LES KING let his driver’s licence lapse yesterday. He also celebrated his 100th birthday with family, friends and neighbours.
Among his many congratulatory cards, are two with gold tassels from Queen Elizabeth II and the New Zealand Governor General Patsy Reddy.
He lives independently in a cosy townhouse surrounded by photos of family and memorabilia from his long, colourful life.
Born to Catherine and Henry King, and raised in Wallacetown, he was one of seven siblings, having a brother and five sisters.
Singing, playing accordion, piano and keyboard, Mr King played by ear.
“We made our own music.”
Growing up on a farm, close to the Wallacetown School, Mr King and his siblings only had a short daily walk to school.
Living on a farm with cows, sheep and a large vegetable garden also had other advantages during tough times.
“We lived right through The (Great 1930’s) Depression… we survived.”
He left school at 15, saying he had “learnt enough to spell and count”.
“I had had enough.”
So he headed down the road to work at the Underwood Milk Factory.
But “war interrupted things”, resulting in four years army service in the Pacific including in New Caledonia, Guadalcanal and New Hebrides for 18 months before returning to New Zealand and being redeployed to Italy for more than a year.
“The Japanese came in, and we stayed till the end, then I came home, then I was sent to Italy.”
Aged only 22, in October 17, 1943, Mr King was one of many New Zealanders who took part at the landing on Mono Island in the Solomons against the Japanese.
“It was 20 minutes past six in the morning…
“It was the first time since Gallipoli (1915) that a British force (New Zealand troops) had landed in a sea landing against enemy fire.”
Mr King said he was “always looking for adventure”, which while serving in the army could have had detrimental consequences.
“I was a bit of a devil I suppose. I jumped the fence a few times in New Zealand… and there were a few times I could have got myself killed.”
After the war he returned to work at the Underwood Milk Factory where he worked alongside his future wife, Florence (Flossie).
“There were a lot of girls working there… I had my pick,” he joked.
Mr King worked in packing, making wooden boxes to store the cans of condensed milk reduced cream or coffee and milk, while the future Mrs King filled the cans.
They married in 1946, eventually having six children – four boys and two girls – and lived at at Makarewa for 37 years before retiring to Winton in the early 1980s.
Married for almost 70 years, Mrs King died six years ago, aged 93.
A community minded person, Mrs King was popular.
“The phone was always going,” daughter Judith Smart, of Ashburton, said.
“Mum was a great croquet player, eventually becoming an umpire… and helped increase the membership of the club.”
Mr King’s working life included working at the McSkimming brick works. He also spent 20 seasons at the Makarewa Freezing Works and was a groundsman at Southland Boys’ High School in Invercargill for five years.
It was his youngest sister Florrie’s death, in 2008, which spurred him to write his memoirs, well over 150 pages, which had since been published.
“I had turned 80 and decided to write my memoirs. Florrie was the last one [of my siblings].”
Over ten decades… there were many times to remember and much to celebrate yesterday.