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Michael Lowe - Eskdale, The Lake District, 1956
I wrote this story recently, when I realised the wonderful effect that my 4-weeks at Eskdale had had on my subsequent life. I, along with colleague Tony Hart, was the very first apprentice sent to Outward Bound by Leyland Motors and I really became aware of the effect of this only recently at the age of 80 when writing my life story. This is not the details of the events of that wonderful month, but of the lifelong benefits which accrued since. So now, my story: (In that Wilson Patrol photo, I am at the back on the right). A Debt Repaid Some years ago, I decided that I would write my life story. I had received a small tape cassette wherein my parents discussed their early life with my niece, and I thought how interesting their comments were. Wouldn’t it have been great if they had written a long detailed account of their lives? And if I thought that, then what excuse did I have for not doing the same, to pass on to my own children? Deciding how to start was quite difficult, but after looking at several alternatives I decided that the best way was to set it out chronologically but to be prepared to depart from that when necessary. So I prepared a list of about 40 headings which seemed to be appropriate and set to work. Now, after several years of intermittent writing and nearing the end, I had to decide how it would end as the last thing I wanted was leave the thing uncompleted on my death. So I decided to terminate the book around my 80th birthday which happens to have been a few months ago. So the whole story has now been completed, and delivered to the printer. Although there are many interesting episodes in the book, my reflections have made me realise that there was one particularly significant event which affected my whole life, and I will now tell you about it. I left my home in Margate, Kent in 1954 at the age of 16, to travel 300 miles north to Lancashire, where I had arranged an engineering apprenticeship. This was at a wonderful, world famous commercial vehicle manufacturer, Leyland Motors. That company had 11,000 employees and I was one of 700 apprentices, who worked their way around all of the different workshops to learn every facet of vehicle manufacturing. We were expected to attend the local technical college, to study mechanical and production engineering and eventually reach senior levels in the industry. This was a time of extreme financial hardship for me, which became much worse the following year when my parents decided to immigrate to New Zealand. So I was left, living in lodgings in Lancashire, with no nearby family support and minimal financial support. However, I worked hard at my studies over a period of 6 years, and was one of the very few apprentices who passed all of the examinations needed to become a professional engineer and a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. This required great persistence and determination, and it took me many years to understand how I had been able to achieve my objectives while many others failed. Perhaps the following will explain why! In 1956 during my second year at Leyland, I was called into the office of the Apprentices Superintendent, and it was explained that I and another apprentice had been selected to be the very first Leyland apprentices to attend the Outward Bound School at Eskdale in the Lake District about 100 miles North of Leyland. This was exciting news – although I did not understand why I had been selected – and I readily agreed. It was not until many years later, when I was Operations Manager for the Spirit of Adventure Trust that I realised that these youth training organisations recommend that trainees should be selected on the basis of their potential and their need for personal development. Fortunately, my wages continued while I attended the course, as did my obligation to pay for my lodgings of course. So away I went, by train, for the experience of a lifetime. So there we were, about 70 young men in their late teen years, undertaking what seemed to be tuition in mountain walking, climbing, camping, and map reading. We were divided into “patrols”, and twelve of us were put in Wilson patrol. We were under the care of an instructor, who monitored our every move and ensured our safety. Each morning we were roused from our dormitory beds, put on shorts, and went for a freezing bare-foot run around a nearby lake before stripping off to dive in for a compulsory swim. Daytime activities consisted of learning map reading, then setting off into the nearby hills where our physical fitness and lung capacity were well tested every day! Half way through the course, on a wet miserable Sunday afternoon, our instructor asked 4 of his patrol to get into his Land Rover, and go for a walk. Well, it was a short drive then a quite long walk in the rain, to a point next to two sheer rock cliffs which were about 700 mm apart. We peered up through the rain, to where the tops of these 2 cliffs could be seen about 60 feet above us. The instructor then explained how easy it was to climb this “chimney” as he called it, by bracing our backs against one cliff face and walking our feet up the opposite face. This seemed at first to be quite a task, especially with the rain cascading down those rock faces. But I volunteered to give it a go, found it was not difficult, even if a bit nerve wracking, and started working my way slowly up until I was able to wriggle out at the top onto a level grassy area. What a relief! The rest of the party followed, after which we headed back to the dry surroundings of our school. A few days later, the 4-man teams were announced for the final experience which was a 4 day trek through the mountains, with minimal equipment, no supervision, and a target to climb as many peaks as possible. I was proud to be nominated to lead my group, and we completed an amazing journey, climbing 29 peaks in the allotted time and returning to base just before the deadline. On completion of the course, we were all gathered in the library where we described our experiences and were presented with a small round badge as a permanent reminder of a very special time. The motto of Outward Bound is “to serve, to strive, and not to yield”, and I have tried to continue to follow that throughout my life and career. I certainly have always been prepared to tackle anything in life, and – as Churchill famously said – “Never give in. Never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”. So I believe that that describes my following of the latter part of the Outward Bound motto – to strive and not to yield. However, it was only after arriving in New Zealand in 1963 that I feel I really learned “to serve”. I have done that mainly by being part of the efforts of various service organisations. Firstly in 1969 there was Howick Jaycees, where I represented them in a project to build a miniature railway around the Panmure Basin. For various reasons this was never accomplished, but at least there is a permanent reminder in the wonderful walkway all around the Basin which is heavily used every day! Then, as our two sons became interested in cubs and scouts, in about 1971 I became the Leader of the Sunnyhills Sea Scout troop which I thoroughly enjoyed. I subsequently became Group Leader responsible for running the whole Group of cubs and scouts, and continued with this for the five years my sons were involved. Next in 1980 was membership (including a year as President) of the Rotary Club of East Tamaki Otara (now Botany East Tamaki), where for 36 years I was involved in numerous projects which benefited the local community as well as our worldwide project called “Polio Plus” which is now very close to totally eliminating polio. Then, in semi-retirement, I became a Budget Adviser with the Pakuranga & Howick Budgeting service, and continued that for 7 years including several years as Chairman. Next was the need for more community organisations in the growing Flat Bush area, when I volunteered to start our wonderful Probus club in this historical building in 2013. I have been a member of another Probus club and visited many other Probus clubs, but for me this is the best Probus club I have experienced. And finally I have been involved with the formation of U3A Ormiston which meets here in this same historical hall, and already has 56 members having been started only 28 months ago in March 2016. Currently I am President of that club, and a member of the U3A Auckland Network committee. So I finally feel I have repaid my generous employer Leyland Motors and the Apprentice Superintendent who selected me – Harry Glassbrook - and that wonderful organisation Outward Bound, for the experience in 1956 which shaped my life, and which has allowed me to feel that I have lived up to their motto – to serve, to strive, and not to yield.