When Leslie Robert Cecil Kemp and his twin sister Lorna Ruby were born in Taumaranui on 22 November 1925 in New Zealand, their father, Leslie Hamilton Kemp, was 28, and their mother, Daisy Isabel Woolhouse, was 26. The twins had three older sisters Agnes, Rosina and Eva. Leslie married Mary Patricia Hill c1950 and they had four sons and three daughters between 1954 and 1964. He died on his birthday, 22 November 1989 in Greymouth, West Coast, at the age of 64.
The following contribution is from eldest son, Ben Kemp.
Leslie Robert Kemp – aka “Kempy” – a hard-working, hard-drinking tough bloke whose adventures would fill a book. Too young to serve in the army in World War 2, he enlisted and served in it’s aftermath. First, in the United Nations forces occupying Japan (J Force) and then in the Korean War (K Force). Those experiences changed him – mum (Nanna Kemp) has often said he was not the same man when he can back from Korea.
Should you ever have the opportunity to watch the Korean War documentary “Fire and Ice” you should do so. It illustrates in a way I never previously understood the horrors that occurred there. The brutal conditions, incompetent leadership, and the psychological warfare that the Chinese waged… It is easy to understand the emotional harm that he and many other soldiers in our family suffered. No visible bullet wounds, but wounds to the that soul ran deep…
As kid, I remember a little of the small farm at Poerua, across the railway tracks from the Rothery family, lifelong friends. There was no road access, and the family’s Model A Ford had to be left parked near the small rail bridge, walking access from there. Read Bob Laing’s memories of the farm in his article on Kempie, Les’s father. After selling the farm, Les worked in the Te Kinga Sawmill before moving to work in the Inchbonnie mill and logging crew.
Les was a marksman of great renown – a crack shot with a Lee Enfield 303, and a poacher who learned the trade from his dad, no doubt – but took it too higher levels! I will never forget his uncanny ability to head-shoot a wood pigeon in the top of a Miro tree…
In the mid 1960s, deer velvet antlers were were worth a quid per pound. Big money! In the early summer, he would leave the logging crew working in the foothills above the Burgess farm on a Friday night. He would walk to the Jacko Flat hut before dark. Next morning he would climb out the creek near the hut to the tops beside Mt Alexander and traverse the ridge lines around to Inchbonnie in search of stags. Arriving home late Saturday, or sometimes Sunday, pack laden with velvet antlers, he’d often earn more than a weeks wages in a weekend.
That was about the beginning of the venison industry, a period where exports of Red Deer carcasses to west Germany was being pioneered. At that time, a shilling a pound, buyers had freezers / chillers and it was cash on delivery for carcasses.
Les, along with his faithful dog Brown, were ever eager for a hunting trip and the chance to make a few quid.
See “Kempy – The Venison Hunter” for more details…
Mary Patricia nee Hill (Pat) and Les Kemp
Leslie Robert Kemp – the following contributed by Bob Laing 2018.
I am one of Les Kemp’s nephews. I realize some of the terms I use in my narrative may mean little to people who are much younger than I am. However, I have recorded Les Kemp’s story as I have seen it, from a nephew’s eyes. I realise the story relies on my memories and that it is somewhat lengthy. However, I decided I would try to tell you what I know. Hopefully, you may find what I have written interesting and if you are of my age and are a ‘hunter gatherer’ or a ‘bush person’ you may nod occasionally as you will have had similar experiences and know what I am trying to say.
Enjoy the yarn.
Leslie Robert Kemp and my mother, Lorna Ruby Kemp, were twins and were born in Tamaranui, North Island, New Zealand on the 22 November 1925.
My earliest knowledge of Les was in the early 1950’s while he was in Korea as part of New Zealand’s, Korean War effort. Les was a driver in a transport unit that NZ had in Korea. Read all about his time in Korea here.
Ross- 1953-54 or there about.
I vaguely recall Les coming to stay with us in Ross when he returned home from the Korean War. I think he may have worked for a short time at the Ross lime works which at that time was managed by my father Alan. From my earliest memory, Les didn’t change much in appearance. He was a medium height person, who was a lean, wiry type of bloke. Les could walk or work for hours and at the end of the day, he seemed as fresh as he had started out. I have been told by a number of people that Les was one of the best workers that they had employed.
The visit to Les and Pat’s Rotomanu Farm,
1953/54. I was five or six.
