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Archive for March, 2010

 

 <—Life in a Wartime Nursery : Wimbledon         Life as a Servant —>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

Sister Warner sent me to  Massey’s Employment Agency in Baker Street, London, to apply for a live-in cook/housekeeper position so that I can have Marie with me.  The reception room was very big with four cubicles down one side of the room.  Two of the cubicles had a curtain drawn across them for privacy and in the other two there was a small table and two chairs. 

There were three well dressed women waiting and behind a big desk was a middle aged woman with glasses that sat on the end of her nose.  Her grey hair was plaited into two pigtails, each one pinned either side of her head.  She looked very stern, but, when I went up to her she smiled at me.  I told her my name and that I wanted a job as a cook, although I couldn’t cook, but was willing learn.  She told me to go and wait in one of the cubicles and draw the curtain. 

I sat there for a few minutes on my own and then a tall, slender, elegant lady came into the cubicle and sat down opposite me.  She said her name was Mrs Hurt and she had a big house in Billericay in Essex.  She had two sons Michael and Edward, who were away in the Navy and she needed someone to help keep her house orderly and cook for her, her husband, who was retired, and her daughter-in-law.  She said she has a cook at the moment, Mrs Attwood, who has worked for Mrs Hurt over 30 years, but she is old now and wants to retire.   Mrs Hurt asked me to tell her something about myself. 

I told her my name, but said everyone calls me Carmen.  I don’t know why I said that really, because it’s not true.  I’ve never liked the name Olga and Carmen sounds so much prettier.

 I told her I had a baby daughter and I wanted a job where she could come with me.  I said I hadn’t a husband and, I waited for her to ask questions why, but she didn’t.  So I continued explaining that I wanted a job in a private house as a cook, although I couldn’t cook, but I was willing to learn.  I thought it seemed a lot to ask.

“Carmen, Mrs Attwood can teach you to cook, so how would you like to come and work for me”.  My heart leapt.

“I would love to”.


Hendon House:   A week later she picked me up from the nursery in her car and drove me and Marie down to Hendon House, her home in Billericay.  It was a great big house and in the hall is a grandfather clock that chimes on the hour, every hour, and always makes me jump when I hear it.  There is a wide spiral mahogany staircase with pictures hanging on dark rich wood panelling, Rembrandt and Reynolds type paintings of the Hurts’ ancestors, their eyes following you as you climb the stairs.  

Marie and I have the west wing all to ourselves, which sounds very grand I know, but really it is just a bedroom and our very own sitting room and bathroom.

 How wonderful!   My very own bathroom. 

Mrs Attwood and her husband have their own little cottage in the village.  Of course, I knew with the war going on it was hard for people like Mrs Hurt to find staff because women were being called up to work for the war effort but even so, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be offered this job and was determined to do my best.

As soon as I had unpacked, I’d handed our rations books to Mrs Hurt.  There was no shortage of fresh vegetables there because they grew their own and had done for years.  They also had orchards with apple, pear and plum trees and they kept chickens.

On my first day Mrs Attwood showed me where the vegetable garden was and asked me to pull up some lettuces and then wash them.     I returned flushed with success with two beautiful lettuces and went to the scullery to wash them thoroughly under running water. When I took them in to the kitchen Mrs Hurt was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper and when Mrs Attwood saw the lettuce.

 “What the hell have you done to them?”

 “The water was so cold I washed them in hot water” I told her.

 She and Mrs Hurt thought it was hilarious and the pair of them couldn’t stop laughing. 

Every morning I have to make up a breakfast tray for Captain and Mrs Hurt and take it to their room.  They are an elderly couple and are usually still in bed  when I knock on the door.  The pair of them look so sweet sitting up side by side in their bed. They talk to each other with great affection; honestly they are lovely.   I call them Derby and Joan to Mrs Attwood but not in front to their faces. 

Later on I have to tidy their bedroom and then tidy and dust the drawing room.  Although the drawing room is big, it has a homely feel to it.  There is a grand fireplace with a mantelpiece above and it has a beautiful marble clock on it. 

The sofas and armchairs are big and comfortable and the occasional tables on either side each have a bronze table lamp, as well as lots of photographs of the children.  There’s a rosewood sideboard with a pair of matching vases and Mrs Attwood told me they are very rare and worth a lot of money.  I wish she hadn’t told me that because now I dread dusting them in case I break them.  On the walls are even more pictures of the Hurts’ ancestors. 

There’s a glass cabinet which has their porcelain tea service displayed in it.  In the corner is a wind up gramophone and a big pile of records.  It reminds me of the Nurses Home in St Giles because we had one in the sitting room.  I try not to think about St Giles; I get upset if I do.

