Stories to be told – Betty (Part 1)

In this two part series we hear from Betty. With an amazing life story, she tells us about her life in England, the loss of loved ones, life-long friendships and her decision to move to  Yukana Private.

This first part of her story takes us through her experiences growing up in England during WWII, the loss of her mother, and her journey to Australia.

Growing up in England

Betty was born in Bristol, England in 1931. She was the baby of the family with two older sisters Valerie (8) and Patricia (5), and a brother Major (4).

Photo of siblings in England prior to WWII
Betty with her older siblings

At around the age of 18 months old, Betty’s mother became the sole provider for the family. Life was really tough for her mother as there were no social services or assistance available in those days. Despite the hardship and pressure, Betty’s mother refused to give up her children. Betty recalls her mother worked really hard to keep the family together. She obtained several cleaning jobs which she juggled while raising a young family.

Girl reading in Bristol Park, England
A young Betty happily reading a book in Bristol Park

Betty’s Aunt, on her mother’s side, had married an Australian and was living in Perth. In fact, Betty’s Aunt had previously convinced her mother to bring the family to Australia. They were in the midst of organising this when war was declared and their plans had to be put on hold. It had become far too dangerous for them to travel.

World War II

Her mother was given a house in Southmead, so they moved out from the house where Betty was born to their new home. The house was located close to the Filton Aerodrome, which was also a munitions factory at the time. Of course, this meant they were bombed constantly during WWII. Betty was only eight when the war began. She recalls her mother taking them into the shelter in the back garden as the sirens sounded. ‘We went down about three nights, and eventually my mother said “enough”. “We’re too cold down here, so we’re going to stay in our beds, and if we get bombed, at least we’ll be warm”.’  

house in Bristol England
The house where Betty was born

Betty recalls never being scared during the bombings. She puts it down to her mother’s attitude towards life’s harder times. She used to tell them, ‘It’s no good going on about it, we’ve got to get on with it.’ The bombing raids became just a normal part of life for them. Betty remembers walking to school when there would be an air raid. She and her siblings would have to run to a nearby shelter and wait for it to finish before continuing on their way.

At one point, around the age of nine, Betty was evacuated along with other children. They were placed onto trains and taken into the countryside. Betty went to Somerset. On arrival, the children were lined up and the farming families chose which children they would take in. The boys were chosen first as they were more help around the farms. Betty ended up in a big family. She was the fourth in the bed each night. She hated every moment. So much so that she wrote a letter to her mother. ‘Please come and feth (F-E-T-H) me.’ And her mother did! Betty ended up being at the farm only six weeks before she was back home again.

Towards the end of the war, her mother was working at the hospital in Southmead. Patricia and Major were away serving in the Army, and Valerie was at home working in the munitions factory. It was at this point Betty’s life changed completely.

Betty recounts accompanying her mother to the hospital one day for a specialist appointment. Her mother had developed a lump on her thyroid which needed to be removed via an operation. They returned home and life continued as usual for a time.

Then one day, while she and Valerie were at home, their mother came staggering into the lounge and collapsed. An ambulance took her mother to hospital with Valerie by her side while Betty waited at home. Betty will never forget Valerie’s words when she came home. ‘You better take an aspro because Mum died, so she won’t be back.’ Betty was just 13.

Betty found out afterwards that the lump on her mother’s thyroid was actually throat cancer. A fact known to Betty’s mother and siblings but unbeknownst to her.

Betty finished school that year. Although she had received a scholarship, the family were unable to afford for her to continue. Despite the war, Patricia was released from the Army on compassionate grounds. She returned to Southmead to look after Betty. Patricia helped her get a job at a combined Post Office/Library where Betty began working in the Library section.

Moving to Australia

Around 1946, Patricia decided they should come to Australia as their mother had planned before the war. Betty was 15 and her sister was 20 when they moved.

She and Patricia travelled to Australia by ship. In fact, Betty was one of the £10 Poms that arrived in Australia. She turned 16 about a month after arriving in Australia.

Playing softball
Betty during her time with her Aunt in Perth

She and Patricia stayed with their Aunt in Perth. Betty found her Aunt’s mood unpredictable, making life difficult for those around her. She puts this down to the effects of the war. Her Aunt’s husband was extremely unwell after being gassed during his service in the Army. Her son, a pilot, had been shot down and was missing. Her Aunt just wasn’t coping well.

So a year later, Patricia moved to Melbourne. Betty remained with her Aunt and Uncle in Perth. She got a job in the Adult Education Library for a time before taking a job in the Post Office. As a Phonogram Operator at the Post Office, she was responsible for typing telegrams. Betty remained there for quite a while, creating lifelong friendships along the way.

21st birthday 1952 in Perth
Betty at her 21st birthday in Perth

The next chapter

Please join us for Part 2 in a fortnight on Tuesday the 25 June 2019. In this second article, we will continue Betty’s journey from her Aunt’s house in Perth to married life and how further hardships and friendships drew her to her new home at Yukana Private.  

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