My Father

Mary Barnes, 2008.

Dad’s father was a lawyer who retired as soon as he received his inheritance. Dad used to say that he played the country squire and just spent it all. He remembered the family having a big house, servants, a carriage with a coat of arms on the door. The children had a nanny, and an absolutely fabulous rocking horse that Dad loved.


Dad was educated at Cheltenham Boys’ College, taking the “Military” course. Samuel told John that he had three choices as far as his career was concerned: the church, law, or the army. In his first year, when he would have been twelve, he was one of the cadets lining the streets as Queen Victoria’s funeral cortege passed. He told me that this was the last time that 5 crowned heads gathered together. “Kaiser Bill was fantastic, with his withered arm, sitting straight on his horse”. The cadets were given some chocolate in case they felt faint. Without any pockets to put it in they had to put it into their caps; he remembers it melting down over his head.


Leaving school in 1909, he joined the army as a “Gentleman cadet” at Woolwich, joining the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1911.


An enthusiastic sportsman, he had represented his school at gymnastics and rugby: these sporting interests continued in the army, playing rugby for the Blackheath club, (see Blackheath.jpg) playing for the Army, and representing England in 1912 against Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. His rugby career was interrupted by his posting overseas, and then the Great War, but he again represented his country against Australia and New Zealand in 1919.


After three years in the army in England, he was posted to Hong Kong in 1913. He enjoyed pre-war army life, although as a young subaltern he sometimes had difficulty living and paying his mess bills as his army pay was all he had. On the outbreak of war he was recalled to England, and sent to France .


He was lucky enough to survive the whole war on the Western Front except for a brief spell invalided home in 1918 before going back for the duration. He served in many of the major battles, including the Somme, and he was clearly brave, earning an MC in the battle of Albert and a bar at Loos. We haven’t been able to find the citation for the MC, but the citation for the bar reads: -


London Gazette 26/7/1918  Bar to Military Cross

T./lt. (A./Maj.) John Alfred Pym, MC, 146th Siege Bty, RGA. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. This officer directed the fire of his battery from a forward observation post when the enemy were making a determined attack. Although wounded in the neck and face and under very heavy fire, he continued to send back information. (MC gazetted 14 January 1916)

In handwriting underneath it states where this happened ‘No (prob. north) Dernancourt on 28/1/1918)


In February 1917 he was reported killed in action, and the Times printed an obituary of “one of the best rugby footballers that Cheltenham College ever produced”, but a month later the mistake was corrected: he had been confused with somebody else (his cousin?)


He would almost never talk about the war. About the only stories I remember were his having to drive their guns over their own wounded as they retreated from the front, and overdosing badly wounded men with morphine. Another story was the big retreat (from the Somme?) They were sitting ducks, they couldn’t move fast because of the wounded and their heavy guns, and as the Germans flew low over them in their planes all they had to shoot back with were their pistols. Later, when they re-advanced, they re-entered a house that they had been using as a forward observation post to find one of their protractors still on the table.


After the war he continued his army career, serving in Ceylon as adjutant for his regiment before returning to Woolwich, where he served to 1924 before retiring from the army.


His service book records: -



Q.F. Coast Def.    Shoeburyness 1911-12

Seige Arty            Sheerness, 1912

Musketry              Hong Kong, 1913

B.C. Overseas      Lydd, Salisbury, 1918




        2nd Lieut.        23.12.10

        Lieut                23.12.13

        Captain           11.8.16


        Captain            Sept 15

        Major              18.11.16



    19th Coy, RGA        Jan 1911 to Oct 1912    (at home)

    88th Coy, RGA        Oct 1912 to 1.12.14    (Overseas) (Hong Kong we presume)

    1.S.B. 39.S.B. 23 S.B.   25.12.14 to 4.10.16  (with an expedy. fce)

    208 S.B., 189 S.B.    4.10.16 to 18.11.16 (at home)

    189 S.B. 146 S.B.    18.11.16 to 28.3.18 (with an expedy. fce).

                                    28.3.18            Wounded

     146 S.B.                15.6.18 to 15.11.18  (With an expdy fce)

     R.A. Ceylon            16.8.19 to 1922

     R.A.Depot, Woolwich  1922 to 1924

    Retired to reserve of officers, 1924


(We presume "S.B." means "Siege Battery")


Extra Regimental Employment during the Present War.


