Thursday, 31 July 2008

Fred responds to Rowland Jagger's account.

Rowland was a patient during the time I spent at MHH, 1950 to 1952 and we are of the same age. He has awakened in me memories that I had long since forgotten or perhaps I had managed to shut them out where he has struggled. I found reading his account to be both heartrending and disturbing. I don't believe my life was scarred by the experience but it has had a lasting impact on me. I find it easy to withdraw into myself and am content with my own company. I am almost compulsively independent and find it extremely difficult to ask others for assistance, I need to be in control. Oddly enough I feel very comfortable being this way, confident that whatever life throws at me I can deal with and there have been challenges to face as is the case for everyone. I believe this resilience stems from the time at MHH.

Hospital antiseptic I remember as ether, but I've always liked the smell, can't say the same for the boiled cabbage but I don't mind the smell of methylated spirits even now. I cannot remember protesting too much against being strapped down in my frame but I do remember, when I first arrived, hoping that they weren't going to strap me down in one of those things.

Yes I have memories of unkindness, sometimes being subjected to mental cruelty but in my case it had the effect of hardening me up, if I kept my head down and didn't make a fuss, withdrawal I suppose, I could get by without becoming the centre of some nurses anger.

Looking back I remember the good times more readily than the bad, maybe my "conditioning" was more effective than Rowland's e.g. I cannot leave food on a plate and will eat most of what is in front of me even if I don't like the taste and maybe I began to believe I was "too big to cry". I suspect Rowland's will was probably more resistant than mine and he remembers the struggle more because of it.

I wonder how Rowland feels about the medical profession today, I have had to return to hospital for major surgery on a couple of occasions, admittedly they don't keep you in quite so long these days, but I had few fears of the surgery and only warm memories of the way I was treated by all the medical staff attending me. Even today I attend outpatient clinics and almost look forward to them, certainly without any trepidation.

Finally I wonder if Rowland had the same disorder I had, Perthes disease. It is a condition affecting the hip joint and my treatment was exactly as described by him down to regular x-rays and hip manipulation. I was completely cured, physically anyway, by my hospital stay. Length of stay was dependent upon how far the joint had worn before diagnosis and how quickly the hip ball joint recovered, in his case considerably quicker than mine. I am not entirely sure complete mobility would have been restored with TB and await someone more knowledgeable to correct me.

Rowland Jagger (a patient in 1950, now living in Spain) raises some issues about the effects of visiting restrictions

I was a patient at Marguerite Hepton Hospital in 1950 at the age of seven years for a period of about 12 months for what my parents were told was a TB hip.

I have been trying to put my thoughts down on paper without sounding too negative. In all honesty I do not feel that that part of my life holds any fond memories for me at all. It was a time of my life that I would prefer to be able to shut out from my memory but I cannot. Now at the age of 64years I can at least look back objectively without feeling aggrieved and troubled.

I remember it as being the unhappiest time of my young life and I am convinced that my life was scarred forever as a direct result of that experience. I remember being very frightened and I cried a lot. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t even have time to say goodbye to my sisters or grandparents and as my parents weren’t allowed to travel with me in the ambulance I believed for a long time that I had done something wrong and was being punished.

MHH was a small cottage hospital but in reality to a small frightened little boy it didn’t look like one to me. It was alien and scary with the huge hospital grounds set inside dark thickly wooded areas. So far away from my home in Leeds I felt as if I would never be let out or see my home again. Once inside children were not allowed out. Average length of stay could be anything from 6 months to years.

On arrival I remember having all my clothes taken off me including a few small toy lead soldiers that I always carried around with me. (I remember being told not to be a silly boy and to stop crying as I was too big to have toy soldiers at my age).
Forty miles is no great distance to day with almost every body having a car, but in the 1950s my parents, ordinary working class people struggling to bring up three children didn’t have a car. The public transport in those days was poor if non-existent out in the rural areas. The infrequent journey’s they tried to make every fortnight to see me was a long drawn out affair and must have been a serious drain on their tight budget.
I remember clearly the first time I was taken on to the ward; the beds with metal cages and some with strange looking gadgets above which I later learned were pulleys with which to raise the limbs. The noise of children shouting and crying, pulling on the metal bedstead’s jerking their frames up and down to make a banging noise was alien and I was petrified.

This was something I learned to do my self in later weeks when I wanted attention and was frustrated and bored which was often It was if I had arrived in bedlam. The smell was a sickening mixture of hospital antiseptic, boiled cabbage and methylated spirits. The latter I would find out to my horror was used as a treatment for bed sores which I would suffer greatly from. I remember carrying on alarmingly when they first strapped me down on a metal frame all the time being shouted at and told that it was for my own good and not be a silly child. For days I cried myself to sleep pleading for my mother, wondering what it was that I had done so terrible to be sent there. For years afterwards when I was well into my teens, I would frequently have the same recurring nightmare that I remember having that first night. It would always be the same. I can’t breath, I can’t move. My head feels as if it’s going to burst. I’m trapped inside my body and I’m being crushed.

I remember stubbornly refusing to eat any of the food. All I wanted was Mother. The nurses would sometimes get cross and shout at me not to be a silly child and hold my nose whilst forcing food into my mouth. Sometimes, I would gag and be sick on purpose. I soon learned not to do that as any uneaten hospital food was put in front of me for the next meal.

The occasional stinging slap from an overwrought nurse and the threat of having a large tube that they waved in front of me pushed down my throat eventually made me conform. Strangely enough even today I am what my wife calls a very fussy eater.

As far as I can recall there were about twenty other children in total in the ward. Not all were on bed frames. Some were allowed to walk around with callipers on their legs. I was so envious of them.

Some of the nurses I remember as a child were not very nice or understanding, but there were some nice ones and one in particular. She would often sit next to my bed at night time and hold my hand telling me everything was going to be all right. She had lovely red hair I recall and she was very pretty, and smelled just like my mum.

