Happy 95th John

. . . of Bunyan East Saddle legend

. . . of Bunyan East Saddle legend

John Bunyan today.
70 YEARS OF SERVICE: John receiving his 70 year service bar from Grandmaster John Litton. Picture supplied.
70 YEARS OF SERVICE: From left: Master of Lodge Gisborne Bruce Kells, Chris Bunyan, Grandmaster John Litton, John Bunyan, John Bunyan jnr and Graham Faulkner at the presentation of John's 70 year service bar. Picture supplied.
John and Lucy on their wedding day. Picture supplied
John in his Navy days. Picture supplied

When life gives you lemons, blow them up in the Pacific Ocean then go on to live a long and happy life.

Not exactly how the old adage typically goes but when life gave John Bunyan’s generation World War 2 he certainly did not stay home and try to make lemonade out of a bitter situation — he headed off to the Navy at 19 and set off hundreds of magnetic mines on a wooden boat so as not to attract the floating bombs, clearing the way for war ships.

John was born in Kawakawa in 1921 the eldest of nine siblings. He left home and joined the Navy in 1940 as an engineer.

“We were minesweeping in the Pacific near the Solomon Islands — the mines were magnetic ones, big floating balls with enormous spikes. Instead of being anchored they were attracted by steel ships. We had wooden ships with a long tail a mile long out the back to attract them — it sent out a magnetic field that blew them up. They were big enough to sink a big, big ship.”

John says despite being in the middle of practically nowhere in a wooden vessel setting off explosion after explosion, they were not scared. “It was just war times,” he says simply.

Accident at sea

Aside from food poisoning from punctured cans while at sea, it was while working for the Navy closer to home that John ended up getting hurt.

“We were in the Hauraki Gulf and there were German subs so we were chasing them out. We had a contraption that would send out a signal for miles and bounce back if it hit a sub, so we knew based on how long it took to come back how close they might be.”

A mine was set off right under the boat blowing it clean out of the water and John 11 feet into the air. “When I landed, I smashed my arm, my shoulder, knee, back, everything.”

After the accident John’s arm was never quite the same and he was eventually discharged as a result of his accident in 1945.

Meeting future wife Lucy

It was at a party with Navy comrades after the war that he met his future wife Lucy. “When I first saw her I thought ‘what a lovely girl’. She had beautiful long flowing golden hair and was a very nice woman.”

A few years after their initial meeting John proposed to Lucy on the Devonport Ferry, when he was about 26.

“I never thought I would marry her, I thought she would get a better man than me,” he says. But the pair did marry, eventually going on to have four children — Chris, John jnr, Heather and Jeanette.

Meeting Lucy turned out to be one of two things that would have an enormous influence on the direction his life took after the war — the other was joining the Masonic Lodge. Many returned servicemen at the time were encouraged to join a lodge after the war as it offered a similar sense of comradeship to the forces. The idea was that it would help them reintegrate back in to normal life.

Joining the Masonic Lodge

John along with his brother Dig who had served in the Army, joined the Taneatua Masonic Lodge No 220, on May 9 1946.

“Having time at the lodge was a wonderful thing for me. It is a way of living and if you live that way of life you cannot go wrong — it is a good life.”

This would set in motion a long history with the lodge, joining Lodge Gisborne No 233 in 1953 and Waiapu Lodge No 241 in 1963, holding positions of high esteem at both. Earlier this year he received his 70-year service bar. The Grandmaster travelled to Gisborne especially to give John his award.

“I never thought I would meet the Grandmaster — it is a wonderful honour. To us he ranks like the Governor General and for him to come here was just something out of this world.” The Gisborne lodge held a celebratory evening in John’s honour.

“I just sat there and enjoyed it. I was like a bride on her wedding day,” he says.

Early days, and saddles

To understand how he made his way to the East Coast though, one must back track a bit. Before the war John had worked as a farmer and at a butter factory in Edgecumbe. Farming was part of his family’s history. After the war he felt his injuries were too much of a disadvantage, so upon hearing of a shortage of saddlers on the East Coast he trained for two years in Auckland before making his way here in 1949. His speciality product, the Bunyan East Saddle, became the stuff of legend.

“We used plasticine on the backs of horses to see how they moved and how they worked.”

The Bunyan East Saddle was in hot demand until John shut up shop a decade or so ago. He says he will take the blueprints to his prize product to the grave . . . and he means it literally. He has burned them and is keeping them in a jar to be buried with him when he goes.

“They will never be able to copy it.”

Saddlemaker who has never ridden a horse

A little-known fact is that the world-renowned saddle maker has never actually ridden a horse.

“Never in my life, and I have never really wanted to ride one either — I would fall off. In any case, I was just always good with my hands. I only started making saddles because I could not go back to farming.”

At the time — between making saddles, a growing family and the social callings of the lodge — John had his hands quite full.

“Lucy and I would go with others from Lodge Gisborne to visit other lodges. It was lots of fun. We made some good friends, lots of wonderful friends.”

Somewhere in the mix — in keeping with the charity and giving back idea of the Masonic Lodge — John managed to find time to be involved with or donate money to nearly every cause and committee in the region. This was sometimes through the lodge and other times from his own pocket.

Some of his more well-known endeavours include the Weka Ball Interschool Touch Rugby Tournament and the annual Bunnings Life Members Optional Triples Tournament for the Gisborne Bowling Club, a sport he still enjoys.

Words of wisdom

Today, John will enjoy his 95th birthday with those of his four children, 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren who can make it — quite the brood to preside over. His wife Lucy passed away nearly two decades ago, but the pair enjoyed 50 fun years of marriage together. Modern marriage is something he has a few words of advice about.

“It is a different way of life now, so make sure you are going to work together before you marry. These days, unlike ourselves, have a bit of a trial run and live together for a few years. Lucy and I had four good children. They were no trouble at all — it was an enjoyment having them and they all grew up (some joined lodges) and have done quite well.”

To cut a long story short — chasing submarines, blowing up mines, charity work, raising a family, saddlery, lots of friends and other lodge duties — John says there are a few things he lives his life by. One is his own personal philosophy of sorts.

“I have a big heart. I love people and I never use the word hate — if you do not like a person, well just pass them by.”

Another is an adapted Etienne de Grellet quote passed on to him by his mother.

“We pass this way but once, if there is any good deed you can do for your fellow men, do it today — tomorrow might be too late.”

When life gives you lemons, blow them up in the Pacific Ocean then go on to live a long and happy life.

Not exactly how the old adage typically goes but when life gave John Bunyan’s generation World War 2 he certainly did not stay home and try to make lemonade out of a bitter situation — he headed off to the Navy at 19 and set off hundreds of magnetic mines on a wooden boat so as not to attract the floating bombs, clearing the way for war ships.

John was born in Kawakawa in 1921 the eldest of nine siblings. He left home and joined the Navy in 1940 as an engineer.

“We were minesweeping in the Pacific near the Solomon Islands — the mines were magnetic ones, big floating balls with enormous spikes. Instead of being anchored they were attracted by steel ships. We had wooden ships with a long tail a mile long out the back to attract them — it sent out a magnetic field that blew them up. They were big enough to sink a big, big ship.”

John says despite being in the middle of practically nowhere in a wooden vessel setting off explosion after explosion, they were not scared. “It was just war times,” he says simply.

Accident at sea

Aside from food poisoning from punctured cans while at sea, it was while working for the Navy closer to home that John ended up getting hurt.

“We were in the Hauraki Gulf and there were German subs so we were chasing them out. We had a contraption that would send out a signal for miles and bounce back if it hit a sub, so we knew based on how long it took to come back how close they might be.”

A mine was set off right under the boat blowing it clean out of the water and John 11 feet into the air. “When I landed, I smashed my arm, my shoulder, knee, back, everything.”

After the accident John’s arm was never quite the same and he was eventually discharged as a result of his accident in 1945.

Meeting future wife Lucy

It was at a party with Navy comrades after the war that he met his future wife Lucy. “When I first saw her I thought ‘what a lovely girl’. She had beautiful long flowing golden hair and was a very nice woman.”

