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The Life and Times of George Alfred Mercer

The Life and Times of
George Alfred Mercer

Written by his daughter Madonna Mercer, Toronto, Canada

When I was in Feilding for the 50th wedding anniversary of our parents, George and Ann (also Ann’s 80th birthday—her last) I dove into the family archive—a drawer of old photographs. The forebears stared back at me in black and white and sepia tones: Ann’s parents, Joseph Devlin and Pauline Rosanowski and George’s parents, Edward (Ted) Mercer and Gertrude Free. Formal photographs of George and Ann taken around 1930 show how handsome they were.

During that visit I “interviewed” George, Ann, my brothers and sisters and other relatives. From my notes, here’s a quick sketch of the life and times of George Alfred Mercer.

George was born in Miramar on October 26, 1908. His parents, Ted and Gertrude moved north and George went to school in Ohingaiti and Taihape, reaching Proficiency level at age 14. The Great Depression struck when he was a young adult. He met Ann at a dance in the Railway Hall in Taihape. Ann was doing domestic work at the home of a butcher (the O’Dea family). George was living in a boarding home that his parents ran, opposite the Railway Station. A photo of the Taihape Rugby Football team, 1930, includes a hale and hearty, husky George. On December 28, 1931, George and Ann were married. They started their life together in Gert and Ted’s boarding home and moved to three or four other places in Taihape. George did a lot of odd jobs before he joined the NZ Railway Services, working as a fireman on the puffing billies. A photo shows him in overalls, sitting with five mates on a wagon filled with coal. George passed the exams and obtained his engine driver’s ticket. After he suffered a fractured forearm and could no longer shovel coal, he and Ann became farm workers.

By the end of the 1940s their eldest child, Jean, had left home and was school teaching. It was a constant challenge to find farm work that went with a house large enough for the eight other children, and get them to school. We depended upon a patchwork of rides with neighbours, delivery trucks and horses to get around, or we biked or walked. The Mercers had lots of addresses before they settled in Feilding—Koeke, Marton, Pakihikura (near Hunterville), Waverley (three places), Waituna West, Kopane, Tapuae and Bunnythorpe.

There were occurrences in our rustic rural life that tested George and Ann’s ingenuity. They did their own doctoring with home remedies but sometimes had to scramble for help when one or other of us met with accidents. Their rural dwellings came with outhouses and tank water. Some had no electricity. If we had a telephone, it was on a line shared with other families. Radio reception was shaky. As the older children left home, Hazel was often put in charge of “the three little ones”. She read to us and kept us occupied. We had a lot of card tournaments. Ann sang and played a mouth organ. I never heard George sing but he seemed to enjoy listening to music. He was particularly fond of a song called Abdul Abullbull Amir (or something like that).

The last farms that George and Ann lived on were on Lees Line. After they moved into Feilding, George and Ann and the children who were still at home, lived on Ranfurley Avenue, Wellesley Street and Taylor Avenue. The Lees Line and Feilding years were filled with family events as the children had 21st birthday parties and got married. George worked at Borthwick’s freezing works and was active in the union. One day George was riding on the back of Tony’s motorbike and a car swiped them, sending George into the air. His injuries led to surgery later on and slowed him down considerably.

Somewhere in the 1950s, George scrounged up the money to buy his first car, “Genevieve” a Ford Model A in mint condition, with a soft top and snap-on side windows. I can recall many a trip in that car. We would chug through the Manawatu Gorge to visit Win and Owen in Dannevirke, with a line of cars building up behind until George found a place to pull over and let them pass. Genny’s radiator often overheated and we had frequent stops to put in water or wait while she cooled down. We went on day trips to visit with the Devlins in Taihape and to the beach to catch flounder in a drag net. George also used to ferry Johnny Devlin and Tony to various talent quests in Genevieve.

The backgrounds of the Mercer family photographs often capture George’s massive vegetable gardens. He was a hard worker and provided as well as he could for his big family. He was very much the head of the household and it was sometimes hard for him to loosen his grip and acknowledge that we had grown up and had choices to make about how to live our own lives. There were clashes and things didn’t always pan out the way George felt they should.

But when all is said and done, I think George did a good job on earth. His life’s work is reflected in the children he and Ann had, their children’s children and so he lives, on and on.

Owner/SourceMadonna Mercer
DateAbt Nov 1998
Linked toGeorge Alfred MERCER

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