Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Peter Wagstaffe, age 6, 1940-45

Peter with his mother on a cold winter's visiting day - hence the balaclava.

Life in a splint
I went in when I was a six-year-old in 1940 and I was there until 1945 – five and a half years. I had TB in the hip so a lot of the time I was on a splint with the two legs apart and straps across the chest and you could only move your head and arms really. I was a lot of the time like that.

Games on the balcony
We made our own fun when I was there. We seemed to get on alright. Of course, the visiting was only once a month. I was on the balcony most of the time – well, all the time really, apart from a fortnight over Christmas when they’d bring us in. If it rained or snowed they’d put macs over the beds.

We used to make our own games up. There were a lot of us in a row in beds on the balcony and we used to play what we called cricket. We’d have a book on one locker and that was the wicket, and we’d have a patient about three beds away with big ball of newspaper rolled up on a string. He’d bowl the ball to us and try to hit the wicket, and if we could hit it (the length of) four beds, it was four runs, and six beds it was six runs. We’d have a game of cricket like that. The girls up above used to lead strings down with notes on for us, and we’d send notes up to them.

Peter is in the centre of the photo with his grandmother on Swansea beach.

Trip to the seaside

I can remember one instance in that five and a half years when they had a bus and those that couldn’t walk they carried onto the bus, and took us down to Swansea beach for the day. I only remember it happening once all the time I was there. Our parents got to know about it and they were all down the beach waiting for us.

Arrival of Dr Huppert
There was a doctor that came there after I’d been there about five years, Dr Huppert. I think she was Austrian.
She walked with a limp herself. As soon as she came, she said, ‘Get him up, get him up.’ Then we (the children with TB hips) were up and we were home in about six months.
Yes, I wonder how long I’d have been there if she hadn’t come.
She got us out of bed and walking again, and in about six months we were all going home. I had to go back after I’d been home about six months to a year, and they locked my hip (arthrodesis) for some reason. I don’t know why they did it and I haven’t been able to bend it then since I was twelve-years-old.

I’ve got a nasty curvature of the spine and so on. I couldn’t bend the hip from the age of twelve and I had a calliper on when I came out of Craig-y-nos on the one leg. You had to swing that leg because you couldn’t bend the hip.

Peter is the one in the first bed. The big lad in front is Roy Fitzgerald from Cardiff.

Craig-y-nos food
It was pretty good. There were certain things like lumpy porridge which we didn’t get on with very well! We used to wrap that up sometimes in newspaper and throw it across the veranda into the bushes (laughs) – one way of getting rid of it.

There were two teachers there and we had sums and things like that in the morning, and in the afternoon we’d do handicrafts like putting tops on stools and things like that – raffia work.
I did miss out slightly on education, and when I came home, I stayed in school for an extra year and then I did a three-year course in night school at a college in Neath.

Another thing I can remember is that the boys who could get up and walk – they used to walk around the grounds – they had fishing lines brought up by their parents, and they’d lay night lines in the river going through the grounds. Then they’d go down in the morning and the fish (they’d caught) at the end of the lines they’d bring back and the staff would cook them for the patients who were pretty ill.
I don’t think I ever saw the girls walking around the grounds. I can’t remember anyway.

Some people have said that they were aware of children around them dying. Can you remember this?
Oh yes, I saw quite a few who didn’t last, and there were a few people that were on the balcony with me that died. One boy was covered in abscesses all over him. He went home but died .

Any other memories of Craig-y-nos?
One evening there were a few American soldiers walking around the grounds and we all shouted, ‘Have you got any gum chum?’ They said, ‘We’ll be back tomorrow night,’ and they did come back with sweets, chocolates and gum. They were from Sennybridge, I think.

Do you think that being in Craig-y-nos had a long-term effect on you, perhaps psychologically?
I wouldn’t say that. I was upset of course when I went in, with my parents leaving me and so on, but you soon got used to all the staff and patients there. We had to make our own fun.

Did you have problems adjusting to being home?
All I can remember is that it was lovely, beautiful.

After being all that time in hospital, I worked forty years with the Health Service in the Treasurer’s Department. I was in Neath but the last eight years I was in Swansea. They moved us down to Swansea to centralise us.

Carole Reeves in telephone interview with Peter Wagstaffe

No comments: