Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Served but not Served

My father knew many men who had been sent to World War 1. Chris Cooper was one of them.

The farm next door was owned by a man called Chris Cooper. He had five children. His land was across the road from ours, a half a mile down the road.

Chris Cooper bought the farm when he returned from the first war. He paid 20 pound an acre, which soon proved to be far too much. Life was always a struggle for him. He had “trench feet” from standing in water and could not walk properly. His wife died in childbirth, so he had to look after the five children himself. When she died, he lost interest in the farm.

Chris was a good friend with Mr Butterworth who lived over the river. They would get together every day and just sit and smoke and talk. A track was worn through the riverbed where they walked across each day.

Chris had to keep his horses in a paddock that was very swampy. They seemed to get a lot of worms from drinking swamp water and were always dying. The farm was only 200 acres so it was too small to be economic. He could not afford lime, so his crops were always poor and full of weeds.

He was eventually sold up by the bank. Twice the sale was cancelled by pressure by members of the Farmers Union, but this time there was no stopping it. Chris would have been left with nothing, after struggling for many years (and serving his country).

Chris and his five children went to live in an empty farm cottage belonging to a farmer friend. Some years later, I met Chris in town where he worked as a cleaner in the Timaru Post Office.
Selling up the farms of returned servicemen became common during the 1930s.
The “selling up” of farmers was taking place as banks and mercantile firms were foreclosing on farmers who owed them money. The first I remember was Harry Webb in the Craigmore soldier settlement. Uncle Bob had taken me to the sale. I remember Mr Webb, standing before the farmers gathered for the sale, bitterly declaring that the nation had been pleased with him when he went overseas to fight in the 1914-18 war, but now when he was fighting for his survival financially, they seemed to have forgotten about him. He was quickly shut up and the sale went on.

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