Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Family History’ Category

 

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

 

If you enjoyed this post, please  consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Read Full Post »

 

 <—-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

 

If you enjoyed this post, please  consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Read Full Post »

 <—- 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.

******

If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

 <—- Hanging On                                                         Martha’s Revenge —>

Read Full Post »

 <—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

If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Read Full Post »

<—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

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Read Full Post »

 

<—Colonel & Mrs Hurt                                        Sydney comes to London —>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

News from Home: I received a letter with a Christmas card in it today. 

It was such a surprise when Mrs Hurt handed it to me.  It had been on a long journey.  Matron, at St Giles, had forwarded it to the Refuge.  Miss Franks had forwarded it on to Sister Pateman, who thank goodness, had put it in a fresh envelope, with a little note to me saying she hoped Marie and I were well and please keep in touch with them.              

 At first I was so excited when I opened the envelope and saw the letter was from Ruby and when I saw the censor and his black pen had been at work again.  I cried, there was so little left for me to read.   Thank goodness the censor had left the Christmas card alone. 

Every year Sydney sends his customers a Christmas card, but not usually one covered with snow.  It seems an odd choice really because it never snows in Jamaica, but, anyway, I’m going to keep it.  Sydney has three shops now, business must be good.   

Everyone is well and sends their love.  Darling Mammie told Sydney to tell me that she that she thinks of me all the time.   Dolly is getting married to a Syrian gentleman, but the family are not happy about it.  

They’re all worried about me because I haven’t written to them for ages but what can I tell them, not the truth.  My life has changed so much.  I’m not ashamed of having a little girl, but I wish the circumstances were different.  I don’t want them to know about my life now.

  I couldn’t bear Mammie to see some of the work I have to do, cleaning out the dirty fireplaces every morning in the winter and cleaning silver.  

  Captain and Mrs Hurt are kind to me and especially Marie, I like them, but I know my place, after all I’m their servant.

******

Dear Diary

Mrs Hurt has an Irish housemaid, named Kathleen Ryan.  She doesn’t like me and I don’t like her one little bit.  I’d been putting away some linen in the cupboard on the first floor landing and I was in a hurry so I came down the front stairs.  Servants are supposed to use the back stairs and Kathleen saw me and told me off.  I told her Mrs Hurt didn’t mind me using the front stairs now and again and she called me an “uppity nigger with airs and graces”. 

I was shocked I can tell you.

“I’m not a nigger, I’m not black”.  I told her straight. Judith heard what Kathleen had said and told her mother-in-law.  Mrs Hurt was furious.  

Kathleen said she’d never worked with niggers before.

Mrs Hurt told Kathleen that if she wanted to continue to work for her, she was never to say that word again and if Kathleen didn’t want to work with me, “you can leave now”. Kathleen was crying and I was unhappy too. 

Mrs Attwood was very kind to me and made me a cup of tea and said “best thing that could happen would be for her to leave – good riddance to bad rubbish.  I’ve never liked the Irish”.   Mrs Attwood and I got on well together right from the beginning, but I was surprised that Mrs Hurt stood up for me. 

“She likes you Carmen, she thinks you have courage and so do I”.  Wasn’t that a nice thing to say?

******


Dear Diary

Peace at last:  The war in Europe had ended, finally.  I was in the kitchen when the news came over the radio.  Mr Churchill has ordered the next two days to be a national holiday.   The village organised a big party and everyone was invited and Union Jack flags were hanging out of nearly every window and on every tree.

There was bunting strung across from one cottage to another and a tea party on the village green where everyone brought cakes, sandwiches, fizzy drinks and there was dancing and singing.  Lovely cakes.

Everyone from Hendon Hall went, all the staff and the Hurts and we all had a wonderful time.  It was so nice to see everyone so happy, particularly Captain and Mrs Hurt, because their sons would be coming home. 

 

<—Colonel & Mrs Hurt                                     Sydney comes to London —>

If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Read Full Post »

<—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.

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. 

<—The Refuge for Friendless Girls                            Marie —>

Read Full Post »

 <—The Rape of an Innocent

(Continued Olga’s Diary)

Dear Diary

Matron called me to her office.  I’m not surprised.  I know my work has not been good lately.  I was hoping she would tell me I could go home.    Dr Randall, who carries out some of the three monthly student medical examinations, was sitting behind Matron’s desk.   He spoke first. 

“I’m sorry to have to tell you Nurse, you are pregnant and I’m sorry but you’ll have to leave St Giles”. 

