Archive for the ‘Suez Canal’ Category

The Leaving of England

May 1, 2012

The Leaving of England. 1965

By Mrs Wendy Carew (nee Parker)


Wendy, originally an East Leeds girl from the Charltons, relates to us her great, if heart rending story of being plucked, somewhat against her will, and transported with her two small children from a successful business in Kirkstall to a new life in Australia.

In the 1960’s Tired of trying to make ends meet I decided to run my own little business from home and to do that I needed a larger house and a contract to boardLeedsUniversitygirls.

My father had died suddenly, my mother remarried, and I was living miles away from the district I knew from childhood. Bored, and wanting more from life I started to look at expanding my horizons.

I had a husband (from the West coast ofIreland), two little children and a yearning ambition to have plenty of money and my own career.

 I managed to persuade my “better half” to consider buying an old, but very well maintained, three-storey house onVesper Road, Kirkstall nr the Abbey.

This house had its own name carved on the stone columns at the entrance of the driveway, it was called ‘Hazelwood. . ‘So what’ you would say in today’s world but in the early 60’s this was a huge achievement, a huge step up from my childhood in Charlton Road and Rookwood Avenue.

I had done my research and with university girls as boarders I could afford to pay off the mortgage on this grand home and have the house empty for us during the holidays. I have always loved old buildings, romantic stories from the past, visiting stately homes. In this house I could be living the dream.

I was very persuasive (great sex always did it in those days) and my house was bought and ready for business.


The ground floor consisted of large rooms with high ceilings, bow windows and bell pushes, to summon the servants.

These bells were meant to tinkle away in the kitchen but the only time I answered a bell when it was someone at the front door.

The kitchen was where I cooked on an old magnificent black leaded stove which we fed with wood and coal finely judging the temperature needed to bake, cook, dry wet clothes and heat the water piped to taps and bulky central heating radiators which my husband had placed in every room.

On cold nights I would sit in front of this stove knitting new socks on four needles and darning old ones that had worn through. I also knitted pullovers, cardigans, beanies, gloves and winter bonnets for my children and string vests  (these were in vogue at the time) for my husband. The bread dough had been mixed and was in place by the fire to gently rise throughout the night so I could re- kneed and bake it into the large loaves I needed for each day. This was the room of exotic aromas. Eggs and bacon at breakfast time, roasts andYorkshirepuddings with thick onion gravy at weekends, suet puddings and fruit pies, custard and fruitcakes. Clothes steaming dry and the smell of bleach as I scrubbed and bleached the large kitchen white- wood table standing in the middle of the room.

Off the kitchen was my walk-in pantry with a ten-foot long marble waist high shelf. It was very cold in there all year long and when we went blackberry picking along the country hedgerows I made and stored my jams and preserves in this cool interior.

I always cooked a goose at Xmas time, just as my mother had done, and skimmed the fat into an earthenware jar to store in my pantry. At the sign of a cough or chest cold I would mix with a little Vic’s (the mentholated fumes would clear the nose) and rub into the chest knowing the victim would soon be better.

Leading on from the pantry was the laundry. A dark room with stonewalls containing a large built- in copper boiler and freestanding Iron mangle. I had an Easy-Twin top loading washing machine my husband bought in 1962 but whether it spun dry I cannot remember. I have the ‘Hire Purchase’ papers that tell me the full cash price was 80pounds. 80pounds in 1962 was a huge amount of money and not many of us could pay cash. We bought it on ‘Hire Purchase” meaning 16 pound deposit and 36 monthly payments of two pounds, five shillings and three pence. The whole cost at the end of thirty-six months was ninety-seven pounds and nine shillings.

I think the average wage for men at that time was Fifteen to Twenty pounds a week.

My Working Week.

When the weather was bad important items were place on wooden rods, which were on a pulley high over the fireplace in the kitchen (clothes-airier) or a fireguard close to the fire during a night. I can still conjure up the warm toasty feeling of undergarments first thing on a snowy morning, as I would place them up to my cheek to check if they were dry enough for my children to put on.

When the weather was bad important items were place on wooden rods, which were on a pulley high over the fireplace in the kitchen (clothes airer) or a fireguard close to the fire during a night. I can still conjure up the warm toasty feeling of undergarments first thing on a snowy morning, as I would place them up to my cheek to check if they were dry enough for my children to put on.

