A grateful gift in time of war

During World War II, many people in Australia rallied to the aid of those in Britain by sending food parcels and gifts of knitted and crocheted goods. A baby’s layette, knitted by Miss Pearl Blundell of Lower Portland in 1941, was passed to a very grateful Mrs S. Wilson of Paisley in Renfrewshire, Scotland.

envelope Pearl Blundell

Pearl was the youngest daughter of John and Emily Ann Blundell (Jones) and granddaughter of Joseph and Louisa Blundell (Turnbull) and William and Margaret Jones (Lamb). John Blundell farmed on the Colo River and with his sailing boat, the Golden Hope, carried timber and produce from the Colo to steamers on the Hawkesbury (mainly for John Jones and the Narara Company) while Emily ran a guesthouse. When the family moved to Riverview at the mouth of the Colo River, John Blundell operated the Colo and Lower Portland punts. They later moved to their property Ferndale on the Hawkesbury River and with the help of their family, Emily again ran a guesthouse while John looked after the dairy and a large orchard. She was well-known for ‘her home-made bread’ and ‘soft feather beds’, for which Pearl was largely responsible (the feathers came from poultry killed for the table).

letter 1 Pearl Blundell       letter 2 Pearl Blundell

By the time Mrs Wilson received the beautiful layette, her husband, Andrew, was the Leading Stoker on the Queen Elizabeth battleship, HMS Barham, and the gift was received courtesy of the wife of Captain Geoffrey Clement Cooke who was in command of the ship. In her thank you letter to Pearl Blundell on 5 August 1941, Mrs Wilson wrote ‘I will take good care of this beautiful set. I’m sure there must have been a lot of work in [it]. The lucky baby that received it is six months and the youngest of six. I can tell you it will only be worn on very special occasions…I feel I have been honoured and must show my gratitude in some way…may God keep us safe. I Remain a Grateful Mother’. A large letter ‘V’ is printed below the signature, presumably standing for ‘V for Victory’. A postscript is included and Mrs Wilson explains, ‘My husband is on HMS Barham and it’s a year past April since we saw him. Baby was born January 31st 1941. Give my thanks to the people of your great Commonwealth.’

Tragically, Mrs Wilson would never see her husband again. HMS Barham, commissioned at Clydebank in Scotland in 1915 during World War I, was reconstructed between 1930 and 1933 with new machinery. During a mission on 25 November 1941 with the Mediterranean Fleet from Alexandria in Egypt to cover sorties by Malta and Alexandria-based cruiser forces against Italian convoys heading for Libya, the battleship was hit on the port side by three torpedoes from a German U-boat. She sank after her magazines exploded, with the tragic loss of 862 lives including Andrew Wilson and Captain Cooke

(This article by me first appeared in the Hawkesbury Gazette on Wednesday, 11 December 2019, titled ‘Kindness in a time of war’ for Colo Shire Family History Group.)

Carol Roberts copyright 2020


NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages Indexes, https://familyhistory.bdm.nsw, accessed 5 December 2019.

Hawkesbury Family History Group, The Hawkesbury Pioneer Register Volume 1, Windsor, NSW, 2007 [1994 (2nd ed.)]

Jean Purtell, Hawkesbury River Boats and People, Deerubbin Press, Berowra Heights, 2011 (1982).

‘Obituary, Mr John Blundell’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 16 June 1939, National Library of Australia Trove Newspapers, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85809718, accessed 5 December 2019.

‘Ships hit by U-boats, HMS Barham’, https://uboat.net/allies/merchants/crews/ship1206.html, accessed 5 December 2019.

Envelope and letter from Mrs S. Wilson to Miss Pearl Blundell (1941) and family information from Mr Colin Mitchell.

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