Ship name / Flight number: Otranto
Arrival date: 14/09/1953
The writing of one’s own story is a well-trodden path for many and I thought perhaps I might take that same path and see what comes of it. It has taken more than 20 years on and off to write this story and it probably will be my only legacy, but the following generations might find it interesting and perhaps want to add their story to it. I have no idea what I am going to write or what format it will take, perhaps I should make a start and hopefully write something that is worthwhile and sincerely hope it does not prove to be boring.
I was born on the 30th October 1935 and apparently I must have been in a hurry, because I was born in the ambulance on the way to the Sorrento maternity hospital in Moseley, Birmingham, UK.
My father, Thomas Ashwood was 41 when I was born and my mother Florence Short) was 14 years younger at 27. Dad had been married before, but sadly for him his first wife died after being together for only five years. They had no children. This partially explains dad’s late start in becoming a father. I was not the first born either, I should have had an older sister; sadly she died shortly after birth. Neither mom nor dad ever spoke about dad’s previous marriage, this information came from another family member.
Up until 1940, the beginning of my school days, my memory is a blank; not a good start for my story. I do not remember my grandparents and I cannot recall my parents saying a great deal about them either. I do recall Mom saying her father was a bookmaker who would light his cigars with five pound notes when he was in the money and at the Pawnbrokers shop when he wasn’t. Five pound notes was lot money back then, so I have my doubts about that family tale.
The war years and my school days.
When war broke out in 1940 I was five years old and my sister Pat was just one year old. Our rented home at that time was no more than 3 miles away from the city centre in Bolton Road, Small Heath Birmingham, a working class suburb. Terraced homes without front gardens, with the street footpath right at the front doorstep and the street lamps were gas lit. Like all working class areas, industry was never far away and that was to ensure that the workers could easily walk to work if they had to. No cars in those days for the working man, he either walked, rode a bike or took a bus or tram.
This was the beginning of a terrible and tragic period. Being so young spared me from the full impact of what was about to happen. War had been declared on Germany and the average person had no idea yet of what would ensue. This was also the beginning of my school days under the threat of war and what we did not know at that time was that death and destruction would be all around us, in our homes, streets, schools and work places.
Once the air raids had begun, the impact on ordinary everyday life was shattering. The destruction going on in Birmingham, Coventry, London and dozens of other cities all over Britain was devastating. Homes and shops as well as factories were being flattened or set on fire with incendiary bombs. Water and gas mains were being blown up every day, helping to make life even more difficult and miserable, but worst of all, hundreds of men women and children were being killed on the streets and in their homes daily.
At the end of the war the death toll of civilians in Britain was almost 68,000 – the number of injured would have been even greater.
While it is true that the enemy in the main were trying to destroy factories and army depots in the beginning, it did not stay that way for long before any target and civilians ended up being fair game. It was a time of survival and everything else was of no real consequence for everyone.
The air-raid shelter in the back garden was the family’s only protection from the air raid bombings that were so prevalent during the early years of the war. The air-raid shelter was simply a hole dug in the ground roughly 8’x 6’and 3’deep (2.4×1.8×1.0) with heavy curved f-shaped corrugated iron that formed the walls and roof, with an overall height of about 5’ (1.5).
The entrance was just a small wooden door at one end and the soil from the hole was used to cover the iron to provide a little more protection from a bomb blast. A paraffin (kerosene) lamp would have been its only light and wooden bunks to sleep or sit on. They were cramped and damp and if it rained it would be, well, a little more than damp. If this type of shelter suffered a direct hit it, I can assure you there would be a much bigger hole in the ground than the one that was first dug out. This type of shelter was known as a dug-out and just about every home with a garden in Britain had one. While cities all over England were being bombed, thousands of people took cover in those crude shelters and often spent the night in these holes, or at least until the all-clear had been heard.
I cannot recall a great deal of what happened during the war years, so much of the everyday mundane things have been forgotten. However, one or two events that did have some impact on my young mind I can still recall.
One of those incidents took place after a particularly bad air-raid the night before. My mother wanted to go shopping that morning to her local Co-op store and the butchers that was part of her local group of shops situated on the busy Coventry Road. We set off on foot which was the main source of transport in those days and along the way we saw many instances of the damage done by the Luftwaffe the night before. Wooden barricades had been put in place keeping people away from huge craters in the roads; some had broken gas and water mains creating further hazards and the ever-present threat of fire from the leaking gas mains.
Many homes had been flattened and as always after an air-raid, the fear of unexploded bombs, with many of them buried, was always a problem until the bomb disposal squads had done their work.
While still making our way to the shops, we passed people queuing for water and many other groups cleaning up the debris. When we finally got to Moms local shops, they were no longer standing; they too had been flattened during the night.
I had many a dream about recently bombed buildings and going inside them before they had been cleaned up and helping myself to all sorts of goodies, mainly sweets and chocolate being scattered everywhere just waiting for me to help myself. Because of the food rationing, sweets including chocolate were just about non-existent.
German U-boats were hunting in packs around Britain’s coastline doing their best to stop supply ships bringing in essential goods.
Another wartime memory I recall was when my father took me out of our dugout shelter shortly after another night bombing raid and pointed up to the sky that looked to me through my young eyes as if the sky itself was on fire with huge flames weaving in and out of the very low clouds. The bombers had hit a huge lumber yard with incendiary bombs causing the fire that destroyed it and also burnt many wooden railway wagons that were close to the timber yard.
Another memory I recall was when my dad, who did his share of Home Guard duty during the war, had to attend a parade of the Home Guard in our local Canon Hill Park. I recall trying to lift his 303 rifle up into the firing position. I must have been about 8 or 9 at the time trying to lift my dad’s rifle and thinking that my dad must be strong, because I had trouble just lifting it off the ground.
Because of the close proximity of industry and a large railway marshalling yard that ran past the bottom of our garden, this was a rather dangerous place to live during the bombing. The huge Birmingham Small Arms factory (BSA) was another place of interest to the Germans because it was manufacturing much of Britain’s small arms. It was also making aircraft parts at that time. So the family decided to move away from the industrial area of Bolton Road, Small Heath and move to another quieter area. We rented a house in Ladypool Road, Balsall Heath, a busy old fashioned shopping street with most shops having roll-up canvas awnings, giving a little more protection from the weather when displaying fruit and vegetables or what-ever on the pavement.
It was while livings at this address my youngest sister Pauline was born on the 15 June 1943 and I can remember this clearly because I heard my mother screaming out during the birth from the upstairs window while I was playing outside. The memory of her screams forever etched in my young mind. My sister Pat also remembers this day for the same reason and she was four years younger.