Sheets, pillowcases, shirts, handkerchiefs, everything was ironed. We killed so many germs and viruses by starching and ironing everything; drip-dry clothes were just beginning to enter our world.

Fresh fish was delivered every week. A small van filled with fish and ice would arrive late in the afternoon once a week. I was one of the last on the fishmongers round.

He would be up before dawn in his hometown ofHulland would drive down to the docks waiting for the trawlers to arrive back from their fishing grounds with the daily catch. He knew what his customer wanted so he stocked his van and set off on his rounds. He called at all the villages on the way toLeeds, knocking at our back door about dusk. I knew it was fish day and would have my money and list ready.

Now that is fresh produce, fresh from Ocean to a suburban house inLeedson the same day. I didn’t realise how spoilt I was.

Let me describe the rest of the house.

There was a long hallway with a marble tiled floor stretching from kitchen to front door. A wooden carved staircase led to extra roomy bedrooms on the next floor.

There was one bathroom but it was the largest I had ever seen.

The iron bath, standing on four claw feet was huge and the centrepiece of the room. This bath, when full, would allow you the luxury of floating down to the end and back again. To me this was luxury – plus. Coming fromCharlton Roadwere the bath was in the kitchen doubling, as a counter top to prepare vegetables, this bathroom was my delight.

On the third floor were two attic rooms reached by walking up another staircase and opening a door in the ceiling. These two delightful room situated under the pitched roof had windows which looked out across the garden and surrounding rooftops.

The garden was very well established and masses of flowers automatically emerged throughout the year. It would start with crocuses pushing their way through the snow covered earth, then Jonquils followed by a carpet of daffodils and tulips forcing their way through the lawn creating a mass display declaring spring had now arrive. An apple and a cherry tree blossomed and gave fruit and rhododendrons were very generous in their colourful display. Rhubarb, blackberry’s and gooseberries grew in the bottom of the garden giving me fruit for pies and desserts.

I washed, cooked and cleaned for my husband, two little children and eightLeedsUniversitygirls. Good money was coming in and was much needed because my husband had a window cleaning business and his income depended on the English weather.

I was young and in love with my house and my life. I had all the energy of a woman in her twenty’s. I was on my way, I was carving a career, and life was sweet.

There was a downside though.  I lost friends and family, I had stepped above my station. Some visited once complaining it was too far to travel and never returned. The majority of women didn’t drive in those days and if a family had one car their budget certainly didn’t run to having the luxury of two cars. Buses were the only way to get to visit and after a while I began not to worry about the complaining and lack of phone calls.

“EE! Have you heard about our Wendy, gone to live up by t’abbey. Big house. Who does she think she is, Princess Margaret or someone! She’ll get her come-uppence one day.”

Signs of discontent.

I didn’t realise my success had became a bone of contention with my husband. I was free of his ‘housekeeping money’ as I was earning more than he was. Our income was pooled but his pride, as the man of the house, was at stake. He became more and more quiet and very sullen but I was happy keeping myself very busy washing, cooking and chatting to these young girls only a few years younger than my self.

One winters day he brought forms home for me to sign, he had decided to take us all to New Zealand. My world became fragile and I could sense it crashing down.

I refused, cried and went round to my mothers for back up. She was horrified but reminded me ‘I had made my bed and had to lie on it’ in other words my husband was boss and I had to obey. Besides, she said, he would sell the house and where would I live? Not with her! was the unspoken message.

In those days women were not allowed to have a mortgage and rental places were few and far between especially if you were a single women with children. My mother now lived in a small council house and kept saying ‘it was her turn to enjoy herself” and she definitely wouldn’t entertain small children messing it up.

As luck would have it New Zealand was out of our reach being fifty pounds a family. This was way beyond our budget and I relaxed thinking ‘well, that was the end of that’! Not to be deterred my husband arrived home with the forms for Australia.

“More within our budget” he announced, “ adults only ten pounds each, kiddies free”.  Refusing again to sign he just placed the house on the market and cancelled the university contract and I began to realised I was beaten. Husbands had the last say in those days and if they refused to sign or pay for anything, a wife could not have it (unless she could pay full price) and she had to go without.