Miss Judith, is married to Michael, Captain and Mrs Hurt’s youngest son, and has two lovely boys, Patrick, who was nine and Nicholas, who was 10.  They are at boarding school in Windsor but home now for the school holidays.  Patrick has taken a fancy to Marie and wherever he goes he takes her with him.

Captain Hurt is very fond of Marie too.  He came into the kitchen this morning and said

“She’ll only bother you here, why don’t you let her help me pick some apples”.

They have an apple orchard and grow coxes apples and they were the sweetest apples I’ve ever tasted.  When I went to fetch Marie the other day, she was wearing Captain Hurt’s hat and they were both walking together with their heads bowed and hands behind their backs.

 Oh God she looked so cute. 

 <—Life in a Wartime Nursery : Wimbledon         Life as a Servant —>

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<—Marie                                                     Colonel and Mrs Hurt—>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

 

Dear Diary

The baby room is painted in pretty pale colours, yellow, pink and blue with pictures of bunny rabbits, kittens and puppies stuck on the walls.  There are ten cots in a row, each one containing a precious baby, and now the sisters have put another cot at the end of the row, for Marie.  Now all I have to do is look after all of them.

Thank goodness the babies have a timetable. With one of the Sisters help, I bath the babies every other morning.  I’m only allowed to make up enough baby food for one feed at a time and although it’s against the rules, the only way I can feed so many babies who are crying for their milk at the same time, is to prop up a bottle in the first baby’s mouth and then move on to the next baby.

After the babies have been fed I change their nappies and then it seems as if I have to start all over again.  It’s an endless round of feeding, changing nappies and giving the babies a little cuddle.   In the afternoon I put them either in a cot or, if the weather is good, in a pram outside. 

When it’s quiet, I have to write up the babies’ reports.     It’s the noisiest place to work in because there is always two or three babies crying at once.  But I don’t mind.  I have Marie with me.  She is beautiful and so good, she rarely cries.   I try to be fair and not pay her more attention than the other babies.  Thank God I’m always busy I don’t have time to  think about Mammie and home.  I’m so tired by the end of the day.   Sister Pateman and Sister Warner are very, very kind to me.

 ******

Dear Diary

My good friend Moores wrote to me and told me she’s decided nursing is not for her so she’s going home to live with her parents.  She wanted to come and see me before she left, but I wrote and told her I was too busy but I promised to keep in touch.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see her, I did, but I just couldn’t bear saying goodbye to her.  I’m such a coward.

It’s been a long time since any bombs were dropped on London and just when everyone thought the war was nearly over that horrible Hitler has sent over a new type of bomb.   It’s called a “doodlebug”,  It makes a low buzzing noise like a motorbike then there is silence, which is its engine cutting out and it glides without a sound for a few seconds, then explodes.

Last night I sat on the stairs and in the distance I heard a doodlebug.   It got louder and louder until it seemed like it was overhead when suddenly it stopped and there was silence.  I counted to ten and waited for the explosion, but it landed in the distance.  We were safe, but maybe somebody else wasn’t so lucky.    Whenever the sirens went off we are supposed to take the babies downstairs into the basement but by the time we’ve moved the cots down there, the all clear sounds and it’s all over.    Wimbledon has been hit a few times during these raids but has not suffered as much as some other parts of London where the devastation has been huge.  Even in the Blitz moral in the capital wasn’t as low as it is now.

 

******

Dear Diary

A few nights ago I heard a strange sound coming from one of the cots.  As I went down the row checking each baby, I realised the sound was coming from the end cot where Marie was.  The sound was her struggling to breathe.  Sister Pateman examined her and said Marie was ill.  She had pneumonia.  She told me to go and look after the other babies and she and Sister Warner would see to her. 

They put her into one of the bathrooms, put on the electric fire, turned the hot water on and filled up the bath so the bathroom was full of steam.  I was desperate to help my baby and told them that back home when I had scarlet fever, Mammie boiled some onions and put them in muslin cloth and tied them round my ankles, and that helped bring down my temperature. 

“Shall I boil some onions”?  I asked them.

“No, Olga, go and look after the other babies and don’t worry, we’ll see to Marie”.

Then about every hour throughout the night they took turns watching over Marie, running the hot water so the level of steam remained high helping Marie to breathe.   Any spare minute I could,  I prayed to God not to take away from me the one thing that made the pain of what happened, the loss of my family and my loneliness bearable.   

Two days after Marie was taken ill Sister Warner took her out of the bathroom and put her back into the nursery.   With the help of God and two wonderful women, Marie had fought for her little life and won.  

 

******

Dear Diary

Marie is walking now and we have to leave here because she is disturbing the babies.   The Sisters have asked me what I’m going to do.   I think I’ll get a job in a private house so Marie will be able to come with me.

