Poland to Tasmania via WWII

My step grandfather or Uncle Mike as we called him, was indeed a long way from home.

We know very little about his life prior to World War Two.

He was born in Luzski in what was Poland around 1914 to parents Basil and Fdokaj. He had two sisters; Olga who was already married at his birth and Elizabeth who was two years older than him. The main town near where he was born was on a large island in the middle of the Minuta River and had 4 different bridges leading off the island. I eventually found this was in present day Belarus.

During the war

He began his Polish war service in 1939 but was one of the unlucky soldiers captured by the Russians and sent to a POW camp. I am not sure where it was as I don’t have uncle Mike’s war records. But on 17 August 1941 after 18 months in the camp, the Russians released all their Polish POWs under an ‘Amnesty’. It was after this that Anders Army was formed and they were under the control of the Polish Government in exile based in England. First Anders Army had to get back towards Britain somehow.

Uncle Mike was one of 115,000  people including women and children who began a long march through Russia, to Guzar in Uzbekistan, cross country to the Caspian Sea and on to Iran. For the members of Anders Army, on to the Middle East to Palestine.  Many died in the process due to cold weather, hunger, disease and exhaustion. The families of the soldiers stayed in Iran and, within the next few months, went to various refugee camps around the world.

The army trained in Iraq and Palestine where Uncle Mike met his cousin Wiktor, who was still alive and serving in the 2nd Polish Corps. While in hospital Uncle Mike had to decide to travel on with Anders Army to fight in Italy or head to another hospital in England to get over the malarial disease he had. He headed to Scotland where the Polish Army was then based.

After surviving malaria, he became part of the 1st Polish Armoured Division in the 8th Battalion Rifle Infantry known as “The Bloody Shirts”.

I began researching some of the fighting of this group and when talking to Uncle Mike about it, he was very proud of the following events:

  • In August 1944 the Polish 1st Armored Division with General Stanislaw Maczek in charge was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Corps
  • August 19 at Falaise Pocket where the division helped close the German escape route via their strategic position on Hill 262
  • 12 April  1945 when they liberated Oberlangen Stalag which held 1728 Polish Home Army women and children
  • on 6 May 1945 when the Division raised the flag over Willhelmshaven which was the main U Boat base in Germany.

After 1945

After the war, the British didn’t know what to do with all the Polish soldiers as many were too afraid to head back to their homeland which was now under Communist rule. So the British government formed the Polish Resettlement Corps where they trained soldiers for life as farmers and workers in their new country. They also organized for many to emigrate. Uncle Mike’s last known address was at Rougham Camp in Surrey in England.

Heading to a new life in Australia

He embarked on 2 July 1948 heading for Australia on board the liner Strathnaver and was settled at Brighton Camp, Tasmania by 9 August. On his incoming passenger card for the Commonwealth of Australia records held at National Archives Australia, he had written single for conjugal condition but this had been crossed out to married. He would never tell us if this was correct or not but this was found in the local newspaper.

 

Uncle Mike spent many years working for the Hydro Electric Commission at Bronte in the Tasmanian highlands.  He and dad returned there often but especially when there were reunions held. I can remember some of them but not when this was taken.

Uncle Mike, Sue, Bob

 

When talking to Uncle Mike he had a very strong Polish accent but spoke very precise English.

He was awarded many medals as can be seen in the top photo. My father and I have tried to work out what they were for. So far we have identified the 1939/45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, Cross of volunteer combatants(French) plus at least two Polish medals. Uncle Mike travelled to London in 1982 to be presented with medals. Much of his paperwork is in Polish but we have been able to translate some of it.

Readers: Did you have someone in your family who was a long way from their original homeland?

Can’t get much closer than …

My dad. Most of the posts written about him are related to his DNA research. But this time I thought I would write about his work life before and after he met mum. Dad had already put together a folder including photos from various courses he had taken in the 1950s-1980s. But he had also written out some stories of his time as a technician with the PMG (Postmasters General), a department of the Federal Government of Australia. These are parts of his stories:

I was Acting Technician’s Assistant from May 1950 until June 1951.

