Our Kind of People
ELSIE POVALL SMITH (NEE' GOODWIN)
I was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire, on 24th August 1910. I attended a Government Council school as a junior, only won half a scholarship to a secondary school, and so attended one of the first Central schools. These were run on the same lines as the secondary schools. I loved the school life and wanted it to go on forever. I think perhaps in view of later developments I should have been a teacher! My father was unemployed for some time during the after- war depression and I was determined, as soon as possible, to get a job and bring home some money. I left school when I was fourteen, and had won a scholarship to the Laird School of Art in Birkenhead. This meant attending classes three evenings per week, but as I was attending a Business Training College during the day, I had to leave it halfway through my training as I had acquired a job as a junior shorthand typist in a Liverpool firm. To complete my "speed" qualifications I had to attend evening classes three times per week which clashed with my art classes and so I had to relinquish them. Again in retrospect I should have kept them up somehow.
After several moves as a secretary in several Liverpool firms I ended up as a Government telephonist in the Birkenhead Exchange. Better pay and working conditions. During this period I made several lifelong friends, and with their brothers we had a very happy group of teenagers enjoying cycling, swimming, fell-walking in the Lake District and North Wales, dancing and tennis. I joined the local amateur dramatic society (only as an organiser) ran the dances for the staff at the Exchange etc. I was eventually transferred to the Trunk Exchange in Liverpool, and as a committee member helped run the swimming club and formed a horse riding group. This meant we spent many happy weekends riding around the lovely Wirral Peninsular and along the sandbanks between New Brighton and Leasowe.
In those days it was the "thing" to flirt with all the boys but not to become too serious. Also I knew a handsome man who looked like Humphrey Bogart, and he introduced me to grand opera and dining out before the theatre. He was six years older than I and I suppose I was flattered. Fortunately he realised how naive and romantic I was and was content with a goodnight kiss and a hug and "tolerated" my passion for films and eventually the "Talkies". When I was eighteen he went abroad to South Africa to take up a job as an engineer on a gold mine in the Transvaal. We corresponded until we became unofficially engaged for my twentyfirst birthday, but I wanted him to bring me an engagement ring made of South African gold and diamonds! It was not meant to be as his sister persuaded him to defer his return to England for another two years. This was just too much for me who had watched all the other couples going out together but I had a boyfriend overseas and was very loyal to him. So I wrote and ended our relationship. Again in retrospect that was the man I should have married but I was too inexperienced and in love with love! Then came a regular boyfriend of three years and our friends expected we would soon become engaged but he met another girl, like me but younger, and that was that! Sadly he lost his father soon afterwards in the submarine "Thetis" disaster. This was in 1939 and the second world war was threatening.
After surviving the Blitz on Merseyside where we were responsible for sending out the air-raid warnings for the northern half of England and Scotland etc. I requested to be released from a reserved occupation job and was accepted by the A.T.S. I had hoped to join the W.A.A.F. or the W.R.E.N.S. but they were fullup. So with two of my friends we were sent off to Yorkshire for training. After the Blitz and black-out on Merseyside it was like going to Butlin's holiday camp for six weeks! As one of my hobbies was printing and developing my own films, I wanted to be a kinetheodolite operator, but when our training was finished they urgently wanted switchboard operators and much to our disappointment we were seconded to Royal Signals and sent to Putney for training! This took place in a school on Wandsworth High Street. Another happy period! We almost failed our tests as the boards were so simple after our modern automatic switchboards, but we scraped through. To our delight we were posted to Chester, Western Command Headquarters, only fifteen miles from our homes. But for the tragedy of war this was also a happy experience. Many of the "Dodges" did we use to get home for breaks! We were soon roped in as corporals and as I had the job of arranging the roster we often had an extra twentyfour hours leave! I always loved Chester as I had spent many happy Sundays rowing up the river Dee before the war. Usually in a double-outrigger or a canoe. The Liverpool Philharmonic often played at the Cathedral, and being on shift work we spent many happy hours at the cinema and the English speaking union club. We also ran dances in our gymnasium (in the Theological College) and invited soldiers training in local camps and also staff at the American Transfer Headquarters. One of our officers was a Miss Montgomery, niece of the famous General. She was quite a character!
