Migration is a fascinating subject. Why do people pack their bags and move somewhere completely different? I’ve met many ‘migrants’ in my time. Whilst all will say they are seeking a better life, rarely do they say that they a leaving to rid themselves of their unhappiness or problems at home. To seek a better life in a new country, there has to be a strong urge to get away from the old.
I have discovered a local story that typifies both extremes. An unhappy childhood in 1930’s Nottingham and a successful migration to Australia, in the optimism of the 1950’s.
Edna Johnson was born in 1923 to Bernard and Sarah Johnson (nee
Smith) at 31 Dickinson St Nottingham. Like many people at the time she had a tough upbringing. She was the third youngest of ten children, two of which died in infancy. Her dad was a policeman but for one reason or another he did not provide much to the family. Accordingly, it fell back on Sarah Johnson to improvise in order to clothe and feed her brood. However stoic and caring her mother was, Edna was never in doubt about the poverty that they endured. Despite moving to Carrington, Edna attended St Augustine’s Catholic School on Woodborough Rd, where she was treated abysmally by the nuns who ran it. Caned regularly for the slightest misdemeanour, her hands were to bear the scars for the rest of her life.
Lunchtime often meant running errands for her mother, to the pawn shop and back home again to get some money order to get food for
“It was still a fair way to go till I reached home. I would try and run
until my breath would enable me no more. I would have to get from Alfred St near St Ann’s Well Rd and back to Carrington in my lunch time. I have no idea how far home was from school but it was at least a mile.”
Edna’s education would finish at the age of 14. In her early teens and in order to provide for the family, she took on some babysitting work for a woman whose family lived on Carlton Road. During this time she got to know the woman’s brother Ronald Miles. Now 16, any hope of a relationship and happiness were interrupted by the outbreak of war. Ron would not return home until 1945 by which time Edna was now a married mother, although happiness had still eluded her. She remembered her husband Kenneth Leatherland as an abusive alcoholic who soon departed and was to play no further part in Edna or daughter Carol’s life.
After returning from the war Ron Miles reacquainted himself with Edna and they became a couple. However, due to divorce problems with the Catholic Church, they could not marry until 1953. They had two sons, moved to Kennington Road in Radford Nottingham and later to Clifton. Ron was now a printer but was restless for something better.
In March 1957 the Miles family arrived in Melbourne Australia aboard the SS Otranto. As “ten pound poms” life was still a struggle, but Edna now had a happy family that settled and established themselves in the new country.
What is remarkable about Edna’s story is that despite her difficult early life, and her limited education, she developed a desire to write poetry. She wrote many, but none it would appear, directly about her time in Nottingham. This is a shame but understandable. The following poem published by http://www.ahstockwell.co.uk/ gives her view on her life.
DIVIDED HOPES AND DREAMS
We left our homeland with its green pastures and all familiar places, things and faces
But we must not forget the other side, of cold and frost and snows.
Neither must we forget the gale force wind that off the Atlantic blows.
We traversed a great ocean deep to arrive the other side
and were met with some kind remarks, and many that were snide
We settled down and a home for our children we tried to make
and through the years worked hard for a stable background to create
Now our children are all grown with growing children of their own
and grandad and grandmama still find our thoughts go home
across the great expanse of ocean and on the other side
Where our memories are deep and still glow
of the meandering streams and scented flowers that grow
Now our dreams are divided between the old and the new
For this is a wonderful country and has its hold on one too.
Edna Miles passed away in Venus Bay still living in her own home in 2009 aged 85 years. Her son’s and daughter still live in Australia.