27 May 2023

World War II veteran looks back on tough times as he turns 100

8:23 am on 27 May 2023
Oliver Candy holds a photo of himself with his five brothers and their parents.

Oliver Candy holds a photo of himself with his five brothers and their parents. Photo: Jimmy Ellingham / RNZ

One of New Zealand's dwindling number of World War II veterans is turning 100 today.

Oliver Candy will celebrate the milestone with family.

It was family life at the centre of his earliest memories from nearly a century ago, one of six boys on a northern Hawke's Bay farm. It was another world.

"No car - we had horses and gigs and wagons. We used to go 15 miles by horse and gig to Tutira to go to Napier [by coach]," he told RNZ from his Levin home this week.

"I can remember those days - no phone, no power."

Then one day in early 1931 that world shook - the Napier earthquake, which measured magnitude 7.8 and killed 256 people.

"It was terrifying. The ground was opening and shutting," Candy said.

"The whole ground was waving like a sea. I could see my neighbour coming down the track with his horse and dogs, and as the earth was shaking all I could see was his head. Then, when he went down, I'd see the horse and dogs.

"That's how much the ground was moving.

"Whole hillsides collapsed and a big boulder rolled down the hill and cleaned up our school - the girls' toilet."

The school had 12 pupils and - unharmed - they grabbed a fence to keep themselves from being swallowed by the ground.

Shortly after Candy saw an aeroplane for the first time, flying in supplies, and a few months later he saw the damage in the more populated areas when the family was moving to Masterton.

Times were tough in the 1930s and the farm - a soldier settlement bloc for World War I veterans - was not economic.

"Dad walked off the farm. There was a slump - no money, couldn't sell anything. Wild pigs ate most of the lambs."

By World War II the family had shifted to Horowhenua. Four of the six Candy boys signed up to serve, including Oliver and his twin brother Bill, who died in 2020.

Candy was injured shortly after joining the drive to clear the Germans out of Italy. He was in a Sherman tank when the enemy fired.

"We got a couple of bazookas into our tank. It was the end of our war. The tank caught fire and we were singed...

"We had to jump out and I landed on uneven ground and broke my leg and ankle. It was three months in hospital, leg in plaster."

So far Oliver Candy has received a card from the prime minister. A royal card awaits.

So far Oliver Candy has received a card from the prime minister. A royal card awaits. Photo: Jimmy Ellingham / RNZ

Candy also had splinters in his eyes that required medical attention.

That was not the end of his war-time troubles - he also drank poisoned wine at one stage.

When he heard over the radio that the war was over, he was on guard duty.

"'Good morning, this is the first day of the world at peace,'" he heard.

"I was on my own, but there were other people [in the wider area]. Some people started throwing grenades.

"I got under the sand bags and kept out of that. I didn't want to get wounded when that was all over."

Candy spent time with occupation forces in Japan, which included a visit to the destroyed city of Hiroshima, before heading home for civilian life.

"As the prime minister said, 'Nothing's too good for the boys.' That's what we got - nothing," Candy said.

"After the war we had a trip from Bari to Naples and we could see where all the different battles were. As far as I could see were white crosses.

"Thousands and thousands of people got killed. What for? Now the Germans and the [Japanese] are our friends. We trade with them."

Candy married Jenny, who died in 2020, in 1948 - the pair split up for a while before remarrying in 1984, the year they moved into their Levin family home.

Four years later Candy had to retire at 65 from his job running the boiler system at Levin Hospital.

After starting off in farm work, he obtained an engineering qualification to operate steam powered engines - a certificate proudly displayed in his hallway, near his war medals amid a wall full of photos.

Oliver Candy's war medals hang proudly on the wall of his passageway.

Oliver Candy's war medals hang proudly on the wall of his passageway. Photo: Jimmy Ellingham / RNZ

Decades later, apart from eyesight problems, he remained fit and alert.

"I'm in good health. All my working life I never had a day off work with sickness. Amazing eh? I never withdrew sick pay at all," he said.

"I don't smoke and I don't booze. I have a little bit of wine every night, but I don't booze. I'm just lucky to have good health."

There's one thing Candy was adamant about for his birthday celebration - no presents. He said as he approached 100, he had everything he needed.

"My family will be here [on Saturday] - my two sons and daughter, and I was hoping my nephews are coming down, my twin brother's kids.

"We'll get to have a yarn and my daughter will be baking a few biscuits and things - finger food and things like that."

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