Friday, April 18, 2008
Agnes Holden - Craig-y-nos 1941-1942 (died)
Agnes Holden sent this birthday card to her daughter , Ruth, while in Craig-y-nos
“It was like a foreign country” -
Octogenarian Ruth Greenow contacted me. She wanted to share memories of her mother who died in Craig-y-nos in August 1942, and even today she still feels troubled by recollections of that cold, bleak, castle where her mother ended her days surrounded by people who spoke a language she didn't understand while at the same time subjected to the strict sanatorium regime.
Agnes Holden with her husband
For her mother came from a farm near Glasbury, Hay-on-Wye and she had never travelled any distance except to Hereford to the market and once she went to Devon and she saw the sea.
So it was that I called in to see Ruth Greenow in Llowes, near Hay-on-Wye. After providing me with a delicious selection of home baked cakes and tea this sprightly 86 year old produced a box of her mother’s Craig-y-nos memorabilia including postcards, autograph album and photos.
“I was 20 when my mother went into Craig-y-nos in 1941. The doctor in Hay had been treating her for gallstones and she had TB of the spine.
We asked how long she would be in hospital and were told at least one year.
We had a car so we drove to Craig-y-nos.”
She remembers that long journey over the Brecon Beacons, across mountains, which seemed to go on forever until they came to the castle.
They little knew what lay ahead of them. As well as the trauma of being diagnosed with TB at a time when the disease was incurable and diagnosis was often a death sentence, she was taken from the countryside, which she knew and loved and placed in an environment that was totally alien to her.
“It was like a foreign country,” said Ruth.
“Mother had to lie flat on her back, complete bed rest. She was in Adelina Patti’s bedroom. The staff and patients would talk in Welsh and ignore her. She would lie there not understanding a word that was said.
The Matron, a tall, thin woman, was not nice to my mother, but to me she would appear to be pleasant.
I remember that.
I used to visit every Sunday, weather permitting. I found it very depressing, not a welcoming place at all. Mother was very unhappy there though she never complained. But I could tell.
“I had the shivers every time I went there. I felt terrible. The atmosphere was awful.”
“It was so dark and gloomy.”
I used to hate going there.”
Amongst her mother’s treasured memorabilia Ruth still has her mother’s autograph album. It contains a number of poignant entries.
Here’s one reference to World War 2:
There’s even one entry from Nurse Davies (would this be the Nurse Glenys Davies? we have no way of knowing)
It contains a lock of brown hair carefully held in place by a pin.
“You asked me for something original
Something right out of my head
But as I have nothing inside it
I’d give you something outside instead.
Another entry expresses hope:
“Now the golden sun is setting
And the earth no more be trod
May your name in gold be written
In the autograph of God.”
A speedy recovery
Sadly, Agnes died shortly afterwards.
The undertaker brought her home, over the Brecon Beacons again, in a trailer shaped like a coffin.
At her funeral the minister described her as
as one of “nature’s ladies”.