Thursday, 9 August 2018

Bill Aiers



While many Dreadnought Boys went on from rural life to other pursuits, some becoming quite prominent, it is useful to hear of those who stayed with it. James William Stanton Aiers was one of these young men.

Bill was born in Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire UK, in 1906, but within a few years the family had moved to the Oakthorpe district in Leicestershire. During the First World War, when most fit men were away at the Front, Bill worked in the fields, starting straight from school. This continued after the war, but Bill heard from friends that it was a much better life in Australia. Both he and his older brother Ronald decided to go. Their aunt paid for their passage, with the boys accepted for the Dreadnought Scheme.

The Aiers boys travelled out on the Demosthenes, which reached Sydney on 27 November 1922. Although they both had farm experience, they were sent to Glen Innes in northern NSW for more farm training. On completion of training, Bill was placed in the Urbenville area (about 15km south of the Queensland border), evidently on the Connell farm on Beaury Creek. In 2008 Bill, aged 102, was interviewed by ABCTV- Landline’s Tim Lee who asked about his experience of the people at the farm. Bill was emphatic “They were really good…….they were good to me.” Bill met Hilda Taylor on a neighbouring farm, and they were married in 1929. By 1935, Bill and his family were in Urbenville and he was working as a carrier.

In the early 1930s, there had been a big controversy in Bill’s area about the cattle tick eradication programme. Through it, Bill had become a pioneer in the construction of the chemical dips used for tick control. But time had come to move on, and the end of the war years saw Bill living in Queensland; in 1947-48 he was involved with Brook Lodge, a well-known Palmwoods dairy cattle stud which specialised in Jersey cattle. From there he went on to Cooroy where he worked in banana and sugar cane production.

Bill went back to England three times for visits, but never wanted to stay. After one visit, Bill commented “The best thing I did in my life was coming to Australia.”

Bill’s wife, Hilda, died in 1977. His own long life came to an end, several months after the Landline programme was shown, when he passed away on 20 October 2008. Bill Aiers had done what the Dreadnought Scheme intended.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

VALE - ALAN GILL



The Dreadnought Association lost a good friend and strong supporter when Alan Gill passed away on 23rd February this year.

Alan George Frank Gill was not a Dreadnought Boy, but, had come as a migrant from UK with his wife, Daisy, in 1971. He worked with the Sydney Morning Herald as a journalist and, for many years, was the Religious Affairs Reporter for the Herald. Here he met with leaders of all faiths – from the Pope to the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and many others.

Alan was a man of compassion and insight and this was reflected in his newspaper work and his later writing. In 1985, Alan Gill won a Walkley Award for excellence in journalism. In 1995, Alan was recognised for his services to the media when he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.

Alan Gill’s interest in the Dreadnought Boys dates from 1974 when he first met Arthur Braun, and then Norman Monsen a few weeks later. Alan joined the Association and got to know many Dreadnoughts in the years that followed.

Alan Gill at the 1994 Reunion and AGM
                                                                         (photo: Association Archives)

In retirement, Alan Gill wrote the ground-breaking book Orphans of the Empire (1997) where he exposed the realities of British child migrants and their treatment. Then came Interrupted Journeys, Refugees from Hitler’s Reich (2004). This was followed (in 2005) by Likely Lads and Lasses, Youth Migration to Australia 1911-1983, and in this comprehensive book, he included stories of individual Dreadnought Boys.

When the Association celebrated the Centenary of the Dreadnought Scheme, in 2011, Alan played a key role in its success. Alan had always looked after his fitness with ocean and harbour swimming and dancing with Daisy as partner, but in recent years his health declined. He died a month short of 81 years.


We salute you Alan Gill.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Hubert Algar Storey

(Sometimes things don't go to plan)


Carpenters were building a house at Boonjee near Malanda (west of Cairns) in Queensland. On their way to work on August 6 1928, they discovered the almost decomposed body of a man lying in thick scrub not far from a scrub-cutters camp. The head was severed and battered beyond recognition. In the camp some blood-stained clothing was found. Two men who had been scrub-felling, Walters and Kelly, had disappeared five weeks earlier, and after two weeks absence the police were notified. No trace of the men could be found, but later the dead man was identified as Frederick Charles Walters, a recent arrival from England. Enquiries were made and an arrest warrant was issued.

