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Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Daily Gleaner, Kingston

 

29th December 1953 

OBITUARY

Rebecca Mathilda Browney

 ******

 

Letter to Mrs Rebecca Browney,  Jamaica
from
Miss Geraldine Franks, Superintendent, Catholic Refuge for Friendless Girls,
23 Barclay Road, Fulham,London.

 

Dear Mrs Browney

It is with great concern I write to you regarding your daughter Olga as I do not believe you are aware of her circumstances. 

I first became acquainted with your daughter when she was referred to this home by the Matron of St Giles Hospital because she was pregnant.  Olga remained at the Refuge until she gave birth to her daughter, Marie.

It is part of the Refuge’s policy that we try and maintain contact with mothers in order to see how they cope with their baby and, in spite of my initial doubts as to Olga’s ability to support both herself and a baby in a foreign country, as an unmarried mother and the stigma associated with that, I was impressed with how well she managed. 

However, Olga’s circumstances have now changed and she recently came to me with Marie in some emotional and financial distress.  Her appearance gave me cause for concern, although, I would report that Marie looked well nourished and cared for.  I gave her a little money, but, I suspect that Olga has no job or even a home to go to since she was evasive when I asked where she was living. 

I did my best to try and persuade Olga to contact you but, she is as adamant, as she was when I first met her, that you should know nothing of her circumstances.  I have respected her decision until now.  

 I believe your son Sydney comes to London on business.  I would urge that on his next visit he contacts me and I will endeavour to help him locate Olga and Marie. 

Yours truly

Miss Geraldine Franks  (Superintendent)

******

 Lucy’s Diary

Over the years Martha has been referred to as the black sheep of the family, but my sister has demonstrated that she is  much more than that.  She is a vengeful and wicked woman who broke the heart of a sister that had only ever shown her kindness and affection.  

I realise now the dye was cast for Becky all those years ago when she announced her plans to marry Henry.  Martha thought, irrationally, her dream of becoming rich with her own fashion house had disappeared because of Becky’s decision to marry a black man.  Of course, she was wrong.  She could have continued with her plans and ridden out the storm.  But she lacked courage, something Becky had in abundance. So as an act of spite for some perceived slight all those years ago, Martha finally got her revenge in a spectacularly cruel way, allowing Becky to go to her grave believing her beloved daughter was dead.  How could she do that?

 As for Martha’s hypocrisy, lambasting Becky for marrying a black man when she was secretly living in sin with  one in London, I cannot even bring myself to comment on it. 

Thank God for Geraldine Franks. What a good woman she is, but if only she had contacted us sooner.  Olga is alive and has a little girl.  Sydney says he will go to London to find her and bring them home.

******

 

How The Tale Ends

50 Years Later

 

My mother, Olga, never returned to Jamaica nor was she reunited with any member of her family again after her meeting with Sydney in 1946.   Over the years Mum had been reluctant to talk about her past so I determined to find out what I could myself.  I placed the following advertisement in the Sunday Gleaner in July 1996:

******

 And then two days later we received the following telegram.

 Telegram from Mrs Ruby Shim (nee Browney), Kingston, Jamaica to

Mrs Marie Campbell, Hove, East Sussex, UK.

 

HAVE SEEN YOUR NOTICE IN THE GLEANER.  SISTERS (CISSIE, PEARL, RUBY AND DOLLY) OF OLGA BROWNEY ARE RESIDING AT 9 ANTHURIUM DRIVE, MONA, KINGSTON 6, JAMAICA.  TEL: NO:  809-XXX-XXX.  VERY ANXIOUS TO MAKE CONTACT.  WILL ACCEPT COLLECT  CALL.  RUBY SHIM (MRS)

******

Within a day of receiving the telegram I made the phone call and for the first time in over 50 years Mum spoke to her sisters Ruby, Dolly, Chickie and Pearl.   Ruby told Mum that Mammie, Pops, Sydney, Vivie, Cissie and Gwennie had all died, but the others were still alive.

She said Sydney came looking for Mum twice in the 1950s, but he said she’d vanished without trace.

Slowly my mother’s story unravelled and I discovered much about her family and other things too;  I learnt about my grandmother and what courage she showed in following her heart and marrying a black man knowing she would be ostracised by Jamaican white and coloured society; I learnt how the Jamaican social and class structure mirrored the English pattern of behaviour.  I knew there was colour prejudice (or racism as it is called today) but I had no idea that coloured people felt the same way about the blacks.  I was upset to hear that some of my grandmother’s children railed against Becky for marrying a black man.

