Firstly, I do believe that Jane Woodcock and I have crossed paths at MHMO. For a short while (if I’ve got the right person) Jane was on the boy’s ward, I believe through shortage of beds on the girl’s ward. It was then that my parents became friendly with Jane’s parents. If I am right, Jane’s folks usually came by car – probably a blue Riley type, and they would often take my mum part way home when visiting finished.
Visiting day was the first and third Saturday of the month from 2 to 4 pm. If there were three Saturdays in the month then it was tough luck – you went three weeks before you saw them. Visiting was restricted to two persons per bed, no children allowed. The only exception to the Saturday visiting rule was Boxing Day, which was a visiting day irrespective of when it fell. This posed a bit of a problem for most visitors as there was, and still is, a race meeting at Wetherby on Boxing Day, so travel was difficult as the buses were crowded, but, from what I remember my mum saying, people realised that some were visiting the hospital and were allowed to go the front of the queue. Not so going home though!
The plan of the hospital on the website shows a later state of development than when I was there. There was no physio at all during my stay and no physio facilities. We had no visits from the dentist or barber either. The nurses cut our hair, often badly and frequently painfully, until a barber was employed towards the end of my sojourn. There were no buildings on the other side of the drive, a house for the Doctor was built about 1948 after I left. The main long ward was divided – by space and not partitions - into the babies ward and the small boys ward. It had glazed sliding doors along the whole of the front which were opened as often as possible to let the fresh air in. These glazed doors were protected throughout the war years by massive brick blast walls, so there was no view out of the windows. The walls were taken down shortly after the war, men came with a motorised hammer drill and we thoroughly enjoyed watching them smash the walls down as anything out of the ordinary was something special in our lives.
The big boys ward was, in theory, two wards, as the oldest boys lived outside under the verandah all the time. The weather had to be extremely severe before they were brought indoors, if it rained or snowed heavily then waterproof sheets were draped over the end of their beds. Their bedtime was later than the boys sleeping inside, and they had a late supper which we younger souls really envied.
The place on the plan named ‘Plaster Hut’ was known to us as the Douglas Hut (or the Duggie Hut as we called it). Presumably someone by that name donated it to the hospital. In my time it was used for a number of purposes, one being sunlamp treatment. We were wheeled across in our beds and given goggles, stripped our clothes off, and were treated to a sunlamp session. This obviously was in winter as sunshine was deemed to be a big factor in TB treatment, hence our being outdoors as often as was possible.
The Duggie Hut was also used by the Lecture Sister, who came about once a month to train the nurses. I know I will sound nerdish, but I can remember the number of the Austin Seven she drove – AVH 183! There was a skeleton hanging up in the corner of the hut, covered by a canvas bag. We took great pleasure in having a sneak look if ever we were put near it and tried to scare each other with it.
Until almost the end of my stay, there were mainly three types of patients in the hospital – those with TB on the spine, those with TB on the hip and those with Perthes diseased hips. Towards the end of my stay we started to get some polio patients, but not many and I think they were kept isolated.
Mr Broomhead was the specialist who cared mainly for the TB cases, whilst Mr Paine dealt with the Perthes patients. I had Perthes on both hips and so Mr Paine was my man and I remember him well as I saw him for many years after I left MHMO as an outpatient at Leeds Infirmary. I recall that he was rather a fierce man and quite loudly spoken. I was about 19 when I last saw him. I remember that on his visiting day (about every three months on Thursday afternoon) we had clean sheets on our bed (the sheets were normally changed every Wednesday but if you didn’t have them changed that day you knew you were down to see the Specialist), the beds were turned down with military precision, with your papers, notes and x-rays in a precise spot at foot of the bed. You hardly dared move, and certainly everyone was in awe of Mr Paine when he appeared.
Dr Maloney was probably the GP – I think he lived in Boston Spa and we only saw him when we had a general health problem.
I can’t remember the names of many nurses. I remember Sister Egan and Sister Weddall (I wonder if she got promoted to matron when Matron Downes retired as I see there was a Matron Weddall in later years). I remember a nurse from Wales who was a real dragon – I won’t give her name, but she was quite cruel and universally hated. I remember Nurse Mallory, Nurse Hickling and Nurse Winley. The last two took a special interest in me (every nurse seemed to have a favourite on the ward). I was always interested in ships and the sea and Nurse Winley bought me a book – ‘A Cavalcade of Ships’ which I still have to this day, complete with the inscription she wrote in it. I tried to trace her some years after I went home, but had no success as I didn’t know where to start. She will be in her nineties now if she is still alive.
We had school lessons in the normal school term times. We had two teachers, Miss Kathleen Donnelly and Miss Margaret Budd. Looking back, they were simply fantastic and I am sure that nowadays they would have appeared in the Honours list for the wonderful work they did. They gave up much of their spare time for us and I don’t suppose we were grateful in the least. The morning lessons were the general reading, writing and arithmetic, whilst the afternoons were more handicraft based. Although we were boys and not supposed to do such things, we did embroidery on Monday afternoon and knitting on Tuesday afternoon. I hated knitting and never managed to make anything other than squares which were sewn together to make blankets. Wednesdays was plasticine modelling and Thursdays I think was reading whilst Friday was art. We were outside in our beds in all weathers except rain and in the winter those two teachers must have simply froze! We were all right, snugged in our beds with balaclava and gloves. We wrote on clipboards as we were all strapped down in bedframes or plaster casts, and handwriting was not easy. I had appalling handwriting when I left school, so much so that I decided to teach myself a better hand when I started work.
