Tuesday 21 May 2024

Bill Miller

William John Ernest Miller was born on 11 May 1908 at Catford, London to Ernest and May Miller. Soon after this the family moved to South Croydon in Surrey, where his father worked in the footwear industry.

In the years that followed World War I, conditions were tough and prospects seemed limited for many young people. Then Bill saw

                                            ‘Boys Wanted for Australia, Apply Within’

As Bill later wrote: “This is the advertisement that changed my whole life around. In 1924, at the age of sixteen, I applied to come to Australia and, with the approval of my parents, everything was arranged through the Dreadnought Scheme”.

SS Demosthenes

Bill travelled from London to Tilbury Docks and boarded the SS Demosthenes, which took about six weeks to reach Sydney on 19 March 1925. Bill arrived in Sydney with another 60 boys connected with the scheme, and, with 36 of them, was transported by train and road to Scheyville Training Farm. Here they stayed for the next three months to learn Australian farming methods. Following this farm training, Bill was sent to work on a farm at Dyraaba (21 km north west of Casino) in northern NSW.

During the next eight and a half years, Bill finished his time at Dyraaba and moved on, working on a number of farms in the Casino district. Then, after his marriage to Lorna Oliver on 20 January 1934, he commenced share-farming at Hogarth Range (west of Casino) and later at Ellangowan (south of Casino). The couple went on to have six children.

By 1938, Bill had a growing family and needed a more reliable income than his farmwork was providing so he applied for work with, and was accepted by, the NSW Department of Railways. His decision was well-timed. Drought conditions which had begun occurring in 1937, worsened in 1938 into what became known as the World War 2 Drought. Bill was initially based in Casino for several years before being transferred to Murwillumbah, where he remained until he retired from the Railways in 1970.

A reserved, reliable man of modest expectations, Bill Miller passed away in 2001, aged 93. His parents and sister had predeceased him, and wife Lorna passed away in 2002.

Among the thousands of boys who emigrated with the Dreadnought Scheme, there was a great variety of reasons for doing so. Difficult family relationships and family breakdown were part of the story for many of them. But there were also many who left home, with the approval and assistance of parents who wanted a better future for their son. In Bill Miller’s case, there was always a strong family connection, with his parents and sister Margaret coming as “Ten Pound Poms”, to join him in Murwillumbah in 1948.

Ironically, they each paid the same fare as Bill did, 23 years earlier.

Monday 26 February 2024

Bert Bridges


“Whoah, that was close!”

Probably not the words used, on the day Bert learnt how dangerous machinery could be. He had fallen off a steam-powered road engine and was run over by one of its big rear wheels. Being a small boy, Bert fitted between the high grips on its tread and escaped with his life, but with serious injury to his pelvis.

Albert William (Bert) Bridges was born on 25 March 1908 in Hendon (North London) to Robert and Rose Bridges, the fifth of seven children. His father had served in the British Army in the Sudan, Egypt, and the Boer War. Bert was six years old, when his father re-joined the Army to serve in France.

Young Bert got work in a picture theatre at Marble Arch. His job was to provide sounds during the screenings of the silent movies. Movies like The Retreat from Moscow and The Angel of Mans called for drums to be beaten off-stage for the thunder of gunfire. It needed imagination and good timing to create realistic sounds, and Bert enjoyed doing it. In 1922, Bert got work with leather goods specialist Garstin’s, in Hendon. He was there for three years, and received a valuable reference from them when he was about to leave England.

Bert had decided to emigrate. Bert, with his younger brother Tom and their friend Dick Willis, applied to travel with the Dreadnought Scheme, which brought them to Australia. They left on the SS Bendigo on 11 November 1926. Bert and Dick were 18 years old and Tom was a year younger. They reached Cape Town and, while there, decided to continue to Australia, on the toss of a coin. And so to Sydney, arriving on 7 January 1927.

