Home Rita's Story Schlesierland Irene Thibault David B Jones - Chindit

Rita's Story


Time went by and I was now 20 years old.  The work in our factory became less and less.  There was a lack of raw materials, and we found ourselves working only three days a week.  We were taking home less and less money each week.  It was at this period in my life, that I remembered what the fortune-teller had told me.  I thought I may as well give it a try.  Lots of people were emigrating.  It would be nice to give it a try.  I would come back if I did not like it.  My friend was a bit apprehensive, but I managed to persuade her to come to the Job Centre.  We told the lady that we would like to go to America.  She asked how old we were, and we told her that we were both 20 years of age.  She told us that she was sorry, but you had to be 26 years of age before you could go there.  England would take us, she explained.  My friend shook her head; I nodded mine.  We had to sign for two years.  My friend was still protesting.  She gave us some forms to fill in , and told us we'd have to have a medical examination and permission from our employers.  The doctor gave us a check-up before passing us both fit.  Our employer told us that he would not have let us go, only for the fact that his factory had all but reached a standstill.  We got our passports and awaited our date of departure.  My friend was still very worried, but I was getting very excited at the thought of going abroad.  My friend was worried that we would not like it, but I assured her that we would come home in that case, if necessary, working our passage.  I think that's what finally put her at ease.  We left early one summer's morning.  My mother waved us from the bedroom window.  First we travelled to a transit camp.  There we were counted.  Altogether, 500 girls had arrived; all eager and full of hope for the future in a new land.

We were transported to the Hook of Holland to sail for Harwich.  I said to my friend to have the bottom bunk and I'd go on top because she'd bound to be seasick and want to get out quickly.  That night, a gale sprung up, and it was in doubt whether we'd be able to sail at all.  The ship was rocking from side to side and we hadn't even set sail yet!  I was the one who was sick.  In all my life, I have never been so ill.  The ship's rails were packed with girls hanging over it moaning and groaning.  I swore never, ever to sail again.  Oddly enough, my friend slept through it all, and wasn't ill at all.  We were quite a sight to see when we finally arrived.  In Dover, we were met by German-speaking wardens and put on a train for Cambridge.  We were taken to a transit camp in Nottingham and allowed a week to rest.  We needed it.  A clean bed, three meals a day and a good night's sleep did wonders for all of us.  Each girl received two or three pounds sterling.  Feeling better, we ventured into the city.  Looking into the shop windows, we were delighted to see all the goods on display.  Standing in front of a bakers shop, I pointed to some chelseas and suggested going in to buy some.  Rita wasn't sure we had enough money, but I said we'd soon find out.  Not saying a word, and holding two fingers in the direction of what I wanted, the woman understood.  Not knowing how much the buns were, I handed over £2.  She smiled and handed me back £1 with some more change.  I was none the wiser how much our buns had cost, but I was happy.  Rita said that she wouldn't have known what to do.  We washed and groomed ourselves, wrote letters home, and in the evenings, sang folk songs.

One morning we were all called to the canteen.  It was explained to us that places and names of people would be read out, and that anyone interested should put up their hand.  This went on all morning.  Those girls placed would then go and pack up.  Rita and I sat among the few left who didn't know when to accept a place which had been called out.  One place sounded as strange as the other.  Thinking back, it would have helped if they had hung up a large map for us to see where we might be going.  As it was, we had no idea, so taking pot luck, when the woman said there were two farms close by needing home help, one with three children and one with four, I said to my friend it was time.  We wanted to stay close together.  She told me she didn't like children, so I said I'd take the farm with four.  Our choice was in a place called Wales.

It was the 11th July 1949.  We had a name tag pinned to our coats, allocated a travelling companion, and put on a train for Wales.  It was a shame, but our companion spoke only English, so was not much company really as we could not hold any conversation, or ask questions about our destination.  I wanted to ask so many questions, but instead had to sit for hours on end in silence.  Rita didn't really feel like talking so we just stared out of the window.  The journey went on and on, and it was late afternoon when we finally reached our destination.  The two farmers' wives took us to the places that were to become our homes for the next two years.

