'I was surprised that there was this side to him'

Mae Carson remembers the war at home

Mae Carson was born in Wellington in 1923. She left school at 13, working at home and then as a tailor's apprentice. In 1941 she began training as a nurse at Wellington Hospital in the hope of joining the New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS) and travelling overseas.

In 1944 Mae graduated, but her hope of serving as a nurse overseas was not fulfilled. She continued to work at Wellington Hospital. In 1946 Mae decided it was time for a change from the practical nursing she had been enjoying in Wellington, and she headed south to Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer.

Among Mae's patients were men who had served in the New Zealand forces over the previous six years. Mae enjoyed socialising with the men, and one of the returned navy men she spent time with was Bill Carson from Kaitangata in South Otago. In the war, Bill had served in the Royal Navy and sailed in the Arctic convoys. His ship, HMS Trinidad, was struck with one of its own faulty torpedoes, killing 32 of Bill's shipmates. Three months later, after being repaired, the Trinidad was attacked by German bomber aircraft, killing a further 63 men. Bill later told one of his sons he could not forget watching doomed men in the sea, choking on oil. Four years later, in Hanmer, he was diagnosed as having 'anxiety depression'. 

Despite warnings from his doctor at Hanmer that he was 'a very bad case', in 1948 Mae married Bill in Wellington. They remained married for 37 years, until Bill died in 1985.

Many men who experienced the horror of war suffered for the rest of their lives from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD include irritability, mood swings and depression. In this extract Mae talks about seeing another side to Bill after they married:


Mae Carson: Up till the time I got married I hadn't ever seen any other side of Bill except his gentle side. And not long after we were married he got cross because he couldn't find an item of clothing and he started throwing things out of the drawer and tossing them everywhere in a rage. Then I was so upset, I was terribly upset.

Interviewer: Were you? Were you scared?

Mae Carson: No, I wasn't scared, but I was surprised that there was this side to him. I hadn't seen it. We were engaged for about two years.

Interviewer: But until you were actually living with him. Cos you didn't live with him before you were married I assume?

Mae Carson: No, no

Interviewer: So you didn't see it until you were living with him?

Mae Carson: No

Interviewer: And did that make you wonder?

Mae Carson: I suppose it did. I suppose it did. But then I thought well, this is it, we're married and there's good sides to him. Rationalising things.

Interviewer: Did you ever regret it, Mae? Did you ever regret marrying him?

Mae Carson: No, never, no, no.

Mae Carson

Mae Carson in Wellington Hospital, 1942 and at home in 2008.


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