My mother knew ECA Brown who was the Director in the PMG and I applied for a job as a temporary Technicians Assistant in May 1950. I started off with six weeks training at what used to be the Congregational Hall in Harrington St (it has since been demolished and is a law firm now). My training was to learn the colour code that was used in all the different sized cables used in telephone exchanges and how to terminate the wires on to various bits of equipment including main frame protectors, terminal strips, jack strips and other bits of equipment. The cable was silk and cotton covered with a slight waxing and the wire itself was enamel covered. The wire had to be scraped clean and the covering twisted neatly and just caught under the edge of the terminal strip, wound once around and wriggled to break it off. Then each wire had to be soldered to make it a sound connection.

After this initial training I was sent to Burnie to help install the CB (Common Battery) manual telephone exchange. We worked every day of the week with only Sunday afternoon off. We also worked several nights overtime in order to get the exchange working as the politicians had said that the exchange would be cut-over by some particular date. This was my first trip away from home and it was a real eye opener for me.

There were a lot of men boarding in Burnie and some of us were boarding at the hotel at Wynyard. I remember the cook at the hotel was a woman that always had a cigarette in her mouth with a long bit of ash that was likely to fall off into your breakfast. Sometimes after working overtime it was pouring with rain and I had to go back to Wynyard with a chap who had poor eyesight in an old ute that had wipers that you had to move back and forth with one hand while still driving along. He was Senior Technician, Tim Michael, and he later helped me in my future career in the PMG.

I was then sent to Deloraine to help install a new PABX (Private Automatic Branch Exchange) at R P Furmage and Co. which was a large store on the corner opposite the bridge. My boss there was Norm Smith and we boarded at the Bush Inn just over the river. It was bitterly cold at the time and I remember that the frost never melted from the sides of the bridge that we crossed going to work. The PABX was a unit about the size of a small cupboard with only room for one person to work at it and I remember that often we worked with our overcoats on until the room heated up a little.

Here is an example of the type of phones being replaced with automatic phones:

 

I got Mum to send up my bike on the bus (I remember that she wrapped it up with lots of newspaper!) and then I was able to ride all over the place at the weekends. I think I went out to Quamby Bluff but I am not sure whether I climbed it.

We finished the work at Deloraine and moved to Devonport to install another PABX at the Ovaltine factory but I was not long there when I was nominated for a course on Substation Maintenance in Hobart. I returned to Hobart with Senior Technician Eric Rogers in his old Clino utility that he really looked after very well. Norm Smith and Eric Rogers were my lifetime friends in the PMG.

In 1953 dad was promoted to technician on a wage of £596 per annum. He then became acting senior technician for PABX maintenance in 1954 and another promotion in 1955 to senior technician on £938 per annum.

Many of the PABX operators were blind. One blind operator was George Grainger at the HEC (Hydro Electric Commission) office (Linefinder). When I was called to a fault there he would ring down to the accounts office and tell them that Phyllis England was wanted at the switchboard. He was a rascal as he knew Phyllis was my girlfriend!

In 1953, there was a big changeover of telephone numbers in the Hobart area. Many people hadn’t checked their new telephone directories and were therefore calling wrong numbers. Dad had to be called in to help re-route incorrect numbers.

 

In the year I was born (1956) dad became an acting supervising technician grade 2 at Exchange Installation Metro.

From 1960-1970s, he worked at the Bathurst Street exchange as grade 1 then 2 then 3 supervising technician in Telecommunications.

From 1978 until retirement in 1991, dad was the Principle Telecommunications Technical Officer at the Exchange Maintenance Centre and District Support Centre in Hobart.

In the 1970s a lot of exchanges were cut over to computer controlled from Hobart.

