Their History
HISTORY OF A CHILD IN CARE
 

THE LIFE OF AN EIGHT YEAR OLD BOY IN CARE

Part Two - Arrival - The Children's Home May 1965

 

The day came for leaving London. My possessions fitted into one suitcase. The main content was clothing; I was taking both play and school clothes with me. For the journey, I was dressed in my best clothes. A few model cars that I had been given for my eighth birthday, plus a few comics and the odd book took up any space that remained in the case; it would be too heavy to carry if I had put all my books in. These I would be able to have later. There was no fear of leaving. It was explained that in a month or so I would be able to have a visit, and a short time later, there would be some holidays and I might be able to come back to London for a short stay.

It was quite a walk to the station with my mother carrying the case. We were heading off just after lunch, which would give me a little while to settle in before my mother had to return. Once on the train, we had most of the compartment to ourselves. As I was going to live in the same town as my three sets of aunts and uncles, having visited them before, I knew roughly how long a journey to expect. When I had settled in at my new location, I would probably be able to go to my aunt’s and uncle’s for tea occasionally, as they would be living quite close. During the journey my mother told me it might be best not to tell the other children that I was going to live with, about the various schools I had attended, and possibly, it was best that I did not mention anything about where I had been during the Christmas holidays.

HIGHFIELD NCH

Eventually we arrived; it was a short ride by taxi to my new home. Having been told it was called Highfield, with all the excitement, I never noticed the sign at the front that read Children’s Home and Orphanage.

SISTER PEARL

  I was introduced to a lady who seemed almost as old as my grandmother, and should be addressed as ‘Sister’ rather than ‘Miss’.

As this was a school day, all the others from the flat were at school. The Sister gave us a short tour of the flat, and then I was shown the bedroom and the bed that would be mine. I would share the room with three other boys who were slightly older. They would be able to show me where everything was kept. As well as the boys there were also three girls who lived in this flat; I would meet everyone later.

From the bedroom window, Sister pointed across a large grassed area to where some swings were, and suggested I go over and play for a short time, while she chatted with my mother over a cup of tea. It was put in such a way as not to really offer any alternative. If Sister wanted to talk to my mother without me around, I knew it would give my mother the opportunity to tell her about my temper and behaviour.

Before I left the flat, I was shown where the boys’ bathroom and lavatory was. Sister mentioned that it was best to go before going out as it saved coming back later and dragging mud indoors. I was soon down the stairs and walking across the neat grass. I was quite happy playing on the equipment alone; in London, the parks I could go to were quite a long walk away – having come to a place where there was a park so near was great.

Quite a high slide, although not the highest I had ever been on, was the first item to conquer, followed by a roundabout and some swings. The metal rocking horse and the bars were not bothered with at this stage; the climbing frame then occupied me for most of the time. I was not really bored, but I thought I should be going back. I looked at a small building next to this playground; from the sound, I could guess that this was the school for the youngest children.

MY NEW HOME
NCH Harpenden Flat 1

 

 Heading back across the grass, I met my mother starting out from the flat. I was told that she had to get back to London now; I should go in now, as Sister had told her that the others would soon be back from school and they would want to meet me. She would visit me soon, so I should be a good boy and do whatever Sister told me to do. After a hug and a kiss, my mother headed off down a path and was gone. I was sad, but I was a big boy of eight and I was not going to cry.

I headed up to the flat where Sister was waiting. I was on the verge of tears, but none came. It was not fear or disappointment, it was that everything was so different from how I imagined. That there would be almost two hundred other children here was not something I had expected; I thought I was going to live with six other children.

 It was suggested by Sister that I might want to change into my play clothes as the others would be going to change out of their school clothes when they returned. My case was unpacked; the clothes were checked to see that my name was inside each item. Sister showed me the drawers that I could use. A few toys and books I had with me were left in my case; these could be put away later.

I was told that my bed had a rubber sheet on top of the mattress. I was pleased about my bed already having one on, as it saved me having to ask Sister if I could have one.

During the train journey today, I had been reminded about the few recent problems. If I was asked, did I wet the bed I was to say that it did happen, and I needed a rubber sheet for my bed.
I decided that as the question had not actually been asked, there was no need to say anything. I wondered if the others would tease me if I wet the bed.

THE RULES

There was a slam of a door somewhere in the flat, followed by someone running. The door opened quickly and a boy of about my age rushed in. Possibly he did not expect to find anyone here, as the running became a walk. I was now introduced to Lenton. 

I had some fear about starting a new school where others might tease me over my lightly tanned complexion, I need not have had any worries. Lenton had similar looks to myself, although his hair was in short tight curls.
Sister now suggested that he show me around the flat until the tea was ready.

For the short time while Lenton changed into his play clothes, I was questioned as to where I came from, how old I was and did I like fighting, plus a range of other matters. I was asked if I had brought any toys and if Sister had already seen them; I pointed to my case and mentioned that I had been told that I could put them away later. Sister had quickly put away my clothes. All that had remained in the case were my toys and comics. I was led back to the day room and shown where an empty locker was, my toys were soon put away.

Sister would explain all the rules to me. I was given a few hints: no knives, cigarettes, matches, money, food; you could keep sweets, but don’t complain if they go missing. There were shouts from the main corridor; I was informed that the others were back.  We returned to the bedroom; it was easy to see that the other two boys were a few years older than we were. Soon I was told their names, and who could beat up whom, but this last fact seemed to be argued over slightly between them.

Lenton suggested that we go and see how soon tea would be ready; if we finished early, there might be time to go outside so I could be shown where everything was. He knew he did not have to do washing or wiping up and it was doubtful if Sister had put my name down this soon on the list. In time I would be doing my share; washing up was better than wiping up, but we all took a turn at each.

Both of us headed off to the bathroom. Lenton hinted it was best to make sure you went before you sat down at the table. Although Sister did not actually ban you from leaving the table to go to the toilet, you might find on your return that your share of any cake or pudding had been given out. It was best to try and sit through the pain rather than leave the table, wet yourself and you'll be in waterproof pants for a week. It was also necessary to make sure your hands were clean; you would be sent back if they were not to her liking.

Almost everyone appeared together. I was now introduced to the two girls who were sisters. I would meet the older girl later and, as it was the helper’s day off, I would not meet her until the following day. A place at the table had been left for me; this would be my seat, unless Sister decided to change our positions. Before the meal started there was grace. It appeared that each of us took turns at each meal to say grace; my turn would soon come, and as the grace was very similar to school, I did not think I would have any problem when my turn eventually came.

At the side of my plate was a neatly folded serviette inside an orange ring the shape of a elephant. Each of us had our own individual rings, with a different design or colour. The serviettes were to last for several meals.

TEA

 

Normally tea for me was a quiet affair. For most of the time my mother was busy; I had the meal on my own. When the other adults sat down for tea, if I was having my tea with them, I was expected to be quiet and eat my meal. Here it was different. Other than odd comments from Sister over not talking while your mouth was full, there were conversations going on all around me. It was not really like school. In a way it was meant to be friendlier than that, but having to now live with six other children was strange. I was used to having bread and butter with some spread to go on it followed by cake if I had been good. Tea was now a lavish meal; we had a cooked meal as well as the tea I was used to. Sister made the comment that I would soon be fattened up a little. A disappointment was being given a cup of tea to drink; this was one item which I did not really like.

The boys were asking if I could be shown round the grounds after tea. The older pair it appeared were on washing and wiping duties, so it would be left to Lenton to show me around for a short while. There would not be much time as it would soon be dark, but I might get some idea of my new home.

As tea was finishing, Sister mentioned that I really should have a play coat for going outside; the raincoat I had brought with me was rather too good for play use. I could use that for the moment as long as I did not roll about on the ground or climb any trees. Lenton was now questioned as to where he was planning to take me. “Everywhere” was his reply. Sister seemed to accept that there was no real point in telling him where I should not be taken, as he was bound to show me that first. The meal was finally finished; the two eldest boys set about clearing the table and starting the washing up. There was the hint from Sister that if they were quick, there would still be time to find the pair of us outside.

There had been a light drizzle during tea, however it had not been heavy enough to postpone the tour of the grounds. There was the instruction from Sister that it was best if I was given a pair of wellingtons to go out in; if Lenton was going to show me around, he was bound to find mud. I was taken to the far end of the corridor. Lenton was there before us, and from a side cupboard he pulled out a pair of wellingtons and put them on. It seemed as if I had been here long enough to fend for myself.

Sister indicated that at the far back of the cupboard she was sure there was a spare pair that should fit me for the time being. I knelt down and reached to the back. Two pairs of boots came out; one was ordinary boys’ boots, but too small for me, the others were for a girl. I showed Sister the boys’ boots and remarked that they would be too small and that the other boots were for a girl. My only reason for telling Sister this was that I thought they belonged to one of the girls in the flat. In a rather cross manner I was questioned to whether the larger boots I had hold of would fit, and what size shoe did I take. Within moments, it was found these were the correct size for me. I was now given a lecture from Sister that I should be thankful for anything that was given to me.

It was easy to tell that the boots were for a girl; they were shiny and the shape of the toe was different from that for a boy. The biggest giveaway was that the lining was a tartan design rather than simple cream cotton. Soon I had them on my feet. Sister pinched the ends of the toes, remarking they would be all right for the moment. I was sent out with Lenton.

I was now told that Sister could get cross at times over the smallest thing. I did not really mind wearing girls wellingtons; they were a very comfortable fit compared to the short heavy dull boots that many of my school friends wore. I always chose the taller shiny style wellingtons as they were ideal for my long legs. There was nothing wrong with these boots except for the tartan lining.

