War first test of 70-year marriage

08:55, Oct 24 2011
Platinum club: Allan and Margaret Alexander at home in Waikanae.

Allan and Margaret Alexander got married, promptly spent the next three years apart, but still have one of the most successful relationships in Kapiti.

The couple spoke to the Kapiti Observer last week after celebrating 70 years of marriage, including enforced separation through a world war.

They were married in October 1941 - but by November Mr Alexander, a bomber pilot, was sent overseas to fight in World War II. He didn't return for three years.

On October 4 this year the couple woke up to their platinum anniversary, and Mr Alexander had a few simple thoughts.

"It's a helluva long time." And, "These days they'd have about six [marriages] in that time."

The Alexanders now live in Waikanae but during the war they both lived in Wellington, where they met.


They met on Mr Alexander's first day in the city when, as a 17-year- old, he shifted from Foxton to his aunt's house in Brooklyn in 1937.

"Marg and my cousin Nancy went to college together and she was down there with Nancy the day I arrived.

"Being a little country boy, I had no show [of resisting her] with her golden hair down to her shoulders - and that was it. We got married in 1941 and we're still together in 2011."

However, between the marriage and today, there were plenty of challenges - Mr Alexander was posted to Canada a month after their big day.

Mrs Alexander, born in Balclutha, had shifted north with her mother after her father died when she was only 10.

She said being apart from her husband was "dreadful. During the war it was really bad."

Separation wasn't helped by the stop-start letter service, by ship, during the war - and Mr Alexander also admitted being a "horrible correspondent".

"I used to manage a letter out occasionally, but sometimes they wouldn't arrive."

At the time the couple had more serious things on their minds - Mr Alexander was posted to England and started flying missions over Germany, piloting a Stirling bomber. In all, he flew 27 night missions; flying through the heart of Germany to targets such as Frankfurt, Nuremburg and Berlin.

"We left the daylights to the Yanks - they were silly enough to do daylight and we left it to them."

However, night missions were still dangerous for the pilots in the 75th squadron, of which Mr Alexander was part.

"God, yes, in five months in the squadron, the only time I checked up, we lost 39 aircraft: that was 39 with seven in each aircraft."

Mrs Alexander was well aware of the danger her new husband was facing in Europe but there was little she could do but learn to cope with it.

"I had to - it was one of those things you just had to do."

Back over Europe Mr Alexander, who loved flying, was using his skills to keep himself and his crew alive. There were people who could fly, he said, but they weren't necessarily pilots: it was a "mechanical" thing for them. Those people, the ones who couldn't become "part" of their machine, were often the ones who didn't make it.

After the war Mr Alexander became a commercial pilot on passenger planes before becoming a real estate salesman and finally a Royal Returned and Services Association manager in Waikato.

The couple, both now in their early 90s, had three children and retired in the early 1980s before shifting to Kapiti in the 1990s.

The last time Mr Alexander flew was when he turned 70, on a celebratory birthday flight from Paraparaumu Airport in a single engine plane. The pilot knew Mr Alexander was an ex-commercial pilot and handed over the controls for an hour. "It was like riding a bike. Once you got hold of the throttles and the stick it was just the same. He even let me land it, for which I think he was a fool."

The couple agree on simple things for keeping a relationship going, like not going to bed without sorting out arguments.

Mr Alexander said they still love each other - in fact, love and companionship get stronger over the years.

Back in 1944 it was a lengthy journey back to New Zealand for Mr Alexander: a ship across the Atlantic to New York, a train across the US to San Francisco, then two ship legs across the Pacific to Auckland. After arriving by train in Wellington he discovered his wife had been shifted to Palmerston North. After a quick phone call she caught the train to the Wellington station and finally saw her husband after three years.

"And that was it, we were home," he said.

Kapiti Observer