Sunday, November 29, 2009

Norma ( nee Bryant) Neads - 1945

I have just had an email from Simon Neads whose mother, Norma (nee Bryant) was in Craig-y-nos in 1945 for seven months. She was five years of age.

He says:
"My mother was only allowed one visit a month from my grandparents.
My mother had her 5th Birthday at Craig-y-nos. My mother remembers her preacher visiting from Cwmaman (her village). Her bed was placed on the verander with a sun hat and only underwear to have all the fresh air.

My mother also remembers snow on her bed. The staff used to plait her hair with calica. My mother had her tonsils out in hospital, she remembers the bathroom and the big table in the middle of the ward. My mother recently visited on her 70th birthday, and was taken around and saw the ward.
It was very emotional for her."

"The Children of Craig-y-nos"
by Ann Shaw and Carole Reeves is available from Waterstones or online from

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Robert Lindsay, actor- TB as a child

The taboo of silence that used to surround TB crops up in unexpected quarters.

On today’s BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Morning Live programme actor Robert Lindsay says he didn’t know until he was 42 that he had TB as a child.

It was a doctor who looked at his chest x-ray and told him there was a TB scar on his lung.

He asked his father who confirmed it (his mother was already dead.

He said: “It was a disease of the poor, something that was hidden away. My parents never talked about it.”

Yet as a 7 year old he remembers that he spent three months in a sanatorium.

As an actor he “ dumped his background” along with his Derbyshire accent.

But loosing a chunk of his childhood did have consequences. It made him isolated; he likes being on his own.

Well, all those of us who went through the “sanatorium experience” know exactly how he feels.

Book "The Children of Craig-y-nos" by Ann Shaw and Carole Reeves

Dr John Crofton- leading TB specialist

Dr John Crofton, the Edinburgh doctor who perfected the triple-drug regime for TB has just died aged 97 in Edinburgh.

He was given a copy of “The Children of Craig-y-nos” a few months ago by my former colleague Chris Holme , Health correspondent on “The Herald” who knew him personally and had written about his work for many years.

Chris is now Communications manager for the NHS in Scotland.
He hand delivered the book to Dr Crofton one afternoon and he says there was a “scrabble between Dr Crofton and his wife as to who would be the first to read it.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Raymond O'Connor- his story-( final )

Bertha O'Connor with her two children Eileen and Raymond, 1942.

Missing piece of the puzzle
Bertha was to die a few years later in Craig-y-nos where both Raymond and his sister were patients. He remembers living in a "big glass building" but only when he received a copy of "The Children of Craig-y-nos" did he realise that it was the same place his mother had ended her life in.
Following her death he was sent to relatives in Liverpool.

Raymond celebrating his 71st birthday

sister Eileen

Raymond continues the final part of his story: Act of kindness
Many months passed before my sister Eileen joined me and I remember it was Christmas time. The war was still on and the food I was given was next to nothing as I was always hungry, mostly bread. The only person who showed any kindness was the next-door neighbour Mrs. Quinn who ran a grocers shop, she gave each child an apple, orange and a stocking with chocolates.

Thrown scraps of food
I must not forget the workmen who worked at Camellaird shipyard who on their way home. They used to give me their leftover sandwiches, which I shared with my sister and stepsisters. This was the pattern of life to follow for my sister Eileen and myself for our main source of food was going through the bins.

Moving house
The next thing that happened was my father was demobbed as he came home and told us we were moving into a new house, 71 St.Paul's Road next door to William's paper shop and opposite Cissy Walker's. Shortly after this, Christina my half sister was born. She was not to know then but she had a
great deal of misfortune ahead of her. She was neither a Walker nor an O'Connor and totally deprived of love all her life yet she admired and worshipped me as her big brother.
This I found out at Clatterbridge hospital, Cheshire shortly before she died of cancer at the age of 50.

Beatings doubled
My father started work at the shipyard, the only thing that altered for Eileen and myself was we got 2 beatings instead of one because after Kitty Walker had told him what we had or not done we got another hiding off him.
It was round about this time that I had a strange experience, during the night I was disturbed by a lady who stood at the end of my bed beckoning to me and when she left the room I ran down the stairs, woke my fathe and told him of the incident. As you can imagine this was not a wise thing to do, he dismissed me and told me to go to bed and not to be so stupid. I slept on the staircase for the rest of the night, as I was frightened.

