Thursday, April 18, 2024

Laurie Hamlet: WWII veteran, avionics engineer, and life-long Howickian

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In his retirement years, Laurie continues to hold an avid interest in classic cars and WWII aircrafts. Photo Zoe Garden

The Times is interviewing local residents with good yarns as part of Howick 175, the 175th anniversary of settler landings at Howick

What was defined as Auckland City in 1950s was as far as the trams terminated.

Once the tracks ended, it was considered country, says 99-year-old John Lawrence (Laurie) Ernest Hamlet.

And a small town out east seemed very far away for city dwellers.

“Coming out to Howick was like going on holiday,” Laurie says.

Once Laurie and his wife travelled to Howick, they knew it was where they wanted to go.

With their young children, they settled on their first property on Gibraltar Street in 1955.

Laurie describes the small community, with a population he estimated to be about 1200-1500, as very village-oriented and tight-knit.

“Once you got established, it didn’t take long to get to know everybody.”

There was an only a concrete strip coming out here on Pakuranga Highway with no curbing or channelling, Laurie says.

“Howick Village was only a handful of shops compared to today. It didn’t take much to go into the country, I’ll tell you. Down the end of Cook Street and you were there.”

Before arriving in his new home, Laurie was as a ground engineer in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during World War II, serving two tours in the Pacific.

After discharging from the Air Force in 1946, he rejoined the automotive trade until 1967 when he became employed as an avionics engineer for Air New Zealand where he stayed for more than two decades.

“The experience I gained during the war set me up for joining Air NZ later in life,” Laurie says.

Settling into Howick, Laurie, interested in photography through his two younger brothers, was one of the founding members of the Howick Photographic Society.

Additionally, he was in Pakuranga Probus and Howick Sailing Club.

“One of the reasons we moved (to Howick) was because it was close to the water,” he says.

“I was very keen on sailing.”

Laurie’s wife, a stay-at-home mother, was a stenographer for Howick X-Ray.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Laurie started to take note of the rapid progression of Howick.

“Once they altered the highway from Panmure, that’s when Howick started to balloon. All the properties on the side of the road coming from the bridge up onto Ridge Road were nearly all farmland. The shopping centre on Ti Rakau Drive was all swamp.

“Your living conditions, the development of the whole area, you more or less fell in with progress. It’s expected, really.”

Laurie and his wife moved into his second property on Bleakhouse Road in 1987. He retired two years later.

Now living on Union Road in his own apartment, Laurie, having celebrated his 99th birthday last month, continues to drive his Toyota.

He is involved in the local classic car scene and holds a life-long interest in avionics, including refurbishing WWII aircraft.

In February, Laurie had the incredible opportunity to fly in the back seat of the P40 Kittyhawk, an ex-Royal Australian Air Force machine that, during its restoration, was converted to two-seat status.

“It was something you only dream out,” Laurie says.

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