Noreen and Vernon Kemp
Date of Interview: 4th Feb 2005
Place: Balmain, Sydney, Australia
Interviewer: Kevin Murray
Transcription: Catherine Sapir, Feb 2005
Vernon: Well of course I was in the RAF and came home specially for it you see and I got ten days leave so fortunately friends and neighbours round about all helped you see in the preparation for the wedding and so there was nothing for me to do when I came home the day before. It was at nine oíclock in the morning, our wedding which was a nice day, a lovely day Ė the air raid warning went during the service of courseÖ.
Noreen: We didnít take any notice of it
Vernon: and the local anti aircraft battery had a go at it you see but we didnít pay any attention to that, one didnít you see, but thatís the sort of scene in war time days and afterwards we were able to have a reception in the village hall and we were able in fact to get away on a honeymoon, we went down to Ipswich in Suffolk overnight and then went to the West country to an historic place called Glastonbury which goes way back into history. A lovely little place.
Noreen: We just fancied it, we wanted to go somewhere we had never been and it sounded exciting.
Vernon: Thatís right and I managed to get accommodation laid on in a hotel at the last minute. I in fact did it by ringing up an air base that was not far away from it and said look I want to come down to Glastonbury do you know any hotels there, can you help me, I want to get fixed up and the girl on the switchboard helped me in that you see. So we stayed in Glastonbury and we were able to visit places like Wells and Somerset, and Bristol and Cheddar. They donít make cheese there but never mind.
Noreen: We saw the caves.
Vernon: They have got some rather interesting caves that we went to so altogether it was very nice. I had ten days leave.
Noreen: Beautiful weather wasnít it. Blue sky and sun, fantastic.
Vernon: Lovely autumn weather. September Ė autumn weather and it was absolutely lovely.
You must have felt very fortunate because a lot of people didnít have any leave?
Vernon: We were extremely lucky, we were extremely fortunate. Came back and then went back to my base in Oxford.
Noreen: Well, thereís a picture of you in Cheddar.
Vernon: Oh dear, me in Cheddar.
Thatís on the honeymoon is it?
Vernon: September 1943, it must have been. Oh dear.
Noreen: Oh thatís a nice one of you in the air force.
Before you show me that one, could you tell me who the people are in the wedding photo?
Noreen. Oh yes. This is my cousin Geoffrey who was our best man who lived in Sheffield with one of my motherís sisters and we used to go and visit them in Sheffield. We had known them since he was about, well little toddlers we knew each other, so he was our bes tman. Thatís Vernon, thatís me and thatís my sister Margaret. In fact we still keep up with Geoff and every time we go to England we go and stay with him. He lives near Windsor now.
Oh, Iíll just tell you a bit about him because when we used to go and stay at Sheffield we went with him, did I tell you this before? It was his first job, he went to apply for this job, he had an interview and my sister and I were sat outside and he went inÖÖdid I say that?
Yes, you have mentioned it
He then became a director of this firm he got the job for.
Vernon: I got to know Oxford quite well and the Rector, whom I knew in East Carlton, where I lived as a child, he said to me one day, he said I know the Master of Corpus Christi College. Would you like to Ė Iíll drop him a line if you like and heíll no doubt invite you to afternoon tea. I thought well that sounds rather grand and he wrote to this chap, his name was Sir Richard Livingstone, he was a very well known educationalist of his day, he was Master of his College, great classical scholar.
So, soon after we were married I got posted again. This time to Perth in Scotland and so I went up to Perth and was in a base between Perth and Dundee and then Noreen came up. I said well look come up and be with me do you see and we managed to get a room, I could live out of camp, there was no problem you see and we got a room in the High Street in Perth which was really rather nice. Do you want to talk about it?
Noreen: Yes, Iíll talk about that.
Well of course I was devastated when he went up to Perth because it was too far away to see him very often and after being miserable for a few months I thought, right weíll go and live up there. I donít think my parents were very pleased and so I left the office
Were you still at home?
