Sunday, January 18, 2015

MY MOTHER'S STORY (1918-1920)

World War 1 is over but the world has been overtaken by a deadly strain of 'flu.  We rejoin the family with many of them being rather ill.

Excerpt from "THE CLOCK OF TIME" by Gertrude Ruston (pp 43-47).  (pictures supplied by yours truly).

"The war had interrupted our lives and the Sugar Commission would be closing.  This meant that Harry would probably go back to a desk job in Mincing Lane, not a good prospect in view of the doctor's recommendation.  We did not hesitate and set about gathering all the pamphlets we could about Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

After due consideration we decided on Western Australia and prepared to sell our house and home.  We had to sell many of our treasures, including a Bechstien grand piano of which I was very fond.  I think I regretted leaving our home in Streatham more than anything else, but we had to face this new challenge and look upon it as an adventure.
As soon as the *Kelsey family heard we were leaving for Australia they wanted to come with us, and Mrs Kelsey Snr begged us to take them.  This was the last thing we wanted and we did not tell them were we were going nor when.  Apparently Mrs Kelsey paid their fares and w heard later that they went to Queensland on a different ship.  We often wondered how they were fitting in.  Archie would have had no difficulty in finding a job as a teacher of languages, but Elsa because of her abrasive manner may have had problems."

(*This was the family that, although mum and dad quite liked the man, they found the wife aggressive and rather crude.  It was their son Vic with whom Len had become involved when he got into trouble.)

"We filled two very large packing cases with essentials and some small precious articles to take with us, including a few of our wedding presents, medals and certificates.  We sold the furniture and the house without difficulty and at a good price.  Later we heard that, during the 1939/45 war, the lane in which the house stood was completely wiped out, so perhaps we were lucky we had been unable to remain there.  (Note:  This was told to mum many years later by a friend who had visited England.  I am not sure the entire 'lane' had been destroyed as there are real estate photos today showing vintage type housing in that same street).

"After my marriage I found that Len was constantly suffering from colds and that he appeared to have some ear trouble.  Both his father and grandfather had defective hearing so I took Len to a specialist and obtained treatment for him.  He was wearing some extremely heavy underwear bought by his aunts, and the doctor said it was unsuitable for him and to dress him in something lighter.  When he heard we were going to Australia he said the sea voyage may clear the ear trouble.  He was correct, and for years Len was free from ear trouble, but it returned years later after his service in the R.A.A.F. in Australia."  (Note:  In later life Len suffered from Meniere's disease and was almost totally deaf.  He learned to lip read and it was difficult realising, when having a conversation with him, that he was so very deaf.)

"In order to leave England as soon as possible after the war, Harry had to bribe a shipping clerk to get an early booking, and we obtained berths on the s.s. "Euripides".  Harry and Len had to share a six berth cabin with other males, and I was in a four berth women's cabin.  We were on the first available ship after the return of the troops and, of course, we paid full fares.

Len remained a boarding school after we sold the house and furniture, and we spent a few weeks with my mother's sister Christine and her husband, in North London.  I left the Commission before harry and took care of all the details.


The last night before leaving for the ship we stayed with my mother, sister, brother-in-law and their small boy Eddie.  The boys were the only happy ones!  The atmosphere was highly charged and emotional, and mother was on the point of breaking down at any moment.  We played cards although few of us were giving gull attention to the game.  Ted, a keen bridge player without thinking, criticised mother's play which caused her to break down completely.  I persuaded her to go to bed, ad gave her some warm milk in the hope that she would get some sleep.  My own sleep was very disturbed and it was at that time I faced the fact that we were leaving for the unkown at the other end of the earth.

They all came to see the train leave for Tilbury Docks next morning and mother nearly broke my heart by running alongside the train until the last moment.  Little did I think it would be the last time we would see one another.  I promised faithfully to write to her each week and kept that promise constantly except for one or two occasions when I could not afford to buy a postage stamp."  (This was Tilbury Docks in 1920).

The voyage started well, despite a very rough passage through the Bay of Biscay, when many of the crew and a considerable number of passengers were laid low with seas sickness.  The three of us took the advice of stewards and spent the time on deck, walking round whenever the movement of ship permitted, so that we all gained our sea legs and beat off the mal de mer.

In my cabin I shared with three women, two of them were Christian Scientists.  One of them was very sick (she really looked quite green) and was quite unable to stand on her feet.  The other woman was a more hardy soul, and berated and accused her colleague of giving in and lack of faith.  It was my first experience of Christian Science and I was not at all impressed.  Anything less Christian I had never seen.

The third passenger in the cabin was a young bride with her trousseau in her cabin trunk under her berth.  Due to the rough conditions we had water flowing through the cabin at times and it got into our bags.  Some of the precious trousseau articles were spoilt as dye had run from a coloured costume.  There was little we could do to help but the stewardess was kind and did manage to dry and iron some of the things.  I have since wondered whether our baggage was covered by insurance and whether the company was responsible for the loss.   Fortunately we did not sustain any damage.

We made friends with a number of people on board and Len had a wonderful time wandering all of the ship.  I think he put his nose into every nook and cranny, and could be fund in the galley or the engine room, in fact anywhere out of bounds to passengers.  His father was always going in search of him but, as Len had a mop of red curly hair, he was not too difficult to trace.