I recall that just before Christmas Mum or Dad said, to my sister Thelma and me that we were going to Les’s farm for Christmas and New Year to help get the hay in. That sounded to be an adventure because I recall that the previous year we had driven in the family Vauxhall Wyvern car to Nelson to stay with Aunty Isabel and Uncle Bert at their Naomi Boarding house. I had been told that we were to go back to Nelson but the holiday plans had been changed.
The car was packed, loaded to the gunnels, a mattress was put onto the back seat for Thelma and me, in case we needed a sleep. There were no seat belts in those days and off we went. I recall a fair amount of the trip, as no doubt did our parents, because we kept asking,” how far was it to go”?
We travelled north from Ross to the Kumara turn-off, between Hokitika and Greymouth and not long after that we passed through the township of Kumara where we turned off the main highway onto a gravel road, crossed a bridge over the Taramakau River and travelled along a narrow, well surfaced road, through native bush that closed in upon the road, on both sides. Dad commented on how good the road was, as there was plenty of clay and gravel in the surface of the road giving an almost tar sealed like smooth surface. We passed one clay bank of white clay and I recall Mum and Dad commenting on the fineness of the clay which they called “pipe clay”.
Part way on the trip, we stopped across the road from a hotel in a grassy area, some distance down to a lake. We probably stopped for lunch. I recall Dad saying how pleased he was with the car which was well loaded and that we were making good time. The hotel was Mitchell’s Hotel, now the Lake Brunner Lodge.
The photo is as I recalled the front of the hotel, except that a new room has been added to the left of the hotel when looking at it from the front. The lake was Lake Brunner.
We drove around the shores of Lake Brunner on a very narrow and winding road. There were times when I was sure that we were going to drive into the lake. We drove past Lake Poerua and followed the road through, what Dad called, good dairy farming land. We then turned right, were told we were nearly there, passed a hall, the Rotomanu Hall, I found out later and continued down Station Road, which, surprisingly, lead to a small railway station. I recall we then turned hard right at the end of the road and then after some distance a sharp, hard left hand turn to go over the railway line. This was the main line, from the West Coast to Christchurch. Mother had to get out and open the large white railway gates which were on both sides of the railway line, so that the car could cross. Once across the railway line we could see Pat and Les’s house some 150 meters away. Dad told mother to get back into the car quickly as Les had a Jersey Bull in the paddock, which we were in. I was told not to go into the paddock with the bull as it was an aggressive beast that often threatened cars in the paddock.
We drove to the back yard of the house and unpacked the car, no doubt after a good cup of tea or scandal broth, as Dad called it.
This is where I first meet Aunty Pat. I recall a lady with long red hair who was very kind to a young bloke, me.
I was surprised to meet Mum’s parents Daisy and Les, or Nana and Kempie as they were called and Kempie’s father, Laddie who lived with Daisy and Kempie. They had also come to help with the hay making.
I slept in the lounge. They turned to sofa (lounge) around and pushed it up against the wall under the lounge window. This made a good bed for a young bloke. I used to hear the steam trains, early in the morning, as they approached the farm, the main line was only about 200 metres from the house. I would get up onto the bed and watch the trains. These black, steam, belching monsters with a single big head light, left a lasting impression on me. I can still recall the night trains, all light up and chuffing along.
Les had dogs on the farm. I thought they were to help get the cattle in and probably they would have been good dogs to take deer stalking. They were very friendly dogs that would come up to you for a pat or to play. One day, I tried to ride one of the dogs. The dog barked, I got good fright and a sharp nip from the dog for my troubles. I was told off by one of the adults for being stupid and that ended any thoughts of riding the dogs.
Prior to Christmas each year Mum saved silver sixpences and threepences (thrupence’s) and a one shilling coin. I recall Mother used to boil up the money and when I asked why she did that, I was told, “A Chinaman may have handled the money and you do not where he has had his hands.” Mother had firm ideas about people from South East Asia, or ‘slit eyes’ as she referred to them as.
The coins were to go into the Christmas plum duff as a treat. I suppose, a treat, if you didn’t break your teeth on the money. We were always warned about the money in the Christmas ‘Pud’ as it was being served up. Mum must have taken the coins to the farm.
I can still see Dad, Kempie, Laddie and Les standing around a copper which was set up outside, drinking beer from large 750 ml bottles, while the plum duff was being boiled in the copper. The plum duff mixture had been put into a mutton bag, an open weave, cloth bag which was lowered into the boiling water in the copper to cook. A couple of hours was required as I recall. Perhaps that was how long it took before the beer run out!
The duff was delicious with yellow custard and fresh farm cream. We were told to watch out for the coins and whoever got the shilling could make a wish. Needless to say all of the duff had to be eaten to find the shilling.
