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1945 Voyage to England

From Wikipedia:-

After the war's end, Mauretania made several further voyages for the government repatriating troops. This mainly took the ship to Canada and Singapore. In addition, she made at least one voyage from New Zealand via Australia and South Africa to Liverpool. Women and children were crammed ten to a cabin in the bunks used by the troops, while the men were in "dormitories" for sixty, sleeping in hammocks. On that voyage she sailed from Cape Town on 10 September 1945. She was delayed for three days off Liverpool by strong winds, and finally docked on 25 September.


From Betty's diary:-

[More to follow]

Friday, 21 September 1945


Another perfectly glorious day, but again too windy for C. & He’s absolutely happy lying on the top bunk & is as good as can be. He fell out of his bunk today (below one) but didn’t seem to mind much.

His big brother had a much worse fall - the one he has been asking for for a long time. We were passing another boat, a tiny tramp, & everybody crowded to the side to watch, & he, to get a better view, climbed up the ladder into a gun pit, which is forbidden & he knows. I saw him & said “steady, Robin, you better come down” & as he did so he lost his balance, & Phil care on to the deck flat on his back from about 10 feet up. He yelled of course, but he got up all right; but to be on the safe side we took him straight down to the doctor (Johnny Moffat was with me) & he examined him thoroughly, testing his knee-nerves for reflex etc. & decided that no harm was done. He came & saw him again six. (He slept from 2.32 till then) & was still satisfied but said he might be sick as he was suffering from shock. He was – at 9.30 when he was asleep, & missed the towel & the pot ready for him & it went on sheets, the pillow, the mattress, my suitcase, Miss K-J’s hold-all, & the floor. Jolly. Poor boy, I suppose it was worse for him during the second than it was for me clearing it up. He has an enormous bruise on the back of his head, & swollen eye, & four patches of scraped-off skin to match his backbone.

It was a miracle he wasn't worse; he might have broken his back or being paralysed for life, & it really is a wonderful escape. How lucky we are. Thank God for his good care of us.

[Editor's note:- That "Robin" is me.]


Saturday, 22 September 1945

Cloudy, grey, cold & windy

Full moon

The ship was rolling quite a lot, though being amidships we didn’t see it much in our cabin but it was quite bad in G.’s home aft.

It was suddenly announced we must have all our luggage packed & in the passage by 5 pm which was a bore as we are talking tomorrow but shan’t be allowed to land till Monday we managed to get everything in very easily & even wish I’d bought two et cetera in the shop to fill up the spaces. I’m keeping out only C.’s basket with all his close & peace, & the grey bank; & I very cleverly mixed enough Klim, sugar & calcium in the right proportions for two and half days sees in 12 so I need to log along three separate tins. He will just have to go without barley for a few days, & I got the cook to make me some rusks.

I spent practically the whole day down there as it was so very cold up on deck. G.was feeling teeny weenie bit sick so played bridge concentratedey all day, & was not available for children-helping; so Johnny & Tony Tooth took charge of them the entire morning & are so good with them. In.has taken to them & will go to them with great joy & doesn’t fit mind my leaving him if he’s got them.

R.seems perfectly all right, but has a black eye (right) as a result the doctor fears he may have fractured his skull, so must stay absolutely quiet lying quite still in bed. What a hopeless proposition! I’m so we had to tell him to lie down not less than 20 times during the day, & two on the lower bunk so that it was fairly dark, & he kept on asking to be allowed to get up. He had a long sleep in the afternoon.


Sunday, 23 September 1945

Very cold, very windy stop

We were supposed to dock at Liverpool today, but here we are still floating on the ocean wave & nobody seems to know quite where we are. We passed a lot of land early this morning then came to.a lot of buoys & we all said happily, “Now we are entering the Mersey,” & we turned round & we turned round & round & round till we didn’t know which way we were going, & anchored off a nice little coast with green fields & hedges, & here we remain indefinitely. It’s all because the wind: there is a 40 mile an hour gale blowing & apparently if a huge ship like this tries to squirm slowly along a narrow winding channel she is liable to be blown off-course & is in danger of running aground. So we simply have to wait here till the gale dies down. What a blur & a disappointment for everybody!

Actually for us in one way it is a relief as the doctor says that if R. has cracked his skull he ought not to travel! Really what a journey this is: it’s rather maddening that this should come at the very end like that instead of the first day out when he would have learnt his lesson for the whole voyage and stayed his time in bed as well. It’s like our leave in Durban with Gill’s scarlet fever rounding off a horrible holiday.

I don’t think I would have undertaken this journey if I had foreseen what it would be like. At least I suppose I would have, as I was and is reluctant as I could be to do it anyway. It hasn’t been too bad really, but it has been around of constant crunching & dirt & difficulty & irritation, & now when things seemed bad enough already these two things – R.’s fall & the delay – having been dropped on top for full measure. And now we are evidently to find England shrouded in the depths of winter, as it was bitterly cold all day & we hardly left the cabin all day. By evening tempers were very frayed & nine nearly snapped when C. was crying badly for supper & N. soaked his clothes playing water & then refused to let Gill undress him & I very nearly wreaked havoc with his behind but managed to confine myself to a scolding. Actually I have been quite good being patient with them all on whole on this journey, and it’s entirely due to the fact that three people separately have commented on it: two people in my cabin & the stewardess, & I was so agreeably surprised & overjoyed & proud to hear it but I feel I have a reputation to keep up! At first of course, it was quite easy, but the last few days I have found it more & more a difficult effort to keep control of myself.

