The View From The End Of The World

Remembering My Dad

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.

My Dad (left) and his best mate at Guam on their way home from Korea.

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.

Linework in Korea.

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!

Running lines in slightly flatter country, Korea, 1953

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!

A Signals Division crew, Korea 1953

Dad spent much of the war attached to the American forces, and even has a Purple Heart about which he would never talk.

Base Camp, 1953

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.

Carrying washing – Korean Village, 1953

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.

Main Street, Shibuya, Tokyo, 1953

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!

Artificial Flowers, Tokyo, 1953

He and the unnamed soldier in the picture were clearly quite taken with these artificial flowers for sale in a Tokyo street.

USAF Lockheed Globemaster returning troops from Korea

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.

17 replies to “Remembering My Dad

  1. These images are fantastic, Steve. The details are so sharp and the colors are so vivid. I’ve never even seen a Lockheed Globemaster before! My dad went to Vietnam with the US Navy in ’62. I’ll ask him if he ever flew on one (probably not). Brad

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love these! Do do some more when you can. They are so clean and clear, good job with the scanner! I wish our Govt had been as canny as your Jacinda Arden, we are nowhere near ready to end lockdown, though it will happen anyway, sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are great pictures. They have such beautiful color. Your tribute to your dad and his life, and his photography, are well done. Perhaps you should start a special section for his images, much like the Nick De Wolf images on Flickr. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your Dad was my Dad but on the other side of the world. My Dad was a radar technician and from there went into appliances and TV and so forth. I lament that a huge amount of the photos mine had taken over many years were missing completely when my sister and I went through the house after his death in 2018. I’m sure there weren’t any war-era pictures as he said the military was rather strict about that.
    You have some gems there for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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