Christmas day was a grand affair. Christmas presents in the morning and lunch with a goose that Les had shot, being served as the main dish. Lots of roast vegetables and the duff to finish off with. I recall everyone needing a sleep later in the afternoon to get over the effects of eating and possibly, for the adults anyway, of drinking too much. New Year’s Day was much similar, but without the presents.
Mother and Pat would take us to collect wild mint that grew in a nearby small stream. That was good fun, you got wet getting the mint. The mint was taken back to the farm to be made into mint sauce which was used at most meal times and large amounts of it was bottled for Les and Pat to use later. I still like mint sauce and could put it onto most dishes.
Trout were plentiful in the crystal clear river that ran behind the cowshed. The river, the Poerua, was off limits to Thelma and me, unless an adult was present. Trout could been seen in the river and added to meal times on the farm. I learnt much later that both Kempie and Les where very adept at catching trout. I think there methods would all fit into what is termed, poaching and certainly they are not highlighted in current NZ trout fishing licences.
There were a number of trout fishing outings at the back of the farm where I was taken along as the helper person who tagged behind and was told not to get too near the river bank as I might frighten the trout. I saw trout shot with a rifle, being tickled and I watched with interest as a fishing net was set overnight to catch trout.
The most salient thing, that my sister, Thelma, and I remember was an afternoon eeling expedition just downstream of the farm’s milking shed and opposite the pig paddock on the banks of the river, the Poerua River.
Les had pigs in a paddock near to the cow shed, as was common farming practice in those days. After the cow’s milk had been ‘separated’, where the cream or milk solids was separated off for the dairy factory, the remaining ‘skimmed’ milk was piped into a trough in the pig paddock. This was an important source of food for the pigs.
Dad and Les were the eeler’s, or fishermen. They stood on a very small piece of land which jutted out into the river. We all sat high up on the bank and watched what turned out to be a most impressive show. The eels were lured to the top of the water by Dad using an eel ‘bob’, a large bag of goose insides tied into muslin cloth bag which Dad had tied to a long stick so that he could dunk the smelly mess into the water. The eels would sink their teeth into the ‘bob’ and then Dad would bring them to the surface where Les would spear them with a hay fork and either throw the eel into the pig paddock, or he would hand the hay fork and eel to Kempie who would flick the eel into the pigs. The pigs would squeal and grab the eels. I remember two pigs, each with an end of the same eel in their mouths having a tug of war over the eel. Very impressive if you are five or so.
Dad had bought an eel to the surface for Les to spear. Dad stepped back to give Les some room. Unfortunately Dad stepped back into the river with the eels. Boy, did he move. First off, Dad went into the water up to his chest and then scrambled out as quickly as he could because he didn’t like the thought of the large eels, some nearly two meters long. Dad used to carry a silver ‘fob watch’ on his belt in a leather case. Dad used to say fob watchs lasted longer than wrist watches because they were better looked after. That may be the case but Dad’s fob watch never went again after its swim.
Needless to say, that bought an end to the eeling with much check having been given to Dad about eels and his swimming, they had never seen him move so fast, etc., as you would imagine.
Thelma and I vividly remember the adventure, some 60 odd years later. We still laugh about it.
Les and Pat moved to Te Kinga where Les worked for the saw mill. I went to look at the saw mill a number of times. The logs were rafted or barged to the mill, towed by small boat or launch, from the other side of Lake Brunner as I recall.
I stayed with Les and Pat on one or two occasions in Te Kinga. I recall on one trip Les took mother and I for an outing. We caught the railcar or train and were let off some distance from Te Kinga. We walked home through the bush. Les took his .22 rifle and shot a few native pigeons which were plucked in the bush, the feathers buried and they were cooked and eaten as soon as we got home. I would have been 10-12 and I was lectured by both Les and Mother not to tell anyone of the escapade, as even way back then, the authorities frowned on people shooting native pigeons.
Les and Pat then moved to Inchbonnie. I stayed there for a week on one occasion. I would have been 16-17 years old. What an adventure for a young man. I was a keen deerstalker having owned a .303 calibre rifle since I was about 14 or nearly 15. I had put a telescopic sight onto my .303 sometime before going to Inchbonnie.
You had to be 16 years old to own a firearm. Mother had my rifle registered in her name until I became 16 and the bargain of an ancient double barrel shotgun I had bought, for five or ten dollars. I think it was just easier not to have told the police about the shotgun.
My deerstalking involved spotlighting of a night time, river flat shooting in the early morning and late evening and the stalking of bush edges. I had not really tried to hunt deer in the bush until I went to Inchbonnie.
