Sunday, February 03, 2008
Roy Harry , age three and a half years (1945-1946)
Arriving in Craig-y-nos
I can remember little bits of the long journey. It seemed as though we were out all day travelling and I wasn't sure what was going to happen when we got there. My mother had to leave and that was the first awful memory.
Strapped to the bed
I can remember making an awful fuss, crying and screaming and I actually climbed out of the bed and ran after her. How they got over that, they strapped me with a harness, into the bed and I was trying to undo it. Not a very pleasant memory. It still upsets me a lot.
It's surprising though, kids get over these things quite quickly and I do remember settling down and feeling quite all right. I made lots of friends with fellow patients.
Another awful thing that I really didn't like was the gastric lavages, the tube down the throat. I would always struggle and try to stop the tube going down my throat. Of course I knew I was on my own and my mother was nowhere near and it was awful. I didn't know why they were doing it. I can't remember how often but I think they would do it every so often to test the juices or whatever it was you were coughing up so they could check on how you were progressing.
Sister Outram (left) and Sister Powell
My first experience of meeting Sister Powell who is the only member of staff I can remember actually by name was at one of the gastric lavages processes and they just couldn't get the tube down my throat and I heard one of the nurses say 'Oh well send for Sister Powell and she'll be able to do it' and I didn't know what to expect. She was a bit firmer than the nurses and she said 'C'mon Roy you've got to take this down now. No messing about ' and down it went. I was afraid of Sister Powell and that's perhaps why I can't remember any of the other nurses. If I were naughty they would say 'Oh we’ll send for Sister Powell' and I would jump to it.
Never went outside
I don't really have any memories of leaving the ward to go outside because I've read accounts of patients going out into the gardens and I don't remember ever doing that. I only went out on to the balcony and sometimes I would come back in from the balcony via the Day room which these days is a bar but then it was called the Day room and from Ward 1A I couldn't go directly out from the window I had to go down to the next little ward attached to 1A which probably was 1B and there was a door out and I could then talk to all the lads who were out in the outside and I made friends with one who was called Peter and funny enough Sister Powell is the only staff name I can remember and Peter is the only patient name I can remember - although I do remember having lots of friends and playing a lot.
The only time I ever went downstairs was to a concert – I think it was Christmas time. It was a great concert, lots of acts and the one that sticks in my mind was a magician who appeared to swallow lots of razor blades and then he put a bit of string in his mouth and then he pulled them all out and I was amazed. When I was there I wanted to go to the toilet but I didn't want to miss the acts and I was stamping my feet up and down and I said to the nurse would she take me to the toilet and she said 'oh can't you go on your own?' She didn't want to miss it either.
Thunderbolt and matron plays the piano
Another memory that sticks in my mind happened after they moved me from the big ward 1A into one of the little wards alongside it and it only had 3 beds.
One day there was a huge explosion and we both jumped and the windows shook and then we could hear people crying and screaming and I honestly thought a bomb had dropped on the hospital and a nurse came running down the corridor and she came into our room and asked if we were alright. I asked her if it was a bomb and she said she thought it might have been and we were looking out of the window and I looked up at the hill at the back of the hospital and there was a sort of jagged shape on the top of the hill. It looked like the top of the hill was missing.
I didn't know what it was until later on when I met a nurse about a year ago who used to work there and she described it like a thunderbolt and she said she had been out on the balcony above attending some girls and she said it had frightened the life out of them and she could see two large trees falling, so it had actually struck the trees. She said lots of people were crying because they were so frightened. She explained that the matron, Knox-Thomas, came running round trying to calm the patients down and she sat down at the piano and started playing popular music and got everyone to sing along.
I don't remember much about food in general but I know they brought tomatoes around every now and again. They must have grown them in the garden. I didn't dislike the food there. I was always keen and happy when the food came in and there was a kind of table or a chest of drawers thing in the centre of the ward and I think they used to put plates of food down there and if you were up on your feet you could stand by the table and eat your food or you could take it back to the bed. I don't remember ever thinking the food was awful and not eating it. In fact there was a sweet they used to bring round every now and again – I don't know what it was – but it was kind of semolina in texture but it had a chocolate flavour. Whether they put cocoa powder in it I don't know but it was really nice. We always used to ask the nurse if we were having that for sweet.