******

<—Marie                                      Colonel and Mrs Hurt—>

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<—Home is a Refuge for Friendless Girls         Life in a Wartime Nursery—>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

Marie:   So many people were in the labour room of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, three medical students watching as part of their training, two nurses, Sister and a doctor.  After eighteen painful hours it was it was nearly over.  

“One good heave now Olga.  I can feel the head” the doctor said and then finally the baby slipped out. 

Before the mouth and nasal passages were cleared Sister had slapped the baby on its bottom and it cried immediately.  Then it was weighed, washed and wrapped in a blanket and handed to me – I had a baby girl.  I was frightened holding her because she was so small and I thought I would hurt her. 

“Babies are tough, Olga.  Give your daughter a cuddle” Sister said kindly.   I wish Mammie could see my tiny, perfect little daughter.

******

Dear Diary

I’ve christened my daughter, Marie-Thérèse, after my favourite nun at Alpha Academy and I’ve had to register her birth.  When the Registrar asked me the father’s name, I just shook my head.  I felt ashamed, but he was a kind man and patted my hand and gave me a little smile, but his act of kindness made me cry.   I have no idea how I am going to look after my baby.  I have no home, no money and no job. 

Then the problem was solved for me.  Miss Franks came to me and said that because of my circumstances, my baby would be taken from me and put in an orphanage to give me time to think about whether placing Marie for adoption was best for her.  She also told me that Matron from St Giles had said I could work at the hospital, as a maid, for a short time, which would give me some money, and I could stay in the refuge for a while until I came to some kind of decision about Marie.

I’ve asked Miss Franks if she could arrange for Marie to be baptized at St James’s Roman Catholic Church in Spanish Place and Moores said she would be Marie’s godmother. Immediately after Marie was baptized  I handed her over to a complete stranger to be taken to an orphanage in a place I’d never heard of, Gloucester.  If Moores hadn’t been with me I think I would have ended my life then. 


“In Jamaica we have Obeah men who can work evil against people who hurt you, you know, Moores.  They can make bad things happen to that person.  I only have to ask someone back home and it will be done.”

 “That’s voodoo, Olga”

“Maybe it is, but I want to hurt him for what he did to me”. 

“Would it help if I pop into John Lewis and bought a little doll and some pins, then you can pretend the doll is John Edward and stick the pins in it.”

“Don’t laugh, Moores, believe me Obeah works,  I know, I’ve seen it working” I told her.  I looked at her and there was a little smile on her face.

“Forget all that rubbish Olga” she said putting her arm around me. 

“You need to concentrate on finding a way to get your baby back.”
 
  ******

Dear Diary

Miss Franks wanted to see me.  She showed me an advert from a newspaper.  A toddler and baby nursery in Wimbledon wants help in its nursery and she thinks that with my nursing training I should apply for the job particularly as no school leaving certificate is asked for. 

It is a private nursery in a very big posh house at the end of a long drive in Victoria Drive, I was interviewed by the two trained nurses who ran it called Sister Warner and Sister Pateman.  The Sisters told me that the mothers of the babies at the nursery are in the navy or army and when they have finished their tour of duty, or the war is over, they will take their babies back again.   I explained I had a little baby, Marie, and they said yes your little baby can come along. 

Then they took me round the building and explained how the baby nursery takes babies from six months up to two years old.   The baby room is on the top floor of the house and there is a play room next to it which is full of soft and wooden toys made by the local people living in the area and my bedroom is on the same floor.

Then they showed me around the toddler nursery which takes day children from two to five years of age.  The children are able to come to the nursery any time after 7.30 in the morning and have to be picked up by 6  in the evening.  The nursery is on the first floor and also has a playroom as well as a sleeping room for the children to rest in during the day.    Each toddler has their own overall, towel and flannel, which is kept on their own peg.  Sister Pateman and Sister Warner’s bedrooms are on that floor.

On the ground floor are two bathrooms each with electric fires over the bath and the staff dining room.  Next to the air raid shelter in the basement is the laundry room where there is a big sink with a wringer.  

Each baby has its own cot and bedding and every day nappies have to be boiled as well as washing the cot sheets and towels.  When I saw the amount of washing that had to be done I thought I can’t do this job, I won’t cope, but Sister must have seen my face, because she said I would not be doing the washing.  A local girl comes in each day and does it and another woman comes in two afternoons a week to do the ironing. 

 “They were desperate for some help and you were a godsend to them Olga”, Miss Franks said later.

 For the first time in a very long time I felt happy, it meant free board and food for Marie and me and I got paid as well.  I’d have done the job just for the board and food.

Six months after Marie was taken away from me  I’ve got her back and I will never, never, never, EVER give her up again to anyone. 

I miss my family.

******

<—Home is a Refuge for Friendless Girls          Life in a Wartime Nursery—>

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