Saturday, January 12, 2008

Douglas Herbert 1945- 48

Douglas Herbert, an accountant working in Swansea, tells his story of his time in Craig-y-nos.

I was born 21st February 1941 and I came to Craig-y-Nos in 1945. I was about 4 years old.

Until very recently the only information I had was that I had fluid on the lung as a child. For one reason or another, the doctor we have now, on discussing various topics with him, he said that's what they used to call TB.

I know I had had my 7th birthday when I went home so it must have been two and a half to three years. I think the last six months was just getting out of bed and getting better slowly. I could walk about and exercise.
I didn't get out of bed for a heck of a long time.

Tied to the bed
I was restrained on many occasions. I wasn't a quiet, innocent young lad, boys will be boys. They had this contraption which had the shape of a piece of material across the chest and four straps. One strap was tied to the lower right, one to the upper right, and the same on the left. No matter how hard you tried you couldn't get those knots, they were too far away.

Forced to eat cold cabbage until vomited

The one thing I hated was the cabbage - green cabbage which was virtually puréed and you ate it whether it was hot or cold. I didn't like it. In the end they used to bring me a bowl to be sick in at the same time as the meal. It would come straight back up into the bowl. The nurse then took it to show the sister as proof that I had eaten it.

The food was basic. We had ice cream and jelly, I remember that. It was basic food I think. I don't recall having too much fruit but then again, the war years. I do remember wondering what the heck that boy had in his hand over there. What was he going to do with it and he had a banana. I hadn't seen one before.

Arriving in Craig-y-nos
I cried my eyes out for the first couple of days. My parents had come with me in the ambulance. Actually I think it was only my mother, my father was working.
I had a brother and sister, I was the middle one.
When I came out, we had moved.
We had visiting once a month.

I didn't have a lot of treatment. The tube down the throat, I don't know what it was called. ( gastric lavage). From what I understand they used to take a sample with that and test it on animals. I got fairly used to it. It takes me 10 minutes to swallow an aspirin now.

Prior to going to Craig-y-Nos I had pneumonia. They injected me with something or other and according to my wife I have two dimples in the posterior where that went.

Visitors wore mufflers because of the cold
I can recall several occasions in the hospital. The windows were very large and open and we got used to being cold. I can't recall curtains. We would be in our pyjamas sitting on the bed and visitors would come with mufflers, gloves, hats coats and everything else. I'm so much acclimatised now I don't like heat.

1947 snow on balcony
I would say there would be 10 to 15 of us in the ward. Beds were around the ward and there was a balcony to my left. I was right by one of the windows and I recall being wheeled out on at least 2 occasions to sleep on the balcony. On one occasion, must have been in19 47, the snow was piled high when I woke up and I couldn't see the front of the bed.

Derby Day
If you can find out what the Derby Day was in 1947, that was a couple of months before I came home. I can specify that because I was the only one with a radio speaker and I had 47 visitors that day all listening to the Derby.

Andrew my best pal
Pencil, paper, crayon I recall. I had a jigsaw which I never did because on the day my parents came to take me home they brought me a small jigsaw to do and I never did it. I gave it to my friend Andrew in the next bed. He was a great pal. He couldn't move. His back was encased in plaster of paris because he had the spinal version. He never made it.

There was a lot of iron medicine and we were fed regular doses of syrup of figs because the iron medicine would constipate you. We were given a bedpan every morning. They woke you up at 6 o'clock and you didn't get breakfast until you used it. If you were constipated that was really something else.

Punished by Dr Huppert "little Hitler"
Once I was allowed out of bed for half an hour ( the start of the grading process) and this would increase until such times as I went home. The doctor, I can't remember her name, she was Austrian, short and dare I say it, little Hitler gone mad. The boys made paper aeroplanes and we were throwing them around in "rest hour" and one landed on the floor. I got up to get it. As I did that" little Hitler" came in and said:" in bed for a month!" and I thought evil thoughts of her.

I can't recall a great deal about Christmas. We had shows in the theatre, which was beautiful. Silent film shows, Laurel and Hardy. There was a pantomime I recall once sort of amateurs thing but Christmas was upsetting in a way because you weren't at home.

There were lessons – spasmodic. From an early age, I loved maths and while I was there I was quite good. I'd gone past the tens and units bit before and English was not my best subject but I got along with it. There were some lessons but not a lot. I did catch up because I was very interested in maths.
We had crayoning books and reading books. I think I struggled through Robinson Crusoe when I was there.

Outside food
We used to get things like fresh farm eggs. I remember them bringing in an apple or two and on one occasion I can remember an orange.

My parents travelled to see me on a bus and I went home on the bus. It took forever. I think it must have taken three to three and a half hours. Pay being what it was then, it was a lot of money. They stayed for two hours. I saw my grandfather twice while I was in hospital and he had died before I got out of hospital.

The matron I recall though not by name was always for the children. That was a person you could depend on. She used to give the staff hell.

Gingerheaded nurse
There was one nurse I recall she was either redhead or ginger, that stuck in my mind. She was fabulous. On a particular night there was a fire. It was an accident we were told. A bus and something to do with petrol. She was the only one left in the whole ward because everyone was take because there were serious consequences. She must have stayed on till midnightish. Nothing was too much trouble and she would even sing you a lullaby.

Craig-y-nos" a grand place"
I felt and I think a couple of the others felt that it was a grand place where someone important used to live. It had this beautiful theatre.

Most of the time I was quite happy but I didn't want to be there but you made the best of it. From the day I left that place, no a month after when Andrew died, I really love living. I have met some miserable people in my life.

The pub quiz
When I was 18 or thereabouts I went with my father to a quiz show and they were asking questions and one was who won the Derby of 1947 and no-one could answer. They asked if anyone in the audience knew the answer and I put my hand up. My Love won the Derby in 1947. My mother had sixpence each way on it. I remembered it from my time in Craig-y-nos.

The seance
We had a group of friends and they all came round to our flat and we decided to have a Ouija Board. I wasn't interested so I really sat across the living room maybe three and a half metres from what they were doing so I couldn't push anything. I had never discussed with my wife what had gone on in hospital and it started does anybody know Andrew. I said he had been a child with me but I wouldn't discuss it with them. I wrote down on a bit paper and asked what was the last thing I gave Andrew. They spelt out jigsaw. Nobody at that table knew. I asked what was on his back and they spelt out plaster.

Douglas Herbert was interviewed by Cynthia Mullan of the Sleeping Giant Foundation.

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