A few years after their initial meeting John proposed to Lucy on the Devonport Ferry, when he was about 26.

“I never thought I would marry her, I thought she would get a better man than me,” he says. But the pair did marry, eventually going on to have four children — Chris, John jnr, Heather and Jeanette.

Meeting Lucy turned out to be one of two things that would have an enormous influence on the direction his life took after the war — the other was joining the Masonic Lodge. Many returned servicemen at the time were encouraged to join a lodge after the war as it offered a similar sense of comradeship to the forces. The idea was that it would help them reintegrate back in to normal life.

Joining the Masonic Lodge

John along with his brother Dig who had served in the Army, joined the Taneatua Masonic Lodge No 220, on May 9 1946.

“Having time at the lodge was a wonderful thing for me. It is a way of living and if you live that way of life you cannot go wrong — it is a good life.”

This would set in motion a long history with the lodge, joining Lodge Gisborne No 233 in 1953 and Waiapu Lodge No 241 in 1963, holding positions of high esteem at both. Earlier this year he received his 70-year service bar. The Grandmaster travelled to Gisborne especially to give John his award.

“I never thought I would meet the Grandmaster — it is a wonderful honour. To us he ranks like the Governor General and for him to come here was just something out of this world.” The Gisborne lodge held a celebratory evening in John’s honour.

“I just sat there and enjoyed it. I was like a bride on her wedding day,” he says.

Early days, and saddles

To understand how he made his way to the East Coast though, one must back track a bit. Before the war John had worked as a farmer and at a butter factory in Edgecumbe. Farming was part of his family’s history. After the war he felt his injuries were too much of a disadvantage, so upon hearing of a shortage of saddlers on the East Coast he trained for two years in Auckland before making his way here in 1949. His speciality product, the Bunyan East Saddle, became the stuff of legend.

“We used plasticine on the backs of horses to see how they moved and how they worked.”

The Bunyan East Saddle was in hot demand until John shut up shop a decade or so ago. He says he will take the blueprints to his prize product to the grave . . . and he means it literally. He has burned them and is keeping them in a jar to be buried with him when he goes.

“They will never be able to copy it.”

Saddlemaker who has never ridden a horse

A little-known fact is that the world-renowned saddle maker has never actually ridden a horse.

“Never in my life, and I have never really wanted to ride one either — I would fall off. In any case, I was just always good with my hands. I only started making saddles because I could not go back to farming.”

At the time — between making saddles, a growing family and the social callings of the lodge — John had his hands quite full.

“Lucy and I would go with others from Lodge Gisborne to visit other lodges. It was lots of fun. We made some good friends, lots of wonderful friends.”

Somewhere in the mix — in keeping with the charity and giving back idea of the Masonic Lodge — John managed to find time to be involved with or donate money to nearly every cause and committee in the region. This was sometimes through the lodge and other times from his own pocket.

Some of his more well-known endeavours include the Weka Ball Interschool Touch Rugby Tournament and the annual Bunnings Life Members Optional Triples Tournament for the Gisborne Bowling Club, a sport he still enjoys.

Words of wisdom

Today, John will enjoy his 95th birthday with those of his four children, 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren who can make it — quite the brood to preside over. His wife Lucy passed away nearly two decades ago, but the pair enjoyed 50 fun years of marriage together. Modern marriage is something he has a few words of advice about.

“It is a different way of life now, so make sure you are going to work together before you marry. These days, unlike ourselves, have a bit of a trial run and live together for a few years. Lucy and I had four good children. They were no trouble at all — it was an enjoyment having them and they all grew up (some joined lodges) and have done quite well.”

To cut a long story short — chasing submarines, blowing up mines, charity work, raising a family, saddlery, lots of friends and other lodge duties — John says there are a few things he lives his life by. One is his own personal philosophy of sorts.

“I have a big heart. I love people and I never use the word hate — if you do not like a person, well just pass them by.”

Another is an adapted Etienne de Grellet quote passed on to him by his mother.

“We pass this way but once, if there is any good deed you can do for your fellow men, do it today — tomorrow might be too late.”

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Teena Bunyan - 1 year ago
Rip uncle John, you were a great man loved by many.

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