Australia here we come.

Tearful packing commenced. Australia house allowed us quite a few wooden storage crates and I threw as much as I could into these crates, not having the slightest idea what I would need in the far away country of Australia.

Departure day arrived. My mother and her second husband had gone to Bridlington on holiday so only my brother was there to say good-bye. He collected and drove us down to Leeds City Station in the very early hours and we boarded the steam train to Southampton. We leaned out of the window waving good-bye and my little daughter 3 years old, vomited and wailed all the way to Southampton Docks.




The immigrant ship Fairstar July 12th 1965 till August ?


When we arrived at Southampton docks it was organised chaos, Hundreds of families trying not to loose sight of each other or misplace a child were labelled, crossed of a list and herded to their correct gangplank.

Our ship was the Fairstar belonging to the Sitmar line of Ocean Liners. Italian crew and Asian cooks and cleaners.

We were given our cabin numbers and a map on how to get there. I was horrified we were to be separated. The men in a 4-berth cabin away from the women and women sharing a 4 berth cabin somewhere in the labyrinth of decks and corridors of this huge liner away from our husbands. My young son 5years old went with his father and I searched for my cabin. My daughter’s bed was a drawer, which pulled out, next to my bed, a bottom bunk. Three other women, all strangers, found this was their cabin also.

The ship pulled away from the dock side sounding its load horn and we threw customary streamers from the ship’s rail. This is ok I thought, treat it like a holiday a two-year holiday and then, within 24hours, we hit the huge waves of the Atlantic as we entered the Bay of Bisque. 

Oh My God I just wanted to die. We rocked and rolled alarmingly and my two little ones were as sick as I was. I lay them outside on a wooden bench, holding them close while it seemed the whole ship was throwing up around me. My husband, of course found he had sea legs and off he strode to discover the ship and get something to eat. 

He occasionally remembered us and would take the trouble to see if we were still alive and then when he saw we were dull company would march off in another direction to find what the people with sea legs were doing.

When we entered The Mediterranean through the straights of Gibraltar we were in calm seas. Life became bearable and we began to eat, play deck games and make friends.

Port Said at the entrance to the Suez Canal was an eye opener. Very young boys swam around the ship yelling for money, which they dove down into the murky waters to retrieve. We had a few hours on shore and Arabs selling trinkets stood in our way and pestered us while men on bicycles with baskets of bread covered in hundreds of flies weaved in and out of the crowd. The best of the hawkers were men selling dirty pictures to our husbands. “Hey, McGregor” they would shout ‘want to buy dirty pictures of women.’ We laughed and they tried another tack, ‘”look, look, dirty pictures of men” or “McGregor, you need women – ten minutes, half an hour”.

I didn’t see any men dare leave the side of their wives to go for a look at the pictures offered but what an education for the women, including myself who had never seen or heard anything like this.

Aden when we arrived was under British curfew. Our ship anchored out at sea and floating pontoons ferried us in to shore. You must stay together we were told and stay on the main thoroughfare in full view. My husband, of course, ignored this advice and down a side road he went to bargain for something he had his eye on.

Told white blond children were prized and could be stolen for sale the majority of parents cheerfully left their children on board ship in the nursery so they could bravely meander through this strange alien bazaar. I kept close to the friends I had made and made feeble attempts at trying to out-bargain the natives. Men in their long robes would walk too close to us and would pinch our bottoms and tweak our suspenders. We giggled and laughed and thought it was all a bit of fun after all we were British and lords over everything we could see. We ruled the world – yeh!

Arriving at the dockside to be ferried back to the ship my husband was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t worry until back on board and the last ferry passenger had been crossed off the list. The empty box at the side of his name showed he was still on shore.

The captain made numerous loud announcements for him to come forward but as dusk was falling the British authorities in Aden had to be informed and a search party sent to find him.

A British policeman had glimpsed a disturbance down one of the back streets. He blew on his whistle and the crowd dispersed leaving a very angry Irishman, my husband, in the gutter. He was escorted, by special ferry, to the Fairstar and caught a telling off by the ships captain. We had been booked to disembark at Melbourne but were now told enough was enough and we would be put off the ship at Fremantle. It went over my husbands head of course and as I was used to his antics by now I just accepted it as part of our life.