Noreen: I was still at home. You see while he was away I was still at the office and I was still at home, so I gave my notice in at the office and then you had to have a job, it was wartime you see and I managed to get a job with another big Insurance Company in Perth who were glad to have somebody who could do actuarial work you see so we lived in this little flat, it was in the High Street, just a room and use the kitchen sort of thing, it was only just a bedsit really but it was our first little home so it was really lovely and of course I had to learn to cook. Well I had a lot of awful things, I made a rice pudding and Iíd seen mother make it many a time, it was simply rice and milk and a bit of sugar so I put half a pound of rice and a pint of milk, so of course it was just like concrete Ė we had to throw it out. Anyway Vee bought me a cookery book after that Ė Good Housekeeping cookery book so that wasnít too bad then was it dear? No.
Anyway, this place I went to work at, the General Life Insurance, was across the river. Perth has a beautiful river, itís a very beautiful city and so every day I used to walk over this beautiful bridge Ė Perth Bridge Ė it was really lovely, I enjoyed it.
Vernon: Which by the way was mined, so if the Germans invaded, they would just blow it up.
Noreen: And of course Vee was home every night that was lovely and we used to explore the countryside. We had my sister up to stay with me for a week or two and we took her to the Pass of Killicrankie. In fact I have a picture of her at the Pass of Killicrankie.
This is your sister?
Noreen: This is my sister, yes. She was at the office. Margaret. She was also at the Norwich Union office and she became the secretary to the General Manager, she did frightfully well. Where else did we go? All sorts of places.
Vernon: Thatís where we had an introduction to fresh salmon, because the River Tay ran through the centre of Perth and thereís plenty of salmon in it and you could buy it in the shops and so we used to treat ourselves to three quarters of a pound of salmon and do it ourselves and it was absolutely lovely. And we got to know the people at Cathedral St Ninian's Cathedral and that gave us a lot of pleasure because of a lot of friends, instant friends as it were. We got to know the Dean at the Cathedral, in Scotland you know he is called the Provost, a very nice man that we were very fond of and the Precentor a young man who helped in the cathedral, he was also an organist and he was a lucky chap because this cathedral, although not a big one, it had a big four manual organ and I was most envious of him playing that.
In spite of being English!
Vernon: And we had our first introduction to Scottish dancing. More about that later.
Noreen: Yes, Iíll tell you then a bit more. We went to, we had a lovely little grocer shop, a real old fashioned grocers, not like you have now and of course you bought your little piece of cheese, you know, cut up for you and your sugar put in a bag, it was lovely wasnít it?
Vernon: A real old fashioned grocers who got real service and now what were those eggs that they used to sell there? They werenít hens eggs, they were some wild birds eggs.
Noreen: I donít know what they were.
Was the food still rationed?
Both: Oh yes, very much so. Just the same, yes.
Noreen: It was a lovely city, wasnít it Perth. It was really beautiful, I missed it. Iíd love to go back. We have never been back but we would like to.
Vernon: Iíd just love to go back to Perth.
Noreen: Yes we really had a happy time there didnít we? What else is there? Oh yes, we werenít all the time in our flat we moved to a little house in Craigie didnít we? We had a little house there.
Vernon: Craigie was said to be the smart end of town you see so anyway we had to move so we moved to some rooms there.
Noreen: We had our first wedding anniversary there so I made a cake. This was in Craigie and so we invited the Precentor. We had this cake Ė our first wedding anniversary.
Vernon: Gas lighting
Noreen: A funny little kitchen, it was just like a cupboard you went into.
Vernon: Yes and the thing about the kitchen was it was about as big as a cupboard but it had a cooker, a gas cooker, and when you switched it off, it went off with a huge bang and we used to call it guns of Moscow. We loved that.
Did you feel very sort of privileged to have those obviously wonderful experiences in the middle of a war?
Both: Yes we did.
Noreen: Except for the bombs and things we had a good war really in a way. Didnít we dear?
Vernon: Yes, wonderful and I liked being on the air base that I was on Ė a nice crowd of chaps you see and the air base was about 8 miles out of Perth and on a number of occasions at the end of the day someone would say OK Iíll fly you back to Perth. Now there was an air base, a municipal airport called Scone just outside Perth and so Iíd put my bicycle into the plane, weíd fly over to Scone and then just a couple of miles back to base. It was lovely.
