Monica Fabien

Stella Monica Fabien

BORN: Cedar Hill Estate, Trinidad, 2 Dec 1927

DIED: Masterton, 21 April 2006

Early years in Trinidad:

Monica was born at Cedar Hill Estate, near Princes Town, in Trinidad on the morning of 2nd December, 1927. She was the youngest daughter of Ernest and Irene Fabien, born eight years after their next youngest, Percy.

Cedar Hill Estate was a sugar plantation situated between the city of San Fernando and Princes Town and managed by Monica's father. Monica wrote down her memories of her early life there:

The house, a wooden structure on a large acreage, had huge rooms with a very wide hall running the length of the house, which could have been a ballroom. A living room, dining room and kitchen running along the front of the house; the rooms had large windows.
In the garden was a large covered fernery, large cedar trees, coconut palms, citrus and tropical plants. The house was surrounded by a large gravel drive. There were also horse stables, a cricket ground and a tennis court. I remember being with my mother, John and Percy and me wanting to have a tennis racket to play with, which was handed over. At the time, of course, nobody knew that I would become a good tennis player. Alongside the tennis courts was an area of trees from which my father used to catch butterflys for his magnificent collection. John [Monica's older brother] says they were given to the Port of Spain Museum.
Other people were often about the house such as the cook and cleaner, plus other sugar planters.
I have memories of snakes and very large red ants. Once, I was looking in a draw and found that the ants were occupying it. When they started crawling up my arm I screamed untill my father came running. When I was about three or four I can remember going for visits to friends who called me Stella, the one and only time I was called by this name. I remember going to a toy shop in Port of Spain to buy a doll. But one wasn't enough, so I stamped my feet! We then went to another shop where I had to stand naked on the counter to try on a swimming suit, feeling very shy and eating ice-cream. All this was with my Daddy who loved me.

While Monica was enjoying a carefree childhood in Trinidad with her father, her mother was suffering from some unknown form of mental illness, possibly depression and anxiety. In a "Memorandum" written by Brian Bakewell (the husband of Irene's younger sister Hilda) he states that, "In 1928 shortly after Monica's birth, Mrs. Fabien had a nervous breakdown and came back to England; the next year she became worse and had to be certified in Aug. 1929" 1 She remained in hospital for the rest of her life, until her death in 1982.

Other than this brief mention, we know very little about the nature of her illness. The terms "nervous breakdown" and "mental breakdown" have not been formally defined but are generally understood to refer to a specific acute time-limited reactive disorder, involving symptoms such as anxiety or depression, usually precipitated by external stressors. Specific cases are sometimes described as a "breakdown" only after a person becomes unable to cope with day-to-day life. 2 However, Irene's condition was clearly chronic rather than short-term and she may have been given a different diagnosis at the time. The causes of her illness are also unknown, although her sister Hilda was firmly of the opinion that Monica's father was to blame, for reasons that remain unclear.3

Irene sailed on the SS Bayano for England in October 1928, leaving behind John, Percy and Monica.4 Monica was just ten months old. For Irene to leave her baby at such a young age gives us some indication of the difficulties Irene was having at this time. The Bayano docked at Bristol on November 1st and Irene took the train to Bedford to recuperate with her father, Dr John Gravely. Marily was also in Bedford; she had been attending Cresent House private school since 19255 and Irene would have welcomed the opportunity to spend some time with her daughter.

The next year the decision was made for the rest of the family to travel to England. There were no ships sailing directly from Trinidad to England, so Ernest, John, Percy and Monica first sailed to Demerara in Guyana (on the South American mainland) and boarded the S.S. Ingoma there.6 They docked in London on July 7th 1929 and then made their way up to Bedford.7

The main reason for going to England at this time was to start the two boys at their new school at the beginning of the new academic year in September. Both had been enrolled at Wycliffe Preparatory School in Stonehouse, Gloucester.7 It was not unusual for children to be sent from Trinidad to school in England at an early age. Marily had begun school in England when she was just 10. Irene's older brother Thomas had also been sent from Trinidad to Epsom College in Epsom, Surrey and was there in 1901 when he was 12.8

Irene must have welcomed the chance to see her children again. She certainly missed her baby daughter and had sent a postcard, addressed to Monica: "With love from Mummy wishing you a safe voyage". (See Photo 1)

Far from being a joyous reunion, however, it seems as though Irene's state of mind worsened and in August she was committed to a mental institution.9 We don't know what brought about this deterioration. Presumably the decision to commit her was not taken lightly and made together with Irene's doctor, her father and her husband. No doubt they also expected her to recover in time, little knowing she would spent the rest of her life in an institution.

