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 <—-Martha’s Revenge

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

Hunters Farm:   I applied for a job with a Major and Mrs Langford.  They have a farm in Pulborough and live in a big Tudor house.  I arrived for the interview and rang the door bell.  When Mrs Langford opened the door she looked at me in surprise, so, I told her my name was Carmen Browne and I had come for an interview.

“But  you’re coloured”

 “Oh…. yes. I’m sorry” I said.  

“Well, now you’re here, you’d better come in”.

 I told her I was a widow with a young daughter at boarding school and that my husband had been a doctor and been killed when the tube station he was sheltering in had been hit by a bomb.

She explained that I would be cooking for the family and small intimate dinner parties, but no fancy food as she and her husband liked good plain cooking.  I showed her my references and she read them twice.   I wonder why, they’re very good.

Mrs Langford isn’t sure that I am the sort of person she wants and is going to discuss the matter with her husband and will let me know in about a week’s time.  I won’t get the job. 

She doesn’t like coloured people. 

******

Dear Diary

Good news:   Mrs Langford wrote to me and said she would give me a three months trial period as she would like to see how things worked out when Marie comes home for the holiday.  Thank goodness, I was getting worried.   I didn’t want to ask the nuns to keep Marie again for the holidays.

The Langfords like her and so do their two children, Emma and Tim.   The children aren’t snobs like their mother and they play nicely together and tell each other about their schools. 

The convent has made quite the little lady out of Marie and listening to her talking  with such confidence makes me feel she has more in common with them than me. 

The children sat spellbound the other day, on the backdoor step of the kitchen, while Marie told them about a new film, “Never Take No for an Answer”, the nuns had taken her class to see.  

It’s about a little orphan boy called Peppino whose precious donkey, Violetta, falls ill and he wants to take the donkey into the crypt of St Francis, who is the patron saint of animals, in the hope that this will cure Violetta, but everyone he goes to for permission says no he can’t.  So Peppino decides to ask the Pope himself and he and Violetta have a long and hard journey to Rome with many obstacles in his way, but in the end the Pope says yes and Violetta goes into the crypt of St Francis.  It’s a lovely film and very sad; I cried when I saw it.

******

Dear Diary

Emma came to the kitchen and asked me if Marie could come for a swim in their pool but I told her Marie had to help me shell the peas for lunch.  So Emma offered to help and then Marie could finish quickly.  Mrs Langford came into the kitchen and saw what Emma was doing and was very angry with me.

“My children do not do the servant’s work” she said.

I was furious with her.  Marie is not a servant.  I am.

First thing in the morning Emma, Tim and Marie go the dairy and help George, the farm hand, milk the cows.  Then after breakfast they all go off riding together and are gone for hours.  It’s busy at harvest time and everyone is expected to help so they are all out in the fields until nearly dark, including the children. 

Marie fits in well with the family and now Mrs Langford doesn’t like to see Marie doing kitchen chores, but they keep me so busy in the kitchen and sometimes I need help and it’s good to remind Marie that she is not one of them.  I think she looks down on me sometimes.  

******

Dear Diary

Last night I dreamt about the day I made my first Holy Communion.  There were 200 of us that Sunday morning in the Holy Trinity Cathedral.  It was a grand occasion with the choir in the background singing “Mass of the Angels” while the service was in progress.  And then we all left the Cathedral to the sound of Mozart’s Grand March.   Outside the Cathedral there were group pictures of us all taken with our family and then onto a wonderful breakfast and the Alpha Band playing while we ate.   

I know why I dreamt about this.  Guilt.  I was feeling guilty about not being at the convent yesterday when Marie made her first Holy Communion.  Mrs Langford said I had to change my day off because she wanted me to cook Beef Wellington for a luncheon party which she decided to give on the spur of the moment.  I tried to explain to her how important it was that I went to the convent and how disappointed Marie would be, but her bloody Beef Wellington was more important.  She said I could take the day off, but I could have my cards at the end of the week.  I need this job, I had to do it. 

******

 Letter to Mummy from Marie

Dear Mummy

Please don’t be cross with me.  Sister Bernadette put my name in the naughty book again.  Is that why you didn’t come to see me on Sunday?  I am sorry Mummy.  I didn’t mean to be naughty.  I’m trying very hard to be good. 