Being strapped to a metal frame, I had to learn quickly to hold my bodily functions often crying in pain. On the occasions when I couldn’t wait and had an accident. I would lay in fear waiting to be found out. The punishment was always the same and even to a seven-year-old was humiliating. The bedclothes would be yanked off the bed, an angry nurse telling everybody watching that you were a dirty boy. A favourite punishment was to have my penis pulled with one hand whilst in the other, the nurse held her scissors over me threatening to cut my jimmy off if I wet the bed one more time.

The boy in the next bed to me was called Lorry I think it was short for Lawrence. I’ll never forget his name. He was older than I was and would throw things at me when I cried. He had a shock of white hair. I recall thinking how funny he looked because he had a bald patch at the back of his head with the constant rubbing of his head on the pillow. I remember thinking as a child how naughty he was. He was always being smacked for messing the bed.
He learned his cunning the hard way and when he had an accident he would throw his stools under someone else’s bed space, invariably mine. Despite that, I remember feeling sorry for him. He was always crying, but I didn’t know why. He used to scream at night times complaining that his legs hurt. When the nurses came to him he cried even more and struggled with them as they rubbed methylated spirits onto his bedsores.

Within a few weeks of being there I myself learned from first hand experience the stinging pain bed of sores, and the skin chaffing that the restraining straps caused on young tender skin. After the first experience of having mentholated spirits rubbed into my bedsores. I tried very hard not to complain but the nurses checked every week and the treatment was always the same.

Bed times were always the worst for me. I recall always crying when I thought of my mum, I missed her so much. Every day seemed like an eternity and even though I’m sure there must have been moments when I wasn’t unhappy, in all honesty I can’t recall them.

I remember vividly the first time my mum and dad visited me at the hospital. Mother now says that it was only two weeks after I had been admitted but I don’t know. To a child it seemed like years. I remember screaming the place down as they left. Mum says now that they could only visit every fortnight, but other children’s mums and dads seemed to visit more frequently than mine. Not that I feel bitter about that now as an adult. They did what they could at the time I’m sure.

We had schooling every morning, not that I was in any frame of mind to learn and as a direct result when I was eventually discharged and went back to school I was hopelessly left behind. Fortunately, I was able to make up some lost time, but I always remember my later schooling days as difficult and demanding.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. Lying on a frame on your back strapped down unable to move anything but your head and arms when you don’t feel unwell was a torture devised in hell. To see other people walking around albeit on callipers was to me so unfair. I would struggle and strain against the straps but only until the pain became unbearable then I would just lay there sobbing. I remember after many months been taken for several x-ray’s and seeing several doctors at MHH who tried to make me do all kinds of exercises with my legs, but they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to. I had in my mind a plan that when they eventually did take me off the frame that I would run away.Strange as it may seem, psychologically I must have became used to the life in the hospital because the periods of crying and wanting to go home no longer plagued me.

A couple of weeks before I was discharged I remember being taken off the frame every day for physiotherapy. I still couldn’t move my legs the muscles had wasted so much. I recall screaming in pain as my legs were being manipulated. Thirteen months almost to the date that I had been admitted I was fitted with callipers and discharged. I couldn’t walk with out them. My legs unable to support the weight of my body. The were muscles weak and ineffective through twelve months of inactivity were useless. Nearly six months later after hours of out patient treatment I could walk again unaided.

I ask my Mother today what exactly was wrong with me? What symptoms did I have? What treatment was it I was subjected to? Didn’t you ever feel the need to question what was happening to your seven year old son? The answer is not all that surprising as a strict authoritative demeanor ruled throughout, for this was the approach of the time in the fifties. No one especially parents questioned doctors, complained, or challenged the circumstances at the time. This meant that many children myself included suffered the indignity and damage being in institiutions where parent’s visits were strictly controlled and were they was not involved in any treatment programs.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am pleased that whatever it was that I was suffering from was diagnosed and treated in time. I believe that I was one of the luckier ones. I went on to be able to participate in all kinds of sport successfully. I spent 6 rewarding years in HM Forces and then followed a successful professional career for the next thirty years before being able to retire early. But, I did suffer and still do psychologically. The impact of being removed from my family, seemingly forever, without really understanding why, of living apart in a building labeled a "Children's Hospital", of having significant life altering medical and surgical procedures done without real understanding, and involvement in the "real" world cannot ever be truly measured.

I'm now 64, and live permanently abroad in a beautiful part of Spain known locally as Xabia or better known as Javea approx 70 kilometres north of Alicante. I have lived here now for 11 years with my wife Kathleen spending my time gardening, doing D.I.Y. and writing which is my ultimate and untiring passion. We also spend a lot of our time travelling around this beautiful country which we both love trying to absorb as much of its history and culture that we can.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

John Appleyard (c1939-1945) remembers air raids and gas masks

On the BBC’s WW2 People’s War site there is a 2005 posting by a John Appleyard, aged 68 at the time of posting. The site content is copyright, but it's legitimate to give a link to it here. John Appleyard (who adopts the site name ‘jontyjon’) was a TB spine patient at Thorpe Arch for six years, leaving in 1945. His posting gives a vivid account of air raids on the munitions factory – which he found thrilling – and of the gas masks in the shape of Disney characters issued to the children. He became so attached to his Mickey Mouse mask that he cried when he had to leave it behind to go home! The full posting is worth reading, by clicking on this link: The whole site is fascinating.

I came upon the posting some years ago, and tried to follow him up, but unfortunately he left no contact details. Do any of you know him, perhaps? You can read his account by clicking on the link.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Jane responds to Andrea about toys falling off the bed

I remember the problem of things falling off the bed very well. I was noticing just the other day that I seem to have very quick reflexes for catching things that threaten to roll or fall off somewhere near me. With all this work on the blog, I'm beginning to wonder if I might have developed these at Thorpe Arch. As you say, if something fell off your bed there, unless you could get a walking patient to pick it up for you it might as well have fallen into a bottomless pit, lost for ever. In the end I just got a bit lackadaisical about losing things, which used to drive my mother mad when I got home!