In Sydney, they were given £2, put on a train to Cowra, sent to its Agricultural Experiment Farm. Bert’s first eight (hot) weeks were mainly spent cutting burrs. After training at the Farm, he went to Jack Pierce’s dairy in Taragala, South Cowra. This was followed by a brief time back at the Experiment Farm and then with Ernie Goodacre at Penrose, a farm north of Cowra. This was a positive time for Bert, the Goodacre family were very good to him.

The farm jobs were temporary at best, times were difficult, and men needed work. When construction of Wyangla Dam began, jobs became available on road-works to the site. In the hope of getting work, Bert and others were camped in a reserve on Waugoola Creek. They were living off rabbits, and food scraps from a bush kitchen which had been set up for the men working on the dam road. Dick Willis was working at a Mr Scott’s dairy at Warwick, a few miles down from Cowra on the Lachlan River. In 1929, Dick managed to get work in Newcastle, and when he gave notice, the Scotts asked whether he knew of someone to take his place. He went to Waugoola Creek to find Bert. Bert started with Scotts straightaway.

Dick and Bert were not the first Dreadnought Boys to work at the Scott farm. Before them were John Frith and Les Hirst (Check out the story posted back on 31 May 2017).

Despite the Depression the farm remained viable. People still needed to be fed and the farm was self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. Mr Scott had died in 1926 so his wife and daughters, Maud and Lil, were running the farm.

Tom Bridges had eventually left the Experiment Farm and found work locally, but he gradually went further away, from Grenfell to Young and then Western Australia. He had become a travelling show-man, moving around Australia before staying in the west.

Bert was able to go back to UK for five months in 1933. On return, aged 25, he settled into dairy farming life with the Scotts, who became his family. Then, just before World War 2, he met Grace James. War intervened in their plans - Bert enlisted in December 1941, being posted to the 2/7 Australian Field Ambulance in Canberra, and then in Gympie (Queensland). Brother Tom had also enlisted and was in Darwin when the Japanese attacked. When both Mrs Scott and her daughter Lil had died, Bert was manpowered out of the army in 1944, and returned to the farm.

                                                                               Bert Bridges’ Army Photo

Bert and Grace married in April 1945, and had four children in the ensuing eight years. Maud Scott continued to live with the Bridges family. In 1955 the family, with Maud Scott, sailed on a trip to UK. When the ship called into Perth, Tom met them. It was their last contact for some years.

When Maud Scott sold the farm to Bert, he continued to supply milk to the factories at Cowra and Canowindra. He also supplied to the kitchens at Fagan’s Mulyan and Edgell’s Lombardy, which operated at harvest time on these large asparagus farms. His side-line in vealer production also prospered.

Through his contacts Bert heard that Dick Willis was in hospital, ill with lung cancer. Dick lasted until 3 April 1967, aged 58 years. Meanwhile, Bert’s brother Tom had re-established contact with a surprise visit in the early 1960s. In 1974 Bert became ill with failing kidneys. He died on 10 June 1975. Tom continued to visit until his last trip in 1995. Tom died in Perth in 1996.

Back in 1911, one of the Trustees of the Scheme was confident that the young Dreadnought Boys would be our ‘future farmers and soldiers’. Bert Bridges fulfilled that hope and, with his family, made a lasting contribution to the Cowra District as well.

Friday 8 December 2023

Where was he sent?

Of the enquiries that we get about Dreadnought Boys, most are seeking information about the boy's place of training, and where he was sent for his farm placement. In most cases, the place of training is found in Dreadnought records. If the boy is sent direct to employment, information about only some of the boys is available in those records. For the great majority of boys, no information is shown regarding their farm placement.

Like a Christmas present, we have just been given advice that the missing information may be available, for boys arriving in the years from 1920 to 1939.

Farm placement was arranged by the NSW Department of Labour and Industry, which had correspondence and card index records for immigrants (including Dreadnought Boys) who the Dept. placed. The card index records have been kept and are open to Public Access.