Les took me out bush hunting on a few occasions. The first time we climbed up onto a high ridge end that over looked the Inchbonnie sawmill. Needless to say, I missed the first deer I shot at in the bush. I had trouble locating the deer in the telescopic sight. I went with Les on 3-4 days, out to where the ‘bush gang’ for the mill were felling native trees. We went up the Crooked River and over the Evans River. I spent most of my time stalking in the bush behind areas that already been logged. One day I spotted three deer but didn’t manage a shot. The next day the bush crew while ostensibly ‘logging’ had taken their dogs and rifles to work and we spent most of the day deer stalking. They got two deer.
The Crooked is crystal clear and you can see the large trout. The river is a great fly fishing river. I recommend a well weight Hare and Copper nymph cast well upstream of the target fish.
I also spent a few early mornings hunting a large gorse island and now paddock areas downstream of the saw mill and houses.
Les took me spot lighting for ducks one evening. I held the spotlight and Les had a shot gun. One duck few off the water and gained some height then flew back down the beam of the spotlight, me wondering was Less going to shoot the duck before the duck crashed into the spot light.
Dad and Mum came to collect me and they stayed a night with Les and Pat. The night before they came, Les said to me that Dad liked trout so we should go and get a few for him to take home. Across the road from the saw mill and houses was a small crystal clear stream that flowed for a number of kilometres before it joined the Taramakau River. I have never seen so many trout in such a small stream. Les said to me that when the trout spawned, there even more fish. About 9.30 pm, Les took me trout fishing. We got into the shallow water, between knee and waist deep and very quietly wade up stream. I again held the spot light. The trout would just stay nice and still in the spotlight. Les had his .22 rifle and used ‘short’ cartridges. He merely put the rifle barrel up to the back of the trout’s head and pulled the trigger. A soft plop, the trout rolled over and was quickly put in the sugar bag pack I carried. We caught ‘shot’ some 20 trout of about 2 lbs weight and called it a night. We all had to eat trout for a few days after we got home to Cape Foulwind.
The last tale from my Inchbonnie holiday, and the funniest, well from my point of view, needs telling. Les took Dad and I deerstalking late one afternoon some few miles from Inchbonnie to land that was being converted to State, Lands and Survey, farms. We sat up on a high ridge overlooking a large flat area of many hundreds of acres of partially scrubby and open land covered in native pastures. We spotted two deer and sneaked down to shoot them. We got to within about 100 yards of the animals and Les told me to shoot the one on my side. He let me shoot first. My deer dropped straight away. Les’s deer stayed on its feet but didn’t move. He fired at it again as did I. All three shots hit the deer which was still on its feet and hadn’t moved. Les advised me that we shot it however we both fired again. Same result, a deer on its feet. Les and I slowly walked toward the animal and when got a few yards for the deer Les said to me the thing is stone dead. Les went up to the side of the deer and put his foot onto its ribs to push it over. The deer went over sideways, but as it went, one of its hind legs gave a might kick, hitting Les in the stomach and winding him. He was on the ground for some time insisting he was alright, in between hurried breaths. The next day before we left for home Les pulled up his shirt to show off, a completely bruised midriff. We all laughed about the experience, and Les was extremely lucky not to have been badly hurt.
Gerry, a young cousin at that time, recently told, me some 50 odd years later he remembers me staying with them. Gerry said to me that he thought, “I was a pretty big dude”. The impressions you make on others!!
About 1964-65, the NZ Army’s SAS troops had an exercise on the West Coast of NZ. The SAS were to land between Karamea in the north and Hokitika in the south either by sea or parachute and make their way, unseen, across the South Island to Lyttleton over a period of a week or so. The Territorial Army and the Police had the job of catching the slippery blighters.
Our local, Carter’s Beach, grocer’s son Jim was an officer in the Territorials. Jim knew I ran along the beach most days after school. He asked me to keep an eye out for strange boot prints leading off the beach between given dates. Jim told me not to approach any Army types as I might get captured and complained there were not enough of his lot to adequately watch and guard NZ’s coasts. Being keen to help, I agreed to watch for strange happenings and to ensure that I didn’t get captured, I took my trusty .303 for a run along the beach, during that period.
