Monday, January 07, 2008

Winnie Gardiner (née Gammon), age 81,- Craig-y-nos 1927

Winnie at the recent Patients Reunion

Winnie Gardiner was admitted to Craig-y-nos in 1927 as a nine month old baby and remained there for five years.

She did not have TB. though at the time they thought she had a condition known as "TB of the stomach".
Only at 60 years of age was her condition finally diagnosed - celiac disease, an allergy to gluten.

"All the time I was in Craig-y-nos they thought I had TB of the stomach. Of course, I ended up being fragile, no body at all, walking around in callipers.
I came home in callipers. I had such skinny legs.
I suppose I was restricted because we weren’t allowed to play out for hours on end or run around. We could go down on the grass for a while and someone would be there with us, seeing that we didn’t run off or go out the gates, but I think it was lack of exercise really.

Mother could only afford to visit every six months. It was up to the social people whether they’d allow her a second visit but she had one every year definitely (Winnie’s mother was receiving parish relief). Once or twice she said she asked for a second one – the beginning of the year and the end of the year at Christmas. Not that I knew her anyway, you know. At five-years-old you wouldn’t remember after six months if you haven’t seen someone.

Where did your family live?
Limeslade, in a wooden bungalow. They used to call it holiday village. We lived there all our lives. Well, until I was ten.
Your mother came from London?

A cockney, yes. She wasn’t accepted very well, not in the family that she married into. She used to talk funny.

Sister Phillips with a child (early 1920's)

Memories of Craig-y-nos in the 1920’s.
It was very hard-going. You got dumped into the bath every night – about three of you in a huge bath. We’d all sit in it and they’d wash all our hairs first then get us out. Three of us at a time and then into bed. It was all rush, rush, rush. I don’t know how many nurses they had on there but you only saw one or two in our ward with the younger children. Of course, they weren’t all walking.

Do you remember which ward you were on?
The conservatory.

You grew up there really, didn’t you?
Yes, until I was five.

Did you think about your parents?
No, it never entered my head. I never knew I had four brothers. I never knew that until I came home, and they just sat looking at me with their mouths open. Whether my mother had told my older brothers that I existed, I don’t know, but they just stared at me and I just sat with my back to them because they were four boys. But, lucky for me, I had a younger brother and we grew up together very close, like twins. Where he went I went, and where I went he went.

Do you remember any of the nurses and the doctors?
Nobody. They all seemed very old to me. I suppose some of them must have only been in their twenties really but they all looked old to me, and they wore heavy clothing. Navy blue or black frocks – navy blue I think it was.

Were you put outside if you’d done something wrong?
Oh yes. Well, if you were naughty and giggling and laughing when everybody was supposed to be going to sleep, they’d say, ‘Right, any more of this nonsense and out on the veranda you go.’ I was one that was always out on the veranda. Yes, we’d stay there all night with a bit of tarpaulin over the top of the cot.

Did they bring you in during the day?
Oh yes, we’d come in in the morning and they’d take us to get dressed. I can’t remember what clothes I wore or anything like that but we did change into a frock or a skirt or something. They’d wash us and give us breakfast.

Do you remember any of the food?
Oh yes, it was horrible. The smell of it was. The smell was all over the place. I know now what it smelled like – lamb stew, lamb stew, lamb stew!
All the time, yes, and it was a grey colour on your plate – in a dish. And very smelly! But that’s what we learned to live on. We did eat it. I suppose I must have remembered it when my mother used to make stew at home when I got back home to the bungalow. I remembered that it was that sort of smell.

Celiac disease
Did you always have stomach problems from a child?
For most of my life if I changed my diet in any way – had something richer or something I wasn’t used to – I would always have a bad stomach, diarrhoea or sickness. I couldn’t take rich things. At home I didn’t have any trouble. My mother was told that I could survive on white meat, banana, bread and butter. As long as I had the banana and white meat I’d be alright – and fish. We did have a lot of fish, mind.

I never told anyone that I’d had TB because I wanted to go into the RAF, which I did, and I didn’t tell them. I did tell the doctors when I was pregnant that I was born with TB and I’d spent some time in Craig-y-nos. They were interested and said, ‘Where did you have it?’ ‘In the stomach.’ ‘Oh, you don’t have TB in your stomach. Never heard of anybody having a TB stomach.’ It was just passed over but they always sent me with the children to the TB clinic after they were born. I’d have to go up there to the clinic (for TB and miners’ chest diseases). I didn’t always go there though. Once I found out what they were looking for I thought it was ridiculous that my children would have it, but I did go with my last child because he was a bit fragile. He was always fragile.

How many children did you have?
Four. Two girls and then two boys.
Have you got lots of grandchildren?
Oh, I’ve got dozens. They’re coming out of the woodwork? (laughs).

Going into the RAF
You had to wait till you were eighteen to join.
Myself and a friend who lived in Carmarthern at the time, we both signed up the same day in the YMCA down here. That was April (1944), and they said, ‘You can’t come till you’re eighteen.’ We were both eighteen in the July, so we had to wait until then. We signed on (in April). They said they’d send us papers, which they did. I think it was the 18th or 19th July that we had our pips and we were on our way to Manchester.
I was in the RAF from 1944 until 1947.
And I enjoyed every minute of it. Yes, and I could have changed my whole life at that point and I never did. We both kicked ourselves for that when we came out. They wanted people to go to Germany and round the country, but you must have been in the Forces for over three years, and we had. We had the choice, either go to Germany and become sergeants or come home, and we hummed and hahed and hummed and hahed, and in the end we both came home.

Do you regret that?
Oh yes. I did a couple of years later. I wished I’d gone.

I came out of the RAF in December 14th (1947) and I got married on December 18th. It was my childhood boyfriend. He’d come back from Singapore, so we got married.
Is he still alive?
Oh yes, he divorced me. He’s remarried.