Monica and her father returned to Trinidad. Despite the absence of her mother she has fond memories of the next couple of years, especially the close relationship with her father, although without her brothers she was often lonely:

I didn't have any friends to play with so I entertained myself by getting into mischief as I well remember. Such as pulling volumes of clothing out of the cupboards, crawling under the house, bathing kittens in a bucket, dropping toys into the storage water, galloping away on a pony (which doesn't seem likely!), picking citrus off the bushes and climbing out of the windows to get away when I was caught in the act.
Percy and John used to wheel me about in a pram when they were home.

Orphanage in England:

This world suddenly came to an end with the death of Monica's father at the end of May 1932. Monica remembers his death:

[My father] bought boat tickets for us to go to England to see Percy, John, Marily and Mother. The boys were at boarding school, as well as Marily. The trip didn't eventuate as he died suddenly on my bed as I was asleep. I awoke, shook him and cried out, "Daddy is dead!" Someone came to my call and left to tell the sad news. I was the last Fabien to live in that house.

Monica's father died at the relatively young age of 55. In the absence of a death certificate we can only guess at the cause of death. Assuming Monica's recollections are correct, and he did die suddenly in bed in the way she describes, the probable cause of death is sudden cardiac arrest. This can often occur in men with no prior evidence of coronary artery disease. Genetic factors seem to be significant determinants in predisposing certain people to sudden cardiac death and it may be significant that Ernest's father, Charles Fabien also died at a young age, at 42.

My godmother cared for me untill I went to England when I was five. My godmother lived in San Fernando. I wonder if my father was buried there. Nobody knows. He was not allowed to be buried in the family plot in Port of Spain because he had married out of the Catholic Church. I don't know who took me on the boat to England.
The boat arrived at Tilbury Docks in London a day early. I was taken to the railway station to meet Aunt Hilda and put in the care of a guard untill she arrived. Because we were early she never came, so I was sent to Universal Aunts, which was accomodation for children whose parents had gone abroad on holiday.10 Aunt Hilda arrived the following day and together we travelled by train to Bedford and the Diocesan Home and Orphanage at 9 & 11 Bromham Road. 11
This was my home for seven years.

Monica's story suggests that she didn't attend her father's funeral. Given her young age it is not surprising there are gaps in her story. We don't know who her godmather was; nor do we know who escorted her to England. In her story she complained that she was the victim of other children's teasing. "Being so shy I was good pickings for the children on board as they tied me to the ship's railings". It is unlikely that she went straight into the Orphanage as she suggestes; it is more likely that she stayed some time with her grandfather in Bedford while he considered what he should do with her.

Brian Bakewell briefly relates the same events in his Memorandum:

Monica was four and a half when her father died. She was at that time in Trinidad and was looked after by friends. She was sent home [to England] in 1933 and her grandfather, Dr. Gravely made arrangements for her to go to The St. Albans Diocesan Deaconess Home & Orphanage, Bedford, since he was very elderly and B. Bakewell could not take further responsibilty. Dr. Gravely arranged to pay for Monica during his lifetime and to leave £300 on his death to the Orphanage on condition that they looked after her untill her education was completed.

The orphanage was run by six elderly nuns. There was also a younger nun who was in charge of sixteen school-age children and six girls who had left school and were training to be maids. The children went out to school. When she turned five, Monica went to kindergarten and then at six she started school at Cresent House. This was the same school that Marily had attended; unfortunately Marily had to leave in 1931 because with her father's death there was no longer enough money for her to continue. Monica was luckier, in that her grandfather was prepared to pay her fees. In some respects, she was also luckier than the other girls at the orphanage who, since they were from poor backgrounds, all went to the local elementary school, which was probably of lesser quality.

Monica's grandfather and her Aunt Mab (her grandfather's younger sister) lived together in Bedford and used to visit Monica. One day they walked around to the orphange pushing a doll's pram with a doll in it for Monica, much to her delight. They were surprised when Monica named her new doll Kathleen, since Kathleen was the name of her sister who had died of malaria in Trinidad some 10 years before Monica's birth.