Attached RA Office III Army        July 1917 to Aug 1917


Attached XiX Corps, H.A (Reccon) 1.12.17 - 24.12.17


Attached XiX Corps R.A. & Cav. Corps R.A. (Reccon)    28.2.18 to 15.3.18


Adjt. R.A. Ceylon 18.8.19


Mentions in Despatches and Rewards during the Present War


1.1.16            MC

6.18               Bar to MC   (doesn't give day - we presume this just means "June '18")


On retirement Dad was paid out (I think that's what you call it) and had enough money left after paying his debts to emigrate. He thought Canada or NZ. He decided on NZ because they played good rugby and grew good apples! He arrived by ship (SS Tainui, August 31st 1923) with £10. He had no desire to ever go back to England, even for a visit. 


The first job was on a farm near New Plymouth. A tough old widow with three tough sons, they ate off a bare wooden table except on Sunday's when she had a tablecloth of newspaper. What a difference for him!


I'm not sure how many farms he worked on.


He met Joyce through Freda. Joyce and Freda had been friends for years, since Cheltenham Ladies College. Freda was coming out to NZ to see "Bean" (as she called him) and asked Joyce if she'd like to come too. We have an old photograph book of Freda's, labelled "snaps". In it are pictures of both her and Joyce. They seem from the photos to be quite modern/radical for their time: when I look at some of the pictures I think of Isadora Duncan. Both of them were very good looking and had lovely figures. I don't know when they were married but Jill (the younger of their two children, the other one was John) was about 16 years old when I was about one. 


Joyce had heaps of money from a family trust her father had set up (from the proceeds of his sailing ships and the collection and sale of guano). They bought a farm at Woodhill and later a run-off near by for fattening the cattle. They built a new house and it was, from all accounts, a thriving farm. Joyce sent a photograph of her first load of washing on the line to her mother; it was a big deal as she'd never lifted a finger in her life. 


Mum and Joyce met through a mutual love of music and being in local productions. Joyce was teaching them how to do dance routines for HMS Pinafore. Mum met Dad then too because Joyce asked him to show the cast how to present arms properly. They were all good friends. Joyce took Mum to England with her to help look after Jill and John (they had a 6 week boat trip to get there then, no planes). Mum was overwhelmed by Joyce's parents’ house and servants, and Mrs Godden gave Mum a little silver gondola that I still have. It was only after Joyce left Dad, taking the children with her, that anything developed between Mum and Dad.


Mum and Dad had to wait three years for Joyce and Dad's divorce to be absolute. At this time he had bought a farm at Henderson (Valley Rd). The 2nd World War had begun and he was asked to reenlist. He had started in Wellington when he sent a ring to Mum by post, it was totally unexpected as they had decided not to have one and she sat on a crate outside the kitchen at Springside and bawled her eye's out. (This ring was left to our daughter Rachel, it is now her engagement ring). When they were first married he was in charge of guns (anti-aircraft?) on Mt Victoria, Wellington.


After they were married Mum moved to Wellington but very soon after that Dad was asked to go to Nandi. Mum was furious as she thought he'd done enough already in the last war, but he said it was his duty and went. She went back to Springside and soon discovered she was pregnant but was so pissed off with Dad she didn't tell him for 3 months. I was born fairly smartly (within the right time frame of course!) so perhaps the divorce was through in 1940/ 41. 


He was back by the time I was born and in charge of the Auckland guns – North Head, Mt Victoria. We were living in a flat in Mt Eden, he’d go by tram and ferry to work at North Head every morning.


After the war they bought the Whangarei Heads farm, but Mum couldn’t stand the isolation and the primitive living conditions, so they both returned to Springside where Dad became the caretaker for the family hotel business, and Mum worked full time in the kitchen with Dordie. They lived at Parakai until Springside burnt down, 1956 I think. Fortunately the hotel was closed at the time, it was going to be renovated once they got a liquor licence, which in those days was really hard to get. For a while after the fire the business was run as a diary and swimming pool but it was soon sold and both families retired, Dad and Mum to Manly.


Money was tight and they considered various live-in jobs (caretaker at a health camp, for example), but about 1960 (or 1961?) a letter arrived from London. Mum came out into the garden “Here you are Dad, somebody’s left us a fortune”, not really meaning it, but it was true: Uncle Reggie had left them £60,000, a fortune in those days. Dad’s one regret was that there was nobody to thank. We’re not sure who “Uncle Reggie” was, possibly William F PYM (Rev), because we think he was a minister.


Dad got sick, complaining of pain when swallowing, in 1968, and died of oesophageal cancer in 1969. I still miss him very much. He was a kind, well-educated man, a true gentleman, very much the product of his Victorian upbringing, who spoke with an educated English accent using expressions that you sometimes hear in period dramas: “Good Show”, “Good Egg”, friends were “Chaps”, cigarettes were “Gaspers”.


Click here to see more information about J. A. Pym.


Click here to see his family tree, and information about his ancestors and descendents.