- Contributed by
- Brian Napper
- People in story:
- Winifred ("Midge") Warner
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 January 2006
This page is the continuation from 6b of the story told by the late "Midge" Warner, and prepared by Brian Napper. (For the context see 5. 50 Years on: a Small World !.)
Midge’s daughter Jennifer’s childhood memories of these events can be seen in 7. Jenny's story. The two stories can be cross-referenced by using the similar section headings.
My annotations are given in square brackets.
The Voyage from Cape Town
In Cape Town for some reason I was trans-shipped with a few other women and children. The captain decided there was too many of us on board. [More likely they needed to send some sailors back to Britain as quickly as possible — see Brian’s Story - The Journey to England! And they probably threw off the people in the cabins they wanted for the sailors.] There was another ship there — a Scottish ship — I can’t remember its name, but it was the sister ship of the one that went down on the very first day of war. [This was S.S. Athenia; so Midge's ship was probably the “Letitia” of the Donaldson Line, half the size of the “Empress of Japan”, and therefore probably slower.]
A South African came on board and he said “The British Government don’t want you back in England if you have got children under the age of five, because you are no good to them — you can’t work. So they are prepared to pay you a small amount to stay in South Africa. But I might tell you that we don’t want you either!” So we felt pretty awful! Everybody was against us by then! One or two women did stay, but I don’t think they did very well. I think they found the allowance the British Government gave them wasn’t really enough. And the South Africans weren’t all that friendly. They didn’t want extra people — I don’t know why. Anyway I thought “Well I’m going back to England; I’m not staying in South Africa!” So back to England I came.
The Scottish ship was better than the Canadian Pacific one. There were fewer of us on board the new ship. It was a Scottish captain and we did have reasonable meals and reasonable treatment. We sat down for meals. There was of course blackout. After we left Cape Town we went up the west coast of Africa, up to Freetown, Sierra Leone. We didn’t go ashore there, but we were anchored off for a bit. We never knew where we were going to go next. From there we went right out into the North Atlantic and right round the north of Ireland and up the Clyde into Glasgow. I can’t remember how long it took.
Arrival in Glasgow — March/April 1942
When we got to Glasgow, we got in on a very very cold spring evening.
We went through an awful interrogation on board ship before they let us off — to say who we were — they were very cautious of course as to who they let into the country. We had a Japanese woman on board — she was married to an Englishman — and we also had one or two Germans, also married to Englishmen. In fact we got quite friendly with one of the Germans; she was one of the women we used to share our tea with. We were put through this awful interrogation and I was asked where I was going. I said “Well, I am going I hope to my mother.” And they said “When did you last hear from her?”, and I said “Well, it was back in ..” — well, I can’t remember it now — November the previous year, or even earlier than that. And they said “How do you know she’s there?” and I said “Well, I don’t — I presume she is.” They said “Oh well, she could have been bombed,” and I said “Well, I’m going back anyway.” So back I came. And of course she was there, and took us in.
I rang up an Aunt of mine in the evening from the Central station in Glasgow -- my mother wasn’t on the phone in those days; not many people were. I said “I’m back,” and she said “Where are you?” and I said “I’m in Glasgow.” Of course they had heard nothing from me for months. I said “I am coming down by train to Wolverhampton tomorrow.” Then I said “What has happened to my husband?” And she said “He is in Columbo. He escaped from Singapore to Java, with the R.A.F. [he had now joined the regular R.A.F., as he had previously learnt to fly as a hobby], and he got away from from one of the last ports that was open. He was bombed at sea, and rescued, and then he got to Columbo, and he has been stationed there.” I thought “Well, thank God he is safe.” You know, so many of our friends either didn’t know, or their husbands were prisoners of war. It was the first time I’d heard of him of course since I left Singapore. Of course they didn’t know what had happened to me, and he didn’t know — so they were going to cable him straight away and let him know I’d arrived back.
I went on the night mail from Glasgow to Wolverhampton. This Aunt and her husband met us at the station in the morning and we went back home to my mother. It was fortunate I had got my mother.