Noreen: Thatís us when we were in Perth on one of our trips out.
Vernon: The only trouble was Scone airport is surrounded by hills and so if you are not a bit sharpish, you find yourself very close to the grass on the hillsides.
Noreen: Another delight in Perth was the Perth Repertory Theatre. This was a famous Repertory Theatre and lots of famous actors now started life at the Perth Repertory company. So we went to see a different play every week and there again, they did plays of all different sorts so we have really seen lots and lots of plays havenít we dear.
Vernon: Thatís right. They did a different play every week.
Noreen: We went Monday nights because it was half price in the cheapest seats so it only cost us a shilling. It was good wasnít it?
Vernon: It was wonderful. We saw no end of plays you see, every Monday night was an evening out and for a shilling you saw a whole play Ė every week.
This was the same Repertory Company rehearsing a different play every week?
Noreen: Yes, a different play every week.
Vernon: Well the company was quite big you see, so not the same people every week. Different people each week and quite a lot of their people made a name in the theatre world and became famous.
Vernon: Oh dear, yes well thatís what happens in the Services, you get switched around a bit and I was posted up to the north of Scotland, right to the top on the Moray Firth at a place called Banff. Now Banff is a fishing town, got a little harbour, very picturesque, very north of Scotland you know and again I was able to live out of the base. We got ourselves a room in a house down by the harbour in the adjoining little town called MacDuff a lovely place, so we down by the harbour, we could hear the sea washing up on the shore and that was a great experience being there.
Noreen: Tell them about the funny language.
Vernon: Ah well you see, although it was right up in the north of Scotland and if you went west a little bit you got into the highland accent which was regarded as the purest English but where we were it took a little while to be able to grasp what they were talking about. We got used to Scottish accents in Perth you see but this was different.
Noreen: And a W was pronounced F so if you wanted to say Whereís the white thread?, you would say Fheres the fite thread? Funny things and you didnít know it at first.
Vernon: They had their own words which they used, dialect words, an ice cream was a slider which was rather fun we thought and they tended to put s for plurals on words that didnít have them like sheep, sheepies, kettle was kettlies.
Noreen: And the landlady, when she saw me, thought I looked like a quinie, she couldnít think I was married. We were 22 at the time, 23 and she thought I was like a quinie. Of course we didnít know what a quinie was, it was a little girl you see. Boys were loons, girls were quinies. We never did understand her nephew because he spoke so quickly and we could never understand him. You just couldnít.
Vernon: He came from Aberdeen and he was so broad that we never did quite get to the crux of what he was saying.
Noreen: Muggy, she was called Muggy. She was Margaret really but she was Muggy.
Vernon: And of course being up in the north of Scotland, you were getting up towards the Arctic and so in the summer it didnít get dark until after eleven. Very long evenings do you see and then not very long it was daylight again. Another interesting little thing that Iíll just quickly mention about Banff, MacDuff was that we heard that there was a writer living down by the Harbour and Muggy said why donít you go and say hello to him so we bought a copy of one of his books in order to get an introduction you see and went and knocked on his door and said please would you autograph this book for us, you see. His name was Peter Anson. Now he was a monk. Started as a monk on Caldie Island which was Anglican at that time and then it switched to RC. He was a great great grandson of the famous Admiral Anson, anyway Peter he left the community and did an awful lot of travelling and writing and he actually settled in Walsingham in Norfolk and he couldnít stand the bickering between the Catholics and the Anglicans so he moved out of Walsingham and went up to MacDuff and he was very happy there and continued writing. A very interesting man to know and in fact Iíve read all his books since. He has written a number of books on church matters and other things and there was quite a long piece in the London Times when he died. He was a well known man.
So how did you spend your day?
How did I spend my day? I did a lot of reading of course because I love books and Iíve never had so much time to read, I wish I could read more now. When I was a little girl I was always reading, in fact my mother used to read Lambís Tales of Shakespeare to me before I could read. I always adored them and so I did a lot of reading. Going out and doing the shopping, I enjoyed it, I didnít mind a bit, I liked it.
And of course then in the February of 1945...
