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 family moved.
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 4½ 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 "SuvlaBay".
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.
Papers 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.
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