Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A tribute to my mum

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By Colleen Sandford

Mum was born Caroline Harper Cox in Auckland, New Zealand on 19 October 1918. In her later years Mum marvelled that she was actually alive during World War 1 – well, just!  She was only 23 days old when New Zealanders celebrated the end of the war to end all wars. It was not known then that as a young woman Mum would live through another World war just as terrifying – World War II.

Mum’s father was employed by New Zealand Railways and was posted to Whangarei. She remembers as a very little girl being quite upset about something, so she went out into the back yard and kicked anything she could find to vent her frustration. To her huge embarrassment, when she looked up, there was a neighbour laughing heartily at her.

Mum assures me this was her first and last outburst. I can vouch for this and remember Mum as being slow to anger.

In later years, Mum somehow found a great philosophy in life and we all remember her constantly saying, “Just take it quietly and see how it goes”.

Caroline celebrated her 100th birthday at Hancock’s Cafe in Howick last Friday. She was gifted a cricket bat by Hancock’s owner Veng Taing which he had promised several years ago to give her if she reached 100 years old. Pictured here with her son, Merv Sanford & Veng Taing. Times photo. 

She does not remember how old she was when her father was posted to Wellington with New Zealand Railways.

Mum became extremely close to her first cousin, Merv Hardie, known to us kids as Uncle Merv, who lived in Auckland. He had a best friend called Tom Sandford.

It was Christmas 1941 and Uncle Merv was already married to Miriam (known to us as Aunty Poll). In Uncle Merv’s view, marriage was pretty good and he considered it a fine institution for his first cousin Carol and his best mate Tom – and, what better way to get them together than invite Tom over to dinner when Carol was staying in Auckland.

“I remember I wasn’t feeling nervous at all even though I knew what Merv was up to,” Mum told me. I’d put my bet on Aunty Poll telling her!

When she met Dad, she considered him a little short, but extremely handsome. “In fact, the Sandford boys were all very good looking” she mused, “and lots of girls chased them”.

Dad wrote to Mum when she returned to Wellington asking to see her again. Mum was thrilled. Mum and Dad’s courtship and engagement were different to most in that the majority of it was spent writing letters.

World War II was now having a huge impact on Mum’s life; Dad had been called up to serve in the New Zealand Army and they had to steal whatever time together they could.

In winter 1942 Mum was able to come up to Auckland to see Dad. During the war, civilian travel was restricted and Mum had just used up one more of her precious Civilian Travel Passes.

On 17 July 1942, Dad turned 21-years-old and as such was eligible for overseas service. It was at this time their relationship became serious. Mum told me they both knew they would marry; so, before Dad being posted overseas they decided to become engaged.

In December 1942 Dad received word that as part of the 3rd Division, he was being posted to New Caledonia and as such was given only one week of final leave. Dad needed to say goodbye not only to Mum, but also his family, so it was decided Mum would come to Auckland – but she had used her final “Civilian Travel Pass”.

“I remember”, Mum told me, “almost begging to be given a travel pass – and after being refused I started to cry”. The ticket master responded, “I’ll see what I can do” and much to her delight, Mum soon found herself on a crowded train headed to Cambridge.

Mum and Dad did not see each other again until June 1944 – but the letters continued.

Mum kept herself busy working as a milliner. Mum remembers the American soldiers coming into her workplace to invite the girls out. “I never took them up on any offer,” Mum laughed. “I just flashed my engagement ring at them.”

Mum would constantly pass the Evening Post (newspaper in Wellington) building to read the notice board in the hope of finding out what was happening to New Zealand troops overseas. The hardest part Mum remembers though was also checking the notice board of NZ soldiers killed or missing in action. “I just had a feeling he’d be back and I also prayed for him – every day,” Mum said.

Caroline celebrating with her friends and family at her favourite Howick cafe, Hancock’s.

It was the 9th June 1944 that Dad arrived home.

20 June 1944 was the day Mum and Dad married in the Auckland Registry Office. After the ceremony they attended Church to commit their marriage to the Lord.

Mum was married to Dad for 74 years.

On 31 August 1945, Mum gave birth to a baby boy who they named John after Dad’s father. Their second son, Mervyn, was named after Uncle Merv and then the youngest, a daughter, me, was named Colleen.

Mum had the knack of loving all her children equally. She often told me she was blessed to have three children with diverse personalities to love, none more or less than the other.

Today Mum has three children, four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

The most important thing in Mum’s life is her Christian faith.  It is something she’s never questioned and always loved.

Back then it was considered a sin to dance and the theatre was definitely out of the question – but not for Mum; she loved the movies and would sneak one in at any opportunity she got.

My fondest memories of Mum are ‘doing lunch’. We’d be rich today if we saved the money we spent at cafes over the years, but I would do it all again in a flash. One can’t name a price for those memories.

Thanks Mum. We love you.

  • Colleen Sanford is the daughter of Caroline Sandford who celebrated her 100th birthday on Friday October 19. The occasion was marked with a celebration at Hancock’s where Caroline was gifted a cricket bat by the owners, part a long-running joke between them. In cricket, a century is a score of 100 in a single innings by a batsman. This was Hancock’s tribute to her to mark her own century in life.

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