I mentioned that I had already been over to the swings by the school. It was decided that I should be taken around the back of the flats and then we could work our way all round the grounds. The older two boys never found us; it was almost dark when Lenton decided it was time to go in. Normally we would be given a set time to go in at. The big clock on the office block was the one to use. All the Sisters went by this clock. Even if you had a watch, or the television told a different time, if you were in the grounds, the clock on the block was the correct time. Lenton told me that if I was naughty, you were given either the slipper or the cane, it depended on what you had done wrong.

CLEANING SHOES

We arrived indoors; Sister seemed pleased that I had been happy going out and looking around. I was asked if everything was all right. Possibly, she had expected me to be in tears for not having my mother here, but as I had gone through this same event a few months ago, I was not going to burst into tears here.  I might feel a bit rotten but with girls around, I was not going to show how I felt.

Now Lenton introduced me to one of the many chores that would make up part of my daily life. Shoe cleaning was until now not something I had really had to bother with very often. My first introduction to it in earnest had been at the school I had stayed at during the holidays. At the end of the day our school shoes and other items had to be cleaned to high standards. Until then, I had never been made to clean my shoes and boots; on many occasions I had given them the final shine, but my mother had never trusted me with an open tin of polish. Both our play shoes and school shoes had to be given a good polish; Lenton mentioned that if you did not do a good job Sister would make you do it again until she was satisfied.

We finished at around the same time; it appeared that my shoes would pass inspection. Lenton told me the worst thing was trying to get a shine on play shoes after you have been outside playing football on wet days. The leather was often too damp to allow you to get a shine and you would get a telling off for not wearing your wellingtons. If you had been playing in the woods, every bit of mud had to be cleaned off your wellingtons before coming inside. There was a trough of water near the back door and a stiff brush; they had to be completely clean, as you needed to wear them for some of our indoor chores, like washing the floor or washing dishes at the sink. An old towel was in the shoe cupboard for drying them off before putting them away. 

Our chore over I was now told it was time for supper. We headed into the kitchen; some of the others were already there. I was now told that supper could vary. It might be a few biscuits or some cake; often it could be toast or something similar. For me toast and Marmite was fine; the others had a more sweet tooth and were eager to delve into the jam and chocolate spread. The drink we were allowed was milk. This we could have either cold or hot; if you were having it hot then chocolate powder or instant coffee could be added. I easily chose coffee, but made entirely with milk I found a little rich. I was more used to having it made with hot water and a little cold milk added. I realised that mentioning any preference at this point would soon get me into trouble.

BEDTIME
 

Sister now judged that it was time for getting me ready for bed. Lenton was disappointed as for the next few days he was not going to be grouped with the two older boys for bedtimes, but with me until I became settled in the Home. There was slight questioning by Sister when I used the word dormitory when referring to the bedroom. She now asked me if I had been away to boarding school before coming here. Knowing what my mother had told me about not saying anything about the boarding school I had stayed at during Christmas, I got over the problem by telling Sister that when I first started school, my mother had gone to work at a school that took boarders. I was not actually told off, but it was suggested by her that it was best to use the word bedroom in front of the other boys.

Once in the bedroom, Sister explained that she had originally intended for me to start school on Monday, but as she was going to be busy on that day, I would have to be taken to school by her tomorrow, so that I could be shown where the school was and introduce me to my teacher. I should put my school clothes ready. Lenton spoke up and mentioned that he could take me, but it appeared I was going to the same school as most of the others, rather than to his school. However, Sister announced that she had been told to take me to the annexe part of the school rather than where the other four were.

  We were packed off to the bathroom; I had brought a flannel, toothbrush, toothpaste and a towel with me. Lenton soon pounced on my tube of toothpaste and begged to use it. He explained that the Home provided toothpaste but it came in tins as a solid block, you had to wet it to get any of the paste onto your brush and the taste was horrible. Toothpaste in a tube was an absolute luxury; I was warned that the other two would use my toothpaste as well. It might be best not to say anything to Sister as she might take it away from me for being greedy. I was quite happy to share my toothpaste, but I was a little cross to see the amount that was spread across the full length of the brush. If all three were going to do this, the toothpaste would be gone within days; my mother had always made me put just enough on the end of the brush that would clean my teeth.

Eventually we returned to the bedroom, Sister was going through the drawers that had my clothes in. I was told that I really had everything I needed, but over the next few days, she would take a few measurements and add a few more play clothes to my drawer.

 

At night, I had been used to being told when to go off to bed, and then going to sleep. Even at the boarding school when it was time for bed, we went to bed, a final check was made by one of the staff that everyone was actually in bed and that was that. Here it appeared that prayers had to be said, the counterpane was folded down to the bottom of your bed and you could get in. Sister tucked the sides of your bed in so that no bedclothes were loose. I now found that once the bedclothes were tucked in, it was almost impossible to move. I was wished a good night by Sister. As this was my first night, I might feel a bit lonely, but I had Lenton for company and the other two would be joining us soon. The lights went out, and the door finally shut.

Lenton explained that when Sister tucked our bedclothes in, it was known as a cuddle. If I was uncomfortable, it was all right to loosen them a little. He mentioned that once the lights were out, we were meant to keep quiet but if you talked in whispers, everything was normally fine. A small glass panel in the wall was connected to Sister’s room; this allowed her to hear everything that was said in this room.

  After the events of the day I was tired and was soon asleep. The other two boys came in later but I stayed asleep. At some point during the night I did wake up; everything seemed so odd for a few seconds, then I remembered where I now was. It was the grunts and snores of the other three that made me think I was back at the boarding school. From what I had seen so far, this place seemed a bit tame, although Sister seemed strict and would not tolerate any wrongdoing. There did not seem to be the activity of daring to do wrong things or the punishments that were threatened at every moment, that I had noticed whilst I was at the boarding school. Other than the occasional noise from the other three, it was generally silent. I missed the background noise of the London streets. I was not really on the point of tears, but how long I was to be here had never been explained. If I had been at the boarding school I knew I would have left at eleven; here it looked as if you stayed until you left school at about fifteen.
With Sister tucking me firmly into bed, I didn''t know if I was allowed out of bed to visit the lavatory or not. I decided that it was worth the risk and made a quick visit. Soon I was back in bed. After wondering about the events of the following day for a short while, I went back to sleep.

Before coming to the Home, I had been used to getting up when I woke up. If it had been too early for breakfast or the like, I would have read my comics or found a puzzle to amuse myself with until it was time to start the day.  I was told that here, we could only get up at the point that Sister told us to get up.

FIRST MORNING

 

My first morning in the Home started with Lenton calling my name. His main questions were how I felt, and had I wet the bed, as most boys wet the bed when the first arrive. It seemed he was disappointed that I did not have any problems during the night, or spend the night crying as he would have enjoyed teasing me. There was little time for conversation; Sister entered the room and turned on the lights. It appeared I was her main concern; there were questions like had I slept well, and was I happy. Confirmation was given by Lenton, that my night had gone without any problems; It seemed I would survive. Sister now left to see to the girls.

  The boys explained the daily events to me. First you pulled back your bedclothes so that the lower sheet remained to allow your bed to air for a short while. There was no need to pull your top sheet or blankets off your bed unless they had come loose during the night. There was a joke made, that this was the point when Sister would see if your bed was wet. This was aimed at one of the others rather than myself, who admitted he still had problems from time to time, and that all of us in this bedroom still needed to have a rubber sheet on top of our mattresses. Sister would not be pleased with you, as it meant you would be late for breakfast with the need to have a bath.

There was no need to bother with your dressing gown unless it was cold; we headed off to the bathroom. As today was my first day I was given the privilege of using the lavatory first. This was however so the other three could get at my tube of toothpaste without having to ask me. Soon we were all washed and dried and we returned to the bedroom. It was easy to dress first then make your bed; this way you could put your pyjamas away without disturbing the bed.

Sister liked our beds to be made in a certain way; Lenton was pleased that I had come, as it was easier to make a bed if there were two of you. If you made a good attempt and had the counterpane on nice and evenly it would normally pass Sister’s inspection.

Bed making had never been a chore I had ever bothered with when I lived with my mother. At the boarding school, we did not have a counterpane; the grey blankets had to be straight at the first attempt so that a coloured stripe on the top end was in line with the pillow.

I was now led to the kitchen for breakfast; I seemed to be treated now as one of the group rather than something strange that had appeared for tea yesterday. I was introduced to the helper who had returned after I had gone to bed the previous night. It was explained that I should follow any instruction that I was given by her. On Sister’s days off, she would be in charge. I took my place at the table; the meal was started with grace. It seemed my turn would come soon.

BREAKFAST
 

Until coming to the Home, on a normal school day I had been used to either Kellogg’s, toast or bread and butter, with possibly Marmite, marmalade, or if there was an unfinished jar of meat or fish paste; to drink either milk or squash – if neither were available I was quite happy with a glass of water. At the boarding school, our breakfasts were more or less ready for us, with little actual choice available. I was offered either porridge or a cereal. I now made the first mistake of the day by asking for Kellogg’s. This resulted in my second telling off since my arrival.  With our family having adults in the majority the only packet of cereal on the table had been Kellogg’s cornflakes. Occasionally there was Shredded Wheat, but that miniature straw-like bale had never appealed to me. On rare occasions a variety pack of cereals might have appeared, but once finished the next would be a long while appearing. I had been used to calling the cornflakes ‘Kellogg’s’ and with no other item on the menu there could be no confusion. I now realised that several other large packets of cereal, were also made by Kellogg’s. Soon I was provided with a bowl of cornflakes. Once finished there was now a cooked breakfast; these I was only used to at weekends and then in place of cereal. Bread or toast now followed, with a wide variety of spreads. Most were sweet and even jam came out at this time of day. I was pleased to see Marmite was put out again. I was more or less happy with breakfast. There was the thought that on the following days I would be able to work through the range of other packets, most of which I had never seen as full size packets on the breakfast table.

