Wartime Heritage ASSOCIATION
A Journey To Remember Gwen West (Australian War Bride) It was a sunny winter afternoon on 3rd July 1946 when I was one of 655 Australian war brides who boarded the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious in Sydney to sail to England to be reunited with our British servicemen husbands. World War II was over and travel was restricted. The high seas were still fraught with danger. Through a maze of coloured streamers, more than 6000 people, families and friends, bid farewell to the brides onboard the carrier. As we drew away from Woolloomooloo wharf the Harbour Bridge gradually receded into the distance We were now subject to shipboard rules for the next five weeks-our accommodation was brilliantly devised and we were well looked after. There were church services on Sunday and some weekdays-we had access to a small shop in the wardroom and a canteen on the flight deck. Film shows were held daily in the cinema and materials for craft-work were available As we sailed through the heads the weather changed dramatically as mountainous seas were whipped up by gale force winds. We crossed the Tasman Sea Bass Strait and the Great Australian Bight to Fremantle. On the morning of July 10th 1945 we sailed away on the Indian Ocean to the strains of Waltzing Matilda played by a band on Fremantle wharf and watched the Australian coastline slip away. We were able to go ashore at Colombo. Then we sailed across the Arabian Sea to Aden where we went ashore. Then we crossed the Red Sea. No account of this adventure would be complete without mention of the “Crossing the Line” ceremony when King Neptune and his Court arrived on board with Royal Rights. The day’s events were an opportunity for the lower ranks to legally inflict certain aquatic punishment on their officers. A day of merriment and fun for all! The arrival at Port Suez meant preparations for sailing through the Suez Canal. The scenery on either side of the canal-the farming methods and mode of dress seemed not to have changed since biblical times. The Suez Canal is an incredible example of man’s genius, designed by Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French diplomat and engineer. It had been closed because of ships sunk there during World War II and had only recently reopened in 1946. Along the banks were great mountains of steel, the mangled remains of once proud vessels, extricated from the canal. The journey ended in the dark and a big searchlight on front of Victorious ensured safe passage as we arrived at Port Said. We went ashore in groups with an escort from the ship’s company as the Egyptians were quite hostile. There were Italian sailors everywhere and we witnessed a few brawls. We sailed from Port Said past the Statue of de Lesseps – a well known landmark. The Mediterranean Sea was very blue and calm and our arrival at Gibraltar was exciting because of its historical significance. It is a fortified town and headland on the coast of Spain- a British possession since 1904. Gibraltar overlooks the Strait that links the Mediterranean with the Atlantic. We were able to go ashore and explore-this time feeling safe. The final leg of this remarkable journey, across the Atlantic, certainly lived up to its reputation of very rough seas. When we arrived at Plymouth we were honoured to have the Lord Mayor of Plymouth come on board and graciously welcome 655 Aussie brides to Britain. Our final departure from HMS Victorious at Plymouth was on August 7th at 7am when we were taken ashore by launch to be reunited with our husbands. It certainly was a journey to remember. [Gwen married Bill West of Manchester England, a Telegraphist Air Gunner trained at Yarmouth, NS, during World War II. Bill served in both the Atlantic and Pacific aboard aircraft carriers. The couple met at the British Centre built in Hyde Park, Sydney, for the British Forces in early 1945. Gwen was a volunteer working there and Bill was a patient on leave from the Naval Hospital. Also see Article in The Manly Daily (Australia)]
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Gwen West
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A Journey To Remember Gwen West (Australian War Bride)