Hard times

Last updated 16:03 24/07/2012

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Great people living a hard life is how Noall Berryman remembers earlier generations of his family in Marlborough.

The 81-year-old widower wanted to share his father-in-law's story after reading about a Masterton man's call for the country's war memorials to honour horses' wartime sacrifices alongside fallen soldiers.

It isn't an issue Noall chooses to debate, but his father-in-law Arthur Blick probably would have an opinion.

He spent most of his life working with horses and during World War I served in the Middle East with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.

Details of his service are carefully recorded in a large home-bound book and Noall flicks through its pages to tell Arthur's story. As it is narrated, it inevitably expands to include Arthur's daughter, Noall's late wife Joan.

In 1916 Arthur had been sent with other army recruits to train at Featherston in Wairarapa. That was followed by more training at Tidworth, Wiltshire, in South West England. From there some of the troops went to France. Others, including Arthur, joined General Edmund Allenby's expedition into Egypt. Horses and mules went, too, and Arthur became a wagon man tending a team of mules that carried water and general supplies.

"Mules were better in the heat than horses," Noall says, reading from Arthur's memoirs.

After the war, the older man returned to Marlborough and with his brother Gilbert Blick, ran a wagonning business, carrying wool, timber and other products from and to farms in the Wairau Valley, the Rai Valley and sometimes even into the Awatere.

Country hotels were welcome stopping points; with chaff for horses, cold draught beer for horsemen and grazing space and beds for anyone needing an overnight stay.

One such post was the Okaramio Hotel and that was where Arthur met his future wife Edith, the publican Joseph Wooster's daughter.

They were married on June 1, 1921, and their daughter Joan was born in Havelock at midwife Mrs Pope's Nursing Home.

Motorised transport had advanced quickly during the war years, Noall says, and the first truck was being driven along Marlborough roads by 1918. By 1924 Arthur saw the "writing was on the wall" for horse-drawn cargo so he quit the wagonning business and took his family to Mahakipawa and later the Rai Valley. He and his three-horse team repaired roads for the Marlborough County Council.

By 1948, motorised earthworks were more efficient than horse-drawn graders, not least because hay and chaff had become more expensive than fuel, Noall says.

So Arthur left the council and joined the Forest Service. The service had started planting exotic trees in the Rai Valley and Arthur looked after plants in the nursery and led a 12-horse team carrying packs of young trees to drop-off points up and down the hillsides.

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Noall, a Murchison man, arrived at the Rai Valley as a Forest Service ranger and Arthur invited him along to Saturday morning pig-hunting expeditions.

"I was more of a deer shooter than anything else," Noall says with a smile. "There were not many deer around - and the attraction soon changed from pig hunting to hunting his daughter!"

He and Joan were married in the Rai Valley in early January, 1952. Joan had never been beyond Blenheim or Nelson but the couple travelled to Christchurch, Westport, then Murchison on their honeymoon. In Murchison, Noall was offered a fire permit officer's job and his and Joan's first "home" consisted of three tiny huts: one for cooking, one for washing and one for sleeping.

"I took [Joan] out to the mountains, we had some great times.

Then at the end of April she said: ‘I think I might be going to have a baby'."

Son Kelvin was born on Christmas Day and in the following years he was joined by brother Ian, and sister Christine. New job opportunities for Noall kept arising, too, and took the Berrymans to Hokitika, Rotorua and Paraparaumu.

"We shifted everywhere for 40 years," he says. Marlborough was the best place to retire, though, and in the 1980s he and Joan moved back, living first in Blenheim, then Renwick.

- The Marlborough Express

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