A PENSIONER who picked up a copy of The Weekend Examiner was reminded of her time in Australia during the Second World War.
Norma Hanson, of Almondbury, read a story about the ‘Indomitables’, a rugby league team who toured Australia and New Zealand in 1946.
Their tour was historic as it was the first major sporting event after the war ended.
Royal Navy vessels were the only way to travel to Australia at the time, so the Great Britain Lions made a trip on aircraft carrier, HMS Indomitable.
Norma, who was a nurse in Australia during the war, said: “I watched the HMS Indomitable sail into Fremantle Docks near Perth – from the deck of another aircraft carrier – HMS Victorious.”
The players on the Indomitable kept up their fitness levels on the six-week voyage by stoking the boilers. When they arrived in Perth they organised a friendly match with a local rugby league team.
Norma said: “As a young lass from the game’s home town I got as many shipmates as possible to go along and give them support.”
Norma was working as a nurse at the large naval hospital in Sydney and was returning home after the war.
The ship she was travelling on was damaged by heavy storms and had to be put into Fremantle for extensive repair.
Five hundred naval personnel were stranded.
The players on the Indomitable were told they had to abandon ship so prisoners of war could be taken to Singapore.
Instead, they had to travel to Sydney by train in a five-hour journey in hot, overcrowded carriages.
Norma told the Examiner: “It sounds as though the players were told a story that the Indomitable was needed to go and pick up prisoners of war.
“Whereas, in fact the prisoners of war had all been sorted months before.
“The truth is that the navy must have decided that it was more important to take the load of 500 servicemen and women home, rather than to take the team on.
“So we all got the rather relative comfort of a continued voyage home on their ship, and they got the long train journey.”
The team played the first test against Australia on June 17, drawing 8-8, before winning the second test 14-5 after a hat-trick by Arthur Basset.
They won the series with 20-7 in the third game.
Last week, two of the surviving Indomitables, Joe Egan and Bryn Knowelden were celebrating at the George Hotel in Huddersfield – the birthplace of rugby league.
The reunion came about through a meeting between Simon Foster and Michael Owens, sons of Indomitable back row forwards Trevor Foster and Ike Owens.