The war was on. The girls joined the Land Army, Bill the navy, and Gladys evacuated to Horsham. The twins were stationed there. They lived their lives and we lived ours. It was all day at work, at night on bunks in the air raid shelter. Our customers became our friends. I helped many babies into the world: the women in the shelter had to wait for the ambulance to come, and often it was late. Meanwhile, gunfire was sounding the whole time.
We kept the shop until early 1950. We were bombed so many times and the rationing was a nightmare. The war was over, so we sold up and emigrated to Tasmania. We were able to stay at the shop until we left for Tilbury and the Orion, early in May. The hirecar people drove up with the car that was to take us to Victoria Station: it was the new Daimler, bought for weddings! Even the police on point duty waved us through.
I had never been on a ship before and enjoyed the five week voyage. We visited ports along the way, places I had never seen and had never imagined I would see. We made friends with the other passengers, particularly with a couple who were travelling to Tassie too. We remained friends for many years.
Soon after we arrived, we bought a house, ”Harbour View’, inWest Hobart, overlooking the river Derwent. We had to wait for our boxes to be sent over from Melbourne. Then it was a question of what we could do to earn a living. I loved cooking. We read the paper and noticed the numerous advertisments for men wanting board. We took on four boarders. David was a clerk in the post office and the first boarder. Later he became a statistician. He stayed for 36 years. Doctors came to stay with us for a short time. Some boys left to get married, whilst others returned interstate. Most did office work. I even did their washing. John moved in in 1959, and has remained ever since. John and David and Henry and I became a family.
In 1960 I returned to England for six months to visit my sisters and dad. I celebrated my fiftieth birthday on the Arcadia and a party was held on ship. We had left many ends untied, and things undone, when we left England. Henry had returned earlier, in 1953, to clear up what we had left behind. Then, in 1969, we travelled around the world, visitingCanada and a cousin I had not seen for 21 years. I loved America. Portugal I found exciting and beautiful.
We stayed away for two years. Then, not long after we settled back in Hobart, in 1972 we returned toEngland. This time, the return was intended to be more permanent. We bought a house in Bexhill,Kent, to be with my sisters. But we found life was not the same as it had been in the past. It was a bitterly cold winter with snow in Bexhill. We sold up and came home to Australia. John and David were missing us. We missed them, and we missed Tasmania and the river Derwent. The country was adorned with spring flowers when we arrived home in May.
When Henry died in 1976 I was lost. I carried on in a daze, until my doctor (who was also originally fromEngland) told me I should get away and see my sisters. I had lost trace of my brother. I took the doctor’s advice, setting out for London and the Continent. I flew toLondon on 15 June 1977. It was strange on my own. I wasn’t young any more, and I felt it. But I wanted to travel to see my family. I had to go. So I did.
I travelled around Europeon a 28 day tour. In Vienna I went to the opera. Switzerland was breathtaking. In London I stayed at the Tower Hotel, at Tower Bridge. After 10 days I set out for a week long tour of Devon and Cornwall. I had never been on my own before.
On the Devon and Cornwall trip, I visited the New Inn, Staple Gardens. It was closed and boarded up. The owners had been friends of my mum and dad, and I had stayed there many years ago. Horse drawn carriages stopped there on their way from London to Portsmouth, changing horses. Stables at the back of the inn housed the horses and the stable boys. I strained my ears for the rattle of the harnesses and the clip clop of the horses’ hooves.
Now, my sisters were widows (all except Mable). Gladys and I went to Brighton and Hove. I stayed with Elsie in London. Flossie and I went to a holiday camp at Hayling Island where I won the fancy dress as ‘Wot! No Ashes!’ a play on Australia losing the test cricket to England. I travelled so much and renewed so many friendships, that I did not feel I was getting older.
Having travelled independently around England and Europe, I was now confident about travelling alone in Australia. A friend whom I’d met on myLondon trip lived in Queensland. The year after returning from England, I went to Surfers Paradise, renting a flat and inviting my Aunti Nanie, my mum’s sister, who lived in Brisbane, to holiday with me. I did all the cooking and stayed a month. I met up with the friend I’d made in London. For a number of years afterward, I travelled to the Gold Coast twice a year, doing a week’s tour of Queensland and New South Wales. I still visit Queensland regularly, so that now I have seen all of Queensland and northern New South Wales.
I am agile and I enjoy life. As for grey hairs – no, my hairdresser looks after that. Of wrinkles, there are probably a few. I have a few spare parts, two eye implants, a new knee and hip. I still enjoy the opera and operarettas, and mysteries, which we can see courtesy of the video.
Edith Amelia Webb (c) 1995
Born in Peckham,London, in 1910, Edith Amelia Webb emigrated to Austarlia together with her husband, Henry, in 1950. She wrote this autobiographical piece when living in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1995.
This is an extract from a piece of the same title, published in Glorious Age – Growing Older Gloriously, Artemis Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 1996 (compiled and edited by Jocelynne A. Scutt).