Yesterday was Dad’s birthday. He would have been ninety-one, but he passed eleven years ago next month.
A deeply religious man from his early thirties, he was hard working, modest, and definitely not an extrovert. Born in 1929, he grew up during the second world war. My grandparents worked on a farm at Taotaoroa, a district about ten or eleven miles from Cambridge, in New Zealand’s fertile Waikato region. Another farm on the next road over, has recently become world famous as the site of The Shire in the Hobbit series of movies, and has become a major tourist attraction. During the war Dad was able to attend a local primary school, but the nearest high school in Cambridge was too far to walk, there was no bus service, and in the wartime petrol rationing system my grandparents had the means to drive to town only once a week for shopping. Dad never went to high school.
He went to work with Grandpa on the farm, and when the war ended became a telephone linesman, before setting off on his adventures, first to Australia for a stint in the mines, before he enlisted for the Korean war in 1951.
Dad’s telecom skills were put to good use as field communications relied heavily on military telephone networks – radio back then was quite primitive and without scrambling technology could easily be intercepted by the enemy. He became a corporal in the Signals Division and spent the war running telephone lines.
During 1951 and 1952 Dad who was a keen and quite competent amateur photographer took many photos with black and white film and a medium format camera, probably a Kodak folding Brownie. As a child I used to look through his meticulously presented photo albums at this window into a part of his life he never really spoke of. My Mum recently presented those albums to the Museum in our hometown of Cambridge, as the are probably quite a significant record of those times.
Later in the war Dad acquired a “very expensive” 35mm camera and began shooting Kodachrome slides. It occurred to me last week to look for the slides, and see what could be done with my new Epson V800 photoscanner. Mum happily handed the boxes over, and volunteered that she thought the expensive camera which was later sold or traded, possibly to help finance their first house, might have been a Leica. As Mum would not know one camera from another, and the images I have scanned are very very sharp, I have concluded that it probably was indeed a Leica!
My new scanner has certainly met my expectations. The slides have not been perfectly stored, and most needed some careful cleaning, but some of them look like they were taken yesterday! That early Kodachrome film was truly amazing!
Dad spent much of the war attached to the American forces, and even has a Purple Heart about which he would never talk.
The Kodachrome images bring this experience to life for me, and the pictures of the Base Camps look eerily like the one in the TV Series MASH. Dad would never watch the show, he just said it trivialised the war and it upset him. Neither would he attend ANZAC Day parades, and until his last months he never spoke of the war at all, so like most soldiers I think he was deeply affected by his experiences.
His images of village and rural life are another fascinating part of his journey, and show just how primitive life outside the cities was in those times.
At some stage during his deployment Dad went on leave to Japan, an experience he did enjoy, as he was always happy to tell those stories. Tokyo has also changed much since those days!
He and the unnamed soldier in the picture were clearly quite taken with these artificial flowers for sale in a Tokyo street.
Dad had a lifelong interest in aviation, and later worked as a loader driver for an aerial cropdusting company, something that triggered my aviation career later on. But he never had the opportunity to learn to fly. This is the Globemaster that brought him home at the end of his tour in 1953, I think here refueling in Guam.
I miss him, and somehow going through these nearly seventy year old photos has been a pleasant and reflective experience.
It is also one of the reasons I have gone back to shooting film again. No-one will be looking though my hard drive fifty years from now, but a box of prints, slides and negatives might possibly be a different story!
Thanks for stopping by. I might share some more old pictures later. And the good news is that here in New Zealand we are coming out of lockdown now as the COVID plague seems to be well contained here – finger crossed – so I hope to have more pictures from the end of the world to share with you soon!
All photos by Ted Mitchell (1929 – 2009) Kodachrome transparencies, and (I think) a Leica camera.