The family made one more move during the war to Runcorn Road and it was while living here the war came to an end. The family had just one more move to yet another rented home at 36 Vincent Parade, Balsall Heath and this remained the family home until I left in 1953, more about that later.
No precise dates have been recorded for this move or any other for that matter and I would have been about 9 or 10 years old and attending Tindal Street Junior School. Again my memory recall is poor, what little I do have is surprising. I can recall the Headmaster, Mr Laban and just a couple of teachers; mainly Miss Scorer and Miss Shut who happened to own a little Austin 8 car with the Registration number DOC 8. Of all the things that must have taken place during my junior years at that school, I remembered that teacher’s cars number plate. Miss Scorer would be remembered as a great exponent for swinging the 12 inch wooden ruler used as a means of punishment. I’m sure she achieved about 500 hits a minute when fully pumped up, but it didn’t hurt at all. I can recall the names of a few of my junior school friends including, Leonard Mountford, Deidre Young, Ann Dainty, Audrey Rose, Ray Green and Harry Millward; so many other names have long been forgotten with the passing years. School had some musical appreciation classes which certainly gave me a liking for some light classical music which I truly enjoy to this day.
During my school days, I recall Dad and his job with the Birmingham Corporations, Moseley Road tram depot that later became a bus depot around 1949. He was the body builder/repairer with his own workshop at the back of the huge depot. I clearly recall him saying that the tools in his very large tool chest would one day be mine. I was very impressed because he said that many of the tools he had made himself while serving his apprenticeship. He was a clever man with his hands and some of this must have rubbed off onto me, because I followed in his footsteps in this regard with wood and metal work being my favourite classes during my schooldays. I might add that working with my hands has been a great source of pleasure all my life, I always took pride in what I made, and I have my dad to thank for that.
In my junior years I was somewhat shy and probably a bit of a loner to some extent. I was aware of the class distinction that existed in our society which was so prevalent back then. The financially privileged in those days certainly made their presence felt in a very pompous way, and in spite of my tender years I recall having a definite dislike for those people; they certainly made me very much aware of my family’s rather poor circumstances. But in spite of my dislike for the well-heeled, I would go for walks at dusk on my own into the well-to-do areas during the autumn/winter time. The trees along the street would be bare and many homes would have the lights on in their lounge rooms, enabling me to see the cosy interiors with a nice fire adding to the atmosphere, knowing that at my home there would be no cosy atmosphere like theirs. If there was a fire at all it would be a meagre one due to coal being both rationed and very expensive.
Leaving junior school to begin life in the rough and tumble of the senior school could be rather frightening in those times. The senior school bullies would be looking forward to the new juniors coming in, giving them an opportunity to show the new kids who was boss and then putting them through painful initiation ordeals. One was to put the new kid’s arms into the school fence bars in such a way that would allow the bullies to put awful pressure at the crook of the arm and have the individual crying out for mercy. The trouble was that if you did not stand up for yourself this sort of treatment would go on. I was copping it for a while from one particular individual until I decided I’d had enough and with one good right hand, I gave him a bloody nose and would you believe we became friends after that.
During my senior school days we had both wood and metal work classes to prepare us working class lads for the work we would inevitably be doing when our school days were over. Since Dennis Road Senior school did not have a woodwork class on the premises we had to walk to a neighbouring school some distance away for this practical lesson regardless of the weather being wet or fine.
I clearly recall on the blackboard in the wood working class two letters that remained permanently in the top left hand corner; the letters were CS. Mr Apps used to frequently tap on those letters when driving home a point and make us say, “It’s Common Sense Sir”. Little things like this I can still recall after all these years and yet so much has been forgotten.
My senior school days were void of the female variety. I think the idea of having male and females in the same class would have been considered too much of a distraction and school work would have taken a secondary role in our thoughts, so perhaps there was some sense in separating the sexes.
I can remember a few of the teachers in the senior school. There was a Mr Griffith who wore thick lens glasses that took us for history and somehow this was appropriate, because he just looked like an early ape man. The gym teacher was Mr Fryer who had very big feet and wore a size 12 shoe, so when he dished out his form of punishment on the boys he used his plimsoll shoes, more commonly known as sandshoes. He used to hold it by the sole and hit us with the heel end. Another rogue teacher was an Irishman named Joe Stokes. When he got annoyed, he would wave his fist at the class and say, “You see this fist…It’s broke a man’s jaw, so watch out!” Another teacher, who was something of a clown, was named Billy Biddle and he was famous for standing in front of the class with both hands in his pocket, doing what was commonly known amongst the lads as playing “Pocket Billiards”. In those days physical punishment was the norm and certainly would not be allowed today, but I rather think that it possibly served to keep many a wayward boy in check.
During my school days I developed some drawing skills. I liked to draw the Disney cartoons characters; I also liked sketching old historical English buildings. My school friend Ray Green was a good drawer also and shared this interest with me.
During this period I became interested in the railways, they were all around us with a double track goods line that crossed over all the streets we played in. I recall during, and shortly after the war, the trains travelling slowly, carrying American troops on this line. We used to call out “Have you got any gum chum” Chewing gum like everything else was rationed at that time, so when the “Dough boys” tossed down a few packets to us, we thought it was Christmas.
The railways of Britain at that time were in a very run down state and filthy dirty after five very demanding war years. But in spite of the grime, the atmosphere with steam locos dominated the scene. It was an irresistible environment for me and was the same for many young boys at that time. Eventually, most of us kids would become more than just collectors of engine numbers; such was the fascination of the railways. I spent many happy hours on my favourite station New Street in Birmingham and occasionally at other favourite spots that often entailed a short train journey. You could imagine what I must have looked like after spending a day hanging around the grime of a station in those days train spotting. I still have that passion for steam railways; it remained a lifelong interest.
My school days were coming to a close and looking back it would have been clear to a blind man that my education was somewhat lacking. The first five years saw World War Two raging and the following five years would have seen the country trying desperately to rebuild and repair the damage and get back to pre-war conditions. An impossible task which took many more years before that came about. So under these conditions, it is any wonder that my schooling left a great deal to be desired. But to be truthful, I wasn’t exactly a brilliant scholar anyway. Ten years at school and all I have in the way of school photos are just two tiny head and shoulder pictures taken in junior school, during all that time my family never owned a camera, and is the reason so few photos exist from those days.
During those school and early work days I had a fairly large group of a dozen or more friends, many of those friendships started at school and others came from the neighbourhoods I lived in during that time.
Many have passed away in recent years, some I lost track of long ago, but I still have one that has remained a lifelong friend, Roy Harris. Another particularly close friend committed suicide, he was 44 and apparently a bad marriage and being unemployed was responsible.
