GOING INTO HOSPITAL IN THE 1940s
How things have changed since 1948 when I was nine years old, the National Health Service was born that year, it being the brain child of Aneurin Bevan, who was the Health Minister at that time. Free medicines, dental treatment in fact anything to do with health became available, without costing people one penny. It became quite fashionable for people to have their natural teeth extracted and become the proud possessors of a gleaming set of false teeth. The slogan was Health Care from the Cradle to the Grave, it was a wonderful concept but as time was to prove in later years, it wasnt practical. The cost of new techniques, for example heart by-pass operations, heart and lung, liver transplants were unheard of until many years later, all being very expensive treatments, the costs running into thousands of pounds.
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I woke up on the 9 December 1948, feeling absolutely terrible, I could hardly talk, my throat was hurting so much that I could not swallow, my mum was horrified when she looked at my skinny body and spotted an ugly red rash. It was a terrible time for her because my baby brother John, who was twenty one months old at the time, was suffering from a bad bout of bronchitis, the family doctor had been to visit him only the day before and she was worried to death about him.
She asked a neighbour to sit in with us, whilst she went to the public telephone to once again call out Dr. Crowther, whose surgery was at Huddersfield Road, Barnsley, this, was quite a distance from Burton Grange where we were lived
Towards the middle of the afternoon, Dr. Crowther came bustling into our house, made me open my mouth as wide as it would go, looked at my spots, which were in my throat, these spots had multiplied rapidly from the morning. I can remember my horror when he turned to my mum and said Scarlet Fever, Mary must go to Kendray Hospital without any delay, this was an Isolation Hospital. Scarlet Fever had to be reported to the towns Medical Officer of Health, in those days, as the long term effects could be very serious. It wasnt long after the doctor had gone, before an ambulance turned up, our back door opened and in came a nurse, I can still picture her, with the long white headdresses they wore and she was warmly wrapped on a navy blue cloak, under which was her uniform. Fortunately my mum recognised her as an old friend from years gone by and this made her feel better at my being spirited away.
The last glimpse I got before being wrapped in a blanket and put on a stretcher, was my mum rocking my little brother who was still quite ill.
Dad had been at work whilst all this drama was being played out, he arrived home, shortly before the ambulance arrived, he just stood there looking utterly bewildered. There was no question of either of them accompanying me to the hospital it just was not done in those days.
I felt as if I was being kidnapped, I was determined not to cry, this resolve evaporated as I reached the hospital, and I did burst into tears.
Visitors were strictly forbidden, for fear of the infection being spread, so the next time I saw my mum and dad was on Christmas Day, sixteen days later. It seemed an eternity to me, and I must admit that I did cry quite a lot during that miserable time, things seemed brighter when we (all the children in the ward) were asked to make decorations for Christmas. I did know that I would not be home for Christmas, but in a burst of Seasonal Goodwill, Matron decided that parents could visit their children on Christmas Day. I was so excited at the prospect of seeing them again, that excitement soon turned to despair when one of the children on the ward came down with Chicken Pox, which meant that again there would be no access to parents. Another bout of tears, but this time I wasnt alone in my misery, all the other children were just as upset as I was.
My grandma lived quite near Kendray Hospital and it was arranged that she would look after my little brother, who by this time had recovered, whilst my mum and dad visited me. Somehow my mum and dad found the ward where I was, no one had stopped them, and they often told the tale of seeing me running towards them, spindly legs uncovered by an extremely short hospital nightie. I was shouting at them, that they could not come in, by this time a nurse appeared and ushered them out, explaining what the problem was. Luckily I was on the ground floor of the hospital and for four solid hours my mum and dad stayed at the window, talking to me, I think that their feet must have joined forces with the ground they stood upon, it was so cold.
I did have a few Christmas presents in hospital, one of them was a book called What Katy Did, I still have that book, in which my mother had written, a present for a good little girl. I must admit that I did not feel such a good little girl, when they finally left, naturally there were tears again. One poor little girl who was in the next bed to mine, was so much worse off, than me, her mother had turned up and upon finding out that she could not come into the hospital, immediately went straight back home.
I was allowed home on New Years Eve, 1948, I can remember the ambulance taking the nearest patients home first, I seemed to be in that ambulance for hours. I was so excited at the thought of going home, and seeing my mum, dad and baby brother, I nearly gave myself another fever.
My first thought when I saw John, was how much he had grown in the three weeks I had been away, as for me, my legs were so thin that I looked as if I had tossed up with a sparrow for legs and lost. I still had some Christmas presents to open and I was thrilled to bits when I was given a book about the then Princess Elizabeth, called Queen of Tomorrow. Princess Elizabeth had given birth to Prince Charles just before I went in to hospital and my mum had saved all the photographs which had appeared in the newspaper. More exciting that these, was the fact that on Christmas Eve, my Auntie Annie had given birth to a new little cousin, called Philip, who I could cuddle and spoil.
