Take us safely across the skies
Veronica Petrie remembers how she travelled from Jamaica and adapted to life in England in the 1960s.
These memories come from a book called ‘Our Legacy in our own Words’, which was created and published by the Women of Watford Caribbean Elders project.
Adapting to life in Britain
I was born on 1st July in the 1930’s in a small district called Mahoe Hill in St. Mary, Jamaica. I had a reasonably good education but unfortunately was unsuccessful with my exams. After leaving school I learnt dress-making from which I was able to make a living, creating various garments in whatever style was required. In those days we did not buy readymade clothes from the shops. All out clothes were made to the person’s design and measurement. If Mrs Jones needed an outfit, she would go to the shop buy the material, bring it to me, tell me the style she wanted and I made it as instructed.
Although I made a living from sewing I did not continue the trade – instead I left the district and went to live and work in Kingston. My brother did farming and reared cows but when people started to immigrate to England he sold most of his cows and came to England in 1959. He travelled by ship. He told me he would send for me and in April 1961 I left Jamaica bound for England on a plane. I was very worried at the thought of leaving my family behind but felt that I may have a better life in England, earn more money and return to Jamaica after a short period.
My experience on the plane was very nerve racking, as this was my first major trip. As I was about to board the plane, my heart started beating fast from fear of not knowing what to expect. When it was about to take off, I said a prayer to the good lord to take us safely across the skies. During the flight I was too scared to go to the toilet. I eventually had to use it a couple of times but felt as if I was falling out of the plane. There was a lot of turbulence, which was very frightening.
Since then I have flown many times and although I pray that God will take us safely across the skies I am not as scared as that first time. This is an experience I will never forget.
I left Palisadoes airport, Kingston on a Saturday. We flew throughout the night and got to England approximately mid-day on the Sunday. It was bright and sunny but very cold.
My brother and his friend were there to meet me. Seeing him lifted my spirit, as the flight was long, tiring and scary. When we arrived home, we talked about his work and about finding living accommodation for me. He was renting one room at the time and it would be impossible for both of us to share.
My first job
On Monday morning the Landlady took me to seek employment. Fortunately I got a job in a large laundry, pressing shirts. This is an experience I will never forget. It was frightening. Seeing the large machines, hearing the noises, seeing people rushing around and between the machines was more than frightening; it was nightmarish. The place was extremely hot and steamy and you had to work like a slave. I could not keep up with the pace and because of my inexperience the forelady sacked me after three months as I was not working fast enough.
I found another job after a few days, working in Shepherds Bush at Lyons food factory making cakes, biscuits, ice cream and other sweets.
I was not satisfied and after a few months I left to do Auxiliary Nursing work in HammersmithHospital on the maternity ward. I left there in 1969 and went to St. Bernard’s Mental Hospital in Southall where I did my training to become a qualified nurse. After gaining my qualifications I felt much more fulfilled knowing that in the future my earning would be gradually increased and I’d be able to enjoy a better standard of living.
At St. Bernard’s the work was hard but satisfying. It was very rewarding to know you have made someone comfortable. After five years at St. Bernard’s working with the elderly I left although I enjoyed the work very much. I then went to work at St. Mary’s Hospital, Harrow Road. From there I moved on to St. Mary’s, Praed Street, where I worked for fourteen years on night duty. I retired from St. Mary’s in July 1998. I have had great satisfaction during my years of nursing. I made many friends, some I still keep in touch with since my retirement.
During my 40 years living here I have returned to Jamaica several times. My mother joined me here in 1989 in order for me to care for her. I am now happily retired and am able to care for my mother full time.
Nowadays we both attend the Elders Luncheon Club where we meet old friends and make new ones.