I learnt a lot about the wonderful Jamaican culture and folklore – anancy, duppies and, of course, obeah, things I knew nothing about until I started my research.  A couple of times, when I was a child Mum had mentioned, almost sheepishly, that her mother and other members of her family practiced voodoo in Jamaica and that it was a powerful weapon to extract revenge for wrongs committed. 

My Aunt Ruby told me when I met the family in Kingston, that my great aunt Martha narrowly escaped being buried in a pauper’s grave in London thanks to the generosity of the family responding to a request from a Catholic priest for money to bury her.

But the most notable information I acquired was how I was conceived.   It was obvious as Mum told me her story that the anguish of that event had barely diminished even though it had happened decades ago. 

When, over the years, Mum refused to talk to me about my father saying “it’s too painful” it never once crossed my mind that she might have been raped and I was the result.   I can only imagine what it must have been like for her – an unmarried mother, coloured, no family for support – save for a malevolent alcoholic aunt and alone in a foreign country which just happened to be in the middle of a world war.  

My father died in New York in December 1949; waiting on a railway platform he fell under the wheels of an oncoming train and was killed instantly.    By all accounts he was a man with a complex personality, mercurial and prone to depression.  He suffered from mood swings, failing eyesight and dizzy spells, the latter caused by a serious horse riding accident a few years before his death.  Opinion was divided as to the cause of his death.  The medical examiner recorded John Edward’s death as  ‘probably an accident’ since an autopsy had shown nothing untoward.  His family thought it was an accident; his work colleagues thought he’d committed suicide as a result of his depression.

As for how I feel about my father, I take my cue from Mum whom I never heard voice any bitterness about what happened to her.

I wrote this book because I wanted future generations of my family to know something of their heritage and also out of respect to my mother, a gentle and remarkable woman who had huge moral courage.

If the maxim is true, that daughters eventually become like their mother then all I can say is… lucky me.           Marie Campbell

 

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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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 <—Sydney Comes to London

Mammie (Becky’s) Diary

We have moved to a smaller house in Tremaine Road and, in the end, I was quite pleased to leave Mission House. The memories are haunting me.

I saw this article about Sydney in the paper and thought I’d save it.

It’s rather a nice picture of him.   Poor Sydney he feels he has let me down not bringing Olga home.   He says she looked smart, but tired and her demeanour had changed.   Her sparkle had gone and he thinks there is something wrong, but she’s not saying what it is.

When he asked Martha if she knew, she said she hadn’t seen Olga for months. If something has happened to her in England and she feels she cannot talk to me about it, then I have not done a good job as a mother. I’ve let her down, otherwise she would be here knowing there is nothing she could ever do or say that could make me love her less. But at least I know she’s alive.  

Last night the tots and I went to the Holy Trinity Church and together with Father Butler we prayed to St Anthony to bring Olga safely home.   When Sydney visited Martha he said the first thing she asked him for was money, but he refused to give her any.   That surprised me. He says she’s always asking for money and thinks he has an endless supply and, then, almost as an afterthought he added, “I don’t think she was very nice to Olga”.   I wonder if Martha has something to do with Olga not coming home”.  

In fact, he says he doesn’t want any of the girls to stay with Martha in future because it is not a very nice area now.  I doubt that any of the girls will want to go to London; it must be quite dangerous living there with unexploded bombs and much of it looking like a vast building site. How is Olga managing with the winter cold, I wonder?  I remember how the harsh the weather could be and how the temperature could drop to freezing.  And what if it snows and there are blizzards, can she keep warm?  Britain is still recovering from the war and we know they are still short of certain foods and fuel. It’s strange, but I don’t think I could bear to be cold now after living here for so long.

                                                                                                                  ******

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary 

Mrs Hammell:   Went back to Massey’s Agency to look for a job looking after children.  I don’t want to cook any more.  I had an interview with a Mrs Gloria Hammell, a widow, and explained that I was a widow too and that my husband, who had been an air force pilot during the war, had been shot down by the Germans over France.  She was very sympathetic. 

Mrs Hammell has a daughter called Madeline and she wants a live-in mother’s help for her daughter because she has very weak legs and they needed to be rubbed daily with olive oil.  I told her about Marie and explained that, although she wasn’t at school yet, she would be starting soon.  Mrs Hammell said if she offered me the job she was happy for Marie to come with me as she thought it would be very nice for Madeline to have a companion to play with. 

