Trying to Keep Warm – a memoir scrap

June 4, 2019 at 3:28 pm | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, England, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Migration, Ways of Living | 14 Comments
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Before we came from England to Australia in 1954, we lived in a two-up, two-down in a row of terrace houses. These were built of stone, which made for quite good insulation in a Lancashire winter. We also had piped gas heating, an upgrade from the original coal fireplace. We could keep warm there, as well as dry the washing on rails that could be lowered to load then raised to get the benefit of the heat below the ceiling.

Our clothing and footwear were also designed to keep out the cold when we went outdoors in the ice and snow and the cold wind and rain. Although we girls had to wear dresses, I remember also wearing button-up soft leather leggings, woollen coats, gloves and socks and leather shoes.

In Australia, we lived for a couple of years in a tiny caravan before graduating to a tiny three-roomed cottage that Dad gradually added more rooms to. The cottage was constructed of asbestos fibro and weatherboard. It, like the caravan, was not insulated from either hot or cold.

Linda Confirmation.1958-350

Me on my confirmation day outside our house, 1958

For the first year or two, we didn’t have to wear heavy clothing for winter and we were rarely cold. However, as we acclimatized to the milder climate, we started to feel the cold of winter much more. We no longer had the thick jumpers, coats and leggings we had worn in England, nor did we have the warm gas heating we’d been used to there. Even more,  the wooden floorboards and the lack of insulation in the thin walls and ceilings allowed the cold to penetrate into every part of our home. It was darned cold, and there was nowhere to put in a coal or wood stove.

My parents did purchase a Fyreside kerosene heater, the name of which implied more heat than it actually produced. In the back of the heater, under the cover, was a thick glass bottle with a wire handle to lift it out with. You had to fill the bottle with kerosene from a tin you’d get filled up at the petrol station. You had to put the bottle in upside down, so that the kero would feed through to wick at the front of the heater You’d light the wick, then place the round piece with the coil in it on top. The coil would heat up and glow red. The heat thus generated would be reflected into the room by the shiny metal reflector behind the coil. All that was in theory of course.

The smell of the kerosene itself was bad enough, but once it was lit, the heater often generated smoke and fumes that would either make you feel ill or make your eyes sting. I’m sure it couldn’t have been very healthy, especially in an enclosed space. If the kerosene ran out and the wick went out, you had to wait until the heater cooled before re-filling the bottle (if you had some kero on hand), by which time the any warmth had been sucked out of the air.

Fyreside heater 1950-60s crop

The living room where the heater sat and kitchen were open to each other, so the area (even though not large) was too much to heat and anyway, much of the heat went up to the ceiling which had no insulation. The only way to feel any warmth was to stand right in front of it – and then it would burn your legs, but leave the rest of you cold. But there were at least six of us, and sometimes up to twelve people living in the house, so the kids didn’t get to stand that close. We still had to wear warm clothing and even coats inside.

The heater always had to be turned off at night, and any heat it had generated hadn’t reached our closed-off bedroom. I remember many a time going to bed with only two old, thin wool ex-army blankets and no upper sheet to cover me. I would shiver and never seem able to get warm. My brother and two sisters were the same. Then we would find anything we could to cover ourselves more – usually there was only our not-very-thick coat. We got used to being cold. Eventually, Mum could afford chenille bedspreads for us all.

I suppose the heater did make a difference, enough at least to stop us freezing, but I remember having chilblains on my toes for most of every winter. These heaters couldn’t be called safe, and caused quite a few house fires if left burning without supervision or if drying clothes were too close to the heater. Mum was always scared that would happen, so she only lit it when absolutely necessary.

With the cost of electric heating, these kero heaters were the cheapest source of warmth available at the time. Many people my age now recall them and their smell with a mixture of horror and nostalgia.

 

What kind of heating did you have when you were growing up?

 

(c) Linda Visman

 

 

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More Olfactory memories

January 18, 2016 at 2:00 am | Posted in 1950s, England, Experiences, Memoir, The Senses | 16 Comments
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Last week I wrote about the smell of pine trees and the memories they evoked fifty-five years later. There are a few other aromas that also strongly evoke memories of my childhood.

 

1. Bacon and baked beans

 

All my life I have loved the smell and taste of bacon and baked beans. Whenever I have had it, I think of being on the moors back in England when I was little. I didn’t know why this memory always came with this aroma until Dad told me (when I was in my fifties) that he and Mum used to take us for walks out on the moors of Oswaldtwistle. When we were there, Dad, a former Rover Scout, would light a fire and cook up bacon and beans for us. It was a special treat that we didn’t have very often.

