In the late 1930s Ivy Kemp was in her 20s and waiting at a bus stop in England with a friend. Suddenly a lorry full of soldiers pulled up in front of them. On board was Robert Hamilton, a Kiwi drafted into the army who was in England for training before being deployed.

Robert was immediately taken by Ivy and scrawled his name and address of the camp he was stationed at on a cigarette paper. As the bus was taking off he made it into a dart and threw it out the window.

Fortunately, his aim was spot on and it landed at Ivy’s feet. She picked it up and decided to write to him. She knew the lorry had been full of soldiers from New Zealand and thought they might be lonely.

It was the beginning of a long love story that lasted the duration of WWII and beyond. Their relationship developed throughout his training and they often met up to socialise.

Then he went to war.

Robert was taken as a prisoner of war in Crete. They kept up their communications and Ivy would send him Red Cross parcels, something he would later say kept him alive and his spirits high.

The war ended and Robert was released. They got married and moved to New Zealand.

Ivy Kemp and Robert Hamilton on their wedding day.

Fast-forward several decades; the couple and their kids were living in North Canterbury. Daughter Ann Hennessy still lives in Kaikoura, though Robert and Ivy have since passed away.

She relayed the story about her parents to New Zealand Red Cross after receiving a winter bedding pack, part of the organisation’s November 2016 earthquake recovery programme.

“I didn’t know this story for a long time, it was just one of those things they told us when we were older. Dad wouldn’t talk much about the war and just couldn’t see the sense in it. But I think Mum told us when we were teenagers.”

The memory of how Red Cross helped during the war stayed with Robert and Ivy throughout their lives though and they would help out where they could.

“We didn’t have much money at all but they always made sure to give to Red Cross if they were collecting donations,” says Ann. “Red Cross has always been [in my life].”

This presence continued through Ann’s adult life too, including following the November 2016 earthquake. She says she was lucky but it was still a concerning experience.

“It shook, I lay in bed thinking the house would end up on one side and I’d be in the street in my bed. I put my hand out to find my dog but she’d somehow gotten out of the house and I found her out the back shaking. She was alright though.”    

The days, weeks, months, and now years after the event saw an outpouring of support from the local community and beyond. Ann says she was overwhelmed by the support, with Red Cross reaching out to her immediately after to see if she needed anything and then again in winter this year with the bedding pack.

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