It took me quite a while before I was strong enough to go back to school, thankfully, Scarlet Fever is very rare these days, even if it does rear its ugly head, the modern medicines soon give it short shrift and send it packing.
GOING TO THE HIGH SCHOOL.
I can remember so clearly the day that the later came to notify my mum and dad that I had passed my 11+, no one was more astonished than I was, I had taken the exam in two parts in March 1950. I was ten and half years old, the letter said that I would start school on the 30 August, this is the only time I can remember a school starting the Autumn term before September. I was very excited, not only had I passed my 11+, even better than that, we were due to have a new baby in September and I was thrilled to bits about that too.
I am digressing here, but I remember my mum telling me that we were to have a new baby, and I burst into tears, not because of the baby, but when my brother was born, I did not see my mum for two weeks, and I was scared that it was going to happen again. I was re-assured when I was told that she would not be going to hospital to collect the baby, but would be brought by the doctor. It is hard to credit in these enlightened times that I believed that, in fact, the explanation which I was given as to where babies come from was so bizarre when I think about it now.
Mum told me that you went to hospital, and went into a special room and there were hundreds of little dots in the air, you picked a dot and when it grew into a baby it became ours. My kids fall about laughing when I mention this.
Anyway, my baby sister was born on the 5 September 1950 and by that time I had been at the High School for just one week. I was lucky or rather my mum and dad were, that my Auntie Lottie made all my school uniform for me. The shop, which sold the school uniform was Butterfields & Masseys, one of the posh shops in Barnsley, with prices to match. I must say that mine was one of the smartest, my Auntie was a superb seamstress, there were two items which had to be bought, the beret and the blazer.
The first morning arrived, I hadnt slept very well the night before, a mixture of fear, excitement and anticipation. I had arranged to meet my friend Pam at the bottom of Lund Lane, Burton Grange, to go for the bus, in fact in winter it was two bus rides. One, into Barnsley bus station and then another to the High School, which was situated on Huddersfield Road. We were both very young eleven year olds, but it never occurred to us, or our mums that we should do any other, than go to school unsupervised.
The High School seemed huge and I soon realised that we were little tiddlers in a very big pond, we assembled in the hall, which was a beautiful room. It was panelled entirely in oak and there were plaques on the wall, engraved with the names of those girls who had won a place at University, and those of the previous Head Girls. Miss Baldwin was the headmistress, she stood on the stage and welcomed us to the school, and told us which form we would be in. I was quite upset to find that Pam and I had been split up. There I was, eleven years old, surrounded by strangers, wishing that I could have been anywhere but in that school.
My first from teacher was Mrs Whitehead, I was very surprised to learn that she would not be our teacher for all of the subjects. She taught maths, and the only time we saw her, was when she did the morning register and to teach us maths. We were given a list of the dos and donts, and it seemed to me that the donts list far exceeded the dos list.
For instance we were not allowed to take oranges to school, because of the lingering smell, we had to change into indoor shoes, before we could set foot outside the cloakroom. Eating in the street was absolutely forbidden, as were, walking more than two abreast, outside, our berets had to be worn at all times, coming and going to school. The sheer size of the building half scared me to death, it had a pleasant musty old smell about it, I thought that I would never find my way around. We had to walk sedately (hard one for me) in single file down the corridors, no talking and definitely no running.
That first day, at the High School seemed to last forever, I hated it.
There were so many things to remember and rules to follow, my first gaffe happened on that first day. Naturally, we had to have school dinners there would not have been time to go home, maybe, if there I had, I would never have gone back. We had to buy dinner tickets, which were sold by the school secretary, Mrs. Asquith, she sat at a desk located in a corridor, on the top floor, our day for buying these tickets was a Wednesday, (a fact I learned to my cost) I bought three, to last me until the end of the week. Phew, I was in trouble for that, the following Monday morning, I over heard some of the girls talking and I realised I should have bought five to carry me over to the following Wednesday. I nearly wet myself, when I had to go to THE OFFICE and ask if I could buy two more of these darned dinner tickets, to make matters worse, the Headmistress was in the office too and she gave me a good ticking off, for causing extra work. That day seemed the longest day of my short life, and I could not wait for quarter to four arrive, when we were released. Naturally, when I arrived home my mum and dad wanted to know how I had got on, and asked if I was going to like the school, so I told a whopper and said that it was lovely. (fingers crossed behind my back).
I dreaded the next morning arriving, but I was to go through more turmoil the following week.
Remember, Remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason, why gunpowder and
Treason, should ever be forgot
This rhyme usually, started to be sung from the middle of October onwards, when we were children. It was the beginning of the build-up to the most exciting day of the year, apart from Christmas. Bonfire night was to commemorate the attempt of blowing up the Houses of Parliament by Guy Fawkes and his supporters, in the 1600s, fortunately, as we all know, this plot was foiled, but for some reason it has never been forgotten.