When we go camping now, we have eggs and baked beans, with either bacon or sausages, at least once during the trip – my husband has always loved it too.

 

Sausage, egg, b.beans camping

On one of our trips

 

 

2.  Cut grass on a warm day

 Occasionally when I have been driving in the country, I have come to places where council slashers have been busy cutting the long grass along the sides of the road. Sometimes an aroma hits me, and I am taken back to my early childhood in England. I have discovered that the right smell is only there when the cut grass is long and dry, and the air is warm but not too hot. I didn’t know then why this wonderful smell affected me so much – I love it, it brings me a great feeling of happiness.

Whilst visiting Dad over Christmas in 2005, I mentioned it to Dad. He said he always loved the smell of new cut hay in the fields back in England. It was then that I realized what the odour was. Haying time was a great time for kids then. I had picked up those feelings, along with the aroma of hay being cut on a warm day in autumn before I was five years old. They have stayed with me all these years.

 

Cutting hay in meadow

Cutting hay in a Lancashire meadow today

 

 

3. An Isolation Hospital

 When I was about three years old, I had glandular fever and had to go into the isolation cottage at Blackburn Infirmary, where I spent some weeks. It would have been about 1951. I remember being in a cot and wanting Mum and Dad to come and take me home. They weren’t allowed to come in, and I could only see them, and they me, through a window.

There was a smell there that, when I come across it today, always takes me back to that memory. I’d always thought the smell was chloroform, but that wouldn’t be right. It is more likely to be the old kind of cleaning alcohol that was used when giving injections. The modern alcohol cleanser doesn’t seem to have the same smell.

 

Blackburn & East Lancashire Royal Infirmary early 20thC

The isolation ward was in a cottage at the back of the main hospital

 

Because of a later association with this odour, another memory also springs to mind. It is of walking past a mobile medical facility that used to occasionally park in the area in front of the shops at Albion Park Rail when I was probably about 10 to 13 years old. I think it was the TB testing unit.

 

 

Linda Visman

 

 

 

 

 

Emigration to Australia (2)

January 26, 2015 at 7:03 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, England, Family History, History, Memoir, Migration | 6 Comments
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Today is Australia Day in my adopted country, where I am a citizen. How appropriate is seems that it is the day to post the Memoir entry about my family’s first arrival here.

The ship New Australia was a rebuilt and re-named steamship originally called the Monarch of Bermuda, owned by the Shaw-Saville Line. After WWII, it became both a migrant ship and a troop ship, carrying British migrants from England to Australia, and then transporting troops to the Malayan Emergency and to the Korean War. It then returned to England to pick up more migrants.

S.S. NewAustralia Harbour Bridge 1955

Dad told me that on the ship, most families were split up, with boys staying with their fathers, while girls and all babies stayed with their mothers. Two families often had to share a cabin. However, our family had one of only two six-berth cabins on the ship to ourselves. It was situated on the poop deck, at the rear above the main passenger decks. Its location meant we had good ventilation in the hot tropical latitudes, whereas those on lower decks often suffered from the heat. Mum, Dad and Peter (8) slept on the three top bunks, and Pauline (almost 7), Sheelagh (almost 4) and I (5) slept on the lower bunks.

Children were expected to eat at a separate sitting to the adults, but Mum and Dad wanted us all to stay together, so they simply brought us to the adult dining sessions. We were all well behaved and nothing was ever said about making us eat with the other children. Dad told me that, though there were play areas for the children and most children played there, although we did go there once or twice, we all preferred to stay with our parents. They entertained us with books, stories and games.

All except Dad were very seasick as we sailed through the Bay of Biscay, which is on the western side of France, and Dad became our nursemaid. Otherwise we were well.

On our voyage from England, we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. I don’t know if we stopped at Malta or not, but from the Med, we passed  through the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. My brother Peter reminded me that, as the ship passed along the deep canal, our deck was at ground level, and we saw Arabs travelling along beside us on their camels – that would have been really exotic to the sheltered and inexperienced children that we were.

