20 November 2011

Excuse me, I'm having my banana

Claude, 25 October 2011
A photograph to commemorate the occasion of my grandfather Oswald Claude Tucker's 95th birthday today. Born on 20 November 1916 and given the middle name that he would use in place of the unwieldy Oswald, Claude was named after his uncle who left to fight in the First World War five months before he was born, and who died at Passchendaele before Claude's first birthday.

Claude grew up in Ellerslie, and like many others at the time, the family had little in the way of money. He was lucky to secure an apprenticeship as a printer during the Depression due to his high marks. After the outbreak of war in 1939 Claude volunteered to serve in the Army overseas, joining the 5th Field Ambulance in 2NZEF. During the course of the war he was to visit the UK (including England during the Blitz when invasion fears saw New Zealand soldiers diverted to bolster the British defences) and the Middle East including Palestine and Syria (the latter of which I paid a return visit to in 2008, taking in the sights of Aleppo, where he was based for a time). But most of his time in the Army was spent in Egypt. He didn't talk about the business of being a field ambulance soldier and the brutal sights he must have seen as broken men were brought back from battle; instead, he preferred to hark back to the pet lion cub that he and his friends rustled up from somewhere, and the high adventure of the biplane joyride he took over the Suez Canal.

In 1943 he had another stroke of luck, as his was the first number drawn out of the hat for furlough - the chance for some long-serving soldiers to return to civilian life in New Zealand. This enabled him to resume his courtship of Gwen Phillips, my grandmother. They were married in the little stone St James' church in Mangere Bridge in September 1943, and after a few years living in a rented house in Waterview, they moved into their own home in Onehunga, where they've been ever since. They raised three children in that same ex-State house, and there they recently celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary.

While his career was in the printing industry, academic and intellectual pursuits have always been a keen interest for Claude.  This spurred him to find time in his retirement to secure himself a long-cherished university education, when he worked towards his Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology at the University of Auckland, graduating in 1986. In more recent years Claude has been living in a rest home where his various infirmities can be managed, but this hasn't stopped him meeting the Prime Minister, when Mr Key stopped by for a visit.

Only five years short of a century and still ticking! I'm sure most of us would be grateful for that sort of staying power. Well done, that man.        
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