Irene Ellen Gertrude SMITH

Irene was born 23 July 1909 on Bruny Island as the eldest child of Edward Robert Smith and Irene Ellen Somers or Clark. Through DNA testing, it has been proved that her father was actually a son of Alexander and Hannah Dawson nee Sutton who lived in Queenstown, Tasmania.

Tasmania, Civil Registration of births 1899-1912, Port Cygnet

Irene had 14 younger siblings born between 1910 and 1931. The family mainly lived in Hobart, Tasmania but from 1918-1921 spent some time in Scottsdale, Tasmania where her father was a sawyer.

In December 1918, Irene and her younger sister Madeline won prizes at the Scottsdale State School annual concert.

Marriages

In early 1932, Irene became pregnant and married William Alan Wyatt on 11 April, later giving birth to her only child Robert Wyatt in November 1932. By late 1934, William (whose first  Tasmanian wife had died in September 1931) had deserted Irene and baby Robert, and headed to unknown destination (later found in NSW married for a fourth time).

Irene worked as a cleaner and general housemaid at Heathorns Hotel then later the Albion Hotel. This involved living on the premises, so Robert was looked after by a foster mother for most of the time, Mrs Avery in Goulburn Street, Hobart. Irene did not have much furniture in her little room but there was a small carved black table that is now owned by Robert (Bob). She also had an Hawaiian steel guitar under her bed and many songbooks that she collected throughout the war years.

It was while working at Heathorns that Irene met Ernie Bond who lived in a home in the Rasselas Valley near Adamsfield. Irene wrote a diary about her trip on horseback along the track to Adamsfield. This diary is held by her son Bob.

Irene sought a dissolution of her marriage in 1945 due to desertion. A decree nisi was granted on 21 March 1945. A decree absolute was granted in October 1945.

In 1954, Irene married a second time to a Polish immigrant Mikolaj Hrydziuszko, who had arrived in Australia in 1948 after World War II.

Irene and Mike travelled to Japan on a cruise returning with lots of little mementoes. They are buried together at the cemetery in Pontville, Tasmania where many Polish graves can be found.

Memories of Irene

These are from her son Bob (B) and grand daughter Suzanne

  • Always well dressed and usually wore her hair up high in a bouffant style
  • Loved going for walks around Hobart
  • Kept her house immaculately clean and smelling fresh
  • Went downhill quickly once her blindness stopped her walking everywhere
  • Took lots of photos of her with her sister Madeline and her children – have her photo album with these
  • Was concerned about her brother Jack or Bomber as we knew him – he sent occasional letters or postcards often censored by the army (B)
  • She was a smoker and always smoked Turf cigarettes (B)
  • Would often call into her parent’s house in Liverpool Street while taking Bob home to his foster mother (B)
  • Hated picnics, sand, ants, cold! (B)
  • Had a steel guitar, but I never heard her play it. Did crosswords, I still have her well-thumbed dictionary. (B)
  • I never saw her really upset. I wagged school and was expelled from Lansdowne Crescent School, sent to St. Virgils, must have cost her a lot. (B)
  • Mike (her second husband) found she left the stove on, would get up at all hours and wander about. I insisted that she be cared for in a nursing home, it was too much for Mike. Went into a nursing home in Star St. and was well cared for there. Was almost blind, and hated the dog at the home that would come close to her picking up crumbs. Mike used to take her out most days and give her sandwiches. He persevered with her taking her to the domain or the Waterworks. (B)
  • I used to visit her in the home during my lunch hour when I worked in town. She would be just sitting in a chair. Often told me that no-one ever came to see her even though I knew Mike had taken her out that morning. I confess that I was often in tears walking back to work. She died peacefully in the home. (B)
Ernie Bond’s residence at Rasselas Valley
Bob, Irene and Jack before heading off to war
Nan's birthday
Irene’s birthday with her sister Pat and her husband Eric Gates from Adelaide.
Nan and Mike ready for trip overseas
Mike and Irene ready for their trip overseas

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?