I was born in Greece and raised in Egypt, an only child to a doting mother who cared for me alone, after my father moved back to Greece. Growing up, I attended a French school and then an English school, but education was quite expensive. When my friends started to leave school, I begged my mother to let me leave also. So, when I was 14-and-a-half years old, I acquired my first job and left school.
I worked for the British Army in the stores room. After a time, I was asked if I’d like to dance for the troops two night per week. I always had a love of dancing, so I jumped at the chance.
It was during this time, in Alexandria, Egypt, that I met the man of my dreams. His name was Wally Read. He was a tall, blonde, blue-eyed soldier from Australia. It truly was love at first sight. I was holding my breath, hoping he would ask me to dance, but he didn’t — at least, not that night. But I did get that dance soon enough, and I went home floating on cloud nine.
We were together from that dance on, and six months later we decided to marry. But our path to matrimony was hardly smooth. Wally was 23, I was 16, and Australian servicemen had a poor reputation from the first war. Wally hadn’t sought permission from my mother, and when she found out, she hit the roof! But he was invited to dinner and thankfully won her over. I became his fiancée over a bowl of Greek chicken soup.
But we had a problem. Wally was to be transferred back to Australia in just three days. Three days was not enough time to arrange a wedding, so it was booked for ten days’ time. The morning of the wedding, MPs came looking for Wally; they thought he had gone AWOL. My aunty hid Wally in a cupboard until they were gone, and thankfully the wedding went ahead at 3pm as planned. We were married on a Saturday, and on Monday Wally caught a train back to camp, returning to Australia in January 1943. It was thirteen long months before I joined him, in March 1944.
I was one of the first World War II Greek war brides to come to Australia. I arrived in Victoria, eagerly anticipating my reunion with Wally, but instead I was greeted by my new in-laws. They told me Wally was fighting in New Guinea, so it was one more excruciating week before I saw him again. We set up a home in Melbourne, and in 1946 my mother came to live with us in Australia. Soon after, Wally was discharged from the Army, and we were able to settle into happy married life. We welcomed our daughter, the first of four, and moved to Cairns, where we lived for a blissful 14 years.
I have always had a love for dancing, gardening, and travel, so I considered myself incredibly lucky to have seen much of the world. In 1986, Wally and I travelled to Europe and visited 14 countries. Vienna and Switzerland were my favourites. We made many treasured memories, which I held close to me when in 1988, during an adventure to Tasmania, Wally suddenly passed away.
I went to live with my daughter in Bucca, but when she returned to Queensland, I decided to move to Coffs Harbour. Without Wally, I was lost for a time, until I started dancing again at the “Cavanbah Hall”.
As it has always done, dance revitalised me, and I was able to keep on going.
These days, I hold dear to my memories of Wally. I consider my marriage to him to be the greatest accomplishment of my life, which brought me not only happiness, but also my four daughters, ten grandchildren, and thirteen great-grandchildren (at last count!). For anyone seeking a happy marriage, I advise them to be true. I married the most handsome man I’ve ever seen; our relationship was very honest, loving, and respectful, which is more than most people could ask for.
Though I miss him terribly, I am supported by my wonderful family, who travel to town to visit me as often as they can. My daughter stayed with me for a few days to celebrate my 90th birthday, and I was visited by my granddaughter and great-grandchildren. It was tiring but lovely to see them all.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s to always be kind. I like to see the good in other people and lend people a helping hand. I have always tried to support others, which makes it easier now to accept a bit of support myself.
Home Nursing Group provides me with assistance to do some of the heavier tasks around the home that I am no longer able to do, but on the whole, I am still independent. I manage my own washing and enjoy cooking my own meals; I still potter around my garden; and even though I recently had to relinquish my licence, I overcame that barrier by using the courtesy bus to go to the shops or the RSL club. I enjoy having that freedom to do as I please. To still live in my own home is wonderful. And I personally think that I’m doing rather well at 90!
It must be in my genes. If you want my secret, I can say only this: be happy, be kind, and keep on dancing.