It comes up, too, in Margaret Vicars's posting (8th July) about her efforts to pick things up for other children, once she could walk - even though she couldn't walk very well!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Andrea Kerr (nee Higgins) was a patient 1958-9, and worked at Thorpe Arch as a chef when it became an old people's home

Andrea rang me after my article appeared in the YEP. This is based on the notes I made during our talk, with some additions Andrea made when I sent her the notes.

"My auntie told me about your article in the YEP and encouraged me to get in touch.

I was a patient at the Marguerite Hepton Hospital from the age of 7 for 10 months, 1958-59, with osteomyelitis of the hip. I had an operation for it at Leeds Infirmary – I was in Ward 10. The situation was so bad they told my parents it might be amputation or death, unless they tried a new technique. My father said ‘Try anything’. I survived the operation, but they told me I’d probably end up with a built up shoe and callipers. Then they sent me to Thorpe Arch, where I was on a frame in traction for months. When I left, I had no built up shoe or calliper. All this because my school teacher made me put a dirty handkerchief which had been found in the playground over a cut on my knee – a lesson I’ll never forget, for I’ve had to live with the results ever since.

I had to have lots of painful injections of streptomycin. The liquid was very thick and the needles really big, and I was sore from having so many injections, so they’d stuff a hanky in my mouth to stop me screaming with the pain. By the time I left I was like a colander!

I remember we had classes, which were neither here nor there – the same teacher used to deal with all the girls on the ward, aged from 6 to 16. So when I got back to school I was well behind. In those days, they didn’t have the sort of teachers they have now to help you to catch up. All I remember from those classes was that the Swiss flag was the reverse of the Red Cross flag! I wonder whether we had church services – does anyone remember? There was a TV on the ward – a small screen up on an end wall that I couldn’t see.

One thing I wished was that I could find a way to stop toys falling off my bed. Staff wouldn’t pick them up but just threw them away. I remember I had a new doll for Christmas and I dropped her jacket and never got it back again – same thing with jigsaw pieces, all kinds of stuff. There was a cleaner who came most days. She was a lovely lady who was deaf. I used to write her notes to ask her to look for my toys.

I’m also left with a fear of spiders, because one day there was one in my bedpan, and when I screamed about it the nurse tipped it into my bed.

We used to get visited maybe once a week, and at weekends; no visitors were allowed on ward cleaning days. My Gran came often, even though it meant taking three different buses. There was also a railway station about 300 yards down the road, now closed down. One time there were delays to the buses, and my Gran only got to the ward around 7 o’clock, and visiting ended around 8 so she was fairly desperate. My Dad also came, but my Mum needed to stay at home with my Downs syndrome sister. I never really felt close to my Mum when I got home again.

We never set eyes on the boys, though I do remember one night when they searched under our beds because a boy had absconded from the children’s home next door – but he wasn’t there!

Digging down I can remember quite a few things: a sister washing our toe nails ready for the doctors to see; and a cook who was sacked for serving ‘food unfit for human consumption’. One thing she cooked was a sort of pudding made out of minced up vegetables, baked in a tray. I remember my very first meal on the ward: sausage, baked beans and mashed potatoes with gravy. I specially enjoyed breakfast – bacon sandwich was my favourite.

I remember Christmas there. The doctors and nurses used to come round the wards singing carols. My uncle worked for the Thrift stores, and his boss used to supply toys for the Christmas party. One Christmas Eve, one of the nurses got drunk, fell down some stairs and broke her arm. When she came back on duty, she was wearing a pot and a sling, and she’d go past our lockers filling her sling with any sweets we had on show.

I also remember Bonfire Night – we were all wheeled outside through the French doors to watch the fireworks. And once there was a visit from Coco the Clown, who gave us all signed photos of himself.

There was a sort of aviary and one night someone pulled the bars apart and the birds flew away. I was a walking patient by then, it was not long before I left, and I got blamed for doing it, but it wasn’t me.

I don’t remember the names of many people, except one girl called Mary Higgins, who was in the bed opposite mine – because my name was Higgins I suppose.

When I left hospital, there were things I wasn’t allowed to do. I was never allowed to take part in PE or games, in case it would cause another injury. I always wanted to join the police force, but I was excluded as medically unfit. Still, I always managed to earn a living – as a chef. They even suggested I shouldn’t have kids, but I’ve had four. I think we’re survivors, really. I think there are some people who just are survivors, and others who just sit back and wait for people to do things for them. For instance, since I had my stroke, I’ve got back to doing a lot of things.

About 17 years ago, when the hospital had become an old people’s home, I went back to work there as a chef. It went up and down a bit – sometimes it had a blue badge, sometimes it didn’t, depending on how the inspections went. One of the people who had nursed me when I was a child was working there again. I think she may live in Wetherby now, though I don’t remember her name. But I do remember she brought in some photos of how the hospital was, showing how the beds were. They looked quite ramshackle, as if those gates they had to stop you falling out of bed were made of orange boxes.

At the time I was working there, Leeds United used to use the playing field from the children’s home as a training ground, and I think before then it may have been used by the police.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Florence Gill (nee Gould) remembers three matrons (1936-1940) and a pet donkey

I spent four years there from 1936 to 1940, having gone there from St. James’s where I spent the best part of a year. I had rheumatism in various forms from the age of two, going on to an attack of acute rheumatic fever. I was six when I went to St. James’s and eleven when I came home.

My memories of Thorpe Arch are still very vivid and I remember many names of the patients and staff, who were kind and who was not, the teachers’ names, the specialists and the three matrons who were there in my time. When I first went there the hospital was for convalescents only. The address was just The Marguerite Home, Thorpe Arch, Yorks. Later this was changed to the one you know.

