A "Virtual World" Exhibition of the World's Foremost 20th Century Watercolour Botanical Artist.
'Call Them the Happy Years', Barbara Everard's autobiography, is now on sale.
Read how this eldest daughter of a wealthy Sussex farming family grew up in the dark days of WW1 then lost everything and had to survive through the slump and depression of the 1930's. With little formal training, she learned the craft of renovating furniture and chinese wallpapers in London, before marrying and moving out to the Far East. There and again later after WW2, she honed her painting skills and became one of the last century's foremost botanical artists.
This is not only an account of the life of an artist but also shows the determination of a woman with a will to succeed in a world of men, bosses that exploited workers in sweat shops in London, companies that would not tolerate married men on their workforce and a society that came to respect that a woman has a rightful place as a breadwinner.
Further down this page, please read an extract, submitted to the BBC's World War Two page, which tells of Barbara's and son, Martin's excape from Singapore with the Japanese army fast approaching and the terrible parting with her husband, Ray.
“Yes.Why, . aren’t I supposed to be?I asked, thinking with horror that perhaps some order had been issued that wives were not to visit husbands any more.Just then Ray came.
“Oh Everard, I’m telling your wife she shouldn’t be here…”
“What?” said Ray.“Why, sir?”
“Well, you know,” he said. “They are all going – or gone”.
I smiled.“I’m not flapping off!”
“Well,” pulling his moustache down. “Think about it. Things don’t look very pleasant to me, and it won’t be very pleasant here soon.”
“Ray, what do you think we ought to do?”
“I…don’t…know”, Ray replied slowly.“I’ll ask Major Smith, the domestic affairs man and I’ll ring you this evening and tell you what he says.”
But Henshaw had done the trick.He had woken me from my dream.I was a bit nervous again from that time.At last I saw how desperate things were… We’ll hold them at Batu Pahat!My God, they were in Johore, straight on the road to Singapore!
Ray rang me.
“Darling,” he said, “under these conditions it would be a wise thing if you put your name down for a boat at the P & O”.
“All right, I will”.
From that moment, I made preparations.I went to the P & O office.It was a long walk as they had evacuated themselves from Raffles Square to a house in Tanglin for safety.I saw a man Ray knew and had Martin and my name put down for a passage to the UK.He told me to ring him every evening without fail.
When I told Madge (Ross, a friend), she was very worried and could not decide what to do…stay in Singapore?…No, Bill Ross put his foot down.She was left to choose between Australia, South Africa or home.She put her name down for all three.
Every day I rang and every day the same answer. “NO, no news.”
I longed to hear there was news, so that I could get Martin away and yet I dreaded it.I made other preparations.I had a T.A.B jab.I got in the two jabs.Martin only had one.I bought all the knitting wool I could find – there wasn’t much about and I bought the last tweed suit in John Littles.I didn’t bother to try it on. I just went up to the assistant and asked:
“That red suit.How much?”
“Sixty-four dollars, madam”.
“Here you are. No, I’ll chance it fitting me.”
And when I got it back and tried it on, amazingly, it was a perfect fit, perhaps a little long in the skirt.
Martin started cutting his eye-teeth and, as I feared, he was running a temperature.He was now eighteen months old – a large child and a good one.
One day, Ray told me that a convoy was coming in any day and in all probability they would be the boats that would take us off.Also, the Japs were getting unpleasantly nearer.It was not a very nice feeling. I sort of felt a Jap would jump out at me at any minute.
I rang Mary up and told her that I would be going. She said:
“I shall stay, I can’t leave Grev.How can I leave Singapore? If the Japs come, we shall shoot ourselves”.
“I must go, Mary, because of Martin.”
“Yes, you have the child to think of.Of course you must go.Well, goodbye my dear and the best of luck”.
(It wasn’t until two years later or so when I remet Mary and heard her terrible story.She had decided to go right at the end.On the 3rd boat out and she had arranged to meet Nellie and Jean on the boat.There was awful confusion and she did not find them that night and the next day at sea she searched for them.They were not on the boat.She heard nothing more of them for years.Then she heard that they would not leave their husbands and had been put on the SS Kuala.This was sunk by the Japanese.Nellie, wife of the No1, Fire Brigade, Singapore, was drowned.Jean, beautiful, young, golden girl she was, had been incredibly brave, going in and out of the water rescuing people, getting them onto the sands of Paluh ?, a small island off Singapore.Jean had been recaptured and was taken back to Singapore and it was later heard that she was sent to Japan.She was never heard of since.)
But to return… I was all ready, my two suitcases packed and waiting.The tension was terrific and I saw at last the extreme urgency of getting out.On January 29th 1942, I rang Stogden in the morning.I was getting sick of ringing Stogden and always the same answer.Though I dreaded also hearing anything different as it meant parting from Ray, yet I longed to hear something because of Martin.Was ever a woman more torn!
