The other side of wartime stories ...

Last updated 05:00 17/07/2010

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Southern military history

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The initial Anzac Day commemorations were "a man's do" in the late 1920s and early 1930s, recalls 86-year-old former WAAC Doreen Heffernan.

"Now, everybody goes to the Anzac Day procession. Those days they were very much soldier-minded; the wives and children wouldn't have thought of going to the parade."

Her father Bill Drake, who lost an arm in World War I, and a next-doorneighbour who lost a leg, would make this the one day of the year they would take a taxi.

It would get them to the parade and "we wouldn't see them again until about 10 at night, when they'd come home in a taxi. And if it hadn't been for the taxi driver I don't think they would have been able to get out of the car".

It became a standing joke in the household that this day – and, okay, New Year first-footing – were the only days their father, one of "the quietest men in creation" would cut loose in quite that way.

Mrs Heffernan was given cause to feel included in military endeavour even as a St Catherine's schoolgirl. Secondary schoolboys could expect to be drilled, but the head nun at St Catherine's had a contacted a local lieutenant to ensure that the schools young ladies would also benefit from that discipline.

Mrs Heffernan, who was turning 16 and finishing school as World War II erupted, became a typist, and eventually a WAAC, at the Invercargill Drill Hall, pounding away on a mighty old Bar-Lock typewriter and, for the most part, enjoying the company at the less dramatic end of wartime service.

Not that the personnel at the Drill Hall weren't put upon. The NCO in charge of the uniform stores, for instance, had enemies of his own. The far end of the hall was down towards the estuary, home to water rats that would get into the clothing store.

The Drill Hall personnel also stood witness to one of the war's most celebrated burials. The combat had stranded a circus and, regrettably, an elephant died. Some accounts have it that this mighty corpse was buried around Mersey St. Not so, Mrs Heffernan attests, it was on Victoria St, on reclaimed land.

IT WASN'T ALL ABOUT THE MENFOLK
Southland nurse Marion Sinclair Brown, from Waimatuku, died when a German submarine torpedoed the HMT Marquette of the coast of Macedonian Greece in 1915.

She was among the staff of the New Zealand No 1 Stationary Hospital, en route from Alexandra in Egypt to Greece.

Two other Southland nurses survived.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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