BARNARD, HELENA MARIAN
nee BROWN (BEM)
Helena Brown was born in Nelson on the 3 April
1865, the daughter
of the first white girl born in Nelson.
On the 20 May 1884, she married Henry James Barnard at
Nelson. The couple later spent seven
years at Colfax, California looking for gold, before returning to Wellington in 1899.
In 1904, Henry became secretary to the Eltham Dairy Company where the
At the outbreak of
World War One, three of their eight boys enlisted, all landing at Gallipoli on
the 25 April 1915. One son was killed, one was wounded and the
other sent home ill. Then in 1916,
another son enlisted, was wounded in France and invalided home. Yet another son enlisted
in 1917 and was killed in France, and then the last son to enlist also served
in France and was sent home suffering from shell shock.
With all these sons
involved in the war effort, Helena wanted to help too. She began by
sending parcels to Belgian refugees displaced by the outbreak of war, and
turned the family home into a complete workshop, by knitting socks, scarves,
balaclavas and all other soldier comfort necessities. Then she turned her efforts to raising enough
money to purchase an ambulance for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in France. Helena raised the ₤700 needed through
collections from the Eltham public, and an ambulance was purchased with enough
money left over for six months running costs.
She also spent a lot of time baking gingernut
biscuits for the troops, and these were packed in tins and sent to various
regiments for distribution.
With the outbreak of
World War Two, two of her sons and a grandson enlisted, and Helena, then living in Wellington and aged about 80 years old, began her work
again of baking gingernuts for the overseas
troops. She baked more than 4˝ tons
worth and became known as “The Gingernut Lady”. The biscuits were distributed to members of
the NZ Army, Navy and Air Force, hospital patients and the Red Cross, as well
as individual gifts to the King and high ranking officers, including Winston
Churchill. For her “duty to the empire”,
she was awarded the British Empire Medal.
Helena also purchased a bell for the Wellington carillon and named it “Suvla Bay”.
Her mouth watering
recipe lives on as she presented it to a large firm of biscuit manufacturers,
and it is also included in the cookbook of former Eltham identity “Aunt
Daisy” Maude Basham.
Helena Barnard died
on the 14 August 1965 at Silverstream Hospital aged 100 years, four months, nine days and
is buried in the Bolton Street cemetery, Wellington.
held by the Eltham Historical Society
In 2014 I received an email from Sarah Johnston of the NZ Sounds Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. They have a recording of a short Radio Interview with Mrs Barnard around the time of her 100th birthday. She gives the recipe for her famous gingernuts - apparently they make a tasty, hard chewy biscuit and are a great tea 'dunker'. Thanks Sarah.
Here is the link to Sarah Johnston's blog post about Mrs Barnard and her gingernuts.
Also see Helen Marion Barnard by Winsome Griffin.