Journey by flying boat from Sydney to England 1946

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Date: 25 May 1946 to 31 May 1946
Location: Sydney, Australiamap
Surname/tag: Sharman-428
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It was a lovely morning when we left Sydney. I had been called at 4:45 a.m. by telephone in our flat at Marton Hall. Nina Bagot and I got up, prepared and ate our breakfast; Nina washed up and she left soon afterwards to go to Rose Bay by tram.

The night porter took down my luggage and across the street to the Qantas office by 6 a.m. A big bus was waiting there and soon my luggage was put aboard. Other passengers appeared, and at 6.30 a.m. we set off through the empty streets of Sydney, to Rose Bay, a very pleasant run.

People were sitting about comfortably in the waiting room, among them Nina. Formalities had to be gone through, as at all the stopping places. Passports, Customs and suchlike; but all was done by 7.45 a.m. Nina and I wandered around outside on the wharf, and then at last we were ordered aboard the launch. The Flying Boat is always tethered well-out from shore. We packed ourselves in, each in his allotted place. Nina stayed waving on the landing stage till we were out of sight; it was she of all my friends who saw the last of me.

The boat was very comfortable; well-sprung and padded seats, arranged side by side, with others facing across a folding table, a splendid view for those next to the windows. The second flying boat into which we changed at Karachi was slightly different in plan, in one case the luggage was carried at the stern, in the other amidships, the same with the lavatories; these were very clean, quite adequate, but of course very small.

In my cabin that first day were four other women and one man. There were four cabins, sixteen passengers, and a crew of seven, one of whom acted as steward. Three of the other women were young wives joining their men at Singapore, the other an instructress in Ballet, on a Post-war reconstruction job; with this last one I foregathered the whole way, sharing bedrooms the nights we were on land.

We left Sydney in perfect weather at about 8 a.m. Flying North the outlook was not very interesting, a sameness in the country we passed over; barren land, save for gum forests, the type of elevated plateau, broken up into gullies through long erosion.

Our first stop was at Bowen at 3 p.m. We had to come down every six or eight hours, to re-fuel; and in each case all passengers with their hand-luggage had to disembark, landing and going through formalities, whatever the weather might be, even in the pouring! This was in order to avoid risk of fire during re-fuelling. Generally we found a charming set-out of refreshments waiting for us…tea, sandwiches cakes and fruit, and it was a nice change.

The next stop was at 10.30 p.m. at Darwin, in the dark; we were taken a long way in a bus to a hotel, where we could wash or bath and change, and I was foolish enough to leave my washing gear there, soap, sponge, washer, toothbrush, sponge-bag. Waiting for the others I talked with a youth who gave me a cigarette, it was so warm and balmy sitting outside in the dark.

About 2 a.m. we started off again; there followed a jumble of preparation for bed; bunks to be let down, bedding to be produced, and all in so narrow a space. The bunks were very comfortable, the bedding excellent; undressing and dressing very difficult, so I kept on some undies under my pyjamas. There were four bunks in our cabin, four women; our fifth, Miss Daintree, went elsewhere.

That first day we were sumptuously fed, our steward was excellent, I fancy the quality of the meals depends largely on the cleverness of the steward.

We came down at 8 a.m. next morning at Sourabaya; it was a sad sight, so knocked about by war; wharves derelict, broken and grass grown; sunken ships with funnels and masts appearing above water. We landed and after refreshments we wondered along a lush green road and explored a forsaken washing place, it was hot and there were Dutch soldiers about. And soon we were off and up again.

We arrived at Singapore at 1.30 p.m. and there we spent a night. Singapore looked battered, untidy and down at heel; the usual life of such a port disorganized and only in the early stages of recovery. But although as we came in we saw again many wrecks and sunken ships, there was plenty of shipping activity; merchant ships looking like toys below us, and warships like clockwork playthings.