The only item to ruin breakfast was tea. If there were a hot drink, I preferred coffee. For a small boy coffee might seem an odd drink, but as long as there was a little sugar in it I was happy with it either white or black and real or instant. Why I was the only member of my mother’s family not to like tea was a mystery to all: everyone it seemed even from a very young age liked to drink tea, and wherever I have lived the teapot seemed to be the most important possession. The mug of tea that was now provided at breakfast ruined the meal for me.

  During breakfast there were continual reminders about the items that it was necessary to take to school; for the older ones it was homework and for everybody there were questions such as was it games or PE today. When breakfast was over, the two eldest girls were on washing and wiping up. It appeared that my turn along with Lenton would be at tea.

 

I was told to go into the dayroom and read a book whilst the others were packed off to school. Lenton came with me to the dayroom. It was explained that he was one of the lucky ones; several of them were taken to school each day by coach and were driven back at the end of the day. He gloated that he did not have to walk to school in the rain. A light drizzle had started early and looked to be around for the entire day. Both of us could hear Sister demanding that the others put on their raincoats properly with the buttons done up before they left the house. The pair of us were left in peace for a short while. I was shown some of the toys that Lenton had in his locker. Once you put your toys in your locker they were reasonably safe, only Sister or the helper really having the right to go through your things.

Lenton gave me a piece of advice. What went on in the Home was not to be mentioned to friends at school or parents, and what went on at school was not to be mentioned once you were back at the Home. Try to have two different lives – that way you would stand a better chance of keeping out of trouble.

Finally, Lenton was called to get ready; I was left alone in the dayroom. There was a large bookcase next to the emergency door, which led through into the next flat. This door was to remain firmly closed unless there was a fire. The books on the shelves were rather boring; several girls’ storybooks and a few boys’ books of war stories. No real storybooks or comic annuals really took my fancy; I managed to find a ‘Jennings’ and sat down to read it.

Possibly my quiet behaviour was not normal in the flat. Sister soon came to see where I was. My preference if I was not at school was to be left alone. Whenever I was out with friends, trouble or other problems seemed to happen. I was told to visit the lavatory and to make sure my hands and teeth were clean as shortly I was to be taken to my new school.

A, B & C

 

At the point we left the flat there was only a light drizzle. Sister intended to take me to my new school and to get my admission sorted out. They had already made enquiries about me joining the school. Having some idea on the results from a previous school it had been decided, with the choice of an ‘A’ form and a ‘B’ form. It would be the latter I would join; there did not seem to be a ‘C’ stream. Owing to overcrowding, a few classes were situated in the annexe of the school, quite some distance from the main new school. Had I been attending the main school, Sister would have given the job to one of the older boys to take me to school on Monday and to see I returned with them at the end of the afternoon. Sister was not even sure if any others of my age from the Home were at the annexe. If I was the only one, then some arrangement would have to be made for Monday when I officially would start.

A little way into our walk it decided to pour with rain. I was fine, the raincoat I had brought with me, and the wellingtons Sister had found, kept me dry. I resisted splashing in the puddles, but Sister seemed to be concentrating on our journey to watch where her feet went and soon ended up soaked without any help from me. I made a mental note of roughly our route; it seemed easy enough. Once we had arrived at the end of the road, we followed the next road down, then crossing over we went up a slight hill and carried on walking, eventually coming to the school. Sister explained that she thought this was the quickest route; if not, others would soon tell me. There was one rule to follow when I did start school. At the end of the day when school finished, I was to come straight back to the Home; there was to be no visiting any friends’ houses, and even when I arrived in the Home I was to come straight indoors. 

We entered the school; from the outside, it looked like an old village school. Sister had timed our arrival perfectly; the bell for the start of morning break was just being rung. Within a short while, a teacher came out to see us. It appeared that my arrival was expected.

It was explained to me that I would be staying for school lunches. On a Monday morning when the lunch money was collected for the week, I should simply tell my teacher that I was from the Home; there was no need to bring any money with me. I would not be alone as there was one other boy from the Home that was in the class I would be joining.

Sister asked the teacher if the boy was here today, as she would like a word with him about escorting me from the Home on Monday and seeing that I arrived back at the end of the day. The next question Sister asked was on what day PE and games took place. Sister was now told that as this school did not have any grassed area, we did not really have games. There might be a short PE lesson in the playground, but it depended on the weather. If it was fine, that lesson could be on any day so it was best to keep some PE clothes handy. Sister decided that it might be best if I took my PE kit in on a Monday and just returned it on a Friday, which would mean I was not left out of any lessons. I was now told that when the weather was fine there were also swimming lessons; as we went to an open-air pool the weather was the deciding factor. If I did not know how to swim I would soon pick it up. Apart from short doggy paddles in the sea, where I could manage about twenty five yards without touching the sand. I had only been taken to the swimming pool on odd occasions.

We were left alone whilst the teacher went away to see if the other boy from the Home was here. Within a short while, a boy of my own age was brought in. I was now introduced to Edward. Sister asked him if he could come to my flat on Monday to bring me to school and see that I arrived back with him. From his expression, I could see that it was not going to be a problem. The teacher suggested that it would be nice for him to have a friend to come to school with.

Sister mentioned that she was not really looking forward to the walk back with me. The teacher now suggested that I might as well stay, if there were no plans for me; at least it would make sure that Edward could show me the way back when lessons finished. I did not seem to have any say in the matter; Sister seemed to think it was a good idea. The teacher told me that lunch for me was not going to be a problem; there was always plenty sent down from the main school.

 It was now suggested to Edward that he first should show me where the boys’ toilet was, and then where I could hang my coat.  We headed down a small corridor. Edward asked me when I had arrived at the Home. He told me that he had not said much in front of the Sister, as she was known to be one of the strictest Sisters at the Home. He would make sure that he called for me first thing on Monday, as he did not fancy the telling off that he would get if he forgot. We went outside just as the bell was being rung and the few boys that were outside were ushered in.

The boys’ lavatory was quite primitive. It was at one side of the playground. Edward commented that on wet days it was best to make sure that you did not have to leave the room in the middle of the lesson. At this school they let you go in the middle of the lesson, in the main school they don't let you go. If you ran across without your coat you would get soaked, and as the urinal part was mostly open to the sky you will also get soaked unless you used one of the cubicles. We stayed outside for a little longer. Edward told me that there was little point in getting back into school straight away as we were still in the morning period and it was all written work; had I arrived in the afternoon then things would be different.

It was great being at this school; most afternoons we did not have difficult lessons. As we did not have any of the equipment or spare rooms like the main school, if we did art lessons, everything had to be brought out of cupboards and put away at the end. In the evening our school was used by adults for their lessons, so we spent the last part of every afternoon clearing up. If we finished quickly, we were often let out a few minutes early.

  Eventually Edward decided that it was time to return. I was taken into the classroom; coats and belongings were hung up on the back wall. The teacher introduced me to the others. There was only a small number in my class; it was not really cramped but the desks took up most of the room, with just odd tables at one side and a blackboard on an easel at the front next to a main blackboard. Edward had gone back to his own desk; I was now given a desk at the only remaining space on the other side of the room.

There was the instruction that for the moment there was not any point for me to do written work, as they were just finishing off a subject. Looking around the room there did not seem to be any set uniform here. It was mostly grey shirts with a pullover or jumper; these were mainly blues and grey shades, but there was nothing really to suggest a set style. I seemed to fit in with grey shirt and blue jumper.

From what the boy next to me was wearing it seemed to prove that no high standard of clothing was demanded. Other than the last school in London most of the schools I attended seemed to set a level that we should attain in both design and neatness. The boy whom I now shared a desk with had a shirt that was cream but had a faint blue check woven into its fabric. Both the collar and cuffs were well frayed; the jumper was a fairly rough coarse grey wool which showed the signs of darning at the elbows many times. From the way Sister had inspected my clothes, I did not think I was ever going to be allowed to dress like that.

 Although the teacher was talking, my partner at the desk wasted no time in asking my name and telling me that he was called Bob. Having been to several schools, I had become quite used to working out within a very short while who my close friends would be. Whilst Edward had been quite nice to me and I probably would become his friend, it was almost the moment that I sat down next to Bob, that I worked out that he was going to be one of my close friends. I was like a magnet and seemed to be able to attract trouble, and I might have guessed that with Bob sitting alone, possibly the teacher had a good reason why he should have a desk to himself.

I tried to pay attention to what the teacher was saying, in the hope of catching up when the next lesson started. If Bob wanted to gain my attention, there was a light kick on my shins; it was not spiteful or painful as they were well protected – this was done to get my attention without the need to speak. By the time the lesson ended, I thought that I had managed to understand the work. Talking started immediately, and books were soon put away. Within moments we were allowed our freedom. The teacher now told me that she would see me at the start of the afternoon lesson to sort out any books I would need.

Bob asked if I was staying to school dinners and, as soon as I replied yes, it was decided I was going to be his partner during lunch. We went through to one of the other classrooms that were slowly transformed into the dining area. Large benches were placed together and a large waterproof cloth stretched across; the stools we were to sit on were now placed at regular intervals. Bob pulled me to one side; it appeared that there were ideal positions where you could sit without any table legs getting in the way. Another boy came and sat on the other side of me. Soon names and a number of facts had been exchanged between us. I felt quite happy about the move to this school, from what I could see it was not that strict. Afternoon lessons soon passed and I returned to the Home to explore more of my new life.