Jimmy Burgess was another one of my pals unlucky enough to lose his life while doing his two years National Service overseas; he would have been 19 when he died in 1955. Jimmy’s folks managed
the Gentlemen’s Billiard Club adjacent to the bombed site we played on. Christmas was not far off and I recall his mother asking out of the blue; “What would you like for Christmas Kenny?” This was a big surprise for me; no one had ever asked me that before. You would assume that I would automatically ask for a toy of some kind, but I didn’t, I said that I would like a Christmas tree, which surprised her.
I think the tree was the one item that would make our home look a lot more like Christmas and being able to decorate it with our own home-made decorations. So, I took home a real Christmas tree, thanks to Mrs Burgess.
As youngsters we got into our fair share of troubles, but nothing like the amount of vandalism and theft seen today. During and after the war we had very special bonfires on Guy Fawkes Night. Bombed buildings were everywhere and were dangerous places, but they supplied us with wood for our bonfires, and when we could no longer collect it off the ground, we would start pulling down what remained of the buildings that were still standing for the heavy flooring timber for our bonfires.
It was how things were and if that was not dangerous enough we were still finding unexploded bombs and incendiaries after each visit by the Luftwaffe. In spite of all this we spent many happy hours playing on our local bombed buildings.
The beginning of my working like.
It was December 1950 when my school days came to an end. I was fifteen and about to start my working life and the preparation I had for this day was zero. There simply wasn’t any vocational guidance at that time, so most of us had no choice but to find jobs for ourselves.
My Dad knew the benefits of having a trade, but at no time did he ever sit down and talk with me about my future. This is hard to believe, but perhaps he had his own problems that I did not understand at that time. He did however go with me for my first interview for a sign writing job, but there was no one in the office to interview me. From then on any job I did get was due to my own efforts. My working days in the UK amounted to less than 3 years and I had three jobs in that period. Not exactly what you might call a stable period in my life. The first job was at Horrell & Bowman, just walking distance from home; working as a fire grate fixers mate. It only lasted about 3 months. I then moved on to Taylor & Challen, a large engineering firm located near the city centre that made industrial presses up to 200 ton capacity and rolling mills that were used for pressing and stamping metal. I worked there for two years as a trainee bench fitter. It was skilled work which I enjoyed doing, because I was working with my hands helping to make the machinery that rolled out the metal strips that would be fed into a press to stamp out coins. I eventually left that job and ended up at Hallam, Sleigh & Chesterton, manufacturers of car body components and remained with them until I left for Australia. My working life so far was not going well with three jobs in as many years and not happy with my final job which may have been part of the reason for ultimately applying to go to Australia.
During this working period of my life I spent much of my spare time with my mates, although the days of playing on our local bombed building site had come to an end, we still used it as a meeting place and often decided what we might do together that day. Many of the lads used to go dancing on a Saturday night, but I was not into dancing. It was during this time that I met my first girlfriend, Rita. She was part of an all female family with her grandmother, mother and two younger sisters. I spent a lot of time at Rita’s house; it was a second home for me as I was made so welcome, so much so I used to call Rita’s mother “Mum”.
Our friendship came to an end and the reason why soon becomes clear.
The start of my working life put money into my pocket for the first time and I was able to afford to go to the pictures etc. It certainly was a simple lifestyle with never enough money for anything other than the basics. This was the environment I was bought up in; it was the norm for us all. We never considered ourselves as being deprived, simply because what we never had, we did not miss and we were all in the same boat.
It was most definitely a make do and mend time.
Australia is on the horizon I met an old school friend Harry Millward (later to become my brother-in-law) late one night on the way home in February of 1953. During this meeting Harry informed me of his intention to migrate to Australia. He had his interview and medical some time earlier and was simply waiting for his sailing date to arrive from Australia House in London. He went on to say that none of his mates were interested in joining him, but asked if I would be. I said that I had not thought about going anywhere and I simply forgot about it.
But, that wasn’t going to be the end of it, because about a fortnight later we bumped into each other again. This time he had been notified of his sailing date and was due to sail in April 1953 with the Big Brother Movement.
Before we parted company that night, I promised I would write to Australia House and see what happens. There was always a chance that I may fail the medical or something else may prevent me from going and with those thoughts, I suppose I was not really taking this idea seriously: on the other hand if I did get the green light, what the heck, I’d see a little of the world and I could return after two years.
You are probably wondering how young boys (15 to 17) were migrating to Australia, thousands of miles away without their families. The idea of young boys leaving home on their own without the benefit of parental control was almost unheard of then. Back in the mid 20’s the Big Brother Movement was set up to bring out young boys to Australia with parental consent to work on farms. The boys came out to a one on one Big Brother who they could go to for help or guidance. Much later, we were given the name and address of a Big Brother in our district for help when needed.
The Governments of both Britain and Australia with the White Australia Policy still in force at that time were making sure that Australia essentially remained predominantly British and the Big Brother Movement was playing its part in all this and was responsible for bringing out 8000 lads between 1925 and 1983.
I did write to Australia House and got the ball rolling, starting with a medical and dental check. During this time, Harry finally sailed with a group of about 40 boys from all over the British Isles on board the Orient Lines, 20,000 ton ship, the “Otranto”. She had been a troop carrier during the war and then converted for carrying migrants after the war.
Now it was a waiting game, firstly to see if I had been accepted, then finally the sailing date.
Somehow, I thought that I would not be going anywhere and that may have been wishful thinking.
I would at times look quietly at my mates and the thought of not seeing them again was awful; the same thoughts I had with my own family and the girl I was still keeping company with. So, what the hell was I thinking about? “Am I going to Australia or not?” All these thoughts of uncertainty were on my mind.
I had not thought how my going away would affect my own family if it all came to fruition. I had not spared a moment to think what it might do to Mom with me being the only son; such was the mindless thinking of a 17 year old teenager.
Dad did not say much at all during this period which could be misconstrued as not caring, or perhaps he was not capable of showing it. He spent very little time with me or my sisters, because of this I never really got to know my Dad; perhaps he being an older father and his war experiences may have had something to do with this. He was in his forties when I was born and close to 50 when Pauline was born.
In spite of this, I did love my Dad, but sadly nothing ever changed between us right up to the time I left and being underage, I never even had a beer with my dad in his local pub, which was the thing to do in those days. At that time we were not considered adults until we turned 21 and not allowed to drink in licensed premises until we turned 18, we could also die for our country at age 18.