Just a short time after this Monica's grandfather died, in September, 1934. Monica was just 6 years old. She writes matter-of-factly:

I bought a bunch of anenomies for him. He was 81 years old. Grandpa is buried in Bedford cemetery. I looked for his grave in 1981 but I couldn't find it, though I had seen it before.

After his death, Aunt Mab moved to a house closer to the school and orphanage and was in regular contact with Monica who recalls her with fondness:

Luckily for me Aunt Mab lived in Bedford, so I planned walks which took us to her place. She used to give me money to buy something to share around.
I often visited her on my own. We would go on river boat rides with a picnic. Her housekeeper would come, who would return the boat, so we could walk home together. She was a darling.

At about this time Monica became seriously ill with pneumonia and measles although she eventually recovered and seems not to have suffered any long-term effects. Her main problem was loneliness:

It took ages to get better. I used to wish I was a sparrow so I could fly off. Not one of the family visted me.

It is difficult to see why Aunt Mab would have failed to visit her during such a serious ilness. This feeling of being abandoned by her family was one that stayed with her all her life. She lays much of the blame on Aunt Hilda. She writes:

Aunt Hilda was young enough to have me but wouldn't. It would have upset her social activities. Uncle Brian came (without her) to visit once a year. Her excuse was that she had to garden or play tennis. They only lived forty miles away, with no family. He used to take me out for the afternoon and buy me sweets which I wasn't normally allowed to have. They never took me for a holiday in all that time.

In the first six years of her life, Monica had suffered a series of traumas that remained with her for the rest of her life, profoundly affecting her life and the lives of her own family. Each time she began to establish a close, secure relationship with a caregiver they disappeared from her life: first her mother, then her father, and then her grandfather. In addition, she was placed in an orphanage while seemingly surrounded by family. From a child's point of view it was perfectly reasonable for her to expect a greater level of love and attention than they provided, and to feel abandonded when this care wasn't forthcoming. When she became ill and close to death herself, her main memory of the experience was of loneliness and being abandoned by her family.12

Nevertheless, not all of Monica's life was as bleak as this portrait might suggest. She describes living at the home as the happiest time in her life:

The orphanage was wonderful, the happiest home apart from the home in Trinidad. We were well cared for and clothed nicely. We were taught to behave like ladies; manners were a must.
We had chapel services every day. How I hated going to church or chapel. We walked about two kilometers every Sunday to the church [St. Paul's], but the chapel was part of the orphanage.
The grounds of the orphanage were like a beautiful park. There was a particular tree where the rooks nested. Time after time the chicks fell from the nests and we had many burials, as kids do with dead birds, with little crosses and flowers. We all had our own flowerbeds and tools. We were given plants and seeds to grow. We had concerts and acted in plays. When we were good enought we would put on performancess for people [see Photo 5]. We belonged to Girl Guides and Brownies [Photos 7 & 8].
Now and then we were all taken on a bus ride to the seaside or visited grand homes. We had picnics in summer. We also went for very long walks on Saturdays and Sundays. That's how I got to know Bedford so well.

Even though she didn't go on holidays with Aunt Hilda and Uncle Brian, she was ocasionally taken away by others:

I did have some holidays, three in memory, with a lovely lady whose sister was one of the nuns at the home. She was one of the Moodys, the financiers. She had a super home and large garden in Crowborough, Sussex. I slept in a four poster bed and everything was available to me. She kept a house-maid who cleaned, cooked, plus all the other house chores.
She took me for picnics and bought lovely food. We went to fairs, the seaside, shopping. She was an artist and painted many pictures of Ashdown Forest where we picnicked. She travelled a lot and had lovely ivory pieces.
She was a very kind, unselfish person who gave me everything in a sensible way, with love and care.

Another holiday I had was in Melchbourne [Bedfordshire] with an elderly couple at a place called "The Gardens", which was a huge market garden. They cared for me after I had recovered from pneumonia.
The house was set among woods with squirrels and pigeons. Foxes often visted the hen house. This was much different from the other house I visited. There wasn't a bathroom, just a portable bath which had water carried to it. We often went to the village pump to get water and had to carry it home quite a distance, although there was also a well in the garden.
It was here that I first saw a fox hunt. I was taken for a ride in a horse and gig [a light, two-wheeled one-horse carriage] to a nearby town. Since then I have always thought it would be great to have my own horse and gig.