These appear to be two series held in the State Archives Collection:
Museums of History New South Wales - State Archives Collection: Department of Labour and Industry; NRS 5542, Card index to immigrants, 1920-1926 NRS-5542-1-[9/1376]
Museums of History New South Wales - State Archives Collection: Department of Labour and Industry; RNCG, 374, Unidentified card index to immigrants, 1921-1947. RNCG-374-5-[11/23095]

Where we have not been able to provide information about a boy's farm placement, inquirers are advised to contact Museums of History New South Wales to find out if they have further information, for example, in these cards.

To assist MoH staff, information such as the name under which the boy travelled to Sydney, the name of the ship he came on, and the date of his arrival, should be provided.

If you have success, let us know what you’ve found out!

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Len (Happy) Day

 This day 100 years ago, the Dreadnought Scheme was getting back into full swing after the break due to World War II. A group of 40 Dreadnought Boys were on their way to Australia. One of these was Leonard Victor Day.

 Len Day was born on the 2nd May 1907 in Stoke-Newington in North London. He was the youngest of 6 children born to John and Eleanor Day. As a 16-year-old, he decided to join the Dreadnought Scheme. He travelled from London to Sydney on the SS Diogenes, arriving on 24 November 1923. That night he was put on the SS Orana as a steerage passenger to Byron Bay, on the NSW far north coast. They left Sydney at 10 pm on the Saturday night and arrived in Byron Bay in the early hours of Monday morning. To Len’s surprise, they had heaved-to for a couple of hours on Sunday while everyone, crew and captain, had fished at some special offshore fishing spots. (This was common practice when fair weather had given the ship a good run up the coast.)  

 He caught the train from Byron Bay. He had been told he would be met at the station in South Lismore, but no one was there when he arrived. He did not really know where he was going but, with the help of a local taxicab driver, he was able to confirm by phone that he was expected at the Government’s Experiment Farm at Wollongbar. Len Day was the only one of his group to be sent to the Wollongbar Farm.

 He spent six months at Wollongbar—the first three months were focussed on farm-work training; he received £6 at the start and £5 at the end from the Dreadnought Trust. In the second three months he was paid 7/6d a week by the Farm. After leaving the Farm he went to work at Pimlico for Bert and Harry Walsh on their dairy and a banana plantation. Another Dreadnought Boy, Pat Knight, also worked for them and he and Len were known as ‘Day and Night’. He didn’t mind the cows but carrying the banana bunches, sometimes with a snake included, down the hill on his back, was sheer hard work. His comments were not appreciated.

 His next job was on a cane farm, working with a share-farmer. After three weeks, the share-farmer went to hospital. Len still did his work, but word came from the hospital to ‘tell that bloody Pommie to get off the farm’, with no mention of the wages (over £5) that he was owed. He went to the farm owner, Jim Curran, who told him to keep working and that he would see he was paid, which he did. Curran then got him a job at Paddy Walsh’s butcher shop in Wardell. This was a happy time and he spent two years there. While the work was hard and of long hours, he had the opportunity to learn about butchering and retail trade. During this time, he earned thirty shillings plus his food per week. Eventually he left, on good terms with Paddy, to go to a dairy at Clunes.

 His eighteen months at Clunes with Jack Gallagher was a very happy time. When he left there, he went to Lismore to sell gramophones, pianolas and radios, but met with very little success. This was followed by a job repairing and repolishing second-hand furniture, which was not successful either.

Next was a job painting the buildings at the Lismore Showground, at 12/- a day. When this was finished the Show Society secretary asked him to bury a horse—half a day’s work paying six shillings. This led to further work, as an epidemic had hit the horses.