Sister Philomena says can you send some money for a new pair of shoes for me.  These one squash my toes up and it hurts when I walk. Sister Philomena says they are too small.

I went to mass this morning and it was very nice.  This evening we have stations of the cross, my favourite. 

I have made two new friends.  One is called Leonie and one is called Anne Truelove.   Leonie sucks her arm a lot.

Please come to the concert Mummy.  I promise I will be good.

Love and kisses from Marie XXXXX

 ******

 Dear Diary

 The Concert at the Convent:   What a lovely evening.  Marie was so excited when she saw me and I was happy I’d come to the convent, although I was very nervous.  I’d been hoping to buy a new outfit, but I couldn’t afford it.

Mrs Langford said I looked very smart so that was nice.  I worry that Marie will be ashamed of me because I don’t dress as well as the other parents and I’ve put on a little bit of weight, well, quite a lot really.  

Sometimes, you know, I find it convenient to let people think I’m  Marie’s nanny. 

A few weeks ago Sister Bernadette wrote to me and asked me to buy Marie a ballet dress as she had been chosen, along with nine other girls, to be swans in the chorus line of the ballet Swan Lake

Once the orchestra started playing, out came the dancing white swans onto the stage, and my heart sank when I saw Marie.   She danced on to the stage, the only blue swan amongst a line of white ones. 

It didn’t occur to me when I bought her ballet dress that it should be white.  I saw the blue one and thought blue is her favourite colour, so I bought it.  There was a gasp from the audience when she appeared on the stage but she carried on dancing beautifully. 

At the end of the performance each swan had to come to the front of the stage  and curtsy to the audience and when it came to Marie’s turn, the audience gave her a lovely round of applause. 

Wasn’t that kind of them?   I was so proud, I cried. 

******

Dear Diary

I bumped into Mrs Langford when I came out of the betting shop in Horsham.  Damn nuisance.  I pretended I’d gone into the wrong shop but I don’t think she believed me.  I don’t gamble a lot just a little bit now and again.  Just to help me with the school fees.

 I wish I’d paid more attention to Boysie when he took me to Kingston races.  He always won.  He said he knew how to study form.  I don’t even know what that means.  I just stick a pin in the newspaper or else if I like the name of the horse, I’ll back it.  The first two times I bet I won and  it seemed easy.  

My luck’s not good at the moment.

******

Letter to Mrs Carmen Browne

from

Sister Bernadette, Headmistress, Our Lady’s Convent, Dartford, Kent 

 Dear Mrs Browne

I am disappointed to learn that you have once again fallen behind with the weekly payments we agreed you should make in order to cover the arrears and current fees for Marie at the convent.  Please could you make a payment as soon as possible.

Whilst writing, I think you should know that Marie’s behaviour has deteriorated and her school work is poor.  She has had to be punished twice recently, once with the cane and on another occasion she has had to do 100 lines.

I am sympathetic to your circumstances, but must tell you that Marie’s behaviour must improve or we will have to refuse to accept her as a pupil.

Yours truly

Sister Bernadette   (Headmistress)

******

Dear Diary

What can I do?   I have asked Mrs Langford if she could let me have an advance on my wages so I can send the convent some money.    She said she would think about it.  Later that day she came to me and said how fond the family was of Marie and she had a suggestion to make.

“You are obviously finding it difficult to bring up Marie.  What if I give you a cheque for £250 and we take Marie off your hands.” 

I couldn’t believe what she was saying. 

“No, I can’t do that”

“Well, Carmen” she said “you should give the matter some thought.  

“Marie is a lovely child and even if you didn’t want to leave her with us, you should consider having her adopted.  It is obvious you cannot support her.”

******

Dear Diary

Marie is home for the Christmas holidays.  She is unhappy at the convent and wants to leave.  She says there is a nun who is very cruel, Sister Claire, and she is the one who keeps punishing Marie.     I understand now why Mammie didn’t say anything to Sydney when he whipped us. 

I think it is wrong that the nuns smack a child, but I cannot say anything  because I owe them money.   I have to find the fees before she returns in January. 

Christmas Eve: Marie asked me if she should put a big pillow case or a little pillow case at the end of her bed for Father Christmas to leave her presents. 