I showed her my reference from Mrs Hurt but she said she would telephone Mrs Hurt and speak with her personally and would let me know about the position when she had made a decision.

Mrs Hammell has a lovely 3-bedroomed flat in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea and Marie and I have a nice room with a big double bed.  It’s a good job because all I do is look after Madeline and Marie being there makes it easy because they play together nicely.  

Madeline is a kind little girl and doesn’t mind sharing her toys with Marie.  I take the girls to Hyde Park quite a bit and when it’s hot they paddle in the Serpentine or sometimes we will have a picnic.

 When I first arrived Madeline was very pale and thin, but she is blossoming because we are outdoors so much.  She has more colour in her cheeks and her legs are getting stronger.  Mrs Hammell is very pleased.

 When the three of us are out together, it’s funny, people always assume I am the girls’ nurse.  I don’t bother to tell them that the pretty dark haired one is my daughter.

As a special treat I sometimes take them to the London Zoo.  There are hummingbirds there and the sight of them makes me homesick.  The girls get very excited when it comes to feeding time and they like to throw nuts at the monkeys.  Sometimes we go to Regents Park but I avoid the bench I used to sit on, the one I was sitting on when I met Joanne.  I try not to think too much about my previous life.  It’s over, gone, I have a different life now.

One day when I was rubbing Madeline’s legs I told Mrs H how in Jamaica we rub white rum on our joints to ease the pain and would she like me to do the same for Madeline.

 “Are you mad, Carmen?  What do you think people will say if my four year old daughter goes around smelling of rum”.

 I hadn’t thought of that. 

I mentioned to Mrs H I was thinking of sending Marie to a private boarding school and could she recommend one. 

“When you told me Marie would be starting school, I didn’t realise you meant a private one.” 

She was surprised by my enquiry and I’m not sure if she believed me. 

So I told her my late husband left me some money for Marie’s education.  But the truth is I’ve saved enough for the first two terms, and hopefully I can save more from my wages.   I don’t spend much here.

 Mrs H recommended a Catholic convent in Dartford, Kent which would be easy for me to get to from London.  The way I see it what happened to me was not Marie’s fault and her education is important and she is entitled to have the best I can give her.  That’s what Mammie did for us and even though Sydney helped out, Mammie took in lots of lodgers when we were young just so we could all go to Alpha Academy which was the best Catholic school in Kingston. 

And Marie is definitely not going to end up like me, working as a servant. 

******

Dear Diary

So cold:   This is what it must be like at the North Pole.  It snows all the time and the temperature is freezing.  Last night is was -9°C and it said on the wireless that the sea froze at Margate. 

The Prime Minister says everyone must save fuel.   Things must be bad because people are being sent home from work and told to go to bed to keep warm. 

The army is being used to clear roads blocked by snow and drop food from helicopters to farms and little villages in the countryside and some old people are dying because they cannot keep warm.  Isn’t that terrible?

 ******

<—Sydney Comes to London

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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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<—The Refuge for Friendless Girls                               Marie —>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

I never knew places like this existed.  Matron said I was lucky to be here because this is a Catholic refuge and other girls in my state end up in the workhouse, which, she says, are very unpleasant places and the treatment of the women in them is often cruel and harsh.

 “Here”, she said,  “they will treat you well and take care of you until you have your baby”. 

 My room is cold and bare, with an iron bed, a table, a chest of drawers, a large white enamel jug and bowl.   On the wall is a big crucifix of Jesus on the cross.  I like the cross being there.  It makes me feel I’m not so alone.  

There are eight other women here, all waiting to have their babies.   I spend my days cleaning the refuge or peeling vegetables in the kitchen.  When I’m not working I stay in my room and say my rosary.   We are forbidden to speak to each other during the day but can talk for one hour in the evening after prayers.  But I don’t want to talk to anyone.  I feel ashamed.  I keep myself to myself. 

Why do I dream of the things I can’t have. 

Last night it was Cissie’s wedding.  I saw everything so clearly. 

Father Baker performed her wedding ceremony at the Holy Trinity Cathedral and there were flowers everywhere.  Cissie walked down the aisle on Sydney’s arm to the music of the wedding hymn, looking beautiful in a simple white silk dress with a long tulle veil and a spray of orange blossom in her hair.  The tots and I were the bridesmaids and we wore pale blue dresses with broad hats trimmed with blue lace and chiffon.    Over sixty people attended the service, as well as Dyke’s family and friends and including three of Cissie and Dyke’s children.

