A  Childhood Memory Circa 1941

I remember that the morning was bright and sunny. I was four years old and had awoken on the settee downstairs and wondered why my sister was not with me. I asked my Mum and I can recall how pale and worried she looked, not her usual bright and smiling self.

My mother told me as she got me dressed that my sister was very poorly and that I had not to go upstairs to see her. Apparently my parents had been up all night and my father had called in to the Doctors on his way to work to ask him to call.  Ordinary folks did not take time off work those days, and never had a home visit from a doctor unless it was something  really serious.

When my Mum saw the doctor arriving, she sat me in a chair with a book and some maltesers with strict instructions that I had to stay there.  Somehow I didn’t feel like eating the chocolates and played around with them feeling very worried until my mum and doctor came down the stairs. I remember he was patting my mum on her back and she was crying. After he had gone my mum told me that my sister had Diphtheria and was very ill indeed and going to hospital.

In those days anyone with infectious diseases were sent to ‘fever hospitals’, and isolated. I didn’t see my poor sister again for eight long weeks and neither did my parents.

The ambulance came and two bluff and kindly men brought my sister downstairs wrapped in a red blanket. I wanted to kiss her but was not allowed. She whispered to my mother that she did not want me to play with her doll’s pram until she came home and mum certainly kept her promise. I was not even allowed to touch it in the following weeks. It stayed just as my sister had left it.

All the neighbours were out in the street to watch and my distraught mum was not even allowed to go with my sister in the ambulance.

When my Dad came home at lunchtime, he too was crying. I know now that my parents had been told that my sister would probably not survive. I had never seen either of them cry before and it made me cry too.

Late  that day some people came to ‘stove’ the house, supposedly to get rid of any germs. We had to wait outside whilst this was done, and not go back in for a certain length of time. I think that they took the bedclothes away too to be sterilised, although I’m not sure about that. We went to my Grandma’s whilst all this was happening. I remember my Grandma saying over and over again ‘but they have been immunised.’ My sister and I had indeed both been immunised against this terrible disease

There was an arrangement between the hospital, (Killingbeck in Leeds) and the local evening newspaper, to print each day a patients Number with a statement besides each number that stated their progress. Very poorly, poorly, improving, much better, and then, the wonderful words......can come home. I think that my mother may have been sent this number in the post along with other instructions.

We used to go to the hospital with a bag of comics, books, crayons, sweets, jigsaws and other things, about once a week, but had to leave them at the lodge which was at the end of a very long drive before you got to the hospital. We were never allowed in the hospital. No one had a telephone in our street, not many working class people had, so mum used to write to my sister telling her all the news, but never got a letter back. I suppose she (my sister) wasn’t allowed to send one, and she was only seven years old.

Then, thankfully at last, came the day that my sister could come home. This was a double event for me as it was the first time I had been in a car (taxi) and so we went to collect her.

What excitement. I will never forget the first sight I had of my lovely sister. She was so pale, thin, and very withdrawn. It didn’t look like her at all. Gone was the sister that I had known, and a stranger came home in her place.

It took quite a few weeks for her to settle down again, and it was never quite the same afterwards. I think that the awful experiences that she had suffered, which she was reluctant to talk to me about, unfortunately affected her for the rest of her life.




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