Good memories of Craig-y-nos
Well, we enjoyed being together as children. I can’t remember being miserable or crying all the time. I cried sometimes especially when I was out in the garden. I think, being so young and not knowing any other home, I just thought it was home. It was just where I lived. I don’t know what I thought really. I never knew about school or buses or trains or my mother or the village we lived in, Limeslade. I’d never seen any of it so I had no thought of the outside world, which was a sad thing for the older girls of my age group.

They did have a mother, they did know their home, they did know they had a father. When they came in at about six or seven or eight, they’d all had their own bedrooms – that was the sad thing, really, because they used to cry a lot when their mother was coming or going.

Some people have said that it actually gave them problems in later life. They felt that it gave them psychological problems in later life, being there. Did you feel that?
No, I didn’t feel any of that because they say what you don’t have you don’t miss. The biggest shock to me was just sitting outside of the bungalow at home and wondering who those boys (my brothers) were.

Going home again
Did you find it difficult to settle back into your home because you’d never know it as a home, had you?

No, but because I was used to having children around me – all of us (in Craig-y-nos) were children together – I accepted four boys. It didn’t mean anything that they were my brothers because I didn’t know what brothers and sisters were. I’d never had one, but of course I’d always had children around me so I was not nosy or worried about it.

Life inside the Glass Conservatory
What did you do to pass the time in Craig-y-nos? You obviously didn’t have any schooling.
None whatsoever. I can’t remember drawing or writing on paper or anything like that. I don’t remember having a doll or a teddy bear, except the big one on the wall.
It was huge, the size of a man. As tall as a man.

Where did that come from?
The local mayor, all dressed up in a mayor’s clothes with a big gold chain round his neck, delivered it to us a day or two before Christmas. It landed on my lap. Well, it was standing up on the floor, and I thought it was mine. I broke my heart for that. I can remember crying for that, thinking it was mine because he gave it to me! I really thought it was mine.

But it was just for the ward.
They put it up on the wall with a ladder and it was high enough for the nurses to go underneath. We couldn’t even touch it or reach it. Nobody played with it. I think I must have been about two or three when it happened because I watched it for two years or more, and I thought it looked dirty. It wasn’t so bright and yellow as it was when it came there.

What did you do to pass the time?
I don’t think we did much. We were very restricted in noise – no shouting, no running up and down the ward or anything like that. We sort of lay immobile unless we were outside, and then we could only stay outside for half an hour or an hour, and then come back in again. Sometimes nurses would come and sit by children who were crying or hurting or whatever, and then we’d have two or three nurses in the room because somebody new had come in or somebody else was crying but we just had to sit quietly then while the nurses calmed them down. In all probability I cried from the time I was nine months old until I was two and got used to being where I was. I don’t remember that far back. It was a way of life for us, that’s all.

“Like an orphanage”
Later on, when I came home, I found out what an orphanage was like because I had friends in school who belonged to the orphanage, and I thought, ‘Well, they’re very much like we were in hospital.’ They came at a certain time, they went at a certain time, they had food at a certain time, they went to bed at a certain time, which is not what happens in a home.

Did other children have visitors more often that you?
Oh yes.
Did you ever wonder why you didn’t have any?
No. Most of them were in for a good couple of months and their mothers got to know us (who didn’t have visitors) and they’d walk up to our beds or cots and give us a sweet or a piece of chocolate or something. The parents would go up and down to the children they knew who didn’t have visitors.

How did it affect your mother? Did she ever talk about it?
She said that she would cry every time she got there and when she was coming away because she knew she couldn’t come back again for six months or a year. There was no way she could get up there again. Between six months and a year I don’t remember missing her because it just seemed to me a place where I lived, and I don’t think my mother explained to me that I had brothers at home and where we lived and all that.

I wouldn’t have remembered because I was under five then. I think, even coming out of there when I did, was something that might have been happening to children like me. Being sent home because there was no more they could do for you. They thought I had TB I suppose. They treated me I suppose for TB but there was nothing more they could do for me anyway. I believe there was a sort of close down of money matters. I thought about it later on when I was older and I know things were very sparse. We didn’t have as many treats or nice things. After I was getting older and talking to my mother, she said it was probably close to closing down (Craig-y-nos) but of course it didn’t until the 50s.

Going outside in the grounds
We stayed in until they opened the doors and told us we could go out for half an hour or an hour or whatever the weather allowed us to do. We loved being out there.
Oh, we loved it. We went mad, I think! It was an awful lot of noise, I know.
We had the run of the whole ward but we weren’t allowed to run up and down it. We had to walk. We got used to being indoors, and then we could play on the veranda if it wasn’t warm enough to go down on the grass. We could stay out on the veranda, not that you could do much on a wooden veranda but we sat or played out there, whatever games we played. I don’t remember even seeing a book. I don’t really remember seeing a book or a Bible or a choir or songs or singing or a Sunday School. I suppose there was a church or chapel up there.

Movement within the castle
Did you ever go to anything in the Adelina Patti Theatre? Did they have any shows or concerts?

I didn’t know anything about the other part of the hospital at all. We never got past the big hall. I don’t remember even going upstairs to the other floors, ever. When you get into the hall and see the stairs, I just thought people lived up there, or children. I probably did get taken up there but I can’t remember. I can’t even remember where the bathrooms were. They must have been on the ground floor with us, somewhere.

I remember that it was never dark there. It was always daylight. At least, I thought it was always daylight. The only time I can remember it being dark was when I was pushed out onto the veranda and then I could see the stars. We were all in bed by seven o’clock, I imagine, so it was always light. It was lit by gaslight, not electric light.

Winnie Gardiner (née Gammon) was in conversation with Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine University College London.

No comments: