Nonagenarian recalls highs and lows

By Jill Nicholas

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FLYING HIGH: Reg Wellington enlisted in the Air Force when he was 18.PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
FLYING HIGH: Reg Wellington enlisted in the Air Force when he was 18.PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

FOR someone who insisted he had nothing to say, Reg Wellington had so much to impart Our People could have filled volumes.

He's done a lot of living has Reg. At 91, of course he has. In that time span he's packed in being a farm boy, fighter pilot, casein and cheese maker, Galatea farmer, businessman, real estate agent and Kiwanis district governor.

It's little wonder he barely paused for breath relating this little lot, but there were occasions when he did take time to wipe away a tear. Whoever said "real men don't cry" hasn't met Reg, a chap who's up there with the most manly of men.

Initially Reg attempted to pull a swifty - showing us a slide show of his life "as far as it goes". Fascinating stuff, but we pointed out readers won't have the luxury of seeing that pictorial record, that it's our job to turn it into words.

His war years were the obvious launch pad. With two brothers in the army and his father a World War I veteran, he considered a change of fighting force was needed.

At school, he'd been in the Air Training Corps, and he had always wanted to fly, so the Air Force it was.

The moment he turned 18, he enlisted. "Our first month was based in tents in 'the jungle', about where Pak'nSave is now, Brent's [hotel] was close, that's where we went for a beer. Rotorua was so small then, when the train came in, everyone went to meet it."

Reg was still in Rotorua when he was promoted to pilot. His call to active service in the Pacific came in December 1944. His first posting was in Santo in what's now New Caledonia, flying regular sorties over Emirau Island, where 500 German war prisoners were held.

"In the air, the battle was with the Japanese, 99 of their aircraft had been shot down. We were aiming for 100 but didn't make it."

Reg was at the controls of bombers. "Flying over Raboul, we'd drop 1000 pound bombs where intelligence told us to, then circle that area for two hours; we had the upper hand. They were on the ground, we were in the air."

Was his aircraft ever hit by enemy gunfire? "Not that I can recall, but it was all-out war up there."

At Bougainville the New Zealanders' job was to "soften up" the Japanese for their Australian comrades to attack on the ground.

He was back in New Zealand when Japan surrendered.

"Suddenly, they didn't want pilots any more, they sent us home with a railway warrant and a week's leave."

Reg joined a farmer brother for the lambing season. "I came from a dairy farm but knew what sheep looked like."

The season over he made casein; a spell of sharemilking with another brother led him to Marion, the woman who's shared his life for the past 66 years.

"We supplied the local dairy factory. I met the office girl, she was also the district's social club secretary. One night she was doing the supper down in the hall, like a silly ass I helped her with the dishes, I've been doing them for her ever since."

The newlyweds returned from their honeymoon to find the deal they'd struck on a farm had fallen through. Reg went cheese making - briefly, returned servicemen who'd applied for a farm had to stay on the land.

"They [officialdom] caught up with me. I managed a small dairy farm for a while. All the ads said "go north to the beautiful pumice lands, young man".

Reg obliged by winning a balloted 128 acres at Galatea, part in grass, and the remainder swampland.

"By then we had one and a bit children, there was no power, the roads were pumice. But we were lucky we did have a part-house, a lot of families were living in implement sheds. You had to produce 1200 pounds of butterfat before you could build a whole house."

When the Wellingtons reached the magic number, builders were in short supply. It wasn't until work establishing Murupara finished that their home was built. "When the building inspector came, it was up. He said it was okay, then as he was leaving tripped on a discarded board, examined it claiming it was untreated pine, that we'd have to strip the weatherboards off. I had a hell of an argument with State Advances, won, as far as I know nothing's ever fallen off."

The Wellingtons acquired a second farm, sowing it in lucerne. "We had so much lucerne we had to build a cow shed and milk more cows."

With neither of their sons interested in becoming farmers, the Wellingtons moved into town. "I went in to see Ted Burraund, Wright Stephenson's manager, came out a real estate agent."

It's an occupation he followed on and off, working for various firms and on his own account. "I finally shut up shop when the landlord put the rent up."

Between times, he's worked as an agricultural company's parts salesman, a delivery man, driven trucks, delivered rental cars and managed a local company's ballbearing division, before he and three mates opened their own business, Spring World Engineering.

All the while, Reg continued to fly. "When we first went to Galatea I was with the Kawerau Aero Club, then Galatea got its own air field, we'd fly to Taranaki for a wedding and be back in time to milk."

In Rotorua, he bought his own plane. "I kept that until the petrol got too dear and I wasn't doing enough hours to keep my licence current."

Work apart, he was an early member of Kiwanis, its district governor in the 1980s and 21 years ago was on the organising committee overseeing the formation of the Rotorua East Probus Club.

This nonagenarian's take on his activity-laden life? "I like being busy."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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