Friday, November 16, 2007
Vera Blewett (nee Paris) 1942-45
Christmas in Craig-y-nos. Vera in her cot
Going into Craig-y-nos in 1942
"My father was away fighting and my mother had died from TB, and then obviously they found that I, too, had it, and then I was in Craig-y-nos for, I understand, a year and eight months. But as a very small child, I would say two to three-years-old. I just don’t know.
My mum died March ’42. … I was born in December ’40.
I was institutionalised for a year and eight months instead of being with a family. That has an effect on you for the rest of your life.
The family secret
It was many years later that I found out that the mother I had wasn’t my real mother.
I was about, seventeen.
My real mother had died in March ’42 and my father had remarried.
Part of the story really is that within a few months of my finding out this big family secret, my father died.
So, any thoughts I might have had of talking to my father about things when I was little and my mother, I never had an opportunity. I think I found out about it in the spring of 1957 and my father died in November 1957. So, again, you know, I’ve had nobody to talk to. This is why I responded,( to the article in the South Wales Evening Post) thinking I might find out something, but I didn’t know what I might find out.
Time in Craig-y-nos
I was there a year and eight months. Somebody must have told me that, and do you know, I don’t know if that’s true.
That is what I was told. Obviously, I couldn’t refer back to my mother because she died anyway before I went there, and it wasn’t until I was sixteen, seventeen that I found out that the mother I had wasn’t, in fact, my real mother. So, I’ve never been able to talk to anybody about it.
Return to Craig-y-nos “we don’t talk about that”
Many years ago I went to Craig-y-nos with a group of people.
We ended up there for tea. And I talked to somebody there and said I was a child there and what he told me, and I can understand it, they don’t want to talk about that, you know. That is when it was a sanatorium and it’s as if they’ve swept it under the carpet. They don’t want to talk about it.
I was on the premises and I thought, well, I spent a year and eight months of my life here. Perhaps there’d be some photographs hidden away that I could have a look at, but the man I spoke to, said:, ‘No, we don’t talk about that.’ It’s as if that was in the past and not very nice to talk about and that was it.
Now, a very dear friend of mine, I was showing them to her, and she’s a retired nurse, and when I showed her the photographs, she said to me, ‘I know that nurse. She used to work in Swansea General Hospital,’ because I live in Swansea.
And she knew her.
This nurse that was in Swansea General Hospital had also been in Craig-y-nos, and she was holding me actually, I think, in the photograph.
I’m told that when I came out of hospital, the thing I loved doing most was sitting on the stairs singing hymns. Now, this nurse that my friend pointed out, apparently, was very religious. So there’s no doubt that whilst I was in Craig-y-nos, she obviously taught us hymns.
My dear friend pointed out another nurse, who was in the photograph, and that was her mother’s best friend. Now, I thought that was amazing. And here was I, Ann and I, great friends, and her mother’s best friend must have nursed me as a child.
The local newspaper
A little fluke is the fact that I got in touch. I saw a little notice in my local newspaper. Now, I don’t take the local newspaper ever, but somebody must have given me that copy, and you know how it is, you read anything. They gave it to me and I spotted that little item and that is how I responded. If that hadn’t been given to me, I wouldn’t have known about it.
Searching for my past
I don’t know what I was hoping when I responded to the appeal in the newspaper. It’s something in my very distant past. I mean I’m sixty-six now, sixty-seven at the end of the year, and it’s a part of my life when I was very young that I really know nothing about.
Only memories of Craig-y-nos
I have only three very small memories of my time at Craig y Nos. I didn’t mention them to you at the time because I felt they were too insignificant, but as they are the only memories I have, I will share them with you.
1. Being told by another child that my ‘mother’ had come to see me. This would have been my stepmother of course. I have no recollection of her visit.
2. Some excitement about a concert? Someone (a doctor?) was going to make a violin sound like a cat. No memory of ‘the concert’.
3. Coming out of Craig y Nos and seeing sheep on the hillside opposite. I don’t remember anything about the journey home.
The affect of the Craig-y-nos experience on my life
When we talked earlier, you asked me whether the experience of being in hospital affected me later in life. I didn’t want to discuss it at the time but I have to admit that it probably did. I could probably sum it up simply by saying that:-
I have always craved affection.
Family has been all-important to me.
I don’t find it easy to be ‘touchy-feely’ (My two grandchildren in Kent are an exception).
I divorced my husband many years ago and I’ve got two daughters but they live away from Swansea. One lives in Cyprus and one is in Kent.
Vera Blewett ( nee Paris) would love to make contact with either staff or former patients from the early 1940’s.
If you would like to contact me then I will pass the details on to Vera. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an edited account of an oral recording given by Vera Blewett to
Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London.