Kenneth (Ken) Alexander came to Australia with his family when he was 3 years old. Together with father George Edward, mother Gladys Maud and his 6 year old brother John, they left Southampton on the 28th January 1949.
The Asturias in early 1950. Note the similarity in basic design to the Titanic, (Titanic was a much larger ship of course, 46,000 vs 22,000 tons) but similar lines, similar Bridge, plumb bow etc.
Arriving in Sydney - Saturday 5th of March 1949 - the greeting party.
Back Row Aunt Lil, Alwyn LONG (with Daughter Adelle), Aunt Nell,
Unknown, Gladys ALEXANDER, Unknown, Gladys Pitts
Front Row: Unknown, Robert Pitts, Valerie Long, Patricia Long, unknown, Kenneth James ALEXANDER, Edward John ALEXANDER, Unknown
My only real recollection of this journey to the new world begins when we were getting on the "Boat train" from London
to Southampton for our departure. I can remember my father getting off the train, and running away, and me becoming very frightened
at the prospect that he might miss the train. Evidently, he had forgotten his false teeth. I am not even sure that he made the train,
or recovered his false teeth, because I have some vague memory that his false teeth were mailed to us and eventually arrived in Australia
some time after we did!!
Life is full of stupid moments.
We boarded the ship, which was called the "Asturias", at Southampton and sailed on Friday 28th January 1949. A Royal Mail ship initially, and an Orient Liner at the time of our departure, she was twin screw, 22057 tons gross, launched 1925 scrapped 1957, and had some colorful history. Originally a luxury ship serving mainly South Africa, she was conscripted into service as an armed merchant ship in WW2 and was subsequently badly damaged in a torpedo attack. She went back to the Belfast builders, Harland and Wolfe, who built the TITANIC, and she was repaired, extended, re-engined, and put back into service.
The Orient line (later P&O) contracted to the UK government to shift large numbers of migrants from the UK and Europe, in the period 1947-51. Her “farewell” in 1957, just before being scrapped, was to star in the film “A Night to Remember” which was an early version of the TITANIC saga. She had build similarities to the Titanic. She was also the main transport ship for “the Lost Children”; the children shipped from overcrowded UK orphanages at the time (1949-52), who were told they had no contactable parents, untrue in the majority of instances. Many were poorly treated after arrival, providing a cheap source of farm labour to their new “foster parents”. What a history!
The five-week ocean voyage was rather uneventful for me. I can
remember being sea-sick on only one occasion, while the ship was crossing the Bay of Biscay, off France/Spain and we were on our way
to dinner. I threw up on the stairs, much to everyone's disgust in the Dining Room I imagine, but it was less to do with any inherent
seasickness, and more to do with the fact that I had just swallowed my chewing gum, which had prompted the whole thing.
I can remember
travelling through the Suez Canal. I can remember Colombo in Ceylon, where we got off for a few hours, and had a ride in a Rickshaw.
A Rickshaw is a two-wheeled cart pulled by a Coolie, (a manual labourer) and there was some argument at the end, presumably over the
amount of the fare which the Coolie wanted to charge my Dad.
I can also remember throwing of bottle overboard with a message in it,
as we were crossing the Great Australian Bight between Fremantle and Melbourne, on the final leg to Sydney.
We arrived in Sydney on the Saturday 5th of March 1949, (the day Don Bradman played his last innings in first grade cricket) having stopped at Port Said, (a fueling stop in Egypt at the start of the Suez Canal), Colombo, and Fremantle (Perth). Surprisingly, because I was nearly 4 years of age, I recall very little about our own arrival in Australia, and the extended family which obviously met us at the dock when we arrived.
I CAN remember subsequent trips to the wharves in Sydney Harbour to either farewell a relative or greet new relatives arriving,
and the fear of being trapped on board on the ship when it was going to depart, but I cannot honestly remember our own arrival, or
the people who were there to meet us. Part of the greeting group was the Long family, including Aunty Alwyn, who was carrying a newborn
daughter Adelle, who was to become my sweetheart some 14 years later, and eventually my wife.