Back Home with All the Family
My husband sent me a cable. And of course he also managed to write me a letter, but they took ages to come, as of course they all had to go by such a roundabout route. Then in the summer he wrote and said he was being sent back to England by the R.A.F. for an operation to his arm, which they couldn’t do out there. They sent him up to India, but it couldn’t be done there. So they’d have to send him home. He came home and he got back on August 8th , which was exactly twelve years to the day since he first sailed for Malaya! He had to go down and be interviewed in London by the R.A.F. people, and he went into the Wingfield-Morris hospital [now the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre] in Oxford for the operation to his arm -- his right arm. It was quite a tricky one. It was because of a car accident he had had in Malaya before he was married. He had been up country, and not able to get very quickly to a hospital, and at one time they thought they would have to take the arm off. They managed to save it, but it was never right. Of course you had to deal with things pretty quickly in those times, because they went septic if you didn’t. It stopped him from playing any games, except golf. He said it improved his golf — I didn’t know why! And he had got some of his fingers paralysed on that hand. He could use it pretty well, but it got worse when he was out in Columbo, so they said “Oh well, we’ll have to send you home to get it seen to.”
So he had this operation in the Wingfield-Morris. He came home for a short time, and we went on holiday just for a week in a little place in Shropshire — near Bridgnorth, which is a nice little town. We went and stayed there for a week, for a change. Then he had to go again to London to see the R.A.F. people.
Too Good to be True
We thought we were so lucky. All of our friends were either killed or their husbands were prisoners of war. Very few people [menfolk?] got away. My husband had quite a tricky voyage home from Columbo, and a lengthy one. He had to come all the way round — he couldn’t go through the Suez canal. And we thought “You know, we are terribly lucky to have all three got back.”
After he’d had the operation he had to go up to London to see some Board or other, in connection with the R.A.F., and they said they were going to send him to convalesce at the R.A.F. Officers’ Hospital in Torquay. Now this was originally the Palace Hotel, one of the grand hotels in Torquay, but they’d made it into a convalescent home for R.A.F. officers. So he came back from the board and said he’d been sent to Torquay. My mother said “I don’t like that; they get air raids sometimes in Torquay.” He laughed, and said “Well I don’t think the odd air raid will frighten me now, after all I’ve been through in the Far East.” But it was rather funny -- he didn’t want to go. He asked them if they could send him somewhere nearer home, but he said “Of course, if you are in the forces you’re just a number and they send you where they think, and you don’t have any say in the matter.” And they said “No; that’s the best place for you.”
So he went down to Torquay, and after he had been there a week he wrote and said would I go down for a few days and see him. I said “Yes”, and it was arranged that I should go on the Monday — that would be the 26th of October by then, 1942. Travel was very difficult in the war, so he said “I’ll find out about the trains and send you a letter about them.” So on the Monday morning I was expecting a letter from him saying what time I was to go down. I think I was supposed to go on the Tuesday [in fact, not the Monday]. I saw the postman come, but there was no letter from him, and I said to my mother “Oh, that’s funny, he’s never sent the letter.” Then I saw a telegraph boy coming, so I said “Oh, he’s sent me a telegram instead to tell me the train.”
The telegraph boy delivered the telegram and it said he had been killed the day before. The Germans had come over on the Sunday morning under cover of cloud and bombed the hospital, even though it had a large red cross on the roof. They dropped one bomb on the road in front, and one on the hospital, and he was killed outright.
So after all that … It was so funny, because normally he was an optimistic and cheerful sort of person, but he didn’t want to go to Torquay — he had a feeling about it. And I’d bought some new shoes — buying new shoes was quite a thing in those days, because you didn’t get them very often — and I showed them to him — they were rather a nice pair. He took them in his hands, and he said “Hmm, it’s a pity someone else will see you wearing them and not me!” And I said “What do you mean?” And he said “Oh, I don’t know” and shook his head. And I said “Well, you’ll come on leave; you’ll see me wearing them when you come on leave.” And he said “I don’t know what will happen to me, where I shall be sent to.” And I said “Well, wherever you go you will come back on leave, so you’ll see them then.” And he just shook his head. And of course he never did see me wearing them.
He was 31 when he died, on Sunday October 25th 1942.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.