I snapped at her and told her he’s not coming this year.  Oh God, the expression on her face.  I heard her get up in the middle of the night and look to see if there were any presents.  She said nothing about it the next day.  I feel terrible.   I have no money for presents. 

******

Dear Diary

Good Friday :  There is a big crisis going on.  Mr Langford has lost the keys to his study. He cannot open his safe without them so everyone has to search the house until they are found. 

Mrs Langford asked me if I had seen them and, of course, I haven’t.  I don’t go near his study.  She has accused me of taking them and called in the police and asked them to search my room.  She has told them that little knick knacks have gone missing for some time and suspected it was me.

A plain clothes policeman searched my room, opening the drawers, taking out our clothes and throwing them on the bed, going through my wardrobe, the contents of my handbag strewn over my bed.   Marie was watching and crying.  They broke my little statue of  the Virgin Mary on the table by the bed.   My bible was on the floor. 

They found nothing.  But they still took our fingerprints, mine and my little girl’s. 

Shortly after the police left, Tim Langford found the keys in his father’s car;  they had dropped down the side of the driving seat.

Later that same day I packed our suitcase and Marie and I left the Langfords, but, not before Mrs Langford had insisted on emptying my suitcase to check that I had not stolen anything from the house.  I had very little money and I suppose I should have stayed because I was not keeping Marie safe, but my pride wouldn’t let me. 

Baywood Farm’s front drive is about half the size of a football pitch and I knew that, as Marie and I walked unsteadily on the loose gravel into the country lane, the Langfords were watching us.  Marie using both hands to carry her suitcase and me struggling to carry the heavier suitcase and trying to make as dignified an exit as possible.

I got a coach to London and went to the Refuge in Fulham to see Geraldine Franks and explained my position.  I thought she would help me.  She was very sympathetic, but, in the end she said she had no choice but to inform the authorities that Marie and I were homeless.  I knew what that meant and left.  

We went to Victoria Coach Station and got on a coach to Brighton.   I had enough money left to buy two coach tickets to Brighton and four 1d buns.  When we arrived in Brighton I found the nearest Catholic Church and begged the priest to help us. 

******

 <—-Martha’s Revenge

 

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 <—- Hanging On                                                         Martha’s Revenge —>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary 

The Convent:   Marie is in boarding school now at Our Lady’s Convent in Dartford and is very nice and lots of posh people’s children go there.  Matron thought I was her nanny when we arrived and didn’t hide her surprise when I said I was Marie’s mother. 

While we talked Marie was crying because she didn’t want to leave me.  I gave her a white lace handkerchief to wipe her tears and she was wiping her little face with it saying

“Don’t go Mummy, please don’t go”.  It upset me.

“Never mind, when you are gone and she sees the other children she’ll be alright” Matron said.  In bed that night I cried my eyes out because I didn’t have Marie with me..

I know this will be good for her because she will be taught how to become a lady and to speak nicely.  The sisters say she will settle down and make new friends and not to worry about her.  Poor Madeline is missing Marie a lot.  

 Mrs Hammell is worried because Madeline is not as strong as other children she might get hurt at school, so she prefers to employ a private tutor for her at home.  I think Madeline would be fine at school.  Mrs H is over protective of her. 

******

 Dear Diary

Madeline and I are getting very excited because Marie is coming home for the holidays. 

Then Mrs Hammell said it wasn’t really convenient for Marie to come home during half term and would I mind asking the nuns if she could stay in the convent instead.

 So Marie stayed in the convent again and I haven’t seen her for such a long time. 

Will have to give both girls lots of special treats.

****** 

Dear Diary

At last Marie is home for the holidays but there is a change in Mrs H’s attitude to me.  She is off-hand with me. 

“Have I done something wrong?”

 She said she was unhappy with my work and thinks I am more interested in Marie than in looking after Madeline.   That’s unfair, and it’s not true, and I told her I go out of my way to pay Madeline more attention than Marie. I took the girls to the Zoo and when we got back home, Madeline came up and hugged me and gave me a kiss to say thank you.

In the evening Madeline likes to come to our room to play with Marie rather than be with her mother.  If I tell her she must stay with her Mummy she gets upset and thinks I don’t want her.