When I went back into the main ward another thing I remember is a young lady coming round on a fairly regular basis. She wasn't in uniform and she used to bring things to teach us like occupational therapy, like straw things, weaving and one thing I do clearly remember is it was like the top part of a boot with holes and she asked us to lace it up as if you were going to do your boot up and I learnt how to lace them up criss-crossing until it was right and she taught me how to tie the knot. She was great fun.
I don't remember having many sort of toys to play with but I did have a kaleidoscope which was like a long triangular tube and you could shake it and the patterns would change in the bottom and I spent a lot of time playing with that, getting a pattern and trying to slowly pass it to somebody else without disturbing it. I don't know where that came from but that was the only sort of personal toy that I had. (Roy – I had one too- Ann)
Mentioning the kaleidoscope reminded me of a young boy who was put in the bed next to mine in 1A. I wasn’t his first day in hospital or he would have been in floods of tears, probably moved from the conservatory or somewhere.
Sister Powell was there with another nurse to tuck him in and Sister Powell said:” Look this is Roy. He will look after you won’t you Roy?”
That was the only time I thought Sister Powell might have a pleasant side to her.
I did as she said and showed my new friend how to use the kaleidoscope.
Singing in Welsh
In the following days I taught him the words to a song called ‘Down in the Valley” which was popular around that time, and before long we would sing it together.
Some of the nurses taught us some Welsh songs. My mother was quite amused when I eventually arrived home to hear me sing songs in Welsh, and of course speaking with a Welsh accent, which didn’t happen inn Cardiff.
I didn't realise at the time but my parents weren't able to visit all that often.
The rule was only once a month but I didn't know that at the time. I think it shows that I had settled in and I wasn't pining and I was pleased to see them of course but I wasn't aware that several weeks had gone by.
Father in RAF
My dad was in the RAF, certainly initially when I was in, and it was very difficult for him to get down and he had a tiny little motorbike called a Francis Barnett and it was only a 125, which is the smallest sort of form of bike you could have. If he could get petrol from somebody and could get leave on the right day he would come down with my mother from Cardiff. It must have been a horrendous journey.
The birthday present
On one of those visits I remember my dad saying it would be my birthday soon and what would I like. I don't know why but I wanted a little lorry with an aeroplane on the back, something I think I invented in my head. I think I got the idea because during that time lots of aeroplanes were being ferried back and forward by road and they would plonk them on the back of a lorry and the wings would be tucked up alongside it. When my birthday came round I was telling my friends I was going to have a lorry with a plane on the back but when I opened the parcel it was just a lorry, not a very realistic one, and no plane on the back and I was really disappointed.
The painter and Sister Powell
Somebody came round doing maintenance work – a painter. He wasn't painting the ward; he was just painting the doors. Swing double doors at the entrance to the ward, plywood or something like that and he was having a bit of a laugh with us and chatting to us. He said he would have to get on with his work and he painted a face on the door. He said it was Sister Powell, and then he painted it all over. We kept asking him to do the face again so he painted another funny face on another door. We could hear someone coming down the corridor and said it was Sister Powell. He hurried up to paint over the face and we were screaming with laughter.
Strange movements on the pillow
I can remember waking up one night. It was light. I don't know if there was a light on or if it was summertime but the light was coming through the window. I noticed a movement on the pillow just in front of my eyes and I jumped up and put my hand down. There were two little things and I didn't know what to do so I folded the pillow over and pressed down and I though now what am I going to do. So I turned the pillow over and pressed down and put my head on it and pressed down again and fell asleep. In the morning when I woke up I wondered if they were still there and I got up and unfolded the pillow and of course they had gone so I don't know if they were bed bugs or not.
