I stayed packing socks for about two weeks. Then, one day, a girl at a nearby work table had an epileptic fit. She had to be held down until she relaxed and was carried out to the sick bay. I worked until the end of the week and, again left.
My next job was at a small leather goods factory, where we made leather belts and handbags and other small leather goods. One day, I was sitting beside the girl sewing on buckles, when she gave a small yelp and stopped. She had run the needle right through her finger and couldn’t get free. She fainted and had to be held in place while the front of the machine was dismantled.
I stayed on at this factory for about six months, then again left and went to work in an embroidery workroom belonging to a large drapery and clothing shop. They had a special department where customers could leave materials to be made into covered buttons or embroidered to a pattern of their choice. These orders would be sent from the shop to the workroom where we filled them. There were several machines for embroidery such as satin stitching, chain stitching and badge making. We also made covered buttons of all sizes. The badge making machine made twenty to thirty badges at a time and had double-ended needles, each threaded with its own cottons. The machine was guided by a lever at one end following the pattern of the badge. The hardest part was making sure all needles were threaded the whole time because one broken thread ruined the pattern on that particular badge and had to be mended by hand.
We also made permanently pleated skirts in various styles. I tried to watch the embroidery machinists as much as possible as I was longing to work them but didn’t have any opportunities as I was kept busy making buttons. I stayed at this factory for two-and-a-half years.
On board, ship life very quickly settled down to a regular routine, with set times for meals, games and other entertainment. There were a fair number of children on board, but I was only allowed to play with them on the open decks because of my cough. They were a toffee nosed lot anyway except one young French boy who could not speak English. We had a lot of fun trying to teach each other our own languages. We would draw pictures and write the name under them and say what it was or try to mime it. I dont think either of us learnt much but it was fun and filled in a lot of time.
There were plenty of games and organised sports for us and when we were out in the warmer weather the crew set up a canvas swimming pool on the main deck. They set times when we could use it so that everyone had a fair chance to use it.
Our first stop on our journey was at Pitcairn Island but we could not go ashore as the water was not deep enough for the big ships to berth. We anchored off shore and the Islanders came out to us in canoes with all their goods to sell. They were not allowed on board so they came as close as possible and held up their goods or displayed them in their canoes, and if you wanted to look closer or buy something a sailor would let down a basket on a rope for the item. If it was kept, the money was sent back down in the basket. We were only there for a short while before sailing on towards the Panama Canal. We did make a couple of other port stops but I don’t remember where they were.
I can also remember going through a severe storm that lasted a couple of days and we were all shut indoors so as not to be washed overboard. It was so rough that anything not fastened down would end up on the deck.
The journey to Southampton took us five and a half weeks via Panama. The locks were amazing. We were towed into them by funny little motors like tractors that ran along the bank on each side. When we were safely in the first lock, huge metal doors closed behind us and water was pumped into the lock until it was filled level with the one in front of us. Then another set of doors would open and we were towed through to the next lock to do it all again, it was a slow process and took most of the day.
When I was nine years old, two of Dads unmarried sisters came out from Wales in England to visit us on the farm. Aunt Angie was John’s Godmother and Aunt Emily was mine.
After seeing the kind of life we had, they wanted to take us back with them but could not take us both. One wanted me, and the other wanted John, and as they lived together there were a few heated arguments as to who got their way. In the end John settled it by, in their eyes, making a very unmanly remark. Angie said to him “Remember young man you have Blue Blood in your veins”. John’s reply made things worse by saying “I scratched my arm yesterday and it looked red to me”. That decided it – he was too ill-mannered for them to cope with, so I was chosen to go with them and be brought up as a well bred young lady.
The two aunts were very snooty upper class and felt that Dad had disgraced the family name by being a common farmer. They thought he had reared us as pigs. So by taking one of us and bringing us up in first class society it would redeem their good name.
I was taken first to Auckland for a short holiday to buy some new clothes, and to see whether they would be able to cope with me. Neither of them had ever had anything to do with children before. Then we went back to the farm to make final arrangements and I was whisked away never to return.
While we were in Auckland we stayed at a hotel in Devonport and I made friends with a girl staying there. She was about my age and we were allowed to go to the pictures one afternoon by ourselves. The theatre was just up the road from the hotel so we would not get lost coming back. I had never been to the pictures before so it was a great thrill for me. We went and watched through the first half and as everyone else seemed to be going out we thought it must be finished so we went out as well and ran back to the hotel only to be told it was only half time. By then it was too late to go back in.
After a short stay in Auckland we boarded the good ship Akaroa and set sail for England. I had a severe dose of whooping cough and every time I went below decks to the children’s dining room I was sick. Some of the other kids’ parents complained and for the rest of the trip I had my meals in our cabin.