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'We had a proper little committee'

Audio file

Nancy Gillespie remembers the war at home

Nancy Gillespie was born in Christchurch in 1925. A young woman during the war, Nancy and her friends formed a young women’s club to 'liven things up' at their local community hall in Dunsandel. The girls arranged dances – with musicians and guests from out of town.

In this extract Nancy recalls what motivated them to organise these dances, how they were run and who attended:


Nancy Gillespie: We older girls we were getting very, very keen about American jazz. We loved it and we heard the lovely Glen Miller music and the beautiful beautiful bands on the radio, and the local music was Mrs Gilbert playing the piano, Naughton Wright playing his violin, and Lyall Woods playing the mandolin. It was dreadful banjo/ mandolin. It was appalling music, it really was.

Really it was organised dances with an MC, take your partners for a waltz or a Boston two-step or quickstep or foxtrot or military two step – the Destiny waltz, I remember that. It was lovely – I liked the Destiny waltz. And so it was thoroughly organised with an MC

Interviewer: And were you kind did you sit around the outside of the hall?

Nancy Gillespie: Yes, all the girls sat round the side of the hall and the boys all stood down the back smoking. Yes, that's right. Then they'd come and ask you politely to a dance.

Interviewer: Alcohol?

Nancy Gillespie: No, absolutely not, no, except for the boys outside who would go out in the bushes I think and have a beer.

Interviewer: There was a bit out the back was there?

Nancy Gillespie: Yes, there always was, we knew that.

Interviewer: And did the girls ever go out and have any?

Nancy Gillespie: No, never.

Interviewer: And there were no girls who broke that code?

Nancy Gillespie: Could have been, but I wouldn't have known. No, I wouldn't have known. I never remember anybody drunk, never ever ever, at a country dance.

Interviewer: So the boys who were there were they younger men who weren't going to the war or?

Nancy Gillespie:  I don't know, I suppose it was all the locals from roundabout. Certainly the uniformed men came, not particularly for the farewell dances, the girls who were becoming very interested in the jazz music then, the American music, I suppose it was 1943. We decided we'd form a young women's club in Dunsandel and we'd actually get things moving a bit.  So we did. I have a photo of those women aswell, which I'll show you later. So we thought we'll run some good dances and we'll get a band out from town and we did. And we organised this. We got Merv Coburn's three-piece great jazz band. It was wonderful and we sent notices about these dances off to Burnham military camp, and up to Norwood where there was air force boys were up there at Norwood. So they came to these dances. This wasn't farewell dances. We'd just run a ball, run a dance and we'd decorate the hall up, and they were a huge success. And the proceeds all went off to Air Force Relations. We had a proper little committee. So after expenses were paid we'd send the profits off to Air Force Relations.

Nancy Gillespie

Nancy Gillespie, 1940 and at home in 2007.

Dunsandel young women's club

The young women's club, Dunsandel, 1943-45. Nancy Gillespie is back row, far left.


Sound file: Interviewed by Alison Parr, 26 September 2007. From the Civilian New Zealanders in the Second World War Oral History Project, Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
Original interview held in Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Not to be reproduced.

Images: Nancy Gillespie collection; Alison Parr

How to cite this page

'We had a proper little committee', URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated