It was Singapore in January 1941. We were just about to board the SS Orion en route for Sydney, Australia. Loudspeakers were warning passengers that due to the emergency, we were only allowed on board with what we could carry. So trunks of clothing etc. were left on the wharf, and hasty decisions made. My mother led the way up the gangplank with the official boarding-pass. It said, “Mrs Danefield and three children.”
My mother had two suitcases, and 3-year old Aime who was on reins. My sister Kate, aged 13, carried a small suitcase and The World Famous Book of Paintings, followed by me, aged 11, clutching my teddy bear and precious violin, despite having a broken arm in plaster. The wharf was alive with mothers, children, officials and worried fathers. We made hasty farewells to our friends and loving hugs to Daddy, who was staying behind. Little did we realise it would be three and a half years before we saw him again.
On board ship, we were ushered to our cabin, and bagged our bunks. It was all so exciting for us children, but desperate for my mother who, like all other, had to leave behind her husband and home. Her great friend Heather, with her daughter Joanna, were also on board with us, so we formed a tight family group with the mothers keeping spirits up and making frequent mugs of Bovril. Last-minute passengers rushed up the gangway as the ship’s hooters announced our departure.
We were kept firmly in our cabins until we set out to sea. Then it was a blur of meals, air-raid drills and alarms, and being rushed down to the bowels of the ship guided by a series of ropes, because of blackout regulations. I stood in readiness at the foot of the final stairs with my good hand on the rail, ready to race back to the top deck and lifeboat stations if necessary.
We had a tragedy on board. One young mother had to get her boarding card properly stamped, so gave instructions to her baby’s Amah to keep her child on board while she went ashore to get the official stamp. She was one of the last to re-board the ship. The Amah, however, had panicked as time to leave drew near and rushed off the ship with the child. The ship departed; there was no chance of turning back. Everyone on board was devastated at the tragic plight of the desperate young mother, left on board without her baby. I have never forgotten it.
Were any of you on board the SS Orion? I would like to hear your story. Or maybe you were in a similar situation? Please we would love to hear your stories and bring back memories of a different world.