Later, the place was for adult women who needed longer hospitalisation. I visited an aunt there who had a broken leg, she was there about three months, but I rather enjoyed the trip. There were some changes but the main buildings I knew were still there. We went for a trip around there some years ago and I just couldn’t find it, but I mentioned it to someone who turned out to be a doctor and he said the place was still there but for what purpose I don’t quite know. Some of the patients were there for TB, but some were like me; some with rickets, but a good many had been left crippled by polio.

The matron who was there when I arrived was called Watson. She died there in odd circumstances believed to be suicide. Her Alsatian dog jumped out of her window and fell through a glass roof below which was the baby ward but fortunately missed the children’s cots. We then had Matron Balmer who was a lovely person, but didn’t last long as she got married. Matron Downs came next and she was still there when I left.

There were frequent visits by the committee who ran the hospital, all the country gentry. Mrs Lane Fox came quite regularly. She lived at Bramham Hall with her daughter Felicity who was in a wheelchair.

We had teaching all the time I was there, with a Miss Whitehead. The gardener was Mr Whitehead, no relation. He seemed to do everything besides gardening. He looked after the resident donkey called Hopey, who was kept in a meadow. Sometimes he got used to the music and came near the wards to listen to it.

Sometimes the nurse would play the piano and we would have a sing-song but we also had a radio. Now and again Hopey would get out and always ran to the kitchens and poor Mr Whitehead had to chase after him. As I was leaving he was digging up the tennis court, part of the war effort, I suppose.

Margaret Vicars has her discharge signed by Miss Lane Fox

This is Margaret Vicars letter of discharge signed by Miss Felicity Lane Fox. There are no wasted words in her letter, despite Margaret being a patient for almost four years, but then there was a war on.

Note the date signed, 1st September 1944, during war time. There is no doubt in the author's mind that the letter will reach Margaret's parents in time for them to collect their daughter the following day, a Saturday. If only we had such confidence in our postal service today, particularly when there was no first and second class systems then.

Miss Felicity Lane Fox went on to become Baroness Lane Fox, who's story is told, in part, below.

Taken from The Yorkshire Evening Post of April 18th 1988.

Battling Baroness Lane Fox, a champion of the disabled despite being wheelchair-bound herself, has died.
The brave Yorkshire Tory peer, 69 the daughter of Mr Edward Lane Fox and his wife Enid. She was struck down with polio when on a family holiday at Filey.
The medical experts did not hold out much hope for the little girls survival,but they reckoned without the tremendous strength of purpose which in later life made her a tower of strength in helping the disabled.
She raised many thousands of pounds through broadcasts and interviews and was a familiar figure being driven around the country by her mother in a converted double-deck van.
Her first voluntary job was as an appeals organiser to the Yorkshire Association for the Care of Cripples in 1939.
During the war years she was secretary of the Thorp Arch Children's Orthopaedic Hospital and away from her work was a lover of sport and was joint secretary to the Bramham Moor Hunt.
She was an active political worker and keen supporter of the Conservative Party and her life peerage was personally recommended by Mrs Thatcher, who was one of her many admirers.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Margaret Vicars shares her photographs (see her earlier post on 8th July)


This is me with my husband Cyril, the picture was taken at my son's wedding last year. After the puny little thing they sent home to my parents I don't think I turned out too bad!

In the above picture I think the girl sitting up in the background is Joyce Peel and Matron Downs is standing at the back on the right. The girls standing at the front left to right are:-
Brenda Brooks, myself, Barbara Waugh, not known, Margaret Richardson and Marjorie Bailey.

I look as though I can walk but I can't, I was told to hold the hand of Barbara next to me and try to lift my foot. There is a nurse crouched down in front of me ready to scoop me up when the camera man's shutter clicked.

Marjorie on the end had a very good sense of humour, when asked what her problem was she used to say "Infa type a sausages" for Infantile Paralysis.

I have a mirror over my bed which I did everything through. I got into trouble after this picture was taken for having my arm behind my head watching the camera man climb onto the roof of the building to the side of me.

Delia Shaw is next to me. I tried to retrieve her book after it dropped on the floor. Having been out of bed for the first time Nurse Davison almost had a heart attack when she saw me out of bed by myself.

Miss Field, school teacher, is unfortunately not clear to see.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Alan Smith-Redshaw's sister talks about the effects on her family of her brother's long stay in hospital

I read your article in the Yorkshire Evening Post, about Marguerite Hepton Memorial Hospital. My brother, Alan Smith-Redshaw, was a patient there from 1949 until 1952. He was only 3 years old when he went in, came out at 6 years. He had osteomyelitis in one of his knees, then just as he was ready to come home he got it in the other knee. He remembers only bits: a frame covering his legs, and being laid flat with a mirror above his head so he could see the ward; the nurses cutting his beautiful curly hair off because there were nits on the ward – he was five then – and the fox and hounds coming up the long drive to show off the horses to the children. I think it might have been the Wetherby hunt, which still exists.

Visiting was every 2 weeks, one week Sunday, two weeks later Saturday. I was 11 years old. We would go on the tram to Leeds, Mum, Dad and my other brother to visit, then get a bus to Boston Spa, and then a special little bus that ran from there to the hospital. It stopped outside a little shop, and my Mum would go in there and buy Alan a pork pie. He said afterwards he wondered whether she thought he specially liked pork pies. Maybe it was the best thing they had.

Children could not go in to the ward, so we played in the long drive and peeped in through the hedge to see Alan. He is now 61 years old, and doing fine. He’s a taxi driver now, though he used to work in engineering until all that disappeared 15 years or so ago.