 

 

CHAPEL
NCH Highfield Chapel

The Home having a religious theme on a Sunday was something I now had to take part in. Other than going with the school to a Harvest Festival service or a Christmas service, actually going to church was not something I had ever done. There was a good chance that Sister had been informed of this when I had first arrived.

There was also a good bet that my mother would have explained to Sister that I might cause a nuisance over such a matter, and I would find a quiet service difficult to sit through.

Before my first visit to the Chapel for Sunday service, Sister took me to one side and had a quiet chat. I was told that on Sundays the service could last an hour to an hour and a half. She knew of a few boys in other flats who found it difficult to sit through such a long service without becoming bored or finding the need to visit the lavatory. Once we were seated in the chapel, she did not like us to disrupt the service by making a request to leave. I was told quite firmly this would not be allowed; she would also not expect me to cause any fuss if I needed the lavatory. It was for this reason that some younger members in other flats were provided with waterproof pants to wear under their trousers on Sundays. There were also the odd few boys of around my own age in various flats who wore them as well, just in case there was ever an accident during the service.

As she was unsure of my behaviour for such a period, it was suggested that for my first visit to the chapel, it might be best if I also made use of a pair. Once the service was over, if I had proved that I did not need them, I would not be required to wear them again for chapel unless I thought it was necessary. At the end of the service if there had not been any problems, I should take them off and tuck them at the bottom of my drawer. As this was a request from Sister, I did not make a fuss. If it had been from my mother, I would have refused, as not since the age of six was it thought that I might have needed them.

I was not too sure that I could last through a long service. Sister was trying to make sure I did not have any problems. What Sister did not explain at this moment was what I should do if I did have an accident. During the service, there was this thought in my mind the entire time. I wondered why Sister would prefer me to wet my pants, rather than allow me to leave the chapel if I needed the lavatory.

The service in chapel went without incident. On returning to the flat, there was the hope I might find a moment to change out of them. As I was a younger one, I was due to go to Sunday school when lunch was over. I needed to remain in my best clothes, whilst the older three boys changed into play clothes. I did not get the chance to change out of the waterproof pants until teatime. Over the next few services, I did put them on for each visit for chapel and Sunday school, just in case I could not last out the services; after the first month, I left them in the drawer.

There were a few services during the following month where I wished I had worn them, but it was just luck that I managed to hold on and did not embarrass Sister, although I did get told off for fidgeting during the service after we had left the chapel. At the age of eight, I should not have had such problems; it was just living here that made me so uneasy over so many matters, for some reason since coming to the Home that I found I needed to go for a pee much more often. After a couple of daytime accidents during my first three months in the Home, Sister decided that it was best that I put waterproof pants on for all Sunday chapel services, and if she was going to take me into the village.

The only problem with the waterproof pants was that either the top or leg area could show from beneath your shorts if you were rather active, which might lead to a little bit of teasing. Some Sisters provided bib & brace dungarees for those boys.

A pair of thick corduroy dungarees were added to my play clothes, and a better looking pair for chapel and if I was to be taken outside the grounds, or to wear indoors if I was going to stay clean. Sister suggested that I always wore waterproofs when in dungarees, as I might have an accident if I had not managed to undo the buttons in time. On some of the days I went to school in dungarees I ignored this rule if she was not around when I was getting dressed.

The play dungarees were ideal for playing in the woods and stopped both stinging nettles and brambles hurting me, when the weather became colder they were more comfortable than shorts.

The other rule that Sister set, was that if I was in my dungarees I was always to wear my wellingtons including if I was indoors. My height and thin build meant that they would have looked outgrown had I worn them with shoes or sandals. 

Many knew why some younger boys might be in dungarees. There was no real teasing for wearing them, some who wore them joked that they didn't have to worry about painfully waiting for permission to visit the lavatory if they need a pee.

The dungarees and waterproofs also came in useful when watching television in the flat. If I managed to get a chair there was not any problem. On the days when the older boys took all the chairs, two of us were instructed to lay face down on the floor and use our elbows as support, why we were not allowed just to sit was never explained. The one problem I had always found if I lay on my front, even if I had recently been to the toilet, was that I always had a very minor accident. Often there was nothing to see, but on a day I wore light coloured shorts, there was sometimes a very minor damp mark on the front of my shorts. Allowed to wear dungarees and waterproofs the problem vanished.

COACH TRAVEL

Going to Christmas and other parties should have been happy events. It was true that they could be fun, but travelling there and back was always the worst part. Often it was a couple of hours’ journey by coach, to help prevent travel sickness, I made sure that I did not eat anything before the journey. Often we set off early in the afternoon; other than breakfast, if I had eaten lunch I made sure it was only the minimum I could get away with.

On the coach to make it fair, if you had a window seat to the event, the rule was that you would swap with your partner for the return trip. I normally tried to get a seat as near to the front as possible; most of my friends would head to the rear of the coach. There was always the instruction that if any of us felt sick or needed the lavatory, we should come and see the staff at the front of the coach. For anyone that ever had problems, going to the front did little good; we would usually be on roads where it was impossible to stop or almost at the location, and we would be told there was not long to wait.

Part way into the journey I would start to feel a little unwell. It was never the case that I felt I was going to be instantly sick. It was made worse if one of the others came to the front announcing they felt ill. With little chance of the coach stopping they would stand perched at the front, slightly swaying in the aisle. This was normally enough to make them sick. If they could only have been sick in the rear seats, the stench and sight would not be affecting any of us that were already suffering from weak stomachs.

The other event would be someone announcing they needed to go for a pee. Again, the coach would not be stopped; they would stand there hopping from one leg to another ready for the coach to eventually stop so they could be the first off. On almost every journey, there was someone unable to wait any longer. The result was a puddle on the floor or on a seat; this would make everyone around also think they desperately needed to go.

I was in trouble following a party soon after my arrival at the Home. On the return trip, I had sat in a damp seat after someone had an accident on the way to the party. When Sister saw the state of my trousers on my return to the flat, I was blamed for this act; there was no point in arguing the matter, having already found out that arguing with Sister resulted in the slipper.

I was now told by Sister that I was to wear my waterproof pants on any coach trip I went om. At eight and a half, as I was now in a Children's Home; I simply took it that this was one of the many odd rules I had to follow, there was no teasing from the others when I put them on, I soon found out that her rules did not just apply to me.

In the mid 1960s the Home purchased a batch of school shorts made entirley in a modern man-made fibre, there was the thought that they should last longer than our normal school shorts made in cotton, and that we might be able to keep them in better order, as we could wipe off the food and mud stains that our normal school shorts often suffered. The were of a similar design to our ordinary school shorts and still had a lining inside, made in a fine woven nylon material and appeared almost waterproof.

We soon found out that if you had an accident, any pee that your underpants did not soak up went straight down your legs, as long as you didn't try to hold the front of your shorts, nothing was visible.

Sister found that when ironing the shorts and trying to get her perfect pair of creases on the front, the lining and outer fabric started to crease up. After about three months, our new school shorts were regelated to play clothes and we went back to out cotton designed shorts to keep us smart.

If you had a problem and Sister had her camera with her, a souvenir photo went into her album together with many of the other antics we were involved with.

MORNING

 

  Breakfast was never really a battle for me. I accepted that it was long, drawn out and noisy. I soon became used to the cooked breakfast on the days that Sister provided one: tomatoes on toast, bacon and other items. On certain days, it was either porridge or hot milk over an oat type cereal. At the end of breakfast if not on washing and wiping up duty, you were free for a few moments once your set cleaning chores were over, to amuse yourself before finally getting ready for school.

On several occasions, it was down to having to finish the mug of tea rather than the large breakfast, although possibly with a lighter breakfast I might not have felt so unwell, had me visiting the lavatory to be sick. With all the morning rush and the need to get seven children off to school, little attention was paid to a small boy disappearing for a few moments. I was quite capable of being sick and getting over it without drawing attention to myself. If I had allowed attention to be focused on me, something might have been done over having to drink tea. Staying silent meant that having been sick, I would be starving until school lunch several hours later. I was more afraid of Sister finding out that I had been sick after eating one of her breakfasts, than the actual event.

   Once all our chores were finished, we could put the final touches to our appearance. My hair was that of the average schoolboy; other than for the five seconds after a comb and brush had been put through it would look anything other than perfect. While the girls could sit down and take time to brush their hair, boys it seemed had to achieve perfection in moments. To Sister, I was a new challenge; it was perhaps some years since she had to wrestle a comb on a boy. The other three boys and the boy who had recently left before my arrival all had close curly-cropped black hair; with my ordinary mop of hair I was a challenge for her.

With a little time, my hair could look neat. My mother never had allowed me to have long hair, however she did allow the top of my head to be well covered, often choosing Italian barbers, who liked to take longer than normal, if the parent simply did not want an economy short back and sides to prolong the time between visits. Sister however did not seem to wish to give the slight extra amount of time that my hair really needed.

Within a short time of my arrival, I was despatched to the carpenter’s shop at the Home, where it appeared a few boys were still dealt with for haircuts. I was given the option of sitting still for him or having a pudding basin put on my head. I sat still; the result however very much resembled a pudding-basin cut, possibly achieved after many years’ experience. As well as the front, back and sides losing hair, the top of my head also was cropped quite severely. This was one of the major differences my mother noticed on her first visit to see me.

NIGHT

  My bedtime was as soon as I had finished supper. There was a final visit to the bathroom and a check by Sister that I had cleaned my teeth, and I was straight off to bed. The other three would normally follow an hour after supper. Once in bed, I was soon asleep; often the older boys would wake me up when they came to bed, which in a way showed it was a pointless exercise sending me to bed early.