We stayed the night at Raffles Hotel; it had been badly hurt by war, but was slowly being put in repair. There was electric light and the usual lay-out of a Great Eastern Hotel, but all disorganized and in a muddle, the service and appointments inadequate. It was an awfully hot night; nets, fans, and no coverings needed, and still we were toute en nage.

We found we were sharing a bedroom suite with a young married woman, Mrs Norman, who was being held up in Singapore, on her way to join her husband, from whom she had been separated for six years, in Hongkong. Poor girl it was hard lines for her; he had been a prisoner under the Japanese. She had been held up for eleven days already and had no idea when she could get on; hateful to be in that hotel for an indefinite time.

Miss Daintree and I after settling ourselves into our bedroom and having a bath, sallied out to explore. We found our way to the main street of the native part of the city, it was thronged with foot traffic of all coloured nationalities and Chinese.

From there we turned back to the British section, seeing great imposing Government buildings, scarred by bombing and artillery fire; you had to be careful where set your feet, the pavements were often broken up and you might step into unpleasant water. It is a sad wreck of a great city. Seeing an imposing Anglican Cathedral, we went in and found a service would be held at 5.30 p.m. We then strolled down towards the harbour; crowds were picnicking on the turf of a green public enclosure, native food stalls were handy to supply them. From there Miss Daintree took her way back to the hotel while I walked back to Evensong at the Cathedral.

There was good attendance at the service, mostly of Service men and women, but there were all nationalities, many in native dress.

At 6.30 we were out and I went back to the hotel for dinner and bed. The night was very hot, and we slept under mosquito curtains and fans.

Next morning an early start, leaving the hotel at 6 a.m. well before light, by the usual bus and launch to the boat; by that time it was daylight and we had a good view of the shipping, wrecked and whole.

Our first stop was at Penang at 9.30 a.m. here we landed on sufferance of the R.A.F.; it was raining and we sat decorously in an open shelter, with the rain gently dripping round us; what I remember about it is the large-flowered frangipani tree in the garden and the pattering about of the tiny Pekinese that the French people let out of its basket; the little garden was very green and leafy and wet.

Soon up and away again, this time North to Rangoon, coming down at the mouth of the Irrawady at 5 p.m. These great rivers are unsavoury, like pea soup in colour and consistency. The great rush of waves that we make as we take off and alight, are mud-colour, instead of the exhilarating blue and silver of the ocean.

We were taken as usual in a big bus to our hotel, of which I forget the name; the appointments and service far exceeded Raffles at Singapore. It was overpoweringly hot, but we were very happy there, sleeping toutes en nage under our curtains, with the fan whirring all night.

After our usual bath and change, Miss Daintree and I set out to explore. The city was well worth seeing, a fine city, but oh so battered; bomb craters, and fine buildings pierced with artillery fire, heaps of rubble. The city had changed hands twice, and that meant street fighting each time. We walked round the outside of a great solid temple, very ornate and impressive; we talked with a British airman in the street and then went back to the hotel for dinner and bed.

We made a very early start next day, getting up at 5 a.m. leaving at 5.30 and we breakfasted on the boat. It was a most interesting day.

Our first stop was at Calcutta at 10 a.m., alighting on the Hooghly; oh the green swamps we passed over! These gave place to what looked like swamps cultivated, with villages in the swamps and rice being grown…mud fields under water with paths on raised dykes between the fields.

We did not stay long at Calcutta, just the time on shore needed for re-fuelling. The picture that stays in my mind is the brown water swirling past the arches of a great bridge with the traffic of Indian boats, with brown boatmen standing rowing rhythmically in teams.

This was a tiring day and very long. We flew right across India; it was sweltering heat below, so we flew high, but even so the rush of hot upward air bumped us about uncomfortably, so that several passengers were really ill. There was no green to be seen, just dull brown country through thick dust, until we passed over Allahabad and were able to distinguish roads and railways.