Due to an omission on the Company notice board we missed our train to Dover when we were drafted to S.H.A.F.E. so we were asked if we agreed to be recommended to the O.T.C. We all agreed to refuse, mainly as we would be financially handicapped by buying our own uniforms and messing fees, and we were already having our wages "Made up" by Telecomms. So we were packed off to the Signal Training College in Edinburgh. Hurray! I had friends in Edinburgh and we were billeted at the university. Now I was teaching telephone switchboard working and telex etc. Then came VJ Day. With the male staff we all went into the city to celebrate. Hotels and restaurants were full up and closed their doors. The trams were crawling along Princes Street, with only a driver in charge and the "Forces" and civilians hanging along the pavements and someone was letting off firecrackers amongst our feet, and we were jumping up and down and shrieking. Imagine my surprise earlier this year when I saw myself in the series on TV here in Perth, jumping up because of the firecrackers!! It was in "Out of Empire".
Then we were waiting for our "demob" which was going to be slow as "Squads" were still being recruited and allocated for training. Eventually we packed up and a whole train was used to take us from Edinburgh to Devonshire. We were "piped" all the way to the station by a Scottish pipe band. Arriving at Newton Abbot we then had about three miles to the "spider" camp in Denbury. Here I was re- introduced to Devon cider - rough! In spite of warning new intakes about the potency of it, we always had to put them to bed on their first weekend in camp. We spent many happy weekends at the N.A.A.F.I. in Portsmouth, and often invited the Navy to our dances in camp. Then volunteers were asked to do a domestic science course in Weymouth so that we could teach the latest recruits how to use a ration book, and how to use rations when their young husbands returned from the forces. So off I went to Weymouth. No we were able to spend weekends in Brighton and Bournemouth. It was November and the weather was mild and we went into the sea every day. Secretly I informed the local newspaper and we were photographed in the local paper.
After receiving our diplomas we returned to Denbury but before we could start the instructing of the new intake, some of us were sent on demob leave. I was now a Lance Sergeant but would be gone before my appointment to Sergeant would arrive. So in March 1946 I was demobbed. Back into the Liverpool Telecomms. But my applications for transfer to the accounts department had been granted.
When my brother was in the South of England in the Royal Artillery he met a girl in the Land Army and became engaged to her. She came to live with my sister until their wedding when I met the best man for the first time - he was also Royal Artillery. One year later we were married. Then the usual trail of finding accommodation as so many homes were in ruins. Eventually we managed to buy a house near my family and in 1948 my son was born. My husband was now working at Lever Brothers in Port Sunlight but was devastated that now he was on the staff, he would have to work there for thirty years before retiring on a pension. As he had been ready to embark several times during the war, but plans were changed and he never went overseas, he was very restless and announced that he would like to emigrate to Rhodesia. It is a long story of being rejected, then accepted by Australia but had a long wait, and so he re-applied to Rhodesia and before we could grasp it, he was on a plane sponsored by the "Settlers" and we had to follow by sea. We only managed to get a booking six months later - May 1952. We went via the Canary Islands, St Helena and the West Coast to Cape Town. Then by train for three days to Rhodesia.
I was very disappointed with my first view of Salisbury as it was so flat. The only "hump" was the Kopje! Later of course we discovered the Eastern Districts and the lovely scenery at Inyanga. On arrival we stayed for three months with a relative by marriage, in Parktown, Waterfalls. Then in a rented cottage for six months in Prospect, and then for about three years in a pise in Eastlea provided by the Housing Board, which was part of the agreement when they flew out my husband from England. During this time I had several part-time jobs - with Sanders in the accounts department, with the Electricity Supply Commission in Fourth Street, then in the British High Commissioners Office in Robin House, where with an Officer from London I opened the first British Passport Office. Up until that time, anyone wanting a passport had to apply in South Africa or Northern Rhodesia which then was a Protectorate.
