11 Sep - 26 Oct 1945, My Beautiful Island
Repatriation ((This is the last entry in Norah’s diary.))
Repatriation was not comfortable. First, we were taken from the camp in rowboats to a much larger launch; we had to climb up into it by nets. Then we were taken to Hong Kong harbour to embark into the Empress of Australia. I think the really sick - Mr. Davidson was one - were taken on board the Mount Maunganui. We were allocated a deep cabin for 12, with 3-tier bunks, and set off for Manila where we embarked hundreds of soldiers and waited. Owing to the combination of the heat, the crowding and the lack of ventilation and fresh air, Christopher developed asthma. His relief with drugs was magical. They introduced us to food very slowly. Dehydrated vegetables in tiny portions, a cup of cocoa after many days.
Manila was full of wrecked ships, we actually tied up alongside a sunken Japanese hulk. Then we went on to Singapore where Lady Mountbatten welcomed us, but we were not anywhere allowed off the ship. There was a group of Commandos on the wharf as we were casting off who had tried to get on board and been refused. As the last ropes had been let go, they jumped into the water, caught the ropes and climbed up. And of course it was too much bother for the ship to be stopped, so they came with us. We got off to band music in Ceylon and were royally entertained by the local women.
Then at Suez we were shepherded off for clothing, thanks mainly to the Red Cross. Each was given a suitcase and a list, even Christopher. Then we went through huge hangars fitted up like small shops and chose everything from our lists, warm winter coats, skirt, blouses, shoes, underclothing, stockings and each time our list was ticked by a uniformed girl. No money, of course. Christopher even got two toys. Then we went on to Liverpool where again we were met by a band. ((The date was 26th October 1945 – a long 45 days since we set off from Hong Kong.))
((Later Norah would tell people of an event on the Atlantic Ocean final leg of our trip which must have left quite an impression on her. We had been allowed on deck and, while she was briefly distracted by something, I disappeared. After an increasingly frantic search of the decks she saw me standing alone at the stern of the ship, mesmerised by the patterns of the wake as it spread behind us. As she saw it there was only a chain preventing me from joining that wake. She suppressed the instinct to scream a warning which would have had unpredictable consequences, and instead walked along the deck calling me away from the danger zone which she had no desire to approach. As a curious four year old in exciting new surroundings, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about.))
England did NOT look marvellous, only grey and colourless after the East. Here we met with officialdom: forms, tickets, money, and parcels of food from the Salvation Army.
Postcard from Doug Johnston, Quebec, Canada, 25 November 1945
I hope by now you and Christopher are enjoying life again in the manner to which you are entitled and accustomed…
I was worried about you both when I said good-bye on that hell-ship, the Empress of Australia – three days of it had been bad enough – what would a whole month be like? We had a very nice trip home from Manila, in great comfort all the way, the Americans being most kind to us and the Canadians even kinder. From Manila it took us just 23 days to get to Quebec, which we reached on Oct.11th (blessed day). I’m still in the Army, on extended sick leave (but not sick as I weigh 150 lbs now – from 118 on the Express) and will start to practice law again next May. Hoping to see you in Quebec some time soon. Grant sends his love to Christopher.