This was all very controversial and a new set-up for us all particularly as the first exchange to be cut into service was at Wynyard on the north-west coast. It was my job to go to Wynyard and explain to the local staff that I was now in charge of the equipment and I would tell them what to do. All they had to do was connect up the telephone lines and very little else. Also the staff at Wynyard was to be halved. It was difficult for everyone to understand how we were going to maintain the exchange from Hobart. We had a direct computer line to the equipment also a dial up connection as well as a local terminal. Local staff hated this arrangement and my name was mud because I was held responsible for these changes.

I learnt a lot about my dad and his role with telephone exchanges around Tasmania by reading his stories. He seemed to often think outside the box to fix problems on lines or in the exchanges and he wasn’t frightened to express his own views to either his workers, his bosses or some clients who thought they knew better.

I was pretty good at faults and was sometimes sent out of my area to fix recurring faults that were difficult to find. I was sent to a solicitors office who complained that he was receiving calls but no-one was there. It was an A10 system, two telephone lines and ten extensions. I was unable to find any problem and had been just looking about the office when the phone buzzed. I lifted the handset and no-one was there! So I was then convinced that something was wrong. After sitting in the office for some time with the door open and people walking up and down in the passage outside the office, I was really puzzled about the fault. Just then two people passed in the passage outside the door and the phone buzzed again! I paced up and down the passage until I found that if I trod on one particular spot on the side of the passage the phone buzzed! After lifting a floorboard up I found a nail had penetrated the telephone cable and a bit of pressure on the board caused the solicitors phone to buzz. My ability as a fault man rose tremendously after that effort.

Another fault that I attended was to Mrs Grant at High Peak at Ferntree. She had consistently complained of No Progress calls and other technicians had been there but were unable to fault her telephone or line. I could not fault the phone and I had tested everything thoroughly so I asked her to try dialing a number for me. She lifted the receiver, dialed the number without lifting it to her ear. She handed me the receiver saying “There you are, nothing.” Ferntree exchange was a UAX at that time and very slow before you got dial tone. I explained this to Mrs Grant saying that she had to listen for dial tone before dialing a number otherwise she would always get No Progress or wrong numbers. She quickly told me that she knew how to use the telephone and had been dialing numbers probably before I was born! I reported the fault as “No Fault Found” which she no doubt heard me tell the test desk that I had found nothing wrong with the telephone.

Readers: In your lifetime, how has telecommunications changed? What type of phone did you have early in your life?

 

 

My long Colgrave line

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was doing a lot of personal research on my convicts sent to Van Diemens Land. I was a member of many mailing lists and people around the world would ask for copies of their convicts’ records held at the Tasmanian archives in Murray Street. But back then, nothing was online. It meant going to the actual archives to look at microfilm and microfiche and then making copies on a printer. Many of these copies were on A3 paper that didn’t really hold the ink very well.

The main documents were:

  • conduct record which included where tried, ship to Australia, offences in the colony and sometimes a description as well as other information
  • indent record which included place tried, sentence,  description and relatives in England
  • description which included age, height, native place, colour of eyes, hair, tattoos etc

For those living in Australia, I only charged the cost for photocopying and the stamps to get to wherever I sent the documents. Most people would send me a five dollar set of stamps as payment. These helped when posting overseas.

One person from England asked me to look up her convict, and send her the paperwork to where she lived in Bedfordshire.  I would help again at a later time to transcribe the records if the person was having trouble reading the writing and the format of the documents. But I felt half the fun of research is trying to work out what the document said by yourself first. She thanked me very much for all my help and said if ever I needed help researching in Bedfordshire then to get in contact with her.

At this time I was researching one of my convicts – Francis COLEGRAVE tried in Huntingdon Assizes in March 1832. He didn’t have an indent record, so no names of parents or siblings to work from. His conduct record did say he had a brother who had been transported too and that Francis had been in prison before. But where was Huntingdon? I had never heard of that as a town or county in England.