Hubert Algar Storey (21) was arrested on board the Sydic, when it arrived in Gravesend from Australia, and charged with the Walters murder. Queensland police believed him to be James Maurice Kelly. He was taken to Bow Street where he pleaded not guilty and was remanded in custody for a week. “I will have no trouble in proving I am Storey” he said from the dock, before being taken to Brixton Prison.

Investigations at Australia House established that Storey (of Kentish Town) migrated under the Dreadnought Scheme for Sydney. Their last record of him was three years ago, when he was working on a farm near Inverell in NSW. Queensland police also telegrammed that Storey’s account of his movements appeared to be correct. As Storey said “I have never been known as James Maurice Kelly… he is supposed to be an Australian, but I was born and reared at Oxford.” On September 12 1928, Storey was discharged at the Bow Street Police Court.

Although overjoyed at his release and reunion with family, he observed “I shall never forget the chill that passed through me when the detectives and inspector boarded the ship and said that I was arrested for the murder.”

Hubert Storey had arrived in Sydney, as a Dreadnought Boy, on April 10 1925, on the Euripides. He was sent for training to the Arrawatta Agricultural Farm. After training, his experience in the Inverell area left him lonely and disillusioned. He became very critical of the Dreadnought Scheme, especially that little interest was taken in him as far as employment was concerned. He believed that he had been thrown onto his own resources after a few months. He had tramped NSW and Queensland until he reached Cairns. During part of that time he was with Wirth’s Circus.

When interviewed after his discharge, the six-footer with a generous crop of fair hair, said “I finally decided to go home and then join my brother in Rhodesia. I heard the Sydic was short of a stoker. I applied and obtained the job. I should have notified the authorities at Cairns that I was leaving. I mentioned the fact to the ship’s engineer, but there was no time: he assured me it would be alright. Doubtless my hurried departure, caused the authorities to suspect me…. Ours will be the happiest fireside in the whole of England tonight.”

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Roy J Moore



(Roy Moore was the founder of the Dreadnought Old Boys Association)

On 26 April 1924 sixty British lads between the ages of fifteen and eighteen boarded Demosthenes at Tilbury Docks to begin their journey to New South Wales. They arrived in Sydney on 13 June and, like other boys coming under the Dreadnought Scheme, were sent to Government Training Farms. Roy Moore and six others were sent to Cowra.

After three months training he was sent as a jackeroo to Amatree Station, and later became manager of that property.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Roy joined the AIF and went overseas with the 2/4th Battalion, serving in the Middle East. Returning to civilian life after the war, Roy was in various occupations including the selling of farm machinery, life insurance and poultry farming. From 1966 until his retirement he conducted the newsagency at Adelong.

Roy played his part in church and community life, as a member of the church Parish Council and the local Chamber of Commerce. He was proud of being an Englishman and loved his adopted country.

Fifty years after his arrival, Roy wrote to Sydney and country newspapers inviting other Dreadnought Boys, especially those who came on Demosthenes with him to meet in Sydney to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their arrival in Australia. He was a prolific writer to the press, and largely as a result of his persistence replies came in from all over New South Wales and Queensland.

On 13 June 1974 twelve men met with Roy at the Wentworth Hotel and decided to form a Dreadnought Old Boys’ Association. This association would meet annually. Roy was elected president. After five years, owing to ill health, he stepped down but was elected vice-president for life. Early on that June morning Roy had slipped quietly into St Andrew’s Cathedral to give thanks to God for what those fifty years had meant to him.

Roy was a loyal subject of Her Majesty and was anxious to obtain the Vice-Regal patronage of His Excellency, the Governor of NSW. At his first approach, he was told that, among other conditions, the association had to be in existence for five years before the request could be considered.

Five years later, Roy made another approach to Government House and Sir Roland Cutler accepted patronage. His successors continued on as patrons of the Association for the next 34 years.

The Dreadnought Old Boys’ Association had a membership of 270 men by 1982, a direct result of Roy’s untiring efforts. Their annual reunions continued for nearly 25 years.

As years passed, the Old Boys’ Association became the Dreadnought Association, open to families, descendants and interested friends of the Dreadnought Scheme.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Tribute to the Dreadnought Boys



Many people from many countries have come to Australia, and known the experience of a new life in a new land. Tony Kibblewhite (Snr), who came with other boys on the SS Balranald in 1923, voiced his reflection on this - in verse. It has spoken for many other Dreadnought Boys over the years.

