Monday, 12 July 2010

Colin Welbourn has even more thoughts

I have had a long read through all the entries on the site – there is certainly a lot to read – and I have just a few miscellaneous thoughts and observations which may be of interest.

First of all I have found the only photograph of me at MHMO. I am on the big boys ward and it is obvious that it was taken on visiting day. You will see I am in mobile traction and so it is to the end of my stay and I can’t be sure whether it is in the late summer of 1946 or around May in 1947 as I don’t know how long that period of treatment lasted. I had yet to learn to walk and as I went home in mid July 1947 it can’t be later than say June of that year. I don’t know for certain who the chap in the next bed in the foreground is, it is probably John Schofield but I can’t be sure. Our parents became good friends and I met up with John a few times after I left Thorp Arch. The boy on the other side looks as though he has a fretsaw at his shoulder. We used to do fretwork as one of our leisure activities, I remember sawing out model beds for a large model of the hospital which was being made for an exhibition of some sort.

In the background there is quite a good view of the small boys ward, with the sunblinds down.

I was very interested in the photograph in Fred’s photostream, number Robin 4-1. As it was taken in 1946 I will be in the picture, but I am not sure if I can identify myself but I rather think I am the boy in the bed behind the man. Incidentally, I can’t recollect a male teacher being on the scene at any time and I think that this is the local vicar from Thorp Arch who came to see us about once a fortnight. His black clothes support this theory quite well.

I loved Judith’s drawing of the small boys ward. Although it is the drawing of a child, it is amazingly correct according to my memory and it stirred more memories in my mind. I had completely forgotten about the fans. The fans blew cold air in summer and warm air in winter and you can see the supply pipes in the drawing. The pipes were suspended from the ceiling and we constantly tried to get paper aeroplanes to fly over them. One other thing we did was to roll up a comic, fold it in half and tie it on a piece of string. We would then throw the comic over the pipe, tying the other end of the string to our bed and we could then have a game of tennis using a book as a racquet – a sort of vertical swingball!

The bricked area at the end of the ward had a central corridor running through it with three rooms on either side – again correctly depicted with the three windows on Judith’s drawing. You can see these windows in the background of the photo ‘Malcolm in Thorp Arch 59/60’. On the front of the building the room next to the ward was the nurses’ office – it had an internal window overlooking the ward so that they could keep an eye on us, although there was a blind which was pulled down at night so that the ward was kept in darkness. Next to that was the treatment room where we were taken for our baths and for the dreaded changing of extensions. The room at the end was, I think, an isolation room. I know that we had one boy – I don’t know if it is right to give his name - who had TB and it got the better of him and he died in that room. Nothing was said to us but the undertaker took him away late in the evening, probably to avoid any distress to us, but several of us saw it all, I don’t think much escaped our eyes!

On the other side of the corridor was a store room, the sluice, and I think, the kitchen.

Douglas Quarmby’s entry is particularly interesting as our stays crossed but our ages are such that we never met as Douglas would have been in the big boys ward when I was admitted to MHMO and he would have left before I moved up from the small boys ward. The wartime hostilities had turned in our favour when I was admitted, and we never saw any enemy action but the aircraft in the sky and barrage balloons are all very familiar.

Douglas recalls a girl who didn’t have any visitors and I also recollect a boy – I won’t name him, who didn’t have any visitors either. Visiting parents would often give him something and have a chat with him but it can’t have been much of a consolation. A nun visited him periodically and she sat very quietly by his bed whilst we wondered just what was going on. Obviously the lad was a Catholic but we knew nothing about the differing religions, something we probably had to learn about once we were home and back to school.

Some other recollections of the various activities we got up to. We were all interested in nature subjects and were quite keen birdwatchers. The sparrows were quite tame and would perch on the end of the bed from time to time. I remember the teachers bringing a bat in for us to see and also a mole. One of the activities we went through was a phase of breeding butterflies. We had a box–shaped frame covered in muslin with a large hole in the bottom which allowed it to pass over a jar of water holding the plants on which the caterpillars fed. We bought the caterpillars of privet hawk moths by mail order and watched them go through the chrysalis stage into moths, which we duly released.

My pal and I also had a go at bee keeping, or so we thought, but in fact I think that they were mostly wasps! We made an intricate cage from cornflake packets and we caught the wasps with a trap made from Meccano. We fed them on jam from our sandwiches, but after a couple of days they got extremely angry and we had to keep cementing holes up as they ate the cage away. A nurse found them and promptly dropped them in the fire bucket and that was the end of that experiment!

There are mentions of patients being taken from MHMO for surgery, but I remember operations being carried out there. They were carried out on Saturday mornings, we waited for the surgeon – generally Mr Broomhead – to arrive and the atmosphere was always very subdued that day. The operating theatre was in the admin building along with the general office and the matron’s office. We could smell the anaesthetic, which scared us and we were always told to be very quiet.

There was a library trolley on the big boys ward and for a time it was kept next to my bed. I had the run of it and I became a bit of a bookworm and was always sneaking a book from it to read at night. I found the books written by Arthur Ransome and became an ardent fan as I have always loved boats and boating.

One mystery to which I would love to know the answer was that every Sunday afternoon at either two or three o’clock, two very old double-decker buses went by the hospital. We waited for these and gave them a wild cheer when they passed. They were always empty and always seemed to be going at quite a speed away from Boston Spa. They returned, I think, around six. We never found out where they were going and what for and I would still love to know!

I went back to the hospital, I think it was around 1998. I stood at the top of the drive, looking at the buildings. Not a lot had changed, the ward buildings all seemed very familiar although the flat roof on the small boys ward had been replaced with a conventional pitched roof. It was eerily quiet, there were no cries and shouts from children as it was now a nursing home. I couldn’t bring myself to go any further and just walked away taking my memories with me. I am glad that I saw it before it was demolished as I had spent such a great part of my formative years in there and I would have been sad to find out that it had all been torn down without my having the opportunity to see it for just one more time.

Finally, I remember the prayer we said each day at the end of school. The words are:

Lord keep us safe this night
Secure from all our fears
May angels guide us while we sleep
Till morning light appears.

It’s childish, I know, but I still use it!