Story: Holdaway, Hubert Reginald

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Holdaway, Hubert Reginald

1896–1963

Teacher, orchardist, Methodist lay preacher, pacifist, communitarian

This biography, written by Carol Markwell, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.

Hubert Reginald Holdaway was born at Lower Moutere, near Motueka, on 18 January 1896, the 10th of 12 children of Henry Oscar Holdaway and his wife, Jane Edwards. His parents were farmers and orchardists, and the family was staunchly Methodist. An able student, Hubert attended Wills’s Road School and in 1909 won a Junior National Scholarship to Nelson College, where he remained for three years. He then worked as a pupil-teacher and later attended the Teachers’ Training College in Wellington.

In June 1916 Holdaway enlisted in the 18th Reinforcements. He was sent to France the following year and endured some of the First World War’s bitterest fighting at Passchendaele (Passendale). This horrific experience helped forge his subsequent and lifelong pacifist conviction. Wounded in the legs while giving first aid to a sergeant, he was hospitalised in England and later, still with shrapnel in his legs, invalided home.

Back in New Zealand Holdaway taught for 4½ years at Nelson Boys’ School. He also worked with young people as a Bible-class leader in the Methodist church, studying aspects of Christianity and discussing social justice issues. However, his teaching career was abruptly ended in February 1924 when he pleaded guilty to three charges of indecent assault on boys. Despite strong testimony from both his headmaster and the local Methodist minister as to his teaching ability and character, he was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labour. Released in September 1926, he returned to Lower Moutere around 1930 to take over a small farm and orchard there.

In 1935, with the likelihood of war growing, the Methodist Bible-class movement made an absolute pacifist stand, denying the possibility of a just war and refusing to engage in non-combatant roles. Holdaway was an early supporter of the Methodist-based Christian Pacifist Society of New Zealand, formed in 1936, and helped set up a Motueka branch in 1938.

The Methodist Bible-class movement was independent of its parent church and organised by travelling secretaries from a central youth office in Wellington. Marion Worsley was employed as secretary at the youth office when she met Hubert at a Methodist summer school. They were married by Ormond Burton in Auckland on 13 May 1939. She had previously worked at the John Court department store in Auckland, and her life was to change radically when she became an orchardist’s wife in the small country district of Lower Moutere. However, she always shared and supported Hubert’s searching Christian faith, and his conviction that Christianity needed to be demonstrated in actions rather than in words.

In the early months of the Second World War Hubert and Marion frequently discussed with other leading Christian pacifists the relationship of war resisters to society as a whole. Increasingly they moved from passive repudiation of the violence of war to the active establishment of a life of co-operation, equality, work and service. The Christian pacifist community formed by Hubert, Marion and others in 1941 was initially small, based on the family property (37 acres of orchard and dairy paddocks). It also received income from managing two nearby orchards.

Holdaway suffered persecution for his stand: he was thrown out of the Motueka Fruitgrowers’ Association and received threats to himself and his property. Over the next few years the community, now named Riverside, maintained a core group of six members with several paid workers. After the government introduced conscription in 1940, young conscientious objectors would often arrive and work at Riverside, before being called up before a military defaulters board. Those considered sincere in their anti-war beliefs were permitted to remain working at the community, but many were sent to detention camps.

Holdaway was a competent and experienced orchardist, but with so many men away labour was scarce and young women, often the wives or fiancées of detainees, took the place of men. At the war’s end the men in detention camps were gradually released and some returned to Riverside. The community began to grow, building new houses and increasing its land holdings. Children soon made up over half the population; Hubert and Marion themselves adopted two girls and two boys.

Farm and orchard work and the community’s social activities were continued throughout the post-war period. Riverside gave shelter and work to alcoholics, ex-prisoners and the homeless, and its members spoke out vehemently against war and social injustice at home and abroad. In 1947 the articulate and well-known Christian pacifist Archibald Barrington and his family joined the community. The two men had their own areas of expertise (Holdaway’s was in the management of the orchards and packing shed) and complemented each other well.

Hubert and Marion continued to live out their Christian faith and to work with young people both at Riverside and in the larger Motueka area. He was a tireless Sunday school superintendent, Bible-class and youth leader, local preacher, church organist and trustee, and a representative to the Methodist district synod. He drove himself and others hard, working restlessly from before dawn until after dark, and never taking time to relax or read for pleasure.

Hubert Holdaway died in Nelson Hospital on Anzac Day (25 April) 1963, as a result of a car accident near Riverside. His was the first funeral in the new Methodist church he had helped to build there. He was survived by his wife and his adopted children. Marion remained at the community until the early 1970s, when she suffered a stroke and moved to a retirement home in Auckland; she died there in 1977.

A courageous and controversial figure, reviled by many for his openly pacifist stance during the Second World War, he came to be respected for his unwavering Christian faith and his energy, hard work and tenacity. Hubert and Marion Holdaway’s vision and sacrifice were pivotal to the establishment and survival of the Riverside community.

How to cite this page:

Carol Markwell. 'Holdaway, Hubert Reginald', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5h29/holdaway-hubert-reginald (accessed 12 December 2019)