On my return from a visit to England in 1955 we built our first home on one acre of land in Prospect. It was beautifully wooded with Msasa trees and Thorn trees, and with an anthill as high as the house we were building. We moved in at the end of 1956. I joined the Hatfield Bowling Club and my husband being a golfer joined the Salisbury South Club. I also joined the Waterfalls branch of the Women's Institute where I was treasurer and then president. We had the anthill removed as we thought it was active but we were wrong. As the house was on a half acre layout, half laid out as a formal garden, and the other half as playground with a henrun and rockery etc. I was happy working in the garden but found the heat very trying. Then I helped my friend by taking her place in her husband's machinery business so they could go to Europe for a six month holiday. I was in my element running the office for five mornings a week. When she returned she asked me to stay on while she renovated the house in Waterfalls, and I stayed on for six and a half years! Then came the recession in the building world. The unemployed sitting at the foot of Rhodes statue in Jameson Avenue. My husband decided to go to England in the hope of getting work but soon returned as he would have had to commute at least forty miles each way to the only job he could get. By this time we had moved into a flat in Belvedere, in 1966 our marriage broke down and I moved to a flat in Eastlea near where I was working at the P.& T. yard. I left the Alexander Bowling Club which I had joined whilst living in Belvedere and joined the Highlands Sport Club. I also joined the Rhodesian Front Party and was secretary for the Highlands South branch when Richard Hope Hall was our M.P. I attended the R.F. Congress on several occasions as observer and delegate. I was then working full time in Post and Telecomms and was employed there for nearly ten years. My son Tony was now working with the Government Laboratories but was called up for National Service. He was allocated to the Air Force Reserve, mainly in forward airfields. After he completed his service, like hundreds of others, he was in and out of the Forces every six weeks or so. It was a tragic time for everyone, seeing ones friends blown to bits, and even our friends butchered for a few dollars. With twelve years of sanctions life was very difficult. In 1975 when my son was about to become engaged, he was made redundant because of shortages of raw material. (he was now qualified and working as an industrial chemist). As there was no welfare for the unemployed they arranged to be married as soon as possible, which was in May and they emigrated to Perth in August 1975. I was playing bowls in the Easter Tournament that year, moving from Eastlea to Highlands, the wedding in May, the goodbyes, when I left for England in July, and my son and his wife (May), gone when I returned. What a year! They urged me to plan to join them but I only had a part pension from U.K. which was not enough to live on, and I had no pension from P & T as I was too old when I joined them. However, the terrorist war was getting worse and I decided to make plans to emigrate. It took me from January to October (1976) to do it!
Tony sponsored me with no difficulty and I hoped I would get a part- time job to help. For the first time since I left school at fourteen I had no home, no job, was a refugee and had to make a fresh start. To my surprise I qualified for a pension having lived in U.K. for 42 years! So with what I emigrated with I had to set up a home again. First in Kalamunda which I loved but found it hard to mix as I had no car and was too far from the Bowling Club and the bridge Club. I joined the Pensioners League in 1977 and am still a member. I miss having a car very much but could not afford to bring my car with me, nor maintain another one here. So in 1978 I came to live in this retirement village (another long story) and have been very happy here for over sixteen years. I think I am probably the first ex-Rhodesian to come here and now we have about fifteen living here. In November 1976 when I had only been here a few weeks I attended the Independence Dinner at the Palace Hotel, held by the Australian/Rhodesian Association. Did they put out the red carpet for me! It was a wonderful night. I joined the Association and was on the committee for many years but as the help for the Rhodesian Forces was no longer necessary, we tried to help new arrivals. Then the younger ones wished to run a Rhodesian Association and so the Lanes (Hilary and Tom) took over. The Australian members seemed to disappear, and the M'dalas was formed. On ANZAC day 1977 the Australian/Rhodesian Association, as Allies, were allowed to parade, and we carried the green and white flag both then and in the following year. Then I joined the British Ex-Service Association and for several years marched with them. This year I couldn't walk far and was in our village bus in the parade. I am a member of the Rhodesians Worldwide Association and have renewed many contacts with old friends and neighbours. If anyone would like to come and see our lovely village, I would be happy to show them around, or maybe we could have another "Out of Africa" tea party!