By GUY WILLIAMS
Queenstown’s Alex McBurney has been to war, raised a family, and lived the Kiwi good life even shaken hands with royalty.
The oldest World War II veteran living in the Wakatipu, he turned 100 on Saturday.
Still living in his own unit in Frankton, he played golf three times a week until a year ago.
In fact, it was his golfing exploits that last got him on Mountain Scene’s front page, in 2008, when he hit his first hole-in-one at the age of 88.
On Wednesday, he met a couple of dozen old golfing buddies at the Frankton Golf Centre for a celebratory afternoon tea.
McBurney tells Scene he’s bemused by his longevity – “why me?” – because it doesn’t run in the family.
His parents died in their 70s, and he’s outlived his three siblings.
“The time has just flown around.”
After returning from the war in January, 1946, he joined his father’s menswear business and stayed n it until he and his wife, Elma, retired to Kelvin Heights about 40 years ago.
But his association with the resort goes back 75 years, when he and Elma spent their first holiday after the war at the Queenstown camping ground at Lakeview.
“And we came back every year, and every Easter,” McBurney says.
He was called up for military service, aged 21, just after completing a fibrous plastering apprenticeship.
Elma was 18 or 19 and wanted to get married: “I said ‘no, I might not come home’.”
So, they got engaged, and he left for war the next day.
“I didn’t see her again for three-and-a-half years.”
He took part in many of the 2nd New Zealand Division’s most famous battles of the war, including El Alamein in Egypt, and Cassino in Italy.
An army corporal, he drove trucks carrying ammunition to the artillery positions near the front line.
His memories of those years remain sharp; the stories flow and the names of ports, towns, railway stations and ships trip off his tongue.
He talks of the hot days and cold nights in the North African desert, mud and snow during the Italian campaign, going for 18 months without sleeping inside a building.
Long periods of boredom, punctuated by moments of fun or intense action.
At the age of 94, he went back to Italy for Battle of Cassino commemorations, where he met Prince Harry, but he found the travel exhausting.
He celebrated his centenary in Invercargill on Saturday with sons Robert and Peter and their families, including many of his six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Alex in exclusive company
Alex McBurney’s one of very, very few men in the Wakatipu who have turned 100 in, well, the past 100 years.
Certainly, women have dominated the ranks of local centenarians over the past 25 years.
Among them – along with the month they blew out 100 candles – were:
● Molly Anderson, January, 1996;
● Barbara Lewis, May, 2009;
● Rita Gustafson, October, 2012 (the same month the Earnslaw turned 100);
● Norma Lakeland, May, 2015.
As for men who’ve reached this milestone, we may have to go back to 1943 to find the last one — well-known Arrowtowner George Romans.