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Brian's Boer War connection

Resident’s older dad was a young fighter in South Africa


The month of April is a time of remembrance predominantly for New Zealanders and Australians who fought in World Wars I and II.

But for Brian Wood of Evelyn Page retirement village, it’s a time when he remembers his father Sid and the twists and turns of history and circumstance that in turn have directed his own life.

Sid was born Samuel Nathan in 1879 in London and moved to South Africa as a young child. When he was just a teenager he enlisted in the army, and ended up fighting in the Zulu Wars (1879-1896) and then the second Boer War which ran from 1899-1902.

“Dad was a runner at the age of 14, running messages between camps,” says Brian (85).

“He got a medal back in London in 1903 for his participation.

“The fact that he was born way back then, which is when most people my age say their grandparents were born, means I have kind of missed a generation. He was 53 when I was born.

“I don’t believe there’s anyone else in Australasia who can say their dad fought in the Boer War."


Brian's Dad Samuel Nathan changed his name to Sidney Wood before he moved to New Zealand

Brian’s nephew has kept the medals, but the fact they are in the name of Samuel Nathan, not Sidney Wood, is what piqued the interest of Brian’s wife Leonie, who is somewhat of an amateur genealogist.

They learned that by the time Samuel arrived in New Zealand in 1908 aged 29 he had changed his name.

“We’re not 100 per cent sure why, we’ve lost about five years,” says Brian. “But with the Jewish name we assume it’s due to the Jews getting persecuted and the timing that that’s why he changed his name.”

His father settled in Morningside in Auckland and married Jennet Main before joining the NZ Army in 1915.

He was posted overseas in July 1918 and was finally discharged in November 1919 after which he worked as a postman earning five pounds a week for many years until he retired.

While Samuel had stayed on in South Africa with his father Michael as a child, his mother Charlotte (nee Levy) and three siblings returned to London.

Michael had then had a relationship with a Frances Montague and went on to have three sons with her.

“We went to the national library in South Africa to try and track down my grandfather’s partner and we tracked down their house just outside Capetown. Back in those years it was a predominantly black area,” says Brian, who admits he was intrigued at the discovery.

Unfortunately, the records ended there and to date Brian hasn’t found a contact for his three half-uncles or their offspring - yet.

The couple did meet up with the grandson of Michael’s son (and Brian’s uncle) Philip, in London at the pub that Brian’s grandmother used to run. Tony Nathan, who is in his 70s, is Brian’s first cousin once removed.

The Jewish connection has been of great interest to Brian’s son who is married to a Jewish woman and has lived in New York for 30 years.

As the youngest of five siblings, and three of them only dying two years ago at the grand old ages of 102, 96 and 94, Brian has begun to reflect more on the past.


Brian (left) with his mother and two of his brothers

Brian remembers his father to be fairly distant, with the age gap playing a big part in that.

“Because of the age of my parents I have always had to do things for myself. We had nothing growing up, I don’t remember ever receiving any birthday or Christmas presents.”

This spurred Brian on to leave school at the age of 15 where his entrepreneurial flair soon emerged, delivering newspapers and groceries to make a few shillings.

“I would get a bag of offcuts from the sawmill, put them on my trolley and then sell them for three shillings.”

Later, Brian ended up selling British steel for many years and with Leonie built up a successful business and they are now very happy to be enjoying retirement at Evelyn Page.

As he looks around his beautiful three-bedroom apartment at the Orewa village he is still slightly incredulous at the achievement.

“To have all this, I still have to pinch myself, because it is so far removed from my life back then.”

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