Topic: Remembering Gran by Gaye Hemsley

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Gaye Hemsley's entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition is inspired by her Gran - Julia Anne Rivett (1880-1960).

Archived version here.

When I was a young child in the 1940s my mother and I lived with my grandparents while my father was serving as a sailor in the Second World War. I clearly remember the day we moved from our rented house in Epsom to live in another rented property. This time it was the premises behind a little dairy my grandmother ran. The house we had moved from was more modern, with an inside toilet and bath. My grandparents’ place, like lots of homes at that time, had the washhouse and toilet outside.

Many young women in the war years found jobs to help the war effort and provide a little extra cash for their families. My mother worked in a cosmetic factory just around the corner from where we lived. I’d arrive home from school and be cared for by my grandparents.

I was especially close to my Gran. She fascinated me with her stories from her homeland England! She was a Londoner, a Cockney, born within the sound of Bow Bells.

I have a photo of her when she was eighteen. Her height was less than five feet, and she had a waist measurement of only eighteen inches. She said a man could join his middle fingers and thumbs around her tiny waist. 

She fell in love with Willy Watts, one of her brother’s friends. Willy was a fun-loving artist who travelled the world. Willy’s speciality was cartoon sketches. Nothing was to become of the romance. Her father firmly forbade the union.

“Jules,” he said, “life would not be good for you with an artist as a husband. You need to find a suitor with profession or a trade.”

So that was it! He sent her off to France to study French cooking. Her cooking skills were passed on to my mother, and in turn to me.

One day I asked my Gran, “Why did you come to New Zealand?”

“Well, my brother Tony and his Polish wife Martha had opened a restaurant in Morrinsville. They asked me if I’d like to travel to the bottom of the world and help them. It seemed a great opportunity so I booked a berth on a cargo ship heading for New Zealand.”

She often told me that travelling by cargo ship was the best way to travel because one visited so many ports. She suffered from claustrophobia, so each night on the voyage she slept with the cabin door slightly open. She was apprehensive as she approached the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud.’ Her brother had sent her several postcards of half naked Maori men and hot bubbly mud.

Gran was certain she would have to tread carefully to avoid each.

About a year passed before Gran got itchy feet and decided to return to England to catch up with family and attend a few light operas and plays. She particularly liked Gilbert & Sullivan.

I’m amazed at how many times this generation crossed the oceans. Voyages in those days taking several months. Just as well Julia never suffered from seasickness.

On Gran’s second trip back to New Zealand she decided to open her own little dairy in Freeman’s Bay Auckland. In those days there were no fridges. Large blocks of ice would be delivered two or three times a week to keep milk, cream, butter and cheese fresh.

A weekly collection was made by the night cart man. I hope he received good pay for such a distasteful job.

The little shop was going well, until one evening, when Gran was cashing up at the end of the day, a man opened the shop door and attempted to grab the cash bag from her. She pushed and shoved at him and yelled loudly.  

This caught the attention of a young sailor who happened to be walking past the shop. He dashed into the shop and grabbed the offender by the scruff of the neck tossing him out the door, right into the path of a passing policeman. The Norwegian sailor, Siguard Thomassen Siguard, was twelve years younger than Julia. He was to become her husband and my grandfather.

Living with my grandparents was my life as a child. Looking back I feel privileged. We didn’t have a lot of money, but what we did have was a lot of love. I was an only child but not a lonely child.

Always something to do. Playing with friends, going into the city by tram on a Friday after school. Saturday afternoon movies with threepence worth of Jaffas in a little paper bag. Church on a Sunday. Gran was a staunch Catholic so fostered the faith in our family. Granddad was a Lutheran and didn’t go to our church.

One day when I was about nine I arrived home from school to find Gran on her bed crying.

“Mum, what’s wrong with Gran?” I asked.

“Granddad’s moving out.”

From then my Gran’s health deteriorated and she had to give up her shop. She now seemed to spend most of her life bedridden. She suffered from an ulcerated leg, high blood pressure and arthritis. 

Although Granddad had found another lady, he didn’t forget his family and through my childhood popped in each Friday afternoon. He’d put a few pennies in my hand and say, “That’s to save up for a farm.”

I never did get that farm.


About the author:

Gaye has always been interested in writing, starting when she was a child and entered contests in the children’s page of the ‘Women’s Weekly.’ Years later she attended a week-long course on writing down one’s family stories. This gave her the foundations for story writing and led to her signing up for a correspondence course on ‘Writing for Children’. She has self-published several children’s picture books, including a series ‘Dance a Poem’ which come with a CD for the children to act out the poems. These were created for her young dance students. More of Gaye’s activities can be checked out on



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Remembering Gran by Gaye Hemsley

Year:c.1930, c.1940, c.1950, 1960, c.1880, c.1890, c.1900, c.1910, and c.1920
First Names:Julia Anne
Last Name:Rivett
Date of Birth:1880