It must have been awful for my Mum and Dad to leave him there for all that time, only visiting every fortnight. I remember my Mum being terribly upset when they cut off Alan’s lovely curls, she cried nearly all the journey home from the visit.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Fred Dubber's comments on Barry Blackburn' experiences

I was intrigued to read your letter about your hospital stay and subsequent history largely because my own experiences mirror yours quite closely. I left MHMH in 1953 and returned to my home in Leeds where I too learned I was to go to Potternewton Special School. I spent a full school year there before going to a normal primary school. I wore a calliper for most of my stay at Potternewton but remember being taught to swim at a local swimming baths so presumably I was allowed to take it off in the pool. On return to primary school I was not allowed to play games and had to sit and watch football and cricket matches instead. Like Jane, possibly because I was barred from other games, I learned to love swimming.

I too served an engineering apprenticeship but turned down an opportunity to become a draftsman, although later in life I managed an engineering design office and workshop. I also had some successful project management experiences after I moved to Malvern. I avoided National Service because it ended just before I became eligible.

I also have similar health history, suffering a heart attack in 2000, this was followed by cardiac bypass surgery 18 months later. Luckily the heart damage was minimal and I can now lead a fairly normal active life. Coincidentally and possibly curiously I too have no fears when faced with hospitals and subsequent major surgery but then my wife worries enough for both of us! 

Thursday, 10 July 2008

A dialogue with Kathleen Ward (nee Forbes, 1945-1950), aged about 6-11: food, school and learning to walk

My name is Kathleen Ward nee Forbes. I was a patient at Thorpe Arch from 1945 to 1950. When I first went into hospital I was admitted to Leeds Infirmary with a TB Hip. My weeks there were very frightening and I cried and fretted so much I was moved to IDA Hospital, Cookridge, where I settled down. After a few months, I was transferred to M.H.M Hospital, Thorpe Arch, and lots of that time was as happy as a child in hospital could be.

Eventually the doctor and consultant found out through some sort of test that I didn't have TB Hip, after being on a frame (as we called it) for a few years. I then had an Osteotomy and was in plaster for six months, before being taught how to walk again.

I loved the schooling we got. Our teacher was called Miss Field, and I think Mrs Budd was teacher on the boys ward, and was classed as the Head teacher. They must have given us all the basics and it can’t have been easy with most of us bedfast. The reason I say this is that I was not behind my age group when I got to school after being discharged.

Having read about other patients’ experience with the Dentist, I can verify that I too was petrified of having any treatment and the only way I would have any teeth extracted was by general anaesthetic.

My memories of food aren't too good, for instance I hated porridge, rolled herrings (which we called donkeys ears) and tapioca (frog spawn). Occasionally you would get a nurse that would bring it back the following meal trying to make us eat it. You can imagine the outcome! I can’t face any of those foods to this day. I suppose many a child in that day and age would have given their all for any food.

However most of the nurses were kind. I did see odd acts of cruelty to some patients if they soiled the bed etc. But myself personally didn't suffer any of this.

Visiting was 2pm to 4pm once a fortnight on a Saturday, and of course no ward phones etc. So letter writing was very important. My family used to bring me envelopes ready stamped and addressed.

I do remember radio stars visiting us, also having film shows at times.

On the whole, my years in Thorpe Arch were happy and I really missed my friends when I went home, until I made new ones.

Other Memories

  • Bonfire night. They used to build a big one.
  • Christmas - the nurses coming round carol singing on the ward Christmas morning. Father Christmas visiting. Sometimes the nurses would sneak on the ward to show us their dresses before going to the staff dance.
  • Lady Baden Powell coming to the hospital early one morning for the guides to sign a scroll. Can’t quite remember what it was for, but I know it was very important at the time. Our patrols were called Swallow and Bullfinch.
  • Miss Field bringing each of us a Christmas tree to stand on our lockers and making our own decorations. Of course the ward had a large tree.
  • The forces donating a rubber dinghy to the hospital and those who were learning to walk at the time, sitting on the side and using it as a paddling pool.
  • Trying to play cricket on crutches!

Jane follows up Kathleen’s first message

You and I must have been there at the same time - I was there from 1944-48. I suppose remembering each other would depend on how old we were - I was 4 in 1944 (my age goes with the year, which makes it too easy to remember!).

I think we all remember Miss Field - and the 'boys' seem to have equally good memories of their Miss Budd. In fact, when you read all their comments, you realise what a terrific job they did, because none of us seems to remember being behind at school. I do remember her trying hard to make us talk 'posh' - with not much success! She'd start off the morning with a little rhyme, all pronounced very poshly, for us to repeat: "'Good morning, good morning, I wanted to know if I could see a Mrs Snow.' 'Mrs Snow, Mrs Snow, I don't know a Mrs Snow'". Then we'd all chorus back with our Yorkshire accents unchanged! It used to make her quite cross, and I think we did it to wind her up!

Your memories about the food (and see also Margaret Vicars’s posting, yesterday) really jogged mine. I also hated the tapioca, and haven't eaten it to this day. I was lucky there, because my Dad also hated it, having been given it at boarding school when he was little, so Mum didn't dare cook it for us! I also hated leeks - same reason I think, they were very slimy the way they cooked them and I just couldn't swallow them down. I suppose that was the problem with the tapioca too! It was all so much worse when they came round for a second time. Then a friend served up leeks one day, cooked a different way, and I really like them now! But when I got home from Thorpe Arch, anything strange that had a bit of a slimy texture I wouldn’t touch – all kinds of things I love now, like mushrooms for instance. My Mum, bless her heart, wanted to make up for lost time and feed me up, and she found my 'pickyness' very upsetting.

Something that crops up really often (it’s also in Margaret’s posting yesterday) and that I'd really like to explore a bit more with you all, is this whole business of learning to walk again. It hit me when I had a hip replacement, about 10 years ago, and realised that was the third time I'd learned to walk, and I really started to think about it, and what difference it might have made to me in later life.

