Born Elizabeth Olga Baker on 2 October 1927 in Ootacamund, South India, the second child of parents Alfred and Blanche (nee Mansfield) Baker. Betty had an idyllic childhood with their two loving parents, what with their two dogs (Saddles and Lassie), cats, birds in cages, and poultry. Betty does not know how they all fitted in that small Police Quarters in Ootacamund, South India. Her mum had a special cow which used to be milked every day, and her dad used to ride a police horse, which was often tethered nearby. In this photo, we see Betty and Dolly, circa 1930, in Ootacamund, South India. Betty remembers living close to the MacDonald family (also featured in this website) who lived in Coonoor, South India, 11 miles from Ootacamund.
All this was gone when Betty’s dad died in October 1932, of pneumonia. He was only 29 years old, and her mum was heartbroken. Betty has a letter of her mum’s, written to her sister, Aunty Birdie Webb (nee Elizabeth Mansfield - see Mansfield family tree), which shows her state of mind at that time. It must have been very frightening, as she now had to take care of two girls, and, as was the case in those days, no real training to go out to work. But, Betty’s mother was a good seamstress, and she obtained work at a dress goods store, called “Chellarams”, as a Supervisor in their tailoring department. Chellarams used to import and supply clothing materials to the many Europeans, Britishers, etc. who stayed in Ooty, or came in from the surrounding tea and coffee plantations. Hence, the need for a tailoring department.
Betty, Dolly and their mum stayed in part of a big house owned by Mr and Mrs Lamond, and soon adjusted to their changed circumstances. Both Betty and Dolly started school at the age of five, at Stanes Girls’ High School at Coonoor, 12 miles away from Ooty. It was a small but specialised school, and although they were a bit young, their mother had to take advantage of the scholarships offered to them.
Betty’s mum died on 19 January 1939, 36 years old. Dolly was 12 years old; and Betty was 11 years old; Roxy was four years old, and Jim was 13 months old.
The family was now separated. Betty’s stepfather, Bunny Anderson, took over his own two children, and Dolly and Betty went to live with their mum’s parents, James and Trixie Mansfield. James Mansfield, had, by then, retired from the Police Force and were staying at Pallavaram, 11 miles out of Madras.
It is only now, when Betty is a grandmother herself, that she can appreciate their goodness and willingness to take over their eldest daughter’s children, when they were retired and on a limited pension. The photo on the right shows James and Trixie Mansfield with their three sons, Reg, Bobby and Harry.
James and Trixie Mansfield put Betty and Dolly through school, with a training emphasis to enable them to work, when they were old enough. Dolly and Betty were bright enough to earn scholarships for board and lessons at Stanes School, Coonoor, where they continued their education till they finished at High School and Senior Cambridge status.
Because Betty was too young to get a place at the University of Madras, she went back to Stanes School to do an extra year to complete the Senior Cambridge examination. In 1945, Betty went to Queen Mary’s College to do an Intermediate Course in Arts. She passed very well, and the grandparents were very keen on her continuing a further three years to get her Bachelor of Arts, and Bachelor of Teaching.
However, Betty felt that the expenses, in spite of scholarships, were too much for her grandparents, and so she undertook training as a Secretary, in Pudapet Convent, Egmore, Madras, and managed to get a job quite quickly. Betty was 20 years old at this time. Betty met her husband (Rex) at this time and it was not until 1946 that they started to see more of each other and a more serious relationship developed.
Betty and Rex were engaged on 15 May 1948 at Pallavaram. They married on 2 February 1949 in Pallavaram, South India and went on to Quilon where Rex was an Assistant Depot Superintendent (photo to the left is taken in Quilon, South India in 1949 at a farewell for Mr and Mrs Scully - Rex and Betty are seated in the front row right of middle). They had a nice cottage there. Quilon is on the Western Ghats of South India.
The local doctor Mrs Sawyer and her husband took to Rex and Betty and wanted to adopt them since they had no children but lots of money and property. It would have meant resigning his job and living with the Sawyers. If they did that, they ran the risk of going to Court if their relatives objected. Rex and Betty decided not to accept. Fortunately for Rex, his head office wanted him to take charge of Ooty and Wellington depots as depot superintendent – up in the hills (Nilgiris). Rex gladly accepted this and moved there shortly afterwards where they spent five years. Betty was on fulltime duties as a Mum during this time. Their son (Kenneth - see photo of Ken with Rex) was born in Coonor in 1949 and their daughter (Andrea- see photo left) in Ooty in 1952. At this time, Mary Daniels (servant see photo bottom right) came to live with Betty and family in 1949, two months after Ken was born.
