Major Ward

A Familiar and Well-Loved Figure

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Miss Elsie Ward soon rose to sergeant in the Salvation Army Training College in Wellington.  She was then posted to the Wellington Girls’ Home, later helping to conduct meetings or conducting small meetings around Wellington. 

About 1925 she was posted to Norsewood as officer in charge.  After 18 months there she was promoted to captain.  From there she went on to be captain in charge at Motueka, Taihape, Patea and Sumner. 

During the Hawkes Bay earthquake she was in Wairoa, no doubt to the fore in assisting the earthquake victims as the Salvation Army would have been early at the scene of the disaster. 

Later she was at the Hoddersville Boys’ Home at Putaruru.  There were later postings to Winton and Herbert near Oamaru. 

After 14 years as captain she had been promoted to major.


Ill Health

In 1942 Major Ward took furlough owing to ill health and family reasons, coming back to Levin.  She stayed on the original family farm in Wallace Road.  The farm had been left in her trust by her uncle Mr William Laing Jnr.  She had a life interest in it, which she relinquished in 1945, enabling the farm to be sold with the Salvation Army Headquarters being the beneficiary. 

Major Ward bought the cottage at Number 30 Reeve St where she had lived with her family about 40 years before. She named it Myrtle Cottage.  It has now been ascertained that she was born in this cottage. 

She wished to resign her rank but was asked to keep it and being granted a pension, she continued to assist the Salvation Army in Levin in its general and charitable work. 

This she did worthily for the next 35 years becoming a familiar figure, always in uniform, on her errands helping the needy or anyone in trouble, being respected and well loved by all. 

She had a warm caring personality and elderly or infirm people said of her visits to them that her endearing smile alone uplifted their spirits. She usually related to the elderly and handicapped.  She did not assist in Sunday School or youth activities of the church. 

In general her work was to help anyone in need, the creed of the Salvation Army. 

In 1942, while on the farm she bought a car, a 1923 Model T Ford sedan and it became as familiar around the district as herself. 

Once the car became locked against the kerb outside the Post Office and it would not drive out. Some boys pushed the car back and she said to them that “the old girl is not what she used to be.”  It was not clear if she meant the car or herself. 

Major Ward visited invalid and elderly people, especially the lonely, make them a cup of tea, if resting in bed fill their hot water bottles and have a talk with them, often a great need. On the rounds of the hotels selling War Cry, she was a very popular seller.


Major Ward unit

From about 1955 onwards until 1980 she regularly visited the now Kimberly Hospital Training School (then under a slightly different name).  She helped in the day care centre unit (now the child development unit).  This unit was named the Major Ward unit.  A replacement plaque has recently been fitted. 

She would give whatever help the patients needed, write letters for them to their parents, talk to them or encourage them in some occupation.  She always favoured the most handicapped to help.  In any way possible she helped around the hospital with the patients. 

A sewing circle repaired the patients’ clothes. To only name two, they were Mrs Hunter and Miss Hitchcock (infant mistress of the Levin School from 1915 to 1937). 

What memories her name revives of the care and attention she gave to what she called “her little people”. 

In Reeve Street she had elderly people living with her and caring for them.  A Nurse Gilroy was one and later a retired officer, Major Fletcher. 

Mr Alan Bishop related that one time when they were out carolling, a borough councilor came asking Major Ward to come with him to help some person in distress.


Sold her faithful car

In 1958 she sold her faithful car which had aged faster than herself offering it to Mr John Harvey for $10, refusing a higher sum.  On reflection Mr Harvey went back to give her another $30.  She only took it as a donation to the Salvation Army. 

The lack of a car did not stop her activities, as then she rode a bike everywhere. 

As with her car she had adventures with her bike.  On one wet day she rode into the gutter outside the Weraroa Dairy, falling into the swollen water race with one leg stuck in the culvert.  The dairy proprietor pulled her out and took her home. 

Another time in Mako Mako Road, she rode into the water race and ended up sitting in the water. One day in 1970 her bike broke in half, fortunately with no harm to herself.


Hotel patrons passed round the hat

When the patrons of the Grand Hotel heard of this they passed the hat around, collecting enough money to buy her a new bicycle. 

She was very proud of it calling it Robin Hood.  It was presented to her at the hotel and she rode away on it and was still riding on her errands until 1980 at the age of 81.


Weekly News award

From 1960 for a few years the Levin Weekly News were giving awards for people who had not been recognized in any way for their public unpaid work. Major Ward was awarded The Weekly News Gold Medal Award of Merit in 1960. 

The citation read “Miss Elsie Ward, a pensioned officer of the Salvation Army, has endeared herself to many not only in Levin but in numerous other districts too.  She has worked unobtrusively to give assistance to fellow mankind without thought of reward.” 

This award was presented to her and to two other recipients at a dinner at the New Levin Hotel later. 

Major Ward was awarded the Queen’s Service Order in 1978.  The Governor General Sir Keith Holyoake brought it from the Queen and presented the medal at Government House in Wellington. 

About four years ago I saw her at the Bath Street pedestrian crossing double back, after crossing herself, to help an aged lady crossing slowly. 

By 1979 Major Ward had bequeathed the cottage to the Salvation Army to be a home for retired officers, but it was not used as such, being sold.  She lived in Stuckey Street caring for Mrs Dormer in her house. 

During 1980 she left Levin and went to live at the Salvation Army Resthaven in Auckland.  No doubt she will still be helping her fellow guests in anyway necessary. 

On a recent visit to Levin, Major Ward went with an officer to the Oxford Hotel.  The officer called out “Anyone know Major Ward.”  Many heads turned around some calling out “Where is she?”  Her bundle of War Cry’s (Salvation Army weekly newspaper) was soon sold. 

One day she went to town in mufti and nobody knew her. 

When I interviewed her recently she said of her life now that she is overfed and under worked. 

Appreciation to Major Ward, Mr James Ward, and Mrs T.I. Dowd.

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Major Ward

Creator:Corrie Swanwick
Creation date:17/08/1983
Publisher:The News