Sydney Symons – Ossie Symons – reckons there was always work for willing hands in his day, and he has done his share.
Mr Symons is 100, still at home in Ashburton, but he spends two days a week at Park Street day care.
He reckons they know the secret to a man’s heart is through his stomach – “they put on lovely meals, and music, and music has charms to soothe the savage breast, and specialise in making old men like me feel happy”.
There was a cake there last week a day before his birthday, July 12, and a family gathering planned at the Sinclair Centre.
In the meantime, it was tea in front of a heater with family.
Mr Symons was brought up by relatives in Balclutha, went to school at Henley, and worked, before the war, on farms.
He recalls paddocks full of lizards, and “hawks, and skylarks.
Then came war, and the young man from Balclutha became a stretcher bearer for a field ambulance, serving in Greece and “Crete and Alamein.
“My memory of it is not that clear now,” he says.
In the “final episode” he went to England with other veterans with the idea of being trained in bringing prisoners of war out of Europe, but in the end they were flown out and he began work in isolation wards.
There, he met dozens of men he had known overseas.
Eventually, Mr Symons came out working on a Dutch hospital ship – but not before it pulled into Italy, where no-one was allowed ashore.
But a lighter came out and Mr Symons suddenly realised he was greeting people from his old unit, shaking hands.
Someone said later “you were up there like a brigadier, shaking hands with everyone”.
He came home, worked in forestry around Oxford, and saved enough to buy 20 acres at Alford Forest in 1952.
He later leased and acquired more land.
Mr Symons cut timber – “they were short of people after the war – anyone willing to work was more than welcome” – milked cows and had a few sheep.
He also mustered for 15 autumns, on Mt Somers, Mount Alford and for Alec Urquhart.
They were good times. Good mates.
Mr Symons said he never drank, and was too fond of his food to risk losing it with booze.
“We nibbled away at it and, finally, on paper anyway, had 365 acres.”
He said there was a big creek through it and some good land was lost.
The Symons stayed there 32 years and, six children later, came to Ashburton on New Year’s Eve 1985.
Mr Symons recalls a piper in Baring Square.
The cards keep rolling in for Mr Symons: from the Queen, the Prime Minister, Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon, the Governor General, and from the Minister of Internal Affairs.
His pals at Park Street want to see the cards.
He wasn’t sure, but “they are so jolly considerate it over-rode my fears”.
“I really feel like I’m going on a bit, but they treat us like kings.”