David Lee

Ship name / Flight number: Orcades

Arrival date: 22/01/1952

In 1951, I was about to make my first major decision in life. What could a boy do when the time came to face the real world? I was 15 years old and had passed my exams with the Royal Society of Arts and Commerce in English and Science. With the support of my headmaster, I applied for a training position in the field of nuclear science at the Atomic Research Centre in Harwell, England. Upon leaving school, my paper and grocery delivery runs kept me in pocket money until I received my first setback: there were no vacancies available at Harwell.

I was momentarily void of direction and career until my father suggested looking at a future in a country called Australia, which was on the other side of the world. A few trips to Australia House in London hooked me, and eventually, I was provided with a train trip from Saint Pancras to Tilbury and passage on the S.S. Orcades on December 19th for Australia, along with 38 other Little Brothers.

Following in the footsteps of those before us, our group of young lads was entertained in the Australian ports by the Victoria League. Their hospitality in welcoming us to our new country was appreciated by all the boys in the midsummer heat of the western state. We arrived in Sydney on January 21st and were welcomed by Frank Mansell and his party from the BBM. We were subsequently divided into two groups, some going to the hostel at Homebush and my group to the War Memorial Training Farm at Bossley Park. All of us settled in quite well under the management of Mr. Bob Girvan, Mrs. Girvan, and their son Sandy.

I remember the midsummer heat and how one lad from Scotland got badly sunburned, with huge watery blisters hanging from his back a few days later, which resulted in a stay in the hospital. Another incident involved the cook, who accidentally shot himself in the foot while rabbit hunting. As a result, I became an assistant kitchen hand to Mrs. Girvan during a visit by the Governor of the state of WA, BBM officials, and the remaining boys of our group.

I was eventually sent to the Riverina district, to Berrigan, on a sheep and wheat station, where I expected a tough introduction to Australian farming procedures. I worked with the crops most of the time, tended the sheep, milked cows, and took care of farmyard poultry. Another requirement was to regulate the irrigation system at all hours of the day. After a few months, I found myself in trouble due to being overtired, as I was virtually running the farm on my own while the farmer’s three sons attended boarding school in Melbourne. On weekends, they constantly hassled me while I continued working, without offering any help. I was housed in a tin shed across from the family home, had my meals on my own, and if I overslept, I was awakened with a brick thrown at the tin shack. District farmers knew of me and noticed that I was rarely in the local town. Word got around, and a neighboring farmer soon reported my treatment to welfare authorities. I was taken away from the property, and the owner was banned from employing any further boys from the BBM.

My second farming position was on a dairy farm at Maldon near Picton, but this was short-lived due to differences of opinion with the family running the property. Three months was enough, and I was city-bound again. Later, I visited the owners, who had been very good to me, only to find that they had run into trouble with the migrant family running the property and had sacked them.

I settled down to a near-normal life in the city, trying several jobs before I was called up for national service. I became a gun layer and enjoyed the experience and camaraderie of army life. After leaving my army career, I studied welding and engineering at a technical school and eventually decided on a career in aviation. I obtained a position with Qantas Airways, during which I progressed from working on aircraft engines to becoming a tooling supervisor over a period of some 32 years.

I married my wife Heather in 1960, and we had three children: Ann, Mark, and Janet. My daughter Ann has now married, and we have two grandchildren, Joshua and Dion. During my 44 years in Australia, I became a good sportsman, racing as a cyclist for 16 years with the St George and Sutherland clubs. I later switched sports, taking up marathon running and mountain trekking. I spent a lot of time in Nepal and China during the winter in search of the giant pandas. Another keen interest I followed was the study of volcanology and seismology, visiting many volcano observatories in Hawaii and Indonesia. Besides field studies on live volcanoes such as Kīlauea in Hawaii and Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait, I formed the Qantas Staff Adventure Club, and Qantas employees enjoyed some interesting adventures with me in various parts of the world.

Since my retirement, I have been involved with several aircraft projects, two of the major ones being the restoration of two Lockheed aircraft. The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society’s Super Constellation was rescued from the Arizona desert in America, and I spent part of two years involved in its restoration. The other aircraft is a Lockheed Neptune bomber from the Royal Australian Air Force. Both aircraft are now in Australia and can be seen at various air shows. Originally, my family was to follow me out to Australia, but changes such as my sisters getting married in England, my mother having two more sons, and my father being unable to satisfy medical requirements soon ended all hopes of our family being united in this country. I have been able to visit them now and then back home, and I guess I will always have dual citizenship.









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