Of interest is that Robert and Violet had 27 children of which nine were stillborn. Click on the image to the right for more information of the children who survived.
More information about this amazing family can be found on the following website: http://www.sumgenius.com.au/bird_family_at_guntakal_railway_.htm
His first recollection of life as a youngster was at the age of eight years at a place where his Father Robert worked as a Permanent Weigh Inspector on the Indian Railway at Kasing-Kota. There were no schools nearby hence we were taught at home by a nanny. His parents kept a lot of poultry, some sheep, goats and cows. Servants were supplied by the railway to help with cooking, cleaning and keep the children in check. After a period of 5-6 years, his dad used to get transferred to more senior stations.
His next recollection was at Rajamundri (1930) where they had a very large house and garden. At the age of 11 years, Rex attended the Railway school for five years. He has happy memories of that place where there was a large Railway Institute, playing fields and a railway colony. Later, his dad was sent to “Sularpeta” in 1936. Rex’s dad had a rowing boat made for the boys to use on the lake nearby. His big brothers used to go shooting for duck etc and also for buck, deer using his dad’s railway trolley and men to push the trolley, skin the animals, etc.
His mum got Rex in as a boarder in Stanes European Boys School Coimbatore in 1931. Rex took to sport – hockey and excelled in running/jumping, etc. After four years in Junior Home, he was sent to the Senior Home where the principal Mr E. E. Berry looked after him. As a coincidence, The Matron of the school before she died there suddenly in 1934 was Mrs Ethel Baker, Betty’s paternal grandmother.
Rex completed his Middle school in 1936 and left to join Doveton Corrie Boy’s School at Vepery, Madras, South India where he completed High School in 1938. Rex kept up with sporting activities. Doveton Corrie was the same school his son Kenneth would also attend in the early 1960’s.
Rex joined the Railway as an Assistant Permanent Weigh Inspector. After a year’s service in training, world war ` broke out so he left the railway and enlisted in the “Wiltshire Regiment” at Fort St George, Madras, with others. He recalls being kept at camp at St Thomas’ Mount for a while and then sent to Bangalore Barracks to join the Regiment (1940). After a short stay he was sent to Bolarum (Secumdmabad) where he worked as a Clerk (Sergeant) in ‘G’ Section. There was no shortage of female company. At the end of 1940, he boarded ship at Bombay for Suez (Cairo, Egypt) and was posted to reinforcement camp behind the pyramids.
Rex made a lot of friends and joined them at drinks before meals in the mess. Here he worked as a Sergeant Clerk looking after records of 4th Indian Division, 31 ARHD Division and Brigades 5th, 7th and 26th. On his birthday, he requested the OIC if he could go to the mess at 8pm and have a few drinks while on duty roster. This the OIC agreed to. Rex must have had one too many and tried to walk back over the deep desert sand and on that cold night, he lost my balance and fell flat where he lay for a time. Sometime (2.00 am) in the morning, he tried to stagger back to duty but took the wrong direction and ended up in the French lines where he got to a tap and washed his face etc. Rex was challenged by a sentry who very kindly helped him back to his post. Rex was in serious trouble. The next thing he remembered was being up before the Commanding Officer (Colonel) next morning 9.00 am. Anyway, he was warned and returned to normal duties.
While Rex was there, four of his buddies got leave and went to Jerusalem for a holiday. They joined the YMCA and visited all the various places of interest like Bethlehem, Jericho, Dead Sea, Mount of Olives, Calvary, Garden of Gethsemane, etc. Later on, Rex saw Jerusalem when his Division went through. While with 4 Division Rex was ordered to join 5 Brigade in the desert as they thought the Germans had captured them? On his way to join, 5 Brigade broke out at night and got back intact. Rex was then shunted off to 31 Armoured Division where he saw action in Iraq/Iran (1944).
One instance stands out while Rex was in G section HQ. There was trouble near the Turkish border and one of the officers was told to carry certain documents. The officer had a few drinks in the Mess, forgot about the papers and left by 15cwt truck for Turkey. This was discovered in time, so Rex was called up and ordered to collect his things and rations etc. He left with a Sikh driver and they went by Army jeep up the Iraqi oil pipeline towards Besra. Rex and the driver set off after sunset, following the Iraqi pipeline, ran into Beduion Arab camps creating confusion, got lost and landed up at a French outpost where they got directions and then continued. Just after midnight, they sighted the headlights of the Major’s truck and caught up with him. Rex got out and approached the lorry and told the Major he was in trouble. The Major swore he had the papers, which he did not. Anyway, the Major told Rex to follow him until they reached camp near the Turkish border. The party bedded down for the night, got up at 6am, washed, had an Army breakfast and set out on their return journey back to HQ.
