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A Sea Evacuee Story to Melbourne

by Elizabeth Lister

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Elizabeth Lister
People in story: 
Patricia Johnson (nee McGinty)
Location of story: 
Aintree, Liverpool & Melbourne, Australia
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A7590765
Contributed on: 
07 December 2005

Pat McGinty on the day of evacuation, 3rd August 1939, Aintree

This story was submitted to the website by Eleanor Fell. on behalf of Patricia Johnson (nee McGinty), who has given her permission to add her story to the website and understands the terms and conditions.

I grew up in Aintree in Liverpool, and when I was 8 and a half it was decided by my parents, Alice and Arthur McGinty, to send me to Australia through a government organization known as CORB (Children's Overseas Reception Board). I found the whole idea quite exciting and a bit of an adventure. I knew I was going to be on a big ship and the only boat I had ever been on before was a ferry across the Mersey!

I later found out that the evacuation of children overseas was supposed to be kept top secret because of the threat of U-boat attacks. I'm sure that at the age of eight, I probably let a few of my friends know at school.

On the 3rd August 1939 I left Aintree, staying overnight at a big school nearby with other children who were going on the same journey. In total 480 children went on board the Batory which was a Polish ship originally, in addition there were about 200 soldiers on board who were going out to Singapore.

My father said goodbye to me, my mother was too upset to come and see me off. My father told me to "Be a good girl and don't loose your coat."

The journey itself was quite eventful. It was 20,000 mile trip, crossing the equator three times in an attempt to dodge U-boat attack and German mines. The journey took nearly three months in total, before we docked in Melbourne, Australia.

The journey was the adventures I had hoped for because we visited so many countries. The first stop was Freetown in Sierra Leone, where we were given quinine to prevent us getting malaria. We weren't allowed ashore and had to stay on the boat, but I remember seeing some local African boys come out on small boats. We threw things like knives and forks into the water and they would dive down to retrieve them.
Life on the boat was regular routine. I shared a cabin with three other girls, and we were awaken for breakfast by a bell. There were two sittings for every meal, because of the numbers of children on board. We had to do boat drill every day, we had to go to our designated area and taught how to put on our 'kapoks' (life jackets) and it was drilled into us that we must carry them with us at all times. We were escorted by men and women, who cared for us and taught us during school lessons which we had everyday on the boat.

We weren't allowed to go below deck back to our cabins, until 11.55 when the captain had finished the inspection. We had rest periods in the afternoon, which would be filled in various ways, film shows, talks and of course games. There was a big cupboard where all the games were kept and my favourite was pick up sticks.

Our escorts organized for us to give concerts to the soldiers onboard. Music and singing was a big part of life onboard the ship. It must have been nice for the Polish sailors who had left their families behind, as they were all wonderful to us.

If you had a birthday onboard the ship - which I did - then you would get a birthday cake, which was a special treat.

On thing I remember is that when we arrived in Cape Town, we were taken ashore to Government House and we were all given books as a present, mine was called 'The Night Before Christmas". It was wonderful being back on land again, because we had space to run around.

When we finally arrived in Melbourne, we were all taken to a big reception hall and I was met by my Great Uncle, William Fisher.

I was able by to keep in touch with my family by letter, but one day I was able to record a broadcast to my family, which went out on the BBC at home, so that my parents could hear my voice. My father wrote to the BBC after the recording and I have a transcript of what I said:

"Hello Mum and Dad - this is your daughter Pat saying Hello from Melbourne. How are Nin and Gran getting on - does Nin still do the sword dance with the two pokers? How is Uncle Wal and Uncle Frank? Remember me to the Atkins, the Shepherds and Barbara and Kathleen and all my old friends. I will be going to Preston High School after Christmas. I'm keeping in good health and quite happy here, although I would like to see you all again. Cheerio Mum, Dad and Nin. Best Wishes from all at Preston, lots of love Pat"

I eventually returned home in 1946, and had to get used to the rationing and sweet coupons. It was difficult to adjust after being a land that was warm and had plenty of food! It was strange being back with my family after so long. In fact when I arrived at Lime Street station, aged 14, I couldn't spot my parents immediately. I was looking for my big father, but of course because I had grown since I was eight, he looked much smaller. Eventually I went up to a couple who looked vaguely familiar and said "I'm Pat" and were reunited.

I met my husband as a teenage in the local sweet shop 'Ruddies' where I was learning to spend my sweet rationing coupons. He overheard my broad Australian accent and said to me "You sound like a parrot!" Luckily today I have lost the Australian accent that I picked up, but I can still put it on when needed!

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