I think Mrs H is jealous because Madeline is very fond of  Marie and me.. 

Mrs H and I have had a little talk.

“I apologise if I was wrong” she said. 

“But, really, Carmen, no mother can look after another person’s child and neglect her own”.

She said she thinks it would be better if I leave. 

Oh dear, I don’t want to, but I suppose she’s right.

****** 

Dear Diary 

Back to the kitchen:   Now Marie is in boarding school I have a better choice of jobs.  I’m working for Googie Withers, the film actress, and her husband, John McCallum, as an assistant housekeeper in their London home.  I keep their house clean and on their cook’s day off, I do the cooking.  I really like it.  They are both very sweet and kind to me.  They have all sorts of interesting people to dinner, other actors and writers, and they’re not demanding.    Mr McCallum is so handsome he makes me swoon.  He’s like the hero in some of Ruby’s stories. 

The only problem is Marie can’t come home for the holidays.  I didn’t tell them about her because otherwise I wouldn’t have got the job.  I know Sister Bernadette is getting cross with me because she thinks I am neglecting Marie.  I promised Marie I would go to the sports day.  She was running in the egg and spoon race but I had to miss it.  I feel simply dreadful and I miss her terribly. 

She wrote me a letter and said she was very upset and crying.

“All the other Mummies came to sports day but not my Mummy”.

It’s no good, even though I like this job a lot, I will have to find another one before Christmas so I can have Marie in the holidays. 

Falling behind on my savings.  

******

 Dear Diary 

I had a letter from my friend Moores today.  I wrote to her to ask her to lend me some money because I have to pay Marie’s school fees.  I hated doing it.  She’s so kind Moores, she always was to me – and she sent me more money than I asked for.  She said she was still in touch with Ethel who was married and has two children.  But Moores isn’t married.  She said she hadn’t found the right bloke.

Moores still kept in touch with some of the other nursing students we worked with and she’d heard that John Edward, Marie’s father, had died in December 1949.  He’d married an American girl and moved to New York and was working as a doctor in one of the hospitals there. He was standing on the subway platform and just fell forward onto the railway lines and was hit by an incoming train and killed outright. Witnesses said he just toppled forward.  Moores said there was a mystery surrounding his death.  An autopsy had revealed nothing unusual and so the medical examiner concluded that he probably had an accidental fall.  But some of his colleagues were sure he’d committed suicide.  Apparently he suffered from depression quite a lot.

Moores asked me if I had worked Obeah on him for what he did to me.  Honestly, how could Moores think I’d do that!   Of course, I didn’t, but if any of my family knew what he had done to me, they would certainly have worked obeah on him.

******

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 <—- Hanging On                                                         Martha’s Revenge —>

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<—Life as a Servant

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

Sydney:  I got a letter from home. It had been sent to St Giles who forwarded to Miss Franklin who forwarded to Sister Pateman and eventually I got it.

 It was from Sydney saying he was coming to England on a business trip and would be staying at the Reynolds Hotel in London during the last week of March.  He said he wanted to see me and isn’t leaving England until he has done. 

So I went to meet him on my day off yesterday.    Sydney has lost weight and some hair, but, otherwise he’d barely changed, but he said I had.

 I had bought a new outfit for the occasion because I wanted to look the best I could.   I was wearing a new blue dress I’d recently bought and a little hat to match and a grey coat belted at the waist.  I thought I looked very nice.  Sydney said I did. 

It was so good to hear about Mammie and the family.  He told me Mammie was well, but worried about me and gave me all the news about the family. Cissie and Dyke had another two children; Dolly had married her Syrian and I felt sad I hadn’t be at her wedding;  there were no changes in Pearl’s life; Ruby had a boyfriend called Jack, whom Sydney and Mammie approved of.  Ruby and Jack were very serious about each other and Sydney said he thought there might be another marriage in the family.  How nice.


Birdie was working at the Ward Theatre and it seemed as if she might go to America and stay with Vivie for a while. Vivie had got her divorce and married Freddie.  I wondered how Mammie felt about that, I bet she was upset.   Chickie and Maurice were well but poor Chickie still hadn’t heard a word from Victor Condell and Gwennie was still living with that terrible man, Keith Rousseau. And Boysie and Minah had another baby, a little girl.  Once we’d been through the family I waited for the questions to come my way.

