By MARGARET ANDREWS
Otaki farewelled one of its oldest residents, Nan Simcox, last week, when family, friends and many others gathered at Rangiatea Church to celebrate her 100 years of a full and active life.
Mrs Simcox had lived in Otaki for 64 years, after marrying “cow cocky” Heath Simcox in 1949. They lived their first 19 years of married life in the old cottage on the Waiorongomai Road farm, before moving into the “new house” where she has lived for the last 46 years. After Heath died in 2002 she remained in the house on her own for 12 years with only her dog for company.
Born in Hamilton on December 20 1913, she was still a baby when her father, an army officer sailed in October 1914 for service in World War 1. He was killed in action three years later at Passchendaele
With her mother and older brother they moved to Wellington, where she attended Kelburn School and was a boarder at Marsden College. School days over, she spent two years at the Otaki Children’s Health Camp as a volunteer before being accepted for nurse training in Auckland. She had completed her training in 1938, including a stint of maternity training at the Otaki Maternity Home, followed by private nursing until her call up.
She always intended to go into the nursing service and so she signed up for the New Zealand Army Nursing Service the day World War II was declared, but because she was too young and didn’t have sufficient experience, she had to wait until she was called up at the end of April 1941, by which time she was a staff nurse, rising to Sister later that year.
Mrs Simcox was first assigned to the 6th Brigade at Trentham Army Camp military hospital, but “something went wrong as the 6th Brigade left the camp I was left behind,” she laughed. She was then sent to Fiji with the 8th Brigade Field Ambulance, before returning to Papakura at the end of 1942 to join the Fourth General Hospital with the 7th Field Ambulance. Then followed a voyage to New Caledonia with the 3rd Division on 1st January 1943. After 16 months in New Caledonia, she was sent to Guadalcanal to the 2NZ Casualty Clearing Station, just a week before it closed down. She also spent time in the Solomon’s during that time.
She was transferred from the NZ Expeditionary Force in Pacific Island (NZEF IP) to the NZEF a few months later and was sent to Egypt, then Italy, back to Egypt until the end of the war. Then began the task of getting all the troops back home. She finally arrived back in Wellington Harbour on her birthday, December 20 1945. “We got home just before Christmas, we were all given a tin of apricots for Christmas!” she said.
Unbeknown to her a certain Heath Simcox was also on board returning from six years in the navy, he did notice her!
Mrs Simcox spoke of some of her experiences during her war service, the lack of equipment for the mostly tented hospitals, their improvising equipment “we had no bowls so hammered down the sides of the fish tins, sterilized them and used them for dressing trays! In Fiji, when the Japs came into the war, they (NZ top brass) gave us all a tin of pineapple – no tin opener, and sent us into the bush. Our troops were sent to the beach and the men were provided with enough ammunition to last five minutes!”
For her wartime service, Sister Nancy King, received the Pacific Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Star; Defence Medal, War Medal and NZ War Service Medal, recognising the places and time she served.
Back in NZ, a keen horsewoman, she rode over the Akatarawa Hill to the Kapiti Coast, where she leased land in Te Horo, built herself a cottage and began a flower market garden, before succumbing to the attentions of one Heath Simcox, whom she met at a RSA dinner at Raukawa Marae, “He was always on my doorstep” she said, they were married in 1949 and moved to Otaki where they raised their three children.
During her 60 plus years in Otaki, Mrs Simcox was a Birthright Otaki family visitor for 30 years and a Girl Guide leader “for nearly as long”. She attended Rangiatea Church where she polished the brasses and arranged the flowers for many years. She was a keen golfer and played regularly until a fall 10 years ago robbed her of her eyesight, although she continued playing until she was 95. “I still played even though I couldn’t see where the ball went,” she said.
The Otaki RSA put on celebratory birthday afternoon for her 100th birthday last December, with the wider family and friends, a birthday cake and sharing memories and stories, many of which included her love of gardening, rolled cigarettes and a whisky. She enjoyed her “smokes” and whisky until she went into hospital shortly before her death on August 19.
She is survived by her daughters, Patty and Kathy, her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The Otaki Mail reporter interviewed Mrs Simcox on her 99th birthday, much of that interview is included in this obituary.