Traumatised and stammering

The food situation never improved as we never ever had breakfast, went to school hungry and had only bread
when we got back. Things improved when we were given supplemented food and free milk at school. I was so traumatised, that I began to stammer and was sent to a school in Well Lane for special therapy after school
hours and was still under observation of Doctor Foster a specialist in TB, his surgery was in Hamilton Square,
Birkenhead. I had to go every 6 months for a check up and I wondered why my sister never went.

Sent to convalescence
It was during one of these visits that the doctor found it necessary to send me to convalescence in Southport for three months. When I was about 11 years old the schoolteacher called Mrs. Allroyd at Ionic School took pity on me and gave me a pair of leather boots, which were studded on the heel, and toe and I shall never forget this act of kindness.

Flea infested home
What does puzzle me is why nobody ever took any action against the conditions and the cruelty that prevailed in this house that we lived in. The beds, bedding and the walls of the house were infested with fleas, we were bitten from top to bottom and we were covered with scars from the belt, shoe and bamboo cane beatings. Kitty Walker used the steel brush to beat Eileen over her head whilst she brushed her hair.

Childhood games
It was not all gloom and doom. Like all children you always find time to play and enjoy yourself, as adversity is not a thing you think about. The bombed houses became a playground a place for hiding and full of adventure as I had a vivid imagination. The local pub was a focal point for all the characters that lived in the district. At the weekend it was a hive of activity and as children we used to watch the grownups singing and dancing in the parlour. There was a passageway between the parlour and the snug where all the old ladies gathered to gossip and men played darts and stood by the bar drinking. We used to do pretend boxing outside the pub as the drunks came out and threw pennies at us in the middle of the road as there were no cars about in them days. In the weekdays it was quiet except for the snug where the old ladies had their heads together gossiping.

Earned pocket money running to bookies
There was Cissy Walker head of the pack with Mrs.Shields, Mrs.Laverne, Mrs.Hughes and a few others who were my source of income as I was running messages for them by placing bets at the illegal bookies and collecting any winnings. When they did win their bets, they gave me some extra money.

Suits to pawnshop on Monday …back on Friday
They also sent me to the pawnshop, one was on St.Paul's Road and the other was on Old Chester Road near Green Lane. I took bundles of bedding and their husbands suits and shoes on a Monday and fetched them back out on Friday morning so their husbands could use them at the weekend. I don't think the men were aware of this.

The prize panda that came to life
It was near Christmas time they had raffles and the prizes were hampers of food. One of the times the prize was a great big Panda and guess who won it, 'KITTY WALKER’ She was not going to to give it to any of the children and they discussed re-raffling it to make money for themselves. So on the following Saturday while they were at the pub I opened the panda and took all the filling out, asked my sister Eileen to get in and stitched it up. You can imagine the shock on Kitty
Walker and my dad's face when they returned home drunk to see the panda running around, I knew what to expect so I ran away when I heard them say 'what has he done this time’.

Running away from home

All the time I lived with this family, I tried running away at every opportunity, as I wanted to go back to my family in Wales. I took a plan of action when I found out that two boys who broke into a corner shop were sent to work on a farm in Wales as punishment. They told me tales of how they looked after animals on the farm, so at every opportunity I used to break into shops, play truant in the hope of being arrested and sent to Wales.

Confessed to crimes that I didn’t do in hope of being sent away
Finally, on one of my excursions I stole my fathers cycle and cycled through Chester to Wales. I got as far as Conway Castle before the police who wished to know where I was going arrested me. I was taken back to Well Lane police station where I was interrogated by the CID, I told them everything I had done and when they asked me to look at the book which contained all the crimes, committed in that area, I admitted to most of them hoping they would send me away even though I had not
done them.

Sent to approved school
The consequence of this action was that I ended up in court and sentenced to approved
school. Before they sent me away the social worker visited me in my cell and said that I had a choice as they could intervene on my behalf if I wished. They gave a choice, did I want to go away or go home to which I
replied 'I want to go away' as this was my plan all the time, to get away from the house of horrors.
I was sent to St.Thomas Moores in Southport.

First job as coffin maker
I was released at the age of 15 and returned to 71 St.Paul's Road, Rockferry but things had not changed. I was given my first job by the social worker as a coffin maker and when I received my wages at the end of the week, I was told by my father to hand over the wages to Kitty Walker.

