parks and on the street corners. This is dying out, but it should never be lost; and public bodies should not be allowed to take this right away as the Huntly BoroughCouncil did at the last election. The only justification for this should be the element of danger or disorder.

It has always been Labour’s ambition to own its own paper. About 1910, the shearers started a little publication, “The Maoriland Worker,” with Miss Ettie Rout as editor. Later, they were unable to carry on, so the miners joined them, or bought them out, and soon after, Mr. Ross became editor.

About that time, Harry Holland, who had been serving one of his usual prison terms, came to New Zealand to recuperate. He did so by writing the story of the Waihi strike and the Huntly coal mine disaster, including all the evidence; and dozens of other works which could well be read today. One of these was the story of the Eureka stockade in Australia.

He then became the editor of “The Maoriland Worker”, which was doing excellent work. The authorities were out to kill it, and Harry was put in gaol. While he was there, the acting editor published a letter from Huntly which gave the name of the scab organiser.

This led, I think, to two libel actions, both heard in Hamilton. The man was awarded the full amount claimed, surely a record.

Over the trouble period, I had been the Huntly correspondent under the pen-name of “Rearguard”, but I did not write the letter which caused the libel action, as I always remembered the maxim: “No names, no packdrill.”

We kept the paper going by putting in our one and two pound shares, and all the miners took a copy weekly with their Union subscriptions. We kept it alive through all the troubled times, then it changed its name and became respectable. Now it has died and all that is left is a jobbing, printing firm in Wellington.

A daily paper is Labour’s greatest need. It will never get a fair deal from our existing orthodox newspapers, especially at election time, or when trouble is pending.

For some years I was a member of the Huntly Borough Council. It has always been a surprise to me that miners and other manual workers, and especially their wives, so often think that businessmen and shopkeepers are the best people to represent them on local bodies. I know how nice Mr. So and So can be, and that he has built up his business himself. But he is usually 100% private enterprise minded, and he remains so whether at the shop counter or set at the council table. It is as true today as it was 2000 years ago, that no man can serve two masters.

While I was on the council, we bought a block of land expressly to build a hall upon it. Soon after the council changed, and business men gained control. One of their first acts was to make that block of land into a free parking area with the excuse that it was just a temporary use of the land.

When a Memorial Hall was to be built in memory of all those who gave their lives, the council bought a block of land near the Domain, a mile from the centre of the town. Instead of building the hall in the centre of the town on the land originally set aside for it, they used the money raised from a Queen Carnival to build in this out of the way spot. Built on the main street site, all the front part could have been made into shop premises and brought in £30 to £40 a week in rentals.

They uprooted the Cenotaph and took that to the same corner at a cost of something like £1,000 in shifting, rebuilding, and making the approaches to it.

Now our council have given themselves wages for their services, something never dreamed of in the past. Surely this is a bad example for our town fathers to give to the scores of men and women who give free service in so many ways for the benefit of the community.


Our Waikato River is one of the finest in the world. On its banks, in Hamilton, we see what a beauty spot could be made of it. Ngaruawahia, with the Waipa joining the Waikato and losing its identity, is a natural spot for the Regatta and similar functions that would be hard to beat.

To my mind, it is the most used, and most abused, river in New Zealand. In its higher reaches, we have, I think, seven electric power stations with their accompanying dams, with Lake Taupo as mother dam. In making these dams, a million or so yards of spoil must have been sent down our river, much of which has now gravitated to the lower reaches.

I have been living on this river bank for over fifty years, twenty years of that before the first dam at Arapuni was built.

The nature of the floods has, during that period, quite changed. Now we have the worst flooding after the rain has gone, sometimes two to four days after, when the authorities have become scared of the water they were holding and opened the gates.

All the consideration has been to keep both lake and dams as full as possible, with little or no regard to the damage done by the excessive flow when they have to reduce. At the present time, they are preparing to give us more water from the Wanganui River, which will only aggravate the trouble. From Huntly to the sea, they have made us into the ponding area, which in mining terms, means the sump hole.

A mining professor I once listened to, described science as applied common sense to the subject matter in hand. If there is any common sense in filling the bed of a river up and then building walls to hold it, I don’t see it. A few yards of earth, of a dry nature, can be a barrier against water, but when that earth after days of rain, has become slimy mud, the least tapping of that wall or the slightest trickle through, and the river breaks through in a raging torrent.

