Last surviving Tui determined to reach 100
Inga Heaton-Bow, 99, has cheated death twice to make New Zealand war history.
She is believed to be the last living Tui – a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps which formed the New Zealand Forces Clubs during World War II.
Heaton-Bow (nee Seifert) survived being chased by an enemy submarine and she pulled out of a flight which crashed and killed her friend Marie Innes.
The doomed flight more than 70 years ago is understood to have been bound for London when it plummeted from the sky.
‘‘It was heartbreaking when her best friend died,’’ daughter Michele Carson says.
‘‘Only Marie and mum were going to fly out. But mum chose not to go because she was sick or hungover that day.
‘‘I remember mum telling me I was lucky to be born.’’
In the early 1940s HeatonBow was a passenger on the ship RMS Aquitania taking about 1000 New Zealand soldiers to the front.
‘‘On the way to Cairo they had a German sub pursuing them so they had to go down to the South Pole to get away,’’ Carson says.
Heaton-Bow astonished fellow Tui passengers by preparing for bed.
‘‘I’ve always been a good sleeper and the nine girls said, ‘I don’t know how you can go to sleep when we’re being chased by a submarine’. I said, well the big bang will wake me won’t it?’’
Heaton-Bow was one of 30 Tuis who helped establish the New Zealand Forces Clubs in Egypt and in Italy.
The Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force Commander Bernard Freyberg had asked the New Zealand Government to send the young women to Cairo to bring a touch of home and help staff the clubs.
The women played a welfare role which gave soldiers a brief respite from the horrors of war.
‘‘The Tuis were selected by Lady Freyberg to be companions for the officers when they came back from the front completely battle weary,’’ Carson says.
‘‘They were there to give the men female company, have a drink with them and see the sights.
‘‘Apparently it was meant to be purely platonic. They chose girls who came from good, respectable homes.’’
The Tuis cooked meals, visited hospitals and helped men choose suitable presents to send home.
They staged concerts for the soldiers in Egypt and later in London helped rehabilitate returning prisoners of war.
Carson says her mum would have proved good company with her bright, vibrant personality.
‘‘She was the life and soul of the party unlike traditional girls of her generation. She left the housework and lived life to the full.’’
Heaton-Bow became known as an astute punter at the horse races and a leading New Zealand golfer like her late father Walter Seifert.
She was crowned New Zealand junior golf champion in 1934.
Heaton-Bow ran a cattlebreeding farm in Feilding single-handedly after her husband was killed serving in the war. She worked tirelessly, even climbing dizzying heights to repaint the roof at the age of 85.
The old Tui is striving to make history again by turning 100 on May 27.
‘‘Mum is determined to stay warm and won’t go out if the weather’s bad,’’ Carson says.
‘‘She told me she doesn’t want to die before her birthday!’’
Inga Minchelle Heaton-Bow, aged 99 in Helensville.
Inga Heaton-Bow nee Seifert in her younger days.