The meal situation was no different as Kitty Walker was playing the black market with the ration coupons as she had always done and when I finished work and sat down in the chair I was told, why don't you go out, you are always under my feet and when I did go out it was always, 'where have you been, don’t you know what time to come in'.

Leave home
Finally we had a bust up as I said, 'how can I go out if you take all my wages?”
Kitty Walker said, 'you have to pay for all your food and all the family allowance I lost while you were at the approved school'. I told her I was leaving and never coming back. She told me to tell my father when he came home which I did and he said, 'you've made your bed, now lie in it, as it is a big world out there and you will
be sorry'.

The happiest day of my life is when I left 71 St.Paul's Road never to return.”

Raymond is married with three children and two grandchildren.

He lives with his wife in Gainsborough with their eldest son and is kept busy doing maintenance, decoration and repair work for all his family.

"The Children of Craig-y-nos" by Ann Shaw and Carole Reeves available from Waterstones or online from

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Raymond O'Connor- his story-( contin)

Raymond with his father Chris O'Connor and mother Bertha taken in 1939.

After leaving Craig-y-nos, where his mother died, his ordeal was about to begin for he was sent to relatives in Liverpool.
Raymond's story is so heart-rendering that I am running it in full. It's like a Welsh version of "Angela's Ashes".
This is the second part:

"The next memory I have is that someone went to a great expense to kit me out in brand new clothes, grey jacket and trousers, collar and tie, a peak cap, socks that came up to my knees with a pattern on the top, brand new shoes and mackintosh. I can remember travelling to the railway station in a horse and cart and the gentleman with a top hat handed me over to the porter along with a letter of instructions of my destination. I can remember changing stations at Crewe and being put on another train to Chester.

On my journey from Crewe to Chester I recollect a lady telling me to take off my mackintosh as it was very warm in the coach. I remember having to wait in Chester in the porter's room where they gave me a big mug of tea and biscuits. After some time I was put on a train to Rockferry, Birkenhead.

I was met by a man and a woman there who took me to a house in St.Paul's Road, Rockferry.

Craig-y-nos Castle

If anybody thought of 'Craig-y-nos' as a bad place to live in, what was about to take place is like a horror movie.

I was introduced to my new family as they put it, the lady who picked me up at the railway station, told me that she was my new mother and the place where I was to live was a one room flat and the 2 girls that were there were my sisters. Catherine who was the eldest and Beryl. I was told to put my bags down and come to meet the new family .

We walked up the street for 300 yards all the houses we passed were derelict and bombed, to a row of houses that were three storeys high with a cellar.

Opposite there was a pub called The Railway Hotel. We went into the first house that we came to, down the steps into a cellar.
Inside, was a crinkly old man in the corner and his wife sat opposite and about 5 children of different ages.

The mother and father of my new mother were introduced to me as Cissy and Hughie Walker. The horror was about to begin as I was told to take off all my new clothes and to put on the rags that they gave me.

The shoes had holes in the soles with piece of cardboard to keep out the water. ' These new clothes will be kept for Sunday only' were the harsh words of Kitty Walker, needless to say, I never saw them ever again.

My reaction was one of horror as I ran out of the house down the street straight across the main road where I was brought to a final halt by being covered with black mud and water as I had reached the muddy shores of Rockferry muddy beach.

I was retrieved by two of Kitty Walker's brothers Sammy and Gerald who dragged me back to the big house, stood me in the backyard and hosed me down with cold water.

What an introduction to my new family on the first day!

(to be continued)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Raymond O'Connor- Lincolnshire

Raymond's 71st birthday party

This is Raymond O'Connor personal account of how TB affected his life.

He decided to write his story after a relative sent him a copy of "The Children of Craig-y-nos" as a 71st birthday present.

Not only did it trigger off many childhood memories but it provided the answers to questions he had been asking all his life.

Today he is married with three children and lives in Gainsborough.
He says:" I am kept quite busy doing the maintenance, decoration and repair for all my children.

My story is about Tuberculosis and how it took control and shaped the destiny of my family.

It all started with the death of my grandmother Margaret Ann Davies formerly Williams. Her father was a coachman who had the public house called the 'Bull's Head' in Brecon.

It was at the time of the farmers market where she met Dan Isaac Davies whom she later married. This was normal practice at the time, for all the local farmers to visit Brecon to sell their wares. Margaret eventually settled down in Forestfach on a farm called Glanyrafon, a farm with a mill attached. Dan Davies also worked down the pit following his family tradition as his dad
William Davies better known as Wil Sar ran the farm at Pontalasau, Morriston called Maeseglwys.