The War Years:

In response to Germany's invasion of Poland the British government declared war on September 3rd, 1939. The following year was one of uncertainty and fear for the British people. At the begining of June, 1940 the British army was evacuated from Dunkirk, narrowly escaping destruction at the hands of the seemingly invincible German army. At the time, it seemed inevitable that Britain would soon face invasion. In July, in preparation for the invasion, the German airforce began bombing shipping centres such as Portsmouth and then RAF airfields and infrastructure. This was the beginning of the Battle of Britain and forms the backdrop for the next section of Monica's story.

Monica continues...

In 1939 the world turned topsy-turvey preparing for war. We were given gas masks. Each person received an identification number; mine was DPCL 24622. I will never forget it. Hundreds of air raid shelters were built. School hours were cut because of the influx of children from London into Bedford [to escape the expected bombing]. Half a day was all we had. The population of Bedford must have trebled.
At night the city was in complete darkeness. No lights of any sort were allowed. You had to walk in complete darkness to your destination. Households made blackout curtains or used shutters; no glimmer of light was to be seen from the outside.
We practised air raid drill and were taught how to apprehend the foe. If somebody approached we had to say, "Who goes there? Friend or foe?" It makes me laugh now but it was serious at the time. We also had bomb extinguishing drill. I can't believe it now. It was ridiculous that kids of our age were doing this.

Then, at 11am on Sunday, September 3rd, 1939 war was declared. We were attending St Paul's church (Photo 9).
After lunch we set off for the usual Sunday walk over the fields and far away from home. But we had forgotten our gasmasks. A sin! After that we never forgot them again. They were with us every day, anywhere, day and night.
The very next morning and 7am, the first air-raid warning sounded. We scrambled from bed, grabbed our dressing gown and gas mask and flew down a hundred stairs to the cellar which was our air-raid shelter. We heard a plane; reconnaisance possibly. Finally an all-clear sounded. It had seemed such a long time just listening with nothing to do but sit and wonder what others were thinking about.
Months were like this. Christmas came and went, and New Year [1940] arrived.

Later on that year Uncle Brian came to visit. It turned out to be a very unpleasant one. He drove us to the square in town in his car Napoleon. We sat by John Bunyan's statue [Photo 10] where he told me he was sending me to New Zealand. I stamped my feet and told him I didn't want to go. "You can come back after the war," he said.
From then on I sulked. Why send me away? Not every child in England left for foreign places. There were safe places to go in Britain. Later I found out that a ship of children was torpedoed in the Atlantic, with all lives lost, on their way to Canada.15

We can only guess the reasons for sending Monica to New Zealand; Monica herself never really knew. Was it really because Aunt Hilda and Uncle Brian wanted to get rid of her, as Monica always assumed? Or were they making the best decision they could at the time, given the circunstances?

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, the British government had already given considerable thought to evacuating civilians from the big cities. The lessons from the Spanish civil war, particularly the brutal bombing of Guernica, were there for all to see. The first official movement of civilians started on September 1st 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, when schools and local authorities received instructions from the government to 'Evacuate forthwith.' Within the first three days a staggering one and a half million people (including 800,000 school children) were transported from their homes to the countryside, the biggest mass migration of British people ever in such a short period of time.16 Many more took themselves further away from any possible bombing raids by moving to the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the Caribbean. As the possibility of a German invasion of Britain increased, so did the exodus of British children; as many as 30,000 children were evacuated to Canada alone.17

This fear of bombing and invasion, along with the encouragement provided by government policy, was the context within which the decision was made to send Monica to New Zealand. But why was evacuation seen as a better alternative to keeping children at home in the care of their parents and siblings? At the time the policy was roundly criticised for splitting up families, and many children returned home within a short period. In the drive to evacuate as many children as possible, the planners of the scheme gave little thought to how children would be paired up with host families, who would check they were being adequately cared for, or what the imapsct would be on the children. It was clear at the time that for many of the children the experience was deeply unsettling. Incidences of abuse and neglect were high, and many long-term evacuees had great difficulty relating to their family when they came home again. Later studies show many also suffered continuing psychological stress as adults.18 So how could the planners have had so little regard for the human aspects of the evacuation scheme?

