You see, my mother brought Frank home.
My mother was forty-three and she’d had five children, but looked more like twenty. Frank was ten years older than my mother but looked more like seventy. Frank was a bachelor who’d had a very strict upbringing. His parents were army head master and headmistress and though I never heard any details I know he had an extremely unhappy childhood. He was of the opinion that all children were a nuisance and he made this abundantly clear to Pam and to me, especially when our mother wasn’t around. I didn’t need any convincing that I was ugly and evil and would never be any good: Agnes had already convinced me of that. Right from the start Frank set out to belittle me, reinforcing my feelings of inadequacy, uselessness and wickedness.
It was obvious that my mother never had any feelings for him and years later she told us the reason she married him. Frank had lived in Australia and served in the Australian army and he wanted to return there. My mother was desperate to get out of England and married him because he was willing to pay our fares and take us. Even though I knew this, I was staggered many years later, to find the letter Pierre’s “brother” had written. It was from Pierre himself. It was a loving letter, explaining the difficulties he was having in arranging our migration and repeating his desire for us to be with him, although officials had said it could take a couple of years. There was no mention of an operation. It seems I had misjudged him and he wasn’t returning to his wife. What staggered me was the date on the letter. It seems my mother wanted a quick ticket out of England and married Frank just a few weeks after receiving that letter.
At this stage I must point out that my mother was herself unloved and abused by her own mother, although she did have a loving father and aunt. By all accounts my mother’s mother was a hard, cruel person, so how could my mother learn to be a loving mother herself? My mother was extremely beautiful. She was an artist’s model, sitting for the royal artists and featured on many magazine covers and advertisements. Because this brought in a lot of money, my mother was never allowed to do any housework in case she spoiled her beauty. All her earnings were taken by her mother.
By her own admission, my mother knew nothing about life. She married young to get away from home. Although she had five children, she never changed a nappy. She really was a child herself in many ways. I now believe she tried to be a good mother, working to pay back my father’s debts after he left us. In more recent years she has tried to show love to me and to my children, but her reaction to characters in TV dramas was always more emotional than the affection or interest she showed us. I am convinced she knew nothing of the abuse I suffered.
The SS Stratheden landed in Sydney with my mother, Frank, Pam and myself as passengers, 31st July 1947. I had enjoyed the voyage, not getting seasick like most passengers did, and sleeping on deck for coolness most nights. Australia was so different! Everything was clean and “new” looking, with no bombed-out buildings. The shops were full of toys and fruit and everything. We even asked if things were for sale and where we could arrange our ration coupons. My mother immediately looked for a house in and around Sydney, but after a couple of weeks we moved to a country town in Queensland where my mother’s brother was living. A house was bought almost on arrival and so another stage of my life began.
Maybe a new life in Australia would make a difference. Maybe there was hope. Maybe I could make some friends. Things hadn’t looked good so far, but maybe Frank would get used to having us around and we could be a family. Frank wasn’t Pierre but maybe . . . maybe . . .