On 10 August 1939 Katherine Lucas, future first wife of my step-grandfather George Symes, embarked on the Strathallan at Port Adelaide, bound for London. At the time, it was widely believed that another war was inevitable, and indeed, scarcely three weeks afterwards, World War II began with Hitler’s invasion of Poland on 1 September and the British response two days later.
The column ‘Lady Kitty Hears’ in the Adelaide Advertiser of 11 August 1939 announced:
On The Strathallan
ON BOARD the Strathallan yesterday, Mrs. Peter de Peterson passed through Adelaide on her way home to Bombay, after spending three months in Melbourne with her parents, Colonel and Mrs. P. W. Vaughan. Her husband will meet her at Colombo. Travelling in the same ship is Miss K. Lucas, who is bound for England.
Built in the previous year, the Strathallan was one of 5 ‘Strath’ liners designed for the Australia run. They were known as the ‘White sisters’, for P&O had them painted white with buff funnels, a colour scheme made possible by the fuel they used: coal had been replaced by oil, and though black paint had usefully concealed the dirt from coal-smoke, white was clean, modern, and much cooler in the tropics.
RMS Strathallan was the fifth and final vessel of the Strath-class liners, launched in September 1937 with her maiden voyage in March 1938. She was 23,722 gross registered tonnes, 664.5 feet long (202.5m), and could carry for 448 1st Class and 663 Tourist Class passengers.
On 3 September, during the voyage, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. A letter back to South Australia published on 20 October 1939 in The Times and Northern Advertiser of Peterborough, South Australia described the voyage after war was declared. The Strathallan was :
… on their way to Suez when war was declared and the steamer had to return to Aden and await orders from the Admiralty. They left Aden on 2nd September, and that night all the passengers had to transfer to the first class cabins—as the ship was “all black out” it was rather an ordeal, but the passengers made the best of it and enjoyed the fun of bumping into each other in the dark with their goods and chattels. They had to attend boat drills, first aid classes, wear life belts, carry emergency outfits, practise disappearing below when the air raid and gun warnings were given and not returning until the “all clear” signal sounded. The men passengers, eight on each deck, kept two hourly watch from 6 p.m. until daybreak, the life boats were kept in readiness, and each passenger had his own appointed place therein, so that everything possible had been arranged for their safety.
The Strathallan did not arrive in London until 9 October. When the letter was written, on 12 September, the ship had “been touring continuously without sighting land” for 10 days.
It seems Katherine Lucas may have already disembarked in Bombay in late August, perhaps intending to continue her voyage later or to defer the trip to England because of the anticipated announcement of war.
On 2 December 1939 the column ‘Lady Kitty Hears’ in the Adelaide Advertiser announced:
THE ENGAGEMENT is announced of Miss Katherine Bellairs Lucas, second daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. C. de N. Lucas, of Hyde Park, to Brevet Lieut.-Colonel George William Symes, of York and Lancaster Regiment, India. The marriage will take place in Bombay on December 11.
Katherine Lucas’s portrait appeared in The Advertiser of 5 December.
A report of the wedding was in the Adelaide News of 3 January 1940 in the column ‘Conducted by Candida’.
Adelaide Bride In Bombay
A WEDDING of interest to Adelaide folk was that of Miss Katherine Bellairs Lucas, daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Claude de Neufville Lucas, formerly of South Australia, which was celebrated at the Afghan Memorial Church, Bombay, India, on December 11.
The bridegroom was Lieut.-Col. G. W. Symes, M.C., York and Lancaster Regiment, attached to the General Staff of Bombay District Headquarters. He is the son of Mrs. G. Symes, of Swanage, Dorset, England.
Vice-Admiral H. Fitzherbert. Flag Officer commanding the Royal Indian Navy, and naval officers and their wives, officers attached to Bombay District Headquarters and military units in the garrison and their wives, the Bishop of Bombay and other friends of the bride and bridegroom filled the church, the sanctuary of which was simply decorated.
The bride walked to the altar on the arm of Major-Gen. G. de C. Glover, officer commanding Bombay District.
She wore a white chiffon dress with long sleeves, a full skirt, with flared godets, and an attached hood coming half-way over the head. She was attended by Mrs. P. de Peterson, who wore a dress similar to the bride’s but ice-blue in color.
The Rev. J. W. F. Ruddell, chaplain of Colaba, officiated.
The bride and bridegroom left the church, under an arch of swords provided by brother officers of the bridegroom.
A reception was held at the Gun House, Colaba, where Major-Gen. Glover proposed the health of the bride and bridegroom.
The honeymoon was spent in Agra and Delhi, and the bride wore a going away frock of powder blue flat crepe.
I notice that the bridesmaid, Mrs P de Peterson was mentioned as travelling on the Strathallan at the same time as Katherine.
Katherine and George had no children. When George retired from the army, they moved to Adelaide, where Katherine had grown up.
Katherine Symes died 15 March 1961.
George married a second time, in 1967, to my grandmother, Kathleen Champion de Crespigny nee Cudmore.
He died in Adelaide on 26 August 1980, and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery with his first wife, Katherine.