Heritage: The families who escaped grey post-war Havering for Australia

Going to Australia

In the late 1940s a number of residents fled post-war austerity for a new life on the other side of the world. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

For the four sun-tanned teenagers, two days back in Hornchurch was enough.

To escape wartime bombing, around 500 British children had been evacuated to Australia during the Second World War. When the Hare family youngsters came home in 1946, it should have been a happy reunion with their parents and three other siblings – one too young to have travelled, another born since they'd left.

But the austerity and the shortages of post-war Britain were too much.

Wearing kangaroo badges, the four besieged the immigration desk at Australia House in the Strand, chorusing: "We want to go back to Australia!"

"We all want to go," insisted their father, Walter. They had a grown-up son who was keen to emigrate too, Mrs Hare added.


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Speaking with an Australian accent, 17-year-old Betty Hare complained: "It's awful here, queuing for everything."

Unused to rationing of luxuries, 15-year-old Joan grumbled: "People here laughed at me when I tried to buy chocolates."

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John, aged 13, was shocked to encounter traditional English classroom discipline. "Australian schools are beaut – they let you talk all day!"

The three had lived at Bendigo, a small inland city in Victoria. Their older sister, Peggy, who'd worked as a sales assistant in Melbourne, had the saddest tale of all. "I want to go back to get married!"

Why had she bothered to return at all?

READ MORE: Australia’s view of the wacky world of Havering

A railway worker, Walter Hare insisted he "could do anything" and "would give anything to go to Australia". But immigration officials seemed wary of their pushy approach, and told them to join a two-year waiting list.

In 1948, an Elm Park resident tried a novel approach.

Would-be migrants could move up the queue if they had a sponsor in Australia, who would guarantee them accommodation and support on arrival.

Frank Scruton, of Elm Park Avenue, wrote to the Brisbane Telegraph appealing for someone to nominate his family. Frank was prepared to "go anywhere and do anything."

An experienced butcher, he'd additional experience as a dock worker, bus conductor, decorator and gardener.

Australia, with a population of only eight million, needed people to fill its empty continent, so Frank enclosed an engaging picture of his four children, aged six to 12.

This gave Brisbane's daily paper a great human interest story.

Frank's plea was answered by Mr and Mrs Clack, from the Brisbane suburb of Windsor.

Mr Clack, himself an emigrant from England forty years earlier, believed in the Australian principle of the fair go.

Asked by a reporter why the couple had made such a generous offer to complete strangers, he simply replied, "wouldn't you do the same?"

"If people have a chance to do a good turn," added Mrs Clack – also British-born – "why not do it?"

READ MORE: Food gifts from Australia helped Havering in grim post-war years

The six Scrutons arrived in Brisbane in February 1949. Frank told a waiting reporter that discontented British migrants – the notorious "whingeing Poms" – should "be kicked back to England".

Another lucky migrant was Sidney Mole, a skilled apple packer from an Upminster fruit farm, who brought his family to the Huon Valley, Tasmania's orchard country, in 1949.

A house awaited them, stocked by welcoming neighbours with sacks of potatoes, pounds of butter, pots of jam – all in short supply back home.

In Britain, rationing was so severe that the family had been allocated just one egg per month. Now Mrs Mole was astonished to find two dozen in her larder.

It was the first time their six children had seen fresh cream: "I have never seen anything vanish quite so rapidly!"

In 1950, paparazzi snapped Mr and Mrs Dennis Stokes on their arrival in Melbourne with their ten-month-old son, Peter.

Just before they'd left England, Peter had won the title "Bonniest Baby in South Hornchurch". Weighing a formidable 28 pounds – 12.7 kg – Peter was a promising addition to Australia's population.

By the 1960s, Britain began to prosper, and Havering started to receive its own immigrants from overseas.

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