After the ceremony everyone went back to Mission House.  In the back garden Mammie had arranged for a large booth made of bamboo and coconut leaves to be built and decorated with lignum vitae and pink bougainvillea.  This was where all the wedding presents were put before they were unwrapped.  There was a table in the garden covered with a white linen table cloth and on it stood the wedding cake with a net over it and pinned in several places.   

After the bride, the wedding cake was the centre of interest and the guests had to bid money to uncover the cake.  They would try and outbid each other and by the time the cake was uncovered Cissie and Dyke would have several pounds, as well as lots of lovely presents.  It was such a happy, noisy day with so much laughter. 

I thought about Michael Sales and the pretty earrings he gave me at my leaving party in Kingston and how he said he’d wait for me to return so I could be his girlfriend.  But not now… not me Michael.  I hope you find someone nice.

 

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<—The Refuge for Friendless Girls                            Marie —>

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<—Olga, Nursing & a Declaration of War

Olga’s Diary (Continued) 

Life goes on:   A strange thing happened this morning, a gentleman called out.

 “Nurse”

It took a few moments before I realized he meant me.  It was a bit of a shock, but a very pleasant one. 

Sister Tutor says even in wartime there has to be a routine in hospital.  The day always starts the same with Sister re-arranging the flowers and potted plants which had been taken out of the ward the night before and put in the sluice room because Matron says they give off poisonous carbon monoxide during the night.  It’s a hospital superstition, too, that no lilies are allowed in the wards because they’re considered to be unlucky and you never have red and white flowers in the same vase either because that means death.

 I have to clean each marble-topped locker next to the patient’s bed and wipe out the fruit bowl that stands on it.   Then the beds are pulled away from the wall for a maid to sweep the floor and which Matron likes highly polished, which is fine if you are wearing rubber sole shoes, but for the patients wearing slippers it can be a difficult.

 I was helping an old man to the toilet yesterday morning and he was fairly steady on his feet to start with, but suddenly he slipped, lost his balance and ended up on his bottom and me with him.   The other patients had a good laugh at our expense and I thought it was funny too, but Sister Tutor was furious with me.

Everything and everyone has to be neat and tidy ready for Matron’s mid morning inspection.  The staff, including the doctors, have to line up in a row and woe betide us if the ward isn’t up to Matron’s standard.  She expects us to know all the patient’s names and their medical condition.

When war was first declared I was frightened, especially because normal every day things changed.  The cinema and theatres closed, and that upset me, because I’m crazy about films and I used to go every week with Joanne, but now we have to find other forms of entertainment.

 Moores discovered a pub near the hospital and she and some of the other student nurses go there quite a bit, but I don’t drink, so I haven’t been there yet.    Moores and I are working on the same ward at the moment, which is fun, and when we’re doing beds together we get the chance to talk and I hear all about what happened  in the pub the night before.

This morning we were changing the bottom sheet of a bed, with the patient still in it, and Moores was telling me about this Canadian soldier who said he can get her some French champagne and silk stockings.  Each time we moved the patient he broke a little wind and at first we ignored him and carried on chatting, but then he did it again and we started to laugh and couldn’t stop and what’s more neither could the patient, which made him break wind louder and more often and then all the other patients joined in and they didn’t even know what they were laughing about. 

But it was a wonderful moment especially as there was no one around to tell us off.   You need little moments like that because it helps to take away the tension and worry for a little bit, and it’s amazing how much better you feel afterwards.  

Moores is such fun, you know, she says to me

 “Olga, eat life or life eats you”. 

So I’ve decided to have some fun and go out with her tonight, but I won’t tell Joanne because she thinks Moores is a bad influence on me.  Joanne says the first year examination is not easy and I should be studying hard for it. 

 

 The Rose Public House:   I’ve never been inside a public house before but, apart from being very smoky, it was really quite nice.  Moores always finds someone to talk to but I was happy to sit quietly drinking my ginger beer.  For the first time since the war started I felt safe there, perhaps, because it’s used by soldiers and watching people enjoy themselves, laughing and having a good time, makes you forget about how worried you are about the war and exams.