.........

We left our homes so long ago,
To reach a land we did not know.
Our hearts were young, our hopes were high,
To live beneath the southern sky.


The land was wild, the country rough,
The wages low, the conditions tough.
At milking cows we found employ,
Most cockies had a ‘pommie’ boy.


As years went by, for many reasons,
And just as varied as the seasons,
By change of job, and change of station,
We played our part to build this nation.


Yet we prize our British birth,
Still call it ‘Home’ across the earth.
I think you’ll agree with me,
These lines, our epitaph should be.


We love this land of our adoption,
To leave, we know, there is no option.
She gave us joy, she gave us toil,
God give us peace, beneath her soil.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Arthur Ernest ('Snowball') Brawn




(The Rev. Arthur Brawn was a key player in the modern recognition of the Dreadnought Scheme. On the same ship as Ernest Thornton, he describes his trip and early years here.)



My decision to migrate to Australia, was not a hasty one. In 1922, my father opened a shop of his own in Tottenham. We lived on the premises. We were open all day Saturdays, and our half-holiday was Thursday. I started going to Australia House in the Strand on Thursday afternoon, seeing films of life in Australia and their displays and, of course, reading the propaganda. On Christmas Eve 1923, we had opened the shop at 9 am and I served my last customer at 11.45 pm. I remember going outside and saying to a friend nearby, ‘I’ve had enough. This is my last Christmas Eve in a shop……. I think I’ll go to Australia.’ My parents and I began to look at schemes of immigration, and the Dreadnought Scheme was selected.

We left Tilbury on 26 April, 1924. There were sixty of us, all eighteen years of age or younger, with fifteen the youngest. I had my eighteenth birthday four days later, on the SS Demosthenes of the Aberdeen line. After leaving Tilbury, I was asked to help in the bakehouse. During the voyage, I learned to ‘punch the dough’ and toss pancakes, to roll them when they were served with jam, and squeeze lemons on them when they were ‘lemon pancakes’. I ate with the bakers, and I had plenty of cakes too, and was able to take cakes back to the cabin for the boys. At the end of the journey I received the handsome amount of two pounds for my services. I had enjoyed the experience and the food.

Our first sight of Australia was Albany, Western Australia, but we were unable to go ashore. The roughest part of our journey was across the Great Australian Bight. Ropes were stretched across the decks for us to hang on to as we went from one part of the ship to the other.

We arrived in Sydney, and on 13 June were met on the ship by the immigration people. Photographs were taken by newspaper men, and then up to the Garrison Church Hall at The Rocks where ladies, from the Empire Service Club, gave us morning tea and welcomed us to New South Wales. They told us about the club rooms in George Street North, and invited us to use them before going back to the ship for the night. Most of us spent the evening at the Club, where there were writing facilities, and a piano where we did a lot of community singing that night. The next morning, we took the train to Mulgrave en route to Scheyville Farm.

Life at the farm was interesting. One week at the dairy we were taught the rudiments of milking, including getting the cows in with the help of lanterns in the dark. Another week, I remember was spent on fencing; a week on ploughing, single furrow and double furrow; a week on sheep when we were taught how to kill and dress a sheep. I had a week on kitchen duties, too. I remember peeling potatoes, loads of them—there were sixty boys in all during our time.

Then came a job in the country. I was rostered to a Wilsons Creek farm at Mullumbimby, and another boy, Dave Jolley, was to come with me to a farm at Coopers Creek.

We had to travel by ship to Byron Bay. We enjoyed the sea trip and then went by train to Mullumbimby. When nobody met us, we had to find the cream carrier in town, and in the afternoon sat on empty cream cans in the back of his wagon, which was drawn by four horses.

When we got to the top of Lavertys Gap, the driver stopped and unloaded the empty cream cans. He said to me, ‘This is where you get off,’ and unloaded my baggage, telling me that the house was over the creek, it could not be seen from the road, ‘They’ll come and get your bags. Pretty rough if they don’t!’

I set off down the track, and came to the creek, wondering how I was to get across, when a wild-looking man, beard, flannel shirt and trousers, an old hat, and smoking a pipe, appeared at the other side, and with a broad Scottish accent, called for me to use the stepping stones and come across.

