With Britain facing the prospect of further lockdowns during the Covid 19 crisis, we were discussing the devastation and privations that came in our childhood, during and after World War II.
In a sense what we are experiencing now has strong parallels with the situation then.
Rationing in wartime Britain was a fair distribution, but of course you had to have the money to buy it in the first place. In the present lockdown, food is available but you have to queue to get it.
Whereas once we left the house armed with gas masks in the event of a gas attack in 1944, we now grab face masks as we go out the front door. During wartime, if you were seen on the street without your gas mask you could be sent home by the ARP wardens. Now in the lockdown you are turned away from shop doors until you slap on a face mask.
Our playgrounds were bomb sites, blasted homes and factories where you could find all manner of things by moving some rubble. We were never bored and knew no danger, our parents were far too busy to worry about us as they formed queues with their ration books for food. There was often a two-hour wait for food in zero temperatures only to have the supply run out before reaching your turn.
The winter of 1947 was particularly harsh and many people went hungry. The ration was even more frugal than it had been during the war and potatoes were frozen solid in the ground.
Kiwis may have heard all this before but they may not have realised the impact their emergency food parcels had on the British population. These parcels were sent from New Zealand to Britain during those critical days of war and indeed right up to 1954 when rationing in Britain ended.
At Winterbourne school in Thornton Heath, Croydon, Surrey there was considerable excitement in September 1950 when it was announced that each child would be given a tin of meat to take home, a gift from the New Zealand people. The community of Dunedin had raised, through individual contributions, £46,000, principally to help the children of Europe - £22,000 was spent on food for Britain and a consignment of 39 cases of canned meat plus a further 20 cases from the New Zealand Red Cross went to our school.
These gifts were distributed during Harvest Festival week, and the cans were all stacked up at one end of the school hall. The leader of the Dunedin Community Sing, Mr H.P Desmoulins, stood on the platform with the headmaster as children in an orderly file came up to receive tins of corned beef loaf and camp pie. There was a great sense of elation when the tins were received.
At the ceremony the children were told how their "grandfathers" had set out to find a new land which they called New Zealand. Now descendants of these pioneers of 100 years ago are remembering the Mother Country and have sent these wonderful gifts.
Desmoulins described how the Dunedin Community Sing met weekly on the air and they had contributed towards helping the children. He then presented their gifts which he said brought the love of Dunedin to every one of them. There was a sense of great occasion.
The junior children then gave a rendition of the Maori song Waiata Poi, learned specially for the occasion, and then concluded with the anthem God Defend New Zealand. The whole school then assembled in the playground to give three cheers to New Zealand for their gift.
When one considers a week's ration at the time was only 220g of meat, so a can of beef was pure luxury.
Tony Teal, a pupil at the time, recalls: "Clutching my cans, I returned home ecstatic convinced they represented a real family feast. My mother applied her full culinary skills and the bounty was duly shared out."
The Croydon area was heavily damaged during the Blitz and between October 1940 and June 1941, records show 1338 high explosive bombs and five parachute mines were dropped onto the Croydon area. Between September 1944 and January 1945 it is also recorded that the Croydon area was the most bombed area by V1 rockets.
The people of Croydon, and especially the children, to this day have wonderful memories of a day when New Zealand came to their aid at a time of crisis.
Kia ora, Aotearoa.
• Tony Teal is a former Winterbourne schoolboy. Christine Ducrotoy is a noted historian, writer and genealogist.