Thursday, 11 September 2014

1952: The Journey Out.

My Grandfather kept everything.
I'm sure of it.

And pouring through his collection of documents relating to his trip out to Australia the statement feels entirely justified.

Granddad (Oswald), his younger brother (Anthony) and his mother (Assunta) travelled out from Port Said to Fremantle on the s.s.Strathmore, berthing in Fremantle on 22 April 1952.
*I wasn't there, so my understanding of the voyage is based solely on what the documents are telling me, and the few stories I have heard within the family.

According to documents, preparations began three years earlier, when Assunta wrote to the English Coaling Co. asking for the necessary application forms for passage registration to Australia on the P&O Liners. These forms would have put her and her two younger sons on the waiting list only, a general exodus of British Subjects from Egypt resulting in limited spaces.

* It is perhaps worth noting here that Assunta was not renown for her knowledge of the English language (in fact she preferred to speak Italian). Even my Grandfather, who did learn English never lost his French grammar. These letters however are in old, but English sounding English. The question then is, who wrote/translated Assunta's communications?

In January 1950 the three joined the waiting list and in subsequent letters to the English Coaling Co. Assunta attempted to gain passage on the s.s.Himalaya, s.s.Stratheden and s.s. Maloja all leaving Port Said in September of that year.

In September she tried again, asking for berths on the s.s Strathaird leaving on 20th October but was again informed that the desired number of berths were unavailable.

A month later the situations of her sons is described as precautious though it is not known how much of this is simply what Assunta is telling the English Coaling Co. to propel them to offer her the desired berths.

The letters cease between November 1950 and January 1952, when Assunta resumes the discussion in a tone that reminds me strongly of my grandfather. For some reason, she politely demands passage to Australia before April 1952. This was not requested as a result of the Revolution of 1952 as the letter is dated to January 15.

After a reminder letter, this seemed to have had the desired affect, for by return of mail, Assunta is offered three berths on the s.s.Strathmore, due to sail from Port Said on or around 4th April.

By 12 March she had the cost of the fares.

A week later the letter of confirmation required by the Passport office to proceed with the formalities.

There is a story in the family that, though they knew that they would have to immigrate in the near future, their journey was expedited by an incident where some natives (Granddad's description) from Cairo hassled Uncle Tony and the only way in which he could escape was to wade into the sea, clothes and all, and swim out as far as he could, the Cairo natives having never had the necessity to learn to swim.
Viewing this story in connection with the data before me, I wonder where it fits into the timeline. Was it the incident that made Assunta first write to the English Coaling Co. or the cause of the precautious situations of her sons? Or was it even the reason Assunta suddenly resumed her correspondence with the English Coaling Co. in January 1952 after more than a year of silence?

In 1950, before Assunta had commenced communications with the English Coaling Co., the Australian Legation in Cairo provided her with the necessary certification that there were no objections to her (accompanied by her two sons) proceeding to Australia.

WIth her acceptance of passage aboard the s.s.Strathmore, the three passengers received updated certificates from the Australian legation, this time one each.

It was then left for them to arrange the rest of the voyage.

Having been allowed to retain their nationality upon migration from Malta to Egypt, the Armaregos were British Subjects, despite having an Italian sounding name, a French education and Egyptian place of birth. Until he became an Australian, Granddad saw himself as British, a fact many Australians refused to believe: one even went so far as to ask how much Oswald had paid for his British passport. In some ways it was understandable as, 62 years later, Australians still have difficulty pronouncing the name, and Granddad never sounded anything but 'ethnic'. 

Oswald's passport was still valid having been renewed until 1955, but 'Australia' needed to be added to the list of countries for which it was valid.

Assunta's passport required renewing for another five years, being due to expire three days before their departure (1 April 1952). Australia was also added to the list of countries for which her passport was valid.

I don't know whether it was around this time or earlier that Anthony, her youngest son, was removed from her passport and granted his own, but his name has clearly been crossed through.


Medical examinations were carried out on all of them.

Before he departed Alexandria, Oswald arranged for some funds to be sent forward to Australia.

Their Immigration Form and Accommodation Guarantee had been completed by October 1951 (although the date looks like 1957, family history and the ages of the family indicate that this has to be 1951 instead) with an Annie Marshall sponsoring them upon their arrival.

Their three pieces of luggage, weighing 218 kilograms was insured for £300 with the Prudence Assurance Co. Ltd, before being collected on 31 March by the Khedivial Mail Line for placement on the s.s.Fouadieh, the ship that would transport Oswald, Anthony and Assunta from Alexandria to Port Said the following day.

From there they would meet the s.s.Strathmore and continue on their journey to Australia.

Aboard the s.s.Strathmore Oswald and Anthony had cabins 839 and 840  while their mother was in berth 835.

They were in tourist class, and so may have recognised the photos below (having found these online, I'm unsure of the date they were taken).
Tourist Class Dining Saloon
Tourist Class Lounge Room
Tourist Class Smoking Room

 Of the journey itself, Oswald kept at least two of the dinner menus,

a Passenger list (surprisingly with the Armarego names missing),

documents noting the ports they would dock at on their way to Fremantle, and protocols for going ashore at each place, among other things. 

For the duration of the voyage, Tuesday 1 April 1952 to Tuesday 22 April 1952, Oswald Armarego kept a diary.

Unlike his future wife, Violet Camilleri, who wrote in English, in preparation for life in Australia, Oswald retained his old language, that of his education.
My lack of French, combined with his ornate handwriting make for a beautiful, if slightly illegible document.

In addition, the journey is recorded in a series of love letters he sent to Violet, again in French.

Also, through a small collection of photos of the sea, distant mountains, each of them posing on the ship, with new friends, and in the ports along the way.

At some point as they neared the end of their voyage, and Oswald could confirm the time of arrival into Fremantle, he wired Violet the details, in French, in an 'Urgent' Telegram, no doubt knowing that she would meet him at the port.

In Western Australia the ship's progress was recorded as shipping news in the West Australian newspaper.

On the left, The West Australian, page 10 dated Tuesday 22 April 1952.

The Strathmore is due today from London, with passengers and general cargo.

Having berthed at 7:55 am, Oswald was finally with Violet at 10:00am, a fact he recorded in his Births, Deaths and Marriages diary.

On the right, The West Australian, page 10, Wednesday 23 April 1952.

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