The answer may lie in British cultural attitudes towards child rearing. The high-ranking members of the British government tasked with creating the evacuation scheme were part of the privileged classes of English society, which has had a long tradition of sending its children away to be raised by others, to return to the family when they have become adults. For centuries, children had been boarded out to public schools from a very early age, as were the Gravely and Fabien children. To the planners, sending children into the care of others was a completely normal, if not desirable, part of their upbringing. So sending Monica away may have seemed quite a reasonable thing to do, considering both the circumstances of the war and the cultural values of the Fabien and Gravely families. Being childless themselves, it would have been even more difficult for Aunt Hilda and Uncle Brian to understand the possible psychological impact of a young girl having to leave, yet again, the people she loved.

Yet another consideration may have been what to do with Monica once she had finished school. At the time, schooling was complusory from five to fourteen years, and Dr. Gravely's arrangements for Monica's education would have ended when she turned 14, in a year's time, in December 1941. In his Memorandum, Brian Bakewell outlined the steps he had taken to ensure that Marily, John and Percy had positions to go to after the end of their schooling. Since there was no money for Monica to continue her education after 14, and they seemed unprepared to take her in, they may have thought that New Zealand offered better prospects than an England at war.

Again, the absence of any other members of the family in this decision is puzzling. Where was Aunt Mab? Also puzzling is why Brian Bakewell seems to have had such an active and pivotal role in the lives of the Fabien children. According to his Memorandum, it is he who made the decisions regarding the children's schooling, careers and futures, and provided additional money when required, rather than the children's grandfather, or other members of the family. His motivation may have been a genuinely felt duty of care to these children, even though he was only related to them by marriage. Certainly, it was he who maintained the relationship with Monica, albeit sporadic and remote, rather than Aunt Hilda who Monica found distant and cold.

The Voyage Out:

In mid-August 1940 I left the orphanage saying goodbye to my friends of seven years. They gave me a cake of forbidden chocolate which I hid in my knickers, but it fell out later at the railway station. Somebody traveled with me to Hemel Hemstead where I met Aunt Hilda. I stayed two nights with her and Uncle Brian, then went on to London where I met the person who looked after me on the voyage to New Zealand. She was a registered nurse from Timaru. [Monica doesn't give her name and she cannot be identified from the passenger list] Aunt Hilda never even gave me a kiss goodbye. That was the last I saw of her. She was a cold, selfish woman.
I left London by train with my escort and travelled to Newport in Wales [Here they boarded the Mataroa. See Photo 11 for a photo of the ship, and Photo 12 for the passenger list.] At the wharf my case was searched and Percy's letters to me, that I had used to pack my goodies, were found and removed because Percy had written the addresses of naval and shipping places in them. [The Matoroa left Newport on 5th August and made its way during the night to Milford Haven.] We had a pleasant night, but the next morning we learned that the dock at Newport had been bombed during the night. We had been lucky that we left when we did. We left Milford Haven and sailed north into the Irish Sea.

As the Mataroa sailed up the Irish Sea it was joined by other ships to form a convoy, before heading through the North Channel (between Ireland and Scotland) out into the North Atlantic. The ships in the convoy faced a very real danger of being sunk, by submarines, long range aircraft or mines. In the month of August, 42 British, Allied and neutral ships were sunk on the North Atlantic run.19 Monica mentions that some of the ships in the convoy were torpedoed.

On the way the scenery was beautiful, very green grass on the Irish coast and purple heather on the Scottish coast. A living memory. Into the Atlantic Ocean now, sailing to Bermuda. We struck a severe storm. I was very, very sick. A bad sailor. I couldn't eat. I spent a whole week of sickness lying in bed and was told I would die. I didn't care at all. I was made to get up and have some breakfast. Prunes of all things! I ate then and then immediately dashed from the dining room and vomited in the passage.
[In case we were torpedoed] I was told I may have to jump overboard. I couldn't swim. Neither could another younger girl. We were taken in hand by a young doctor on board who was returning to New Zealand. [Listed among the passengers is a Dr Y Jackson, aged 24.] He taught us to swim in the ship's pool. [This was a portable swimming pool erected on the forward cargo hatch and constructed of a heavy wooden frame with a canvas lining.]
The Captain gave a party for the adults that did not include me. He gave a party for the children that also did not include me. So what was I? Nobody! Nothing!

