Unopened for 79 years, a bottle of Ballins XXXX green-label beer remains behind the bar in the Waihao Forks Hotel, a reminder to the locals of Ted d’Auvergne, the soldier who never came back. Gus Patterson speaks to Waihao Forks Hotel publicans Shane and Sandy Doolan about the Waimate soldier and the legacy of “Ted’s Bottle”.
A statue of Ted d’Auvergne outside the Waihao Forks Hotel will represent all the rural soldiers from New Zealand that served in the World Wars, publican Sandy Doolan says.
“He didn’t win any special medals, he was just a normal Kiwi bloke – and that is what this statue will represent,” Mrs Doolan said.
“There was a lot like him that went over [to war].”
Ted d’Auvergne was typical example of the people living around the Waihao area during the first half of last century, and the hotel still has predominantly rural clientele.
According to Ted’s Bottle, by Jim Sullivan, Mr d’Auvergne’s life focus was farming.
“He became part of the rural and leisure life which was typical of New Zealand rural communities between the wars,” Mr Sullivan wrote.
“Ted was often described as a ‘likeable larrikin’ – hardworking, but always keen to have some fun.
“Locals say his small car knew very well the journey from the farm, down Stoney Creek Rd to the Waihao Forks pub.”
Mr d’Auvergne travelled to Timaru to enlist just three days after recruiting for the first echelon began on September 12, 1939. He was passed fit despite a hearing loss that many thought would keep him out of the army.
Although he was 33 and older than most volunteers, his 13 years’ territorial army experience with the Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry made him an ideal recruit. Within two weeks he was in camp at Burnham and three months later was sent home for final leave.
On January 5, 1940, he was invited by the publican, George Provan, to have a farewell drink at the Waihao Forks Hotel and when the train whistled, Mr Provan put the bottle on the shelf, saying “we’ll have this one, Ted, when you come home again”.
He was killed in action 18 months later and lies buried in a Crete cemetery, his name added to the long roll of honour of those who died in the service of their country.
The bottle remains at the hotel to this day, a tribute to a soldier who never returned home.
Mrs Doolan, who now runs the pub with her husband, Shane, said there was no written contract that the bottle had to remain in the pub, but it had been displayed at the pub ever since and there were no plans to move it.
“When we moved here 16 years ago, the publican told us the history, so we were happy to keep it going,” she said.
“If anyone moved it there would be a lot of angry locals around .. It belongs here.
“You can’t put a price on it.”
Every Anzac Day, a poppy is placed beside the bottle in its wooden casing, which also contains a photo of Mr d’Auvergne and other memorabilia.
Ted’s Bottle author Mr Sullivan said the story would never have been told if it was not for the survival of the bottle.
“The sheer romance of a fragile artefact with a direct link to a man from a remote New Zealand settlement who died during the battle for Crete and so was never able to ‘open it when he got back’ has captured the imagination ever since,” he said.
“I’ve always felt that history is really just storytelling – and the bottle fitted that premise perfectly.
“Crucial to the story is the determination of George Provan to preserve the bottle and the conscientious efforts of succeeding publicans to keep the legend alive.
“Ted’s bottle has cropped up in war histories as a symbol of the young men from the far ends of the earth who volunteered to fight a foe 12,000 miles from home.
“While memorials of stone have their role to play, the bottle stands out simply as something no-one expected.”
The fame of the bottle has grown in recent years, after it was featured in radio and television programmes in New Zealand and, significantly, in Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand in 2004.
Mrs Doolan said there were a lot of people who visited the hotel after hearing about the bottle.
“Not always during opening hours either,” she said.
She said the hotel had a big crowd for Anzac Day each year, and that had grown as the day had become a bigger event across New Zealand.
A statue of Mr d’Auvergne has been commissioned to be completed by next Anzac Day, which will mark 75 years since the end of World War 2.
At present, $27,000 had been raised through fundraising, and more fundraising events were in the pipeline, Mrs Doolan said.
“We had a quiz night out here, which was a lot of fun, and we might have another one in Waimate.”