Elsie Roberta Blythe (nee Hodges) – Early Memories

“I was born on the sixth of March 1924 in Batchelor Hospital, Dunedin. I was quite a big baby, 8 pounds, 11 and a half ounces. At that stage I had a sister of 14 months [Dora], so you can imagine I wasn’t too welcome. After I was born there was Alan, two and a half years younger than me. And Harold a couple of years after that. Then when Harold was seven and I was eleven, Grace was born.”

Hodges family circa 1926 (1000 dpi resolution)
The Hodges family c 1926, from left: Elsie, Alfred (father), Alan, Jessie (mother), and Dora.

“We lived at the time in 2 Alexander Street, Caversham, just one block away from Caversham School. We had a small backyard at home. One tree in it was a lilac bush. I’ve loved lilac ever since. And we had a very fussy vegetable garden that my father looked after, and my mother. We weren’t allowed to go in the garden of course, or drop a ball in it. But we had fun. I remember playing mud pies a lot. We played shop. Mum was very good at making little sets of furniture and giving us play money. We all played together quite a lot.

Dora went to school just the year before me. But she got some kind of illness in the first year and was home quite a lot and she taught me how to read. So when I got to school I could already read. So I went through school in the same year as Dora, who had taught me everything. That was okay, she was always very good to me.”

Young Elsie Portrait enhanced
Elsie in her early years.

“My mother was fostered by a family called Sarney. When we were young there were just the two sisters left [Auntie Maggie and Auntie Louie], maiden ladies. They were very good to us. It was during the Depression. My father left work because the place he was working at, the fertiliser works, had people dropping with cancer. So he left there. He was out of work for several years until he could get into the [City Council] parks and gardens.”

Auntie Maggie and Hodges children (cropped)
The older Hodges children (from top centre: Dora, Alan, Harold and Elsie) with the Sarney ‘Aunties’ Maggie and Louie.

“Auntie Maggie was a tailoress and Auntie Louie was a marvellous cook. They had boarders, so as a consequence they rented big houses all the time. In the school holidays, Dora and I always went to their place. It was a great life. They taught us how to play cards and they took us out. We met all the other friends. Auntie Maggie made all our clothes. She also taught me how to sew, how to make a proper buttonhole.

Mum had been very artistic. Even though she had been a foster child she had had piano lessons and art lessons in her teenage years. She became a photographic retoucher. But she hadn’t learnt to knit or sew much. She did have to learn of course, because it was the Depression years when we were young. So she learnt to knit and sew on us. We had to wear clothes that weren’t terribly wonderful. But that was alright, she learnt in the end. We didn’t care.”

Elsie in pigtails
Elsie in pigtails.

“I was quite good at primary school, but I didn’t say much. I was quite good at my lessons. So I had an academic recommendation. Then Dora and I went to Tech at the same time [King Edward Technical College]. She took Domestic and I took Commercial.  But we both won an Athenaeum Prize after the first year [a secondary school student English prize], which meant we had free access to the Athenaeum Library in Dunedin, which was a marvellous prize to have.”

Elsie and Dora, high school prefects (detail) enhanced
Elsie and Dora while Prefects at King Edward Technical High School, Dunedin  c. 1938.

“We’d all gone to the Methodist Church Sunday school, from primary Sunday school right through. It was a great thing for us because we were in junior choir. There’d be a games night every month, concerts. We were encouraged to be in end of year shows; forced to sing solos in choir on Sunday mornings. We’d go to church in the morning, Sunday school in the afternoon. As we got a bit bigger we joined the senior choir and went to church at night. Mum used to go at night and one of us would go with her. The church was marvellous for us. They had some wonderful people there. Very talented.”

Otago Netball Team enhanced
Elsie (top left) with the Otago netball team.

“In those days [at high school] we always sat government exams for shorthand typing. We then had to wait to be offered a job in a government department. In the beginning of my fifth year I turned 16 and not long after I had an offer of a job in broadcasting [in Dunedin]. I went and had my interview there and I got the job. That was an eye opener, because I met a whole lot of stage and show kind of people. There were show business people who’d call you ‘darling’ and all this. They laughed uproariously and tried to make you blush, that sought of thing. I really think it was a great stroke of luck getting work there.

As the war came to an end, somebody came down from Wellington. I think it must have been 1945, really at the end of the war. Somebody came down from the Public Service Commission asking for typists to go to Wellington, because they were really short up there. The state was taking over a lot of things and they needed a lot of shorthand typists to go with all the public servants. I was going to go with Irene, but then she met Hugh, just before we were to go. So I decided to go by myself.”

Elsie in Best Tunic
Elsie in her best office worker’s tunic.

“I went up to Wellington and stayed in the Public Service Hostel and met some marvellous friends that I still am pally with. We had lots of laughs. After two years of that, we got a bit fed up with being spoon fed and Lois, Nora and I went flatting out in Berhampore, Wellington. We joined the tennis club, where we met some various ‘reprobates’. When we went flatting we had them all out to visit us from time to time. I finally ended up getting engaged [to Jack Blythe, from the tennis club].”

Elsie on her wedding day cropped
Elsie on her wedding day.
Elsie and bridesmaids (600 dpi resolution)
Elsie with her bridesmaids.

For more information on the life of Elsie Blythe (nee Hodges). her ancestors, descendants and other family, friends and associates, click on the links below:

Jessie Roberta Hodges (nee Shanks): The Early Years – Jessie talks about growing up in Dunedin, her first job at the Kapai photo studio, and meeting her future husband, Alfred George Hodges.
Binning Benjamin Whetton (1846–1924) was Jessie Hodges’ maternal grandfather. Read about his life and family here.
Who was Dorothy Miles?  Find out how Dorothy Miles is related to Jessie Hodges and the wider Dunedin Hodges family; and what happened to her.
Harold Hodges / Agnes Haig wedding reception photos, 6 November 1954.  View more than 60 newly discovered photos of Hodges, Shanks, Haig and MacCallum family members and friends who attended this event.
Dora’s Ninetieth – The Speeches – On the last Sunday of December, 2012, a family party was held at the Harding’s farm to celebrate Dora David’s (nee Hodges) ninetieth birthday.  Click here to see some of the amusing birthday speeches given by family members in honour of Dora.
Shanks at Mount Peel – Jessie Roberta Hodges (nee Shanks) was born at Mount Peel Station on 14 September 1896.  The station is located 30kms north of the inland South Canterbury town of Geraldine. Click here to see photos of Mount Peel Station and nearby Peel Forest, taken in September 2016.
Photos of the Week: Descendants of Alfred and Jessie Hodges have been emailing ‘photos of the week’ to each other irregularly since 2009.  A selection of 40 of these family photos are shown here.
Mid-twentieth century Dunedin: Courtesy of the Dunedin City Council, view photos of the city and suburbs taken in the 1960s and 70s.