The only sensible plan as I see it, is to start dredging and go on dredging, not only to let water out, but to make a channel for boats and barges of a reasonable size, such as the old “Freetrader”. Vessels of the size that enter Raglan harbour should be able to go up the river as far as Hamilton. This should be a definite channel and to do our waterway justice, should go on up to Cambridge at least.

When I was a member of our Borough Council, we had the dry pan system of disposing of sewerage. The pans were collected once a week. The contract was that these pans had to be taken outside our boundary on to some farm land, emptied in to a deep ploughed furrow, which was then covered.

One time we had a complaint that the contractor was going to our river bank and emptying and washing his tins there. We were indignant at this pollution of our river, and the practice had to be stopped.

What he was doing was to empty partly filled tins into others, giving them a wash out in the river and then using them again. The empty tins were supposed to be given a thorough washing when emptied in the correct place, and then rinsed with disinfectant.

When we went on to the flush system, the belief was that we would make a sewerage plant where the material could be treated and only clean water would be put into the river. For this purpose we acquired a little farmlet in a suitable position.

We never went on with this job. Hamilton and all the other places on the river bank were putting their raw sewerage into the river, so it was considered that we could do the same.

I have never agreed with this, but this does not say that our Council are any worse than the others. I consider our protest against the contractor, in relation to what we and others are doing, is an instance of straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

Over seventy years ago, I was a member of a class in geology at theWigan mining school.This science deals with rocks and earth formation and covers millions of years in time. I have forgotten how long it takes for weather - sun, rain, frost - to make one inch of soil so vital to life as we know it.

At the river mouth, and right along the river bed almost to its source, we have countless millions of yards of this ready made treasure being added to day by day. This not only blocks the channel for navigation, but at uncertain intervals, by checking the water flow, it drowns out thousands of acres of what, with our rain and our sunshine, could be among the best pasture land in the world.

Dredging should go on, and the spoil be placed at suitable points on the river banks and sold or given away to farmers and gardeners who can take and make use of it. At Mercer, the Roose and Wingate firms are doing this, so it must be profitable from their point of view. This is only haphazard and makes no effect on the scheme as a whole.

The least that should be done should be to dredge a definite channel that would allow light shipping to go up and water to go out. Once made, if looked after reasonably, this channel would scour itself out and remain useful.

Another thing that could be made of our river, instead of putting sewerage in at one part and taking our drinking water out at another, would be to put a pipeline from the higher side of Cambridge right on to Auckland to supply all the local bodies and others en route with water fit to drink.

If we had a sensible system this would be done. All the local bodies supplied could build their own reservoirs and reticulate their own districts. If these dams had a sufficient margin of give and take, they could be used to regulate the flow of the river, and do away to some extent with the disastrous floods we now have.


By 1930, the man made depression was coming upon us. Things were becoming slack all round, especially at the mines, when the power station at Arapuni closed down to have some dangerous repairs effected, and all the steam plants were boosted up to their full limit. Glen Aftoncolliery was given the full order for all the extra coal needed for this, and many men who had never worked in the mines before were brought into the district. Firing for the steam plant was done with slack coal which Glen Afton could not supply in full. They pounded good coal into slack while other mines in the district dumped hundreds of tons of slack each week.

That is our capitalist worlds’ way of getting things done.

When Arapuni opened up again, the mining area met the full force of the depression. All the companies started to put off men, and the Pukemiro mine, who had always employed one third to one half of its men from Huntly, sacked them all except three.

From this and other causes, I am sure that Huntly had more unemployed than any other town of its size in New Zealand.

About the time when themobs wererioting in Auckland andWellington in 1932, the unemployed in Huntly were holding a meeting in the Lyceum Hall one Friday morning. Many of the men complained that their wives and children were going short of necessities.

The men decided to go in a body across the road to the Farmers’ Trading Company and help themselves, which they did. They had no grudge against this firm, but it was the most convenient shop and the best provided All the goods taken were later paid for.

This orderly conduct riled the authorities more than mob violence would have done. Soon after, we had an invading force of police and all the men concerned were rounded up and put in prison. There had been no attempt to disguise themselves, and all were known. All were given a month’s imprisonment, with an extra three months for those who were called the leaders. Much more prison time must have been served for this incident than for all the rioting and looting in the cities.