This time, instead of the usual answer, he said:
“Will you ask your husband to ring me this evening?”
Ray was given night leave.At seven, he telephoned Stogden, who told Ray to come over and see him.The siren sounded an alert so Ray left me sitting under the stairs in the hall doorway.Martin had such a temperature I thought I would not risk him in the trench.It was a nasty raid and the building shook and I could see flashes and fires.From Johore, continual flashes….guns!
There were two further raids before Ray returned which was about eleven and the last raid was about to finish.I was still under the stairs where he had left me.“I’ve had a grim time”, he said.“Not a taxi…not a car.Walked all through the raids.I sheltered once and when I did get to the end of that Godawful road, Stogden said `It’s your wife I want to see and her passport and NOW.QUICK, if she’s to get on these boats’.So, quickly, darling, straight away as you are.Madge must come too”.
Madge now offered the car and Ray to drive it.So we all got in.All the sleepy Ross children and Martin wrapped in a blanket.There was a congested mass of cars at the bottom of the hill when we arrived at the house.There was a fighting mass of men trying to get their womenfolk into the house.I got in at last, in my turn, leaving Martin with Ray who was talking and listening to a group of men.It was a hot night and the heat was bad in the blacked out overcrowded room.I saw Stogden, seated at a table, surrounded by women.
“Ah, Mrs Everard, here you are at last… Passport in order…good”
All was well and he made out a ticket for me to embark on the “Duchess of Bedford” at twelve the next day.
Madge got into the room and she came up to Stogden.He was horrified.
“Three children and you are in Singapore still!I can’t fix you on this boat – go over to that table there”.
I’m very fond of Madge but I was glad to see that she wasn’t to be on my boat.I had had enough of Madge’s nerves.She got put on the “Empress of Japan” (later renamed!).Madge was still undecided where to go.
I rejoined Ray.
“All right?” he asked, anxiously handing over Martin.
“Yes, tomorrow at twelve.`Duchess of Bedford’”.
“Thank God for that.I’ve been through hell out here.Thank God you’re on a boat”
I did not say much.I was too upset…too full….too broken….and the whole thing was too big for me.But luckily and fool that I was, I did think that all was well….that Singapore would hold.And that I would be back in a year!I really thought that.Thank God that I did.Had I thought or had I any vision, I would have had the horror of choosing between husband and child.As it was, I was not bitterly unhappy…only unhappy at leaving Ray.Not crazy with grief as I would have been had I any idea how serious things were and what was going to happen.
Also, Ray did not tell me the Japanese were at the Causeway.
(The account moves to the next morning)
Ray and I woke early, both feeling so unhappy.I got all ready in good time before the raids.Ray borrowed a car from one of the Volunteers (Army Reserves) to take me to the Docks.We got everything downstairs into the hall by nine.And then the raids began and they were very heavy, the guns crashing all around.We kept under shelter till eleven and then there was a lull…and Ray said:
“We’ll go now”.
I said goodbye to Essa (Martin’s ahma), poor thing.I hadn’t known her long but she proved herself well, trustworthy and brave.Ray told her he would return and pack up the cot and pram and see her.
Madge had gone off earlier.It took us an hour to get to the docks, which were only about three miles away.I saw thick black smoke in the dock’s direction.There were so many detours and traffic jams, owing to the bombing, which with the convoy in the harbour, were all on the docks.We were worried lest we be caught in a raid and too miserable to speak.Also, it was obvious, that there was a serious fire at the docks and I was sick with fear that it was the boats.
We turned in at the Dock gates.The fire was very close now and black billowing smoke over all. Ray backed the little car by an iron shed.There were fires burning all over the wharf and hoses all over the place and a great fire belching black smoke – but it was on the wharf.
I saw the “Duchess”, grey painted.And, carrying Martin, picked my way through the hoses and fires and up the gangway.Ray quickly got my luggage on board, saw my steward and asked him to look after me… What a hope!
He did not stay longer than ten minutes on board.Both of us believe in quick partings.He kissed me twice and also Martin.
“Goodbye dearest, take care of Martin”.And he went.
I cried and, crying, looked out of the porthole in the passage and I saw Ray disappearing round a corner of the iron shed.Round a corner!
In my sorrow, I thought of that other time.A brain is an amazing thing.Even so miserable, seeing Ray go, my memory flashed back four years and I saw him again going round the corner of Queens Gate Gardens.
In the afternoon we began moving away. We all crowded on deck, tears running down our faces.There were soldiers cheering and waving as we left.We were going south, I suppose it was the only way, with the Japanese to the north.The little island receded, women were crying, women were trying to comfort each other.
I looked at Singapore with tears streaming down my face.Some woman said to me:
“Terrible to think what is going to happen there…”
We watched till we could no longer pick out landmarks. The “Empress of Japan” was following us with, I presume, Madge on board.
And so we went.And so ended my four years in Malaya, so full, so happy, so abruptly ended.