Watching the workmen
Another thing I remember about that time there were workmen outside my window when I was in Ward 1A, which is now the function room, the far end looking north towards Brecon and I was looking out and the men were excavating, levelling something with shovels and they were working hard shovelling, throwing stuff on to a lorry and I can remember standing there for hours watching them. I though it was really interesting having something different to look at.
I can remember getting dressed and my mother saying we were going home but I can't remember how we got home and I wanted to run down the corridor and get outside and my mother telling me to hang on because we had to go see Sister Powell and I'm not sure if it was Sister Powell but somebody came out of the sister's office and she was giving my mother some advice about dietary needs and things like this and I think things were still quite scarce then, fruit and stuff.
She said give him plenty of tomatoes. Don't give him fresh milk, always boil it and when I did start school they used to give you a little bottle of milk and my mum said you mustn't drink it you must bring it home and I'll boil it and you can take it next day.
I've always tried to get in touch with a young man I knew at the time, Peter, who was out on the balcony. I used to go out regularly to see him and I couldn't understand why he didn't get out of bed but he was so ill.
Well, I have met up with him again after 60 years. He is Peter Wagstaff!
He didn’t remember me, which is not surprising there were quite a few of us wandering back and forth from Ward 1A. But the Peter I used to speak to was in the first bed next to the door as I emerged on to the balcony. He agreed that is where his bed was.
We met up at the big reunion at Craig-y-nos in September 2007. You may find this hard to believe. I saw Glenys Davies walk up to him and say, “Hello it’s Peter isn’t it?” What an amazing memory Glenys has.
Learnt to accept the regime
It wasn't all doom and gloom. There were some things we were afraid of but I think my experience there wasn't too bad. I think once a child gets used to a new situation they can accept it provided they're not suffering cruelty obviously. I accepted it.
I think the rules were strict. They wouldn't let us wander round wherever we wanted to go.
I do remember people disappearing from the room but they wouldn't have told me that they had died.
Sometimes there would be a fire in the Day room
I probably was cold but I must admit I didn't feel it. Probably out on the balcony it was cold but I must have enjoyed going out there and sometimes if I came back in through the far door which came back in through the day room sometimes there was a fire there.
There was a steel radiator by my bed but I don't know if it was ever on. I can't remember because you would naturally remember standing there but I don't remember doing it so maybe the heating wasn't on but I'm not sure.
Settling back home
I don't think it was difficult to settle in when I went back home. I was looking forward to seeing my younger brother who I remember being born and not long after that going into hospital so I didn't see him. I remember my father brining in a photograph and telling me it was Paul. I think I was glad to be home but what I do remember was my elder brother looking after me like taking me to school and I was scared of the snow because I hadn't been outside for such a long time.
This was of course the very heavy snow of 1947. I remember asking my mother if she thought the boys on the balcony would be allowed into the ward
(No they were not taken indoors. Valerie Brent, a nurse there at the time, remembers filling up their hot water bottles.
She says she had to pull the boys from the bottom of their beds where they were “rolled up like little balls of fire” and expose them to the night air, and yes their beds were heavily covered in snow -Ann)
Nurse Valerie Brent
When you're mature and you're looking back, and you've got your own children, you think if my son Peter or my son Robert was in that position when they were that age, I would be so worried about them being so far from home. I think it’s when you're more mature it then chokes you up more thinking about it. I think we coped quite well in the actual hospital. Certainly I've heard patients say it was awful and they were cruel but I don't remember anyone being cruel to me. There were things I didn't like but there were lots of things I did like and I was running around quite happy and I was no worse off than kids who had been evacuated. In fact I was probably better off than a lot of them.
Certain things are like a hangover from my hospital days. If somebody coughs over you turn away or step back. I still do that now. If somebody ahead of me in a shop is coughing I'll wait.
When I left the hospital, I used to leave the bedroom window open. I don't do it now, it's too cold.
(Roy – I still sleep with the window open even in the depths of a Scottish winter much to my husband’s chagrin- Ann)
Some people ask how I can remember these things because I was only a little kid. I think if I'd been home with my mother and father I wouldn't remember anything from those years unless it was something special or traumatic and I think it was only because I was away from home and I was on my own, I think it stuck in my mind.