The day the letter arrived from Australia House with the sailing date was reality day. This letter spelt it out for the first time fully to both me and my family that I really was going to leave home and I would not be back for at least two years. The tears in Mom’s eyes said it all and I now felt a little apprehensive.
The letter stated that I would be sailing on the “Otranto” from Tilbury Docks on the 10th August 1953.
While I cannot recall what time I had to prepare, it could not have been more than 3 or 4 weeks.
It was going to be a busy time and I would have to work right up to the last minute, because I needed every penny. Wages were poor and saving for anything was difficult, I did not even own a camera and I wanted to take photos of the family and friends before I left. I did manage to buy a second hand box camera and took a few photos of the people who were important to me; unfortunately the camera proved to be faulty allowing some light to enter that ruined many of the films taken and no time left to take more.
This journey I was about to embark on taking me to the other side of the world did not require a passport. This was a one-way trip and only a document of identity was necessary, which was supposed to be handed over on completion of my journey. I still have it today simply because no one asked me for it.
By now my days in the place I knew so intimately were well and truly numbered. I was trying to take in fully all that I was looking at, hoping to be able to remember it all. I will always cherish the memories of those days of my youth.
The time for goodbyes had arrived. I rode my bike 35 miles to Bridgnorth a country town in Shropshire, where my father’s family lived, that held so many happy memories for me with many aunts, uncles and cousins that I wished to say goodbye to. I also said goodbye to my workmates, then it was finally goodbyes to all of my friends. A sad time for me knowing that I would be alone on this journey.
My memory started going into overdrive thinking of the years of happy childhood and early teen years with many friendships going back to junior school days. Hours spent on our bombed building sites, playgrounds that the Germans made for us during bombing raids. If any of us found ourselves at loose ends with nothing to do – we simply went to our bombed building site and the chances would be that one or more of our mates would be there.
The gang huts we built as little kids made from the debris that came from the bombed buildings; the timber that came from damaged buildings for our bonfires we had on Guy Fawkes Night. The scrumping of fruit from trees in peoples back gardens. The bike rides into the country, singing as we travelled along. Going to the pictures on a Sunday afternoon. The one interest I did pursue alone was train spotting and I cannot recall how I became interested in all things railway, especially the steam locos of the day, because none of the other lads took any interest in railways at all.
So this then was the beginning of the end of my childhood and early teen years; I was about to embark on a new life that would take me away from all that I have known for at least two years.
My family, friends, the only place I had known from day one; the streets of our suburbs of Birmingham that I had lived in. My 10 school years so full of friendships and so many other happenings both joyful and sad that no doubt helped to make me what I am today were going to be left behind.
The very idea of a 17 year old leaving home alone, leaving behind Mom, Dad and two younger sisters was rare in our corner of the world, but it was about to happen and it would most certainly be a very sad and emotional day for us all. My suit case was packed with what few possessions I had and just 10 pounds in my pocket that was the sum total of my worth and about to embark on a 12,000 mile journey to Sydney Australia with no real idea of what lay ahead.
Most of my friends were positive about my leaving and wished me well, but one close friend was rather upset with the idea of me going away and said so. I’m happy to say we are still great mates and it is interesting to note that we are the only survivors, all our other old friends are no longer with us.
On many occasions over the years I have been asked, how did I managed to pluck up enough courage to leave my family at that age, there was only one answer I could give. I knew that the commitment was for two years, but after that period if I so desired and had my fare saved I would be able to return home.
So, seeing it simply as a two year stint enabled me to see it as an adventure at that time, it never occurred to me that I may have had a real problem saving the fare to return, but as you will soon see the return fare was not required.
Departure day finally arrived; a day we all knew would come, but had not talked about to any appreciable degree, possibly because the whole idea of my leaving was a little too painful for us all.
Harry’s brother Bill took us all in his little van to New Street Station, the very station with all its soot and grime that I had spent so many happy hours train spotting over the past six years, departing from this station was the beginning of what I have always regarded as the unhappiest journey of my life.
I had said to the family some time earlier that I did not want them to come down to Tilbury Docks to say goodbye, I’d rather say goodbye at New St. Station in Brum, our nick- name for Birmingham.
Having tearfully hugged and kissed Mom, Dad, Pat and Pauline and shook hands with Bill, I boarded the train and watched a sad small group standing on the platform slowly disappear in the smoky distance. Little did I know at that time in saying goodbye to my family that I would be saying goodbye to my dad for the last time and the remainder of my family for 23 long years. Dad passed away in March 1961.
A journey by train under normal circumstances would have been heaven – looking out for locos and generally enjoying the journey, but this trip however was very different.
There would be no such happiness on this one; I sobbed the whole journey through, I chose not to sit in a compartment, instead I sat on my suitcase in the corridor all the way to London and it wasn’t until I finally met up with the other little brothers that I was able set aside my sadness for a while.
The 10th August 1953 is a date that is indelibly etched in my memory forever.
Having got to Tilbury, RMS “Otranto” was in Tilbury docks London waiting for its passengers, including 23 little brothers; all about to meet each other on board for the first time. We were also about to meet the Melbourne school teacher, Mr Gordon Jones who had been working in England with the school teacher exchange program and was returning to Aussie, he had volunteered to chaperon us 23 lads to the land down under. I think it was possibly a decision he was sorry he made long before the journey’s end.
It was early afternoon (1.30pm) when the “Otranto” finally dropped her mooring ropes and slowly left the dock at Tilbury. I recall clearly standing on an upper deck alone and watched has the dock buildings receded into the distance, you can imagine what sort of things were going through my mind. I could not help but wonder when I would see my homeland again, my family and friends. What lies ahead of me? Is this a mistake that I shall regret? My thoughts were 100% negative and I was feeling vulnerable, because I was aware that for the first time in my life I was without family and friends. I really did feel very much alone, I think it took me a while to come out of my shell, to start taking note of what was going on around me.
That first night I recall how steady the boat felt, not even a slight list or pitching of any kind, it stayed that way even after I had gone down to my cabin and fell asleep, but when I woke up the following morning the ship was definitely pitching slightly which made me think that I may end up being sea-sick, but that would eventually prove not to be a problem for me. Even a rough passage through the Great Australian Bight was okay.
A few days passed and I was getting to know my fellow Little Brothers who by this time were also getting to know some of the other passengers, in particular three rather attractive sisters.
Believe it or not I was a little shy in my early teen years and a little apprehensive when it came to meeting a girl for the first time. I recall saying to Ted Harris who was rather friendly with one of the sisters that I wouldn’t mind a dance with her elder sister. Without waiting for further explanation, Ted went over to the older sister and said to her, “that the guy over there wants to dance with you”, and apparently he was told “that if he wants to dance with me, he can ask me himself” so I did. That is how my friendship began with the girl who would ultimately be my wife and partner for life.
