by Chris Tobin
When Jim and Peg McKenzie came to New Zealand in 1957 to start a new life they thought they had gone back in time.
“All the immigrants were on a train from Lyttelton,” Mrs McKenzie said.
“When we were going through Ashburton I looked out and saw a row of small wooden houses with a hitching post outside and a horse there.”
It was a big surprise for the McKenzies.
“At home we had TV and all the mod cons.”
The Timaru couple was reminiscing last week on the eve of their 65th wedding anniversary.
They said the decision to come to New Zealand to start a new life was one they had never regretted.
“It was the best thing we ever did,” Mrs McKenzie said
“When we first arrived I spent four days staring at the sea and mountains at Caroline Bay. It was a most wonderful sight.”
The McKenzies were both serving in the Royal Air Force, Jim as an electrician and Peg as a medic, when they first met.
“We were only 18 or 19. The first time I saw her walk in the mess I thought, ‘Oh yeah’, Mr McKenzie said.
He asked her out, which she accepted, and they went out as part of a group. The men kept buying Mrs McKenzie, a teetotaller, Pimm’s, which she poured either into flower pots or Mr Mckenzie’s pint of beer.
“Next day I was travelling to London on a train and I felt terrible,” Mr McKenzie recalled.
“A guy said you’re hungover. I said I only had two pints.”
He didn’t realise those pints included Mrs McKenzie’s Pimm’s.
Mr McKenzie grew up near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands while Mrs McKenzie spent the first 13 years of her life in Tooting, London.
As a young girl she was evacuated three times due to the Blitz when the German Luftwaffe bombed London and other British cities in 1940 and 1941. Nearly 30,000 civilians in London were killed and thousands injured.
“We lived and slept in the [bomb] shelters,” she said.
“My father was away seven years with the army; he went when I was 5. When he came home and knocked on the door I didn’t know him.”
Mrs McKenzie’s mother had to work in a munitions factory during the war.
The first time she was to be evacuated was to Canada.
“But I got tonsilitis and didn’t go. That boat had a sticky ending – it was sunk.
“The second time I went to an elderly woman who couldn’t cope. The third one didn’t want children but the Government made them take children in. She had an 18-year-old son who was nasty. I was treated like a slave.”
Mrs McKenzie stayed nine months until an aunt visited.
“I had lost so much weight I was like a scarecrow; she took me back to London.”
Mrs Mckenzie remembered it being a tough time.
“We queued for everything – dried potatoes and dried eggs. We were always hungry but amazingly healthy. Because of that we survived a lot of problems.
“As a child you accept things much easier.”
After their initial meeting and night out, romance blossomed between the young RAF medic and electrician but Mr McKenzie took his discharge from the RAF and returned to his parents’ home in Scotland.
Then Mrs McKenzie was about to be sent to Singapore on a three-year posting. They did not want to have a long-range romance.
“So we said, let’s get married.”
They were married on December 4, 1954, at Caterham, Surrey, where Mrs McKenzie’s family had settled .
After living in bomb-damaged Coventry and in Caterham they decided to emigrate to New Zealand.
“I had an uncle, my mother’s brother in Timaru,” Mr McKenzie said.
“He organised a job at Young Brothers, an electrical company.”
Mrs McKenzie got a job with a Timaru lawyer as a dictaphone typist. Later, the McKenzies worked for the SPCA in Timaru for 30 years.
They have four children: Ian, Lynne, John and Jan, two of whom are in Australia, two in the North Island, as well as seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
“We are nothing alike,” Mrs Mckenzie said of their 65 years of marriage .
“We’re totally different. Fortunately we both agree to disagree.”