Ship sailing through the Suez Canal

Ship sailing through the Suez Canal

At the end of the Red Sea, the port of Aden was the ship’s last stop before we sailed out into the Indian Ocean towards Colombo in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

A memory: We are on a big ship on the way to Australia. We are in a port (Port Said) and there are little boats crowding all around the ship. There are brown people in the boats wearing funny clothes, and they are selling things to the passengers. I can see all different kinds of fruit and other things I don’t recognise. They haul them up in baskets to the ship by long ropes. The passengers send down the money to pay for them. It is very strange, but bright and colourful and noisy.

Port Said "bum boats" selling to passengers.

Port Said “bum boats” selling to passengers.

We reached Fremantle in Western Australia first, and were allowed to land and go for a walk. The bunting that had been put up everywhere for the new Queen’s visit shortly before we arrived was still flying. I remember many years ago Mum saying that they spoke to several people who had come from England years earlier and who thought Australia was a good country to live in. We all got tired on our long walk, as for many weeks we had only the decks to walk around on.

From there, we carried on towards Adelaide and Melbourne, sailing along the southern coast of Australia and the Great Australian Bight, where we could see the great sandstone cliffs far to the north of us. We had been told the Bight could be very rough and Mum dreaded the thought of being sick again, but the weather and the sea remained lovely and calm.

After Melbourne, we rounded Cape Howe and were in the Tasman Sea, sailing north towards Sydney along the east coast of the continent, where we could occasionally see land and sometimes smoke from bushfires. My older sister Pauline had her seventh birthday on that final leg of our voyage.

Everyone was excited when the ship arrived in Sydney and went under the Harbour Bridge, but it was night time so we had to stay on board until morning. We disembarked on the 10th of March, 1954. It was six weeks since we had left England in deep snow. When we arrived in Australia, the temperature was in the nineties, fahrenheit.

SS 'New Australia' sails under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

SS ‘New Australia’ sails under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Most other immigrants went to various hostels, but we never had to set foot in one. Dad’s sister Mary and her husband Eric had sponsored us and were giving us somewhere to live until we found a place of our own. I can’t remember it, but I know that, after six weeks aboard a ship, we had to find our land legs again.

We also had to go through the process of immigration, but I remember nothing of that. Like the details of the new life ahead of us, it was Mum and Dad who had to worry about that. Like my brother and sisters, I was looking forward to getting to Aunty Mary’s house at last.

© Linda Visman

Emigration to Australia (1)

January 19, 2015 at 11:51 am | Posted in 1950s, Australia, England, Family History, Migration | 7 Comments
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Dad had first applied to migrate to Australia in 1947, a year after he left the R.A.F. He had joined up in mid-1941, and had trained as a fighter pilot in Canada. He served in the Defence of Britain, in fighters and fighter-bombers around the coastal seas. The only time he was on duty overseas was when he joined a special operation just before D-Day, dropping spies into France. Whilst in the RAF, Dad met many Australian pilots, and liked their carefree approach to life. He learned a lot about the country from them, and decided that Australia was where he wanted to raise the family he knew he and Mum would have.

 

Mum & Dad with eldest son Peter, about Oct. 1946.

Mum & Dad with eldest son Peter, about Oct. 1946.

 

From that first application, it took almost seven years before he was accepted. At first, Australia was only taking single men for particular industries, like coal mining. Dad talked with a friend of his younger sister, Mary, about the opportunities available to anyone who was willing to work. The friend applied, and emigrated soon after.

Then the conditions were relaxed to allow married men with no children. That’s when, sponsored by the friend who was now living and working there, Mary and her husband, Eric, also applied to emigrate. By the time they left England in 1952, Mary was pregnant with their first child, though they didn’t tell Australian Immigration that.

It seemed that everyone Dad spoke to went off to the “Land of Opportunity”. However, with four children, he was still ineligible.

Linda,Peter, Pauline,Sheelagh 1952

 

Then in 1953, the conditions were relaxed even more, and families were at last allowed to emigrate, as long as they had a sponsor or a job to go to. Dad re-applied with Mary and Eric as sponsors. As an ex-RAF fighter pilot, Dad was eligible for free passage, so we were not the “ten pound Poms”  that many people talk about.

In January 1954, Dad received a telegram advising him that our family had been successful in our application and that there was a six-berth cabin available to us if we could be in Southampton the following week.