When unemployment first became general, the Government refused to pay any money to people who had a certain amount saved up. A few in Huntly in this position booked their passages back Home because they preferred to starve with their relatives there than with strangers in New Zealand. This did not suit the authorities and they soon called it off as they wanted those men kept here to carry their share of the National Debt.

Different classes of relief were given. A married man with two children was supposed to work two and three quarter days a week for £1.1.8½d. but this was hardly ever carried out, the amount earned being usually 21/- to 23/. For a man with three children, the wage was £1.17.6d. Single men went to work-camps and got their keep and 10/- a week. They had to be kept fit for the next war.

We had won the first World War to make our country fit for heroes to live in. Many of these heroes were put on to farmland at inflated prices. When the depression hit them these men, who had put every copper they could raise into their farms and worked harder than any galley slave ever worked, had to walk off their farms with what they stood in. Some of the banks with mortgages over the land kept these men on at a bread and dripping standard of living so that their assets should not completely disappear.

Despite all the hardships, Huntly gained something from the Depression. The Domain we now have was made by relief workers from swampland and small hills of slack coal and mining debris. Davies Park was converted from the same material, and the Huntly Primary School grounds, and tennis courts, many chains of concrete foot paths and other grounds were laid.

The unemployed started a butchery of their own and an abandoned coal mine was opened up where coal could be bought by the unemployed at 4d. for a 140lb bag, or 7d. delivered in Huntly township. Cobbling and hairdressing outfits were set up at various points. It is surprising what help can be given at such times.

The Chairman of the Bank of England paid New Zealand a visit about that time. He told us we were living too high and would need to tighten up; then he went on to South American countries with a standard of living half that of ours, and told them the same thing. Foodstuff of all kinds was rotting, being ploughed in or being sent to sea in shiploads to be thrown overboard, all because a handful of men in New York decided it should be so.

This is the holy private enterprise system we hear so much about.


With the advent of the Labour Government in 1935, everything seemed to become brighter and more cheerful. One of the new Government’s first acts was to give a Christmas bonus to all the unemployed. Unemployment payment was liberalised and local bodies were encouraged to carry out works with a heavy subsidy. Huntly’s first water works were built in this manner.

Bob Semple made radical changes in the conditions in Public Works camps, which up to then had been shocking, especially for mothers and families. Conditions improved and gradually began to boom a little, and fewer and fewer men were on the unemployment lists.

Near the end of Labour’s first term, the new Social Security measures were brought in. They were so rightly described by the Labour Prime Minister as “applied Christianity.” The opposition leader, Mr. Holland, replied that it was “applied lunacy” and he and his party would not go on with it if they got into power.

Soon after Labour was returned in 1938, with a slightly reduced majority, Mr. Nash was sent to London to renew an expiring loan. He received a cool reception from the financiers who were in no mood to let their money or credit be used to advance Socialism in New Zealand.

While he was there, the wardrums began to beat louder and louder. Peace in Our Time was gone and they could not afford disruption in any part of the Empire, so Mr. Nash returned with all the credit he wanted. This lasted for the war years and for some time after.

With Labour as the Government, the whole war atmosphere was quite different to what we had had in the first World War. Mr. Savage’s statement at the outbreak of war : “Where Britain goes, we go”, set the tune for the whole period. The Labour Government had the war to thank for a longer term of office than they might otherwise have had.

All the years I have been associated with Labour, they have always promised to abolish an Upper House at the first opportunity. Instead they strengthened it by putting men there who had violently opposed any such chamber. To such an extent did they put these puppets in the Upper House that it was abolished by the Holland Government when they came to power.

Labour’s policy had always been for preferential voting or for proportional representation, but they failed to bring this in.

I consider that they should not have given M.P.s a preferential system of superannuation. Surely it is wrong for members to legislate, especially for themselves.

Harry Twist, Wigan’s first Labour member of Parliament, used to recite these lines:-

“Our time demands great minds, strong men and willing hands:
Men whom the lust for office cannot spoil;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy.”

I don’t think our Labour leaders always followed this example. A worthwhile Party can’t go on throwing its planks and principles overboard with one or two of the men who may be standing on them.

Both parties, Labour and Tory, pretend to be the warm champions of democracy, and both do all they can to keep any other party out. At the last elections, the Social Credit Party was the most active in the field.

