83, Eliza Purton
I was a child over in England during the war and no one has learnt a lesson. People need to learn to get on with each other and put their differences behind them and try and work together – I mean countries, the heads of countries – and accept everybody for who they are. Whether you’re black, blue, red, white – and your religion, if you’ve got a religion. They’ve learnt absolutely nothing from the war. But of course a lot of people make money from war, a lot of people.
I grew up in the war and we didn’t have much of an education. Mum had four children at home and Dad wasn’t there. He was away doing whatever he was doing in the war and we were having an air raid, we could hear the planes coming. At our house over in England we had bedrooms upstairs, living rooms down stairs and the air raid shelter was outside. On this particular raid we could hear them coming and so we had to go down to the air raid shelter. So we gathered up our blanket and pillow (we always had a pillow slip with our clothes in it) and we had to walk down the stairs. Mum had the baby – my younger sister was a baby – and ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘one’s missing. Don’t tell me he’s in the kitchen getting something’. So she looked – no he wasn’t there. She looked in the living room, ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘don’t tell me that he’s in the bathroom’. So she said to my eldest sister, ‘You take the baby and you take Alec’s things and you two go to the air raid shelter’. It wasn’t that far away from the house, just a few metres more or less. So off we go and we could hear the planes coming and the guns going off. We were shouting, ‘Mum! Mum!’ you know, like you do as kids, and next minute my brother comes flying through the doorway and she jumps in behind him and she was saying, ‘If you do that again!’ This was the only time I ever saw my mother lose it. We had the German planes over, the guns all going off and I can remember her shouting to him, ‘One of these days if Hitler don’t kill you, I will kill you myself!’ That has stuck in my mind ever since. The poor little thing, he’d got out of bed, put his boots on and his coat on, climbed under the bed, pulled his blanket over him and went to sleep! He thought he was actually in the air raid shelter! Because this was going on, we could have raids at any time – midnight, two, three o’clock in the morning they were coming over. And we were very young and he thought he was actually in the air raid shelter. He was 20 months older than me, I was about 8, so he must have been about 10. It wasn’t funny at the time but we tormented him for years. He died a few years back, but we still tormented him.
Another time we were running towards the air raid shelter again and they dropped a bomb and we got the blast and it blew me right down the air raid shelter. That was the worst. I hit the bottom, I don’t remember much, only all these kids on top of me. I was about eight or nine, I was only young. It was scary. I was five when it started and it went for five and a half years.
We were told we were at war with the Germans and for the life of me I had no idea who the Germans were. I mean, when you are a child you don’t know. We were told they were bad people. Dad was away and everybody else – the man next door, he was away, a chap two doors down from us, he was away, he was in the army. Another neighbour, he was in the air force. So the men were away all the time, it was just more or less the women with the children. I didn’t see Dad much over the five and a half years but I was lucky because some people, one of my friends, her father was a prisoner of war with the Japanese and for a year I don’t think they even knew if he was alive even.
If we were to visit our grandmother – that was Dad’s mother – she’d say, ‘Be careful about the buildings.’ They were all boarded up because they were bombed, the buildings. Wherever you went that’s all you saw. When the war was all over, I was about twelve, we were allowed to go to the beach – after they cleaned all the beach up – because they’d put landmines there. They had a big fun park there. We used to go there a couple of times a year.
Dad was a bit of a history buff and that’s where I get it from. He used to take us through old buildings and tell us stories and try to keep us active. We had a happy childhood, apart from those years during the war, but that wasn’t our parents fault. On the whole, compared to some children, we had quite a happy one.
We used to have a lovely get together with Mum’s family. Mum’s sisters and my cousins always came to our house and had a good time. Dad played the piano and we used to have sing-alongs and he was a fantastic dancer. I was one of five children, four girls, one boy, and Dad taught us all to dance – and we could all dance! Ballroom dancing, I don’t mean like this today.
Mum was a very sensible woman, she used to say, ‘Spend a little, save a little’. She always used to come out with little things like that and she would always give. If she got some money for her birthday or something, we knew she would spend some on herself, but she always used to spend it on us. I think she was a great influence on the house. She never smoked, didn’t drink. She used to say any woman that drank – even the men – that was a cup of milk they deprived of the children. We used to know other families and the mother used to smoke and drink and she’d say ‘No, she’s depriving the children’. Dad didn’t smoke. I say didn’t smoke, he did used to roll his cigarettes, but so thin there was hardly anything in it and I think if he had two or three a day that was it. As for drink, if he had one at Christmas time he’d be merry. One glass would make him merry, two glasses he’d be asleep!
Dad died when he was fifty-five. When he was in India, back in the army, he got malaria fever. Malaria never leaves you, it’s always there. In those days you could get a re-occurrence of it and every time you get a re-occurrence it weakens your heart. So it weakened his heart and he died. That’s what the doctors said that held the post-mortem, because he was only 55. We’d all been out in the evening and we’d gone our separate ways home and next I knew there was knocking at the door and my brother was there and he said, ‘You need to get to the hospital, Dad’s collapsed!’ And he lived a week. I was only twenty-three or twenty-four, something like that, and we’d only been in Australia six years.
