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 “Direct to Employment”. There are no clues as to where he was sent, although his previous farm experience would have been useful. His brother Alexander was on a farm at Annuella, Victoria, and while Robert may have gone there at some stage, they subsequently moved to the Gympie area, in Queensland.

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.