Updated: Jun 24, 2020
| This is the 474th story of Our Life Logs |
This story was written in memory of the one who lived it.
I grew up in Norfolk, England. From a young age I dreamed of distant lands. Adventures in exotic places filled my head as I made my long walk every day to the little school house passed the countryside, fields of corn and cattle spread out across the village as far as the eye could reach. But there didn’t seem to be a way for a country boy like me to escape our village and see the world.
I was born in 1878 and was the eldest of four children, two boys and two girls. I was named George Samuel, a name that had been handed down from my father and his father before him. My family were farm laborers, and I was raised during the Norfolk depression, a tough time for farmers when work became scarce. The economic situation created poverty for my growing family, and my parents decided to take in some lodgers to make ends meet. It was a decision that wasn’t taken lightly as it meant that our already cramped living quarters would get even smaller. But what choice did we have?
Despite that life was physically tough at the time, I had a happy childhood. I helped my father with the farm work, and we grew vegetables on our small plot of land. After leaving school at the age of 14, my father wanted me to work with him as an agricultural laborer, which I did for a short time. However, the work was irregular, and I knew I wanted to follow my own path and create a better life for myself.
When I was 16, I found work on the railways. I worked as a railway stoker, making up the fires and shoveling coal to keep the steam trains running. It was dirty work and was physically hard. By the end of the day, I was black from the coal dust and smoke. As summer turned to autumn, I realized that my muscles had grown and I had turned from a boy into a man. While I was happy that I was earning a regular wage and could contribute to the family’s expenses, I know that I didn’t want to do that job for the rest of my life. I had ambitions which reached beyond the confides of the train’s coal room.
Gazing out of the steam train’s window one day, I watched as the fields and towns trundled past. I was lucky to be able to see so much of the English countryside on a regular basis, but I dreamed of travelling further afield. After work, I would read adventure books such as The Call of the Wild and Treasure Island. I hoped that one day I would be able to leave England and see more of the world.
I considered moving to London to get a better job as my sister Ellen had recently found work as a maid in a doctor’s house. There was reportedly more work in London and with my experience at the railways so, I thought I could easily find a job. I was all set to move, but there was one thing stopping me. A beautiful girl called Alice.
Alice was from Kent. Her parents regularly sent her to stay with her grandparents in Norfolk during the summers. I’d heard rumors that Alice was to return to Norfolk. A spark of hope was kindled inside me and I decided to stay to catch up with her. It took a while for us to reconnect, but we did, eventually.
In 1900, when I was 21, I proposed to Alice and we got married not long after. Two years later, my savings had grown and so had Alice’s baby bump. Our first child was a healthy, brown-eyed daughter who we named Alice after my wife. I continued to work at the railways for another eight years, and our family grew. We had two sons, Sydney in 1904 and Frank in 1908, followed by another daughter, Hilda in 1910.
During this time, we often struggled to make ends meet. I worked long hours and was often exhausted. On top of my railway job, we also had a vegetable garden which seemed to take up all my spare time. I watched as the vegetable’s shoots grew into healthy plants which fed my hungry family, but I couldn’t help thinking that there must be more to life.
One day, covered in soot and exhausted after another day’s work, a poster caught my eye on the station platform. A single nail pierced the top edge and it blew gently in the wind. A crowd was gathered around it and I had to push through to see what the poster said. It advertised assisted passage for those who wanted to emigrate to New Zealand. Was this the adventure I had been waiting for? Could I take this opportunity and change not only my life but the lives of my family as well?
Excitement filled the station, and it was all everyone was talking about for days. At first, it seemed like a faraway dream; no one really knew what life was like in New Zealand. Were all the promises the government was making true? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The poster said that the New Zealand government was trying to attract people to the country. It needed more workers as the recent invention of refrigerated storage on ships meant that they had started to export meat and dairy products. There would be farm work for the men and jobs as maids for the women. I had been saving for the past 10 years, and though it wasn’t much, I had enough to get my family to New Zealand.After some consideration, I persuaded my wife that we should emigrate to New Zealand with our four children.
In 1912, with a leap of faith, we made a move. I knew that we were risking it all, but I had a feeling that it was the right thing to do. I knew when we left that we wouldn’t be returning. I had mixed feelings about this. I wanted to take care of my immediate family and build a better life for them. But I was also sad to be leaving my parents and siblings.
We traveled to New Zealand by boat. It was a long and arduous journey. The ship was crowded with families hoping for a new life, and we were given a small berth where all six of us slept. Our youngest child was just two at the time and didn’t understand where we were going. We traveled through rough waters, and the children were often seasick. Being out on the deck on a calm day was amazing, with peaceful water and a fresh breeze; it felt close to my dream. But there were days when the boat rocked continuously against the waves and rain lashed against the deck, driving us all inside.
A growing feeling of dread and unease filled my mind, as I anxiously waited to get off the boat and start our new life. None of us knew what New Zealand was like, other than what we had read on a poster. Was life better over there? Or had we all fallen for false promises? Only time would tell. I prayed that my wife and I would get good jobs and that our children could get a good education and have a bright future ahead of them.
Finally, after three months on the sea, we arrived in New Zealand. I was able to find work in a dairy factory, and my wife got a part-time job as a domestic servant. Everything was going well, the climate was nice, and we had a small plot of land where we could grow plants. Our garden was soon overflowing with ripe fruit and vegetables, including things that we couldn’t grow in England. We were all well-fed. I worked long hours and saved a percentage of my wages each week. I hoped that I would soon be able to buy a house of our own. My young family were happy, healthy and thriving. I felt that I had finally found my place in the world.
Then, came World War I.
The war wasn’t something I’d expected. No one had. In 1914, I had to put my plans on hold as I was called up and joined the Navy. I was angry. I didn’t know when I would see my family again or what would become of us.
Initially, I was a navy reserve, which meant I had a shore job and did training to be ready for the sea when I was needed. By the end of the year, I was sent to sea on HMS Philomel. The ship was located in the middle east. We were there to protect Brit