A Knight’s Tale (17: “The Young Girl Actually Accepted It!”)

Another of Evelyn’s letters reads:

‘I arrived in Brisbane on December 7th 1940 with a party of about 175 evacuees from the Baltic States Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. I came with 50 people from Estonia.

After a long and wearisome journey over Russia to Vladivostok we came by boat through Japanese waters down to Hong Kong. Here we were very glad to spend 2 days to visit the beautiful city with its fine scenery. From there we continued our journey past the Philippines down to Thursday Island. After spending some hours there we passed down the coast of Queensland to Cairns. We were very glad to have another break in our journey visiting the picturesque bright and clean-looking town. Everything looked very thriving and the shops most attractive. Many of us came back with delicious fruit – pineapples, pawpaws and in the town one could get very refreshingly cool drinks, which were much appreciated after the tepid water we had been having at table on board.

We all enjoyed seeing Cairns very much. The people were all so friendly. Just before leaving this town two Australians, a Mr Price of Queensland Tourist Board and another came on board to make enquiries about us all. This was a long business and took much time. Mr Price had arranged for accommodation for us at the various hotels in Brisbane, but it was no easy matter as he could not tell whether all the rooms would still be free on our arrival. We found him and his colleague Mr Buchanan of the Tourist Bureau most helpful and kind. We were granted an allowance of £2.10s a week and from that was subtracted the hotel bills. After spending two weeks at the hotel Astor I, with another of our evacuees, Miss Simpson, took a small furnished flat at 22/6 a week, which we shared. This was just a few days before Christmas and we ere fairly happy there for the next four weeks. After that Miss Simpson and I offered another of the evacuees, a Miss Halliday, a shakedown until she could find a job. Miss Simpson gave up her own bed – like the good-natured fool that she is – the young girl actually accepted it! After this, what with the heat and mosquitoes life in this rather shut in flat did not run so smoothly. The young girl seemed glad to economise by sharing our flat and putting us to inconvenience but did not exert herself much to get work.

Miss Simpson is a very nervous person and has the great disadvantage of being both deaf and lame. With these drawbacks it was very difficult for her to get work – she was worrying a great deal about not getting a reply from her brother whom she hoped to be able to join in Canada and make her home with him at least for the duration of the war.

During these two months we all received very much kindness from the Australians which I shall never forget. Invitations came in from many different quarters; we were invited to the St John’s Cathedral Christmas Party as well as the Y.W.C.A. The New Settlers League also invited us to a tea party. In fact, one of the secretaries of this league came to meet us at the Customs when we arrived in Brisbane and gave us her cards of invitation. At St John’s Christmas Evening Party we took part in a very large gathering at which the Dean and Bishop were present. The former addressed a few words of welcome to us saying that he hoped we should find employment but added that it might not be very easy. I called on the Dean later to ask him if he thought it possible for me to get teaching in one of the Church Schools. He kindly offered to say a word for me to the Mother Superior, which he did, but there was no vacancy just then. After this I called on Mr Fletcher of the Board of Education. He was very kind but said that all vacancies in schools would be filled up. ……….’

As we will see, in the second half of this letter, Evie’s efforts did not stop there.

A Knight’s Tale (16: Refugees)

In the aftermaths of World War 1 and the Russian Revolution of 1917, Estonia won its independence in a War of Liberation against Soviet Russia from 1918 to 1920. As we have seen, Mabel Knight settled in Tallinn in 1922. Her sister Evelyn was to join her seven years later. From 1929 to 1940, Evie taught English to Estonians, Germans, Poles, Russians, and Finns; she may have spent periods as a tutor in Latvia and Finland.

Then came the occupation of the three small Baltic States, of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by Soviet invaders. Once more my great aunt was to leave a country at war. In her letters she writes:

‘We left Tallinn early in the morning of 26th October 1940 for Riga where we were joined by parties from Latvia and Lithuania so that we were 174 in all.

After spending a night in a hotel in Riga we left on a through train for Vladivostok and although we stopped for about an hour in Moscow we were not allowed to leave the platform. The British Ambassador, the Consul General and other consulate officials were, however, at the station to meet the train. The Soviet fed us very well in the restaurant car of the train and we had plenty to eat with a lot of caviar – black, grey, and red. The bread was rather awful and we were all very glad when we were able to eat English fare on the ship. Here again the food was excellent and we particularly appreciated the fresh fruit twice a day.

We had a stormy time while passing the Chinese coast on our way to Hong Kong, and as ours was rather a small ship I was more than glad to get my feet on terra firma. Whilst in Russian waters we had no wireless but afterwards the news was posted up daily in the dining saloon.

It seemed quite funny to be waited on by Chinese boys. They wait very well at table, quite deftly and silently; but in the kitchen and corridors there was a terrible jabber reminding of monkeys.

We were a mixed and motley crowd, as all refugees are, I suppose, and as we were allowed to leave Estonia with only 30 kilos of luggage we had to dispose of much of our wardrobe.

Some of the refugees from Lithuania were of the working class and very poor. Unfortunately most of us had retained warm blankets and clothing for when the British Consulate was closed on 4th September we were all prepared to leave for Finland – in fact some of us were down at the harbour with our luggage when the Consul received a wire from the Foreign Office telling us not to leave. This, I suppose, was because they thought we might be stranded in Finland and unable to get any further. However, we were now approaching the tropics and were all feeling the heat in our unsuitable clothing but when we reached Hong Kong we had much to be truly thankful for. We were extremely lucky.

The British Social Service of the Anglican Church at Hong Kong invited us to attend evensong and afterwards to a social evening at the Church Hall. After the service, which was taken by the Dean, we went along to the Hall where the Social Workers had put out small tables with coffee, tea, sausage rolls, cakes etc and some very interesting conversations took place with some of the English people now resident in Hong Kong and an Australian lady gave us information about Sydney and Brisbane.

The lady who was looking after the Lithuanian refugees then made a speech and explained how badly off they were. Hers was followed by another telling them how we, from Estonia, had been limited in the amount of our luggage for having expected to go to a cold climate we had only warm clothing. The result of this speech was that, in less than day the social section had collected masses of men’s and women’s clothing – hats, shoes, shirts, shorts, trousers, wrappers, summer frocks, underwear etc. – most of them as good as new. At 4 p.m. the following day the Dean, himself, arrived in a motor boat with a huge pile of parcels. I thought they would never finish unloading the motorboat. The lounge was stacked up with packages and there were simply heaps for everyone. We left Hong Kong the following morning full of gratitude for the wonderful kindness and my only regret was that I completely forgot my ambition to ride in a rickshaw.’