But to go any further back I would need to use parish records as his birth was prior to 1837. Very few of these were online at that stage. I searched A2A which was archive to archive in England, some other records from the National Archives England, but I needed help.

So my friend in Bedfordshire spent hours when she could researching the Colegrave family for me. She found prison records, parish church records, military records, tax records and finally this is where my line of Colgraves are at the moment.

Sue Wyatt

  1. daughter of Phyllis England
  2. daughter of Hannah Davey
  3. daughter of Martha Colgrave
  4. daughter of Francis John Colgrave
  5. son of the convict Francis Colgrave
  6. son of Francis and Frances Colgrave nee Bourn in Thurleigh, Bedfordshire
  7. son of Samuel and Sarah Colgrave nee Pain
  8. son of Francis and Mary Colgrave nee Cooper
  9. son of Thomas and Rebecca Colgrave nee ???
  10. son of Thomas and Juditha Colgrave nee ???
  11. son of Thomas and Margaret Colgrave nee Pettitt

This fabulous researcher got me back to the birth of Thomas in 1602 and his wife Margaret in 1603. This is 11 generations back from me.

Having tested my mother’s DNA, we have found proven cousins back to Samuel and Sarah Colgrave nee Pain.

Readers: How many generations back is one of your ancestors? Must be proven through records though.

 

 

Let’s dance! Square dance that is!

With my parents now heading to their late eighties, I have been looking back at some of the influences of their lives together. This photo represents one of those – square dancing.

Mum and dad met while square dancing.

Before they were married, mum represented Tasmania in 1951 at the Australian championships. She was one of the couples from Swan St Club.

 

The average age of the winners was 16 – mum was actually 17 at this time. Mum’s father, Henry Lewis England, nearly fell over the balcony at City Hall when mum and her team won the Women’s Weekly competition in Tasmania.

This image is of them being congratulated on their win. Click on the image to find out more about the second and third prize winners in Tasmania – A National Fitness Council team and the Elizabeth Street School teachers team.

 

The Tasmanian team enjoyed time out at the Sydney Botanic Gardens while at the championships. Joe Lewis, a caller from America, was the judge and he gave points for showmanship, spirit of happiness, timing, precision, gracefulness and impromptu calls. Click on the image to read about the Square Dance contest in Sydney. The Tasmanian team came second.

 

Now back to mum and dad. They met at St Peters Hall in Harrington Street Hobart on 12 September 1952 when dad was 20 and mum 18. A group of dancers had gone to Collinsvale to do an exhibition square dance on that date but mum and dad were at the hall.  Dad was part of the Bar 8 square dance group hence the number eight with the line through it on his shirt above.

According to mum, when I was about 6 months old, they took me to a square dance at Claremont Hall and the other dancers were amazed that I slept through the music and other noises. I can remember as a small child being taken to square dancing evenings at a hall in Lindisfarne and enjoying the music. This also influenced my life as I too joined a square dancing club in Hobart but also learnt how to teach Round Dancing – a variation of ballroom dancing done in between square dance brackets.

Sources:

Image 1 – personal collection

Image 2 – Mercury Hobart 18 Jul 1951

Readers: Did you or your parents ever take part in square dancing? Where and when? Or maybe ballroom dancing was more their style. Where and when?

 

Fresh start

John ENGLAND, my great great grandfather was one of my convict ancestors who I felt deserved being sent to Van Diemens Land.

Why you might ask?  Let me tell you his story.

John was born at Rotherham, Yorkshire in 1828.  By age 19 he was 5 feet 6 and 3/4 inches with fair complexion, oval head, sandy hair, no whiskers, brown eyebrows, hazel eyes and large nose. He was an iron moulder in the Rotherham area. His father was William and he had a brother named Thomas and sisters Elizabeth, Mary and Ann (or maybe Mary Ann)

Image from page 178 of "Foundry practice; a treatise on molding and casting in their various details" (1909)

But on 15 March 1846, his life was to take a big turn around. He was about to leave his safe home life and set off for a fresh start in another country thousands of miles away from England.

