Monday, 29 December 2014

The Unstoppable Ethel Lees Shorthouse and after...

When Ethel Shorthouse finally sailed away from Australia, what did she imagine awaited her back in England? A warm welcome home from her family? I’m sure she must have had that. A chance to fascinate listeners with her daring adventures? After all, she had probably seen more of the world and its peoples than her combatant brothers. A return to an independent working life? Probably not, since the post-war government was urging women to surrender their newly-gained work places to men returning from the war.

Ethel was now aged thirty-two, and that most ‘dangerous’ of women, a spinster. The marriage market had been further depleted by shell-shock, damaged limbs and death. Arthur Bowker, her senior by thirteen years, must have seemed a catch in 1919. She clearly learned some of the truth about him in time, and perhaps they relocated to Jersey as much to avoid awkward confrontations as for any other reason.

In 1934 Ethel’s father, John, died; two years later she also lost Arthur – did these two events colour her desire to reconnect to her Australian friends with that small-ad in the Adelaide Advertiser? But, even though she might have longed to return to her old adventurous self, she had a young family – Eric, Honor, Vena, Elsa, Angela, and also Angela’s baby, Charles – who could not be dragged off on a trip across the world. Little did Ethel comprehend that another ‘adventure’ was to begin for all of them, and at the hands of the nation she had once found “good and kind” in German-populated Woodside, South Australia.

My grandmother, Minnie, used to say that her sister was a broken woman after her experiences as a deportee and prisoner of the Nazis. I can only hope that a remnant of her optimistic Australian self lingered to bolster her throughout those bitter years of World War Two.

I hope I've had some interested readers of my account of Ethel's life. If you want to examine some of my sources - published, on-line or even Ethel's unpublished journal - contact me and I'll see what I can do.

Signing out with New Year's greetings for 2015

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