I'd also be interested to know whether you found that your experience affected your ability to do physical things - gym at school? sporty things afterwards? I was a bit of a duffer at gym - I think I was afraid of falling, perhaps because when I left Thorpe Arch I had to wear a sort of leather and steel corset (a spika) that went from my chest to the top of my right leg and down to the knee on my left leg, and I went to my first primary school like that. So when I fell down, I couldn't pick myself up.

and Kathleen replies

I don’t remember Miss Field’s verse but I do remember her wanting us to talk posh. However as you say they did a great job. I was born in 1938 so I was a bit older than you. When I got out of hospital I wasn’t allowed to do any P E or swimming - no physical exercises at all.

Also when I had the osteotomy operation I didn’t have a fixed hip, and it caused me to have a three inch shortening of my right hip. After another six months they did an operation on my left, so called ‘good’ leg to stop the growth, for my right hip to catch up. I was 11yrs old at the time and they put staples in my knee on the left leg, and I had a 3in lift on my shoe. When I was taught to walk and went home this was lower as my right leg caught up. Then I had to go in Pinderfields in Wakefield to have the staples out. I think I was in there about six weeks before going home. This happened when I was 14yrs old, I think I had my fifteenth birthday in there so had left school by time I got home.

I was always frightened of falling. It’s amazing how eventually you learned how to put up with these things and get on with life. To this day I can’t swim, never had the courage by the time I had been given permission from specialist.

However as the years went on I got married had four lovely healthy sons who married and had families so have lots of lovely grandchildren.

I also had a replacement hip in 1984. I think that’s the best part of my body now, most joints have arthriitis in them and walking is very difficult. In my home outside my family push me around in a wheelchair. Neither myself nor my husband can drive so family have the burden. They are my rocks. Of course they always have a babysitter handy and we all love each other to bits, so I have my uses.

Like you, I too was told to lead as normal a life as possible. Can’t really say why I wasn’t allowed to do sports etc. Parents and doctors in those days just expected you to take their word for it that it wasn’t good for you. The only explanation I have come up with is that the 3 inch lift on my shoe would have made it impossible for me to wear plimsols.

However even when I had my hip replacement I didn’t get the physio the other patients did, just gentle exercises like feet up and down, tightening knee muscles etc., no leg lifting. My consultant just said “you will get them moving in your own time”, and of course he was right.

Having a family to look after you get on with it and find ways round doing things, but it’s been a lot of fun along the way.

On the whole I don’t feel as if I have missed out on anything in life and I really think Thorpe Arch days helped to give me patience and take one day at a time.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Jane replies to Margaret's memories

Your memories really jogged mine, and here's what came out.

I do remember the radio – we used to listen to Children’s Hour and some of the radio requests programmes – maybe Workers’ Playtime? We’d shout at the radio to make it play the songs we wanted, and now and then the right one would come up – the most popular ones got repeated a lot! But we truly believed they could hear us at the other end, but either couldn’t or wouldn’t play “our” requests every time!

I was in a plaster bed too, and I remember we had to go and have new ones made every so often, because we were growing kids. They would slather on the plaster over bandages laid on my back – you're right, the slimy feel and the smell were awful. Then as the plaster dried and hardened, I remember how it shrank and you could feel it move. My TB was down towards the bottom of the spine, so I could at least move my head around, unlike you, Margaret. I often wondered how people like you managed to do everything in a mirror back to front.

It must have been fun learning to walk on the nurse’s feet – it’s something I’ve always done with small children, including my own, but I don’t remember a nurse doing it with me. Instead, I remember learning to walk between parallel bars, clinging on desperately while the physiotherapist called out “Heel, toe, heel, toe”, to stop me gingerly putting down a toe first. There was a full-length mirror to watch yourself, and I was shocked to see myself full length for the first time. What a disappointment! Once I’d learned to read, I identified with lots of different story characters – Snow White, Cinderella, kids at ballet schools, kids who rode horses – all beautiful and above all graceful - and I just imagined myself as them! In fact, like Margaret, I was a scrawny little 8-year-old, long and thin with knobbly knees like a foal’s – not a bit beautiful or graceful!

This all came back to me when I had a hip replacement in 1998 and learned to walk again for the third time in my life. Same story – a physiotherapist who knew how the walking ought to look, from the outside, but who was so fit and strong he couldn’t possibly have the first idea how it felt from inside! I’ve always been a bit self-conscious and analytical about the way I walked ever since.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Margaret Vicars, nee Rhodes, adds to her post on May 7th 2008

My Mother told me that she was always concerned how when I was wheeled out in the push-chair I used to hunch my shoulders & say “ooh my necky“, I would be about 3 years old at the time I think . ------In January 1941 15 months into the 2nd world war I remember standing on our door step holding my mother’s hand while she held baby brother Colin in the other arm listening to anti-aircraft guns firing not far away from us, and ready to run across to our neighbours’ house where we all sheltered in the cellar. At this time my Mother decided she would take me to the Doctor’s to see what was wrong. She was told by the Doctor (whose name I do know) to “go home you are a fussy Mother“! so she decided to take me to the L.G. I (Leeds General Infirmary) to see Mr. Vineing the children’s specialist at the time, without a Doctor’s letter. People told her he would be angry and my Mum was very shy, but he wasn’t, he was very kind & understanding, and when she pulled my clothes over my head he rushed forward and took hold of my face and said “careful Mother you don’t know what pain this child is in”. Mum said he knew instantly what was ailing me. From this day I did not go home for 3 years and 9 months .

I was kept in the L.G.I. on the Margaret Rose ward for a few days and then moved to Boston Spa Hospital for a short while and then to MHMH at Thorpe Arch, where my parents were told the Doctors could not operate as I had T.B. abscesses on the 3rd. 4th. & 5th vertebraes which was too near the brain for surgery. My parents were told the prognosis was not good and that I would either come out in a wheelchair or not at all. Apparently I screamed when they left me there ----Bless them they must have been devastated as unbeknown to me my lovely baby brother Colin died the following June 1941, 2 days short of his first birthday, from Meningitis.