Dad ‘sold’ our house to Mum’s brother, lock, stock and barrel (my uncle just took over the payments and Dad put the house in his name). Dad gave notice at his place of work and he and Mum packed up whatever they could take with us. We caught the train from home in Oswaldtwistle on a cold and snowy January day in 1954. After staying the night in London we caught another train to Southampton, where we boarded the steam liner the S.S. New Australia.

S.S. New Australia

S.S. New Australia

 

We were off on a voyage half way around the world to a country we kids knew little about, and leaving everything and everyone we did know behind us.

 

© Linda Visman

 

Memories of England (1)

January 12, 2015 at 7:25 pm | Posted in 1940s, 1950s, England, Family, Memoir, Oswaldtwistle | 8 Comments
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This is the first of my entries for Monday Memoir. I am using the Monday Memoir logo from my friend Queasy Peasy’s blog. Thanks to her inspiration, I intend to post entries in this category each Monday.

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My Early Childhood

I was born in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, England in 1948, and lived there until my family migrated to Australia in February 1954. The Lancashire climate is humid, and the cotton industry flourished there in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When I say the climate is humid, I mean that it rains a lot there!

Remains of Rhyddings Mill, Oswaldtwistle

Remains of Rhyddings Mill, Oswaldtwistle

There were many huge red-brick cotton mills in and around the town, carding, spinning and weaving cotton products for domestic and overseas markets. There were also all the support industries, such as dyeing and maintenance. Streets of terrace houses had been built by mill owners for their workers. It was in such a terrace house, a “three-up-three-down built of stone, that I and my older brother and my two sisters were born.

By the 1950s, the cotton industry had been killed off by cheap imports from places such as India, and engineering had taken over as the major industry of our district. My father had been a moulder before World War II, but joined the R.A.F. in 1941. When he returned home after he was demobilized in June 1946, he hated being in a foundry and worked outdoors whenever he could.

Mum & Dad with my older brother, 1945.

Mum & Dad with my older brother, 1945.

I have very few concrete memories of my life in England, even though I was old enough to begin school there after the summer holidays until we left in mid-winter. I attended St Mary’s Catholic School with my older brother and sister. We walked over a mile there and back each day in sun and wind, rain and snow and sleet. The only memory I have of school is sitting next to a girl who had head lice; I didn’t like her.

Mum, me & my older sister, about 1950

Mum, me & my older sister, about 1950

Here are a couple of earlier memories that I do have:

Hospital – I was in isolation at Blackburn Infirmary, suffering from glandular fever; aged about 2-3 years.

I’m in a cot. I don’t like being in a cot. I’m standing in the cot and holding the bars, and looking at the door. There is a smell. I don’t like the smell and I don’t like being here. Mummy and Daddy are coming. I can see them. Maybe they will take me home today.

Me and my siblings 1953

Me and my siblings 1953

Toy HorseI am about 2-3 years old

I’m on my horse outside the front of the house. The house is on Roe Greave Road. It is made of stone and is big and solid and dark from all the smoke. All the houses are joined together and there is a whole street of them with doors opening onto the footpath. The footpath outside the house runs between the front wall and the cobbled street. My horse is made of wood and has wheels. I push it along with my feet, but every time it comes to a nick in the footpath it stops, and I have to lift the front wheels over it. It is a bit heavy, but it’s good fun.

 My brother and I playing on the footpath in front of our house c.1950

My brother and I playing on the footpath in front of our house c.1950

Leggings – I am about 3-4 years old

We are going for a walk. It is winter and here is snow on the ground. Mummy is putting on my leggings for me so my legs won’t get cold. I have a coat on over my dress. My leggings are made of thin leather and they are soft and brown. They cover my legs from my shoes to my knees. There are lots and lots of little buttons down the sides and Mummy has to do them all up. I love my leggings and all the little buttons, but I can’t do them up myself.

 

 

Buttercups and Bluebells

We’re all going for a walk up to the Top Reservoir, my Mum and Dad, my two sisters and my brother and me – Sheelagh is in her pram. Buttercups cover the ground, bright and golden and cheerful. When I pick one I hold it up to my face. When you hold them up to your face the gold shines on you. Little bits of yellow powder fall off the flower and cover my nose. We come to a glade. Farther on there are trees around, and under them are carpets of bluebells. The whole ground is blue.

When we get to the moors near the water, we have a picnic. Dad cooks baked beans and bacon on a fire. I feel good.

Buttercups – looking over Oswaldtwistle in 2010

Buttercups – looking over Oswaldtwistle in 2010

© Linda Visman

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