Northern Outlook

Interestin­g land and interestin­g man


A rare large parcel of land in Rangiora which was the home of a local industrial­ist who defied convention­s and lead an extraordin­ary life, has come up for sale.

Courtney Archer was born on 31st March 1918, the eldest child of Cecil and Maude Archer (who founded H Archer & Sons Flour Mill about 1875 in Southbrook).

Courtney worked in the flour mill after leaving school but he became a pacifist during his teenage years, and his decision to register as a conscienti­ous objector at the outbreak of World War II placed him at odds with his father. He left the family’s Rangiora home and lived and worked in rural pacifist communitie­s, including Riverside near Nelson, for most of the war years. In 1944, he moved to Greymouth to work as a reporter for the Grey River Argus.

The chance to work with the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) in China offered an avenue for putting his pacifist ideals into practice through humanitari­an work. Archer was lured there by his interest in Chinese history and literature and a fascinatio­n with their art and archaeolog­y. He was kept there by his love and admiration of the Chinese people and stated ‘‘I flew in over the Himalayas and landed in South West China. Within a few hours travelling along the country road from the airport to the city. I got the feeling I was coming home and I’ve never really lost it’’.

The FAU ran small mobile medical teams in China in the early 1940s, and transporte­d medical supplies and fuel to isolated mission hospitals in ‘‘Free China’’.

Archer had no medical experience or any of the driving or mechanical skills sought by the group. However, he seized the opportunit­y to become involved, and his commitment and adaptabili­ty proved him a worthy volunteer. Archer immersed himself in Chinese life — art, architectu­re, history and people.

His first two years were devoted to medical work. He spent over a year managing a 30-bed hospital. In September 1946, he was sent to the far northwest of China to assess the scope for continued Friends Service Unit (FSU) involvemen­t in Rewi Alley’s Bailie School in Shandan.

The Bailie School was one of several schools founded in the 1930s as part of the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives Movement. Alley was appointed as headmaster in 1945. Within a few days of his arrival in Shandan, Archer had become a convert to the school’s philosophi­es and way of life.

He was impressed by the students, admired Alley’s ideals and practical approach, and felt totally at ease in the strong family environmen­t which had been created at the school.

The Ballie school was often viewed with suspicion because it was a new concept. It was a technical training school where students studied for half a day and worked on many different projects for the other half. Of the six years Archer was there, the school spent three under the nationalis­t government and three under the people’s government.

Archer returned to New Zealand in 1952 to organise a delegation to attend an AsiaPacifi­c Peace Conference in Peking that year. During this visit, he was made aware of his father’s failing health, which was creating difficulti­es for the management of the family flour mill, and the following year, he had to make the most difficult decision of his life: should he remain in China, which he loved, or return to take over the work of the flour mill?

In the end, as he said, filial piety won out, and reluctantl­y, he returned to Rangiora, becoming managing director of H. Archer and Sons after his father’s death in 1955.

Under his management, the mill was modernised, and earned a high reputation for quality and efficiency, and for integrity in business. Archer played a full part within the wider industry, serving for many years on the committee of the Flour Millers’ Associatio­n and on the Wheat Research Committee.

Courtney Archer died in 2002, aged 84. Unlike many of the pacifists of his era, he did not come from a Quaker or devoutly religious family background, but his beliefs were strong and sincere.

In China, and especially in the co-operative movement practised at the Shandan Bailie School, he found a way of life to which he could commit himself with passion and conviction, and he remained devoted to the ideals he found there for the remainder of his long life.

 ?? ?? Bordering on Matawai Park, the Archer property of 8088sqm is at 44 South Belt, Rangiora.
Bordering on Matawai Park, the Archer property of 8088sqm is at 44 South Belt, Rangiora.

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