Doris and Russell Walle


William Robinson Clarke

‘Mum-to-be in dash to England for birth’

1919- 2003

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There was a very special reason why Doris Walle was travelling on the Empire Windrush in May 1948 with her three-year-old son, Russell. She was heavily pregnant and wanted to have her baby in England. The proud father was Raymond ‘Ray’ Harry Russell Walle, the master-of-arms on the HMS Sheffield.

The warship was taking part in a goodwill tour of the American eastern seaboard and Ray had been able to arrange for Doris and Russell to travel to Bermuda to be nearer to him, even though he would be at sea for much of the time. Mother and son duly left Devonport in Plymouth for Bermuda on the HMS Patroller in November 1946. Some 18 months later, they would return to England from the Bermudian capital, Hamilton.

Baby Barry was born in Pevensey Bay, East Sussex, on August 24, 1948. The icing on the cake was that Ray had managed to make it back to England in time for his son’s birth. It had been claimed that HMS Sheffield shadowed the Empire Windrush all the way from Bermuda in case the UK government decided to turn back the ship if West Indian passengers caused trouble on board. In the event, no such thing occurred. Russell, who currently lives in the West Country, was too young to recollect much about the journey but Doris told him that the Black passengers on board had gone to great lengths to help with her bags and young son.

Born Doris Hilda Plumridge in London on August 11, 1919, her childhood had been typical of the London working poor. She grew up with her parents Thomas and Emily, and three older sisters Emily, Florence and Eleanor, and two younger brothers Thomas and Frank, in various lodgings in St John’s Wood and Willesden. Her father worked as a driver, progressing from horse-drawn buses to London black cabs. Doris trained as a seamstress. Bermuda must have seemed idyllic in comparison.

Ray’s childhood was somewhat easier. He grew up in Keston, Kent, and Merton in London with his father Percy, his mother Elsie, older brother Victor and younger sister Phyllis. Percy worked as a chauffeur.

In January 1953, Doris and Ray had a third child, Martyna, in Eastbourne. Ray’s life at sea took him and his family all over the world and they spent several years in Singapore. He was commissioned in 1954 and reached the rank of lieutenant- commander in 1966. He remained in the Royal Navy until his retirement in 1970.

Russell joined the RAF and spent time in Australia, Aden, and Arizona before settling in Devon. He said he first became aware that he was part of Windrush history when he read about the demise of the ship in an engine fire in 1954. His mother died on June 17, 1996, in Eastbourne, Sussex. Ray outlived her by another seven years. He died in Pevensey Bay, Sussex, on February 28, 2003.

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