During my first week there was the fear of wetting my bed during the night. I wondered what Sister would say in the morning and what the punishment would be. With my mother it had been my school plimsoll at the age of seven, and the threat of the cane now I had reached eight. At the boarding school, once you had reached nine it was normally the cane for any bed wetting. I wondered if Sister would use the slipper or the cane.

To prevent any chance of an accident, I found it best to wake myself up late in the evening and visit to the lavatory, rather than try and last through the night. With no watch to tell the time, I had no way of knowing if it was ten at night or after midnight. At around five or six in the morning, I would also pay another visit. 

For my first three months in the Home, this routine worked and there were only a few accidents at night. In the morning there was never a telling off, and neither the slipper or the cane if any of us had wet the bed, which I found strange.

The older boys seemed to just laugh the matter off if it affected them. On a cold night they told me they didn't feel like getting out of bed. Thunder and lighting was also a reason for not getting out of bed if they needed to go. It did not matter if we had the odd accident at night, it seemed it was better for us to have wet the bed than to have us up and about when it was dark.

After a few months, Sister seemed to object to my evening visits.  When she found me on my return from the lavatory, there was a telling off about my forgetfulness for not visiting before going to bed. When I was caught before getting to the lavatory, I could not convince her that I had been at the correct time and now needed to go again. I was sent straight back to bed without being allowed to visit the lavatory with comment, that if I did wet my bed it might help me to remember to go at the correct time.

Bedwetting now regularly happened once or twice a week. I tried to follow the others and only visit the toilet if I knew I really needed to go. When I did wake up early in the morning with a wet bed, I actually felt happier as there was no worry about any punishment, I could then get back to sleep until it was time to get up.


Stripping my bed and going off for a bath was a slightly embarrassing matter; the older three boys did not tease me. As they were at different schools, I had no worry that they would ever tell my school friends about my bedwetting, and they knew I would not tell friends about their odd wet beds. They were glad that if Sister were focusing her attention on me, it would get them off any minor items of trouble they might be in.

Once I had finished my bath and put my sheets and under blanket into soak, I needed to get a damp cloth and wipe down the rubber mattress protector on the bed. Once breakfast was over it was to rinse the sheets and under blanket and take them outside to dry off during the day. With these tasks I was a little late and any chores I should be doing would still have to be completed before school.

To save time I had to fold up my top blanket and counterpane and put them on the end. When I arrived home from school later in the day, I would be able to use my own free time to make the bed up with clean sheets and a fresh under blanket if the ones I had washed in the morning had not dried off during the day, this was often after tea when there might be something I wanted to watch on the TV.

A reminder of an accident was that the bed remained in its stripped condition for the entire day, so that the recently cleaned waterproof sheet had time to dry off. If friends had been allowed into our flat, it would have been embarrassing. In other flats, the Sister could use this as an extra form of punishment.

On the nights I did not have an accident, if I was caught by Sister visiting the lavatory shortly before getting-up time, I was always allowed on my way; to her this was a good idea that would prevent a wet bed. The two different reactions from her was something I could not understand.

To try and prevent us wetting the bed, some of the Sisters saw to it that boys under five wore waterproof pants to bed. From the age of five the Sisters thought we would just be too lazy and would never learn to control ourselves.

For a few boys above this age that became really upset at waking up to a wet bed, the Sisters relented and allowed them either waterproof pants, or the full length rubber over-trousers to go over their pyjamas.

For any boy over five that did wear these to bed they were often teased by others in their group, so it was regarded more as a punishment than offering any help.

Sister did try the waterproof trousers on me for a short period at the age of nine, but as I was wet nearly every night I had worn them, she took it that I was making little effort on my part, and told me to just go back to only wearing pyjamas. Not knowing that until now I had been sneaking out of bed after she had gone off to sleep. This to me was disappointing, as when I had worn them I did not have any fear that I might wet the bed, or find the need to try and sneak off in the middle of the night to visit the toilet.

The others never teased me about going to bed in them, with their odd accidents, had Sister ordered us all to wear them every night I don't think there would have been any complaints from us. The chore of just washing out a pair of pyjamas bottoms and waterproof trousers was a much quicker chore than having to wash out your sheets and remake your bed.

The only time I felt ashamed was when an aunt & uncle came to pick me up to take me back to London for the weekend, they had brought my two cousins with them. I was encouraged by Sister to give them all a tour of the flat and show them my bedroom, picking the day that my bed was in its stripped condition with the rubber sheet in full view. Whilst their girl who was my age was more interested in the view from the window across the grass, her younger brother who was six, looked on with glee and announced that I still had a rubber sheet on my bed.

boys bed with rubber sheet

A Film Show

The Home knew some of us had problems at night with bedwetting. The official records of the Home showed that 14 out of ever 100 boys of school age regularly wet the bed, and that in any single year 92% of boys of junior school age would have some bedwetting problems.

To try and reassure us, rather than having our Sister or Houseparent talk to us about it where we might just feel it was a telling off. A film was shown to us about why we might wet the bed.

It was not that it was meant to be a secret, but the Sister told me to go over to the hall where there was to be a film show. I took it to be some sort of a reward when I was told not to take any of the others from my group, but I would meet up with a few of my friends.

On getting into the hall, there were about twenty of us from various flats, all of us were within a few years same age.

We settled down and watched a couple of cartoons. The next film was just introduced to us as something we might like to know about. There were as many giggles as red faces, but unlike a normal film show that would be stopped until we were quiet this one was allowed to continue.

The film was about why boys wet the bed. Various stories were shown and explanations why we might wet the bed. The best part of the film was about a boy wetting the bed whilst he was dreaming he was a fireman, he was putting out a fire, this apparently caused him to wet his bed.

The story was that he thought there was a fire in the grate. In the dream he was using his toy fire engine to put it out with real water from the miniature hoses. A few of us wondered if our Sisters would allow us to have such toys.

The Sister that looked after me did not punish me for any wet beds, but had I had a miniature toy fire engine that squirted water indoors, there would have been some punishment if things got soaked.

Once the film ended there were a couple more cartoons, then we gained our freedom.

Most of the audience raced off, hoping that they would not be questioned as to why they had been invited.

A few of us around the same age stayed around in a group, at first none of us would admit why we had been sent to see the film, then our conversations were mainly about what our Sisters say in the morning if any of us do wet the bed. All I could tell them that Sister allowed me some fun after I had wet the bed, by allowing me to stomp around in the bath when I was washing out my sheets.

We all decided that we would be asking for a toy fire engine that squirted water for our next Christmas present, it would not really matter to us if it made us wet the bed a little more. None of us told the others in our own groups that we had been to this film show, that we did not get teased by any of those in our flats over bedwetting made up for any embarrassment.

The one result of us watching the film as a group, was that a few of us became much closer friends when out at play. After watching the film we might have understood why we might wet the bed, but we did not really have any thoughts as how we could stop. Finding several of my friends often wet the bed, made getting up after a wet bed an easier thing to live with.

We had been told by friends if you picked and played with dandelions or eat raw rhubarb it would make you wet the bed, neither of which we believed at that age. All we thought was that if we were seen picking any flowers we might be thought of as sissy, or if caught eating raw rhubarb we should no be in the orchard area.

The Morning Wash

The morning wash was another moment that as the fourth and youngest boy I did not fit in. Two sinks meant that two could wash at once, the third could visit the lavatory. and they would then swap over. Eventually when all three had washed, dried and cleaned their teeth I would get a chance to use the sinks.

This was the other reason for my visits to the lavatory first thing in the morning before they were awake, as I was not going to be allowed to use the lavatory until all three of them had made use of it; I knew that on many mornings I would have had a desperate need. Whilst Sister did not punish me over wet beds, standing in soaking pyjamas in the middle of a puddle on the floor would have brought some form of punishment.

As they returned to get dressed and make their beds I was left alone. This slight delay meant that from this point until breakfast, I was delayed in every task and chore I had been set.

Before breakfast Sister would check to see if everything was to her high standards. If the bed was not made to her requirements, everything would be thrown onto the floor and you would be made to make the bed to her standard while she watched over you. Sister also would make an inspection of the bathroom, to see that flannels were correctly hung up, the toothpaste had its lid on, the soap was in the correct position, and that there was no scum line around the sink.

This gave me a chance of getting into trouble; as I was the last to leave the sinks, any scum line was down to me, even if it was in the sink I had not used. After my wash, extra time was spent cleaning the second sink so as not to get into trouble.

The other little problem that affects boys is their aim at the lavatory bowl. I have to admit that I was not accurate on every occasion, but now as I was apparently the last to visit the lavatory, I was responsible for every mess.

My excuse that I had not used it after them, failed to get me pardoned. All the others said it was like it when they used it; Sister often having witnessed my earlier visit, now believed them.

Having been blamed for this after several occasions, I realised that the older boys were doing it just to get me in trouble; on all my future visits to the lavatory, I remained in seated mode. I left the lavatory with the seat down and with no wet patches on the floor to coincide with Sister passing.

Eventually I appeared to be given the benefit of the doubt over future spills. There was a comment from the Sister that I should learn to pee in the bowl like a boy rather than in a girl's fashion. It was impossible to win.

 

.

My Girlfriend

 

To us children some of the staff could be quite odd over rules and punishments. I had been out at play in the grounds during the afternoon and had met up with a girl of about my age from another flat. We both must have been about eight. I had been at the Home for a short while and generally knew the rules that we had to follow.

Playing with a girl would not have been the normal way of passing the time. We must have been bored with things to do, and had just chosen each other’s company to pass the time. As the weather was dull and showery, there were few other children about. We were wearing identical brown raincoats. Originally these had been smart school raincoats, but now rather shabby; they had been classed as play clothes by the Sisters who looked after us.