I was not directly concerned in the 1951 strike, or lockout, but I believe it was engineered on the same lines as the 1913 strike. The thing that got me was the threat by the Government that anyone giving help or support to the families out of work would be put in gaol. The M.P.s on both sides should have been up in arms about this, but the only one I remember was our MabelMabel Howard M.P. became the Labour government’s Minister for the Welfare of Women and Children in 1957., Miss Howard M.P., who told them what she thought about it.

I agreed with her and followed her example. Your father would have been proud of you, Mabel. I remember his weekly talks to “Henry Dubb” in “The Maoriland Worker”; also his column of “Good Thoughts at Nine” and “Sunbeams” which we enjoyed every week.

The blowing up of the railway line, whoever did it, was a senseless and useless act which gave the Government its highest trump card during the whole of the trouble and after. Mahuta is a flag station four miles from Huntly at which all passenger trains will stop to pick up or let down passengers as required; so the speed of all trains on this line is necessarily slow.

About a mile on the Rotowaro side of Mahuta, there was a culvert to give freeflow to storm water. It was at this point that the explosives had been used.

This is what happened that morning as told to me by a man who was on the train. The early morning train was on its way out, taking deputies, officials and others not affected by the strike. On passing Mahuta station, they noticed an object on the line which warned them something was amiss.

The train was stopped and they got out, removed the obstacle and looked round. They found that explosives had been used, examined the damage, and then the train went on its journey. Not one of these men lost a minute of time by the delay.

Both during the strike and especially during the stunt election that the National Government put over, this incident was magnified on the radio and at all the meetings they had, with trains running to certain destruction at the highest speed imaginable.

It is not impossible the authorities staged this themselves. We have the gun powder plot incident and the John Castle was employed by the British government to join the Spencians (a group of men, named after Thomas Spence) whose ideal was to achieve equality in society and report on their activities. Ultimately this led to the trial of the Spencians for high treason. Cato Street conspiracy during the Chartist troubles as examples of how they put spies and agitators into movements they want to keep a tail on.

We have more spies internationally, industrially, in commerce finance and politics, today than ever before.

The U.S.A. have spies and counterspies whose findings sometimes conflict; these people must give results “real or faked” or lose their jobs.

This stunt election held at the end of the dispute was a flagrant waste of public money, and was held because theTory Government had the ball at its feet, knew the referee and had all the linesmen in their favour.

I wonder if the names of Tolpuddle or Peterloo had any meaning for members of the Government. Although I may say that I have found the men on occasion as selfish and short sighted as the boss knew how to be.

Among improvements to mining in my time, I mention three the eight hour bank to bank act, the minimum wage act, and the introduction of bath and change houses at the mine.


All my life I have been remarkably free from accidents, excepting to my eyes. The nature of our coal and the method of working makes it bad for eye accidents. I had many of these, mostly trivial, but on one occasion an accident took away about 45% of the vision in one eye.

I received compensation for five weeks and then the payments were stopped. They said the eye was better, and that as I could get as much coal with an eye and a half as with two eyes. No further payment would be made.

I disputed this and remained out for six months pending a settlement of the case. All this time I was on pins. These cases should be settled promptly, otherwise one will accept anything at all. It was finally settled by the payment of compensation rates for the time I had lost.

Later, I had a severe accident to the other eye and a big slice of the sight went as the first had done. This time the settlement was quicker, but no more satisfactory.

Years later I suffered a haemorrhage to my right eye the best one and that eye has been practically blind ever since.

It may be said that men should protect themselves from these hazards, but with the limited light in the mines, this is not so easy as it seems. I often wore a shield, which is the best protection (goggles are no good) and is suitable for some types of work such as putting the cut in. Other jobs such as working on a plank or a ladder trimming the roof would be more dangerous if a man was using a shield.

A British Chief Mine Inspector said once that he could reduce mine accidents by 80% if he could put daylight into the mines.

I am not sure what effect the continual wearing of shields would have had on the eyes, but I am sure the mine owners and insurance companies would not be concerned about that if it would save them paying compensation for damages. They must never be given the chance to deny their liability by claiming that the men did not protect themselves in this respect.

From my earliest boyhood, I have always been a prolific reader. I would nursery rock the baby for hours as long as I could read a book at the same time. I must have read all the stories of the Arabian nights I could get hold of, such as Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad the Sailor.