This was my introduction to the McKeans. Stuart, who met me, was farming at Dorroughby. I was to be at Wilsons Creek until I had improved in my milking skills, and then I was to go across to Dorroughby. I had a very happy time with them. Given a room in the house, I was treated like one of the family. In the orchard were fruit trees that I hadn’t seen before, mandarins, loquats, and grape vines. In due course, I was taken across to the farm at Boomerang Creek, Dorroughby.

Stuart, a very strong Scotsman, worked hard long hours, so did I. I had a room in the house, food was good and plentiful, and did my own washing. While with McKeans, I bought a horse for eight pounds.

Long working hours always finished up in the dark, and as we were at the end of his run, the cream carrier came to us first in the morning, so we had to be finished milking and separating before he came. We felled and burnt off about twenty acres of standing scrub along Boomerang Creek, and planted maize. My hands got used to the shape of the rounded brush-hook handle, and then the different-shaped axe handle. Milking prevented me from getting a really hard skin, so I had some shocking blisters.

Sundays was a free day (between milking) and, in the morning I went to Dorroughby Methodist Church, and in the afternoon in summer would swim in the creek below the house. Later on, there were trips up into the scrub.

Rev. W Willey and his wife were very kind to me. He started a training class for local preachers and invited me. This became a turning point in my life. My first service was at Rosebank on a Sunday night, 19 April 1926. I was shaky at the thought of me, a young farm labourer, having the temerity to stand up in front of these farmers, their wives and families and preach to them!

When the McKeans left their farm in September 1925, I moved to Easts near Dunoon, at thirty shillings a week. Spring 1926 was very dry, and by October the district was in the grip of a severe drought. One day, Mr East told me that he could no longer afford to pay me wages ‘until the rain comes’. As I had not had a holiday since coming to Australia, I said, if I could leave my horse on the farm, I would take a holiday until the drought broke.

I decided to find a job, continue my studies and offer for the ministry. Later in 1927, I was appointed Circuit Assistant in the Lismore Methodist Church and stayed until I entered Leigh College at Enfield in February 1928.

                                                            ----------------


After completing three years in college, Arthur Brawn was sent to Milton on the NSW South Coast, but shortly after, he went as a missionary to the Nakanai District, New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

He returned to Lismore to marry Jean Hewitson. Together they spent another three years (1932-35) in New Britain. They served the church in the Coffs Harbour, Alstonville, Gosford Circuits and four areas in Sydney, before retiring in 1973.

In 1974, Rev.Arthur Brawn helped form the Dreadnought Association, gathering the scattered numbers of those boy migrants for a yearly reunion. He served as secretary of the Association from 1974 to 1978 and as president from 1979 to 1991. He passed away in 1993, and many Dreadnought Boys came to his memorial service.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Ernest Thornton



In his time, Ernest Thornton was the most prominent of all Dreadnought Boys. He was a national and international figure. He was both loved, and intensively loathed – he evoked strong feelings, which often decried his achievements. Viewed half a century later, it is possible to be more objective about Ernest Thornton.

Ernest Thornton was born on 13 March 1907 in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, to Lewis and Selina Thornton. His father, Lewis, was a tram driver for the Huddersfield Corporation’s municipal tram system. The 1911 census shows both parents present, and reveals that Ernest was the only surviving child, two others had already died. He was four years old when his mother left the family soon after.

Brought up by his father and educated at local board schools, Ernest Thornton started work at 14 years of age. He worked in factory jobs and on building sites, where his own experience stirred concerns about the pay and conditions of working people, and their relative powerlessness to change them. As a Huddersfield boy, he would have learnt about the industrial violence of the Luddites in the town 110 years earlier. His interest in radical politics was born!

By 1924 it was time for a change, and having been accepted for the Dreadnought Scheme, Ernest Thornton sailed for Australia in the Demosthenes. Arriving in Sydney on 12 June 1924, 17-year-old Thornton was sent to Scheyville Farm at Pitt Town west of Sydney. After three months’ training, he was given a country farm placement, but he was not impressed by his treatment and moved on south to Victoria. He found work on farms, road construction and a variety of other jobs. During these years his views became more militant, his attitude hardened by forced unemployment as the Depression hit. Ernie Thornton became more involved with the Unemployed Workers Movement.