It was mid afternoon; we must have been passing the time before going in for tea. Not really soaked, we had slowly made our journey around the rear of the flats, and had ended up at the side of the administration block. Neither of us was up to mischief of any kind. For me this form of play was quite sedate. A small flight of three steps led up to a side entrance; this had a large porch awning. The reason for our choice was that it gave a little shelter from the light shower of rain.

Most of our play was hopping from one step to another, and then trying to do two steps at a time. Our final part of this form of play was to jump onto the ground. There were no large puddles that would get us soaked and only a small film of water splashed very slightly when our wellingtons landed. Had we both been rolling on the ground even with our play clothes, I could understand the staff getting cross. Our coats were clean, we had not attempted any rough play, they might be a little damp, but we did not have any mud on them. One of the Sisters came out of the door; it was easy to see that in her mind we should not have been playing on the steps, but to the pair of us, we could not really see what harm we had done or that we had broken any rules. She was one of the older Sisters. I did not recognise her from being in charge of one of our nearby flats; all I could do was think that she must be from the flats on the other side of the grounds.

If we had been playing in an area where we shouldn’t have been, the reaction of the staff would be to send us on our way if we had not really been up to mischief. The Sister beckoned us inside and as we entered both of us pulled down the hoods of our coats; as we were now sheltered there was little point in having our hoods up. Instantly was a telling off, that she did not want to see our faces. To comply with her wishes we put our hoods up again, although our faces were of course still visible. Now the pair of us were questioned as to what we were up to. All we said was that we had been hopping on the steps; neither of us could really have given any other reply. If I had done something wrong, I could be sure that the Sister in charge of me would soon be told, but at this moment I could not think what rule we had broken. Both of us were now taken down a passage and into a side room. This was a laundry room with a selection of sinks for washing clothes. There was a small alcove at one side of the room; we were told to stand there. Width  and length-wise, it must have been about four foot square; there was just enough room for the pair of us to stand against the wall.

The Sister was not telling us what we had done wrong. We were told to stay there in silence. Questioning a Sister over such an instruction was simply something we never did as it could easily have meant the slipper. We stood and waited for the next instruction. The Sister now walked off leaving us alone.

If she was going to contact our Sisters over our behaviour, she must know which flats we were from, as neither of us had been asked our names or which Sisters looked after us. Knowing we might be in some form of trouble we waited. Neither of us spoke. If the Sister was close, we might be in the wrong for talking. We waited what seem to be ages, but in reality, it might have only been five or ten minutes. The Sister came back. The only instruction we were now given was that we were to sit on the floor. There was no telling off, just this odd request. We sat down together in the small alcove. Nothing had been said as to how we were to sit. For comfort as our coats were damp, we sat with our legs straight out. The Sister apparently was satisfied that we had complied, and went off again.

Until this moment, I did not know the name of the girl I had been playing with. It was Helen. Once Sister had gone, we talked a little about ourselves just to pass the time. We now asked each other what it was all about; all I could think of was that the Sister was probably waiting for my Sister to come, so that our mischief could be reported. It was just that we did not think we had been up to any mischief, in the normal way. When in trouble, you would be accused of a wrongdoing and it was up to you to try to get out of it.

Other than being told to keep our hoods up, stand in the alcove and then to sit, the Sister had not said anything else. We were left alone for a slightly longer period. My only thought was that it must be getting near teatime, and that I would be in trouble if I were late. If Sister were coming over, then my only lateness would be if she delayed coming over.

The Sister came back; Helen asked ‘can we go now please?’ It was polite and the way it had been said, I did not think would get us into trouble. There was a simple reply of ‘No, I’­ve told you to stay there.’ We were left alone. Not knowing the layout of the room or adjoining passages, I did not want to move away from our alcove, and if we did try to leave, whatever trouble we were in would only be made worse. The Sister came back, looked at us without saying anything and went off. What trouble we were in I could only guess at, and why had the Sister not wanted to tell us what we had done wrong.

Both of us were fidgeting slightly, although the alcove was big enough to sit in, we had damp raincoats and were sitting on a cold floor, it was uncomfortable.  Helen told me she would soon need to go for a pee, and asked did I think the Sister would allow her to go. From the window we could see that the light was fading, although it was not yet dark. I knew teatime had now passed, and after sitting on this cold floor, I too would soon need to go for a pee.

This room had a few lights on, so that it was not actually in darkness. There was nothing really to be frightened of; it was just that the Sister had been so odd with us. On her next visit, we both asked if we could be allowed to visit the lavatory. We were not crying with desperation, but she might have guessed that we really needed to go. She just told us to stay sat down.

Disobeying a Sister for any reason was never worth it; the one rule you always had to follow was obeying a Sister. All we could do was sit and wait. Sister passed a few minutes later but said nothing.  Now I knew I needed to go, I was on the point of getting up to see if I could find a lavatory or the way out, when Helen asked me to stay. I mentioned that I was starting to get desperate; Helen seemed to agree that she would not be able to wait much longer. I had not really been very keen seeing what was beyond the alcove; asking me to stay only made up my mind that I should continue sitting here.

Helen was fidgeting, and then came the announcement that she had done it in her knickers. This was the limit of my waiting. I could not hold on any longer either, but I was too afraid to move from this spot. I wished that I had worn my dungarees with waterproofs, I would not feel so embarassed in front of a girl, even though she had the same problem.

We both held hands. The trouble we were in was slowly getting worse; it was a joke between us, that the floor was a little warmer now. The Sister paid us another visit whilst we were in tears. We did not know what our punishment was going to be. This was odd; the Sister did not say anything and just left us. Our tears now became a full-blown crying event. The only noise we heard was a door slamming somewhere in the building. If this was our Sisters coming to punish us, our crying now became a howl. It was neither the Sister nor our own Sisters, but the Governor. His first question was, why were we sitting here. All we could tell him was that we had been told to sit here by one of the Sisters.

Both of us were helped up, each of us was shaking, it was partly from the cold and partly about the trouble we were in. All we were told was that it might be best if we now returned to our flats. I expected to be let out of the building to make my way back to my flat and face the reception from Sister. The Governor now escorted us out of the building; I looked up at the clock it was now after seven. We had been in that laundry room for over four hours. The Governor was asking each of us which flats we were in, then both of us were taken to our flats.

I waited on the doorstep as Helen was ushered into her flat. She was crying in front of her Sister and trying to explain that she was sorry that she was late and we could not help wetting ourselves, as the Sister we had been with would not let us leave the room to visit the toilet. Helen then went further inside the flat. The Governor had a word with her Sister and then came back to me.

Now alone, I started to cry again. I was told that I was not in any trouble, and Sister would probably give me a nice warm bath when we got to the flat. When we arrived at our flat he had a quick word with Sister whilst I stood in the corridor. Eventually he left. I was worried about what Sister had in mind for me. There was no telling off; her main comment was I ought to get out of these wet clothes. I was taken straight to the bathroom and stripped off. There was not any way that Sister could not spot my damp underpants and trousers, but nothing was mentioned. A warm bath was run, once in it I was left alone while she went to get my pyjamas.

I expected some of the others to come and gloat over the trouble I was in, but only Sister returned. It was thought best that I went to bed. I was escorted to my bedroom; I expected that I would now receive the slipper. I was then asked would I like something to eat? This was odd. If I were in trouble, the last thing Sister would be offering me would be something to eat. I nodded; I just did not feel like talking at this moment.

Left alone I was soon in tears again. Sister returned to bring me some food and comfort me. I ate a little, but I did not seem to have an appetite. It was not that I was afraid of Sister, but I just could not think what I had done wrong earlier in the day. Sister comforted me a little more and told me to get some sleep. The other three came to bed later; apart from visiting the lavatory late at night, I stayed asleep until the following morning.

 In the morning it seemed like a bad dream; the other three on being woken by Sister rushed off to the bathroom, and I was left alone for a quiet talk. It appeared that we had not done anything wrong; we should forget about it. I was told that the Sister we had met could be a little forgetful at times; she had retired a few years ago and now came over at odd times just to help. She might have forgotten why we there in the first place. None of the others asked me about why I did not turn up for tea yesterday; I could guess Sister had told them not to bother me. Eventually the day started as normal, and noisy commotion ruled the flat once again.

Brownie in wellies  

The pair of us often arranged to meet up when we were out at play. We would take ourselves off to the remote parts of the grounds. We seemed to share some bond; it was not something we could explain to each other. Sitting down and just trying to work out how things went on at the Home seemed to take up most of our time. Allowing other children from our flats into our time together was something we did not want. I did not really think of her as a girlfriend; at my age such things were thought to be soppy. Helen brought my sheltered life over the ways that boys and girls could act more up to date. It was possibly for this reason I wanted to keep such meetings secret from the other boys in my flat. If they had found out and told on me, the punishments I would have received would be unthinkable. Helen had no reason to tell anyone in her flat that she met me, so our happy times were kept secret from everyone. As we went to different schools, there was nothing else to link us together. 

PUNISHMENTS

Extra chores were an ideal form of punishment. If set a chore when our favourite TV programme was on, even if the chore itself was useless, we soon knew not to repeat our bad behaviour. As a younger one in the flat, some minor physical punishments were also used as a way of keeping me well behaved. When you reached senior school age Sister did not bother with the slipper; restricting your privileges was felt a far better way of controlling any poor behaviour. The older three boys seemed to always fall into the age group to lose privileges.

Sister was quite kind in not embarrassing me in front of others when it came to such punishments. Often whilst the others were all watching TV, I would be called out of the dayroom. I might escape with a telling off or some chores; if not I would be escorted to the bedroom. The events of my bad behaviour would be explained. Sister was never angry with me at the time that I was punished, but it was easy to tell she was not pleased with me.