 After this, it was back to farming at Richmond Hill, Nimbin and Corndale, with wages getting less all the time. He next job was cutting lawns in Lismore. He could cut four lawns a day at 25/- each. Gardening was 4/- a half day and on Saturday he washed four cars at 2/- each - these cars belonged to government agricultural officers. At this stage, Hodge’s seed shop opened in Keen Street and, for 4/- per half day, he helped to introduce a new laying and growing mash to the Lismore poultry farmers. The success was such that he had to give up his gardens and car washing, and he was given a weekly wage and annual holidays. Len had found his niche in retail sales to the farm sector, and he stayed for quite some time.

 On 29 January 1938, Len Day married Marjorie Edith (Madge) Smalley in Lismore.

Len Day (1940)

Len enlisted in the army in July 1940, and was away until November 1945. He served with the 2nd/4th Battalion in Darwin during the Japanese raids, and then in New Guinea from late 1944.

After the war, Len joined the Sunshine Nursery in Lismore where he stayed until 1951. He and Madge then moved to Casino, where he purchased a plant nursery in Colches Street and a small retail nursery/florist shop in Barker Street, to be known as ‘LV Day’. They moved to larger premises in Barker Street and started selling horse-drawn and early-model tractor equipment. This business became known as ‘LV Day and Co.’, when he took on Trevor Mallet and Harold Smith as partners. From a small beginning it grew to become one of the largest tractor and machinery outlets in Australia. It is still known as ‘Days’.

Len and Madge travelled widely, both locally and overseas. They were able to visit his sister Nell, living in the south of England. Len was a Rotarian for many years and this gave rise to travel. He was also a founding member of the Casino Probus Club. Len died on 16 November 1994, aged 87 years. Madge survived him until her death in June 1997.

Len Day’s life in Australia fulfilled the original aims of the Dreadnought Scheme in every sense. As well as farm-work and soldiering, Len was also able to contribute, as a supplier to the farming industry over many years – and being Len Day!


(From photo by Sandra & Warren Cockbain)

Tuesday 15 August 2023

Philip Lazenby


Philip Lazenby was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, England on 19 October 1905. He went to Selby Street Primary School, West Hull, until it was taken over by the military during World War I. He finished his schooling at fourteen to work with his father, as a booking clerk with the North Eastern Railway. He subsequently worked as an office boy at Winkley and Co., seed merchants, in Hull.

The Dreadnought Scheme was being well publicized. Members of his family, particularly several aunts, considered the scheme to be a good chance of making something of his life and bettering his employment opportunities. So, the decision was taken to apply to the Scheme. Philip Lazenby left England aged sixteen, in April 1922, bound for Australia on the SS Largs Bay. He told the family that he found that the conditions on board ship were good, they were well fed and he enjoyed the voyage, not being at all seasick but excited at embarking on this new adventure.

When the Largs Bay docked in Sydney on 21 June 1922, Philip Lazenby had just two pounds in his pocket. This greatly improved when the Dreadnought Trust paid him another eight pounds a week later.

He was sent to Scheyville and given tuition in farming work, milking cows, looking after poultry, a piggery, and a variety of other farm activities. After six weeks, he was told that he had been allocated to a Mr. Bob Flower, a farmer at Condong in the Tweed River valley in northern NSW. He duly arrived on the Tweed at the end of July 1922.

He started working on the Flowers' farm—feeling very much a ‘learner’ and found Mr Flower to be a tough boss. Philip Lazenby worked from 4 am to 6 pm each day, with just an occasional half day off. He was well fed and housed, but not knowing anybody at the beginning, did not have anything to do in his spare time. Eventually, he befriended some members of the nearby Johnson family, and was able to go to town (Murwillumbah) to the pictures on some week nights, with the Johnson boys.

After two years with Mr. Flower, Philip left to work for the Bignell family on their farm at Byangum, on the other (south west) side of Murwillumbah. Their son-in-law, Harry Kinneally, ran the farm and was his immediate boss. He also provided accommodation at his house for Philip. Again, the hours were long and the work was seven days a week for this Dreadnought Boy. While there and after saving up for a long time, he bought a motorbike to replace his pushbike. He rode to Murwillumbah as often as he could to picture shows, and gradually accumulated a few more friends.