We were glad to land at Karachi at the mouth of the Indus at 9.30 p.m. it was a long drive to the hotel. There it was too hot to be comfortable and the meal at the hotel reminded us that we were in a country short of food.

The journey next day was I think the most interesting of all. We got up at 2 a.m. and left Karachi at 4.30 a.m. Avoiding Saudi-Arabia because the Sultan would give no guarantee of safety if we were forced to land there, we flew over part of Iran and Iraq; we came down first at Bahrein, a port where the U.S.A. has valuable oil concessions.

Then up and across the Sinai Peninsular, first crossing Arabia, an arid country of jagged hills and ravines, edged by sea cliffs 6,000 ft. high, khaki-coloured and very wild. It was easy and thrilling to remember the Lawrence adventures, seeing ravines, easy for concealment, and as we crossed that famous railway, where they used to mine the Turkish troop and ammunition trains.

Going ever North West we looked up towards the Jordan valley and the ranges that bound it to the East, where the Dead Sea lies. We crossed the scene of the wanderings of the children of Israel and realized how hard must have been the task of Moses leading them around that arid country.

To the North, we looked down on what is thought to be the spot where the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea; a marshy tract where at certain states of tide and weather the sea comes swirling over its bounds and then retreats leaving dry land behind; but that is at it may be.

It was a very bumpy day but at the end of it after crossing the Suez Canal we came down on the Nile at 7 p.m. and drove in the dark to Cairo. And we were very tired.

Cairo seemed an immense city, with French influence very strong, if posters are anything to go by. We were too tired to explore, neither did it look inviting; we were very glad of bath, dinner and bed; and there were neither mosquito nets nor fans.

Next day we got up at 6 a.m. in the dark, and flew off about 8.15 a.m. We peered down at the Nile valley, the intense cultivation along its banks, closely cultivated fields. We passed over Moascar..a strip of desert land about six miles long, where there is a large military encampment, and I thought of Molly and her work at the hostel for the troops.


We flew North West over the route of the Eighth Army, the roads they used and the site of El Alamein. To the west was Tobruk, but we did not actually pass over it.

It was most lovely to come upon the sea coast, the vivid Reckitt’s blue of the Mediterranean and the yellow sands. We watched it fascinated, caught a distant glimpse of Crete and alighted half an hour at Augusta in Sicily. Such a charming garden we ascended to our resting place, up stone steps edged with a luxuriance of summer flowers, to our usual cup of tea and sandwiches.

But the best part of Augusta was the shanty outside, where we bought dried figs, almonds, lemon and beautiful oranges packed into multi-coloured baskets; there was a rush of us for that, and we only just had time before we were called again to the launch, and up and off towards France.

The next bit of the journey was the most beautiful of all. For one thing, there were steamers to look at far down below now and then, and it seemed so happy that we were travelling so rapidly, and so easily outstripping the fastest ships.

I shall never forget the loveliness of the colouring, first of the sea, and then as we drew North, passing between Sardinia and Corsica, the gorgeous black opal and turquoise of the breaking on the dark rocky, beaches, low down….little island after little island, almost a surfeit of beauty.

Dark, wild, threatening were the mountains of Corsica, fit home for brigands; Sardinia not quite so much so.

Approaching France we flew over Toulon and made out remains of the sunken French fleet. And then on to Marseilles. We landed at the Flying Base at about 8.30 p.m., I forget the name of it, but it was a very long drive from there to Marseilles, more than twenty miles to the hotel. It was nearly dark, but not too dark to see the poppies and wild by the roadside, more a feeling of England than anything we had seen. By the time got to the hotel…the Metropolitan I think its name was nearly ten o’clock, and we had dinner about 10.30.

It was a really nice French meal, excellently served; thick soup, steamed fish with sauce Tartare, new potatoes, then petits pois, and for a sweet, what but fraises!!! They were good, and M.Charpentier very charmingly treat us to a delicious white wine.

Then bath and bed; a water shortage in the city, made the sanitary system in our bedroom unwantable, but we made the best of it; it was a lovely bedroom, excellent bedding and so on.

