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Ninety years in South Wairarapa

June 18, 2019 June 2019 No Comments

Charmaine the Guide.

Charmaine Alpe (née Davidson) owes her name to the 1926 silent movie What Price Glory.   Her mother, an English war bride, decided that if she had a daughter she would give her the name of the heroine of the film.  That was 90 years ago and Charmaine is still living here in Martinborough and still in her own home although she’s had to give up mowing the lawns herself!

She’s spent most of her life in the South Wairarapa, apart from a year in Wellington after she left school.  She was keen to become a shorthand typist and trained by correspondence but never really got to realise that dream.   

It took a blind date back home at one of the local dances to set her life on a different path.  That date was a tall fellow named Norman (Ned) Alpe and that’s how he and Charmaine started an under-the-radar courtship.  It didn’t escape one perceptive friend though.  ”That dancing partner’s lasting a long time”, she said.  

At 20 she married Norman and went to live on one of the six dairy farms then on the Backwater Road.   They had 36 cows, all pedigree jerseys, and in those days that was enough for a family to make a comfortable living especially if you were a good farmer like Norman.   Every cow had a name and he insisted they were used.   He told the herd tester “I’ll give you the names. You can work out the numbers!”  In those days Charmaine, like many farm wives, made her own butter, didn’t have a fridge and washed clothes in the copper.  Norman died in 1999 and Charmaine moved into town in 2001 after nearly 50 years on the farm.

When she was single Charmaine had been a marching girl (you had to quit when you married though).    It was very popular in those days and Martinborough fielded two teams, coached by Stuart Harvey. You can see one of their lolly pink and white uniforms in the Martinborough museum.  Unfortunately they didn’t have the money for proper boots but kiwi ingenuity took care of that. “ We made do with tennis shoes and spats made out of painted cardboard.”

Before she married and had her three boys, Jim, David and Stuart, Charmaine had been involved with Guides.  However, the Martinborough group went into recess for over 20 years and it wasn’t until 1966 that it started again.   Charmaine decided to become involved with the newly formed Brownies.  “I already had boys at home so it was good to work with girls.  I just loved it.”  That was the beginning of a long and rewarding association with the movement both in New Zealand and overseas.  

She’s reticent about her achievements and awards in Guiding but happy to talk about the many friendships and experiences it has given her.  “It’s sad that Guides is struggling to find leaders to keep it going these days” she says but fortunately some of her own family are continuing the tradition. The farm is still in the family too but now much bigger – and minus the cows.

Chris Cassels

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