The intensity of these statements reflects the enduring anger and loneliness Monica felt throughout her life as a result of the series of losses she had experienced in her short life. Typically of many people in her situation, all the achievements of her later life, bringing up her own family and the many friends she made, never quite compensated for these early experiences.

We arrived at Bermuda. We saw a beautiful coloured ocean of turquoise and blue. The house were all white, tucked into the hills. Unfortunately, nobody was allowed to land.

In fact, a number of passengers disemabarked in Bermuda. These were the members of the British Post Office censorship unit. Their twelve names are listed at the bottom of the passenger list. Bermuda was the main point for censorship of mail going by air or ship between the Americas and Europe. With the advent of war there was a greater need to control the flow of information. No doubt these twelve considered Bermuda a lucky posting.

We then sailed on to Curacao [one of five islands, formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, off the coast of Venuzuela] where we were able to land. The houses were multicolured and very gay. The women wore colourful clothing with coloured flowers in their hair. This is a Dutch colony.
We then travelled to the Panama Canal and went ashore twice, at Panama City and Colon. The scenery was exquisite; it really took my fancy. The canal was like a very large gorge. It took hours for the ship to pass through the locks and get to the open sea.
We now headed for New Zealand and eventually crossed rhe equator. A ceremony took place for passenegers who had never been over the equator before. We all had a dunking in the swimming pool and were presented with a certificate.

A New Home:

By September we were on course for Auckland. We arrived on the 19th. Auckland was gloomy and I did not like it. I did not want it. I was interviewed by customs and asked many questions I did not have the answers for because none of the family had told me anything about my history. Since my father was French and France was now in German hands I thought they might not take me. Under my breath I was saying, "Send me back to England". But I was a British subject by birth with a British passport and born in a British colony, so I had to be accepted.
My guardian and I stayed in Auckland overnight and then caught the train to Wellington the following afternoon. I had never travelled in such a dilapidated train. The worst trains in Britain were better than these. We stayed in Wellington for a night and then travelled to Carterton. That trip, travelling over the Rimutakas in an agony wagon [a car?], was another dreadful experience. [In those days the road over the Rimutaka ranges was narrow, with winding hairpin bends and a rough, unsealed surface.]
Fred O'Conner [Aunt Ivy's husband] arrived in his truck to collect me. Aunt Ivy was in hospital. When he spoke to me I couldn't understand what he was saying. What a queer voice! Not my English. We went to the hospital in Masterton. The first thing Aunt Ivy said to me was, "You are so like your mother". We got into the agony wagaon again to drive to Norfolk Road [about 10 kilometers out of Masterton where Fred O'Conner and Aunt Ivy had their farm]. I thought we drove a hundred miles it seemed such a long way.
When we arrived at the farm, Fred turned on the elctric oven, made some custard and put it on to cook while we went to milk the cows. He forgot about the custard and we got back it was burnt to a cinder. That night I slept well but talked in my sleep all night.
That was the last day of my short peaceful life which I had been used to in England. It was sad to leave England and frightening to come to the unknown. Ivy and Fred didn't know me and I had bever heard of them. They were truly strangers.
With the return of Ivy from hospital I becamse a child slave, I didn't know thatI would have to contend with eight years of abuse, arguments, lies and hatred. Freedom became strange to me. Everyday I mowed lawns [for grass clippings] to feed the fowls [Ivy ran a business supplying eggs], and collected and washed dozens of eggs. I had to do this out on the cold, open veranda every night of the year. One day a neighbour told Ivy off for making me work in the freezing cold and threatened to lay a complaint to the authorities. After that I worked inside.
In my short life I had never seen such a shoddy house. I don't think they did any housework before I came. The flour was stored in a large wooden bin in the kitchen and there were often mice in the bin which Ivy had to remove before she could get the flour for baking. Being a farm house, when it was wet there was mud everywhere. It became my job to do the cleaning. On Saturdays I cleaned the coal range and the windows, prepared meals, vacuumed, swept and cleaned the dishes. On Saturdays I had to keep working untill 2 o'clock when I was allowed out; then I had to be back by 4 pm.
Before I could go anywhere, [the farm was at the end of Norfolk Rd, too isolated to easily get into Masterton] I needed a bicycle. They were going to buy me one, but because I had not packed a few eggs before school, I was made to buy my own with the little money I had bought from England. It cost me five pounds. I then had to learn to ride it.
I was enrolled at Solway School [towards the end of 1940]. I used the bicycle to cycle to the bus stop, where I caught the bus to school with other pupils from farms in the area. I also needed the bicycle to go the Central School coaching classes once a week and to netball games.

