Kiwi friends reunited after 70 years

01:26, Jun 17 2014
friends from india
HAPPY MEMORIES: Nancy Mence, left, and Vera Rabbitt look through photographs of their days in India.

After a childhood spent sipping tea in the shadow of the Himalayas during the last days of the raj, a chance meeting has reunited two old Kiwi school friends.

Nancy Mence, 80 and Vera Rabbitt, 79 had not seen each other since primary school days in India almost 70 years ago before their recent catch-up in Te Aroha, sparked by a chance family connection.

Kris Rabbitt, who lives in Te Aroha with husband Mike, was weeding a garden a month ago when Nancy passed by and joked "You can come and do mine".

Kris gave her a business card and the name Rabbitt was connected to Mike's mother, Vera, in Upper Hutt and back to India.

"We got a tear," said Kris, who hosted the pair over Queen's Birthday weekend.

Over morning tea, Nancy and Vera turned back the clock to the days of the British Raj before the Partition of India in 1947 when the country gained its independence and Pakistan was formed.


It was a time of servants and snakes, tea and tigers.

Based in northern India, Vera's father was in the army. Nancy's parents were missionaries.

As youngsters their view from home took in Mt Everest and K2 in the Himalayas.

The milkman paid a toll to use the mountain road and rewarded customers with watered down buffalo milk.

The local butcher carried meat on his head for delivery.

Both families had servants.

They spoke Hindi before English and enjoyed the company of schoolmates from around the world.

"It was a great life for kids," they said.

The school was well appointed, including a music room.

With a roll of about 1000, it catered for babies through to students of 17.

Both remember the boys putting a snake in a teacher's drawer at school.

"It was only a [harmless] grass snake."

There were also deadly spiders and snakes in the area . . . "but we ignored them".

It would take a day to reach Delhi and three days to get to Bombay travelling by bus and train

When they returned to New Zealand, Vera trained as a teacher and Nancy became a nurse. Fairfax NZ