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BORN IN 1946? WHAT ELSE HAPPENED? 71st BIRTHDAY

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AN EXCERPT FROM THE "WAR BRIDES" CHAPTER

In the last few years of World War Two, the countryside of England was blessed with an influx of thousands of young, healthy, carefree Australian servicemen, mainly airmen, who spent most nights fighting the “huns” and, it seems, their spare evenings going to dances. All around them were English roses, beautiful and even younger than these servicemen, excited by war and the freedom it gave them, and easy prey to the derring-do and tragedy that surrounded these young airman. Inevitably, romances abounded; and many of these led to marriage between what were undoubtedly innocent parties; with the promise that at the end of the War, the girls would migrate to Australia, and settle down to life in the vast Antipodes.

Towards the end of  the European War, the Australian and British governments devised a scheme which would facilitate the reunification of these very new families. Firstly, the servicemen would be repatriated; “Bring our Boys Home for Christmas” was the popular cry from Australia. Then, some four months later, that is when shipping was available, the brides and the large number of children that the marriages had already produced would be shipped out,  free of charge. Granted the girls would scarcely travel first class. In fact, the accommodation was generally on roughly-converted troop ships, with about eight to a cabin, often without a porthole. Their only luggage available to them on board was a single suitcase that must be stored beneath their bunks.  Conditions were tough enough, but still, it was for free.

Women with children were given first priority, while those who were only engaged were at the tail end of the queue. In this latter case, the serviceman involved had to post a bond of 150 Pounds, that would be refunded to him if the couple were married within a few weeks of landing. The first shiploads were sent off at the end of 1945, with others following at about two-monthly intervals, for over three years. More than 10,000 girls took this one-way ride; there was no free passage back for those who opted out.

The trip to Australia took six weeks, and the passengers were trapped on board until they reached Fremantle. The journey through the tropics was sheer hell, particularly for those with children, though at least the food was good after British war-time rationing.........

.............The young ladies were indeed young, many of them still sweet seventeen, who had volunteered for the support services, or who had been willingly conscripted.  They met their husbands-to-be at work, or at the dances that seemed to occupy many evenings. The RAF-blue uniforms cast quite a spell, and when coupled with blue eyes, no-one was safe. Courtships were brief, sometimes only a few months, and sometimes with just a few visits home. The deal to get engaged or married was sealed when the airman got an official notice that said he was to be sent back to Australia in a few weeks. 

The families of the brides were worried, to say the least. Their beautiful daughters were proposing to go off 12000 miles away, to a presumably backward country on the edge of the earth, with a man who was nearly a stranger. There were no jet planes then, only ocean liners, and the journey was expensive  and just not on, for most. They thought – rightly in some cases – that they would never see their daughter again. It was so sad.

The young girls – madly in love, and wildly excited – did not dwell on this, and just went. Though now, fifty years later, writing after they themselves have raised children, this retrospective sadness is quite apparent......

The trip to Australia took six weeks, and the passengers were trapped on board until they reached Fremantle. The journey through the tropics was sheer hell, particularly for those with children, though at least the food was good after British war-time rationing.........

......The meetings with the in-laws were nerve-wracking events, though these generally went well, and the neighbours too were welcoming. But there were exceptions in both cases (see later). Their ultimate destinations spread from Kings Cross in Sydney, to Launceston in Tasmania, to Sawtell and Moree in the NSW bush. A surprising number initially went to small outback farms away from townships, and the isolation there made settling-in all the harder. No matter where they settled, they were all put off by the outside dunnies, (complete with the inevitable stories of snakes and spiders), by chip-heaters and wooden stoves, and by the lack of refrigerators. And they did not like having to do their own laundry, in coppers of all things – at “home”, laundry was simply “sent out”.

The welcome mat was not always out. Olive, later of Kings Cross, tells of her days in Fremantle. “Go home, you Pommy cows” was shouted at her by some Aussie girls on the dockside. Then she met the family. “They hated me on sight.”  She moved into the in-laws house. “It was the worst Christmas of my life. I had brought them all presents, which to my knowledge, they never opened."......

...... Peg of Maleny tells of her cold feet. “When I saw him, well, I just wanted to run away. He was wearing civvies and looked so funny, in gear that the Air Force had given him which did not fit him anywhere and a felt hat that looked awful…. I am out of love already ….I just can’t stand the look of him.”  Then to make matters worse, she was introduced to his mother. This lady was “wearing a hat I couldn’t stand, with a big rose on it …she looked as if she was going to a garden party…” The reader will be relieved to know that her husband turned out to be “absolutely fabulous.” .........

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