So began our life together aboard the Otranto which would be my home for the next 34 days. The Otranto was one of several ships to be built replacing many ships that had been sunk during the First World War. She was a 20,000 ton liner built in 1925 travelling between England and Australia, also serving as a cruise ship travelling to Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. During the Second World War she was converted to a troop carrier and finally being converted to a one class migrant ship to bring emigrants like me to Australia. After 32 years service she ended up in the breakers yard in 1957.
My four berth cabin had no porthole, I cannot recall if we were below the water line or perhaps in a cabin away from the hull of the ship, but I do recall this ship groaning all night long and could also feel the rumble of the engines. I think they called this steerage, equal to third class and the cabins usually
situated aft, close to the massive propeller shafts. However, it did not detract from what was a great experience; it can’t be that bad when you are woken up each morning with a cup of tea and a biscuit by your cabin steward.
The average day on board was a mixture of playing games like table tennis or quoits, and looking forward to the next meal. In the evenings there was always a dance on somewhere, or having a drink with friends in the “Pig & Whistle” others would enjoy being on deck enjoying a sing along with someone playing a guitar.
The other twenty two Little Brothers were making friends amongst themselves and with other passengers. Ted was keeping company with Audrey’s sister Betty and Shirley the youngest of the three sisters was friendly with Ron Bland another Little Brother.
Much of the journey was very hot especially when crossing the equator, during this period we slept on deck at the stern of the ship. This was a very happy time for me, because I spent a lot of time getting to know Audrey. We chatted often into the wee small hours of the morning talking about anything and everything. I cannot recall all we talked about, but I could imagine telling Audrey about my hopes and aspirations. All this waffling on coming from a 17 old that had just left home, had no idea what might be ahead, but for the time being I was happy, enjoying Audrey’s company.
I recall at this time being very much aware of the age difference between us, I knew that Audrey was 21 and I was not quite 18, so I tried hard to keep my juvenile status to myself fearing that she would quickly lose interest in me if she found out and I did not want that to happen.
She looked absolutely lovely, so slim weighing little more than eight stone, about 51 kilo’s. Most of the time she wore light feminine blouses and white shorts; she sure had me hooked.
I recall so many days on board with nothing but the ocean to look at, in those idle moments my mind would go back to all those I had left behind, the things that I used to do and wondered if I would ever get back to see them again. It was always my intention to return; I don’t think I could have left in the first place without that in mind. But in the meantime I had a lovely distraction from those thoughts of home.
My diary reminded me that we called into Gibraltar first, then onto Naples, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne and finally Sydney. Our journey was a total of 12,508 miles beginning at Tilbury, London on the 10th Aug 1953, arriving at Sydney on the 14th September, 1953.
I mentioned earlier that my diary entries were brief and I do not want to go into too much detail of my time on board, however meeting up with Audrey was without any doubt the best part of that voyage.
It was 12.30pm Sunday 6th September when we finally docked at Fremantle, Audrey’s home port and our first sighting of Australia. I would have liked to have spent the day with Audrey seeing Fremantle with her, but unfortunately our brief stay in port had all been organised by the Victoria League of WA, starting with a coach trip to Perth. Our first stop was at Perth Zoo, then onto Kings Park. This was a beautiful introduction to Australia as it is for most people seeing it for the first time. At that time it was a very different skyline to what it is today. No Narrows Bridge for a start, I think the tallest building then would have been no more than 10 or 12 storeys high. Kings Park War Memorial was just being completed at that time. We visited the University of Western Australia and saw some of the local beaches as we travelled along in the coach. Finally, we drove into a large garden with a lovely old world single story home owned by the President of the Victoria league of WA. All 23 little brothers tumbled out of the coach, onto a large front veranda with tables filled with beautiful Aussie food.
I mentioned earlier that it was early September. I recall the people who were showing us around had warm coats on in contrast to us Brits taking off our jackets, because we regarded it as being a bit hot. I suppose this was a taste of things to come, knowing that we would have to go through a period of acclimatisation in a land we knew was going to be much warmer than England. Much of the minor details of these times have gone from my memory, but if I sound rather positive with these dates etc. it’s because it was information that I jotted down in my diary that I still have; one of the benefits of being a hoarder. I still have letters from old mates going back to 1954.
We finally returned back to the “Otranto” to find the girls with their family waiting on board. We were introduced to them and we must have talked until about 9.30 when an announcement was made asking all who were not sailing to leave the ship. We said our goodbye’s shouting over the ships rails down to all standing on the quay and finally the “Otranto” sailed at 10pm.
We woke the next morning to the ship ploughing through a terrific swell that ended up being a right old storm. Furniture was being tossed about; the decks were lashed with ropes to keep us away from the rails. No hot meals of course, even the cold meals ended up all over the place. The Great Australian Bight was living up to its reputation. With nothing better to do, I had an early night for a change.
The next morning was not much better, wet and cold; I spent most of the day in the cabin writing letters and later I went to the “Pig & Whistle” and joined in the sing-a-long with a drink and went to bed early.
We arrived at Port Adelaide on Thursday 10th September at about 11am; the Victoria League again picked us up and took us by train from Port Adelaide to Adelaide City.
It was overcast with intermittent rain during our visit which is why we spent most of our time seeing the sights of Adelaide from the coach. We saw briefly the University of Adelaide, St. Peters Cathedral and amongst other sights we saw the statue of Col. William Light, Adelaide’s founder and Surveyor who was responsible for Adelaide being a lovely open and well planned city.
The “Otranto” sailed at 6.45pm. I slept well that night, because I did not wake up in time for breakfast and had to wait until dinner for my next meal; I must have been very hungry to record this in my diary.
We docked at Melbourne 7.30 am. Once again, we were taken by coach to see the sights of Melbourne. We had lunch in the YMCA Hostel, courtesy of the Victoria League. The ship sailed at 5pm leaving several late passengers standing on the dockside.
Sunday 13th September 1953 was our final day aboard the “Otranto” with all of us busy doing our washing, ironing and packing. A little sad really, because it has been a wonderful experience, especially being the first time aboard a large ship, meeting up with all the other Little Brothers and having a great time sleeping on the deck on hot nights and above all else, the place where I met a very special girl that I hoped I would meet again one day.