I never go out on my own at night because it’s so dark with all the street lights turned off, but at least the lamp posts are painted white so we don’t bump into them and the edges of the pavements have been painted white too.   Moores, Ethel and I each carry a little torch which we have to shine downwards onto the pavement.  But we had a nasty shock on the way home from a night out.

We were passing a doorway when Ethel let out a  scream.  We looked up and there was a woman’s face lit up in the doorway.  She had a little torch pinned to her coat so that the light shone on her face and she was wearing a fox fur around her neck.   The  fox’s eyes were glinting in the light, its tiny teeth bared in a snarl and it had little paws and a bushy tail that hung loose.   I’m not surprised Ethel screamed, it was a frightening sight.  Moores said the woman was a prostitute waiting for clients.   Moores knows about everything, you know.

 

We’re being blitzed:   It has been difficult for me to write because we have been so busy in the hospital and to be truthful I haven’t felt like it. 

Everything has changed.  

Germany’s planes have been dropping bombs on London day and night and the devastation is awful.  Hundreds of people have been killed, thousands injured and hundreds of thousands are without homes.  The bombing raids can last for hours without any let up.  But, most of all I dread it when the Germans bomb at night, which they do frequently. Every part of London is being bombed including here in Camberwell. 

A landmine exploded nearby and several homes were blown up, many of  the casualties were brought here.  There seem to be fires burning somewhere in London day and night.  Other cities are being bombed as well but the Germans certainly seem determined to destroy London. 

I start to shake when I hear the air raid siren sound and even when the all clear is given I’m too frightened to go out.  I’ve been keeping away from Moores and Ethel, using study as an excuse to stay in, because I don’t want them to think I’m a coward, but I’m ashamed of myself too, because the people who are homeless and have lost everything still have their fighting spirit and say they won’t be beaten by Germany.   

Joanne came to see me at St Giles during a break between bombings and made me go for a long walk with her.  I felt much better afterwards, especially, when she told me that she was afraid too.

“Olga, we must do our job and put our trust in God” she said. 

We talked about our families and wondered if they knew how bad things were here in London.  The letters Joanne receives are heavily censored too and so we think the ones we write home are as well.  It’s heartbreaking; I’m desperate to receive news from Mammie and the family and when I do get a letter, line after line has been crossed out with black ink so I’m left with hardly anything to read.  And you feel as if someone is spying on you.  The censors know more about what’s going on with my family than I do.

Joanne says “We should be grateful, at least they open the letters carefully and don’t tear them.” 

  Any day now Joanne’s waiting to hear if she’s passed her final exam so that when the war’s over she can fulfil her dream and go back to Jamaica a qualified nurse.

“And, if you study hard Olga, so will you”

“Who knows, maybe we can work together in Jamaica”. she said

 I’ll tell you something Dear Diary, I struck gold when she sat down beside me that day in Regents Park. 

 

<—Olga, Nursing & a Declaration of War

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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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 <—Sydney Comes to London – 1939           Olga, Nursing &  Declaration of War —>

 

(Olga’s Diary Continued) 

Dear Diary

 St Giles Hospital:  I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.  Not too long ago I was spending my mornings sitting on a park bench in Regent’s Park feeling sorry for myself and now I’m standing in a line with other student nurses listening to Sister.   

“These are the rules for student nurses and I expect you to commit them to memory” barked Sister as she handed each new student nurse a rule sheet. 

A stout, straight talking woman from Yorkshire with grey hair and voice that only seemed to have one volume, loud. 

“It is my pleasure to guide you through your nursing training until you become fully qualified nurses” Sister Tutor was referring to us by our surnames and when someone asked why, she said that’s how it is in hospital.

“We don’t use Christian names, only surnames”.

Honestly, I don’t like the idea of someone calling me Browney.

RULES FOR NURSES

  • walk at all times, only run in case of fire
  • stand when a senior member of staff enters
  • always open the door for the doctor
  • never overtake a senior member of staff on the stairs
  • no make up on duty 
  • hair not to reach your collar
  • nails must be short 
  • black stockings only when on duty and no ladders in them
  • low heel shoes
  • on duty by 7.00 am
  • in bed by 10.30 pm

 I felt uncomfortable and awkward in my student nurse’s uniform, my black frizzy hair poking out at different angles under a heavily starched white cap which needs four hair grips to hold it in place.  My grey dress had a little white collar which fastened tightly round my neck and was nearly choking me and over the dress I wore a starched white apron with a wide belt around my waist.  I didn’t like the feel of the thick black stockings on my skin and the thick black rubber soled shoes felt like lead weights on the end of my feet.