The room started spinning and I don’t remember what happened next, except I was sitting down and Matron was giving me sips of water from a glass.   I was in shock. I couldn’t believe what Dr Randall had said.  Neither of them asked me any questions, which was just as well because I didn’t have any answers. 

“I don’t know how I got pregnant” I told them and I started crying.  Matron was very, very kind and said

 “Leave things to me, I will arrange everything”.

Later Moores came to my room and asked me what had happened, so I told her what Dr Randall said. 

She asked me who the father was and I said

“I don’t know”.  

But she didn’t believe me,

“You must know who made you pregnant Olga, after all you it’s not like you know a lot of men. What man have you been with?”

And then it began to dawn on me that maybe it had been John Edward.  I had never mentioned to anyone what happened that day in the pub, even when I saw Moores the next day I didn’t tell her. But now I told her everything.   By the time I’d finished, she was crying and hugging me tight. 

“Oh, Olga, I’m so sorry. I let you down. It would never have happened if I’d been there.” 

Still holding me she asked hadn’t I realised afterwards that I might be pregnant. 

I told her “No.  Mammie brought us up very strictly at home and we never talked about things like that, so I had no idea how babies were made.  When my sister Chickie was pregnant we were never allowed to discuss why she was getting bigger and bigger.  We knew she was going to have a baby but  Mammie never told us how babies were made.  We were always told that babies were sent by God and delivered to the mother.  That was the sort of upbringing we had”. 

“Oh Olga”, Moores said, “and you a nurse.  Never mind, my family know a doctor who will get rid of it for you.  It won’t help you get your job back but at least you won’t be burdened with a baby and can go back to Jamaica and your family won’t know anything about it.” 

I knew Moores meant well, but I was horrified by her suggestion.

“But, I would know.  I can’t do that.  It would be a sin.”

When I went to bed I thought about my family.  There had been so much gossip about us over the years, so many scandals and I didn’t want to be another one.  When I thought of Mammie I ached to put my head on her lap, just once more, and feel her hand stroking my head like she did when I didn’t feel well. 

I don’t feel well now Mammie.

Then I said my prayers and prayed for God to forgive me for my wickedness and the shame I had brought on my family

 ********

 Report:   Prepared by Miss Geraldine Franks, Superintendent
Catholic Refuge for Friendless Girls, Barclay Road, Fulham, London
 

Subject:   Miss  Olga Josephine Browney 

  Olga Browney was referred to the home by Miss Mary Norton, Matron, St Giles Hospital, Camberwell.  Throughout the interview Miss Browney sat on the edge of her chair with her head bowed. 

I told her that the first thing we had to do was to complete a registration form for her and she would have to tell me something about herself.  As she answered my questions her voice trembled and her hands shook and when she mentioned her mother she started to cry.  Miss Browney has made it clear she does not wish her mother, or any member of her family, to be informed about her situation.  She says she does not want to hurt them.

We then moved on to the father of the child.  At this point she refused to talk about him and no amount of encouragement on my part would make her.   I decided not to press the matter. 

I then asked her what plans she had for supporting the baby once it was born.   When I explained that she could put the baby up for adoption, for the first time in the interview Miss B raised her head and said she would keep the baby.  As gently as I could I explained to her that she may have no choice in the matter especially since she was not prepared to take the baby home to her family in Jamaica.  I asked Miss B, how, if she kept the baby and stayed in England, she planned to manage, support and care for herself and the child.    Miss B said she would find a job and work.

It is quite obvious that Miss B feels she has brought shame on her family by her predicament, but I am concerned about her decision not to return home and have tried to persuade her to change her mind.            

I am at a loss to understand why the fear of confronting her family with an illegitimate child is greater than choosing to remain in a country at war, without the support of friends or family and treats unmarried mothers with contempt, not to mention the problem that her colour may bring. 

Fortunately, there is time to persuade Miss B to place the child for adoption.

                                                Geraldine Franks  (Superintendent)

 <—The Rape of an Innocent

If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. 

Read Full Post »

  

<—Bad News                            Refuge for Friendless Girls—>

Olga’s Diary (Continued) 

  

Dear Diary 

What did I do wrong:   The water in my bath was so hot the bathroom was thick with steam, burning my skin and I could barely see the bath taps.  But I didn’t want to cool it down, I wanted it as hot as I could bear it.   