“Mammie is desperately worried about you Olga.  We know you’re not at the hospital any more, what happened?” 

I couldn’t tell Sydney about Marie, not because I was frightened of him, I wasn’t any more, but because I was so ashamed of what happened to me and I hadn’t the courage to face my family.  

I told him I’d failed my first year’s exam and that’s why I left the hospital and because of the war I couldn’t go home.  So I had to find some work and because I had some experience nursing I found a job as a children’s nursery nurse.  

 I told him I had lots of friends and I was very happy with the job because it was well paid and I would never to be able to earn so much in Jamaica.  I wanted to stay on here in London a bit longer.

“Well, that’s fine because I’m going to be here for at least another four months doing business around the country, so, when I’ve finished, we can go home together”.  Sydney had it all worked out.

  “This time”, he said, “I’m keeping my promise to Mammie”.  

I gave him a false address and he gave me the date he would be back at the Reynolds Hotel.  I told him I would ring him at the hotel when he returned there.  It wasn’t that I don’t want to go home, of course I do.  I want to be with my family and I want Mammie to see her beautiful little granddaughter, but I fear seeing Mammie’s disappointment in me, that would be too much to bear.  I know they will ask questions which I don’t want to answer.  The memory is too painful.

Then Sydney asked about Joanne and if she was well.  When I told him she’d died, I swear there were tears in his eyes.  He put his arm round me, but I had to shake it off and he looked hurt.  I couldn’t help it, these days if anyone is kind to me, I cry.

Sydney wanted to know why I hadn’t kept in touch with Aunt Martha.  I told him I didn’t like her because she blasphemed a lot, was a drunk, a liar and a hypocrite.  I must have said it with such venom, because Sydney looked so shocked. I told him how when I was staying with her, Mr Kitchen stayed overnight with Aunt Martha and that they were living together as man and wife.  I told him she said mean things to me.  

“She makes a great pretence of being a Christian person when she’s in Jamaica going to Church but she doesn’t go near a Church here and then there’s Mr Kitchen” 

“What about Mr Kitchen” Sydney asked. And before I could stop myself I’d blurted out Aunt Martha’s big secret.

  “He’s a black man”.

******

Dear Diary

The Hunt Ball:   The Hurts have a stud farm in Ireland and, now the war is over, they have decided to close Hendon Hall and move back to Ireland.  Mrs Hurt said she would have liked me to come with them, but there are staff there already.  I don’t mind really.  But before they move to Ireland they want to hold a Hunt Ball, like they used to do before the war.   

Fortnum and Mason’s in Piccadilly are doing the catering for the Hunt Ball and Mrs Hurt has put me in charge of collecting the programmes which means I have to stand by the drawing room door and as the gentlemen came in  they hand me their programmes.  I had a peek at one and it’s just a list of all the dances with room to write down the name of the lady who the gentleman is  going to have a particular dance with.

Mrs Hurt’s daughter-in-law, Judith dressed me for the Ball in a long white dress with a wide gold sash around my waist and a gold and white turban on my head.  When I saw myself in the mirror I thought I looked like Annie Harvey, the Obeah woman in Kingston, but Mrs Hurt and Mrs Attwood said I looked lovely. 

When the first huntsman arrived he gave me his programme.

“I think you are in the  wrong place”

“This is the Hunt Ball isn’t it?”

“Yes, but you’re supposed to be in an evening suit”.  

“My dear girl, the huntsmen come to the Hunt Ball in their hunting jacket” he said.

No one had told me that the huntsmen come in their red coats. Captain and Mrs Hurt were coming down the spiral staircase and she looked lovely in a lilac evening dress.

 “What’s the matter Carmen”. 

“I was just telling this gentleman that he was in the wrong place”. 

Mrs Hurt was very apologetic to the gentleman and said she should have explained to me that the huntsmen come in their uniform.  I felt very foolish, but the gentleman and Mrs Hurt were very nice about it.

Oh it was a wonderful sight, all those handsome men in their red hunting jackets and the ladies looking beautiful in their evening dresses. 

 ******

 Our last day:   This morning Captain Hurt gave Marie a present beautifully wrapped and tied with a pink ribbon.  The present was so big I had to help her open it and out came a whopping big doll.  She was the most beautiful doll I’ve ever seen and she was as big as Marie.