Rex had done 5 years there when he heard that the Japanese had bombed Bombay Harbour (India). There were over 5000 Italian prisoners capable of doing good work. He was called up to escort them with four others on two cargo ships (2500 prisoners on each) to Bombay. Rex was glad to go. Everything was arranged and boarded ship at Suez for Bombay. On the way they ran into a “force 4” gale and got battered. Rex was in charge of rations plus guard duty for two weeks until they reached Bombay. On arrival, they handed over the Italian POW’s to the Military Police and Rex went to a British army camp. After two weeks, he was given leave and allowed to go home for a rest. After a month, Rex was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 2 and posted to 105 2OC xxxxxx, Mylapore (Madras, India) and placed in charge of the medical section where he had two dozen clerks (male and female) under him. Rex did not like the Colonel in Charge, or the job and wanted to get out. While there he got friendly with too many Anglo Indian girls who were quite nice and got engaged to Aileen Cunningham. He took leave and went to Bangalore East (Parent’s place – hers – Dad’s????) in September 1945 and got engaged. This did not last long because on his return he got a posting to Abadi, Madras, 20 miles from the city, in charge of General and Intelligence section.
Every second evening, Rex got a 15cwt truck with an Indian driver at my disposal. He used to visit the girlfriend or go to Pallavaram to see his parents. He made sure he took plenty of army rations like rice, potatoes, onions, 7lb tins of corned beef, butter, margarine, etc. Shortly after this, he broke off the engagement as the time for discharge came up. His CO (Colonel) called him up and said he was pleased with his work and suggested he go to Japan (occupation forces) infantry as an officer. As Rex had had enough of Army life, he declined as there was an opportunity of getting into Burmah Shell.
While he was on leave (retirement) his elder brother Leslie took him to the head office (Engineering S&C) for an interview. Rex was accepted and employed as a Clerk in the engineering section. He liked sport and was soon accepted by the others. He took part in everything and the championship for that year in sport (1946). Shortly after that he was sent to Coimabatore depot as a assistant depot superintendent (training). He stayed with his uncle Clement at Podanm and had his meals with uncle Jim and Letty. After one and a half years there he was sent to Secunderabad depot for a year or two. When Rex was there, trouble between Muslims and Hindus was very evident.
Rex was sent to Nizamabad as depot superintendent to relieve a Muslim depot superintendent who feared for his life. Rex had no place to stay, so he worked and slept in the depot office but had his meals cooked by the railway station running room cook at Brandon’s. A year later, his agent got him a rented place with a local man. Surprisingly there was no toilet there, so Rex had to go into the fields to relieve himself early in the morning. He explained all of this to one of the Burmah Shell officers who visted the depot. Rex was relieved and sent on short leave.
While on short leave, Rex met Elizabeth (Betty) Olga Baker at Pallavaram. At Coimbatore, Rex and Betty decided to get married and 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. 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. Their son (Kenneth) was born in Coonor and their daughter (Andrea) in Ooty. Milton was born in Pallavaram.
Apart from a short spell at Mettupalayan, 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 where they rented a house. 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. His 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. Rex stayed with his family in Pallavaram and worked in various depots. Rex was then sent to take charge of tanker discharge and bunkering – it was hard work – sometimes three days and nights at a stretch – without sleep.
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 their money out of the country. Rex and Betty finally left in March 1963 by ship (from Bombay). At that time, Australia had a recession on and it was hard to get a job. Rex and Betty had made arrangements to settle in Melbourne but were persuaded by Trevor Fleming (who married his sister Beryl) to get off the ship at Fremantle and stay in Perth. Rex recalls Betty being against staying in Perth but she was finally persuaded to fall in line with the change to plans. Trevor Fleming helped to collect their boxes and take them to his home in Wembley where the family stayed for a while and then shifted to a rented house (Gloster Street) in Subiaco. The children were put into school while Rex and Betty found jobs. Rex worked for the Shell oil company as a labourer filling and loading 44 gallon drums onto trucks and wagons. Rex remembers it as being hard work which was the reason for his backache.
To make ends meet, Rex offered to do extra jobs in other departments of Shell for 2-3 hours and then going home by train at 9.00 pm. This was followed by a quick shower, dinner, a quick chat with the family and then off to bed early. After 1.5 years at Shell, Rex had to leave the job because it was casual. He was back hunting for another job and applied for a position as “Clerk” with Arcus Glass. He worked there for 1.5 years before being made redundant. A week later, Rex got a job at Western Glass at Myaree. It was difficult getting to work from Wembley but he soon got a co-worked to pick him up and drop him back.
After five years Rex got his car license and bought a second hand car. His salary was small so he got a cleaning job in the city working after hours (3 hours) to pay for the car. Rex remembers life as being quite hard but it went on. He worked with Western Glass for 19 years and was again made redundant in 1983. At his age, he could not find another job and he took to looking after the house while Betty continued to work. Rex did all the jobs of cleaning, gardening and the like.
Rex and Betty finally sold their house in Wilson in 1992 and bought a duplex unit in Thornlie. By that time all three of their children were married and had moved out to live on their own. While on retirement, Betty went to England and Europe for a holiday. Later on, Rex, Betty and Milton travelled to India. Ken remembers that time very well because he declined to travel to India opting instead to look after the house and the garden. It turned out to be the hottest summer in years and when Rex got back, he expressed in no uncertain terms his disappointment with the state of the garden.