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A Wartime Story from Australia

by Norman Edgar Harley

'The Evacuees'

Before I start, any names I use like pommy, etc. are not in any way meant to be derogatory, you might recall that the second World war was a very international one and that it spread world-wide, here in Australia we had air-raids on Darwin (northern territory), and Sydney was hit by midget submarines. H.M.A.S. 'Sydney' was sunk by a German ship under very mysterious circumstances, Japanese aircraft raided the West coast a couple of times, and my Father was killed at El-Alamein, so although the war was going on around us, we kids hardly noticed, the biggest danger was getting caught smoking yank cigarettes in what we called 'air-raid shelters'.

Rationing here was not very severe, we still had butter, sugar, bread, meat, lollies, ice-cream, etc., so life was pretty easy for us kids, we had no worries, what kids would under these conditions?

Evacuees arrive:
Our Teachers told us that evacuee Children would be arriving here shortly, and we should assist them as much as possible, the Teachers explained to us about air-raids, etc. but this could not be appreciated by minds so young and so far away from events as we seemed to be.

Many evacuees already had relatives here, so they were living with them, others were taken care of by various English, Scot, and Welsh families already living here, which helped them to settle in quickly.

I and a scots girl in my class at School who lived in my street, rushed foward to join a crowd who had gathered around the evacuees, these kids looked really strange to us, what with with their bags and things hanging from their shoulders, we had been told about gas masks etc., but oh it was a good laugh when we compared our single war bag with all the stuff they were carrying. Our bag had only 2 compartments: compartment 1 held First-Aid things; like cotton wool, flavine, arm slings, dettol, safety pins, etc. and compartment 2 consisted of Comics, buscuits, chewing gum, barley sugar, and some other goodies, but the two bag pockets were sown up tight to stop us eating any stuff at school, I have since wondered, what use was it then?

The School holidays happened to coincide with the early days of the evacuees arrival so we invited the new boys to play cricket with us, we had left our own 'war bags' at home, so you can imagine our surprise when the evacuees turned up carrying theirs, it was a source of much fun for us spoilt aussie kids but there was no way we could get them to part with this stuff, offering them a bit of friendship and advice almost gave them hysteria so to speak, the Sun gets quite hot in Western Australia, so the poor little buggars were just about collapsing under the weight of all their bags, so then we decided to introduce them to 'paradise'.....

Paradise found:
As local boys we knew how to get our hands on free hand-outs at the large local vegetable and fruit market so off we trundled with the new kids straggling along behind.

When we arrived at the Market we asked the vendors for 'specks', a name given to blemished fruit that is left un-sold and later thrown away, in return us kids would offer to do a small favour, like sweeping the floor, etc., in return we would get a variety of stuff like apples, pears, nectarines, peaches, apricots, grapes, etc. Having been here just a few days, Our new mates had no idea there was such an abundance of fruit in Western Australia, they could hardly believe their eyes which were popping out of their heads like organ stops, I never ever saw fruit being guzzled so fast, but Once our new mates saw they could also get ice-cream with so many different flavours and types too, would wonders ever cease? it meant that the toilets were in constant use for a good while after.

Our new mates soon acclimatised after that experience, discarding their survival kits; soon we were as one... even their accents began to change... when one thinks of the horrors of rationing etc. back home in Britain, and now, only a few months later, seeing these same kids stripping the inside of a loaf of bread to fill the crust with chips... oh boy! It was a sheer delight for them to discover 'Vienna loaves'. The next mind boggling discovery for them was "crumbies", let me explain .....

As I mentioned earlier, rationing here was merely a slight inconvenience not an everyday concern, especially with a rather large pastry cooking place just 400 yds from our school. Now 'crumbies' was a term used to describe the different types of cakes and tarts, either broken, not browned, or whatever, that might be trashed, but the kids would put in their spare cash amounting to threepence, the going price for 'crumbies' not thrown away, they would fill a very large brown paper bag with these delectables ... no matter if the custard tarts were mixed with apple slices or other cakes, once this bag was opened, WOW!! all heaven was there... at first, our young pommy mates stared in disbelief, but it didn't take long for them to catch on -like maybe less than 30 seconds- even after 57years I still see my pommy mates sitting there as though it were yesterday, with smug looks on their faces like well fed pups, today's generation would hardly begin to appreciate what precious experiences these were, and still are, to me.

Sport :
In those days the way we spoke was of its time, -so nobody please object to any descriptive names used below- remember, this was a time of natural innocence and mateship.

The pommy blokes wanted to play soccer, we were completely dumbfounded, no-body bothered to play that game over here, so we agreed a compromise to play the game of 'footy' under 'australian rules', it didn't take our mates long to adapt to this change... so the rest of that winter was taken care of.

In Summer, Cricket was the only natural choice of all and sundry, no arguments here... except when we took on the names of famous cricketers... naturally all the aussie kids wanted to be called 'BRADMAN', but our pommy mates preferred to choose names of their County heroes, soon it led to arguments so a truce had to be called to agree that we should all keep our own names. We called the English 'poms', the Greeks 'greasies' [as they were mainly fish and chip merchants], and the Italians 'dings', and so forth------well that's how it was.

I recall one cricket game between about 12 kids at a park called 'Hyde Park', several old ladies were watching us play... plus some younger ones too who had yankee boy friends... an immediate cry went up when one of the out-fielders dropped a catch, "you stupid greasy" was followed by "shut up you pommy dope", this outraged the dear old ladies who proceeded to give us a lecture on 'proper manners'. etc., one of the kids was asked his Nationality, he said 'English' so he got a nice smile, another then said he was Turkish... then they aked about the batsman who had a very Italian name, but before anyone could answer, a very English voice said "he's a 'ding bat'", everyone burst out laughing including the yanks who then gave us money to buy ice-creams- meanwhile the old ladies had left, that was one day when the 'ASHES' took second place.

I was particularly upset one day when I went to see my pommy mate and found he had gone, no warning or anything had been given of his departure, looking back I realise that security and other worries must have been of paramount consideration at that time- sadly, I cannot remember their names now, maybe just one or two, and still often wonder what their parents and others must have gone through once the kids returned home after having experienced the delights of Australia.

The kids had left 'paradise' without a worry about anything - abundant food, lollies, ice creams, and everyday things- plus so many other good experiences as mentioned above, so to return to an austere life after this, their parents must have been at their wits end to cope with the antics of their children during the re-adjustment back to 'normality'.

To any person reading my story - The School was called... Mt Lawley Primary and Secondary School also known as Mt Lawley State School

If by chance you were there as an evacuee during World war two - I send you my best wishes, and thank you so much for your friendship, however brief it was, it left many memories that are still very comforting to this day..

Thank You for the good time we had together.

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