We docked in Sydney at 1pm, said goodbye to our chaperon Gordon Jones and boarded a coach to take us to be examined by a doctor. We all had chest x-rays at a hospital close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, our first close up look at this magnificent structure. With our health checks done it was back to the coach and headed out for the Big Brother Movements War Memorial Training farm Calmsley Hill at Bossley Park near Liverpool on the outskirts of Sydney. We arrived at the farm about 2.30 in the afternoon and were informed that we would be doing some work before tea and to get into our working clothes. We all thought this was a bit rugged, but for some unknown reason we never did do any work that day.
My time at the training farm was just one month; the amount of training we got did little to prepare us for work on any farm. I never rode a horse, or drove a tractor, or even milked a cow.
I do recall being concerned about my money not lasting long enough to keep me in tobacco, (being a smoker back then) because we had no wages while at the training farm. Clearly, I needed to start work so that I had money for my needs.
The lads after a while were starting to wonder about what farms they would be sent to, there were so many unanswered questions such as, How far away will my job be? What sort of farm will it be? sheep, cattle, wheat or possibly a dairy? How much will I get paid? Our futures are completely unknown, being young and a long way from home was it any wonder that we were all concerned.
The day finally came when I was told that I would be going to a small mixed farm 14 miles from Young in central NSW, leaving on Friday 16th Oct. I would have forgotten this date, but my diary once again had this info in it. I do not recall saying goodbye to any of the boys specifically other than Ted, but I must have done and I knew that Ted was keeping in touch with Audrey’s sister Betty; I was doing the same with Audrey. We both hoped that perhaps one day we would meet again. The 22 other little brothers that I came to Australia with would eventually go to their allotted farms and with few exceptions would not see each other again.
My first job on a farm near Young, NSW
Friday the 16th arrived; I had my case packed, was given a train ticket, taken to Sydney’s Central station to catch my train to Young, a distance of roughly 220 miles or 360 kilometres, it took about 5 hours in a steam hauled train to get there. This was the only time I had been totally alone since leaving my family on New Street Station in Birmingham and the unhappy train journey down to London. On the “Otranto” I had the company of 22 boys for the duration of the voyage and a further month with them all on the Training Farm.
I travelled on a local train to Sydney’s Central Station, changing for a steam hauled train to Young.
I recall being met by a very pregnant farmer’s wife in a large dark blue 1948 V8 Ford sedan. The distance from the town centre to the property was about 15 miles (24 kilometres), it was a gravel road all the way with the lady traveling at what I thought was too fast a speed on such a road, but I soon learned that this is normal for outback Australia with generally long distances to travel, country people tend to be rather heavy footed.
We finally drove into the property’s driveway; I am seeing for the first time my new place of work and home for who knows how long. I notice the farmstead is surrounded by a picket fence with trees, shrubs and gardens within its boundary making it look very homely. By contrast the wide open area surrounding the farmstead had few trees with the paddocks all looking rather dry.
Having had a quick look at the homestead and its surroundings I could not help wondering where my room would be. The house did not seem large enough, having been told on the drive here that Mrs Roles was expecting her eighth child.
I soon find out that my room was not in the house at all. It was a corrugated iron clad hut in the paddock a hundred yards or so from the main house. When I opened the door and stepped inside my first thought was, “What have I done? Is this what I have travelled half way round the world for?” I had very little back home, but this was awful. I was now feeling very despondent with the prospect of having to live here for God knows how long. I was looking at a single metal framed bed in one corner, a small wardrobe and table, a galvanised tin bath with a showerhead above it, not a very inviting room at all.
The floor was concrete and the timber frame was undressed timber posts with a single bare light globe hanging from the ceiling, there was water in the shed, but no means of heating it. After the initial shock of seeing this miserable room I got changed into my work clothes to help with the dairy before the evening meal.
I was not in a good mood at all after what I had seen and I was feeling very resentful having to work that very day. The afternoon’s milking was waiting to be done and that meant lighting a boiler that was a wood burner for sterilizing all the gear ready for milking possibly 50 cows. The milk had to go through a separator to be turned into cream. Once the cows had been milked and the milk put through the separator, we were left with the cleaning up of the dairy which included a fair amount of manure which tends to get very sloppy in and around the milking shed. Only when everything was squeaky clean using plenty of hot water from that boiler, hosing down the shed and yards could we start thinking about the evening meal.
This then was to become a twice daily ritual for the remainder of my working time here and that included Christmas day.
I cannot recall how that first meal was with the family, but I must have felt somehow isolated and even unwanted and not looking forward to sleeping in the tin shed out in the paddock. That first night was a real worry for me, because the door of the shed had a 3 inch gap under it and having been told about all the deadly snakes and spiders in Australia, I laid awake half the night watching that bloody door. I finally fell asleep only to be awakened in the dead of night with a strange scraping sound going on against the walls of the shed. The shed was shaking and I was just about demented wondering what was going on, I wasn’t game to go outside to find out. I was later told it was most likely the horse rubbing it’s rump on the corrugated walls. Not a very auspicious beginning for this city boy on the farm, that’s for sure.
“Clear View’ was the name of this small mixed farm of about 300 acres. I say mixed, because John Roles, the owner, apart from the dairy also bred pigs that enjoyed the whey that remains after the milk has been separated into cream. One of the obvious benefits of running a dairy there is always lots of milk and cream at the meal table.
He also had a huge amount of free-range chickens and sheep that meant lamb was often on the menu. I recall the shock of seeing my first lamb being hung up by its hind legs from a tree that had no doubt seen many sheep hanging from it, then watching John swiftly cut the animal’s throat which he must have done hundreds of times before and in no time it was cut up ready for the family’s need. This was a very rude awakening for someone who had only known a city way of life.
The 1500 acre property next door belonged to Mrs Role’s parents and we often worked over there dipping the sheep etc.
John Roles also farmed about 2000 acres from a Colonel Anderson VC. I was there to coincide with harvesting the wheat crop unfortunately; I say that because I had just turned 18, had done no real heavy lifting at all. Those bags of wheat weighed 180 pound each (30 pounds heavier than I was) it took all my strength to lift those bags.
After completing the morning dairy job, we would have breakfast, then drive a few miles down the Moppity road in the old Ford truck to harvest the wheat. The boss would do a run around the paddock on the harvester, he would then discharge the load of wheat into several wheat bags that I held, before he took off leaving me to sew up those bags before he came back with the next load. This is where I learned to loathe flies having to suffer them crawling around my eyes nose and any other orifice I foolishly left open.
Late afternoon the boss would call it quits, and then we had to load these heavy wheat bags onto the back of his old Ford truck, take them back to his farm, stack them in the barn. But that was not the end of the day’s work, because that dairy was waiting for us, which would take another couple of hours or so before we could sit down and have tea. Clearly, I was having trouble settling into life on the farm, but it was early days and everything was still new to me.