Monday, 24 September 1945

what a queer day. Rumours were flying around the ship: we were going to anchor in the Bay of Douglas, Isle of Man, till the gale stopped; we were going to stay here for two days; we were going to turn about & sailed back to Southampton; & the matter was the most favoured as we up-anchored & headed for the open sea. When we stopped again in mist & drizzle, which occasionally cleared to give us a distant glimpse of coastline; & at 2 a pilot boat suddenly came alongside & amid deafening cheers the pilot in bowler hat climbed on board. We sailed up the river & tied up at the wharf about 4.30. Our task was to get R. ashore & X-rayed, but we were too late, it couldn’t be done tonight & the doctor advised R. must NOT travel, & G. must stay with him until after x-ray deciding things for us. Poor G. ! The rest of the evening was spent cues, doing immigration & passport, train tickets, & sending telegrams.

How grey & old & dreary Liverpool looks, & it was astonishing to see how huge it was: town town town as far as we could see in every direction.


Tuesday, 25 September 1945


Cold & cloudy

Nine years to the very day since we last set foot on England, we landed here once more. I had often visualised it: standing on the deck with G., holding Crispin in my arms & all our children grouped around us, tears of joy in my eyes, & the kind English son filtering down upon us as we steamed into port. As it was I didn’t actually see us doc as I was changing & washing a dirty nappy at the time; Gill & I went & peered over the heads of the crowd to see England in the shape of long dismal sheds & bleak buildings shrouded in grade dampness; & our landing was chaotic in the extreme & I was thankful we left Robin in bed & hadn’t him to cope with two. A seething mob was getting off & poor Gill was nearly trampled on, & Nigel had to be carried ashore by a kind soldier to save him from death, I carried Crispin & G. carried the basket & the grey bag (all we had existed on since Saturday). We went straight to the customs & left the children in charge of the soldier while we joined the wild-I’d scrambled to find & extract our luggage from the heat. We were lucky enough to find it all (though one was eventually found in another shed altogether) then managed to grab a customs man & gave him my list of everything. He asked to see the materials (most of which was at the bottom of the fullest & most roped up trunk) but was very kind & only made me pay £1.06 shillings as token-payment for the whole lot. A friend of Mum’s arrived, Miss Pilkington, & was a great help, took over the children from the soldier, & we got through the customs in just over an hour. Got seats in the London train while G. put the luggage in the van, & Miss Pilkington got us some biscuits.

The train left at 10.30 & got to London at 4.15, & it was lovely travelling right across our dear little England, the most wonderful green fields, I’ve never seen such brilliant green, & the trees so thick & huge & the little copses of verdant & dense with undergrowth. Dear little deep-hedged lanes running between them and the neat fields, & nice tidy villages. Every inch seems to be cultivated: very few stretches of woodland or big pastures.

At Euston my Mum met us, & Annie (white-haired) & Miss Collard, & a large car with driver, & porter & trolley. It was just as well: we needed us all.   Annie took children to the car, Mum guarded the trolley while I dived into the dogfight by the van & snatch pieces of luggage as they were thrown out onto the pile & the little porter dragged them through the crowd to the trolley. We loaded the immediate things on the car & Miss C. took the rest to the baggage room & we got away within an hour which was marvellous, with all the luggage found which was a miracle. We had heard the stealing on the railways was appalling & that we couldn’t expect to arrive with all our stuff, & I felt shattered at the thought of losing any of our things.

Then we have a happy lovely drive to Hampton Court Palace & it was such fun being with my mum again & she was such a darling, & we talked & talked.

London seemed enormous & maize-like, & were a lot of bond places still there, heaps of rubble or just empty shells of houses with no roof & no windows & I noticed one with pathetic flower pots still on the windowsill intact with everything round smashed to slack. The countryside was gorgeous, the scenery quite beautiful.

We went into Mum’s home for tea & fed C. & It was as lovely as I had imagined & so comfortable & well-appointed, with electric stove, etc.

Then we went on down in the dark to Abbots Wood & had such a warm loving welcome from dear Mummy & Daddy, & there seemed rows of servants, all of whom joined in the business of unpacking the night things & getting the children into bed. But oh dear how I wished G. was there, it seemed just too tragic that after waiting eight years to show off his children to his parents he shouldn’t be there when they met.

Mummy & Daddy have changed a bit, though Mummy drawls if anything a bit more than I remember.


Wednesday, 26 September 1945

Cold, cloudy.

We felt very anxious about my little baby: he started a slight cough on the ship, caught from the Cowens who had awful coughs, & N. got it too, & in the train I noticed he was rather wheezy & Annie remarked on it & the Nurse said he had slight bronchitis. Today it was a bit worse & he wasn’t at all well, with a slight temperature & very quick husky breathing, so she kept him in bed all day, as it was a chilly, raw day.

N. Was in a very bad temper all day & didn’t seem too well with his dribbling nose & sore throat, & slept from 10 until two & woke up bit nicer. We started barking them all & washing their house about 4.30 to get done before R. Kane, & he & G. arrived amid much excitement. He has a slight crack in his skull, but they thought him well enough to travel but he must stay quietly in bed two weeks, which is a blight, especially as he feels perfectly well & hasn’t even a headache.

I had a pleasant day: stayed in bed and breakfast after a wonderful night with no waking at all, & then went with Daddy to Guildford to register for ration books, most laborious business filling in rows of cards & forms for each one of us. In the afternoon unpacked & tidied the rest of the stuff we had brought to make room for the rest of the luggage which G. brought . After tea unpacked & drawered all the children’s things from 2 suitcases.


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