Growing up in Wellington in the 1920s-30s

As my last post featured my mother up to her marriage in 1939, I thought I would now use the interview I did with my parents to look at my father’s childhood – at least what he remembered to tell me in a relatively brief interview!

Fred & Bob Berhampore dad & sibs at Rongotai

Left: My father Fred Morrell and his older brother Bob – Berhampore building fund, 1922. This was probably a fund-raising event for the school.

Right: Morrells about 1919 – my father (the youngest) with his older siblings, Bob, Ruth and Gwen. The youngest, Evelyn, isn’t yet born. Taken at their grandparents house in Rongotai, Wellington.

Dad: I grew up in Berhampore, [a suburb in the south of Wellington] we lived at 32 Stanley Street. I went to kindergarten at the bottom of Stanley St. About No. 2 Stanley St. Then I went to primary school just across the road, but I don’t remember much about it…

dad as a boy (3)  dad as a boy (4)

Two photos from Berhampore School days (girls went there too, but they seemed to photograph them separately) – left, 1926, Standard 2 (dad is in the third row from the front, third from the left); right, 1928, Standard 4 (dad is in the back row, fourth from right).

Dad: I was on a train that went off the line [two miles south of Paekakariki] when I was in Standard 6 [1929]. [About 90 children from Berhampore School] went to the Palmerston North show for the day and coming back the engine ran into a slip down by the fourth tunnel. The engine went over the bank – and the girls’ carriage was next to it and that went over. The boys’ carriage was holding them up so we had to stop in the carriage until they got all the girls out. It was due in Wellington about 6pm but we went over the bank about 5:15. Another train came out and brought us all pies – we had to walk through the tunnels. One boy dived through the window rather than stay on the train.

This is reported in the Evening Post, 21 June 1929, Page 11.  The Governor-General and his wife were also on the train – but at the back. No one was hurt.

Dad: After school I played cricket and rugby and I went over to the golf links finding golf balls. You weren’t supposed to do that, they [the caretakers] used to give me hell sometimes. I’d been head caddy as well; and the Strathmore brothers were professionals and club makers and they gave me my first set of clubs. They’d sometimes offer me my 1 shilling and 6 pence or ask if I wanted a club. Of course, I was wise enough to take a club. I was still at school then. So this was after school and in the weekends. I’d go over with Dave Rash and find balls. I used to take Mitchell’s dog (a little terrier) – he was a champion – at finding golf balls! I’d go into the scrub and throw a ball – or make out I was throwing one – and he’d go in and get it. He thought he was playing. One day he brought out 30 golf balls! One after the other. I had them tucked in my pants and everywhere. We were lucky though, because Dave’s uncle, Mr Wilton, was one of the caretakers. And he’d tell us where the others were working – there were about 5 caretakers. So we kept out of their way. We’d have gumboots on and go in the bogs – you can feel golf balls through your gumboots.

[Me: and how much did you sell them for?] It varied – if we had a brand new one we’d get about a shilling for it. We’d get them out of the bog sometimes and they’d be a bit brown – and Dave and I used to repaint them. We’d get 6 pence each for those. If it had a small cut or something we might only get 9 pence. But up to 1/6 for a brand new one – especially the good brands like King or Dunlop. Mum used to borrow half a crown off me sometimes. [Me: Where would you sell them?] Oh, any of the people playing golf would buy them off us.

When I was old enough I went down to Island Bay with the fishermen. I used to help drag the nets in. We were allowed any fish in the net providing we didn’t take the mackerel. They were dragging for mackerel bait and if you helped them with the nets you could take some. Dave Rash and I often used to get two or three big moki sometimes. I would come home on the last tram at half past eleven at night. You weren’t supposed to take fish on the tram, but we gave the conductor a moki and he’d take us right home to Berhampore. He wouldn’t put us off at Duppa Street – which was the end of the section. He used to take us on to Chilka Street.

It was during the slump time [1930s Depression]. We used to go down when they were bringing in the groper and we used to take the groper throats – they were lovely eating. Slump time of course, mum and dad were glad to get them.

Something my father didn’t mention in this interview was going to Pukerua Bay, where his father owned a few baches; but there is a little bit about it in my NZ Beach Culture post.

fred&ruthI don’t know whose horse this was, but the photo was taken at Pukerua Bay. My father is on the horse and his sister Ruth is holding it.

