Where the Hell is Esk Valley? (Part 2 in the Series "Down Home")

Some 10km from our farm gate is a small settlement called Esk Valley. Esk Valley is really just an intersection and has an old primary school (now closed and used as a day care centre). On the corner is a war memorial which like most farming settlements lists the names (on each side) of those in the district who served in the Boer, First and Second World Wars. Some were killed in action and some made it home to what must have seemed a quiet old piece of paradise compared with the action and adventure they had witnessed. Farmers, young men, stockmen, shepherds and horsemen all volunteered to see the world and came home a bit older than their years for the experience.

Above right: Prominent memorial.

Left: Esk Valley school corner. Looking North up the road towards home.

Right: The old Esk valley School. Now a daycare centre.

Just up the road on a very prominent ridge sits a historic (and still used) Presbyterian Church called St Mary’s. This is where my grandparents are buried and is I suppose our family plot. I intend to be buried here. With a brilliant view of South Canterbury and surrounded by pastures this church and cemetery is nestled amongst a line of Oaks trees. It could almost be a snapshot of rural England. This is quite a peaceful place and whenever I am home for more than just a few days I often visit here. Over summer when we were swimming at the Otaio Gorge we stopped in twice and I took a few snapshots.

Left: Entrance to St Mary’s lined with oaks.

Right: St Mary’s.

Below: My Grandparents resting place.

On my mothers side of the family I am the eldest of the grandchildren and she is second eldest of five daughters. Her father Eric Robert McConnell was born on our farm and farmed it his entire life. His family originated in County Down, Northern Island and his parents were the original farmers on the property. It was his mother who took the title of the farm due to her husbands illness and this in those days was very unusual. In fact I bear his first two names as my two middle names and I was close to him until his death in 1981. He taught me a lot. 

Eric had a passion for stock and 8mm home movies. He worked hard and the farm still bears the blacksmith and the stables in an age before tractors in which he was born. Too young to fight in the First Word War, farming through the depression, he was given the responsibility of running numerous farms during the next big war as part of the “War Effort”. He was a member of the Home Guard and had an elder brother and a younger brother (Alan served as an Infantry Officer in the Pacific as part of the 3rd New Zealand Expeditionary Force).

My grandmother arrived in New Zealand around the age of 8 years old. The eldest in a large family that came out from the harsh Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. Nicknamed “Lella” by family she was small in stature and huge in heart and had a certain hardiness or toughness about her. No doubt a good mix of Scottish and Viking bloodlines. As a school teacher I remember her drumming the times tables and spelling into me and she was reasonably proficient and dishing out the discipline. Prayers before bed was compulsory. She met my Grandfather whilst teaching at the Teschmakers Valley School and living as a boarder with the family. They took years to court and marry and there is a trail of letters they sent to each other as they got to know each other. No broadband internet, cell phones or local bars in those days. It was all very proper!

Resting close to my grandparents is a young soldier who died of wounds in Vietnam in March 1970 aged 23. I have often looked at the headstone of Private David Nelson Wright a fellow Infantryman and wondered what his story was. I did some initial inquiries a number of years ago but recently I queried a number of Vietnam Veterans to find out some more details.

I’ll share these next time.

Other articles about my home you’ll like;

Knowing your own Backyard (Part 1 in the series “Down Home”
The Great South….Camping in Gods Own!

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