My favourite image of our flight to Auckland is Mum waltzing the aisle with Taren, a beautiful Qantas flight attendant. The waltz-hold turns out to be the ideal support for an elderly passenger negotiating the narrow plane aisle. As Mum passes through business class a gentleman remarks how brave she is, Mum, unaware of the compliment, continues her waltz with Taren to her seat further down the plane. We sit prepared with Anticols for the ascent. Mum takes it all in and we fly to the land where Godfrey Miller was born.
Cousins greet us, complete with hamper, and take us to our apartment coming back the next evening to take us to their home for dinner. This dinner is where we enter into the collection of photos, newspaper cuttings and letters all pertaining to the Miller and Duthie families. The talk is rapid as other family members arrive and offer their memories, family anecdotes and share books inherited from Godfrey’s brother Andrew, also a Vest Pocket Kodak (VPK) camera that took the Egyptian training photos
and a large photograph at Gallipoli…and so much more. All these parts form our shared Uncle.
I look for the first time at a photo of a young Godfrey from a newspaper cutting ‘Acting corporal G. C. Miller, NZ Engineers, wounded.’ The photo must have been taken before he was wounded as the face is full, robust, not like his older self at all. There is another photo taken outside the family home in Dunedin, in this one he sits astride his brother Andrew’s motorbike. The bike is stationary, his gaze forward to the ground. The photo does not given the impression that he was about to ride off.
The photograph that speaks the most though is a family group out on the verandah of his brother Andrew’s house in Auckland. There are 6 figures in the group all standing or sitting close, as you would expect in a family shot, except for Godfrey who sits on the verandah fence a few feet away from the group holding the youngest niece, Margaret on his lap. He looks toward the camera over the head of his niece with his legs crossed toward the group. This is the face I know… it is quite different to the young man with legs astride a motorbike…
On a small sheet of paper we find ‘To a Snowflake’ by Francis Thompson written out in Godfrey’s hand. It appears to have been a poem that interested the Anthroposophists as it is discussed in a book ‘The English Spirit: a new approach through the world conception of Rudolph Steiner’, the chapter that contains the poem is titled: ‘The Three-Fold Soul’.
‘To a Snowflake’
What heart could have thought you?
Past our devisal
(O filigree petal)
Fashioned so purely
From what Paradisal
Too costly for cost?
Who hammered you, wrought you
From argentine vapour –
God was my shaper
He hammered, he wrought me
From curled silver vapour
To lust of His mind
Thou couldst not have thought me!
So purely, so palely
Insculpted and embossed
With His hammer of Wind
And His graver of Frost
We leave the cousins laden with a box of letters, the few photos that exist and with our heads spinning with Miller stories we sink back into the car seat for the night drive back, via the docks, into Auckland city. For me this was a first time meeting but the warmth of open arms belied this fact.
I’m looking forward to Wellington and looking out at the land of the Taranaki Region into which Godfrey was born.