 Marie was speechless, but beaming. 

“Susie”, she finally said, hugging the doll tight.  It was a wonderful present from the Hurts and made my little girl very happy.

Mrs Hurt gave me a month’s holiday pay and arranged for Marie to go into a nursery in Basingstoke for two weeks so that I could have a holiday and promised to give me a good reference for my next position. 

“Carmen, I don’t want to pry into your personal life and I only do so now because I’m fond of you and Marie, but for Marie’s sake don’t you think you should contact your family”.

Mrs Hurt had no idea I had already seen Sydney, nor did she know I had an Aunt in London.  I had never discussed anything about my family with the Hurts.

“I don’t think you realise how hard life could become for you both.  There are many people, including the authorities, who consider an unmarried mother unfit to bring up a child and may even try and take her from you”. 

I was deeply touched by her concern for us and wanted to hug her, like I would Mammie, but I was a servant and that wouldn’t have been acceptable, so I just said

“I will think about it”.  

I hope Mrs Hurt is wrong.  I think my guardian angel has returned to watch over me and Marie.  We have been lucky so far;  we have met nice people like the Sister Pateman and Sister Warner at the nursery, the Hurts, even Matron and Miss Franks have been very, very, kind. 

 <—Life as a Servant

 

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 <—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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<—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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 <—-St Giles Cottage Hospital

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued) 
Dear Diary  

Oh, damn and blast, I failed my first year preliminary exam.  Knew I would.  There was so much I didn’t understand, but, Sister Tutor says I can sit the exam again, but if I fail the second time, that’s it, finished.  Goodbye Olga.  Moores failed too, but she doesn’t care as much as I do. 

Watch out, men about:   After a nursing lecture by Sister Tutor, she kept us all behind to give us another one about soldiers and men in uniform.

“A lot of women are being assaulted and worse, by airmen and soldiers from overseas” she told us.              “Care should be taken at all times because, these men have thrown away all sense of propriety because they are away from their home, in a country where no-one knows them and are taking advantage of women and the blackout,  to behave how they like without fear of retribution”

 Moores said she’d never heard anything so ridiculous.  All the overseas men she’d met were charming and treated her with respect.

“They’re a darn sight more polite than any Englishman I’ve been out with. Of course, sometimes there are rotten apples in a barrel” she said.

“But to give the impression that all airmen and soldiers from overseas do bad things and take advantage of women is wrong”.

 Moores was really quite angry with Sister Tutor. 

After the lecture Ethel and I were on night duty together on the men’s surgical ward and she asked me if I’d heard about Sara Donahue. 

 “Yes, isn’t it sad.  When is she coming back?” I asked Ethel.

Sara is in our group but she had to leave suddenly and go home because a close relative died. 

“It’s not true about the relative dying, Olga.  She left because she failed her three monthly medical.  We think she had gonorrhoea”.

“Oh,” I said.  I’d never heard of that so I asked Ethel what gonorrhoea was.

“It’s a sexually transmitted disease” said a young male patient, who had been listening to our conversation.

 “Couldn’t put it better myself” said Ethel. 

I didn’t know what a sexually transmitted disease was, but I wasn’t going to ask because I had a feeling I would look stupid.  After all I am a nurse.  When we’re on night duty and the air raids sound, we have to pull all the beds into the centre of the ward and put each patient’s gas mask on their bed.  We’ve been issued with helmets which have to be worn when the bombs start dropping.  The first time I put mine on I thought, thank God, the tots can’t see me.  They’d never stop laughing, as a matter of fact neither could I.  It was so big I had to keep pushing it back so I could see where I was going. I looked ridiculous in it. 

Ethel and I were sitting at the big table in the middle of the ward writing up our reports and whenever we leaned forward to say something to each other, our helmets would bang together.  After a couple of times we started to laugh and then when we laughing so much we leaned back in our chairs and our helmets fell off crashing to the floor and made a terrible din and woke all the patients up. 

There’s still a routine on night duty, but it’s not so hectic.  By nine thirty the bed quilts must be folded in four and placed at the foot of the bed, thermometers in mugs, equipment trays fully laid up, false teeth deposited in mugs on lockers and all lights turned off except the green shaded one on the table in the middle of the ward.   

