Was Such Strictness Really Necessary?

It was in the late 1930s and war threatened. I was five years old when it happened. While playing with my friend Joyce in the garden all seemed normal – a happy day of childhood. Suddenly the pain in my groin was unbearable. I couldn’t run, and walking was excruciating. I crumpled to the ground.

Mother took me to the doctor’s in my little brother’s push chair. Although I didn’t understand his words, he gravely diagnosed my problem as a hernia. The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital was only 500 yards away, but reserved solely for the use of Manchester residents. I had to travel six miles to Park Hospital, which as it had only recently opened had the advantage of up-to-date methods and procedures.

I don’t remember being afraid, and soon settled in. Boys and girls in the ward would come to my cot and ask why I couldn’t join in their games, and as I was quite a Bossy Boots I
assumed the role of Matron from my cot straight away. Wearing a piece of net curtain for a head-dress, I proceeded to organise a ward within a ward. When the real Matron came on her rounds with her entourage she was very upright and, with her starchy appearance and brisk manner, quite terrified all of us. Feeling intimidated for the first time, I relinquished my post and never dared to imitate her again.

When I was able to leave my cot I joined the other children in the ward. Peggy Malone, all of ten years old, mothered me at first, and I shall always remember her kindness during those early days, especially as visiting was limited. Two Sundays had passed before my parents were able to visit me. Any gift of fruit or chocolate was taken from individuals and shared out among all of us later in the afternoon. My father had been concerned about me during his first visit, and attempted to
Remembering Jane drop the high side of the cot and take me in his arms. Very swiftly a scolding nurse appeared, saying this was not allowed.

Such stringent rules were not considered insensitive in the 1930s, although both parents and children became distressed through not having the opportunity to have meaningful time with each other. Official reports on patients to telephoned enquiries were limited to ‘satisfactory’, ‘progressing’ or ‘no change’, each saying very little to relieve the natural anxiety felt within the family.

Added to these worries was the problem of transport, for my parents had to catch three buses each way for the journey to the hospital. It is reassuring to know that the system was willing to change, and that today’s parents have the opportunity of being beside a sick child to encourage and reassure, and to promote recovery.

Hilda Williams