Monday, April 25, 2011
Craig-y-nos and Joan Powell
Children on the balcony ( from left to right) Ann in bed on the left with Joan on the right. The girl in the middle is unknown.
Easter Sunday morning and I check my email. Surely not?.....I blink and stare at the name in the header field: Joan Powell.
I read the email with increasing incredulity. It's from Dean, Joan's son. Did I know her? he is trying to find out something of his mother's early history in a Welsh TB hospital. She died 10 years ago. She never talked about her childhood.
Joan and I were in beds next to each other on the balcony. Joan was a plaster patient and I had to lie on my left side. We were the youngest and the most seriously ill.
We became close friends.
My mother died 10 years ago and my father last month but whilst going through some papers I found a postcard from Craig-y-nos.
I mum never said anything about her time there but was she the girl in your photos? She was from just outside Neath.
.....She was born in November 1941so I do not know if that ties in with that girl.
The post card I have shows the hospital and the mountains behind. It is to her mum and aunt ivy at 5 grove lane, pennhiewtynol In Neath.
I know she did have a back operation and was in plaster.
The only photos I have are from when she was 19."
I assure him that it his his mother. He rings his brother, Simon, in Australia.
Within an hour an email comes winging in from half way around the world. n:
"I am the youngest child of Joan Powell (Oldham) and understand that you have been communicating with my brother, Dean.
My mothers life before she met my father has always been a closed book, although I do recall visiting the castle when I was young on the way to a holiday in Pembroke (we always went there despite living in Leicester). Having just seen the first photo of my mother as a child on the internet, it has opened a bit of a window. I was always afraid that my mothers childhood was filled with pain and sadness as she never talked about it (although she did mention that she had a friend called Ann). From the pictures, it looks like she had people around her and some degree of a childhood in a beautiful place.
Sadly, the effects of her childhood illness were a factor in her early passing but not before she had 40 years of happy married life and 2 sons who loved her very much. I do not know how mum was as a child, but as a mother, she was simply the best."
And a second email from Simon adds:
"I think that mum was affected a number of ways by her stay at the sanatorium. She was always very concerned with cleanliness and I know that this came from her being ill and I guess the environment she lived in. She obviously had a big operation and there was a scar running the length of her back (dad told me this and I could only see the bit at the top). Mum was tiny throughout her life and I guess little more than 5 foot tall (I am 6 foot 2 inches). Her loss of natural height caused her problems when her body began its normal shrinking process through age. I remember mum being emotional when we visited the castle. It was a beautiful sunny day and I remember mum saying that it used to belong to an opera singer (did it have a stage?).
When she left, I presume that she went to Leicester to be with her dad, Joseph. Joe had already remarried by this time (also to a lady called Joan) and produced a daughter (Glenys). Glen is still living near to Leicester and, as she has gotten older, is the spitting image."
I ring Dean. He wants to know what I can remember about Joan. I tell him Joan and I were best friends, that she helped me settle for the long haul - four years- in Craig-y-nos, that she went on to have a major operation on her back with a long and difficult recovery time and our ways parted because she was in a different section of Ward 2.
Joan gets a monthly hair wash.
It is just possible that Nurse Glenys Davies will remember Joan and I have promised Dean to contact her.
It makes me sad to think that Joan never talked about her experiences as a child but as I explained to Dean this was the case with the majority of us for it was such a strange world that we lived in, a cross between a boarding school, orphanage and prison for we were incarcerated in a remote Welsh castle for years on end with no contact with the outside world apart from visitors once a month.
How could anyone who had not been through that experience understand what we went through? and would they have been interested anyway ? I doubt it because it would have been so foreign to anything that they would ever have even read about.
So better to say nothing.
Also there was the taboo of TB, the most feared disease in Wales that you only spoke about in hushed whispers as if even talking about it might inflict the white plague on your family.
So I can understand Joan not wanting to talk about her Craig-y-nos experience.