Dr Graham Osborne, 89, talks to FRAN GILLETT about his adventures from Gwent to New Zealand as a former research scientist, farmer and local historian.
“I WAS born in January 1925 – my birth certificate says the 25th but my mother said it was the 26th.
Both my parents and I were very active in Hope Baptist Church in Crosskeys and I was baptised there and later became assistant secretary of the Sunday school.
I took an entrance exam and came fourth out of the whole county so won a place at Pontywaun County School.
It was a turning point for me; I really got stuck in to academic work for the first time in my life.
But then World War Two started and in 1942 I volunteered for the RAF at the age of 17.
But in the middle of January 1944 they stopped recruiting aircrew and so when I was called up I was obliged to join the army.
I was sent to Catterick in Yorkshire as a potential recruit for the Royal Signals as a radio mechanic. But it was now 1945 and while the war with Germany was nearly over, the war with Japan was in full swing. So we were sent to Kenya to recover Malaya from the Japanese.
I was then posted to British Somaliland and trained as a signal mechanic and to take charge of the main wireless transmitters.
I have had the good fortune to be very fit throughout my life and this all started when I was in the army where I got into walking.
I started to lead groups of people for walks in the bush and later I led walking groups wherever I lived throughout my whole life.
I returned from British Somaliland in September 1947 and studied chemistry, physics and maths at Cardiff University and I decided to prepare myself for a career in organic chemistry.
I then continued my studies with my Ph.D at Cambridge University in 1954 and was awarded a senior fellowship. I married my wife Sylvia, who I met through the church, in 1952.
In 1958 I got a job as an organic chemist to work at Shell’s research laboratories near Sittingbourne in Kent. I had to make chemicals to be used as pesticides.
There was nowhere further for me to go as a research scientist so my wife and I decided I should try to obtain a university lectureship. I got a position at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand in 1964.
We took the four-week journey by liner to New Zealand and took our sheepdog Jim, too. We spent 20 years in New Zealand.
I was in charge of developing a pesticide for the grass grub beetle. It could fly but it laid its eggs in the grass land.
I did research to discover a couple of chemicals which attracted the things. I made an apparatus from a cake tin which attracted the bugs and 3,000 were caught the first time.
My wife, Sylvia, was appointed district commissioner for the Girl Guides and then provincial commissioner for North Canterbury, the equivalent of a county commissioner.
Sylvia and I had always loved walking and in New Zealand they call it “tramping” and this country was an ideal place.
We joined a club but also walked a great deal on our own. I have wonderful memories of 5 or 6 day treks through the remote parts of the west coast of the South Island where the native flora and fauna flourished.
I retired in November 1983 and we had to decide whether to stay in New Zealand or return home to Wales.
We sold the farm and flew home in time for Christmas, plunging from summer into a dark and dismal Welsh winter.
We bought a 20-acre farm site in Llansadwrn and were back to farming, this time in Wales.
The head swims when I recall the amount of work to be done, both inside and, particularly outside. Those four years passed in a dream, we were busy from morning to night. We were very, very happy.
In 1986 Sylvia’s father died and her mother, who had been ill with cancer, became unable to live by herself in her little flat. We decided to sell the farm ‘Esgair’ and to move back to the Valleys.
We quickly found a roomy house in Cwmfelinfach and Sylvia was now her mother’s full time carer. It was quite frankly a strain but one Sylvia accepted willingly, but her mother sadly passed away on February 18.
Local history was one of my interests, and coming back to Wales it was resurrected.
My first publication was a history of Hope Baptist Church which came out in 1986. I then decided to publish about the place name, Risca, which appeared in the Gwent Local History Journal.
On August 19, 1991, Sylvia was diagnosed with cancerous cells in the uterus, this was a very nasty shock and followed by internal bleeding in 1992 which led to a cancer diagnosis. Sylvia had a heart like a lion.
She had lost so much weight and never looked so unwell. But she was determined to recover.
But after an operation, shattering results revealed the cancer was rampant and nothing could be done; Sylvia had only a few days to live.
Ours was the closest of marriages. We trusted each other utterly, shared everything and helped each other in everything.
Following the death of Sylvia, I was now in a position of considerable difficulty.
All of our possessions were in storage as we had been living in temporary accommodation so I had also lost my home.
The difficulties had to be faced alone. But the key is to do things and in my case I put more effort into local history and leading the walking groups.
I was involved in a quite freakish accident while out leading a walking group.
We were walking along the banks of the River Wye, near Brockweir, when a section of the river bank collapsed with me walking under it.
When one is 74 years of age and living on one’s own, life can be tricky and even more so with a broken leg. But two of my neighbours were wonderfully helpful.
I wrote several newspaper articles for the local newspaper, mainly on the origins and meanings of local place names.
I stayed in my next home in Risca for 15 years and got to know the inhabitants well.
I devoted my time to local history and gave occasional talks on local history, wrote articles for publication in Gwent Local History Journal and served on Risca Residents Committee.
In 2010 I moved from Risca to Crosskeys and me and my companion, Teresa, occupy the upstairs and downstairs flats.
I suffered from a TIA, a mini-stroke, in 2012 and these last two years have been hard as my speech has been affected.
But things are getting better. I grow berries, fruits and vegetables in my garden and still enjoy going for walks, and of course am still interested in local history.”