By the time we had the dairy finished, the milk separated into cream and everything cleaned ready for the next morning, it would be around 6 or 6.30 and I would make my way back to my corrugated tin hut in the paddock and have a clean-up before heading over to the house for dinner.
I worked at this farm for about six months, sat at their table, had my meals with eight members of the Roles family every day and yet have retained few memories of this period. I never felt accepted by the family simply because they never really invited me into it. My corrugated iron clad bedroom away from the homestead only reinforced my feeling of being an outsider.
I do recall one rare instance – being all dressed up ready for going to the movies after tea with John, his wife and their eldest daughter who would have been about my age. Everyone was sitting at the table about to eat their evening meal and I was trying to open a new bottle of sauce with a tight cap that I could not open. I decided to turn the bottle upside down and give the bottle a hefty thump, but unbeknown to me there was a crack around the bottles neck and it broke completely when I hit it. I ended up with the sauce in my lap which the kids thought hilarious, however I managed to get my trousers cleaned and dried ready for going out.
After tea we all got aboard the V8 Ford, their eldest daughter with me in the back. During this run into town that night I realised for the first time that she was interested in me, because her hand found mine in the dark and she held it quite firmly preventing me from taking it away. At this point I thought that if I played my cards right I might marry the farmer’s daughter and inherit the farm. I’m joking of course, it would never happen, what with seven kids in the family and another on the way, I’d have Buckley’s chance of inheriting anything.
One day a letter arrived from Audrey saying that she and Betty had decided to come to Sydney and would be staying with their aunt and uncle. This was fantastic news; it now looked as if we may now be able to renew our friendship. I could not be happier, but I would have to give my notice, something I would not enjoy doing. However, a few days later the boss and I exchanged a few words that I thought was not justified, but it gave me the excuse to tell him that I was leaving.
Thinking back to that time, working about sixty five hours a week, being paid 15 pounds a month, I repeat a “month” that really was cheap labour. So is it any wonder that farmers like John Roles used the Big Brother Movement for cheap farm hands, no sooner had a Little Brother left; they would no doubt apply for another.
Back to the City
My time as a farm hand at “Clear View” was coming to an end; this city boy that had temporarily turned country bumpkin for just six months was heading back to the city to meet up with the girl that he had fallen in love with on the “Otranto”. I was taken to the Young railway station happy knowing I would be seeing Audrey again in Sydney.
I did not have a clue as to where I might end up. For a start, I was without a job, had very little money and was not sure of where I was going to live. I had not yet met my distant relations who lived in Sydney’s Western suburbs. It was their home that I decided to head for, they had no idea that I was about to knock on their door. Heaven knows what they must have thought when they first saw me, a strange teenager with a suitcase on their doorstep.
However, I need not have worried; I must have explained my predicament well and got a sympathetic hearing, because even though they only had a two bedroom home, I was offered the back veranda as a temporary bedroom. It was a typical enclosed veranda of the time with louvered windows overlooking the back garden; this was to be my home for the next nine months or so. I now had a home at 64 Mons Street, Lidcombe and a sympathetic family to help me. John & May Hinton, John was descended from a Mary Ann Ashwood who came to Australia from Bridgnorth UK in the 1850’s. She was the first Ashwood to arrive in Australia.
The next most important requirement was to get a job to pay for my board and lodgings.
My first job was at the Commonwealth Aircraft company in Lidcombe dismantling Rolls Royce Merlin engines. I was now gainfully employed with a roof over my head and the reason for coming to Sydney in the first place was also here. I am referring to that delightful creature that I had fallen for on the boat. The future was beginning to look great, what more could I ask for at this moment.
John & May (Hinton) were proving to be a nice caring couple along with their young son Wayne who would have been about 4 years old. John was a Railway Man, an ex steam train driver and with my railway interest we had a lot in common to talk about. John also had a broad general knowledge and so we enjoyed many a long chat after tea. May was a very good cook, so sitting down for our meals was always an enjoyable experience. She was also a very proud housewife and kept their home spotless, including their son Wayne who was not allowed out very often for fear of him getting dirty. I recall the day a pile of chook manure had been tipped into the back garden and Wayne somehow got out and was sitting in the middle of this manure eating it and when his mother came out and saw what he was up to she almost had a fit.
In the meantime Audrey and her sister Betty were settling down with their aunt and uncle out on the outskirts of Sydney in Leppington. Their stay with them was little more than three weeks, because the girls got jobs at the Egg Marketing Board in Lidcombe and ended up renting a bedsitter in Strathfield.
I recall going out to Leppington for the first time and being introduced to her Uncle Joe and Aunt Bella Harding and sitting at the table having a meal, when out of the blue uncle Joe said that he had been told that I was a bit of a pickpocket and needed to be watched, he was joking of course, it was his way of trying to make me feel at ease. Shortly after he tried to make out that he had heard Audrey calling out repeatedly in her sleep for Ken, making us both a little red faced, keeping in mind that I had only just met them, but it didn’t take long to get to know the old devil and what he was capable of.
These were our courting days getting to know one another with all the ups and downs that go with a new relationship and our age difference was not helping things either. Audrey was 22 at this time; I was 19.
I was still not sure if she did in fact know my real age which no doubt would be of concern for her, because I had already told her how I felt about our friendship. I had known from the beginning that she was the girl for me and now I had to somehow prove to her that I was mature and sincere enough for her to agree to marry me.
During this time I had met up with my old schoolmate Harry from Birmingham, the one you will recall who talked me into coming to Australia. Audrey and Betty’s sister Shirley had also recently come over from the West and was now living with them in Strathfield. Shirley was introduced to Harry and they too became a couple.
These were happy times, we often went out with Betty and Ted, (who had also had left his farm job and met up with Betty) and occasionally with Harry and Shirley, going to Sydney visiting the Harbour Bridge, picnics in Nielson Park, Vaucluse, Watsons Bay; going to the Blue Mountains and the Jenolan
Caves. None of us owned cars at this time, so all our travelling was done using either the trains, buses or shanks pony. I am now obviously settling happily into my new surroundings.
Audrey and Betty had moved again and were now renting rooms with an old couple by the name of Larkin at 18 Water Street, Lidcombe which was much closer to their work; also closer to me living at 64 Mons St, Lidcombe and it remained my home in Sydney during our courting days.
During this period my old mates in the UK were dating, but none mentioned marriage at this time.
I was writing the odd letter or two telling the guys what a beaut girl I had met on the boat and how we had got together again in Sydney; enjoying our courting days and eventually informing them that we planned to get married. They replied saying how lucky I was to get such a catch and wishing us all the best for the future.