It is a tribute to their teaching that when I did get home and went back to school I fitted in academically with those of my own age.
Miss Budd took us for Scouts on Monday evenings in term time. We had two patrols – Bulldog and Eagles, I was in the Eagles. I earned my Tenderfoot badge but was exempt from the fire lighting bit!
I can remember the names of a good few of the boys who were inmates at MHO. I remember Albert Fretwell, Brian England, Malcolm Dawson, Ronnie Ackroyd, Norman Holmes, Jeffrey Gresty, Michael Hawksworth, John Appleyard , Kenneth Inkpen, Cyril Gamble, Kevin Jacques, Norman Foster, Malcolm Faulkes, Michael Grainger and John Schofield.
Michael Hawksworth was probably the oldest of the boys and I suppose that if he stayed in much longer he might have had to be transferred to an adult ward in another hospital. Ronnie Ackroyd had probably been in the longest – I think he was admitted as a baby and was still there when he was about nine years old.
Michael Grainger was one of my best buddies. His father was a watchmaker I believe, and Michael had his father’s skills in being extremely good at model making. We were all continually making things but he made some fantastic models from anything he could lay his hands on and I remember him making an exquisite miniature suit of armour from a toothpaste tube!
John Schofield was a great mate and we had some good adventures together. I kept in touch with him after leaving MHO, but lost contact in late teens and though I have tried to find him in later years I have failed to do so.
We were given a film show about every three or four months, a highlight of our lives. The films were mostly cowboys – what better for boys – although we could make requests to see a special favourite. I recall that we asked for, and got, the Ghost Train and also All Through the Night. We were scared stupid by Ghost Train! The films came on several reels and the showing stopped at the end of each reel and a new reel was mounted to allow the show to continue.
Although we were all bed bound it did not stop us playing games and we had, among others, our own versions of tennis, rugby, horse racing, hide and seek and boxing. We even had our version of the marathon! On visiting days in the autumn our parents picked up conkers in the drive and we played conkers for many weeks. In winter when the snow was on the ground we would have snowball fights, collecting the snow by throwing a box tied on a piece of string onto the snow and dragging it carefully back up to our bed.
Plasticine was probably the most popular plaything and we all became pretty handy modellers. Once we had seen something that took our fancy we would immediately make plasticine models of it. Batteries and bulbs were popular too as we could make torches to read by after dark. We made cardboard cinema projectors and would give displays on the ceiling of slides made from toffee papers. I never look at a box of Quality Street without seeing the famous soldier and his lady being projected on to a hospital ward ceiling! We all loved comics and swapped them after reading so that we saw just about every comic that was issued. Paper airplanes were popular too and we had many competitions, much to the displeasure of Mrs Hegarty the cleaner and Mr Lister the groundsman/caretaker because of the litter we created. Both were very understanding though and Mrs Hegarty would take our letters to the post and would shop for us for comics and Dinky cars.
After the war there were bonfires in the central driveway on Bonfire Nights. The boys from the borstal next to the hospital were allowed to come. They stood, one at each bed and we didn’t know what to make of them at all, they probably felt the same about us!
The Bramham Hunt would pay us a visit about once a year prior to setting off for their hunt, riders in all their hunting pinks and the full pack of hounds were there too.
Christmas was a very special time for us. The nurses put up decorations and there were massive cheers when the Christmas tree arrived. Various organisations came to give us parties, I can only remember St Johns Ambulance, but there were others and, of course, each party culminated in the arrival of Father Christmas. The nurses put on a pantomime for us, a special stage was brought in for it and I remember the local civic bigwigs attending.
We all tried to stay awake on Christmas Eve to see Father Christmas and to work out who was beneath the beard. Most of us fell asleep though and only one or two managed to be awake when he arrived, but one year the whole ward was awake - and noticeably so - and his arrival was re-scheduled to the late hours of the morning.
The nurses held a dance at the hospital every few months. There were always a lot of American airman in attendance. The dance was held in the small boys ward and all the patients were wheeled to other parts of the hospital for the night. Some went to the big boys ward, some to the girls ward and some the Douglas Hut. I can remember being in the strangeness of the Douglas Hut, falling asleep to the strains of the dance band. whilst on another occasion I was on the girls ward – I seem to remember that they sang a lot!
The war didn’t seem to affect us much. We often saw large bombs on trucks passing along the road from the munitions factory. The workers often chalked slogans on them, mostly ‘All for Hitler’. I don’t recollect any air raids although we often saw bombers coming home, one, I recall, with engines on fire, and we once saw a Spitfire firing its cannons at a wayward barrage balloon, but nothing at all that scared us. We took a great interest in the war and I can remember one morning the nurse drawing the curtains and saying ’Wake up children, the war is over’. There was a VE or VJ party – I can’t remember which, and parents were presented with a teaspoon to commemorate the event. My mum kept that spoon special for the rest of her days, I don’t know what happened to it when she died.
I have many more memories but will stop here, otherwise I will never finish. I will write some more another time.