Tuesday, September 16, 2008
May Bennett ( nee Snell)- 1955-1956
By the time May Snell, age 13, entered Craig-y-nos in November 1955 the strict sanatorium regime had become more humane , with for example visiting changed from monthly to weekly, due to the successful introduction of antibiotics.
TB was no longer the killer disease though going to Craig-y-nos still aroused fear in peoples minds. Some people still thought:"If you went there you never came out again."
“Dr Huppert came in one Saturday morning and said, ‘From now on, you’ve all got visiting every weekend.’
But we weren’t sure that our parents would get the message in time for the present weekend. There was a lady in ward 4 engaged to a man from Penclawdd, so I wrote a letter to my parents and asked Nurse Glen if she’d give it to them.
I wrote, ‘Dear Mum and Dad, visiting every weekend starting from today. If you can, come up tomorrow, just jump on the bus.’ I was still in bed then. I remember on the Sunday, the girls by the window used to watch the buses coming up and wait for the Swansea bus to come.
On that Sunday, they said, ‘Here’s the Swansea bus coming!’ One said to me, ‘May, your dad’s there. He’s hanging on the pole and waving!’ My aunt and uncle came as well because Nurse Meikel had told them.
First impression of Craig-y-nos
“I remember looking up at Craig-y-nos Castle and saying to my mother, ‘Are we in the right place? This is a jail!’ -- because of all the bars on the windows. It was a bit of a culture shock.” ( the bars have been removed from the windows because Craig-y-nos Castle is now a hotel )
Despite being put initially on strict bed rest she quickly adapted to the teenage culture inside Ward 2.
’ Some of the girls like Christine Bennett had been there four years, I was lucky really. I was only there for a year but when they’re telling you these things, you think, ‘Oh gosh.’ It was like being in another world. You were in a world of your own, you realised then. You were a bit upset to start with to think you’re not going to see your parents, but you get used to it.”
The visiting tortoise:
“ Astrid’s mum brought a tortoise for her to see one Saturday and my uncle, who was visiting that weekend wrote it up for the local paper.
It said ‘George, the tortoise comes to visit’. It was quite a big piece, a nice piece, and put the hospital in a good light, nothing nasty.
Well, the following week, Dr Huppert walked into the ward demanding to know who had done it.
She really went on the rampage. She’d said, ‘Nobody’s going to have visitors until we know.
‘Well,” I said “ I think it’s my uncle that’s done this.’
He had to go and see her the next weekend he came and she wasn’t very nice, she wasn’t very pleased about the tortoise coming in.
Dr Huppert inspired fear not only among the children but their parents too.
“I think all the mothers were terrified of her.
I’ve seen many of them come out in tears. Terrible. I remember once, my hip played me up at one time because I’d had displacement of the hip when I was five, and I was in plaster for a year all down my left leg and up to my chest. Well, they must have given me an X-ray, so she called my mother in to see her and she said, ‘You’re a funny woman, you’re a funny mother because you didn’t tell me about this.’ Well, my mother didn’t. She gave her a list of all my illnesses but that was something she’d forgotten.”
Dr Huppert was also a tough disciplinarian. If she heard children talking after lights out“your bed would be pulled out into the middle of the ward next day as punishment.”
But May has fond memories of the nurses:” They were lovely. You had Nurse Glenys Davies and Auntie Mag – Maggie Williams – she was lovely. And Nurse Mair Williams. I remember her doing the Can-Can.”
The only food she can remembers are the burnt sausages, porridge, semonlia and tapioca.
Once a month an aunt would send a little food parcel
“ sweets, a packet of cream crackers, farm butter and a knife.“
Every Saturday my mum would bring me a fish from Belli’s fish and chip shop Swansea it’s not there now, and pickles because I loved pickled vinegar.”
May had visitors every weekend, unlike some of the children.
