When we arrived in Wales, it was the middle of a school term and the school did not want to take a new foreign pupil so close to the end of their school year. It was a case of private tuition or miss more schooling, and as there was a girl of about my age a couple of houses up the road being privately tutored, it was arranged that I should join her for the rest of the term.
After the holidays, I went to the next town by double decker bus to the catholic school in Rhyll. The bus would drop us off and pick us up at the school gate so there was no chance to go exploring on my own. I used to like sitting on the top deck of the bus because it was scary. When we went round sharp corners it felt as if we would tip over but we never did.
The school was a large concrete building one street back from the beach, but the only sight I got of it was from the top of the bus. You could see lots more from up there and it seemed so high to a little girl who had always been at ground level. School was a strange place for me as it was so big, and we had to have our lunch there, all together in a big dining room. We were not allowed to speak or ask for something to be passed to us unless we spoke in French. We quickly learnt the essential words for bread sugar salt etc. I was teased horribly for my accent and one nasty little brat pulled my chair away just as I was sitting down. Of course I landed hard on the floor and got told off for causing a disturbance in class.
When I left home, Mum gave me a half crown [worth two shillings and sixpence or twenty five cents in todays currency], and I had to put it away in a drawer in my bedroom for safe keeping. I had never had my own money before and was not supposed to spend it, but I could not see the point of having it just to sit in the drawer. So one day I put it in my coat pocket when I was going to school and there was a small sweet shop where we caught the bus. I went in and bought sixpence worth of sweets and when I got home that afternoon I put the two shilling piece back in the drawer and hoped it would not be noticed.
No such luck, it was noticed at once and was taken off me, and the next time we went shopping I was sent into Woolworths to see what I could buy for two shillings. I was not given the money but had to go back out and say what I wanted. It was a little black wooden baby doll with moveable arms, legs and head, and it was only one shilling and eleven pence. So they gave me back my two shillings and I got my very first doll. I had to give them back the penny change which I was made to buy a stamp with to put on a letter back home to Mum, telling her what I had spent her half crown on. By the way, the aunts would not go into Woolworths with me as it was beneath their dignity to be seen in such a cheap shop.
We arrived safely at Southampton after five and a half weeks at sea. Then we went by train to Euston station in London, and from there caught a train to Prestatyn in North Wales where I was to live for the next twelve months.
The first thing that happened was the news that the house had been burgled while the aunts were away. The police had caught the burglar and we all had to go down to the police station where the aunts had to make a statement as to what was missing or damaged. We were then taken to the cell where the man was held and the aunts looked through the peephole to see him. They lifted me up to see too, but I could not see anything except part of the cell. All I wanted was to get out of there, I had never had anything to do with police before and was scared stiff of them.
The house where we lived was called Birch Holmb and was in Abernathy Road, Prestatyn. It was a nice compact two storied home with an attic that ran the length of the house. One half of it was lined and furnished as a cute little bedroom for me. It was reached by a steep stairway inside a cupboard and I loved it at first. It seemed so high and was like a secret hideaway until one night there was a fierce thunderstorm and a chimney pot was struck by lightning and knocked down in the next street. Even the aunts were scared and came up and took me down to their own bed. After that I had a room next to theirs and did not go up to the attic much. It always felt stuffy and full of thunder even in bright sunlight.
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.