During the SAS attack on the West Coast, Les and his Inchbonnie bush crew were going to work one early morning. They always took a .303 with them as often they would shoot a deer going to or from work. Imagine their surprise when rounding a corner they spotted, about 100 yards away, 8-10 Army types walking along the edge of the road, four or five on each side of the road. Les had the truck stopped, got out with his rifle and clipped a shot down the center of the road just above the Army types heads. He told me that he had not seen such a shower of packs, blokes and boots diving for the scrub so quickly. Les got back into the truck and off they went ‘lickity slick’ to ensure the Army types didn’t steal their truck and drive to Lyttleton.
You may think the West Coast some 50 odd years ago was a little like the ‘Wild West’. Certainly, ‘Coasters’, as were are known, are a most special type of person and are ‘’honoured’’ by the rest of our Kiwi brethren. You will pleased to know that Coasters have always been law abiding, good citizens known to have Coast pubs open longer than anywhere else in NZ.
Les and the Westport Rifle Range.
Les was an excellent shot and often took part in target shooting. I recall going out to the Westport rifle range with mother to see Les when he came to Westport as part of a target shooting team.
South Westland Helicopter Base.
I completed my secondary schooling at Buller High School in 1965. During that long summer vacation before university commenced, three of us, in a friend’s car, spent two weeks traveling around the South Island. Les at the time was shooting red deer as part of NZ’s export venison trade. Les was shooting on the ‘tops and in the valleys in South Westland. Mother told me where Les was flying from and suggested we call in to say hello. My friends and I thought that was a great idea. Surely we would be able to bludge a flight into see where the hunting was!!! We called into see Les but as can happen, very occasionally, on the West Coast it was pouring down with rain and flying was off.
I suggest you might like to read the book, ‘The Venison Hunters’ by Mike Bennett to read a little more about Les and the life he led as a commercial meat hunter.
Blaketown – Greymouth.
Pat and Les during the deer culling days bought a house in Blaketown. I recall calling in with Mother a few times for a cuppa while we were in Greymouth or on our way back home from Hokitika.
I went off to University, got various jobs and lost contact with the Kemp family until I moved back to live in Greymouth, in the early 1980s. I meet up with Helen who lived a few houses away from where we lived. Thelma had kept in touch with Helen. Les called a few times for a cuppa and unfortunately I didn’t see that much of him. We moved away from Greymouth in 1986.
Lorna and Les.
Mum and Les had a special relationship. Mother often made the effort to go and see Les, Pat and their family. Mum told me about the Stanley Graham days and Les’s role of guarding the family while Les’s father, Kempie, was off with the home guard trying to apprehend Stanley.
Mum didn’t like the way Kempie treated Les as a younger person. Les was always left more than his share of work on the small farm the Kemp’s lived on in Kokatahi, especially when Kempie was off hunting deer or trapping opossums. Mum told me on a number of occasions that Kempie would take Les hunting or trapping and that Kempie treated Les as he were a packhorse having to carry his more than fair share of the load especially considering his age.
Mum said to me the one thing Les wanted was to be told by his father, Kempie, that he, Les, had done something right. Les never got any praise, for anything from Kempie according to Mum who wondered how that might have affected Les.
Les decided it was time to leave this life. Les phoned my mother to say good bye. Les then left this earth on 22 November 1989, his 64th birthday.
Les and I.
I always got along very well with Les whom I looked up to as a reliable and self-reliant ‘bush” person, an excellent hunter, crack shot with a rifle, a teller of funny stories and a poacher extraordinaire. Les always welcomed me into his house and took an interest in me, teaching me about the outdoors and was only too willing to take me out hunting or to show me how to obtain trout and ducks, even when they were out of season. I became reasonably adept, as a result of his tutelage, at poaching.
Some comments from:
To this day, I have a pathological dislike of pumpkin. Les was not much of a gardener – his output consisted of a spuds and pumpkins because they alone survived without the care and attention that a good garden requires. Because he had grown pumpkins, we were forced to eat them – as in, you could not get down from the table until your portion had been consumed. Even as a little kid, I did not like the taste or texture of pumpkin. By the time I was 5, the heartless insistence that it be eaten made meal times deeply miserable when pumpkin was on the menu. I’m pretty sure Mum tried hard to minimise the cooking of it.
Had Les been able to lead us through a normal family life, I’m sure that things could have been much different and much happier for all. I never understood any of the underlying reasons for the way the situation with him deteriorated until I watched the Fire & Ice documentary about the Korean War only four or so years ago. The documentary was assembled from declassified archives from US, China etc. and painted a very bleak picture of what the men on the ground endured. And of course, the incompetent manner in which they were lead… Zero acknowledgement was made of the contribution of NZ members of that UN force, but of course he was not the only Kiwi there.
Robert Francis (Bob) Laing