I finally got an affirmative answer from Audrey, she was now well aware of my age which was no doubt the reason that took her so long in giving me an answer, she needed time to get to know me better and be pretty sure that we suited each other before making any decision of such importance.
Our courting days continued, but parting every night was not what we wanted and the idea of getting married sooner rather than later was something we were looking into now. Being engaged was the first step in this regard and we decided to go to Sydney to buy an engagement ring from Proud’s, which we did. Audrey picked out the ring she wanted; so we became engaged without any ceremony for this occasion.
Since Audrey’s family and mine were many thousands of miles away we thought that a Registry Office wedding would be the easiest and cheapest option for us. When Audrey mentioned this to her aunt Bella, she wouldn’t hear of it. She said “You can be married in my church and have your reception at our home in Leppington” the family would enjoy doing it, making it a much nicer day for us. Such was the kindness of Audrey’s aunt Bella’s family and it certainly was a very generous gesture.
It had become clear that our wedding was going to be a whole lot nicer now with both the church and the wedding breakfast being arranged.
Audrey bought the dress she wanted from a shop in Sydney; my suit was the one I bought in the UK.
We managed to afford a photographer and so glad we did, because not only do we have a lovely record of the day, they also happen to be the best photos we have of the family at that time in spite of them being black and white. Our wedding day was lovely; everything went like clockwork thanks to Audrey’s family. The wedding at the church was really lovely and the photographer did his job and after that we got smothered in confetti before we managed to get into Bill’s car. (Bill was Audrey’s cousin’s husband). We had planned to go to a pub in Camden for a celebratory drink with Bill, giving aunt Bella and family time to get back to prepare the wedding breakfast. While in the pub talking a couple sitting nearby could see that we were obviously a couple of newlyweds, sent the waiter over with bottle of wine and wished us all the best.
It was a kind gesture that simply added to our special day.
The family that attended the wedding on my side amounted to just four people, Auntie Alice Hinton, her son John Hinton and his wife May and their only son Wayne. It was a much larger contingent on Audrey’s side and heading the Harding family was Uncle Joe and Aunt Bella, their eldest daughter Myrtle and husband Bill Stubbs, David Harding the eldest son a Batchelor, then Norman and his wife Maureen with Peter their son and finally Joan and husband Ken Stokes. Audrey’s sisters, Betty and Shirley, as Bridesmaids and last but not least was Dennis West, another Little Brother who was my best man.
It was a most enjoyable day with family and friends who lived in Sydney being able to share this day with Audrey and me.
We took a week off work for our honeymoon. Our first night was spent at the Larkins house, where the girls were living. Our honeymoon was a week in Cronulla in a small flat; it was such a happy time that passed all too quickly.
We returned to John & May’s home in Lidcombe, who had finally found a bed sitter for us. So it is down to earth once more and back to work for us both, which was fine, because we are now living happily together.
No more sitting out on park seats at night, having to go our separate ways after a few hours together and always having to walk home.
My story so far has been very slow in the making having ignored it on and off for many, many years.
Now it is January 2023, I’m doing the proof reading and corrections I should have done long ago.
This will be about as far as my story will go in detail. The remaining paragraphs will be a brief outline bringing us up to the present time.
Looking back over more than 68 years, it is easy for me to see just how the world has changed from our simple beginnings with very different values and living standards that left a great deal to be desired.
But as my story moved on with each new generation, the standards we enjoy today make those back then very Dickensian, we certainly have come a long way since those days.
My Australian adventure began with very little money, but our marriage and working together slowly allowed us to afford our first car, all I had to do now was learn to drive it.
After 8 months Audrey became pregnant and we decided to return to WA to be near her family. (The story of our overland trip has been recorded separately.) Our first son Martin was born in North Fremantle, 21/6/1956, making us very proud parents. However, I was having trouble finding work in Fremantle and the mining boom that the West has enjoyed for many years had not begun, jobs were scarce. Making a living was proving to be extremely difficult and after a year of several short term jobs, I’d had enough and we decided to return to NSW knowing that my old job was waiting for me there.
Back to NSW
With us now back in Sydney working and Audrey’s Cousin Maureen looking after Martin through the working week; we managed to save for a block of land that cost 785 pounds.( It measured 50ft wide x 250ft deep) then make a start building our first home as we could afford to buy the materials. (This too has been recorded separately) I cannot be sure how long it took to complete the first stage ready for moving in, but I think six months would be a close guess.
With all our goods and chattels now in the part house, this enabled us to finally move in ourselves, making this a rather special moment. I could not help but think about that old saying. “Be it ever so humble, there is no place like home” it was humble, because it had no interior wall or ceiling lining.
But, here is the most important aspect of this occasion, we had become the first members of the Ashwood family to own our home and not renting someone else’s property and it was all our own work with a little help from Audrey’s cousin. The satisfaction of building our own dwelling was special and incredibly satisfying.
We did not have any help at this time from our families, because my family was in the UK and Audrey’s family was in Western Australia.
We had to rely on Audrey’s cousin to mind our son Martin while we both worked. It was the only way we could meet our commitments and get ahead, but little by little we made our way forward. Five years later our second son Steven was born in Fairfield hospital on the 26th of May, 1961.
A bank loan allowed us to afford a builder to complete the house and we remained there until we decided to return once more to WA.
Having returned to Fremantle by car with the two boys, we rented a house and I did a training course with Shell. I managed two service stations over a period of 6 years. During this time our third son Gary was born on the 28th September, 1970 at Woodside Maternity hospital.
Our marriage took place back in January 1955, and our 68th anniversary was on the 22nd January 2023.
That is without a doubt a hell of a long time and so much water has gone under the bridge.
Like most marriages, it has not been a smooth ride all the way, but for sure we both would not change it for the world. My life has not been without regrets and looking back there were a few things I would have done differently or not at all, but for sure would not have changed my direction to what is so important to me in my life now and that is the family I am part of.
The Ashwood family is our greatest joy and now numbers 25 with the birth of six great grandchildren in the past four years and no doubt will continue to grow.
What is most satisfying for me is that all couples are happily married; there have been no divorces in the family. Not a bad record in these times, needless to say we are extremely proud of our wonderful family and love them all dearly.
The prime reason for writing this story was to highlight the differences in our living standards, values, thoughts etc. from my early days to today’s generation; hopefully I have achieved that.
Unfortunately, time does not allow me to write in detail covering all the years that followed on from our marriage. It took more than twenty years to write this, and I doubt very much that I will be around long enough to add a detailed ending to it. So, this then is the end of my story, which I completed writing on the 31 January 2023.
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