Visiting hours at MHMH was only once every 2 weeks on a Saturday afternoon.

I had to lay flat on my back in a cast made of Plaster of Paris which smelled awful & felt awful as it was being slapped on my body, even my head, and ‘they’ had cut all my hair off and I looked like a boy. I had to lay on this plaster bed and also some iron things for my legs with supports to keep my feet up (which didn’t work) also a leather strap round my forehead. I learned to read and write etc. through a mirror suspended above my head.

Kindness from some of the nurses was in short supply, I would call them quite cruel at times. I remember once I could not wake up quickly enough for nurse Towers so she wheeled my bed into the x-ray room which was pitch dark and then was calling out to me that a “Bogey-Man “ was coming to get me. I was terrified. I would about 6 years old then.

We were pushed out on to the balcony in all weathers, even a howling gale. I cam remember us all laid there with the sheets tucked over our heads (shivering with cold I expect). Our parents were worried about the munitions being so close and we children used to wave to the pilots in their planes.

There are 2 foods I can not stand, one is spinach which I remember I could not eat so the nurse stood over me and made me swallow every mouthful. I hate the stuff. On another occasion it was tapioca pudding (dreadful), again the nurse stood over me while I swallowed every mouthful. Unfortunately for me it was always sleep time after lunch and I had not swallowed the last mouthful of tapioca and still had to swallow it. I vowed if I had children of my own I would not make them eat something they did not like.

I remember one time all the Mothers being really angry that we were not being given food that was being sent to us and as everything was on ration food was hard to come by. All the Mums got together and challenged Matron Downs - a strict disciplinarian - and she told them they should see her pantry, so she showed them all and my Mother told me it was stocked with all sorts of goodies , which I told Mum I do not remember much coming our way. Dr. Phillips & Mr. Payne used to make their rounds fairly regularly. Mr . Payne was a very bad tempered man but a brilliant surgeon.

One of the worst times of cruelty was when I was taken into the bathroom for what was like a bed-bath really. There were 2 nurses present and one had taken my gown off, Nurse Coleman was threatening to hit me with a broad strap across the front of my body because she said I had got pubic hair and at my age - about 7/8 - it was disgusting. I did not even know then what she was talking about, and I can see her and that strap as clear today as I could then. I think the other nurse must have stopped her, but I have never been so afraid of anyone in my life, I was frightened every time I saw her after that.

I remember Miss Fields the school teacher but only vaguely, but she was very prim I think but nice. I have a photograph of her.

After 3years and 9 months it was decided I could now get up and learn to walk again, which meant there would now be quite a bit of pain to cope with first as the supports that should have held my feet up did not work, and consequently my feet had fallen down and they had to be trained to stand up properly so I could put them flat to the floor. My nurse or probably the Physiotherapist I had to do the exercises with was lovely and very sympathetic. Her boyfriend was called Tommy and I used to call him “Tommy Tomato“ and he used to write lovely letters to me and always drew a big red Tomato at the end of them (I wish I had them now). I used to say to the lady if I wore shoes like Sister Morris (i.e. with a heel) it would not matter if my feet were not flat. Sister Morris was very stern but alright. When she left Sister “Lollipop “ came and she was lovely, always smiling, but I cannot remember her real name. Anyhow eventually my feet were in the right position and I could learn to walk again, which was done by a nurse (the 2 bad ones seemed to have gone then) whose feet I had to stand on and then she walked backwards. Clever I thought but it took some time.

After the first time I had been up and put back on the bed Delia Shaw in the next bed had dropped a book on the left side of her bed (which was on my left ) and I said to Delia “I will get it for you, I am a walking girl” , so I slid off the bed and I do not know how but I got to the locker and then to her bed down the right side and had just reached the bottom of Delia’s bed when Nurse Davidson came into the ward and shouted “Oh! Margaret Rhodes”, and ran down the ward scooped me up and popped me back on my bed (oh! And I did want to get that book). I explained what I was trying to do and she said I must not try getting out of bed on my own. Nurse Davidson was efficient but very nice. Nurse Nattrass was also very nice and always promising me a big parcel soon, which never came. Another lesson I learned - Never make a promise to a child if you are not going to keep it.

However the time came in September 1944 when I could go home and I remember a few of us girls were taken to the Vicar’s house for tea ---I can only remember it vaguely as a real treat and up until then I can not remember a Vicar being there.

A letter arrived at home in the morning post on 2nd. September 1944 (visiting day) telling may parents to come and take me home that day, the first they had heard of my being able to come home, I did not even have any clothes ! ----- it was a very long walk to the railway station and I could still not walk so my Mother and Father had take turns carrying me, 8 years old and only 2 stone in weight, puny for an 8 year old but still heavy for them to carry, and I still looked like a boy, and wearing a horrible leather jacket from my waist to my chin. It used to stain my skin. I think I wore it for about 10 months when either Prof. Clark or Mr. Broomhead said “We can throw this away now”, and I believe my Mum said it was during the V.E. day celebrations in early May 1945.

There was one very special thing that in my young mind kept me going while in hospital, that was my baby brother Colin. I loved him dearly and longed to go home to see him again. I used to tell everyone about him -----so on arriving home when my Auntie Margaret walked through the door with her young son, I just said “Oh! Colin”, to which my Mum said “no love this is Auntie Margaret’s Frank”, and then she must have told me that Colin was dead and I do not remember what happened next -- all I know is that years later Mum said “I would never do that again“. I miss that dear little boy as much now as I did then.

I was talking to my husband one day recently about MHMH and said I will look on the internet and was very disappointed that there is no history of the hospital at all.

I have photographs of the hospital which I have yet to learn how to get on to the website and I can remember almost all the names of the other children.

