- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Alison Keating nee Hay, Joan Hay, Alistair William Hay
- Location of story:
- Singapore, Frankstone nr. Melbourne, Australia
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 05 December 2005
[This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Margaret Jones from Three Counties Action at the Bedford Museum Project in Riseley on behalf of Alison Keating and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs.Keating fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.]
I was born in Singapore in 1934. My father was in the Malayan Civil Service and worked mainly in Singapore though he travelled quite a lot and we also lived in Penang, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. In 1994, my sister and her husband and I went to Singapore and saw the house we used to live in which is still standing. Unfortunately the house was between tenants and the maid would only let us look in through the door.
In 1939 the family went home by boat to UK on leave — the Civil Service were allowed home leave on a 4 year rota. We returned the same year to Singapore but by mid 1940 all the expats, planters, admin etc were getting anxious about Japanese intentions while the rest of the World was focussed on Germany. The Japanese were already in China and we had heard awful stories. Singapore had a harbour and there was rubber and tin in Malaya. The older children were in boarding school in England but the men were worried about the women and the younger children — I was 5 years old at the time.
My mother had worked in Australia before the War and still had friends in Melbourne. So my father sent us to stay in Frankstone on the edge of Port Philip Bay, Melbourne. It was a smallish town but 6 or 8 mothers went there from Singapore with their children. In 1941 as nothing had happened in Singapore, my mother asked if the family could return but my father said no.
It was a wonderful life in Australia There was no invasion and there were only a few shortages. We lived well, renting 3 different houses in 5 years, sometimes sharing. It was a wonderful childhood, wearing shorts and no shoes and I remember the road was so hot, we had to jump our way to the beach to avoid burning our feet. I went to kindergarten first and I remember getting in to trouble for climbing trees. Then we went to Toorak College. My sister was a difficult child and she was sent to boarding school though she was persuaded to go there by telling her it was a special treat.
In Singapore we had had several servants including an amah, a nanny, a cook and a driver. My mother who had 3 children, persudaed our amah to travel to Australia with us as did many other families. By 1943, the Australians had become envious of these home helps and tried to persuade them to go and work for them for more money. Our Chinese amah asked for a pay rise but my mother was only receiving a small part of my father’s pay as he was by then a prisoner, and she had money problems. When she told the amah she could stay or leave, the amah went to her room and screamed for 24 hours then left to work for an Australian family.
We spent all the war years in Australia until September 1945. We were to be repatriated by ship to England. As my mother still had not heard anything about my father — she had received a card from him in September 1945 — she left a message at the post office that no cables were to be delivered to the house. One week after we left a neighbour saw the postman delivering a cable and had to get the landlord to open the house to retrieve it. It was re-addressed to us on the ship. We had set sail in the Blue Funnel Line “Sarpeden” along with 50 or so mothers and maybe 70/80 children. The gunners used to entertain the children and play cards with them. The crew looked after the families well, feeding the mothers in the evening separately from the children so that they could have some peace. The cable to say that my father had died, missed the ship in Freemantle but caught up with up with us in Durban. My mother told us only that my father could not be found so it was a very long time before I accepted that he would not be coming back.
This story is linked to A PRISONER IN SIAM
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