“Perhaps their parents were too far away or whatever. Well, you shared your visitors. My mum and dad would go and speak to the others, so really I suppose, we were like one big family because I remember Christine’s gran, Mrs Bennett, she was a character. Two of the girls got confirmed there, in the Madame Patti theatre.
The teachers, Miss Thomas and Miss White
Schooling, recalls May, was minimal.
I came from Gowerton Grammar school. They didn’t have all the books in Craig-y-nos. Miss White was the teacher. You didn’t really have lessons like you should. I remember children in maths saying, ‘Can you show me how to do this?’ She’d be the whole lesson doing this. The others then, they didn’t care if they didn’t do anything.
On a Thursday afternoon, we used to have Miss Thomas with music. I remember ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ and ‘Oh for the wings of a dove.”
“I didn’t go back to grammar school. When I went home the following year, the doctor in Grove Place (TB clinic) said, ‘There is no way you can go back to grammar school because it would be too stressful.’ I would have such a lot to catch up on that I wouldn’t be able to do it and I had to be careful. When you come out of a TB hospital, you’ve got to watch and go to bed by certain times and all that. So, I went to Gorseinon Technical College to do a commercial course for two years. I became a shorthand typist.
Like so many other girls May found it a strange experience going back home especially to a small terraced house after the high celings and vast rooms in the castle”
“You really felt as if the ceiling was going to come in on you. Also you
. did miss the company. You missed the routine.
I’d only been away a year but that year felt like ten. You really did feel as if you were on another planet. You were in a different world.
You were allowed to go out into the grounds but only to certain places..
I remember the Ystalyfera Band. I’ve got a photograph of the Band down in the grounds.
We weren’t allowed to go upstairs to the little ones and neither were we allowed to go into the six-bedder.”
Despite this strict segregation some friendships did form.
You used to go down for X-rays every so often and I remember going there once and Mary Cullen from Swansea was there, so we were speaking. She said, ‘Oh, well, I’m next door to you in six-bedder.’ They weren’t allowed to come in to our ward really, and we weren’t allowed to go in there. Of course, they were older and they had visitors every week.
Mary started sending me then some little cakes and things in from the weekend, with a little note saying, ‘From your X-ray pal, Mary.’ I’ve got a photograph of Mary that she gave me and she’s got on the back, ‘From your X-ray pal.”
Like a number of other teenagers around this time May learnt sign language from Joan Nicesro, the deaf and dumb girl. “Her mum lived in a trailer in one of the fields in Gower. She was a traveller’s child.”
May used to put fruit in her pocket for the weekly weigh-in:
“I was very light and Dr Huppert said, ‘Oh, you can’t go home. You’ve got to put weight on.’ I So I put fruit in the pockets of my dressing gown.
But they sussed that out. ‘We don’t think you’re that heavy. Let’s have a look.’
“Years ago they would say: ‘You go to Craig-y-nos and you don’t come out.’ I was there in the 50s in the streptomycin era so it was bed-rest and strep.
There was a lot of camaraderie in the ward once you got to know everyone. It was a bit strange to start with because it was quite a big ward and you had people on the balcony as well but you soon got to know them. I think we were all good friends really. There used to be Girl Guides.
you made your own entertainment. You’d sing.
Life after Craig-y-nos
I’m sixty-five now. I’ve got a son of forty-four and a daughter forty-three and four grandchildren.
I did ask, before we got married to see whether everything would be alright to have children and they said, ‘Yes, it’s fine.’
I can’t say that Craig-y-nos harmed my life. I suppose I was one of the lucky ones because I only had a shadow on the lung and it did clear up with the bed-rest and antibiotics.
On going home
I remember leaving a lot of stuff behind, and what I did bring home was fumigated.
You just accepted your way of life there because you didn’t know anything else. You were in a place that wasn’t home but you had to make it home.
You’ve got your sad memories but on the whole, it was a happy time.
When you think of it, it was a beautiful place to be in. It was just that when you went there, the first impression was the bars on the windows.
If it wasn’t for Dr Huppert, it would have been like paradise!”