He also worked down the pit, made coffins and buried the dead as he was a joiner and also had time to practice country medicine. He originally came from Llanderbie where the family is well

Craig-y-nos- view of the Glass Conservatory and balconies

My grandparents had four children called Ifor, John William, my mother Bertha Kathlyn Mary and Margaret. The fourth child Margaret Davies, born February 29th 1920 and died March 12th 1920 due to complications in birth and tuberculosis.

Grandmother Margaret died Dec 14th 1920 at Cyrola Sanatorium, Neath. Two years later, Dan Isaac died Sept 6th 1922 due to an accident down the pit where he was crushed between two trams, leaving three children as orphans so they were taken under the wings of the formidable Aunty Annie. She lived on a small holding called 'Tredigarfach' on the road that leads to Felindre, until British Steel built the steelworks in its place. She raised all the children that were orphaned from the Davies family as there were others besides my mother and her two brothers.

Fate decided to strike once more as young Ifor was killed in a motorbike accident in Llangyfellach at the age of fifteen. My mother and her brother William continued to live on the farm until my mother had to go into service to supplement the income of the farm. It was during this time that she met my father Chris O'Connor who was home on leave from the army. He was in the Kings own regiment at Brecon.

It was during their courtship that my mother asked aunty Annie permission to marry even though she was 21. The answer was 'No' the reason being that Chris O'Connor was an Irish Catholic. However, this did not deter her as she married him anyway but the Davies family ostracised her. She lived with my father's mother at 31 St.Georges Terrace now known as Hannover Street where i was born on 1st October 1938. My father was still in the army at the time. Two years later my sister Eileen was born. It would appear my mother was asked to leave as there were too many people at the house. My sister was actually born in Page Street in Nov 20, 1940.

At this time my father was away in the war in Africa so she was like a single parent struggling to raise 2 young children on her own. It must have been an awful time for her as she was forced to accept lodgings at her sister-in-laws in Richards Place behind the police station in Swansea. I have fond memories when I lived there as all the children slept in one bed, 3 at the top and 3 at the bottom.

I remember being snug as a bug with the welsh multi-coloured blanket on us. I know I was a handful for my mother as I remember running around the streets whilst the air raid was on, talkingto the ladies on the search lights while everyone else were taking cover in the shelters.

Now as I reflect at the age of 71, it is strange how something's are very vivid in my memory whilst other things are obscure.

It was when I received the book 'The Children of Craigynos' from my second cousin Hilary Thomas as a gift on my 71st birthday, some of the things in the book had answered the dreams I've been having for years and still have these dreams now.

The Glass Conservatory - babies ward

Most strange dream is about the house with many glass windows in and being tied down to the bed and travelling down a corridor on a trolley with lights passing overhead. Another one of my dreams was about horses and the blacksmith working, shoeing horses and quenching the iron shoe in a water barrel at the side of the door. The next one was, rolling down the hill which was full of nettles and wild flowers. Being locked in the cupboard under the stairs.

Now as I try to remember Craigynos it is a complete blank. Maybe I shut out the memories because of the death of my mother as she died a day before my 5th birthday.

I try to ascertain as to when my mother, sister and myself arrived at Craigynos and I can only do this by the last photograph that was taken in Swansea in July 1942 so, this leaves 13 months from the photograph to the time of her death in Sept. 30th 1943.

I do know that I was released before my sister and looked after by my aunt Molly. She was the one who gave me the photographs in 1990 at the re-union of the family arranged by me but that's another story.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Budgies and memories- Frances Purcell 1953-54

Ann with Bubbles

Memory is a curious thing ...

Take the case of my budgies, Bubble and Squeak ( named by Dr Huppert!). The other day I spoke to Frances Heenan ( nee Purcell). We were both children in Ward 2 together yet neither of us remembers the other.
Except the budgies.

I tell her the budgies were mine. She is surprised. She says after I left it was her responsibility to look after them though she assures me that there was only one not two.

Anyway one day she didn't tie the string properly on the cage door .

And Bubbles flew away.

Frances apologises, half a century later, for the mishap.

" I am so sorry."

I am lost for words. I never ever expected to meet someone, even if only over the phone, who not only remembered my budgies but had actually been put in charge of them.