The first time Sister gave me the slipper had been soon after my arrival; a minor argument over leaving the dayroom without permission, and I was soon alone in my room with Sister. I was in total fear of the punishment and wet myself. I just could not help it, having been on my way to go for a pee when she found me out of the dayroom. I had expected far more pain, although I was in tears it had been quite light.

Once given the slipper, I was told to go and have my bath, as it was almost the time for me to go in any case. Nothing further was said over the matter, my tears proving to her that I knew to be better behaved.

This punishment had been a few days before the visit from my mother. I expected Sister to tell her about my behaviour, but nothing was said to my mother when she came, and even when I returned at the end of the visit, nothing was mentioned about either event in front of me. I soon realised how kind Sister was: once I had been punished that was the end of the matter. I knew not to say anything to my mother about having received the slipper if I wanted to keep in her good books. Now I knew what the slipper from Sister was going to be like, I had no more fear, but knew if I had done something wrong the matter would soon be over.

During other punishments, if I was in my pyjamas that was all right; if I was in trousers or dungarees, these were normally to be taken down, leaving me in underpants. It was not necessary if my behind was not well covered for her to put that much effort into a hit.  Often either two or three hits were all that were ever done; they were enough to make me cry. Had I not cried I could bet that the next time the slipper was given, it would be with a little more effort; once over I was left in my room. That was the end of the punishment and nothing more would be said.

When I felt like returning to the others I could, but it was recommended by Sister that I went and washed my face first. In a way I did not really mind the odd hit with the slipper given by Sister; they were not as painful as school punishments and with no chores set, I did have more of my own time to enjoy. When my tears had finished, we would be friends again.

A month or so into my stay, I was given the slipper when Sister found that the insides of my wellingtons were damp. The Home possessing no ponds or such areas where you could wade in water, meant that unless I came up with a good explanation I must have been out of bounds, even if it had been playing with the hosepipe in the orchard. I was not going to admit the hiding place I had found in a flooded cellar.

As I would not admit going out of bounds, I was accused of having an accident in my trousers and allowing the pee to run into my wellingtons. Accepting Sisters punishment for not telling her about an accident, meant a few light hits with the slipper and the ability to keep my play area a secret. The punishments that Sister came up with always seemed quite odd to me, there was no punishment it you had an accident, but there was punishment if you failed to tell her about it. I was now told to wear waterproofs when out at play.

THE CELLAR

There was an area under the Administration Block with its flooded cellar to explore. It was out of bounds.

In the cellar the depth of the water depended on if it had recently rained. When I had first arrived, as a torture by the older boys, I had been made to go down the steps and into the water, then to walk into the cellar whilst the door was closed behind me. Eventually I was let out. This was a game according to the older boys. On the first trip inside, I was a little frightened as the only light that came in was from the gap around the closed door. There was the threat from the older boys that if I ever got them in trouble, they would bring me down here and shut me inside.

During my stay, I had found this a place of refuge; the water was normally only a few inches deep at the entrance so it was easy to go inside and hide. Few of my enemies were ever prepared for wading in water. When the water was deeper than normal, cold water running inside my wellingtons was not as bad as meeting ones foe face to face.

 

The cellar in 2010 has now been cleaned out.

There is the tidemark of where the water went up to and the slightly higher mark when it went into my wellingtons.

THE GOVERNOR

During the period that Sister looked after me, the number of occasions I received the slipper from her would have been around a dozen, as this worked out to less than once a month, she must have been quite tolerant of my behaviour.

Sister decided in most cases over what punishments I should have and sorted the matter out. At odd times it was the Governor that I had to see, then it was either the slipper or the cane. When Sister had to send me over to him, she suggested that I should change out of thin summer shorts into my dungarees, I did not know if it was that she thought that the dungarees might lessen the pain, or that when I wore my dungarees I would also be in waterproof pants, as on an early visit to the Governor I had wet myself. Sister must have known how frightning it was for me to be sent to him for punishment at the age of eight.

The Governor could be quite relaxed over some of our wrong doings, instead of a normal stern lecture and the punishment of the slipper or cane. If we appeared to understand what we had done wrong and we would not be repeating the deed, we would be let off the punishment.

A few of us had engraved naughty words on the side of our wellingtons with a magnifying glass. Once he found out we expected the minimum punishment of the plimsoll, but fully expected the cane. Our now damaged wellingtons were taken away and we were given a non physical punishment of having to wear girls’ red wellingtons, a punishment normally reserved for loosing our wellingtons.

Our ordinary school enemies knowing that if we ever returned to the Home with a item of clothing missing we would be in trouble, they would put our wellingtons on and their shoes in the PE bag when they left school, it was an easy method of getting us punished. In a few days they would return our wellingtons to school, we could then go back to wearing our black wellingtons.

With eight of us wearing these red wellingtons during the summer holidays, there were enough of us not to be teased, with the youngest of us at eight and the eldest at ten, few of our own age would want to tease us.

My only problem was that I was in London for most of the summer holidays. As I needed a pair of wellingtons for play, I was forced to take the red pair. I expected to be teased when I went out to play in London, most of the boys I met did not take much notice. During play at the adventure playgrounds, some of the girls that joined with us thought my boots were great and the latest fashion.

When the school year started in September and new clothing was generally issued to all, it appeared that the punishment could end and we would return to our black wellingtons. Sister kept the red wellingtons in the cupboard, either for if one of the girls needed a pair, or if the punishment should resume.

Had the event happened during the school term, most of us would have preferred to have been given the cane if it meant we did not have to go to school and let our ordinary friends see our punishment from the Home.

When Sister ever wanted us to behave, she would tell us how the Home was run when she first arrived. We were told that in those days there was the Girls’ side and the Boys’ side: the two groups did not really mix. The boys had the larger woods to play in and the girls had the smaller woods at the back of their flats; each group did not go into each other’s areas unless they wanted to risk serious punishment. Even today, the woods were still called by their original names. When Sister started, she took on a group of boys; it was only in recent years that our flat became a mixed group of boys and girls.

Any boy that was up to mischief was severely dealt with, either in her flat or would be sent over to the Governor. Most preferred to take what was offered in her flat as punishment rather than risk being sent over for an alternative decision. When Sister first started, it appeared that many minor matters that if committed today would get us a few extra chores, would have originally been punished with either the slipper or a small cane. Once you reached the age of eight the cane was the more regular form of punishment. I wondered if she was just telling us this to frighten us into been good, I couldn't really think of her using the cane, when she used the slipper on me, it was really quite light.

We asked Sister if she could tell us what we would have been caned for, if we had been in the Home when she originally started. A list was soon forthcoming: everything from missing clothes, lying, stealing, taking extra food and even if you wet the bed the staff were instructed to use the cane. There was a comment made, it was that perhaps a few of the old rules might be brought back for us. If this slightly frightened me, it was that I would now be caned if I wet the bed, but realised that a punishment like this would soon be over, and would be the same as my mother would give me if I now wet my bed on my visits to London.

CHORES

Although it was not slave labour, the chores that I found that had to be done for Sister certainly made it seem like that. Our morning chores started with our bedrooms. The floor had to be clean and any mats near our beds had to be in a tidy position. There was little in our room to become untidy. As all clothes had to be put away and our beds made, the lack of any other personal items in the room meant that any polishing and cleaning we did was quite easy to complete.

Most of the flooring in the flat was linoleum; this was easy to keep polished to the standard Sister required, if we put some elbow grease into it. There was the modern electric polisher that was powered from the mains. For most of the time, we used a heavy mop type polisher. This appeared to be a device which would put us in good stead if we joined the Navy when we left the Home; Sister had this route planned for many boys who had been in her care.

Washing up and general cleaning duties were part of everyday life. Some of these were done before school, and the others were completed before we went out to play once school was over. Our Sister had designed chores to make us responsible for keeping things clean; often however some of the regular cleaning chores seemed to be designed to keep idle hands occupied. If anyone ever was foolish enough to utter the phrase that they were bored, chores could soon be found. When we were free, it was best to get out of the flat; if we ever appeared to be unoccupied, a chore could be found.

The only ones in our flat who managed to get out of the first chores in the morning were the two older boys who had a daily paper round.

The daily washing up chores were done by all, once you reached seven, you took your full share of washing or wiping up. It was all shown on a rota, Sister devised it so that we would all equally do breakfast, lunch and tea, with both washing and wiping. Note was made when forming the rota to take into account any need for our evening activities like cubs or the like, but over a week or so we all had fair shares of the chore.

Formed in pairs, it generally worked out fine, washing up was actually more preferred as once you had finished, you could escape whilst your partner had a good pile of items still to dry off. Sunday lunch took the longest, but as there was little fun activity to do it passed the time. If you were on washing up duties as the sink was rather high, a good amount of water fell onto the floor, although the floor was linoleum with a plastic mat in the sink area, it did not protect our slippers. Sister had become cross over us leaving a trail of damp footprints around the flat, and had set the rule for us younger ones that we needed to change into our wellingtons before washing up duty. Often two or three tea towels were needed by the one on wiping up duty, with nine place sittings to deal with, there could be a large long task ahead, trying to get a stack of dry plates that would pass Sisters later inspection could be a difficult at times.

Boy in Waterproof Dungarees

For the smallest and younger ones, the height of the kitchen sink was a problem; in my case my height actually gave an advantage. If you were on washing up there was the need to wear a rubber apron to keep the front of you clothes reasonably dry, however its weight and rather stiff finish made the task longer. We could swap the apron for a pair of waterproofs. These were for us younger ones to wear when we were to be taken to the seaside, they were waterproof shorts that had a bib on the front and elastic in the legs, and were ideal for washing up at the sink as they kept your front dry. They also came in useful if we were scrubbing the floor and could be worn over our shorts, where an apron would be too bulky if we were moving about.  