After two years, and a falling out with Harry Kinneally, Philip Lazenby left the Bignell farm and went working on cane farms in the area. While working on the O'Connor farm in Murwillumbah he met Mary Hanrahan, who he later married. Mary was housekeeping for the O'Connor family. He was housed in a shed on the farm, but ate his meals at the family home.

Philip had started cane cutting in 1927, but this was a seasonal industry. So, at the end of the first season he went to Sydney and worked as a builder's labourer. When the Depression, hit he returned to the Tweed and continued cane cutting. Married in July 1934, he and Mary had three children (Keith, Barbara and Brian) before the World War 2 began.

He worked cane cutting until 1940, doing various gardening jobs in the off season. He later worked for over two years as a boiler attendant for George Newell, in his sawmill at Smiths Creek, near Uki in the Upper Tweed valley. Philip Lazenby could now buy his first car. It was an Austin utility, for which he paid twenty-five pounds.

In 1942 he joined the Royal Australian Air Force. After doing his rookie’s course at Bradfield Park in Sydney, his first posting was to Townsville in North Queensland. After two years he was posted to Evans Head, NSW, as a guard (as a sporting shooter with the Murwillumbah Rifle Club he was well acquainted with firearms). Six months later he became an armourer. Early in 1945, he was posted to Borneo where he saw the end of World War 2. Leading Aircraftman Philip Lazenby was discharged on 2 January 1946.

LAC Philip Lazenby

On return to civilian life, he worked for six months for Len Pearson, his brother-in-law, on his banana plantation. Philip Lazenby was soon growing bananas in his own right, having leased land at Smiths Creek and pioneered the farm for dairying. After a few years and with a need for a more regular income, he went to work for the Far North Coast County Council, engaged in weed eradication in the Tweed and Richmond River areas. At this time, Crofton Weed was spreading, and outbreaks of Noogoora Burr were causing particular concern. He worked in this job for the next fourteen years.

In December 1963, he visited the UK and saw his father again. On return from England, Philip worked for the Shire Council for a little while, before joining McLeods Engineering Works in Murwillumbah, as a storeman.

Philip Lazenby’s wife Mary died in January 1985. He passed away in Murwillumbah in December 1997, aged 92 years. A man of modest expectations and modest public profile. Yet we know details of his life, from Philip Lazenby himself, from when he spoke of it to his daughter, Barbara Cook, in 1995.

Thursday 4 May 2023

The End of an Era

As the fog of the Covid pandemic has lifted, we have been discovering things we missed, just before or during the worst of Covid times. One of these, was the passing of Thomas Joseph Dreha, the last of the Dreadnought Boys. (See story posted 26 March 2017).

                                                                        Tom Dreha (2011)

Tom Dreha and his wife Eileen were in aged care, when Eileen passed away in 2018. With the winding up of the Dreadnought Association, we missed hearing of Tom's death on 11th September 2019, a few days after turning 97 years of age. Tom was buried at Rouse Hill NSW, just a few kilometres from where he began his life in Australia, over 80 years earlier. A few months later, Covid spread across the world.

The passing of Tom Dreha marks the end of an era. The Dreadnought Youth Migration Scheme has finally run its course; the era of pre-World War 2 youth migration is complete.

Yet, for the 7,500 Dreadnought Boys brought to Australia under the Scheme, relatively few of their stories have been told. There is more to do.

Monday 27 March 2023

Robert Adamson


Occasionally, the Dreadnought records fail to give us a clear picture about a boy's arrival in Sydney. Information about Robert Adamson is a case in point. Robert left England on the SS Barrabool, but when it arrived in Sydney, he wasn't aboard, even though the records say that he was. So, what happened?