We spent most days in deck chairs in the company of two Scottish girls, of whom one was going to the Eastern States to be married, and the other to join members of her family.

We had hoped to land at Teneriffe, but health regulations did not permit it.  We stopped there for some hours and enjoyed seeing the natives diving for coins thrown overboard by the ship's passengers.

When we crossed the equator Neptune came on board and most of the young people, including Len, were dumped and enjoyed the fun.  Harry and I kept well away and id not let it be known that it was our first time to cross the line.

Passing ships were rare, but we did see a few at night in the distance looking most fascination with all their lights on.  There was a little fog at times and it was rather eerie when the fog horns were sounding.  We loved watching the flying fish and albatross, and sunrise and sunset were often breathtakingly beautful.

If my memory serves me rightly we were four weeks and five days on board, most of the time being spent with the Scottish girls either reading, talking, playing cards or housie housie.   There was an old crone on the ship who told fortunes if her palm was crossed with silver.  I fancy she spent it all on liquor and she seemed to have lots of customers  The two girls were persuaded to go to her and they, in turn, pushed us along  She told us both we would meet other partners in Australia and we wondered how that was likely to be managed.

One morning when we were sitting on deck I was reading a book lent to me by one of the girls.  Harry apparently spoke to me and I did not hear him, probably because it was necessary to concentrate entirely when trying to read.  He was so annoyed that he snatched the book out of my hand and threw it over the side. "  (NOTE:  Strangely enough I remember very little of dad having a temper, certainly he never lost his temper with me, but I occasionally saw the jealousy flare up in small ways, although nothing serious).

'When we reached Cape Town he had to visit all the book shops to find a replacement for the owner, while the rest of us went sightseeing.  I was not a bit sympathetic: red hair and red temper!  I had to learn to deal with both his jealousy and temper during our married life.  Fortunately he eventually found another copy of the book to the relief of all concerned, because it had been a parting gift. 

The ship stopped in Cape Town for several days and we decided to get off for a break and see something of South Africa.  We spent three of the days at Three Anchor Bay and enjoyed the change.  Of course, everybody stopied for siesta and we did the saame as it was very hot midday.  Black stewards would come in with coffee to wake us after siesta, and the Scottish girls were horrified as they were wearing practically nothing because of the heat.

I liked Cape Town.  We did some climbing, collected a few souvenirs and enjoyed the shops in Adderley Street, particularly the street cafes.  We were lucky enough to see a native wedding and a native funeral.

Unfortunately one could not miss the colour problem, and it was obvious that the natives were inclined to be resentful.  They had to get off the footpath to let whites pass, and were obliged to sit apart in the picture theatres and transport.  No doubt this colour problem is very difficult but one feels that, now that the black people are becoming educated, **they will one day come out on top."

**Bear in mind mum wrote this in 1982 since which time things seem to have improved somewhat.

This seems a good place to stop and next time we will see the little family arrive at their destination.


  1. Oh my your Mum was so brave I cannot imagine leaving everything I know. I love that she documented all this for you Mimsie what a incredible gift. You have had great adventures in your early years, I can only imagine this lifehanging trip. Hug B

    1. Buttons I am like you. I've never imagined what it would be like to leave Western Australia and never return. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to undertake such a move, especially when you consider it was nearly 100 years ago.
      I have always appreciated mum telling her story so I and future generations will have an insight into what her life was like. xx

  2. I have such admiration for folks who can pull up roots and move to another country.

    1. So do I Delores. I had two wonderful holidays in New Zealand and, although I loved the country and could live there happily, I just could not face perhaps not seeing my family again.

  3. Hari OM
    So different from my own emigration from UK to OZ... and yet of course there are similarities. Those who are securely attached to one feel the separation perhaps more than those making the journey. In those days, of course, the commitment was so much more due to the transportation taking such an age and the likelihood that many would never again see each other.... The tale continues to delight us Mimsie! YAM xx

    1. Yam I am delighted you are still enjoying this story as it unfolds. I am sure anyone who emigrates must do so with some doubts. Phil left England in 1960 but seems to have few regrets and has never returned and so enjoys being an Aussie in Oz. xx

  4. Such a brave trip. No email, no skype, no easy contact...
    I really don't know how they did it.
    My mother never saw any of her family again after she came to Australia. Nor did my father...

    1. Yes a brave trip and lots of fortitude to succeed in such an undertaking.
      You, from talking to your folks, would have more understanding of how their lives were affected by the huge decisions they made.

  5. A most interesting part of the story, the sea voyage. I'm reminded that we made a similar voyage in 1953, I was six months old at the time and when my dad died in 2000, I found among his papers the certificate he received from King Neptune for his dunking.
    Cape Town for several days sounds wonderful. Sightseeing, gathering memories, but the heat would be hard to bear after English weather.
    I'm glad your mum didn't suffer seasickness.

    1. You mentioned 1953 which, of course, was the year of my first marriage and now you do make me feel old. Just joking.
      How lovely to find your father's dunking certificate. I am not sure if Len ever had one but of course it would have been lost in the house fire if he did have one.
      Mum felt she could live in Cape Town but I think the colour problem really upset her and I'm so glad they proceeded on their way to Western Australia or they'd not have been my wonderful folks.
      Seems neither mum, dad nor Len had seasickness problems which was very fortunate for all three.