Does anyone remember a Radio? There must have been one as I can remember at least one of the popular tunes of the day ‘Mairzy Dotes‘.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Jane 's comments and questions to Barry Blackburn

Glad you enjoyed writing this so much - it's great to read it and I hope you'll think of more.

* I was very interested to hear that
you and your friend had gone to a school for Disabled Children. What kind of disability were you left with? I ask because I went to an ordinary primary school, in my spika – a sort of leather corset with steel reinforcements, which started under my arms, went down to my right thigh, and all the way down my left leg to the knee. I could walk around fine, but running was difficult, and if I fell over, which I remember doing from time to time, I couldn’t pick myself up and had to wait for someone to come and help me. Some of the other kids would stand over me and laugh, which was a bit miserable.

Once the spika was removed, I was always left with the feeling that I sat somewhere between being able-bodied and disabled. I could look like a fully able-bodied person, but because of my spinal fusion (lower back) I couldn’t bend so easily, found it difficult to sit cross-legged on the floor and get up quickly, couldn’t jump very well. Swimming turned out to be the answer to my prayers – something you could do with no danger of falling over, that still makes me feel wonderfully free

*Are there things you - or anyone else have found difficult?

* Are there also things you’ve got specially good at as a result of your patient experience? You mentioned your sense of being really lucky and of valuing the things you can do. For instance, I learned to read very early, and have always read a lot and lived in my imagination quite a good deal. So I’ went for a sedentary, bookish sort of career. At the same time, I love to travel, and have taken some quite adventurous journeys on my own in the course of my work – still do. I get a real kick out of the independence – though I also love to come back home.

*It’s very interesting, too, that you can remember so many names – one of the things that seems to be coming out of the blog is that most people can remember only a few. Could that be because you were older when you were a patient – some of us went in as quite small children (one was two, one was three, I was four…) and we were still quite small when we came out.

Barry Blackburn looks on his time at MHMH (1946-1948) with affection

I was very interested to read your letter in the YEP regarding the Marguerite Hepton Memorial Hospital at Thorpe Arch. I am not a computer man, so I thought I would write my “life story” and post it to you. I come from Bramley in Leeds and was 12 years old when I was admitted to hospital in August 1946 remaining until July 1948.

I often think about those days and how lucky I was (it was only my right ankle that was in plaster) as I could move about quite freely when my friends were restricted on frames etc.

That stay in hospital affected my whole attitude to life as having lived with other boys who were much worse off than me (in fact two died during my stay). I seldom complain about my ‘lot in life’. My medical records came in handy when National Service was due, as I was classed Grade 3 which was a failure in their system but a success for me, as I had just got married, passed my driving test and begun to earn good money. I always believed that my 2 years in hospital was a good training for life.

I have had no contact with anyone associated with the hospital since my best friend Ronnie Smith died in the early 1970s. We were in adjoining beds for 2 years and I was his best man when he got married. He named his son after me. Ronnie and I went to Potternewton School, Leeds, for handicapped children and we were founder members of the 19th North Leeds Handicapped Scout Troup (happy days!).

I did an engineering apprenticeship training as a draftsman before joining ICI and moving to the North East as a project manager.

It may seem strange but I still look upon my time in hospital with affection and it left me with no fear of medical matters or hospitals, even though I had a heart attack in 1990 and a cardiac arrest in the USA in 2006. However, all is well at the moment and my wife Joan and I are celebrating 50 years of ‘wedded bliss’ next month.

I enclose a copy of a letter to the magazine Best of British when they were asking how the 1947 snow affected readers. My mother used to sit with a hot water bottle under her coat whilst begging me to put on a warmer jumper (we were tough!).

The worst thing was having to get washed on a cold morning in a bowl of lukewarm water. (Most of the time we didn’t).

Sorry to go on but I’m enjoying this! I remember the horse chestnut trees down the hospital drive and the tumbler pigeons in the dovecote. Miss Budd the teacher was great! I was given a bottle green cardigan to knit and after a year it was given to the girls’ ward – did you finish it? I do not think I ever saw a girl during the two years, never mind spoke to one.

It has been good to put pen to paper on our (Jane’s and mine) 60th anniversary of leaving Thorpe Arch.

Here are some names I remember

Specialists Mr Broomhead, Mr Payne

Doctor Maloney

Sister Trout

Nurses Hodgson, Moss, Fowler, Natress

Fellow inmates Kenneth Inkpen, Terry Swift, Geoffrey Gresty, Cyril Gamble

Barry’s letter in Best of British

Getting cold feet

When the snow came in 1947, I was 12 and in the Marguerite Hepton Memorial Orthopaedic Hospital for Children at Thorpe Arch, Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, and we were virtually cut off. This did not cause me or my parents much of a problem, because visiting times were only two hours every first and third Saturday in the month.

Other weekends we received food parcels from home containing sweets and Wizard and Hotpure comics. Our teacher, Miss Budd, braved the journey from Walton village in her little Austin car she called Archie. She taught us everything from maths to knitting.

The main treatment in the hospital was ‘fresh air’ and we older boys slept outside the ward between April and October, under a ten-foot reinforced glass canopy. I woke up many times with frost on the foot of my bed.

Replies to my letter in Yorkshire Evening News

Hello again. I'm sorry the blog has been rather silent recently - the effects of my holiday, followed by rather a lot of work, which I had to get through before yielding to the temptations of the blog. This was specially frustrating, as I got back from holiday to find a whole lot of messages on the ansaphone, letter, and emails, in reply to a letter I sent to the Yorkshire Evening Post a while before going away on holiday. I got no reply and thought they just hadn't published it. I'm still following up the letters and phone calls, with some very interesting results to be shared. What I'll do now is put one up each day, trying more or less to keep to the order in which they came, for the sake of fairness. In the meantime, thanks to Barry Blackburn, Margaret Vicars, Andrea Kerr, and Norman Proctor for contacting me, and for interesting contributions.