Last sur­viv­ing Tui determined to reach 100

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By CARYN WIG­MORE

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.

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