We were called at 4.45 next morning; but poor young Mr. Ashton, who had the bedroom next to ours was left out, they forgot to call him! At 5.10 a.m. hearing our movements, he rolled out in pyjamas and with a tousled head! This caused a little delay, which did not at all please our General Evetts! However we left the hotel at 5.20 a.m. and we enjoyed the long drive back to the boat.

And then for the last lap! Over France to come down in England!! It was a very pleasant drive through the early city at sunrise to the Air Port; and again it felt homelike to be seeing pink wild roses and poppies by the roadside.

It was 7 a.m. before we got off. Unfortunately the sky was cloudy, beautiful to look down on, but not so good for a sight of the earth.

Our track was by way of Tours, not up the Rhone valley as we had hoped. It cleared as we approach the English Channel, and we were able to make out the mouth of the Seine and the place of the landing at D day; even one of the artificial harbours that they towed across for the shipping.

The weather was grey, the Channel very rough, it came on to rain, so it was an inhospitable landing we made; we were tossed about in the launch and had to go out of our way to find a landing at Poole, instead of at the usual pier, that had been temporarily submerged by a high tide and the rough sea. After all, typical English summer weather! It was good to hear the rough English talk of the men on the launch.

After landing we drove back to the Customs for formalities, and then were taken to a hotel, where we had a good lunch and blazing fires to wait by. From there I telephoned to South Wood, and heard that my sister Helen was coming in a car to fetch me home in the afternoon.

Soon after lunch I saw all the others off in a big bus that was to take them to the station for the next London Train; it was raining steadily when they left, but they gave me a friendly goodbye, even General Evetts descending from the bus to shake hands! They were a very nice crowd and I wish I might see them again.

So that was the end of my wonderful journey from Sydney to England in a Hythe Flying Boat, taking six days; we landed at Poole about 10.15 a.m. on Friday 31st May 1946. It was a wonderful memory to have.

And now for special observations: First the passengers. Being packed so close, it makes all the difference what the passengers are like and how they mix; on the whole we were a jolly, happy, friendly crowd. We dropped three young wives at Singapore, and took on there a French couple from Saigon and their little girl of five…a dear little child, so good and well-behaved; they had had a very trying experience, having been wrecked from a trading ship and losing all their belongings, except the child and a tiny Pekinese dog which they carried in a basket. They were picked up by a British warship, and were able to travel in our flying boat as far as Marseilles. The small dog provided one of the excitements of the trip!

From Singapore, where we took on two more men, there were just women of us, the rest being men. It was interesting to watch the differences in temperament among the passengers: General Evetts, a very English and rather haughty officer of the regular Army...tall, lean on wires, brusque in manner, holding himself aloof, but quite a person to be respected; he was accompanied with an attendant squire, a nice English public school-boy, shy and reserved at first, but endearing when he let himself go, his name was David Clemmow.

Sitting most of the time opposite me in the cabin was Mr. Goodman, something to do with electrical undertakings I think; he was a very nice elderly man, kind and understanding, ready to do anything to help or entertain…Bridge, Crosswords, thrillers.

A real live wire was Mr. MacAlpine, a most interesting individual, looking like a Mexican brave, you could imagine him in fringed leather boots and a sombrero, his parentage was North of Ireland and Spanish, and he looked it, he is married to an American Pole. He is the one correspondent for the whole of the Australian and New Zealand to report on the trial explosion of the Atomic Bomb. He could and did talk on everything under the sun, and we all had great discussions and arguments…a lively person, I liked him immensely; it was to hear him dig personal information out of a reticent passenger, much against the said passenger’s will!

Quite different again was Mr. Tudehope…an elderly man, an R.C. and I fancy a member of the Australian parliament, but I am not sure. He was travelling to a Conference in Seattle, as a representative of the Seamen’s Unions, to discuss and settle Seamen’s conditions; I liked him very much, he was very kind to me.