Vernon: I got moved. Again of course. Along the coast near Lossiemouth to an RAF base called Milltown. But it was only about 20 miles away so I was able to get back to Banff and I used to do it partly by bus and partly by bicycle.
Noreen: You used to be there for three days and then have a day or two off.
Vernon: Perhaps I should just add that the reason why I was in Banff was to look after a transmitter. It was a huge transmitter that filled the whole room and it used to control the shipping that went round past Norway and round to the north of Russia. I hadnít a clue how this thing worked you see and they said well it doesnít matter, you donít need to know how it works if it stops working let us know and weíll come and fix it. So that was my job, just making sure this wretched thing was working, so it was a niceÖÖ
And of course being up there, in the winter, there was a lot of snow and it was the only place where we have ever been cut off with snow. Anyway I got transferred along the coast to Milltown which was a real RAF base. We had six squadrons of Mosquitoes. They are very fast twin engine aeroplanes. Carry anything, very fast, very accurate for low level bombing and they used to go after the shipping up round there. So I would go from Banff along the coast by bus and then pick up my bike and cycle for the last couple of miles and I kept my bike in a shed by a little cottage belonging by an old dear who lived alone and sheíd never let me pick up my bike or leave it without calling in to see her and she would get out a tumbler and she seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of malt whisky. She would sort of put half a tumbler full in you see and say drink it up dear, do you good. So that was my introduction to malt whisky. Along that coast is where malt whisky, most of the malt whisky is made, itís malt whisky country and it was a lovely area. I used to go through a village called Fochabers and Fochabers had a factory and it was Baxters, Baxters Foods. Quite a small thing in those days. It had been started by a woman in her back kitchen you see and developed into a business and of course now itís International. You can buy Baxters Foods anywhere. So it was a very interesting period, being there.
Noreen: No, I knew he was coming you see.
Vernon: It was OK wasnít it?
Noreen: We were fine, werenít we?
Vernon: There were no jobs for you up there of course. It was a rural area you see.
Noreen: I never remember being bored but then again Iím never bored on my own. There is always so much you can do and I was always writing letters home. Thereís all sorts of things and what was I going to tell you? Oh yes, in February of that year, 1945, I became pregnant so that was great excitement of course, buying little books all about how you looked after babies, choosing our names, we got all the names chosen, very early on.
Vernon: Not my choices!
Noreen: Well we, you wanted some funny names. I forget what you wanted.
Vernon: You see, see what I mean. Anyway, you chose the names. Do carry on. You see then I went overseas. I got this overseas posting which was an awful pest. I thought oh dear India here I come and was sent down somewhere, Blackpool I think it was, to get ready to go and we were issued with our overseas kit and somebody said, who had been to India said this is not an Indian kit and so we thought where are we going and then somebody said well as long as the war is over in Europe, you see it had just ended, we can tell you where you are going, you are going to Australia. So we went down to Liverpool and were put on a cruise ship across the Atlantic and they said, you will be quite alright, there may be one or two stray submarines still floating about in the Atlantic, but youíll be quite safe because the shipís too fast for submarines. These cruise ships have a top speed of 30 knots. Anyway, across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal Ė which was interesting Ė and across to Wellington and we were able to go ashore at Wellington and have a look around. Wellington to Circular Quay and then picked up some old Dakotas which the RAF had over here, across to Adelaide and then to Perth in Western Australia.
Vernon: Flying. And my base was Exmouth Gulf, 800 miles north of Perth up on the coast. There was no road up there in those days and the place looked as though, the beach looked as though it had never been walked on, you know. There was an Australian base there, just almost nothing but they had a clearing in the scrub big enough to take aeroplanes and so it was a staging post, a landing place, on the way up to the islands.
And was your role still connected with radio?
Vernon: Yes it was in theory but there was absolutely nothing to do. We had very hot days and very cold nights and just filled them up doing almost nothing. I collected shells and went into the bush and saw a few snakes and lots of kangaroos and one of my great thrills was to come across a great drift of Sturtís desert pea in bloom, a most wonderful batch of this in bloom. I knew about the plant from a postage stamp, I think it was, but to see this great drift of desert peas in bloom was just wonderful.