|Location||Levin Home for War Veterans|
Francis Corrison Swanwick - Eulogy at funeral by Janice
Born Levin 23.12.1910 – Died Levin 15.09.2005.
In recent years Francis Corrison Swanwick (Corrie to everyone) proclaimed himself probably the oldest person born in Levin still living there. Sadly, he relinquished that title on September 15, 2005, at the age of 94 years.
Corrie was born in Levin – on the kitchen table of a house which still stands largely unchanged on the corner of Winchester and Bath Streets. His father Frank had moved to Levin from Lawrence, where Corrie’s grandparents on both sides had migrated from England and Ireland to the goldfields.
Frank was a Rough Rider with the New Zealand forces sent to the Boer War, before he moved to Levin to work for his brother-in-law, a baker. The family moved to land in Hokio Beach Road when Corrie was six.
Corrie grew up at a time when his father used a draft horse and block dray for his work on the roads for the county, or at his poultry farm in Hokio Beach Road (the industrial area surrounding Coventry Street has swallowed the land, although the house is still there).
Corrie vividly remembered Levin’s first motor car and Kingsford Smith landing his Southern Cross plane near Levin in the 1930s, the deep and often flooded gravel pits on which many original buildings lining Oxford Street stand (left after the gravel was extracted for the railway), the wonderful old domed Carnegie Library on the corner of Oxford and Bath Streets, the sturdy Regent Picture Theatre in Oxford Street and earlier Century Hall, where the early films were screened, in Queen Street East.
He also told many boyhood stories -- of his school days at the old Levin School (now the adventure playground) and the District.High on the same site -- and of collecting hundreds of birds’ eggs for payment by the county to reduce ‘pest’ species. He recorded most of the town’s social and commercial history – from sawmills to post offices and banks to police stations and schools.
Like most boys of his time he had to leave school early to work, for Scobie’s (now Black’s Nursery) in Fairfield Road. He served in the Pacific during World War II, as a gunner in the artillery (with plenty of experience from hunting in the Tararuas in the 1930s). However, his cooking skills were more prized and he quickly became head cook for his regimental headquarters on Norfolk Island. He also served in New Caledonia and Fiji.
On Norfolk Island he introduced the luxury of a cup of hot water for the ranks to shave, and an abseiling-like arrangement to get up and down steep cliffs to catch fish to supplement rations. Best of all was his successful tactic to get a proper camp oven. He instructed his men to put green branches on the fire to smoke out the cooking area when Army higher-ups made an inspection. He got his oven.
Near the end of the war he was manpowered to the Services Vegetable Project as a supervisor. He worked as a supervisor on the former Central Development Farm in CD Farm Road, as part of a scheme to feed American and New Zealand forces in New Zealand camps or in the Pacific.
After the war he married Lillian (Lil) Pickering, the brother of his old hunting mate Bert Pickering, who himself collapsed and died at Corrie’s funeral on September 19. The rest of his working life was spent at his small nursery and market garden on the Main South Road, from where he retired “into town” in 1974.
In retirement he developed a passion for local history and was a founder member of the Horowhenua Historical Society in 1976, pouring through and indexing most issues of The Chronicle, writing an extremely detailed history of Oxford Street, including the Levin CBD and Weraroa, and writing nearly 200 or more articles on aspects of Levin history, many of them published in The Chronicle or The Weekly News.
His work was recognised by the Levin Borough Council, which gave him a civic honour award in 1984 for outstanding contribution to the town’s history. In 1985 he received a plaque for his help with the Horowhenua County Council’s centennial celebrations and in 1990 he was presented with a commemoration medal signed by the Queen for services to New Zealand.
He also continued to maintain a large vegetable and flower garden to within a year of his death, vigorously supervising his gardeners from his mobility scooter, on which he was also a familiar sight around Levin shops and banks.
Corrie notched up a couple of unusual achievements in his 90s – he gave up smoking at 92 and he had his first road accident at 93 – when he was so intent on instructing his gardener how to prune a bush just so at the front of his garden that his scooter wheels went into the gutter, throwing him on to the road.
And in his late 80s he had his kitchen extended – to accommodate the latest items such as a dishwasher, microwave and food processor when he took up cooking again after the death of his wife in 1996.
He also cast a special vote (Labour of course after years of voting Social Credit) some days before his death, and would have appreciated the irony of his vote still counting.
But his biggest regret will be missing Levin’s centenary in 2006.
Corrie is survived by his daughter Janice Swanwick, son-in-law Kent Atkinson and grandchildren Catriona and Brendan Atkinson.
Francis Corrison Swanwick - Eulogy by Kent Atkinson
Born Levin 23.12.1910 – Died Levin 15.09.2005.
Francis Corrison Swanwick -- Corrie to his friends and family -- was born on December 23, 1910 -- nearly 95 years ago.
He saw changes in society and history which would have been difficult to imagine at the time of his birth -- not the least of them two world wars. Having seen -- as a child -- the so-called war-to-end-all-wars, he was to serve in the second of these.
Corrie vividly remembered the arrival of Levin's first motor car -- and witnessed the volution that meant motor vehicles and planes became more commonplace than the horses he saw as youngster, and replaced them.
There were things that he saw that became history: Bernard Freyberg was a dentist here when Corrie was a child, and practised the swimming that he used in the Gallipoli landings. Corrie recalled Charles Kingsford Smith landing near Levin in the 1930s.
But there were thousands of other smaller things that Corrie wrote about in his articles for the Chronicle and the Weekly News in the 1970s and 1980s. Everything from which shops were where in the main street and who ran them and what businesses took their place, to tracking the settlement and growth of Levin through its sawmills, or its newspapers, or its local post offices at places such as Ihakara or Weraroa.
He had some particular enthusiasms – including the gravel pits that marked Levin in the early days of its European settlement: the recent discovery of forgotten basements under some shops was no surprise to him.
Even when he was writing about things that happened before he was born, they were not just dates and facts – in many cases, Corrie had known the people involved or their families. For Corrie, history was landscape made up of people.
And -- unbelievably for generations such as his grandchildren, Catriona and Brendan -- he grew up without anything like the host of electronic technologies that seem to be necessities today.
But though his formal schooling finished so he could go to work in the 1920s, he was a very clever man, always interested not just in how things worked, but how they could be made to work better. And he read widely -- not so much for relaxation, but for
information. He could be quite relentless in tracking down the
specific fact or details that he wanted to know.
I think if he had come to it earlier, Corrie would have been a heavy user of computers and the Internet to satisfy his curiosity about the world. That said, Corrie's strengths in his research were his encyclopaedic memory, and his willingness to spend time personally with any person he thought could contribute or confirm the information which he wanted.
This ability to settle down for the hard grind -- whether seeking historical material or earning a living -- was a characteristic of Corrie. That and his love for his wife Lillian -- Lil -- and his daughter Janice, and a fierce desire to be independent meant that he worked from daylight to dusk, and often into the night, as a commercial grower of fruit and vegetables and flowers .
It may not have made him rich in a material sense, but he had an appreciation of the things in life that you can't buy with money, and he lived closer to the land and nature than most New Zealanders. For Corrie, the ebb and flow of the seasons was part of the framework of his life, and he was genuinely distraught over the loss of those routines when, over 30 years ago he “retired'' to town from his smallholding out on the Main Road
south of the town.
The retirement did however enable him to -- in between carving out a big vege garden which seemed to get a little bigger each spring when Lil wasn't looking -- put a lot of energy into his interest in the history of Levin and the surrounding districts.
He was looking forward to the Borough's centenary next year, and I'm sorry that he won't be here for it.