While some men snore, others light up cigarettes, not taking the slightest notice of us when we tell them they are not allowed to smoke in bed. 

But we do have time to write up our lecture notes and revise.  By the end of night duty, when I get to my room I’m too tired to undress and fall asleep across my bed clutching my books.

 

Horrible news:   There’s a wireless in the student nurses’ sitting room where we all gather round and listen to the news to hear how the war is going.  Before the war it was a games room but there doesn’t seem to be time to play games now, although we do sometimes play music on the gramophone. 

I was listening to the radio when Moores came in.  Before she had said a word I could see by her face that something was wrong.  But I wasn’t prepared for what she told me. 

As she sat down beside me she took my hand.

 “Olga, Joanne is dead.  The rest centre in Morley College was bombed last Tuesday evening and it seems that Joanne was visiting someone there.  Some people were rescued but most of them, including Joanne, were trapped inside.  By the time they pulled her out, she was dead.”

 “No, it’s not possible”.  

She had told me she was on night duty all week.

“Joanne changed shifts with another nurse, Olga.  Joanne was off duty.  I’m sorry”.  Then she repeated it.

“Joanne’s dead” . 

Alone in my room, I kept repeating the phrase “Joanne is dead” as if it would help me take in the terrible news.  The thought that I would never see Joanne’s face again gave me the most awful feeling I have ever had, worse than all the bombings and scares that I had experienced these last few months.  My world has changed.  I feel helpless – as if an invisible wall that once surrounded and supported me has gone and without it I feel disconnected from everyone and everything around me, tiny and insignificant. 

I’m so lonely.

Next day: I went mechanically through my duties until the last one when I was removing the flowers and potted plants from the ward and putting them in the bathroom for the night.  I remembered Joanne telling me how she loved doing this job at Paddington General because it turned the bathroom into an exotic florist, rich with perfume and vibrant colour.

 “For a few minutes Olga,” she said ”I’m back home in Jamaica”.  That night I cried bitterly for the loss of the best friend I’ve ever had. 

 ********

Mammie’s (Becky) Diary

These days I spend most nights listening to the wireless for news of the war in Europe. It is so frustrating that I know more about what is going on there than how my daughter and sister are managing in London. It is months since I have heard from either of them and I feel helpless because there is nothing to do except pray. 

We now know Germany is bombing London relentlessly and the loss of life and injuries, as well as the devastation to the city, is enormous.    I read in the Gleaner of how people have to go to use the underground tube stations to shelter from the bombs.  They often sleep there all night and then have go off to work the next morning trying to avoid unexploded bombs or fractured gas mains.   How dangerous it all sounds.

I wonder if Olga has to do this too. 

 <—-St Giles Cottage Hospital

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Olga’s Diary (Continued)

 

Dear Diary

War:    Moores and I were in Oxford Street, when the air raid siren went, shopping for a new dress for her date that night with an army officer.  We’d just reached John Lewis when it sounded and we knew it meant we were going to be bombed by the Germans. Suddenly people started running like mad in all directions including us.  Terrified we hopped onto a bus without even knowing where it was going just to get off the street. 

By the time we got back to the hospital we had learnt it been a false alarm, but our relief didn’t last long because we were told that Britain was finally at war with Germany.  There’d been lots of talk about war before but I wouldn’t listen.

 I don’t want to go home, I want to stay and become a nurse, but I made a promise to Sydney and Mammie so, sooner or later Olga, you’re going to have to leave.  Moores and Ethel say I should go; at least I’ll be safe in Jamaica.  I told them I was frightened of being bombed, but I don’t want to return home not having achieved anything after spending six months in England, especially as it has cost my brother a lot of money.  

A few days later, great big silver barrage balloons hanging from cables were seen in the sky all over London.  They were to stop the German bombs from hitting their targets in the city.  I thought they looked like big silver elephants.  One of our first jobs when we started our training was to put black material over the windows so that at night time no light from the hospital wards could escape and the Germans wouldn’t be able to see London from the air and drop their bombs.  