Robert Adamson’s family knew little about his early life. His widow Isabel had a keepsake, a luggage tag, with the word Beltana on it. So, it was always believed that this was the ship he had come to Australia on! It was also assumed that he had come to Australia to join his older brother Alexander. But Alexander, 21, had sailed in early 1925, to Melbourne not Sydney.

Robert Adamson’s family never knew that he was a Dreadnought Boy. They thought his life story was all about his capture in Singapore, and then his brutal existence as a Prisoner of War on the Burma Railway during World War II. However, UK shipping records were found showing that Robert Adamson, of Banville Row, Lawrencetown, County Down, Northern Ireland, farm hand, aged 17, left London on P and O’s liner S.S. Barrabool on 25 February 1926. On that voyage were about 1,000 passengers, including 40 stonemasons on their way to work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and a party of 45 Dreadnought Boys.

The destination was Sydney, but there were to be stops at Las Palmas, Cape Town, Fremantle, Adelaide, and Melbourne. But Robert’s trip was to be rather different to that planned.

                                                               SS Barrabool

On 17 March 1926, the Barrabool responded to SOS signals coming from the New Zealand Shipping Company’s cargo ship Paparoa. It was on fire off St Helena, in the Atlantic Ocean. The Paparoa carried sixty-nine crew and five passengers. Barrabool passengers (no doubt including Robert) lined the decks for hours, watching people being ferried by lifeboat from the burning cargo ship. All were rescued safely, including six stowaways, two cats and a pedigreed fox terrier. Those rescued were disembarked at Cape Town.

When the Barrabool reached Adelaide on 10th April, the ship was quarantined with an outbreak of smallpox. The passengers bound for Adelaide and those who were ill, were taken to the quarantine station on Torrens Island, where they were disinfected, vaccinated, and placed in quarantine. The remaining passengers heading to Melbourne and Sydney were vaccinated on board before the ship resumed its delayed journey. Robert Adamson had contracted smallpox. The Admission and Discharge Register for the Torrens Island Quarantine Station Hospital shows that Robert Adamson had to be hospitalised. Arrangements were made for Robert and the other affected boys, when released, to complete their journey from Adelaide to Sydney on the S.S. Beltana.

On his arrival in Sydney on 18 May 1926, Robert was sent directly to "Windeena" Balladoran (near Gilgandra) to work for Geo.Plummer. His brother Alexander was on a farm at Annuella, Victoria, and  Robert did go to Melbourne in 1928. They subsequently moved to the Gympie area in Queensland, in 1929.

Robert Adamson married Isabel Rees in 1934 in Gympie, and they had three children. He worked variously as a labourer, a milkman, an insurance salesman, and, as his father in Northern Ireland had done, as a bootmaker.

He enlisted on 26 August 1941 in Gympie. He was working as an Insurance Agent at the time. After time on the Australian mainland, Robert Adamson was transferred to Singapore, arriving on the 24 January 1942. On 15 February, as Singapore fell, he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and held in Changi Prison. A year later he was taken to work on construction of the Burma-Siam Railway. Eventually he was “Received from the Japanese at Siam” on 20 August 1945. Like so many others, he was to suffer ill-health for the rest of his life.

When his health improved enough after the war, Robert Adamson opened a Boot Repair shop. The family had moved to Maryborough and were living in a War Service home in Sussex Street. But it was hard going and, in 1952, he told the POW Trust Fund that the physical demands involved and the poor returns, which only covered shop rent and materials, meant that he would have to soon close the business.

Robert Adamson, lived to the age of only 56 years, and passed away in Maryborough, Queensland in 1965.

He is commemorated, along with other veterans, with a brass plaque in the Queensland Garden of Remembrance, a cemetery maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the Brisbane suburb of Bridgeman Downs.

The Barrabool did bring Robert Adamson to Australia, but only to Adelaide. The Beltana took him the rest of the way to Sydney.

(With thanks to Barbara Adamson.)