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Helen Thomas – family stories

Helen Thomas (nee Watts) was my grandmother (my mother’s mother). Here’s the story of her early days before she married Allan Thomas. More about their life together is available here.

My father was killed in the first World War, so Mum brought us up at Islip, the lovely home he built for us, and his mother also lived there most of the time.  Mum nursed us through every sickness and also helped nurse the flu patients after the war.

One day when there were five of us sitting on a horse it decided it had had enough and went under the clothes line pulling us all off.

My mother was the first woman driver in Morrinsville, in 1913.

She drove us to Raglan for the holidays, not always without mishap.  One day we were singing away and the roof blew off the car.  Another time we stopped to get some swedes from a paddock.  We got chased away by the farmer.  Once when we were sitting in the car we could smell something burning.  It turned out to be a rat’s nest beside the engine!

One thing that never changed was the black billy we always took with us in case anyone got sick on the way …

We had lovely holidays at Raglan – boating, fishing and walking.  We stayed in tents when we first bought the section, until our little house was built as well as a safe under the large ti-trees to keep meat, milk and butter.  Sometimes flies got in too.

Doris fell off the bank into the water one day but was quick to reassure everyone, “it’s all right, there’s nobody drowned but me”.

During the depression years in the 1930s, tramps used to come to our door with packs on their backs looking for food and a sleep in the shed at night.  It was quite common to get back from school to see an old chap sitting on the back verandah having a cuppa.  Maori women used to come around with blackberries and kumaras in exchange for clothes.  We almost lived on stewed rabbit in those days – good, too.

Money was scarce but Mum found enough to send me to train at Karitane for 16 months at Mount Albert, in Auckland.  That was from 1933 to 34.  Now and again she sent me 10 shillings and it was a treat to go to the shop and buy a butterfly cake, or fly cemetery as Pam used to call them.  I loved to go to the five o’clock session at the Civic to see a movie after having tomato soup and toast at the Plaza.  It was quite safe to walk home in the dark afterwards on my own from the terminus.

I had only one real friend at school but several at Karitane.  I rode my bike all over Auckland collecting B.M. (breast milk) at maternity hospitals for our premature babies.  I had two cases before getting married on 13 April, 1936 – one in Auckland and the other in Paeroa.