It was about half past four in the afternoon when we arrived at our destination in Wales and we were handed over to two ladies at the station.  One of them; on the plump side, full of zest and smiling, came over to me and said "You'll do".  I'll never forget those words.  The other lady; slim, quiet and a little on the shy side, took Rita by the hand.  In German, I said "Hang on, let's make sure we've got the right employers", although I had a feeling that we had.  Under the lapel of our coat, was pinned a label with the name and address of our new home.  My woman smiled.  She explained to me later when I could understand, that she thought my friend had looked on the brink of tears, homesick and weak, and that's why she had chosen me.  She needed someone strong for a farmhouse with four children.  We set off in the same car.  Mrs Jones and I were dropped off first.  I was told that Rita would not be far away and would be able to stay in touch with me.  The  farmhouse was large.  Farmer, wife, four children, two workmen and me.  We crossed the yard and entered a large kitchen.  The floor had black and red tiles.  Behind the door was a large brown stone sink with one tap.  Next, a long stone slab, in one corner a wash boiler, then an open fireplace, something unknown to me.  Along the other side, there were windows with little glass panes, a long white wooden table a long wooden bench along each side.  A woman was preparing tea.  I remember looking around me and wondering "When are we going to go inside?".  Little did I realise that this was it!  Everybody arrived at once.  Nodding their heads in my direction they proceeded to their places by the table and sat down.  I was invited to join.  Everybody having stolen a glance, we ate more or less in silence.  The children had a little giggle, but they were frowned upon by their father.  After tea, Mrs Jones picked up my small suitcase and waved for me to follow.  Through the door was a large dining room; the same tiles on the floor but everything spotlessly clean.  It had a sort of unlived in feeling about it.  Up the lino-covered stairs into a single bedroom.  The walls were painted green.  A half-size window had even smaller glass panes, a single bed and a three-drawer chest filled the room.  Mrs Jones was eager for me to unpack.  I don't know what she expected, but I got the feeling she was disappointed at my few meagre belongings.  I could not tell her that we had lost everything in the war.  I was left to settle in and report for duty the next morning, but first she took me to see the other bedrooms.  Not a powerpoint or a light switch in sight.  The toilet was the biggest shock of all.  Outside in the yard!  A wooden bench with two large holes for two occupants sitting side by side and buckets underneath.  I couldn't.  What would I do?  After supper I was shown how to light the tilly lamps.  What a strange life I had come to. Coming from a city, I had a lot to learn about how rural communities lived.

Mr and Mrs Jones were kind, the children well-behaved, we had good farmhouse cooking and I fitted in nicely.  I settled down to my new life quickly and with ease, and very soon the language barrier was broken.  The children were a tremendous help to me at this stage in my learning to cope with my new life.  My friend found it harder as she could not pick up the English language as quickly as I did.  Anyway, after about 18 months, she found Mr Right, and married.

Best of all, I loved the animals, and would take every opportunity to be outside with them.  Mrs Jones's energy was unending.  Her talents many.  She was busy from dawn until dusk and expected good results from me.  I was inexperienced as a home help and was asked to redo a job if it was unsatisfactory, like the windows, and washing the floor on my hands and knees.  Even the eldest two children worked before and after school.  The oldest was only thirteen years old, but had to feed the cows and clean out the cow-bays.  The younger of the two was nine.  His duties included seeing to the pigs.  he would carry a large bucket of slops in each hand, his little legs nearly buckling with the weight.  Ann, the only girl at that time, was eleven, and the youngest Lyn was only five years old.  I had no problem settling down as one of the family.  The hours were long and the work never-ending.  My wages were almost £1.6s per week plus my board and lodgings and a half day free time.  I worked in the house, the fields, and sometimes with the animals.  The language came to me like second nature and within six months I was able to speak and write in English.  People were amazed, and often would not believe that I was German.  My friend Rita did not get on so well and would often shed tears in the beginning, but I was able to cheer her up and persuade her to hang on a little longer.  We had to give it a fair try.  By September, she also appeared to have settled down.