Monica's narrative ends here.

Monica had her 13th birthday in December, 1940. In the New Zealand education system she would normally have completed her primary education at the end of 1940 and been enrolled in the local secondary school. Probably because her education had been so disrupted, she remained at Solway School for another year (see Photo 13). She began her secondary schooling at Wairarapa College in Masterton in February, 1942 (the start of the school year in New Zealand), and completed the Form 3 (now Year 9) and Form 4 (now Year 10) years. She continued to take the bus from Norfolk Rd, along with the other children in the area.

Busing to school every day, while inconvenient, gave Monica the opportunity to meet local children and their families. There was a close community around Norfolk Road, in the area known as West Taratahi, and many families were related. On the farm next door, for example, lived Mona and Syd O'Conner. Syd was the nephew of Aunt Ivy's husband, Fred O'Conner. Monica and Mona became good friends, and Monica would visit whenever she could. This is where Monica first met Denis, her future husband. Denis was Mona's cousin20 and also a friend of Mona and Syd's son, Des. The two boys would go out on the farm to shoot rabbits and it was during one of these visits that Monica and Denis first met. They also attended Wairarapa College together during part of 1942, before Denis left school to go to Wellington to work.

Along with most students in those days, Monica left school at the end of the 4th Form year. Her first job was working as a live-in housekeeper in Petone. She hated this so much however, that she soon returned to Masterton and begun work in the cafe next to the Regent Theatre in Queen Steet, now the popular Strada cafe. Also working at the cafe was Denis's sister, Patsy. Monica and Patsy became good friends and Monica became a frequent visitor to the Cross house in Renall Street, often sleeping over when it became to difficult to get back to Norfolk Road. At Christmas she accompanied the family to midnight mass at St Patrick's church.

As soon as Monica turned 17 and a half years (in mid-1945) she entered the nursing home at Masterton Hospital to begin training as a nurse. At about the same time Denis returned from living in Wellington and began work in a factory making transformers and other electrical equipment, and they began to see more and more of each other. They played tennis together and went on Catholic Youth Movement outings to the river at Wardell's farm (Photo 15). For many years the river was a favourite picnic and swimming spot. Monica was unfamiliar with horse racing so a day at the races was always good fun. Photo 16 shows them at the Teherenikau race course with Monica holding her new Agfa-Ansco box camera21. They loved to go to the movies together and often went dancing with their friends. The strict curfew imposed on the nurses was always a problem, as it has been for generations of dating couples. The boys were strictly forbidden to enter the hospital grounds at night. They were not allowed any closer than the street entrance to the driveway. Since this driveway was dark and lined with trees, Denis and friends were concerned about the safety of the girls as they walked to the hostel. They asked the matron to reconsider her position. Rather to their surprise she agreed and Denis was then able to escort Monica up the long driveway right to the hostel door. Those who knew Denis and Monica at this time remember them being very much in love22.

After an evening out, Denis proposed to Monica in a parking lot near the hospital. The next day they went to their friend Keith Cairns's jewlery shop and selected an engagement ring which cost Denis £50. Denis then moved down to Wellington to begin work on a new job working with the survayers of the rail electrification project. He rented a caravan in Hulme St, Lower Hutt and lived there before the wedding.

They were married in St. Patrick's church in 1949 in front of family and friends. The wedding reception was at St Patrick's School hall. After the reception they drove down to Welington and stayed at St James's Hotel. The next day they boarded the train to Auckland for rest of their honeymoon. In Auckland they took photos of each other with Monica's little box camera. The photographs show them at the beach and at the glass houses in the Auckland Domain. We can look back down the decades and see a beautiful young couple enjoying the first days of their marriage (Photo 20). On the day they took the ferry to Devonport a flying boat came flying up the harbour. When Monica went to take a photo of it Denis remembers saying that she would never be able to get a good shot, but she managed a perfect photo none the less, with the plane neatly framed between the clouds.

