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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 35, September 1991

A long-time member of the Paeroa Historical Society, Frank Strange of Komata, celebrated his 90th Birthday on 23 November 1990. The Society congratulates him on reaching this "milestone".

Mr Strange has written an account of his life and times of the District in which he has lived. He writes:

"I was born in Hikutaia but as my father died when we were very young my mother was left with the task of earning a living. We moved to Thames where she ran a fruit shop.

I joined the Chief Post Office in Thames as a telegram messenger in 1915 and as I look back, what an experience it was to be working in such a huge establishment, the like of which we will never see again. As the First World War was raging, able-bodied men all over the country were enlisting and Post Office employees were no exception, so promotion for the younger ones came fairly quickly. My first promotion was to the telephone exchange, which in those early days operated continuously. As an exchange clerk we soon learned the voicesofalmost every subscriber. Many, many times on night shift we would be asked by a subscriber to give him or her a "tingle" at some unearthly hour in the morning. This was an example of the unique friendliness that was cultivated and retained and so fondly cherished by employees. Sadly it has gone in today's world.

As more telegraphists throughout the country were joining the Army in large numbers, the gaps left had to be filled. Those younger men (quite a number of female telegraphists were trained in the South Island - we had two in my time in Thames), ages ranging from 16 to 18, were sent to the Telegraph School located on the top floor of the Ponsonby Post Office, for training as morse operators. (There was another such school in Wellington.) The room was a huge place and in later years I likened it to a European ballroom.

After completing my training I was sent to Marton where I remained for about 10 months. It was at this time that World War 1 was coming to an end, but the 'killer' flu epidemic began raging and the death toll in the town of Marton was heavy. The Salvation Army Citadel, with an adjoining hall, was a short distance from my lodgings. It was an almost unbelievable sight to see dozens of the dead taken from the converted Citadel/hospital to the hall next door which acted as a morgue. It took a long time for such a memory to be banished from my mind. Thank God, I only had a minor attack. My landlady took care of me.

Towards the end of 1918 I was transferred to Thames where I remained for many years. During this period I worked in almost every department, but the mail room was the highlight. During that era a railway travelling Post Office ran from Thames to Frankton daily. This large carriage was a mail room in every respect. Two men boarded this Post Office at Thames daily at 8 30am. I did this run many times. All we took was registered mail, the Post Office date stamp and our lunch. Mail bags were sorted and handed to the Postmistresses at Kopu, Matatoki, Puriri, Omahu and Hikutaia, who in return handed in their mail bags. Here again, this wonderful friendship was in evidence. The bags were opened and sorted but it was not until arriving at Paeroa that the real pressure started. The mail clerk in Paeroa at that time was the late Ted Lipsham. He would be waiting at the station with 60 or more mail bags, much of which came from the Bay of Plenty. Paeroa was the railway junction. From then on it was hard work! By the time we arrived at Frankton the work load would be just about back to normal. Here we exchanged trains with the Auckland mail clerks, receiving mail for delivery throughout our area, and commenced the journey home, arriving at Thames around 5 00pm. As an economy measure this travelling Post Office was withdrawn in the early 1930s.

About the year 1920 the Post office association was dissatisfied with employees salaries and it was decided to affiliate with the Federation of Labour. A postal secret ballot was taken and the proposal carried overwhelmingly. When head office and the Government learned of this pandemonium ran wild. What did they do? Some months later, in the greatest secrecy, every Postmaster who employed staff walked out of his office simultaneously at 9.00am on the said morning armed with an official paper which read 'Are you in favour of joining the Federation of Labour?' This was placed before every employee. No threats were made but the inference was that if one replied 'yes' and signed your name, your job could be in jeopardy. Naturally this also was carried overwhelmingly and so the matter ended.

DISCRIMINATION was an unknown quantity in those days, at least that is how it seemed. Let me give examples. A male employee working on Public Counters, whether they be on the Postal, Telegraph or Money Order Counters, was not permitted to work in his shirt sleeves, even in an unusually hot summer. We had to wear a coat (an office coat it was called). Representations were made year after year, quoting Whangarei for instance, where the summer was unusually hot and trying, but to no avail. And yet female employees in exactly the same positions would work with their arms bare up to their shoulders. Another example will cause a little interest. In those days a "Classification List" showing the names of all those employed in the Post and Telegraph Department, with their full name, age and designation appeared every two or three years for the information of all employees. Do you know that the age of the female employee was kept secret? It was not shown.

In 1926 I was Postmaster at Hikutaia. What a thriving place it was in those days! A railway station with three or four trains a day, a blacksmith's shop, two grocery stores, billiard room, public hall, a butchers shop, PostOffice, large saleyards and an hotel.

In 1928 I married Sadie Morrison, the eldest daughter of Hugh and Mary Morrison, and transferred to Whangarei, remaining there for 13 years. After deciding to go dairy farming we returned to Hikutaia with our family, and this in all probability is where I shall remain.

I have worked with a few old timers who had the most unusual first names, many have since passed on, and I certainly do not intend disrespect with the example:

Ewart Bertram Cyril Ingersoll Trowern (his brother was an outstanding professional boxer) and Charles Redvers Buller White Ladysmith Pope.

I celebrated my 90th birthday recently with the blessing of good health, the love of my wife, five sons and one daughter. I have lived a very happy life - thank God.

With my long experience in the Post and Telegraph Department to fall back on it is my honest opinion that the strict discipline under which we worked as juniors, and under all manner of bosses, stood us in good stead in later life.