For Thornton, 1931 was a pivotal year. In it, he formally joined the Communist Party of Australia, convinced of its promise and finding opportunity to use his powerful rhetoric. It was the beginning of his public crusade. In September police broke up his meeting in Bendigo, but in doing so boosted recruitment to the local UWM branch. In December Ernie Thornton stood as election candidate in the Federal seat of Yarra, opposing James Scullin, the then Labor Prime Minister. Thornton also emerged as a prolific contributor to the Worker’s Weekly published in Sydney. “We must lead and not follow.”, he called.

In 1932, Thornton stood for the State seat of Melbourne. With little chance of winning, the aim was to build voter support. However, in October, Ernie Thornton felt the impact of the CPA’s rigid discipline, when he was expelled from the Party. His “extreme egoism” was seen as the core of the problem by his District Committee. In January 1933, he was re-admitted to the Party by its Central Committee, the Worker’s Weekly publishing this news, along with Thornton’s 830 word mea culpa.

June 1934 saw Ernie Thornton (election photo above) again standing unsuccessfully against Scullin (now Federal Opposition Leader). More important personally, on 9 August Ernie married Lila Felstead, a divorced mother with two boys.

In the next few years, Thornton’s rise in political and trade union power continued – he became Secretary of the Victorian Communist Party, took his place on the Victorian Labor Council, representing the Federated Ironworkers Association (in spite of attempts to block it), and in 1936 became General Secretary of the FIA of Australia. In 1939 this position became a full-time appointment. He and the family moved up to Sydney, also in 1939.

Prior to World War 2, the CPA had been anti-fascist, but the Hitler/Stalin non-aggression pact of 1939 sent them very mixed messages. Germany’s invasion of Russia in June 1941 reinvigorated the anti-fascist struggle. Thornton believed that it changed the nature of the war for the CPA, and called for a more co-operative approach to parliament than had been envisaged. The growth of unions continued in this atmosphere, and in 1941, the FIA was the largest blue-collar union in Australia with 48,500 members.

Thornton, while busy with union growth, still found time to promote his strategies in pamphlets which he published (eg. Inquiry into the Steelworks - in 1942 and Stronger Trade Unions in 1943). In 1943, munitions workers were brought under the FIA umbrella. Ernest Thornton, at only 36 years of age, was now one of the most powerful men in Australia, with industrial control of both the nation’s steel and munitions industries – The Red Czar of Australia. At the Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress in 1945, the CPA controlled 90 out of 400 delegates, and Thornton was able to orchestrate the election of three communists to the ACTU Executive.

Ernest Thornton’s international profile grew in the late 1940s, with his involvement with the World Federation of Trade Unions. His first attempt as an Australian delegate was stymied by developments in the war, but in October 1945 he attended the Paris Congress and afterward visited the USSR. He returned in early 1946, with a more aggressive agenda. The Chifley Government was a particular target over the issues of wage pegging and economic restraint, and failure to develop an independent foreign policy.

Thornton had the first serious challenge to his industrial base when his hold on the FIA was tested in the 1946 FIA elections by a dissident (Trotskyist) group in the Balmain branch of the union, and by the Labor Party’s Industrial Group. He continued his overseas activities, attending a conference in Russia and the second WFTU Congress in Italy although, by 1949, ACTU support for this was drying up. Internal struggles in union branches around Australia were growing, opponents more and more determined.

These struggles culminated in the infamous 1949 FIA elections. The Thornton ticket had won, but the result was challenged by rival, Laurie Short, in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. After a long drawn out case, the Court found that the vote had been rigged with at least 1800 forged votes. A watershed moment in union politics and in Thornton’s life! Ernest Thornton did not wait around for the result, he resigned in 1950 and went to Peking (Beijing) as Australian Liaison Officer in the WFTU. The WFTU was now regarded as a direct arm of Soviet communism.

Thornton returned unexpectedly to Sydney in August 1953, and having organised a delegation of trade unionists for it, left six weeks later to attend the third Congress of the WFTU in Vienna. Back in Australia at the end of 1953, Ernest Thornton was jobless. He did get a job with Stephenson’s at Mascot on 15th February 1954, but it lasted one day. Under pressure from the new FIA leadership, he was sacked on the 16th with one week’s pay. Subsequently he took up full-time work with the CPA until 1967, when the party’s finances meant he had to find other work. Aged 60, Ernie Thornton qualified as a crane driver, and joining the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association, he became honorary president in Sydney.

Following a heart attack, Ernest Thornton died on 29 June 1969, leaving wife, Lila, and his two stepsons. He was 62 years old.

A fearless man? He was a Dreadnought!