Book of Life Stories

Recollections – Eva Tuckfield

Eva Tuckfield

I was driving with my daughter and granddaughter who had recently celebrated her 13th birthday. Looking at her I thought, 13 years old, where was I, what was I doing at that age? And so I started to remember.

Germany
February 1932

On my 13th birthday, February 1932, my father gave me a large orange saying “this is a Jaffa Orange, they grow in Palestine and we are going to live there shortly.”

I was the 3rd daughter of Hans Yitzchak & Regina Pagel. I had two elder sisters, Miriam & Hanna, and a younger brother Mordechai. We were a devout Jewish but modern living family, living in Beuthen, Upper Silesia, Germany, a coal mining district on the border of Poland. My parents were highly respected and very active members of the Jewish community, the Zionist Movement and the community at large. They owned a Ladies Fashion shop in the centre of the city and we lived in a large apartment also centrally located. We were very comfortably off with a cook-housekeeper, a daily cleaning woman and a nanny for us children.

I belonged to the Jewish youth group “Yeshurun”; we would meet Shabbat afternoons at our Orthodox Synagogue, making Sunday outings into our nearest forest during the summer. I went to our Jewish public school for the first four years, and then to a mixed religion Girl’s only school. Twice a week I also went to Hebrew lessons, learning to read, write and translate the “old” Hebrew in our Siddur. I loved the theatre and performing; my mother encouraged me to take part in all plays and recitals from my school, youth groups, and the Jewish community. She would rehearse with me to make certain I was word perfect.

There were two interesting occasions in my early years, which I still remember vividly. The first one was my mother taking me to the picture theatre to see the ‘First Talkie’, the “Jazz Singer”. As I was small for my age she made me stand on the seat so I could see the screen better. The second occasion was a few years later. All the schools congregating on the sports oval to watch the cigar shaped “Zeppelin Hindenburg” floating so silently and low over us. We could see the faces of people quite plainly in the gondolas attached to the belly of the silver air-ship, the whole oval erupted into screaming and waving. Two magical occasions, never forgotten.

It was a good, calm, untroubled life so far, although for the last few months I saw young people in brown uniforms marching in torch processions and singing loudly, it made me feel uneasy. It was the beginning of the NAZI regime. So when my father announced our departure from Germany I felt quite happy about it.

My mother, with my six-year old brother, left Germany first to establish the first Ladies Fashion shop in Tel-Aviv. In May 1932, I left Germany forever (I have never been back). I went to live with my uncle and aunt in Kempen, District of Posen, Poland, where my father was born. There I had private lessons and many friends from other previous visits. It was a lovely old township with cobblestone streets and square where we lived above my uncle’s large shop in which I was allowed to help sometimes. It was a happy time for me. I didn’t even miss my family.

My father came in September, straight after Rosh HaShanah, to say Good Bye to his brother and for us to start our journey. He tried to persuade his brother to come to live in Palestine as well. But my uncle would not leave his home. He and his wife perished in the Holocaust.

Not wanting to go through Germany again, we took the train through Poland, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, to Trieste, Italy. The trip took a number of days, as we had to stop in a lovely Hungarian city for Yom Kippur. We went to the Service in a large Synagogue. Going upstairs I was asked to sit near the Rebbetzin who admonished me first for wearing a short sleeved dress, then asked me where did I come from and where was I going. The eyes of all the women were on me as I told them that we were going to live in Palestine. I can hear even now the whispers which went all around the packed gallery, Palestine, Palestine, Palestine. It got so loud that the men downstairs shushed the women. I can see it all in my mind now and often wonder if any of them survived the Holocaust.

We met my sister Miriam in Trieste (Hanna had stayed back to finish her matriculation) and boarded the ship taking us to Palestine. It would be 40 odd years before I would set foot in Europe again.

Palestine
September 1932

We arrived at Port Jaffa after six days, having spent the first two days of Sukkot on board ship and had to anchor outside the harbour as the water was very shallow. We had to descend outside stairs and jumping into the strong arms of Arab boatmen, who rowed us into the port where my mother and brother awaited us.

A horse drawn carriage with the driver wearing a red Fez, something new and strange to me, drove us through the narrow noisy, crowded, colourful streets of Jaffa. For the first time I could smell the strange, to me then, aroma of Arab and Mediterranean food, which I still enjoy smelling and eating today.

