Off to Australia

Irene Bulloch

[In this extract from her memoirs (unfortunately too long to reproduce in full) Irene tells of how her husband was representing his firm in Australia when the war broke out, and it was to be 1941 before she was able to join him. We take up her account at the point where she has finally been notified to report, with her two small daughters, for embarkation … Editor]

We were to be in Liverpool the following day, ready to board the S.S. Sarpendon and sail the day after. There was hurried last minute packing, farewells were said and we were off on the ferry across the River Clyde where we waited for a train to Glasgow, and then took another train to Liverpool, arriving late afternoon.

It was raining and very cold. Oh what a bleak, dreary, depressing place it appeared, with its overall greyness, grey buildings, grey skies, everything was grey, but worst of all was the bomb damage we saw as we drove to the hotel which had been booked for us. It was situated close to the docks, the sight of which added to my feeling of doom and doom. It all seemed so dark and dingy.

The girls were tired out with all the travelling and were asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow. I did not go to bed, but sat there, full of conflicting thoughts, feeling quite desolate and asking myself how I had come to this point of risking the lives of my precious daughters to hopefully get to Australia. But it wasn’t Australia I was desperate to reach, it was my precious Sandy. The only thing to my credit was that all along I had felt a strong conviction that we would get there safely. I was not religious and had little faith that God existed but nothing seemed to shake this conviction and it was only that strong feeling that kept me there in that cheerless hotel room. Otherwise, I may have turned back, but before I could give full rein to any more thoughts, the air raid warning sounded.

There had been no mention when I booked in to the hotel as to where the nearest shelter was and I was in a quandary about what to do. The girls were sound asleep and I opened the door and looked out, expecting to see other residents making their way to the shelter, but not a soul was to be seen. I went around to the reception desk. No one there. I got an eerie feeling, were we the only people in this hotel?

I wondered what to do. Finally I decided it would be just as dangerous to wake the girls, dress them and go out in the cold night looking for a shelter as it would be to stay where we were. I decided on the latter. By that time I could hear the loud drone of enemy bombers, followed by explosions, and when I looked out the window I could see that the docks were blazing. This went on all night; only with the dawn did the enemy depart, having emptied their deadly cargo. The girls slept through it all. Once they were awake we got ourselves ready and left the hotel, with thankfulness on my part.

We walked down to the docks and sitting there, safe and sound, was the SS Sarpedon. We went aboard, found our cabin and then explored the ship. Christina and Sandra were excited about this new home that they would be living in for a while. When all the passengers were aboard and all the cargo stowed we moved out slowly and I breathed a sigh of relief, as I thought we were on our way. But no, we were not. We had moved only to anchor out away from the docks, and there we were to sit for four nights, while the German bombers arrived without fail every night and bombed the docks.

Each morning when I went out on deck I saw masts sticking up out of the water. It seemed incredible that these ships had gone down yet we had remained untouched. There were times when our ship shook and sometimes it felt as if it was lifted up and dropped down again. Then, on the fifth day, around noon, the engines vibrated and we moved out. I was told the delay had been caused by mines. The mine sweepers had not been able to clear them in time for us to get away until the fifth day. The fourth night’s raid had fortunately been lighter than the others. Anyway, this time we really were on our way.

That evening at dinner the Captain addressed us. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “we are on our way. but what lies ahead I have no way of knowing. Ships have been sunk around us, and we have been very lucky to have remained unscathed. Due to the delay, we have missed our convoy and we are on our own, so I must urge you to carry your life belts everywhere you go, and I mean everywhere, as if we should be attacked you wouldn’t have time to go and get them. And that’s an order!” With these discomforting words he left us to get on with our dinner – and our thoughts!

[Remarkably, the journey from this point was relatively uneventful … Editor]