Dannevirke: Howard Tod's Final wish: One land, one people

By Christine McKay -
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Howard Tod of Norsewood with his limited edition of Near the end of Te Whiti Road. Photo/Christine McKay
Howard Tod of Norsewood with his limited edition of Near the end of Te Whiti Road. Photo/Christine McKay

With the death of Norsewood's Howard Tod last week, New Zealand has lost a loyal supporter of the Red Cross and champion for a united country - one land, one people.

Mr Tod, 98, told the Dannevirke News he wanted to leave this world knowing he'd made a significant contribution to New Zealand, the country the South African loved to call "home".

"I'd like to feel I've done something good for New Zealand before I cross the Jordan, which won't be long I expect. I'm at the end of a very long road," he said from his hospital bed in Dannevirke's Community Hospital two years ago.

Mr Tod returned home to his Norsewood farm before moving into Mt Herbert House in Waipukurau where he remained until his death last Wednesday.

"In my life I've achieved a lot for myself and my family, but I haven't achieved anything for New Zealand and my last wish is to help forge bonds that will bring us together," he said.

"I want all New Zealanders to wake up and realise we're just that New Zealanders - nothing else. All this division and separation is like we're living in the 19th century, but now in the 21st century we really should be one land, one people."

Mr Tod left South Africa to settle in Norsewood 39 years ago wanting to escape racism and apartheid.

He told the Dannevirke News how racism had affected him and his family.

"It was terrible, I had to escape the terrible things that were happening."

Mr Tod recalled how upset he was when the family maid, Christine, had to be segregated from them while on holiday.

"We wanted her to share with us, enjoy an ice cream, but she was even prevented from sharing the same elevator as us in the hotel," he said. "It was horrible."

Mr Tod served the South African Army in North Africa and was captured by the Germans at Sidi Rezegh in 1941.

He was a prisoner until 1945 and never forget that time - three years and 171 days.

He learned a lot about New Zealand while behind barbed wire in POW camps in Italy and Austria and he credited his survival to the Red Cross parcels he received while a prisoner.

"They kept me alive," the World War II veteran said.

Because of those food parcels, he decided the Red Cross would be the one charitable organisation he would always support.

Eight years ago, he donated the proceeds of an auctioned copy of a remarkable book of his artwork, 90 paintings painted in his 90th year, showing scenes from his boyhood through to his life in Norsewood, to the Red Cross.

It was just another donation in a long list of contributions to the organisation which often went unheralded.

Mr Tod began painting when he was 89, inspired by the beauty of Norsewood and the ever-changing Ruahine Ranges he could see from his living room window.

After the death of his wife, Pat, he said life became "quite unbearable" but he remembered her words from years before, urging him to paint.

Growing up in South Africa Mr Tod lived on a farm and grew up with African Basuto children, a far cry from life in Norsewood in his cottage.

And his artwork was incorporated into six books, recording his life's journey, including Springbok which recalled his relief at seeing the white cliffs of Dover in England after his release from internment and retraces meeting Pat in an army canteen in Piccadilly Circus in London.

Mr Tod said writing kept his brain working and he was determined to record his life story, hopes and dreams for his family, painstakingly handwriting in a journal in his last years.

However, he wanted his biggest legacy to be his version of a new national flag for a united New Zealand

The flag, with its green background, a kiwi in the centre and in the corners, the Union Jack and New Zealand flag, was his dream for a united country.

"We've got to make a better future for everyone," he said at the time. "New Zealanders are wonderful people and this is the land I love. In the next century, our population is going to be even more of a mixed race, so we've got to be realistic.

"The Treaty of Waitangi should be celebrated with love, friendship and tolerance, but the Treaty was drawn up for that particular period in time and the Government of today shouldn't be still negotiating payouts.

"As for all this talk about the seabed and foreshore, well it's ridiculous. It belongs to all New Zealanders."

Mr Tod said he believed the majority of New Zealanders shared his thoughts, but were frightened to express them.

He said he knew what being really frightened was like - he'd experienced it while fighting the Germans - but was adamant New Zealanders shouldn't be afraid to stand up for this nation and demand that everyone be treated as one people.

Life was all about achievement, Mr Tod said.

He lived and fought to achieve something for his homeland and his dying wish was that New Zealand would be the home of New Zealanders, one nation, one people united.

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