We came into Tel-Aviv Ha Ktana (Little Tel-Aviv) as she was called then and my first impression of her was of a white, bright and clean city. We stopped outside our new shop called “The Lady” (in Ivrit “HaGeveret”). It was situated in Nachlat Benjamin Street, which was then the main shopping centre. Only the main streets were paved, side streets were all sand; some had planks down to make walking easier. In the side streets people were living in little huts, called Zrifim. The buses were a Co-operative called Ha Maavir and were almost the only vehicular traffic on the roads. Arabs with donkeys walked the streets selling grapefruit, oranges and neft (kerosine) needed for the primus in the kitchen and for the heater in winter.

I started at the Talpiyot Girl’s school and had to learn the modern Ivrit as well as catching- up with the class of three years English which I found very easy to learn. I joined the Scouts (Zofim) and the swimming section of the Maccabi. Friday afternoons we would meet the swimming coach then walk from the end of King George Street through a Bedouin camp full of tents, camels, donkeys and children. We would train in a pool in the middle of an orange grove belonging to the Mukhtar of the nearby Arab village of Sumeil. Once the Mukhtar invited us to train in his private pool, after that we were refreshed with cool drinks in his large home.

The orange grove and Bedouin camp is now the site of the Town Hall and Rabin Square in front of it. Friday afternoons the Shofar would be blown in the streets, a sign for the shops and traffic to stop for Erev Shabbat, but on Shabbat mornings I would meet my friends on the beach, packed with swimmers, beach tennis players, and young boys walking around selling “Eskimo Ice-blocks.”

On Chanukah I loved seeing the large Chanukia lit up on top of the water tower at the top-end of Balfour Street, you could see it from everywhere in the city. Purim was the most enjoyable time. We watched the Mayor, Meir Dizengoff, riding proudly on his white horse leading the Purim Parade through the main streets. We walked around the streets in fancy dress costumes, small children let off firecrackers, the youth danced the Hora at night to the music played by bands on the streets, while the grown-ups went to formal fancy dress parties.

A happy occasion was the official opening of the Dizengoff Square by Mayor Meir Dizengoff. It took place in the darkness of an evening on the outskirts of the city. We, the Scouts, stood around in a large circle (now the size of the square) holding up flaming torches. A wonderful evening always remembered.

In 1935 I was asked by a friend to join the Haganah, the secret Underground Defence. I became a member. I learned First Aid and had to do practice for some weeks in the Tel-Aviv Hadassah Hospital Emergency section. I learned Morse Code, (in Ivrit!) in four different ways, and also the use of Small Arms.

In 1936 the Moraot, a big Arab Uprising, started. As I lived in the northern part of the city I was put “on duty” every second Friday night in the empty vicinity of the Yarkon River. The young men would go on reconnaissance along the river and I would join them with some first aid equipment. We would go in pitch-black darkness in single file very quietly, but my heart would be in my mouth imagining that behind every bush would be a terrorist. Across the river was an Arab village and we could easily see their lights.

In between times I was also on guard duty with a partner inside the cinemas and different functions in the main part of Tel-Aviv. We looked like an ordinary couple except that we carried small arms hidden on us.

Now Migrants from Europe arrived and the city got bigger every day. It was not Tel-Aviv HaKtanah anymore. Although the Arab riots in Palestine became worse and worrying news from Europe started to drift in, Tel-Aviv on the surface was a city full of life and entertainment.

Around 1937-38 I took part in large demonstrations against the White Paper Policy. At the second demonstration the British Police came to disperse us by hitting indiscriminately with thick leather truncheons. I got heavy hits on my back and after some painful days was sent by bus to the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem, where I was operated and stayed for three weeks. In those days it took over two hours to get to Jerusalem on a road called the Seven Sisters, because of seven dangerous curves.

By 1939 the grounds around the Yarkon River were built -up by housing projects (Shikunim), which made living there much safer. We were not needed anymore in the city itself so my days in the Haganah came to a slow end. The Second World War had started and with it a new Era.

War had started and with it came Black Out, Food Rationing, and Air Raids. In 1940/41 Australian soldiers started to arrive from North Africa and Syria. They were very much liked as they held back the German Army in the Western Desert and also because they were likable young men very far from home. As I spoke already perfect English I was asked by a restaurant owner to manage a special dining room set aside for meals for the Australian Military Police which were housed on the next corner. After a few weeks a new nice looking and quietly spoken soldier arrived. We liked each other straight away. He was Cpl. Milton James Tuckfield, (called Jim) from Gawler, South Australia. He was repatriated from Tobruk, North Africa, with sand in his lungs and still under medical care. I took him home to meet my family, as my mother and Hanna spoke English we got on very well together. After some time he was transferred to Jerusalem and then we realized that we were very much in love. We married at the British District Commissioner Office, Jaffa-Tel-Aviv.