I rejoiced when Sinbad threw the Old Man of the Sea from his shoulders and cracked his skull with the biggest rock he could lift. I wonder if some day we will have the guts and sense to do the same with the Old Man on the world’s shoulders today. I refer of course, to the fact that the bulk of the world’s production is being used today for the manufacture of nuclear bombs and weapons.

The least reading period of my life was when I was in the Navy, but I shortened the middle watches by “borrowing” books from the wardroom.

When my sight failed and I could no longer read for myself, it was a Godsend to me, as it must be for scores of others, to learn of the Blind Foundation’s service of talking books. And if this book ever sees print it will be thanks to the Blind Foundation for finding someone to write and type it for me.

It is surprising in these days of money grubbing to learn of so many people giving service and often money as well to help those less fortunate than themselves. This applies not only to the blind but to people with other disabilities. There is always somebody to come to their aid. The number of people in any community who gladly and willingly give public service in so many different ways is a cheerful and healthy sign for us all.


I have listened to most of our Parliamentary broadcasts of any importance and sometimes wonder if politics can go any lower. The temptation to look after the interests of 0ne’s own party is too great to be resisted.

When the Tory opposition gave notice that when they came to power, State house tenants could buy their houses at the price it cost to build them, this was a definite bribe to get their votes, and it succeeded. It was then about one third of the ruling price, and not one of those men would have sold their own property on those terms.

Or take the build up by the Tories of what they called Mr. Nordmeyer’s Black Budget. In New Zealand, the term Black Budget refers to the government budget of 26 June 1958, in which Minister of Finance Arnold Nordmeyer increased taxes on beer, tobacco, cars and petrol. Perhaps they would have taken a slice from wages or pensions to meet the situation as they have done in the past. When they did get to power they did nothing to right this wrong they shed so many tears about, which proves it was all rank hypocrisy; but it gained votes and that was all that mattered.

In overseas matters we are much less informed. Often the parties are combined and the picture is pure white or deep black, I have never understood why both parties when in power follow so blindly anything the U.S.A. may put over. We seem to be deserting the Old Country more and more.

Here is the picture as I see it.

When we were in Hongkong, I attended a lecture given by Lord Charles Beresford R.N., who had been commissioned by British munition makers to go through China seeking orders. He had been well received and shown all they had the Chinese of course, were the oldest makers of gunpowder. While going through their factories he had seen explosives being made under conditions that sooner or later led to an explosion.

They said they knew and told him of different explosions that had taken place. Buildings were of flimsy bamboo, and a dozen or twenty men were equally easy to replace, there were millions more.

We all laughed, and thought “how silly can you get.” That was nearly seventy years ago. Since then there have been wars in China, Korea, Japan, India, all over the Middle East, from north to south of Africa and all over Europe, on land and on sea. No one can say how many millions of men, women and children have been destroyed.

The Good Book warns us about straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

I well remember when Britain launched the first DreadnoughtHMS Dreadnought was launced in 1906 and revolutionised naval power. battleship, which they boasted could blow any ship afloat out of the ocean while remaining immune herself. British jingos clamoured for more of these ships, chanting in the House of Commons: We want eight and we won’t wait.

Fifty years later, outside Singapore, a few Japanese aeroplanes sent three of the best to the bottom with three thousand men.

When the first World War started, Britain was a creditor country and for a century or more had been the world’s biggest money lender. At the end of the war, which she won, she was a debtor nation and all her assets in gold and silver had been shipped to the United States.

At the tail end of the war, President Woodrow Wilson with his fourteen points (all good but not kept) brought his country into the war. With these new troops to freshen the war jaded, and with new weapons including the monstrous tanks that took no notice of rifle or machine gun, barbed wire entanglements or trenches, the Germans were finally routed.

At the Versailles Treaty, Lloyd George, No.1 pro-Boer in the South African war, represented Britain as Prime Minister and Clemenceau represented France. These two scrapped President Wilson’s Fourteen Points and sowed the seeds for the next World War and some minor wars in between.

President Wilson returned to his own country which rejected him. America never joined the League of Nations.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the United States were again on the sidelines and raking in all the shekels they could. This went on while Britain, deserted by France, was battling for her very existance.