There are nine other student nurses in my group but Alison Moores, Ethel Richards and me are friends already.   I don’t really know why because we are so different.  

For a start Moores is aristocracy from top to bottom; she talks beautifully and I think she sounds very posh, she’s tall, with dark hair, which used to be long before Matron told her she would have to cut it before she started her training.  Moores has a perfect peaches and cream complexion, is very confident, elegant, and looks more like a film star than a student nurse.  Her parents are rich and they make some kind of cold cream for women and sold in jars by the thousands.   They sent her into nursing because they said she comes from a privileged background and should give something back to society.  Ethel asked her why she wasn’t doing her training at one of the big teaching hospitals and Moores said she had thought about it but preferred to be amongst real people in a smaller hospital. 

Ethel is from the East End of London, only 5 ft tall with, lovely twinkling green eyes that always seem to be smiling, a round face framed with red curly hair and a cockney accent which I don’t understand sometimes and when she smiles she shows off a set of perfectly even white teeth. Sometimes she reminds me of Vivie because she’s not frightened of any form of authority, neither Sister Tutor nor Matron.  Ethel says it’s because she grew up with five brothers and because she’s the only girl in the family she always had to fight for what she wanted.

And then there’s me.  One day I asked Moores how she had described me to her parents and she smiled as she said:

“Slim, not very tall, brown skin, not particularly pretty, short frizzy black hair which she wears with either a blue or yellow ribbon, slightly bushy eyebrows above huge brown eyes that seem to be in a permanent state of astonishment at everything she sees or hears, a beautiful smile and a soft voice that fits like a glove with her gentle manner”.  

Isn’t that a lovely description?   

It’s funny Moores comes from a very rich family and she’s not stuck up or anything.   I’m the only coloured person in the whole of the hospital, as far as I know, and people do stare at me sometimes.  Moores tells me not to worry about it. 

“They stare at you because you’re a novelty Olga, that’s all”. 

Ethel says she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her and neither should I, but sometimes I feel a bit uncomfortable.   

 

  Letter to Mammie, Kingston, Jamaica
from Olga, Student Nurses Home, St Giles Hospital, Camberwell, London

Dearest Mammie

The weeks fly by, such a lot to do and learn. We are on duty from 7.00 in the morning until 7 in the evening with only a coffee and lunch break.   Please don’t worry about me because I am happy, tired but happy, and I have made friends with two other student nurses.

So far I have learnt about hygiene, how to take a temperature, how to stack linen, how to put a bandage on a patient and how a treatment tray should be laid up.  Once a week we spend a morning on the ward and one of my jobs is to feed the patients. 

Oh Mammie, I love it so much, the patients are so grateful when you do something for them. Sister Tutor praised my bed making the other day, you see Mammie it’s important to make beds properly with the sheet corners turned in and the open ends of the pillow slips mustn’t face the door into the ward – the sewn end must face the door. 

The top sheets are folded over the counterpanes and have to be the same width and the fold has to be sixteen inches.  I find the best way to check is to measure from my fingertips to my elbow.

Matron is fierce and Sister Tutor stern and doesn’t smile at all.  I find it difficult to remember things so now I carry a note book around with me and write down as much as I can, especially the things I don’t understand.  When I meet Joanne she explains the things to me that I’ve been too frightened to ask Sister Tutor to repeat in case she thinks I’m stupid. 

Lectures are nearly always when we’re off duty and in one of our first lessons I met Henry who scared the life out of me.  Henry’s a skeleton that hangs from the ceiling in the lecture room and we have to memorise the names of each bone in his body.   Sometimes when I look at all those bones I think of Aggie Burns.  If she could see Henry, I bet she’d love to get her hands on his bones for her Obeah man.

I got into trouble the other day as I was preparing the patients’ tea and I was holding the loaf of bread against my chest while I was trying to slice it with a knife and Sister Tutor was furious with me.

“Don’t you have any common sense and realize how dangerous it is to try and cut bread like that”. 

And then she showed me how to cut it on the table.  I told her I’d never cut bread before because either Aggie Burns or Cassie did it.   Sister Tutor said nothing but gave me a very funny look.   I’m not lonely any more Mammie because I have three good friends now and that’s all I need.  

Your loving daughter,  Olga

 <—Sydney Comes to London – 1939       Olga, Nursing &  Declaration of War —> 

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