I moved to the German Colony, Jerusalem, and became friendly with another girl, Esther, who had also married an Australian soldier. Now I got to know Jerusalem very well and enjoyed living there but making short trips to Tel-Aviv as I missed the beach and my family. In October 1942 my son Raymond Gil (Joyful) was born in the Hadassah Hospital on Mt Scopus. I then moved to a room in House Najjar on Jaffa-Tel-Aviv road, in the suburb of Romema (the Central Bus Station is just around the corner now). It was the only house in a great empty block with just a small Arab coffee house opposite. I could hear Arab music all day long and see the customers sitting outside drinking coffee and smoking their water pipes.

In January 1943 all the Australian Troops in the Middle East were recalled to Australia, so now I was on my own in Jerusalem bringing up my son, but would be visiting my family in Tel-Aviv quite often.

On the 22nd November 1944 the British Army Base notified me that we were to leave the next day for Australia. A 24- hour notice! I phoned my family and my mother came to be with us on our last day in Palestine. I had to race to the Egyptian Embassy for our Visa, bring our washing from the roof and pack them still damp, notify all my friends of our departure. Luckily my friend Esther with her son Max, who was Ray’s age, were also notified, so at least we would not be traveling half way around the world on our own.

We left the next day 23 November 1944 from the Jerusalem Railway Station. I fare-welled my mother and called out to her from the moving train “see you in three years.” But it would not be until December 1970 before I would see her again.

On The Way To Australia
November 1944

We left Jerusalem feeling very subdued. The last 24 hours had been so hectic that I did not have time to think. But now, all of us sitting quietly in the slowly moving train, the realization hit me. I had set out with a child into an unknown country, an unknown future, not knowing how his family would receive us, not knowing when I would see my husband again. His Company had been transferred to England a few months earlier to help prepare for the repatriation of Australian Prisoners of War from Europe. But I had the determination and courage to work at making the new country my home and make the best of it.

We arrived in the evening at Gaza and were taken by British Army Personnel to their Mess Hut for the evening meal and to let the children have a bit of play. We boarded the train and put the children to sleep on the long hard benches
(No Sleepers then). We had crossed the border into Egypt during the night and stopped for breakfast at El Kantara and then for the midday meal in Ismalia, at both places being looked after by British Army Personnel.

After a 26 hour-long train trip we arrived very tired at last at Port Said, on the Suez Canal. We were met again by the Army and rushed to Port Tewfik where the Troopship Changi had waited for us and started to sail as soon as we boarded it. We were shown into a large cabin with some Egyptian War Brides also with children. The ship was packed with Australian and New Zealand Soldiers already repatriated from Prisoners of War Camps in Europe, also Army Nurses who helped us with our children. We had to wear our life jackets all the time, children as well, as we sailed in a large Convoy, zigzagging all the way, first stopping a day outside Aden, Yemen, and then to Bombay, India where we arrived on the 4th December 1944.

The Captain of a large American troopship sailing that night to Australia, refused to take us on board, as they only supplied two meals a day and were not prepared for young children. We boarded the train to Poona, in those days a large British Garrison city, and were billeted in the Army Engineers Camp waiting for the next available ship. The Camp was very large and we had Indian soldiers on duty around our billet day and night. Esther and I hired pushbikes and often went into Poona to do shopping and sometimes to surrounding areas. The children were looked after by the young sons of the Indian Sergeant in charge of our security. On New Year’s Eve we were invited to a large Ceremonial Dinner in the Officer’s Mess followed by a huge bonfire with Indian soldiers playing Scottish tunes on bagpipes.

On the next morning, the 1st January 1945, we left for Bombay and boarded a small passenger ship “The City of Paris” which would take us to Australia. On board were some Australian soldiers and Army nurses going home. Seven days later we arrived in Colombo, Ceylon. In the evening a powerboat took us into the Port of the city for two hours sightseeing.

At last we arrived in Australia, to be precise in Fremantle, Western Australia, on Saturday 20th January 1945 and passed through Immigration. Ladies of the Traveler Aid gave us pushers for the children and gave us directions to take the train to Perth. By now it was afternoon and all the shops were closed, the city looked dull and boring, so we came back to the ship. We left that night and continued through the Great Australian Bight, and now we were told that traveling between Bombay and Fremantle we had still been in danger from Japanese Submarines. At last we sailed through safe and calm waters and did not have to wear our life jackets any more. On the morning of Monday 29th January we arrived outside the Heads of Sydney Harbour but had to wait for a large passenger liner to pass us, before entering Sydney Harbour.