Perhaps the only thing to bring the U.S.A. in was the battering she got at Pearl Harbour. To do her justice, she came in then with all she had, and certainly paid a price she had not done in the First World War,

When the Germans were finally defeated and the coalition Government in Britain was dissolved, Labour won the election and the U.S.A. was very angry. They stopped lend-lease at once. Mr. Churchill, who had fought the election mainly on his status and personality, was angry too. He went to America where he gave his Fulton speech in which he coined the phrase “The Iron Curtain”.

The lease-lend arrangement was that nations involved should produce all they could and put it into a common pool. The U.S.A. not only stopped the lease-lend agreement but they wanted some of the goods already delivered to Britain or Russia returned or paid for.

Russia had put seven million dead into the common pool, and thousands of miles of her country had been overrun and reduced to scorched earth. America had never a bomb dropped on her territory or a foot of land destroyed but they gave the world the atom bomb.

In her finances, Britain was having the utmost difficulty, but Sir Stafford Cripps said time and again he would not devalue the British pound. Finally, however, the U.S.A, brought so much pressure to bear that the pound had to be devalued, which means, in essence, more of your good for less of ours.

After the Germans collapsed, the Japanese knew they had lost the war also, and were negotiating to end it when the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

If that bomb had so shocked and horrified those who authorised it that never again should such a thing happen, it might have been worthwhile. Instead, they needlessly dropped another on Nagasaki.

Leonard Cheshire, V.C., who survived a hundred bombing raids and had probably seen more of the havoc caused by them than any other man alive, flew over Nagasaki as a passenger in an observation plane that fateful morning. Miles up in the air, no danger at all, he saw that bomb dropped which in a twinkling of an eye reduced forty thousand people to vapour or dust, and those on the outer fringes to maimed or disfigured cripples.

After the war Leonard Cheshire founded a hospice that grew into the charity Leonard Cheshire. He became known for his work in conflict resolution. In 1991 he was created a life peer in recognition of his charitable work.

This so horrified Cheshire that he turned into the man he is today, whose one aim is to reduce pain and suffering whenever and wherever he can.

Ex-President Truman of the United States, who ordered the bomb to be dropped, says he has no regrets or misgivings. Here we see the difference between the fighting man and the politician.

So the United States has gone on making bigger and more destructive bombs ever since, and for many years was the only nation which possessed them.

Several years ago, Randolph Churchill paid a visit to New Zealand, and before he landed, was telling us that our ally, America, was stockpiling these bombs while Russia had none and never would have. Almost before he had finished speaking, Russia dropped her first bomb!

When America was the only country which possessed the bomb there was no talk of fall-out or other danger, and she was allowed to strip islands in the Pacific of their inhabitants with promises, which were not carried out, to make testing grounds. Since then the competition between the two nations has gone on with each claiming the biggest and best bombs.

We in New Zealand have an exaggerated impression of how the U.S.A. saved us from the Japanese. They were saving themselves as well, and it has always been military policy to keep the fighting as far away from your own country as possible.

America has been doing this ever since. There are airfields in Britain, Turkey and other countries on the fringe of Russia, all for the purpose of keeping any wars away from the U.S.A.

Karl Marx, the most maligned and the most competent and capable man in our age in social and economic science, foresaw that the money barons would not give up their privileged position without armed conflict, but Marx, nor anyone alive in his day, could not have seen that man would become so mad and so clever that he would make weapons to destroy the enemy, himself and everything else at the same time.

Lewis Henry Morgan (1818–81) was a pioneering American anthropologist and social theorist

Morgan in his “Ancient Society” points to many periods in human life when discoveries and inventions changed its pattern completely; e.g. the discovery of the means of making, using and controlling fire. The last great change was from serfdom and chattel slavery to wage slavery.

All changes have caused friction and upset, but man has survived; so the change from capitalism to socialism is not so far fetched when the alternative is complete destruction. All changes in the past have extended over a long time, so there could be a period of co-existence in the real sense of the word to find out what is best in both forms of society. To retain the best would be a blessing for us all.


Lloyd George at one time accused the German Kaiser of swashbuckling his way through Europe. For more than five hundred years, the white professedly Christian countries have swashbuckled their way over the five oceans and the five continents of this world. The world as we know it is of their making, both good and bad.

In my opinion, the U.S.A. has for many years been the most trigger happy and jingoistic country. Both America and Russia tell us what an immense advantage the one that gets in first blow will have. With planes continually in the air prepared and armed it is a continuing miracle that this has not happened, so it is vitally important that these two nations agree to a real form of co-existance, which we have not had up till now despite all the fine words.

