Jack and Mary (Hooper grandparents)

John (Jack) and Mary Hooper (Nell's parents, ~1950@)My mother’s father (Grandad Hooper) was a bricklayer (he and his son, uncle Eric, built our house in Maungaturoto).  He and Grandma Hooper lived in a tiny cottage in Kamo, near Whangarei, and they were both just lovely.


One day Grandma Hooper decided she wanted to start smoking cigarettes, but she decided not to tell her husband.  In those days husbands usually made all the decisions in families, and she was pretty sure Grandad Hooper wouldn’t let her do it.  So she secretly puffed just one cigarette a day, after dinner, hiding behind the kitchen door!!!  Goodness knows whether Grandad Hooper knew what was going on, but, if he did, he didn’t say anything.

In those days, practically every man in the world smoked cigarettes (usually roll-your-owns).  Many women smoked, too, but not often in public.  Here’s an article about smoking in New Zealand:  https://teara.govt.nz/en/smoking/page-2.


Grandad Hooper at start of World War OneJohn Charles Hooper (or, “Jack”, as Grandad Hooper was known) was born in England in 1884.  He migrated to New Zealand as a young man where he met and married his Mary (Grandma Hooper).

When the First World War started, in 1914, Jack was called up by the British Army (even though he was a New Zealand citizen by then).  So, off he went to England to re-join his regiment.


His job in the war was to transport munitions up to the front and bring wounded soldiers back.  It was terribly dangerous, of course.  If a shell had hit their horse-drawn cart, the whole lot could have exploded.

Anyway, one day they were hit by enemy fire, but fortunately the explosives on the cart didn’t explode.  However, his mate and one of the two horses were killed.  Now, if that had happened to me, I’m pretty sure I know what I would have done.  I would have thought, fucking hell that was close, and I would have abandoned my mission and gone back to base to report the tragedy.

But people had a much greater sense of “duty” in those days, and Jack Hooper was no exception, so he decided to continue on with the mission.  Unfortunately, the cart was too heavy for one horse to pull, so Jack unloaded half the shells and then continued on to the front with the remaining horse pulling the partly-loaded cart.  Then he had to go back, reload the munitions he’d removed, and make another trip to the front.

It took a long time, of course, but he eventually got the job done.

Grandad Hooper was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (the DCM) for this and other brave acts.  The citation reads “For conspicuous gallantry on many occasions in assisting to remove wounded and bring supplies to the battery under heavy fire”.

He was the first New Zealander to be awarded the DCM on the Western Front.


At the end of the war, Grandad Hooper was offered a job teaching soldiers in the Indian Army.  So he wrote a letter to Grandma Hooper telling her to sell their belongings and bring the children to India.  (There was no email in those days, of course, so the letter probably took months to arrive.)

Anyway, he soon followed this letter up with a telegram (which was similar to an email) saying that he’d decided that India wasn’t a good place to bring up children, so she should wait for him in New Zealand.  Fortunately it arrived before Grandma Hooper and the family had left for India!!!

Grandad Hooper eventually made it back to New Zealand, two years after the war had finished.

You know, if he hadn’t changed his mind, my mother (his daughter) wouldn’t have met and married my father (Alf Lacey), so I wouldn’t have been born and you my grandchildren wouldn’t have been born either!!!

Whew, thanks for changing your mind Grandad Hooper.


Grandad Hooper (with shovel) with Maori School of Instruction groupWhen the Second World War started (about 25 years later), Grandad Hooper was too old to go to war again.  However, he was a very experienced soldier, so the Army used him to help train the Home Guard (the New Zealand equivalent of Britain’s “Dad’s Army”).

Grandad Hooper also spent a lot of time training local Maori units.  The Second World War was an important time for Maori, who saw it as an opportunity to prove that they deserved full citizenship.  When the war was over he received very complimentary letters from the groups he’d helped, thanking him for what he’d done.

In the photo, Grandad Hooper is the man holding a shovel.


In 1958 (when Grandad Dale was 16), Grandad and Grandma Hooper both died, only five days apart.

Grandma Hooper had developed dementia not long before.  Nowadays if you have dementia you usually go into a rest home where you get all the care and supervision you need.  But in the 1950s, we didn’t have those sort of facilities, so if it wasn’t practical to care for you at home, then you had to go into what was called a Lunatic Asylum (or “loony bin” as they were irreverently known).

The nearest asylum was in Avondale in Auckland, so that’s where poor Grandma had to go, which was really sad because it was so far away (about four hours by car).


Mary Hooper's funeral, pallbearers all grandsons, Brian Hooper, Max, Ray Hooper, Dale (Whangarei, Jul 1958)I was a pallbearer at Grandma’s funeral.  That’s me in the photo (in school uniform), along with my brother Max at the back and cousins Brian and Ray at the front.

In contrast, Grandad Hooper’s funeral was a full military affair run by the Returned Servicemen’s Association.  I still remember the rush of emotion as the Last Post was played.  It’s such a powerful piece at public ceremonies, but even more so when it’s played for one particular soldier.

Farewell, Grandad Hooper, you were a very kind and brave man.
Kua hinga te tōtara o Te Waonui a Tāne (a totara has fallen in the great forest of Tane).



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:  Much of what I’ve said about Grandad Hooper is based on research done by my cousin Craig Hooper.  You can read his very interesting article here:  http://tinyurl.com/grandadhooper.  Thanks, Craig.

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