Mary Geare has had no ordinary life. Oamaru Mail reporter Tyson Young meets an Oamaru woman with a fascinating past.
Most people can say they have worked in a few jobs throughout their lives.
However, few can put British intelligence, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and MI6 as previous employers on their job resumes.
Oamaru identity Mary Geare certainly has plenty of stories to tell.
Born in 1921 in Harrow, London, Mrs Geare went to boarding school and spent one year at university – “which was a disaster”.
When war was declared in 1939, she wanted to volunteer for the services. However, she didn’t have any qualifications and the only position she could find was in a kitchen.
“I wanted to win the war but I did not want to win the war being a kitchen hand,” Mrs Geare said.
After taking a secretarial course in 1940, Mrs Geare joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and became a plotter for Fighter Command at Bentley Priory.
At the priory, there was an underground control room with a large map of England and Wales that was divided into small sections.
Mrs Geare’s role as a plotter was to track Allied aircraft flying over England and monitor enemy activity.
“We received the plots through headphones and we had long rods, which we attached arrows to, to show incoming raids.”
It was not until Mrs Geare worked as an assistant section officer at three bomber stations throughout Europe that she saw some “serious action”.
“We had two squadrons of Lancasters, including at one time 617 squadron – later the Dambusters. They went out on ops, night after night, when the weather was good.”
Mrs Geare said one of the hardest parts of the job was when air crews failed to return from combat.
“It was very sad when any of them didn’t come back.”
Throughout the war, Mrs Geare also worked for intelligence as a base censor.
When victory occurred in Europe in May 1945, Mrs Geare and other members of intelligence were flown back to England in a bomber aircraft that was stripped of seats and had painted circles marked on the floor to designate seating.
“If there was any turbulence, you just fell on to the person next to you,” she said.
After the war, Mrs Geare also briefly spent some time working for MI6 at the foreign office in London.
Although she does not remember much about her time at MI6, she could recall a woman who always reassured the staff members to keep “very, very calm” during drastic situations.
“I received signals about things. It was all terribly top secret – we weren’t allowed to talk about it at all.”
In 1953, Mrs Geare worked in Malaya during the guerrilla wars.
“Malaya was quite a family affair – my brother had quite a senior job in the government, also my brother-in law, as well as my second cousin, John Geare.”
When Malaya became independent in 1957, Mrs Geare returned to England, and John Geare returned to his wife and children.
In 1974, when John Geare’s wife died, Mrs Geare received a letter that “paralysed” her.
It read, in part: “You are on your own, I am on my own – why don’t you come out to New Zealand and marry me? I’ll pay for your fare.”
After travelling to New Zealand in 1975, Mrs Geare decided she would marry John, who was a teacher at Waitaki Boys’ High School.
“I arrived in Oamaru one Friday, got engaged the next Friday, married the Friday after that and took off for England to sell my house and sort my possessions the following Friday.”
Following the death of her husband in 2011, Mrs Geare dedicates her time to driving and going to different clubs, including Coffee Club and the Waitaki Travel Club.