Anyone who can look back and remember China and Russia fifty years ago must marvel at the wonderful progress they have made. At that time both these countries were the poorest and most backward in Europe or Asia.

In the meantime, they have been beset by invading armies, internal revolutions and all the opposition of the white Western nations. From the time Hongkong was ceded to the British until the Communists took over, China was the most ravished and despoiled country in the world.

We know quite well how the Russian and Chinese people suffered and endured. None of the Western nations would have put up with this, nor did Germany when invading armies entered her country from east to west.

The United States picked the wrong one to support in Chiang Kai-Shek, as when the Communists gained control they pushed ChiangKai-Shek and his army further and further back until they pushed them out of the country and on to the island of Formosa which they could not hold forty eight hours without American protection.

We heard a great deal about armies being liquidated, which many of us thought meant exterminated; but in reality they had gone over to the Communists taking with them their arms and everything else they could.

China, a country numbering now 600,000,000 has been debarred entry to the United Nations by the opposition of its wealthiest member. So long as such things are possible, the United Nations must remain a farce. The big nations use it for their own ends and the smaller nations openly defy it, as South Africa does, or ignore it as in Cyprus at present (]une 1964).

The United Nations can never be the force it could be as long as such combinations as Nato, Seato, the Warsaw Pact and others, all its superior in wealth and military power remain outside. Despite all this the United Nations must go on in the hope that someday sanity may come to this mad world of ours and it can achieve the real purpose it was created to serve. Any weaknesses such as events in the Congo and Cyprus show must be removed before that can happen.

In Parliament, our Government has made a god of “private enterprise incentive”, and would have us believe that incentive would be lost without private enterprise or gain, but progress in Socialist countries proves this false. Private enterprise in the individual leads to car conversion, the key money racket, and fills 80% of our prison space. In the group private enterprise incentive causes booms and slumps in trade and man-made famines or shortages. All the national level it has caused all wars since the sectarian wars of the Middle Ages.

In passing, I note that I have heard sob stories about the Berlin Wall that would make one cry or want to go and break the wall up; but not one word about the barbed wire wall built by Britain in Kowloon where sentries were posted with orders to shoot anyone crossing without a permit.

Walls are the oldest form of defence known to mankind, and never before have they been regarded as offensive in the military sense. Wigan never had a defensive ditch or a wall, the term - gate coming from the Norse word Gata, meaning street or way. Most Eastern towns and villages are walled in even today, and the five main approaches to my home town of Wigan all have gate names going back to the time when the town was walled.


“Were the wealth that’s spent
On outer space and camps and courts
Given to redeem the human mind from error,
There were no need for arsenals and forts.”

We must never let the U.S.A. or anyone else bring one of their surplus or obsolete atom or nuclear bombs into our country. To bring the Bible up-todate: “Those who live by the bomb shall perish by the bomb”. So long as we keep these bombs out of our country, we live in the safest part of the world.

What will happen if Russia and the United States start to throw their 500 or 1,000lb bombs at each other we don’t know. What will happen in this case is mainly guesswork, but if it does mean a creeping death moving slowly southward, we in New Zealand will have a reserve seat to see how it goes on.

Everything in the northern hemisphere will be gone and there will be no need to worry about turning ships around or anything else. If it does happen to turn out not so bad as we thought, and some pockets of people are left alive, then these may be called upon to build up a new civilisation, and if that civilisation is to endure, it must be built on a different basis to the present one.

Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, whether by individual, by group or by country, will not do, as the present world situation so clearly shows. So whether it be by the Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s Life and Teaching, Thomas More or Karl Marx, this is the only true and sure method to build a new society.

And now, I am nearly blind, I am deaf, I am ninety years of age I have lived through the most wonderful period in mankind’s history. The magic carpet of the Arabian nights is just a wonderful worn-out motheaten piece of tapestry compared with the wonders we see around us everywhere today. The good and the genii of the old stories are not in the kindergarten compared with the powers of good and evil we have with us today.

What a wonderful world this would be if all this wealth and power was being used for progress and happiness. Instead of that, most of it is being used for the destruction of human life and property.

This craze of going to the moon or Mars is the most senseless thing ever imagined, especially when we know that if we reach them we will bring only trouble and strife. When we have remedied all the wrongs and evils here on earth, it will be quite time enough to try to reach outer bodies.

