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.)

Tuesday 17 January 2023

The Bagshaw Boys


Among the 7,500 boys brought to Australia under the Dreadnought Scheme, there were numerous cases where brothers came, either together or subsequently. Their lives in Australia provide uniquely individual stories. However, where there is a strong lasting bond between the brothers, it can be useful to tell those stories together. Jim and Reg Bagshaw are such brothers.

                                James Bagshaw                                Reginald Bagshaw

James Edward Bagshaw was born in Salford, Manchester, on 22 September 1910 to Robert and Elizabeth Bagshaw. The family lived in a terrace house in St Mary’s Street, Hulme, a Manchester suburb. He had four brothers. He belonged to the church choir and the Scouts. His favourite pastime was swimming and he gained a bronze medallion for lifesaving.

Life was a struggle, his father had become an invalid due to war injuries. With five children to support the family’s future looked bleak, especially in 1926. The promised opportunities in the Dreadnought Scheme’s literature convinced James to apply. His job as an office-boy had little hold on him.

One of his brothers, Reginald Hiram Bagshaw, was born on 8 September 1912. He attended St Mary’s Elementary School, Hulme with his brothers. In 1925 he won a scholarship which allowed him to complete his secondary education in Chorlton High School in 1928. This meant he could get work as a clerk. Meanwhile James had gone to Australia.

James Bagshaw left London in July 1927 on the SS Berrima. He was one of 39 Dreadnought Boys on board. He arrived in Sydney on 15 August that year, five weeks before his 17th birthday. On arrival in Australia, he was sent to the Wollongbar Experiment Farm in northern NSW for farm training. Subsequent postings were to the farms of Mr J Duncan, Coffee Camp; Mr D Hines of Woodenbong in 1928 (with whose family he remained lifelong friends); Mr J Reid, Woodenbong; and the Gilmores, Pearces Creek in 1929. At this stage Jim was able to help his brother, and provided for Reg to emigrate, also as a Dreadnought Boy.

Reg Bagshaw arrived in Sydney on the SS Orama on 11 April 1929, with 40 other Boys. He trained at Scheyville, before joining Jim in the Northern Rivers area of NSW. Reg had a variety of jobs around Woodenbong and Urbenville, such as cutting timber and working on dairy farms. By 1931, he had started a bee-keeping business with his brother Jim. Reg had also become involved in the community, entertainment events, and serving on local committees - often as secretary.

The year 1934 saw big change for Jim Bagshaw, now married and with their first child. Based in Urbenville, he worked on the metal-crushing plant for the new road between Urbenville and Bonalbo. In 1935, he moved the family 20km E to Boomi Creek where he worked in Grahams’ Timber Mill. Later, he moved to Bennetts’ Mill at Beaury Creek (6km NW of Urbenville). Here, on weekends, he cut railway sleepers in the nearby state forest and had his own bullock team, as well as maintaining the beehives. Any spare time he had was spent on a very productive vegetable garden and ferreting for rabbits, to supplement the family meals. Compared to brother Reg, except for the Parent & Citizens and Ratepayers Associations, Jim was less involved with organisations.

When World War 2 came, Jim was not able to enlist for war service because of an old foot injury. During the war years three more children were born. Jim worked and saved hard. His wife, an accomplished knitter and dressmaker, found ready customers for her work.

Reg enlisted in the Australian Infantry Forces in August 1940, joining the 9th Australian Division Signal Corps, as a wireless operator. A corporal, he was discharged in November 1945 in Sydney, having served 917 days on active duty outside Australia.

Wounded in action at El Alamein and one of the ‘Rats of Tobruk’, he also saw service in Tripoli. He was later sent to the Pacific theatre of war, where he saw action in both New Guinea and Borneo, participating in amphibious landings at Lae and Finschhafen.

In 1947, after 20 years in Australia, Jim bought ‘Avoca’, his father-in-law’s farm on Boomi Creek, and the family moved into its spacious home. Here, 2 km south of Urbenville, he bred heifers and expanded the beehives. In the 1950s, when honey prices declined, he reluctantly re-opened the dairy, adding pig raising and crop growing to his list of activities. He purchased an ex-army International truck, affectionately named ‘Myra’ (it replaced a Willys Overlander with gas-burner trailer). One day without a word to anyone, Jim arrived home with his first car, a 1949 Holden, to the amazement of the whole family.

Earlier, in 1946, Reg purchased a die-cast welding business at 60 Erskine Street, Sydney. He bought the business on the condition that the previous owner taught him how to weld. By 1947 he had made the final payment and owned the business outright. He specialised in welding all types of carburettors, fuel pumps, mascots, door handles, grilles and crank cases. The business exploited a niche market in the repair of motor vehicles in the immediate post-war period and was ideally situated in the central city area. The business provided a cash flow that enabled Reg to purchase a block of four flats in Fletcher Street, Woollahra in 1949, and to lease another block of flats in St Marks Road, Randwick in 1953. He proved himself to be an astute businessman, dabbled with inventions, tried his hand at sculpture and worked in metal, wax and timber. He left a diverse legacy.

For both brothers, music and performance were major aspects of their lives. Jim’s love of music and dancing led him to meet Janet, the youngest daughter of Scottish migrants William and Janet McLintock. Janet, partly disabled by childhood polio, was the pianist in the family dance band. Jim and Janet married in 1934. Jim had a rather grand bass voice. In 1935 he was a successful contestant in the Lismore Music Eisteddfod, and often participated in musical productions in the district.

In later life, a severe back injury (thanks to a recalcitrant bull) precluded him from sport and dancing, and made many of his activities painful. He loved the challenge of fixing things. He loved listening to operatic records and never missed “World Famous Tenors” on radio.

During these years he successfully invested in the stock market. He never returned to England—he was not one to look back.

In post-war Sydney, Reg sang in a number of Gilbert and Sullivan light opera productions staged by the Savoyers Society. Reg Bagshaw was a capable tenor. Marie Therese Cleary also sang with the society. They married in 1949 and went on to have three children - all boys.

Reg’s early death, brought to an end years of spirited discussions of ‘Sydney or the bush’ and who was the best tenor in the world! Reg Bagshaw died of cancer, after a long illness, on 7 April 1960 aged 47 years.

In 1978, Jim developed leukaemia. Practical and self-sufficient to the end, he elected to allow the disease to take its course, refusing to be ‘a burden on anyone else’. Aged 68 years, Jim Bagshaw died on 30 October 1978 in Lismore Base Hospital.

While the Bagshaw boys’ enduring relationship was not without its tensions, both were well respected men who made solid contributions to their adopted country. They made the most of the opportunity provided by the Dreadnought Scheme.