Apart from a short spell at Mettupalayam, Rex was eventually sent to Bezawada (known locally as Blazewada) after Ooty and Wellington depots were closed. Rex stayed with the Gannon’s in railway quarters but when they left, he had to live and work in the depot. He got his food (vegetarian) from the railway station. The watchman used to get him two buckets of hot water from the railway engine which he diluted with cold water and cleaned himself behind depot barrels sleeping on his office table at night.
Rex sent Betty and the children to Pallavaram in 1954 (stayed with the Mansfield's for 6 months - 11 Veteran Lines) and they then rented a house two doors away at 9 (or 13) Veteran Lines. Mary Daniels (see photo to the right- she died in 2001) went with Betty and continued to be their servant. Mary's son (Maxi) and brother (Xavier) came to live with the family. Maxi became Ken's servant and stayed with him until Ken left India in 1963.
His agent used to help Rex send bags of rice and baskets of the best mangoes, guavas, etc at no charge by mail train through the engine division. Her uncle (Eric MacDonald) would arrange to pick up the rice and baskets at Madras and deliver them to Betty at Pallavaram. When one of the Burmah Shell assistants called at the depot, he enquired how Rex was managing. When Rex told him, he was shocked and promised to do something. A fortnight later, Rex was ordered to go to Burmah Shell in Madras as a foreman in 1955. Rex stayed with his family in Pallavaram and worked in various depots. Milton was born in Pallavaram in 1956 (see photo on the left).
Rex and Betty then moved to Star Brenna in 1957 (they stayed in that house until they left India to move to Australia in 1963).
Conditions in India were getting worse so Rex and Betty made up their minds to leave in 1962 for Australia. After Rex’s mother died (in 1954), things started to move quickly as the Indian government was going to stop people taking theirmoney out of the country. Rex and Betty finally left in March 1963 by ship (from Bombay). The photo on the left shows the faily in front of the house just prior to leaving India.
Why travel all that way to Australia at their age and settle in a country that was unknown?
Betty remembers the decision as being one for the sake of the children. She and Rex gave up their comfortable life in India because they reasoned that their children would have difficulty growing up in a country (India) that was becoming increasingly hostile to anything that reminded them of the days of the Raj. Ken was having difficulty learning the languages of Hindi and Tamil. Both Betty and Rex reasoned that he did not have an aptitude for the Indian languages which were a compulsory subject and had to be passed to move on to the next class. Ken was so bright in everything else. It was absolutely necessary to learn the languages, key requirements if one were to consider future employment.
In January 1963, Rex and Elizabeth (Betty) Bird left the village of Pallavaram, South India, with a view to making a life for themselves and their three children, Kenneth, Andrea and Milton, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
They travelled to Australia on the ship SS Orcades and on berthing in Fremantle, Western Australia, were persuaded by Rex Bird’s sister Beryl Fleming, to leave the ship and settle in Western Australia instead.
This decision was not taken lightly by Betty and she argued strongly against the move. Rex prevailed and the family arranged for their boxes to be unloaded and the family went to live in Wembley with Beryl, her husband Trevor and their three children, David, Joan and Mark.
Beryl and Trevor provided an introduction to life in Western Australia. It was strange to someone who had lived in India, yet it was exciting and exhilarating, sometimes frightening because of the number of unknown factors that must affect new migrants.
Rex found employment difficult. For a while he worked in a menial job loading 44 gallon drums of fuel. Betty found employment as a stenographer. Ken started high school at Perth Modern. Andrea and Milton started at Subiaco Primary at first and then shifted to Wembley Primary.
Rex and Betty found a house for rent in Gloster Street, Subiaco. They lived there for a few months whilst Ken continued to attend Perth Modern. Andrea and Milton transferred to Subiaco Primary. Ken hit his straps and started to become a top student. Nothing seemed too hard and he consistently topped his class. India became a distant memory as the family settled in this new country.