Earlier Moores had said she’d meet me at the pub, but wasn’t there when I arrived.  So, I got my ginger beer from the barman and sat down.  The pub was busy and noisy and though I’d been there a few times before, this was the first time on my own.   

From where I was sitting I could see John Edward in the other bar with a group of friends.  Before the war he was a senior doctor in St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington and very well respected.  Now he was working as a doctor in the army based somewhere near London. He’s very popular and everyone knows who he is.  He has a reputation for being a bit of a ladies man.  Moores would often tease me about him saying I had a crush on him and, it was true, I did like him a lot, but he’d never even noticed me.  

I’d been sitting there for half an hour and Moores still hadn’t turned up so I decided to get one more drink. I decided I’d go back to the Nurses’ Home if she hadn’t arrived by the time I’d finished it.  I felt a twinge of disappointment when I went up to buy my ginger beer because I couldn’t see John in the other bar.   

I sat down and the next thing I knew he was sitting opposite me.  He smiled at me but I was overcome with shyness.   

“Olga, isn’t it?” he said loudly so I could hear above the noise.  Goodness, I thought, he knows my name.   

“Yes, it is”.  

 I was getting a really good look at him now.  I’d never seen anyone so handsome, except, of course, film stars, but most of them were dark haired.  John was slim and fair-haired and he had such a lovely smile.   By now I was hoping Moores wasn’t coming because I wanted John all to myself.  He told me he had three days leave before he had to report back to the army.  I could see some of the other girls in the bar looking at us, a bit jealous I thought, and I felt so proud that he seemed interested in me.   

My initial shyness was gone and I was surprised by how easy he was to talk to.  I told him where I came from and all about my family and he talked about his life in the army.  We talked like two people who had been friends for ages.  He offered to buy me another ginger beer and while he was at the bar I went to the ladies toilet.   

As I came out he was standing in the passage waiting for me and took hold of my hand.  

“Come with me, Olga, I want to show you something.”   

We went down the passage, in the opposite direction of the bar and John opened a door and we were in a small dirty yard where there were lots of beer barrels and crates of beer.   He closed the door and I wondered what we were doing there.    

Then he pushed me against the wall of the pub and started kissing me very roughly.  With his knee he forced my legs apart and I was frightened because I knew then that something bad was going to happen to me.   

I tried to push him away from me but the weight of his body had me pressed against the wall.   

“Stop, please stop, you’re hurting me” I pleaded still trying to push him.   

“Stop struggling and it won’t hurt” he said.   

He pulled my dress up and my knickers down.  He’d undone his trousers and by now I was crying  

“Please, don’t” I said, my fists punching his shoulders.  I looked at him and he was smiling and then he covered my mouth with one hand and forced himself inside me.   

Suddenly terrible, terrible pain, as he repeatedly pushed himself into me.  The pain was so bad I thought I wanted to pass out prayed to God to let me pass out so I could not feel it any more.  After a few minutes I felt his body relax. 

 Again I said “Stop, you’re hurting me” and he laughed.   

“It’s OK, Olga, I’m finished now”.   He buttoned up his trousers and then went back inside.   

For a few minutes I stayed in the same position I’d been in throughout my ordeal, leaning against the wall because I couldn’t stand up properly on my own without its support.  I could feel fluid running down my legs but was afraid to go back inside to the toilet to clean myself up. 

There was a door in the yard that opened straight onto the street.  I tried to run back to the nursing home but my legs were shaking so much I couldn’t. I kept my head down all the way back not wanting anyone to see my tears or to make eye contact with me because I thought they would know what had just happened to me.  

 I felt so ashamed and humiliated and tried to think what I had done or said in the pub to make such a bad thing happen to me, but I couldn’t think of anything. 

I stayed in the bath until it was cold, crying for Mammie. 

****** 

Dear Diary 

I  have physical pain and yet I feel numb too.  How can that be?    

I’m not the person I was before. That Olga has gone.    I cannot concentrate on anything I am asked to do and am always being scolded by Sister Tutor.  She asks me  

“What’s wrong with you, are you sick?”  

 I can’t tell her.  I don’t tell anyone.   

 If I don’t pull my socks up there will be no point in sitting the first year examination again she tells me. I don’t care any more.  I have nightmares now and am too frightened to sleep, because, when I close my eyes, I see it all happening again, so I stay awake.  

 I want to go home, but I can’t.
 
 <—Bad News                               Refuge for Friendless Girls—>
 
If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. 
 

Read Full Post »

 

<—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

If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.