I used to love Bonfire Night, during the war years it was banned, because of the blackout, it would not have done for thousands of Bonfires to guide Hitlers bombers, in their task to eliminate us from the face of the earth.
There was a great deal of rivalry amongst we children, we had to decide which gang we supported, and the word gang was used in fairly friendly way. The half term break at school was usually the last week of October, and we used to moan, that it should have been a week later then we could have gone to bed later on Bonfire Night. I dont think our mothers agreed with this sentiment, I cant think why.!!!!!!!
Our first task was to scavenge as much wood as possible, and a team of us would go bunny wooding, old branches which had fallen from trees, were our main source of fuel. We would look for empty wooden crates, which, strictly speaking werent ours to take, I suspect that Dugdales Brewery, situated at the top of Westgate, Barnsley used more crates than normal in the run up to Bonfire Night. All the wood would be carefully transported by sweaty, scruffy kids, dragging it to our Bonfire Site, which was a piece of spare land at the bottom of Churchfield Terrace. This site had the advantage of being far enough from the terrace houses not to cause any damage, yet near enough to be carefully guarded.
Raids would take place from rival gangs to try pinch our bunny wood, and we too were guilty of raiding, it was all good fun.
As the pile of wood mounted, there was the question of an effigy of Guy Fawkes being made, we would beg, steal or borrow from our parents, to dress this monstrosity. It was the time for clearing out old clothes, in which to dress the Guy, I must say that there was precious little to be had, as clothing was still rationed and mens clothes were not discarded until they were so threadbare that you could practically see through the material. We always given something, so that Guy would not have the indignity of being burned in the buff (nude). The clothes would stuffed with newspaper and someone would draw a face in the form of a mask, and the said Guy would leer at us. The finishing touch would be an old trilby hat, if we were lucky. I must admit at times I was scared of these effigies, I had the feeling that one day I would be attacked by one. We would put the dummy on a wheel barrow, pushing it round the streets of Barnsley, shouting Penny for the Guy, it did not occur to us that this was another form of begging. The few coppers we were given helped buy fireworks, which were very scarce and hard to come by.
As the fifth of November drew closer and closer, the excitement reached fever pitch, our mothers would make Bonfire toffee, using some of their precious provisions, nothing ever tasted quite so good as homemade toffee. Large potatoes would be saved, these would be put on the edge of the fire to roast, these too were delicious, it mattered not, that one half of the potato was raw and the other side burned to a crisp, it was all part of the fun. The fifth of November was the longest day of the year as far as we were concerned, we would drive our parents mad by continually checking the time, and waiting for darkness to fall. At last the time would come, to light the fire and we would gather round, whilst one of the men of the family would come running out of his house, carrying a beacon of lit newspaper, to we children, it was as awe inspiring as the Olympic Torch.
Men, women and children, old and young would be in such a state of anticipation that we could scarcely breathe with the excitement of it all.
A great cheer would go up, when the bunny wood caught fire, and we would be dancing about with glee.
One year, we were given an old armchair to burn, and for a while I sat in this chair, I would be about thirteen years old, and my little brother and sister would be about six and three years old respectively, the time came to burn the Guy, so he was put into the armchair and thrown on to the fire. Suddenly there were piercing screams and everyone thought that one of the children had had an accident and been burned, it turned out to be my little brother John, who having seen me sitting in the chair earlier, thought that I had been thrown on to the fire by mistake. The poor kid was in a real state, and I had to sit with him on my knee for ages to comfort him, benches were dragged out from somewhere and the grown ups would sit on these, the front of there bodies scorching hot and their backsides, numb with cold. We thought it great fun, to creep up behind them and put jumping cracker fireworks under these benches and see the grown ups jump up, yelling abuse at we little darlings.
The same year as the armchair incident, my brother nearly had an accident, he used to wear a Hop-a-Long Cassidy, cowboy hat, he loved it, and he even took it to bed with him. Someone threw a banger firework and unfortunately it landed on the brim of his treasured hat, John was blissfully unaware that this firework was fizzing, reading to explode with a loud bang. I could see what had happened from the other side of the fire, and I raced round and knocked the hat from his head, the firework exploded as his hat touched the ground. Phew! That was a near thing, then John threw a tantrum, because his cowboy hat was spoiled, not realising what had really happened.
At about nine oclock when the last of rossters ( potatoes ) had been consumed, the last of the fireworks let off, we were herded together like a flock of sheep and taken home to have a good wash and to be put to bed.
The smouldering remains of the bonfire would be extinguished and it was a troop of weary but happy children, who would take one last lingering look, and reluctantly go home.
It was a magical night, these days and quite rightly, in the interests of safety, there are organised bonfires, and whilst this makes perfect sense and has cut down the number of accidents tremendously, somehow it is not the same.
music ~ "rainy night in Georgia"