What an unforgettable sight that was to my eyes, from afar I saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge, beautiful houses and green parks in lovely little bays on both sides of the harbour, hundreds of little boats sailing around decorated with flags, sounding sirens, people standing at the coastlines waving flags. An unforgettable Day. We found out later that it was “Australia Day” and also a Welcome to the new Governor General, the Duke of Gloucester who had arrived before us on the large liner.
Arriving on the 20th January in Fremantle, WA, did not mean much to me, but that day sailing into Sydney Harbour, in my opinion, was our real arrival in Australia.

Australia 1945
Our ship, The City of Paris, had docked about mid-day. Esther with her son had left after a tearful farewell as she was going to live in Sydney. Now I was really on my own, with a two-year-old child in a strange country.

I had been notified to wait for the Traveler Aid Ladies who would take care of us and arrange our travel to Adelaide
Yes, but where was Adelaide and how far from Sydney was it, how will we get there? All this was going through my mind just as two ladies arrived to take us ashore. After a short sightseeing trip around the harbour, a rest and early dinner in a family hotel we boarded the overnight train to Melbourne. Arriving there in the morning we were met at the railway station and taken to a room at the YWCA to rest for the day as we then had another overnight travel to Adelaide. Not having eaten or slept since leaving the ship and feeling very tense, I became apprehensive about my arrival in Adelaide. But coming through the hills early the next morning I saw the sea gleaming below us on one side and the red roofs of houses surrounded by trees and bushes on the other side. Such a pretty city I thought, everything will be all right.

Adelaide
On the morning of Wednesday 31st January 1945 we arrived at long last in the city that we would call “Home” from now on. I waited until everyone had left the train before leaving our compartment and settled down on the now empty platform and waited. I had corresponded with Jim’s family and sent photos of us, had received letters from them but without photos, so I had no idea what they looked like. After a while I saw a group of people walking slowly up and down the platform and looking at us. Then the elderly white haired woman approached me and asked quietly “Are you Mrs Tuckfield?” When I nodded she said “I am Mum”. Relieved I got up and we were embraced and kissed by all the family. They welcomed us with warmth and affection, which never changed throughout the years.

Australia itself was a great culture shock. I had come from a vibrant, and modern living city, Tel-Aviv, where life was happy and casual, entertainment starting at night, here the city was dead after 6 o’clock in the evening. I found life very formal, women going shopping and to the pictures in hats, gloves and jewelry. I thought I had returned into the 1920s. I had a lot of adjusting to do and learn a different way of living.

Jim returned at last from England on the troopship “Andes” on 17th October 1945 so now our real family life could begin. Our daughter, Judith Dawn was born in 1946 and our second son, Allan David in 1948.

An unexpected reunion took place in 1947. I had taken my six-month old daughter to the Hindmarsh Town Hall for her immunization. A woman with her daughter came to sit next to me and asked “Isn’t your name Chava?” As no one here knew my Hebrew name at that time I just stared at her. Then I recognized her, Malka, a classmate in our Talpiot School and a member of my Scout group in Tel-Aviv. She had also married an Australian during the War but as we had lost touch after leaving school we didn’t know anything about each other. But what a surprising coincidence meeting like this again.

In 1968 my younger son, Allan, was called up into the Army and served for a year in Vietnam. We were happy and relieved to welcome him back in early 1970.

I returned for the first time to Israel in December 1970 to visit at long last my family and was amazed at the change since my departure. As I had only spoken English all those years I had to relearn my German and Ivrit. It took a while and I have never been quite as fluent as I used to be.

Jim and I returned to Israel in 1973 to visit our eldest son Ray, who was at that time Attach?t the Australian Embassy in Tel-Aviv, and all my Israeli family once again. We had arrived on the Eve of Rosh HaShanah and experienced living there during most of the Yom Kippur War. (But that is another story). The birth of our granddaughter Ilana in the Assuta Hospital, Tel-Aviv, gave added pleasure to our visit.

After my husband’s death in 1979 I returned many times to Israel, and also enjoyed visiting other countries. Since my arrival in Australia in 1945 I have lived a happy and satisfying life here with all my family, but Israel is still “home from home” for me.
Eva Tuckfield, June 2002

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