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Thursday, 28 June 2012

25. Bert in WWII

Bert's life during the Second World War could hardly have been more different than his life during WWI. He was now a civilian, on the other side of the world, with a grown family. By 1940 his two elder children were married and independent. Sylvia still lived at home, but was working and contributing board.

Bert with his dog, Teddy, 1940s
Hard work and frugality had resulted in a modicum of comfort for Bert and Nell. Their home was comfortable.  In their sitting room  they had a large mantle radio that Bert liked to listen to in the evenings, and they had a pianola with a collection of pianola rolls that became the centre piece of evenings with friends.

The local factories were short of labour as young men enlisted and went to war. Bert's son, although he did not enlist, was not interested in the nursery business. Bert was too much a product of the Victorian era to even consider that his daughters might be business partners in the nursery, even though both of them were interested in plants and cultivation. Women, in his world, raised children, kept house and helped out. They weren't partners, and they weren't the future of a business.

Men working at Textile Dyers and Bleachers 1940
Bert responded to the call for older men to help keep the factories working, closed his nursery, and went to work for Textile Dyers and Bleachers in Mentmore Avenue, Rosebery. He worked there until 1956. The company eventually specialised in a form of winter cotton, similar to Viyella. Workers could bring home the ends of the rolls of dyed fabric that were cut off before the rolls left the factory. Sylvia and Grace turned these into clothes and Nell hooked strip rugs for every room in the house.

Bert exchanged his nursery truck for a car. When he wasn't at work, or driving the car, he was cleaning, adjusting or tinkering with it.

Grace, Syd & Sylvia WWII
Grace's husband, Sid Molloy, had joined the Australian Navy and was at sea for much of the War. Sylvia frequently stayed with Grace while Syd was away.

In her waitressing job in the city, Sylvia met many servicemen on leave and went out with some of them. If she liked the look of the English servicemen, and they were in Sydney over a weekend, she would invite two or three of them home on a Sunday. Bert would take the group for a drive to La Perouse, Kurnell, Cronulla, Jannali and accessible 'bush'. Nell would kill and cook one of her chickens, and the evening would be spent singing around the pianola. It was a touch of 'over home' giving them news of places and developments in England.


                                                    In 1940 Bert became a grandfather with the birth of Albert's daughter Irene. Bert liked children, and enjoyed taking Irene and her parents on excursions in his car, to places like the small sanctuary at Doll's Point where you could pat a kangaroo.

Letter writing rarely made it to the top of Bert's priority list. His mother wrote and asked for news. As time went by, Grace took on the task of writing to the grandmother after whom she was named.

In 1945 Sylvia met Len Haynes, a young British sailor in Sydney while his ship, the Formidable,  was repaired after kamikazi attack. They corresponded when the Formidable returned to sea, and when the War ended, Len chose to be demobilised in Sydney.

Sylvia was 20 when she and Len married in January 1946. Bert grumbled, but gave his permission when Sylvia said she would wait until she was 21 and marry him anyway.

The couple went to Lake Burrill for two weeks honeymoon, then moved into the front room of Bert and Nell's house at 98 Banksia St. Botany. The post-war housing shortage in Sydney meant they lived in this front room for the first seven years of their marriage.

At the end of the war, Albert persuaded Frank Hurley, the war photographer, to take him on as an unofficial apprentice in his photography studio in Sydney. Albert went to the studio after work each day and worked with Hurley, developing and printing photographs, learning the trade. Albert then began to photograph weddings, to do some street photography and within a few years, established his own business as a photographer. It was not what his father had envisaged, but it did display the entrepreneurial spirit of Bert's father and grandfather, and of Bert himself in his nursery business.

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