I’ve been through so much and so death doesn’t worry me. When you’ve been through so much, it’s going to come to us all, and I think it depends too how you lived your life. I believe in God, we go to church, we haven’t been for a few weeks because of Don’s hip. He had to give up driving and in the winter it’s a bit cold to go but we do belong to a church. I’ve always had my faith, I was baptised at six weeks. I was bought up in the Church of England when we were in England and Don was the same.
I’m married, my husband Don is in the room next door. We’ve been married 64 years, give and take. He’s from Tasmania, we met in Hobart. Our family went to Austin’s Ferry and Dad had a house built. I was eighteen and I used to travel on the train to Hobart because I worked in Hobart. Don worked on the railways and he saw me and he thought (this is the story he tells everyone) he says, ‘I’m going to have that girl.’ I used to talk to different people working on the railways and unbeknown to him (and I used to travel quite a bit with this one) and he thought, hmm, get rid of him! But unbeknown to him it was my brother! Because he worked in the railways but not in the same part as Don! So he thought I was taken with another man but it was my brother! Because my brother knew these other ones that worked there, of course I got to know them too through him but Don didn’t know this. But anyway that’s how we met. He just used to say hello to me – just hello – and then one day we met in the street and he said, ‘Hello,’ and he walked me back to the railway station and he asked me out and he took me to the pictures! We were together about two years before we married. We were going out for eight or nine months and then we got engaged and I think we were engaged for about a year or something and then we got married.
The secret to a good marriage is about give and take. And never hold a grudge. I know some people, they like to think they know everything, but you don’t. I think you learn from each other and you grow from each other. Yes, so we’ve been married for 64 years. These days you’re lucky to be married 6 years! Some people not even that. The young ones today they want everything yesterday. Whereas in our time we had to save up and not get into debt, but now they get a flashy car. I really don’t think a lot of parents teach their children how to…. My mother’s advice to us was you spend a little, you save a little and you will never be in debt. She said, when you get married always make sure that your rent or mortgage, whatever you’ve got, is paid for and make sure that you’ve got plenty of coverage for medical so that if you’re sick, or your children are sick you can always take them to the doctor. That was her advice to me and I carried it on.
I was having a bath one day and felt a lump… it was so tiny, like a pimple under the skin. The next night it was still there and within a week it had grown to about five cent piece. I thought – oh, that’s funny. So I went to my doctor and I told her, and she examined both my breasts and she said I’d like you to have a mammogram. I was having mammograms every two years on the bus. So they did the mammogram at the hospital and I was meant to see the doctor a week later, but before that week was up the hospital phoned me – the doctor himself. He said, ‘Can you come in so we can take a deeper one?’ I said, ‘Yeah ok,’ and thought nothing of it. I went through and he said, ‘Don’t worry sometimes we do this,’ and when I went back to the doctor she said I had a lump in both breasts. So she made an appointment to see the cancer specialist and from the time I went to her first time, to the time I got in, I think it was about two and a half weeks. So I had to go back and have both breasts removed.
Five days before last Christmas I was at home and I’d got up, we’d had breakfast, my husband was in the kitchen and I’d gone to make the bed. All of a sudden I got this dreadful pain in my chest and down my arm, then it went up to my neck and I thought, oh, I must go and sit down. I was trying to call my husband’s name, ‘Don!’, and he heard me and he came racing from the kitchen into the lounge room and he said, ‘What are you making that noise for?’ I thought I was calling ‘Don,’ but I was making a funny noise. He took one look and he said, ‘I’m calling an ambulance’. I was taken to the Latrobe hospital. Then they sent me to Launceston. Then they sent me through by air ambulance to Hobart. I had a by-pass there. I collapsed five days before Christmas and I had the operation between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. I can’t remember a lot about it but sometime between then. That’s why I’m here now.
They said I would never be able to go home and work or do anything and my husband, he’s losing his memory. He couldn’t look after me and I couldn’t look after him. I was so sick when I moved in, I mean when you can’t even get into bed you don’t care. Don came here before I came because I was in hospital until February. I don’t think I could go ever back to living at home. I do miss cooking and I miss not going into the supermarket and saying, ‘What are we going to have? Will we have lamb chops, or lamb, beef, or something’? They hold cooking here but it’s cakes and scones and thing like that, but I’d love to cook a real meal up. Do you know what I’d love to cook? A big pot of soup. I do all my own washing here, I hand wash it in my bathroom and dry them off in front of the heater. I have two clothes horses. I got myself an iron and I do my ironing. Don, he’s got nice shirts and I said, ‘Well, I’ll be ironing all your summer shirts,’ just because we’re in here doesn’t mean we have to look like rag bags.
My advice to people today is stop thinking about yourself and start thinking of other people for a change. There’s too much of me, me, me. Yes, there’s not enough people thinking of other people, unless it’s really rammed down their throat, and then they do something about it. You take the farmers, the farmers have been struggling for years and it’s only the last three or four months that’s it’s come to the forefront and then everybody wants to help. They should have been helping them years way back. Yes, stop thinking of themselves for a change. Or, I’ve got a bigger house than you, or I’ve got a bigger car than you, or bigger TV. And think of the homeless, they are the ones I feel sorry for. People say, oh, yeah, but they leave home. Yeah, but you don’t know what their home is like, that’s how I look at it.