The morning of the War Years Day dawned in quite a misty and atmospheric manner. It did seem quite appropriate when you thought about the reason for the day organised at Taranaki Pioneer Village. Still, there was hope that the fog would lift and that the rain would hold off during the day.
Back in January Denise messaged me about the War Years Day and said that it would be so lovely if Liane and I would come along. I’ll admit I was a little surprised to receive such an invitation and realised that we must have made quite an impression in October to be asked back. I spoke to Liane about it and we decided that we could fit it into our calendar so I booked our accommodation and told Denise that we would definitely be there.
I was even more surprised when she posted us personalised entry tickets and tickets for the train as well. Not to mention the post-it note attached to them completely made my day when I received them in the mail.
Liane and I had stayed overnight a few minutes down the road from the village so we didn’t have far to travel and could get ready in a rather relaxed mood. I opted for my Shippensburg Dress and, because it only seemed appropriate, pinned my little poppy pin on one of the lapels. Once dressed it was quite amusing that my suitcase contents had more than halved after I packed all of my other belongings back into it.
While Liane packed up the very last of her things I took the opportunity to answer the call of the swingset right outside our room. As I drifted back and forth I suddenly heard a small voice call out a hello. I returned the greeting and smiled at the young boy it belonged to.
‘I know who you are,’ he told me.
‘Do you?’ I doubted very much that he did but was very curious to know who he thought that I was. I have been accused of being a ghost before so I was certain that his answer would be entertaining.
‘You’re Mary Poppins.’
I nearly fell off the swing. Well, it probably would be near impossible to fall off a swing while bustled but it certainly was a response I never expected. The young boy then proceeded to tell me that his father knew me too and told me that they were going to New Plymouth instead of ‘staying at boring home’.
We arrived at the Pioneer Village shortly before ten and had time to do the last minute adjustments often required after sitting in a car. Ready to go, we entered armed with our personalised tickets which I had been sent and were immediately greeted very enthusiastically. As we emerged onto the street several of the volunteers all came over to welcome us back and thank us for coming along. It was so lovely.
One of the biggest differences from the Family Fun Day in October was that there was a tank parked a little way up the street, as well as several other military vehicles. We also soon discovered, as we began re-exploring the village was that there were more market stalls set up including those in the courthouse (conveniently, it was impossible for me to stand in the dock this time around).
The other major difference was the presence of the Armed Constabulary Reenactment Unit, all set up with tents, and camping gear. I was highly impressed with not only their set-up but also the fact that they all looked brilliant – as if they had stepped off a film set. During the day they gave two displays as well as drilling which was all highly interesting to watch. Like historical costuming, the reenacting community in New Zealand is small and this was the first time that we had crossed paths.
There was also a photography group having a day out so we got photographed a few times and I’ve been fortunate to have a few of those photos sent to me.
Speaking of photographers, we also scoped out where Deidre was setting up her pop up studio in the barn, with lots of ladies dressed hung up and ready for customers to change into to have their portrait taken. Saying hello to Deidre and assuring her that we would be back later in the day.
‘Did you know that there’s an actual barber operating in the barbershop?’ I asked Liane as we walked up the hill. She didn’t, so we went to investigate and stepped inside as Arber was finishing up with a client. Another sat waiting and any time we passed the barbershop during the day and peeked in there was always someone in there, getting a haircut or waiting.
What was absolutely brilliant about it was seeing the space come alive and be used as it once was. I think when this kind of idea is employed it makes history and heritage more tangible, it is no longer a bunch of old objects in an old building just sitting there static, collecting dust. I think that is one of the reasons why I love historical costuming so much – you can actually feel a connection to the past.
As we stepped out of the barbers a lady asked us if she could take our photo. We said yes and she snapped off a couple of shots and then approached us, notebook and pen magically appearing in her hand. When she asked us for our names Liane and I exchanged a knowing look – this was for a newspaper. She took our names down and told us that she worked for the Stratford Press. And, ever so kindly asked us for our contact details so that she could courier a couple of copies of the paper to us back in Palmerston North. The day that the papers arrive the article became available online as well – you can find that here.
We also bumped into the bookbinder who had traded his usual ensemble for a World War I soldier’s uniform. He told us that he was manning the trench display at the courthouse. And, when we did stop by to examine it later that morning, after stopping to browse some of the stalls, Liane went in ahead of me and gave me a fright when startled quite suddenly. The bookbinder had been sitting completely still and then moved. Given the number of mannequins all about the village, I’m not surprised that he was able throughout the day to pull that stunt.
We revisited some of the stores and found the music shop empty. Now, I do not have a musical bone in my body but I couldn’t help taking a seat at the piano. I only meant to sit for a photo opportunity but then decided to have a little play. Soon I learned that trying to play while wearing gloves make it a whole lot harder. My repertoire doesn’t extend much further beyond the most basic of pieces such as Mary had a Little Lamb and Happy Birthday. I’m certainly not going to be attracting a husband based on my musical accomplishments…
After muddling through a couple of songs, I vacated the piano and Liane had a turn, playing her go-to song Let Me Call You Sweetheart. Fortunately, the small audience consisting of three younger people that gathered outside the door of the shop had not been present when I was playing.
Once she was finished, the younger people hanging about outside came in and the young gentleman sat at the piano. He definitely put my pitiful playing skills to shame as he played (by request of one of the other girls) River Runs In You by Yiruma, which was a song that I used to have in one of my playlists quite a while ago.
We listened for a while before continuing on our way. We headed up towards the church and took a brief look inside and when we came out a couple of different family groups asked to take photos with us. More than happy to acquiesce we posed with the children nudged in our general direction before heading back down the hill to see what or who else we might discover.
Liane decided to take another look at the haberdashery store so I continued down the hill by myself. As I did so a young family was departing one of the cottages and the daughter, who looked rather familiar, started beaming at me. I smiled back, stopped to say hello and the mother asked if it was okay to take a photo of me with her daughter. I said that was absolutely fine and then when Queen Victoria was mentioned the pieces fell into place.
Of course! We had met Lacey at the Family Fun Day while she was dressed as Queen Victoria. ‘Ah yes,’ I said as I made the connection and dipped into an exaggerated curtsy (nearly losing my balance at the same time – so ladylike). ‘Your Majesty.’
Liane joined us and after we said goodbye we heard plane engines and headed back into the main part of the village to watch as an air raid siren went off. The Stratford Aero Club Sport Flyers circled overhead and the tank was driving around the road on the other side of the village let off its cannon, all in a mock battle. Further gunfire could be heard over that side also and, while one generally would head in the opposite direction of gunfire, Liane and I joined several other people in walking around to see what was going on…