I had wished to end this with some such lines as “When the wardrums beat no longer”, but the time for soothing syrup is past. I wonder how Byron would describe Nagasaki, Coventry, Munich or Leningrad if he were living today.

This is how he described a battlefield a hundred and fifty years ago in the “Devil’s Drive”:

“But as he flew, I forgot to say,
He hovered a moment upon his way
To look upon Leipsig’s plain.
And so sweet to his eye was its sulphuric glare,
And so soft to his ear the cry of despair,
That he perched on a mountain of slain.
And he gazed with delight from his growing height;
Not often on earth had he seen such a sight
Or his work done half so well.
For the field ran so red with the blood of the dead
That it blushed like the flames of Hell;
And loudly and wild and long laughed he:
“Methinks they have here, little need of me!”



A terrifying thought to me is that, at ninety, I may live to see man’s greed, jealousy and lust for power wipe out, not the progress of a lifetime, but that of a million years.

Hence this book.

Without the help, the understanding, encouragement and patience of Mrs. Mary Clark, this was not possible. If this reaches print, it will be more to her credit than mine, for she has written, typed and done all that was necessary to bring it about. For this she deserves my never-ending thanks and gratitude. Any blame there may be is all mine.

Some may think I do not give the Americans full credit, but this is the picture as I see it. After Pearl Harbour they had no option. The japs overran vast tracts of China and other countries. They took HongKong, Singapore and the American held Philippines and proceeded south.

This took them further away from America, but it gave them the problem of getting their troops to where the fighting was going on. General MacArthur escaped from Manila, and later got to Australia.

As a finishing post for their troops training and as a hopping-off place for their Pacific campaign, the Americans could not have been served anywhere better than in Australia and New Zealand. Nothing was denied them.

Britain kept Rommel out of Egypt, but we do not get special thanks for this, and we could not even “tell the marines” we did this because we loved the Egyptians!

The benefits and favours were not all one·sided, and perhaps someday our politicians and Press will not so blindly cling on to Uncle Sam’s military or money-getting coat tails.

Workers sometimes crucify their leaders by placing them in untenable positions, and at time leaders somersault or sell out. The employers make the most of this division in their ranks, and they should be guarded against.

Of all the men I have known in the Labour movement, I give the late Harry Holland pride of place. As editor of the “Maoriland Worker”, as a platform or a soapbox speaker, and as a writer in prose or poetry, he excelled on all Labour subjects.

When Paddy Webb went to gaol, Harry contested and won his seat, which he held till he died. At first he was a leader of a party of four, then eight, and next time sixteen - and so it went on.

He was offered a post in the Cabinet, which he knew was to close him and his party up and he refused. Others might have accepted.

About 1933, he came to attend, with others, King Mahuta’s Funeral.He was a sick, lame man then, but he insisted on climbing to the high point on Taupiri Mountain to be at the grave side. That night, at the home of our Huntly Mayor, Mr. George, he died.

Before his body left Huntly, he was taken over to the Maoripa, and given a Maori funeral ceremony. They almost worshipped him, and have shown their gratitude ever since. If he had lived, he would have been Labour’s first Prime Minister, but, like Moses of old, he saw the Promised Land, but never reached it.

His last poem written shortly before he died shows the man he was and the life he had lived:

“When I am dead
And you, who fought the fight with me,
Shall come to say the last farewell;
Let no sad funeral dirge be sung,
Nor mournful beat of muffled drum
efore the hearse that bears me hence.
But let the silver cornet wake
The sleeping echoes of the hills
With vibrant note, that shall proclaim
There is no sting in death for me;
No victory the grave hath won:
Or not in sorrow shall ye walk
In slow procession to my tomb,
But proudly march, as though ye come
To hail me victor in the fight,
When I am dead.

When I am dead,
Dig me a grave on some high cliff
Whose rock walls guard a sea swept shore:
For I have loved the lofty hills,
And loved the wild and restless sea;
And all the years of life I’ve known
Were ever lashed with storms,
And swept with wind and driving hail.
So I at close of day would sleep
Where all God’s wildest storms on earth
Shall thunder requiems for me
When I am dead.

This is a basic family tree of Joseph Mellng's family. Click the image to see a bigger version.

Originally set in Varityper and printed offset by the Waikato Times, Hamilton, N.Z.