After the First World War, around 15,000 European women, the vast majority British, married Australian soldiers. They boarded the troopships that carried these men to war and made a new home for themselves across the ocean.

Kathleen Skinner was one of a few Belgian brides who made her way to Australia.  Her wartime life reflected the ordeal of her country’s occupation. Kathleen fled to a convent in Ghent when the Germans seized the city. She escaped to Holland and then joined a flood of refugees crossing the Channel for England. For a time she was placed in another convent, but Kathleen never joined an Order. By 1918 she was boarding in the Fulbourne Road in Walthamstow and earning an independent living as a typist.

We don't know when exactly she met Jim Agnew, a poultry farmer from Kellyville, Sydney, serving in the First AIF. Nor do we know what persuaded her to marry him. The couple were wed in the parish church at Sutton Veny, six months after the Armistice was signed.  

Kathleen travelled to Australia in 1920. Jim had come home several months before her on the troopship Mahana. Her initial impressions of her new home could not have been very favourable. She was heavy with child, suffered in the heat of the Sydney summer, and was obliged to turn to charity for assistance. But Kathleen’s story is one of success and resilience. The young couple successfully farmed the land and established new orchards at Maroota and Kincunder. Despite Jim being discharged as medically unfit, he and Kathleen survived drought and depression in the interwar period, and together they raised five sons and three daughters.