What they did.
What they did to the horses.
That went to bloody war.
Six weeks sardined on ships; one way ticket to mud and guts.
Creating the Centena
Me, and war; we are not compatible. Nor history to be brutally honest. But with this project, I’m driven out of my comfort zone, to the territory of confrontation, of war. World War 1.
War has imprinted too many families. I turn to mine.
The story of my great grandfather. John Hanson Berney. The youngest son of the Berneys of Norfolk (look us up in deBretts peerage), he was bundled off on a ship to the Antipodes in 1886, to ‘start a new line’. No cocktails poolside. Or casino evenings. And a reasonable chance that he might never see his homeland, his family again. Without a war in sight.
When family tried to understand this city girl’s uncharacteristic interest in horses, they would speak of John Hanson Berney. Of his love. And what he did.
And so, to the War Memorial Museum I march, forcing myself through the bloody exhibition. I leave with the taste of metal in my mouth.
The people that I entreat to my Armistice cause; the miniscule country museum which opens for one day a month. The lawyer who I engage to search for land titles and who wonders if my unusual commission is some form of scam email.
Second cousin Bruce remembers JHB in his 80s lived with their family after losing his wife Margaret, who had been wheelchair bound by polio for most of their married life. He recalls that JHB would meticulously move tools from one side of the shed to the other. Day in. Day out. Like the old mill horse who upon retirement wore a circle round the oak tree.
We know that he enrolled in the Lincoln School of Agriculture and that he was described as a ‘gentleman farmer’ by locals. Perhaps influenced by the fact that he always wore a three piece wool suit. Even while riding his beloved horses.
The initially suspicious lawyer searches in places that mere plebeians cannot access. His rate is a reasonable $150 an hour so I ask him to stop when he reaches 3; this is a personal project after all. Two days later, an email from him, laden with file attachments. There is no invoice; he refuses to charge me as he is adamant that he hasn’t met my brief.
I drive to Eketahuna to search for the place where John Hanson Berney walked, trotted, galloped. Hurrah. The museum folk are preparing for Anzac Day and will be open. A play of sorts unfolds as we step inside. A local woman had mentioned her family’s remembering of Hanson Berney, but when pressed, the references disappear like dust motes. The fulsome curator who also works at the local shop leads me to the archive rooms; decades and centuries stacked together, waiting to be catalogued. The earnest equestrienne shows me yellowing photos of uniformed men with exhausted horses.
This journey. Has just begun. Where is my passport?
26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.