The indictment

On March 19, 1846 a warrant was set out by John Fullerton Esquire (JP) to John Bland (Constable of Rotherham) or to John Timms (deputy) and to the Governor of the Castle of York to convey John England, Samuel Myers, Joseph Barras and Richard Hague to the Castle of York and to deliver them to the Governor with the warrant.

John England, a labourer, on 15 March 1846 did with force and arms upon Maria Kaufman violently and feloniously make an assault and violently and feloniously did ravish and carnally know her. The other four with force and arms were present aiding, abetting and assisting John England.

Witnesses were John Bland, Maria Kaufman, Philippina(Caroline) Kaufman, Emma Harrison and William Hudson.

Friends help before the trial

Whilst awaiting trial, friends of John England did the following.

On June 9, 1846 George Aizlewood, Joseph Hague, Michael and Hannah Bradshaw, being evil disposed persons, unlawfully and wickedly with force and arms did conspire, combine, confederate and agree together to persuade Maria and Philippina Kaufman from attending to give evidence as witnesses.

They did this by paying and defraying the fare and expenses of the journey by railroad from Rotherham to London. Hannah paid 20 shillings for steam boat for parts beyond the seas. On 20 June 1846 she purchased and paid for diverse wearing apparel for Maria and Philippina. They tried to induce Maria and Philippina severally to suppress the evidence they knew and to withdraw and conceal themselves.

Whilst travelling in England in September 2005, I visited National Archives at Kew and found the actual indictment papers. I took photos with my ipad of the document which, when unrolled, was about 10 metres long. Here is an example of one of the 15 images I have. I still have to transcribe the document.

The trial

John was tried on 9 July 1846 at the York Assizes and was transported for life. It was his first conviction and it was rape in companion with Joseph Barras, William Thompson, William Aizlewood and Samuel Myers. John and Samuel arrived on board the same boat.

Awaiting transport

John and his companions in crime were in Millbank Prison before setting sail to VDL. (PCOM2)

Millbank Thomas Hosmer Shepherd pub 1829.jpg
Public Domain, Link

Heading to Van Diemens Land

John England then embarked on the convict ship Pestonjee Bomanjee (2) from London on 25 October 1846 and arrived 17 February 1847. According to the Home Office (HO 27/80) he had no degree of instruction.  He was a protestant who could read but the surgeon report said John was a negligent scholar. He had many marks on his arms – boys/men blowing horn, birds and bush, ship and 2 fishes, bust of woman, sailor with flag etc.

His conduct while under sentence

Maria Island - settlement of Darlington - view from hill (c1924)

John was stationed at Darlington, Maria Island, 28 February 1847 until late 1849.
14 August 1847 insolence
5 August 1848 idleness
7 December 1848 misconduct fighting on the works – 14 days solitary
3 June 1851 Hobart – misconduct being out after hours

Freedoms

On 8 August 1854 he received his ticket of leave meaning he could now get a job and earn his own wages.

His marriage to Rebecca Jackson (another convict) was approved on 20 September 1854.
16 August 55 Hobart resisting a constable fined 1 pound

His final freedom, a conditional pardon, was given on 22 July 1856 just 10 years after his conviction back in England.

So did John make a fresh start once his sentence was completed?

He raised a family of 8 children, worked as a moulder with John Swaine in Collins Street, Hobart, then Crosby and Robinson in Campbell Street and again with John Swaine.

At the marriage of his eldest daughter Elizabeth, the marriage notice mentioned Sheffield papers to copy, so maybe John was still in touch with family back in Yorkshire.

John led a good life here in Van Diemens Land later known as Tasmania and died in February 1905 at the age of 77.

 

Readers: Which ancestor of yours had to make a fresh start or on their own decided to make a fresh start? Do you know the reason why?