We have all been given a gas mask and Sister Tutor demonstrated how to put it on.  You have to thrust your chin forward pulling the black rubber over the face and up over the forehead leaving your eyes peering out from the two holes.  There’re horrible smelly things and I tore mine off, I couldn’t breathe with it on. 

Then we had to fill out a form so the Government could issue everyone with an identity card.

And now ration books have appeared, although nurses don’t have them because we eat at the hospital. Ethel’s family are poor and she says ration books are a wonderful thing because food is distributed evenly and, poor families like hers, get the same as rich ones like Moores. 

But some days I’d be so hungry my mind would start thinking about the food markets back home where you can buy lovely meals very cheaply.  I find I’m dreaming of gungo peas soup with large pieces of yam and salt beef, vegetables and lovely dumplings or salt-fish and ackee or chicken with rice and peas and yam with half a boiled plantain.   And in the end I just feel hungrier than ever.  Now I’ve developed a taste for sugar sandwiches.

 

Dear Diary

Unhappy news:   War doesn’t make any difference to Sister Tutor; she’s still very strict and only has to raise an eyebrow to show her disapproval about something I’ve done or haven’t done. 

This morning I broke a thermometer and have to pay 6d out of my wages to replace it.   I’m not thinking about the war, all I can think about is passing the exam at the end of the three months.

 Moores, Ethel and I test each other whenever we have time and if I get really stuck on something, Joanne helps me.    Matron wants to see me.  I can’t think what I’ve done wrong.

 

Later:  I couldn’t stop shaking waiting outside Matron’s office.  When I entered she told me to sit down and I knew it was bad news.  She never tells nurses to sit down, we always have to stand to attention as if we’re on parade like soldiers in the army.

 “I have some bad news for you Olga” she said in such a kindly voice it barely sounded like her.

 “I’m afraid you cannot go home to Jamaica.  Because of the war the Government has banned all non essential travel out of Britain which means you will have to stay until the war ends”

I suddenly  burst into tears.

 “It’s not so bad really, is it Olga, think how proud your family be will when you do return home as a fully qualified nurse” she said. 

Then she sat down beside me and put her arm round my shoulders and I cried even more.  I was crying so much partly because Matron was being so kind and calling me Olga, instead of Browney, but also because, although I wanted to stay and finish my training, now I had no choice in the matter, I had to stay and suddenly I had such an urge to see Mammie and my sisters. 

“I’m sure the war won’t last long and in the meantime we need you here”. 

“Yes Matron, thank you Matron,” I sobbed.

 I was still crying as I reached the door to leave and she called out to me.

“Wait, I nearly forgot”.  She was holding a sheet of paper in her hand and there was a little smile on her face.

 “Congratulations, Browney, you passed your first exam”.

 

Mammie’s (Becky) Diary

 At last, I have been able to talk to Olga on the telephone, not that I could hear very much because the line was poor and crackly and we only had three minutes.   The tots and Birdie all managed to say hello and tell her they loved her.  At least now I know she’s well and safe, but her place is here at home. 

I should have insisted that Sydney brought her back. Lucy was right all along when she said Hitler couldn’t be trusted and had invaded Poland.   It’s all very well for people to say that the war between Britain and Germany won’t last long, but how do they know, it could go on longer than the first war.  No one knows for sure except God. 

There are reports that people are starving in England.  Could this be true.  Olga starving?  The Daily Gleaner says that the predicted bombing hasn’t happened and many who evacuated London when war was declared are returning to their homes. So maybe things will not be as bad as everyone first thought.     

Olga says she hasn’t seen Martha for weeks.  Why, I wonder?  What has been happening between those two?  Now I have something else to worry about.  There was no mention of anything wrong between them in Olga’s last letter.  There wasn’t much of anything really because there was so little to read since most of it had been censored with heavy black ink. 

But she has passed an exam we are all very proud of her.  I went down to the meat market for the first time for years, just to tell Henry.  Olga’s status seems to have gone up a lot already as far as the younger girls are concerned and she has certainly impressed the rest of the family with her resolve to come home a fully qualified nurse.  As Birdie says “beats working in a bicycle shop”.

It sounds as if Olga has become very fond of her friend Joanne. 

Do you know what I think?  I think the hand of God was at work there.  He sent Joanne to look after Olga.  But even so, we will still continue to pray for Olga’s safety.

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