I talked to Mrs Jones about going home for Christmas but she was not happy about it.  It would be the very time she'd be busy entertaining and would need me.  She suggested I go in October instead, but I hadn't saved enough money by then.  I needed £25.  Mrs Jones said that if I promised to return, she would lend me the money.  Thinking of my mum and all the German food I'd been missing, I promised.  Rita also came.

The excitement of going home was indescribable.  This time I was not affected by seasickness.  When I was once again on dry land, I was disappointed to find that the bus for my village had left and there wouldn’t be another one for four hours.  I decided to hitch a lift.  A car stopped, and I asked the driver for a lift to the next village.  He agreed, and as we travelled, he told me of a night-time incident at that very spot, when a young lady asked him for a lift to the very same village, and when he stopped, about eight of them piled in!  He asked if I could have been one of them.  Turning very red, I said that I was not one of those girls.  He told me that at the time he was serving in the army, but since then he had been de-mobbed and had decided that he like it there so much that he brought his family over as well.

We were both trembling when we saw our families again.  I had left in July and my brother Günter had returned from Russia in August.  It was lovely to be reunited.  Now there was only Georg who was still in Scotland.  We were so close, yet so far apart.  The general situation in Germany was a little better.  Food and transportation were available but the house and work availability situation was still grim.  There were still people looking for homes and shelter.  In a way, we had been the lucky ones in finding a little village to start a new life.  We had not developed any roots, so it was easy when the time came, to return to England but we would return again in the spring.

 I returned to Wales and stayed with the same family as before, for what turned out to be another three and a half years.  Mrs Jones was pleased to see me again.  Rita and I live about five miles apart now and both attended the Young Farmers' Club.  There was nothing else on.  At Christmas, we had a party and Rita was invited.  It was held in the school-room and everybody for miles came.  Rita and I were asked to sing in German.  We had no musical backing, but our voices blended beautifully.  To our embarrassment, we were asked to sing again and again.  It made me happy knowing we had been accepted.  Before our two-year contract finished, Rita found her man and got married.  They had four sons.

I said goodbye and went back to Germany after my two years was up.  My brothers had all found wives and new homes.  Christa, my youngest sister had got married and they lived with my mother.  My sister Inge married and they emigrated to Australia.  Her husband was Polish.  His home was in Warsaw.  When he was twelve years old, the Russians invaded and took him along with many thousands of others as forced labour.  They worked in the Ural mines.  When Germany and Russia went to war, he saw his chance of getting back to Poland by volunteering for service.  He was then seventeen years old.  It was not to be.  Reaching the Ukraine, he was captured by the Germans and taken straight to the Fatherland helping out in our munitions factories.  When at last the war was over, his first thoughts were of home, but terrible stories reached him.  Many who had gone before him, had been murdered by his own kin, for helping the Germans to prolong the war.  People had become incapable of distinguishing the innocent from the guilty.  He could not take the chance.

It was 1970 before he and my sister, along with their son who was then eighteen, flew from Australia to Warsaw.  His mother was still alive at eighty five years of age.  I bet tears were flowing on all sides.  On the return journey, they stopped off in my home town of Breslau, which, since the end of the war became part of Poland and is now known as Wroclaw.  They stayed one month and had a wonderful time.  The Poles are known for their warm hospitality.  My nephew fell in love with a girl and stayed on, taking a job as an English teacher.  Two years later, he and his girlfriend flew to Australia where they married and settled down.  Inge and her husband were very happy in Australia, never once portraying any longing for the past.  In 1953, after meeting the 'dark man the fortune teller told me about, I got married.  This is the story of how I came to this country. Of course, even after all this time, I still get homesick, especially at Christmas, but when I think of my home, it is of my mother and my sisters that I think, and the time we had together when we were little girls.

I've been asked many times "Why did you come to England?" and "Do you get homesick?".  I believe in destiny.  This was the road I should follow, and the life I should lead.


Part 11 - My Return to Breslau in 2002


Me (centre back) in 1949 with my new 'family' in Wales

My Wedding to 'the dark man'