Dad: Dad [Walter Morrell, who features in my Morrell family in Wellington post] was out of work [during the Depression] for four years – he couldn’t get on the dole because he owned baches at Pukerua Bay, and he had £1000 pounds in the bank and he had to use that up. He eventually got on the dole two days a week. That was after he’d used all his money up. He used to give mum £5 pounds a week – and once he went down to draw it out and was told ‘sorry, there’s nothing left’. So that was that. They put him on the dole. Mum was told they’d have to re-mortgage the house at Berhampore – she said “no way, we’ve taken 40 years [more like 30?] to pay it off. We’re not going to re-mortgage that”. They didn’t declare the baches at Pukerua Bay otherwise they’d have had to sell them [they originally owned 4 baches at Pukerua Bay, probably built by Walter c. 1922]. They sold one for £250 because they were out of money.

gusfredetcPhoto taken at Pukerua Bay, early to mid-1930s. At left, Gus Sheckell (a relation) holding a kitten; dad with parasol; unknown; Bob Morrell.

Dad: I used to bike to Wellington Tech [secondary school – I think this is now Wellington High School]. One time near the top of Adelaide Road, I was going down there to Tech and had a case on the front and it got caught in the fork – I shot across the handlebar and hit the curb. I went home and had the day off that day and went across to the golf links and found golf balls.

I left school when I was 15. I went to work for British General Electric as a junior storeman. They were at Taranaki St right next to the old Police Station. I got 7/6 a week: paid mum half a crown, half a crown for myself and half a crown for my tram fare to Courtenay Place [half a crown = 2/6 or two and a half shillings]. I worked for them for 6 months. They sacked me because I was due for a rise – that’s what they did in those days. I went across the road and worked for Levy Brothers in tailoring. I stuck with them for 15 months, I did quite well with them. I was pressing there and then I left them and went to Moore Wilson’s – I think I got a pound or 25 bob a week there. I worked for them until I was about 18, I left them – well they paid me off actually. I was due for a rise. They had another boy there and they put him on as junior driver. I was a bit annoyed with that as I was a bit more senior. I’d been out on the lorries learning the runs.

Here are some testimonials from dad’s employers in the 1930s:

After a while I went to work on the Taranaki farm. That was a dairy farm with the Winn’s [family relations]. They said they’d pay me 5 bob a week and my keep. But my mother said ‘don’t worry about Fred, he’s got 5 pound in his pocket’ (from the golf course) – so they didn’t pay me – he said I was learning for the first month and they’d only give me my keep and no wages. But they paid their son Harry who was the same age as me. They might give him half a crown and tell him to take me to the pictures. Harry had a motorbike – the farm was out of Hawera. They paid me after the first month – I used to milk night and morning, and drive the horse and dray. I had to cut gorse that had been burnt off and cart it away. I didn’t go back for hot dinner at midday, I had to have sandwiches, so I’d miss out on a hot dinner. I growled about that after a week. I was there for about 8 months.

Then I went back to Wellington and got a job at Bond’s Hosiery in Tasman Street up by the Show Buildings – I was on the machines there. I finished up with them at £2 /10 a week.

I started working for the Railways at Cross Creek at the bottom of the Rimutaka Incline [the Wairarapa side of the Rimutaka Hills]. I was on maintenance at Cross Creek and I lived in a boarding house. We’d often be working at the top near the big tunnel replacing rails. By the time we got back to the bottom on the trolley the brakes would be worn out and we’d have to replace them every day. I started when I was 20 and getting £3/10 a week, which was good money in those days. I worked there for 3 months and then got appointed to permanent staff at Mauriceville.

It was while at Mauriceville (in the Wairarapa) that he met my mother and they married in December 1939.

I have his Certificate of Service from the Railways – he was employed with them from 17 Feb 1937 to 14 Dec 1940 as a Junior Surfaceman and Surfaceman.

Something else my father didn’t mention from his childhood is the YMCA gymnastics (see my post on YMCA, Wellington for a photo of him and his team). Two more photos with my father in – left, possibly a school gym photo? Dad is fourth from the left in the second row. Right: a rugby team. Dad is on the left at the back.

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