Then there was quite a young man a Mr. Ashton, out of Australia for the first time, to be apprenticed to some engineering firm in Glos. He was quite a rollicking boy, full of health and spirits and very friendly.

Beside me in the cabin sat a youngish man, a Mr. Cupitt; he was married and has three daughters of whom he liked to talk and show photographs. He was of a melancholy type, and besides, he felt the motion of the boat he was often drowsy, feeling ill and unable to eat, so he was not a very cheerful companion. Still, though he did not contribute to the hilarity of the party, he at least was sometimes roused out of his lethargy, and I am sure he did his best to be pleasant; he was travelling as second to a quiet sort of man named Milner…in connection with the patenting of a seamless tennis ball.

Then there were Miss Daintree and I, She, was of the competent travelled English type; smart, self-contained. She dressed in red slacks and a woollen jumper; age about 45; a gentlewoman; she was reticent at first, though when we became friendly she was willing to talk. She was an instructress in Ballet, touring the world in the interests of Post-War Reconstruction. She and I being latterly the only women, shared bedrooms at the various hotels, and we worked in very well together…I was able to help her when she felt sick, by giving her neat brandy out of my little bottle.

Holding quite apart from the rest of us were two middle-aged men; they were labelled “religious” by unsympathetic other passengers and I regret to say they were a very poor advertisement for Christianity.

They were dressed all in black and looked as if they belonged to some quaint American form of religion, Mormon or some such. These two, by their unfriendliness and total lack of manners, earned the dislike of all of us. Rumour had it that they were on their way to attend a Conference on a new translation of the Bible.

They looked better fed than the rest of us; the younger one might not have been so bad by himself, and perhaps the older one felt sick! One thing about it…it led to our having animated discussions on religion, and they were most interesting and perhaps not useless…the discussions I mean, not those two unwantable men in black.

Lastly there was the French couple, M. and Mme. Charpentier and their charming little daughter.

It was their little dog that provided the greatest sensation of the trip! It was after we left Karachi; Mme. Charpentier unwisely told the new skipper that they were carrying a dog! It was such a good little dog, they kept it in a basket and fed it only vitamin tablets, and no-one would have guessed it was there. But the skipper immediately turned the plane back towards Karachi, as it is a strict rule that no livestock may be carried without special permission. Our consternation was great, but after strong pressure from our masterful passengers, and interchange of talk and instructions by wireless with the authorities, the skipper the plane back again and proceeded to Bahrein; the final outcome being that they were allowed to take the dog on to Marseilles, provided she was kept in Bond at the ports…so all was well. We all warmly sympathized with the Charpentiers.

The other sensation was the change in plan, that we were to spend a night in Cairo instead of on the boat, quite a pleasant change, it is more comfortable to sleep on land than in the air. The reason was a sad one; the boat before us in alighting on the Nile in the dark, had run down a native boat; it sank immediately with all on board. This gave rise to some trouble in the city, so that it was decided that for future boats must not alight or take off in the dark. So, we were at least 12 hours late arriving at Poole.

To end with, just a few hints to those about to travel by Flying boat to England: If you are a woman, wear slacks, it is more convenient in the restricted space, and in getting in and out of launches.

Take with you plenty of cheap thrillers, but do not mind if you lose them…they are popular! I am richer for one!

A map showing the course is of great interest; also playing cards, crosswords and (if you are a woman) knitting, (you may not do it, but it is worth having). The plane is quite steady enough for writing if you want to, but take no ink in your pen, it will leak out. Use pencil.

I found a small bottle of neat brandy useful, for others if not myself. Also some mild form of dope. Take an electric torch and re-fill. Also some sort of drinking cup. I found a cotton hat invaluable…and cotton wool to put in my ears.

M. P. Griffith (Margaret Pearce Sharman)

Longhand document written by Margaret of her trip to England from Sydney, Australia to England by flying boat in 1946

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