Paglesham WI links with Australia

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WW2 letters and food parcels

By Ann Choppin (erst. Boulter)


I was surprised just before last Christmas to be presented with a small packet of letters which had been found in a dusty shed at the end of a cottage garden in Paglesham. They came from Kalorama in the Dandenong mountains 2000 feet above sea level, 27 miles from Melbourne Australia, from a village of smallholdings that grew shrubs, flowers, tomatoes and berries. The earliest letter was dated February 1939. Coming from the Country Women's Association (CWA) they were to form a liason with the Paglesham Women's Institute, which even produced a visit!

Click this link to view some of the correspondence

Kate Myring arrived to stay with the Paglesham President "on a lovely day in June 1939". She attended the local WI Meeting, where she was greeted by a recording of a kookaburra! The recording had been specially brought from London and certainly broke the ice. Kate spoke of life in Kalorama and returned home in the nick of time before the start of World War 2 - but a tangible link had been formed.

After a long break the next letter was written from Australia in November 1945, saying "We wondered if ALL WAS WELL." Later she wrote, "We are all furious with our present government (1947). They won't send food to England so the CWA is taking it up. Time after time the government puts off bringing the bill forward. We had a dance and raised £40."

For the next two years the women of Kalorama sent parcels to Paglesham. Many parcels eventually arrived having been misdirected to Scotland. These contained jam, wool, soap, honey, raisins and tinned mutton fat - the latter came regularly, 200 lbs in one parcel. "It is a nightmare to listen to the news," wrote Kate,"you have all had enough to bear and now you are called on to bear more and more."

In Paglesham, Zillah Harris used her share of the fat to make a cake for visiting refugee boys who had been billeted in the village. "They said what a nice cake it was." Paper was scarce yet Zillah meticulously kept copies of her letters to Australia; these she wrote on the back of any scrap of paper she had available e.g. appointments from the Foot and Health Clinic, the John Groom's Crippleage charity in London, County Library Application forms etc. So precious were pieces of paper that Zillah's handwriting got smaller and more squashed up, writing across and then lengthwise on top (a favourite economy of the time).

In October 1945, Zillah wrote her thanks for the parcels on behalf of the WI stating that "Even though we have peace at last the food problem is more difficult than before. However, it is pleasant to see the goodwill extended to all parts of the Empire, especially the Mother Country." She explains that the WI had a competition to grow a hyacinth for the Spring, but "we could only get 18 bulbs, so some had to have tulips." She mentioned the scarcity of things in the shops in Southend, "a nearby watering hole."

She wrote how the wool in the parcels was raffled, how the local oyster industry was in decline due to taxation, and her amazement that the flying bombs had no human being piloting them. And how the WI Member who won the dried milk in the raffle was the owner of two cows! In spite of the shortages she wrote, "We have much to be thankful for, living in the countryside, with fresh vegetables but only one egg a month! We will never starve as other countries have, and WE WILL NEVER COMPLAIN."

The letters ended in 1947. What happened afterwards? The Paglesham WI is still going strong. But apparently the CWA at Kalorama folded 20 years ago after their 95 year old timber hall, which had survived bush fires, was sold off. A new CWA and the local historical society are fighting to regain control of the hall from the Shire of Yarra Ranges who want to convert it into a private home or a B & B, when the "Hall in the Hills" will be lost forever.

Ann Choppin (erst. Boulter).

This page was added by Bob Stephen on 13/01/2019.
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