Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thomas Edward Isaac (age 9) - 1928

Thomas Edward Isaac ( centre with a trumpet) at a Christmas party in the Adelina Patti theatre which was also used as a mixed childrens ward.

Ninety year old Thomas Edward Isaac recalls his early days in Craig-y-nos during the late the 1920’s as a nine year old.

How did you find out that you had TB?

It must have been through the doctor. First of all, I was sent to Cimla Hospital and from there to Craig-y-nos, and from Craig-y-nos to Talgarth. I finished up in Talgarth for a couple of years.

How long were you in Craig-y-nos? Was that a couple of years?
Oh yes, I was there for quite a while.

I think the photograph (above) was taken about 1928. I’m in the front row, of course.
I always tell everybody, ‘That’s me there blowing my trumpet.’

It was a mixed ward, boys and girls, and that was in the ballroom.

The only thing that I can remember is that visitors came. Mine didn’t come very often. Of course, they brought sweets.
Sweets and chocolate but no child was allowed to keep that. Whatever their parents brought them, it was all put into a container and every now and again, the staff would come round the container and there’d be so many of these sweets for you and so many pieces of chocolate for you, and that type of thing. That’s about the only thing I can remember.

The lake
I remember looking through some windows at the lake. The nurses had what they called a punt, a little boat, and they used to go there in their off-duty time. Those are about the only things I can remember. I went from there to Talgarth.

How long were you in Talgarth?
For quite a while again, but there the boys were separate from the girls. You had a job to do there. You had Boy Scouts and Cubs there. You had jobs to do in the allotment of the hospital. You were put on a certain job for the week and then you were weighed and examined all over, and if there was any improvement in your body, etc., you’d go on that again to get a bit more fit. That was Talgarth, mind. There was nothing like that in Craig-y-nos.

Doctor at Craig-y-nos
The only thing I can remember at Craig-y-nos is one of the doctors. He had a car which had a dickie seat in the back. You opened the back door and inside was a seat, out in the open. The doctor took one of the girls – don’t ask me which, I can’t remember – and me to Swansea, and we had ice cream. They weren’t going specially for us. They were going to Swansea on business and we had a free ride in the car, me and this little girl, on the dickie seat in the back. I was treated good there.

How often were your parents allowed to come and see you?
They were allowed to come but I was living in Pontycymer. Well, Craig-y-nos is on the way to Brecon. In those days it wasn’t easy to travel about.

Did you have any brothers and sisters?
Yes, we were seven altogether -- three boys and four girls.
Did any of the others have TB?
No, it was only me. I didn’t have TB. I had acute bronchial chest.
And if that wasn’t treated, it could have ended up in TB.

The army
But I didn’t know that until when I was called up to go the Army. I had to go and have a medical and the nurse there, she had all my particulars from when I was in hospital. I told her that I was in the TB hospital, and she told me, ‘You didn’t have TB.’ It was the first I’d heard of that. I always thought as it was a TB hospital, you had TB. I was in there to be treated to stop the TB.
I think some children in the early days had other things apart from tuberculosis. They did have a bad chest or asthma.

What sort of treatment do you remember having?

You weren’t doing any exercises. You were in the ballroom walking about and in bed. The beds were all round the room and some in the middle.

Was your ward in the ballroom?
That was the ward.

Did you have any teachers in Craig-y-nos?
No, none at all.

What about in Talgarth?
At Talgarth yes. There was more of a sort of school there. In Craig-y-nos it was just the staff, who were very, very good as far as I can remember. They treated me alright anyway, and everybody else as far as I remember.

What did you do when you left school?
Well, I was supposed to go and work at the colliery. In Pontycymer there was nothing but mines. My mother was from down my area (now), near Llanelli – Llwynhendy. She was born and bred there and all our relations are down there. She left Llwynhendy. She was in service as a housekeeper for a sergeant in the police. He had promotion and he moved up to the Garw Valley then, Pontycymer, and she went up with him. She met my father there. He died when I was a year old.
In the big ‘flu epidemic.

Oh, 1918 (Spanish influenza of 1918-1919).
That’s right. I was born in 1917. I was a year old when he died.
I was the youngest, yes. We have two left. My sister who is the next (in age) to me. She’s coming on ninety-two and apart from her eyes, she’s quite good, you know. None of the family had TB.

When you left school did you become a collier?
My eldest sister married a miner in Pontycymer. The rest of my family then came down farming … working on a farm with my mother’s relations (at Llwynhendy). Hard work. Slave work to put it lightly, and because you were related they expected you to work for nothing. You worked about twelve hours a day. When I was fourteen, my mother had prepared for me to go the colliery because there was nothing else. They couldn’t afford to keep you at home because things were bad, not only for my part of it but everybody. It was bad (the hungry thirties). My brother came home for a week’s holiday from Llwynhendy to my mother, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come with me for a week’s holiday and then come back and go to the colliery.’ To leave the roughness of the Garw Valley with pits everywhere. I came down to my mother’s relations again and I enjoyed it out on the milk cart every day, delivering milk. I was riding in the cart. They could see that I was enjoying myself and they asked me if I wanted to stop, and stop I did. And I’ve been down here ever since.

So you’ve always worked outdoors?
All six of my family (brothers and sisters) came down to this area to work on the farm. There was nothing else, you see. When you were on the farm you were getting paid so much a week. I wasn’t because I was related. I wasn’t getting any pay for a year, just my keep, and they bought clothes for me, which wasn’t very often. Then I went to another farm, which was totally different. I got paid every week there, five shillings. That was a lot of money to me then, not having any money at all. I worked on the farm for three years, which was good for my health and everything, you see. The money was very small on the farms but you had your keep. You had to find your own clothes but you had your keep and laundry and everything on the farm. My two brothers had left the farming and gone to work in the colliery at Pontarddulais, just outside Swansea. They went to work in the colliery and of course, had two pounds a week then.

I married in 1940. I married a farmer’s daughter, and I lost her fifteen years ago. She died of a heart attack. I’ve been on my own ever since but I’ve got a son and a daughter, and four granddaughters and a grandson. One is up in London, one is in Mumbles and the others live in Penclawdd.

Where is Paula living (Paula Stretch is Mr Isaac’s granddaughter)?
Paula’s in London. In Harpenden.

Were you in the forces during the war?
Because I was working in a reserved occupation (colliery), I wasn’t allowed to go to the war. I still had to go for the medical and then they decided that I wasn’t to go, not because of the TB or anything. I was in that then until the war finished.

You went into the mines during the war?

And then you went back to farming?
No, I went from the mines to work for a local builder, driving a lorry. I drove a lorry for nearly ten years. Then I had the chance of a job with the National Coal Board, on the Mines Rescue. I ended up a deputy manager there. The Mines Rescue Station.

Thomas Edward Isaac was in conversation with Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London.

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