A New Family:

After their honeymoon, Monica returned with Denis to the caravan in Lower Hutt, where the the caravan owners helped Monica find a job. When Monica became pregnant they returned to Masterton and rented a flat at Cook's More-Egg poultry farm on Norfolk Road. Conditions were fairly primitive, with a long drop and water collected from the roof. They were living here when their first child, Denis (Dan) was born on February 6th, 1950 (Photo 21). A short time after, the new family moved into Masterton. They first shared a house with a woman in Lincoln Rd, then stayed with Denis's mother in Renall St and then moved to a house in Chapel Street. This is where they were living when their first daughter, Anne was born.

In 1953 they moved to a newly built house at 170 Cole Sreet. It had a large section, perfect for children, vegetable gardens and fruit trees, and backed onto the Masterton-Wellington rail line. During the summer of 1953-4, Queen Elizabeth toured New Zealand with the Duke of Edinburgh. On the morning of January 15th, 1954 she took the train from Wellington to Masterton and as she passed the house she stood out at the back of the rear carriage and waved, much to everybody's excitement23.

Two further daughters were born: Gabrielle in 1953 and Judith in 1956 (Photo 22).

To be continued...


  • Brian Bakewell. Memorandum on the Children of Mrs. E. E. Fabien. 24 July, 1939.
    We don't know what the purpose of this Memorandum was, but the title and the formal language suggests a legal purpose.
  • Wikipedia: Mental Breakdown
  • Conversation between Hilda and Dan Cross, c1975.
  • Passenger list for S.S. Bayano
  • Brian Bakewell. Memorandum...
  • Passenger list for S.S. Ingoma
  • The Gravely's address was 58 Bushmead Avenue, Bedford.
  • 1901 Census
  • Brian Bakewell. Memorandum...
  • Monica makes Universal Aunts sound like a cattery or dog kennels for children. In fact they were primarily established in 1921 to provide nannies, mother's helps, child escorts and babysitters. They also arranged overnight accommodation if required. Universal Aunts still exists and has a website at
  • The full name was the St Albans Diocesan Deaconess' Home and Orphanage, later St Ethledreda's Childrens' Home. The home was part of the widespread social work which was undertaken by the Deaconesses of St Andrew, an Anglican Order of Nuns. It was closed in 1992.
  • While our own common sense would suggest that such experiences would be difficult to deal with, there is also a large body of research showing that children who experience confusing, frightening, or broken emotional relationships during their infancy often grow into adults who have very low self-esteem, are controlling in various ways, alternate between demanding and rejecting love, being both desperate for and afraid of love, as well as having difficulty understanding their own emotions.
    A good summary of the issues is given in Nicole Atwool's Attachment Issues (Community and Family Studies University of Otago).
    See also: Attachment Theory and Attachment in Adults.
  • © Copyright John N Dix and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
  • This photo is from the Bedfordshire Libraries site.
  • The passenger ship, the City of Benares, sailed from Liverpool on Friday, September 13, 1940, in a convoy of nineteen ships bound for Canada. She carried 406 crew and passengers including 101 adults and 90 children being evacuated to Canada. Four days and 600 miles out to sea, the City of Benares was torpedoed by Uboat, U-48. The order to abandon City of Benares was given but due to rough conditions and Force 5 winds, lowering the boats was difficult and several capsized. Two hundred and forty five lives were lost either from drowning or exposure. Only 13 of the children survived, 6 of whom spent seven days in a life boat before being rescued.
    See Children of the Doomed Voyage for a more details of the tragedy.
  • Prest, D. Evacuees in World War Two - the True Story
    See also: Evacuations of civilians in Britain during World War II and other internet resources.
  • Smerdon, C. "Guests" not "Refugees": Child Evacuees to Canada during World War
  • Akhtar, L.M. Intangible Casualties: The Evacuation of British Children During World War II. Journal of Psychohistory, Winter 2010.
  • For details see Battle of the Atlantic-Its Development.
  • Mona was born Mona Carrig, daughter of Mary Potter and "Bunty" Carrig. Mary was the sister of Denis's mother, Catherine Potter.
  • All the hundreds of family photos that were taken in the next ten or fifteen or more years were taken with this little camera. It still exists and probably works a well as ever, although it may be difficult to get the 120mm film needed for it.
  • Margaret Cross
  • For details see New Zealand History online: The Royal visit, 1953-54.
This page last modified 28 June 2011.
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Dan Cross: Ph: (09) 6290052