The Indian Ocean in July.

Within days of leaving Aden we entered the Indian Ocean and cyclonic weather. I made sure my children had life jackets on constantly, as did I. The dinning room became more and more deserted and people were throwing up everywhere. We looked like green tinged zombies wondering aimlessly around the decks not caring if we were put out of our misery by being washed overboard with the next humongous dark green wave. .

The sea’s calmed as we grew closer to Western Australia and one day we heard the cry ‘land, land over there’.

We rushed to the starboard side excitedly pointing and taking photo’s only to find it was a tiny island called Rottenest and Fremantle the Port city of Western Australia where we were due to disembark, was on the port side. Like a Monty Python movie we rushed on- mass through the ship or galloped around the decks to point and shout again ‘land, land over there’.


Nissan Huts


Checked off the list we were crowded onto small buses and driven through streets of small weatherboard houses with tin roofs. WE arrived at Greylands Hostel and my heart sank. Row upon row of Nissan huts. 31 D. was to be our home until we could afford to move out.

Toilets, showers and laundry facilities were situated outside and we queued for canteen meals. A very sharp contrast from the life I had begun to create for myself in England.

Within three weeks my husband had bought a car, thank goodness, and had scored a job in the ‘bush’. It was a thousand miles up a deserted coastline and belonged, funnily enough, to the Americans. He worked for a company called Coppers-Klough building a Navel Base for America, the majority of Western Australians never knew it existed.

When he left on his big adventure it was the last time I set eyes on him for over a year.  I wrote almost every day to keep him in touch with our lives but I eventually become homesick and lonely finding little kinship with the people I had been grouped with.

My mother decided, in her council house in Leeds, to cash in her insurance policy and fly to Australia. This would have been a huge step for her to take. She had her passport because of trips to Jersey with her second husband Eddie but the story goes she left a note for Eddy that read ‘gone to Australia to see our Wendy, dinner in the oven, back soon’. This was so typical of my mum.

When she arrived we found out she couldn’t stay at the hostel with me, I now had to leave and find accommodation for us all.

The cheap rent of the hostel became a dear rent in Nollamara. Suddenly I was in ‘the sticks’. I was in an outer suburb on the border of a city, which was and still is ‘the most isolated city in the world’

My landlord was Italian, spoke little English, and my mother hated it. It was like living in the country for us. There was no one walking up and down the streets, because the weather was beginning to warm up as we neared summer and most people had cars and they drove to the shops and beach or catch the bus to town.

Mother would not go out the door in case a snake or humongous spider would attack and she was always on the look-out for marauding kangaroos. New to the country I was beginning to catch her fear but within two months she decided to return home. A few days before Christmas I drove her to Perth Airport, waved her good-bye and with tears of loneliness running down my cheeks drove my children back to my rental house feeling deserted and very alone.

Of course, once back in Leeds just before Christmas and in freezing cold weather she wanted to return remembering sunshine, sandy beaches and blue gentle seas.

My first 6 months.

I tried to make the best of it.

Catching a bus into town I was surprised at how the ladies dressed in their best clothes. Going to town was a dress-up event even to wearing a hat and gloves.

My children and I looked very summer casual and stood out like sore thumbs. When the conductress walked down to ask for our fares our accents pointed us out as ‘new chums’.

We were then openly and loudly discussed with the view we should go home and how we had cost the country a great deal of money to bring us out.

I learnt to be very quiet and just offered the right money for the fare.

In the big stores in town ( Cox Brothers on the corner of Hay and William St., Boans in Murrey street, Aherns in Hay through to Murrey, David Jones in upper Hay street through to St.Georges Terrace) I was often overlooked in preference for an Aussie accent. A year later when I had toughened up I could fervently argue Australians received more than their moneys worth because we were all vaccinated, far superior educated and had to have skills needed to be allowed to emigrate. In fact within weeks of landing we ( emigrants) had to have x-rays for T.B and had to ‘keep our nose clean’ for two years.

When I had enough of this Pommy bashing I began to snap back and realised the Aussies loved it when you gave as good as you got.  I became cheeky, told them off, called them convicts, I was embraced as ‘one of them’ and invited to party’s and Bar-B-Q’s    —

I had cracked the code, I had arrived.!

Well Done Wendy. We love your tale