When you were going into the sea for a paddle, you would wear these until you could prove to Sister you could actually swim, if Sister saw you could manage a short distance the reward was then a pair of swimming trunks. 

The other waterproofs we had were a pair of waterproof shorts, these had originally been full length trousers, but once worn out at the knees, Sister trimmed them down to above knee length, and added new elastic at the legs. These waterproofs were fairly compact so they could be worn under my dungarees, or my shorts on a Sunday to chapel and if I was to be out with Sister.

The waterproofs also came in useful if you ever has a case of diarrhea, or as Sister put it "The runs", up to the age of ten the waterproofs we kept in our draw had to be put on if you ever reported to Sister that you had a case of diarrhea, as it meant you were put at the front of any queue for the toilet. If taken out of the grounds there was never the opportunity to go if the need became urgent, you just remained in an uncomfortable state until you return back, then it was a bath and sent to bed. Having the waterproofs ready in our clothing draw did save embarrassment in having to ask for a pair.

In our flat most of Saturday morning was occupied with cleaning. Only if you had made good job of your chores were you allowed to spend a short while outside before lunch was started. Looking outside, most of our friends did not seem to have these long chores first thing on a Saturday morning and were happily out at play. I was told later that this was an on going punishment, as some from this flat had recently been caught spending Saturday mornings removing items from  local shops without paying, all our Saturday mornings were now to be spent on chores, until Sister had decided that we had learnt our lesson. If there had been no extra chores on a Saturday, I might have asked if I could have been allowed out of the grounds to visit the local cinema, but as chores were set it was not a possibility. .

The four of us boys were normally given the heavier dirtier chores to do, whilst the three girls were on lighter chores of washing and ironing of clothes. I was quite happy over most of the chores that were allocated to us.

Once a week the floor area of the corridor needed to be thoroughly cleaned. This was often the final Saturday morning chore, so it was in our interests to make a good enough job that it would pass Sister’s inspection and allow us freedom outside.

During the week the hall, bedrooms, kitchen and day room floors were given a quick polish to keep them looking clean. The Saturday event was far more thorough. First came the damp mop through, followed by a dry mopping. Once everything was dry the final polish with the heavy bumper mop was made; this final part was the worst chore. On most occasions the two older boys took on this chore. To Sister if one boy had put a good effort in for a few minutes, he was allowed a short rest whilst the other took over.

The easiest job was the dry mopping of the floor. The boy who was slightly older than myself claimed this as his right, I was left with the damp mopping of the floor. This gave the biggest chance of getting told off if anything went wrong. I was quite happy with the task; once it had been done I was more or less finished with chores and might get my freedom before the others. The others disliked the damp mopping because a bucket had to be filled with water and disinfectant added. To them the stuff stank too much; it was a smell that I had become used to.

If I had wet the bed, a capful of the disinfectant had to be added to my bathwater. My sheets could then soak in the mixture during breakfast. Sister allowed me to have a bit of fun, this was to get into the bath while the sheets were soaking and stomp them around a little. My next task would be to give them a final rinse and take them outside and hang them on the washing line,  any unfinished chores I would have done after breakfast were to be done after tea.

It was difficult to know if it was down to cost or Sister’s idea that cleanliness was next to godliness, that we were given such a powerful disinfectant to use. The thin black treacle-like substance might normally be used for the cleaning of drains, but one small capful in a bath of water or two cupfuls in a bucket of water was enough to give everything it touched a very clean aroma for many hours.

Sister knew of its powers, and we were never to wear our slippers when we were mopping the floor with the disinfectant in case we spilt some over them. On the mornings I put my sheets and under blanket into soak, it was required that wellingtons be worn. Sister did not allow me to change back into my slippers before I went in for breakfast, as I would soon be returning to the bathroom to rinse out my sheets. When any of  us arrived at the breakfast table on a school day in wellingtons and were not on dish washing afterwards, everyone knew that you had wet the bed.

SUNDAY

For the first part of the day our normal play clothes were worn; the major chore of the day was fresh sheets on our beds. Once a month there was the ritual of turning your mattress over and re-fixing the rubber sheet to the mattress with the ties. If you worked as a pair such tasks could be completed far more quickly.

Only when all the chores were finished was it time to get ready for chapel. Hands, nails, hair and face were all items that had to pass as very clean, and with the need to make sure we were perfect, we were often ready long before it was time to leave the flat. No play was allowed at this point as we were bound to get in a mess. We were trusted with a glass of milk and a biscuit not to cause too much of a problem shortly before it was time to leave the flat. The worst event that could happen at this point was to get into trouble; having to sit next to Sister during the service owing to your bad behaviour was boring.

When Sister thought it was the correct time, we all set off in an orderly group walking together. A few of our friends from other flats were able to make their own way to the chapel. To Sister a major crime was to cut across the grass to and from chapel.

If our Sister was rather restrictive over our behaviour, it possibly went back to the period when she originally started at the Home; the grounds were divided by an invisible barrier. The girls were in flats on one side of the grass, the boys on the other. There were also separate play areas, the two groups did not mix. On a Sunday they were allowed to walk round the paths in controlled groups. It appeared that if there were brothers and sisters from the same family, there might be slight contact allowed at this point.

During one church service when The Governor was giving a sermon, the rather religious works gave way to a short talk on rhymes and similar light-hearted matters. We were set the task of thinking up our own rhyme; we could bet that the following week a few of us might be expected to give him our own rhyme.

Later at lunch Sister asked whether we had yet thought one up. An older boy came up with his own version or possibly one that he might have heard at school. ‘Desperate Dan the big fat man fries his knickers in a frying pan.’ This was perhaps not a rhyme to recite in front of Sister; that he chose to utter it on a Sunday and that it was meant to have some religious merit brought an instant rebuke from her. Most of us were either laughing or choking over our meal. The rest of the meal however was now conducted in silence; it appeared we could not take such things seriously.

DIFFERENT

Compared with the other three boys, I had seven years of freedom before coming to the Home – seven years of contact with the outside world. Sister had brought up boys for many years, and what they did, how they acted, and in many other ways there had been little change.

One minor thing seemed to bring us into conflict. I was always on the move; when I was out at play whatever I was up to, was always at a rush. Until I arrived at the Home, to help my agility if the weather was reasonably fine, I tended to wear a pair of baseball boots. The advantage over the slip-on type of plimsoll was that they did not fall off, and when compared with the lace up plimsolls, baseball laces were long and strong; broken laces on plimsolls and their unmanageable knots were always an annoyance to me. Originally, when I had arrived at the Home, I did not have my baseball boots with me; given the lack of space several of my preferred items of clothing had been left out of my case. Until my first visit back to London I had managed without them, however Sister did not normally let you use school plimsolls in the grounds unless it was completely dry; in my mind there was a need to bring them to the Home at the first chance I had. On returning from my first visit, I had thought there would be nothing wrong in baseball boots; they were nothing out of the ordinary, simply the standard type that many of my friends and myself had worn for both play and school use. They were only slightly more expensive than a decent pair of plimsolls – certainly only a fraction of the cost of a pair of shoes.

For some reason Sister took a dislike to the boots I had brought back with me. They were neither new nor tatty in any way; possibly, if I had them the other three would soon demand them too. If it was a case of money, then there might be a saving if shoes were not worn out so quickly. All I could seem to find out was that she was cross that I had introduced something new to her flat that she had not chosen herself. It was never a case of actually being forbidden from wearing them in the grounds, but a rule now seemed to be invented. Before I went outside in them, I had to come to her and ask permission to wear them. This was one of many rules that were invented without any real explanation why they were there.

To me it was a waste of time having to find her each time I wanted to go outside to play. On most days in the grounds, I wore wellingtons simply to avoid having to find Sister; it also saved me from having to polish my play shoes. The baseball boots were returned to London on the next visit and were left there. There never was the request from the other three for such items; their choice on most days was football boots.

NOSEBLEEDS

 

Nosebleeds at the Home whilst not actually getting me into trouble could cause a few problems. If I was out at play, I normally found somewhere quiet to sit down, and then would wait until they finished. As I often had two handkerchiefs with me, it was possible to control where the blood actually went. With plenty of experience over past nosebleeds, I knew that it was best to get the handkerchiefs washed out and to get them into salty water to stop the blood staining them. To Sister I was a little bit of a nuisance in having to have such matters dealt with.

If a nosebleed occurred in the flat, I would normally be sent out of the dayroom or the kitchen to sit on the hard chair in the hall, as this was a quiet spot. A nosebleed could easily be over in ten minutes or so, and once any mess was cleaned up, I was free to go back to whatever I was doing before the nosebleed happened. A nosebleed during a meal presented a couple of extra problems. Most of those sat at the table preferred me to leave their presence as soon as possible. With a major nosebleed I could quite accept such a feeling; a minor nosebleed and there was a little reluctance on my part to leave the table. I might be lucky and the remains of the meal could be saved on one side for my return, but on many occasions the best parts of any meal were not available for my later return. Had any adult thought I was having nosebleeds to get attention, missing the best parts of my meals was not something that I would voluntarily do.

Nosebleeds during the night did cause problems. Although I did not normally sleep through a major nosebleed I was reluctant to get out of bed. Often having a handkerchief did solve some of the bloodstains; however normally both my pillow and sheets were often badly stained. I could normally work out how bad a nosebleed was by how fast the drops of blood came out. I found it more comfortable to lie on my side. Trying to block my nose or the like did little good; it might delay the nosebleed for a time but it never actually stopped it. If I had a major nosebleed, I would get out of bed and sit in the hall. If it was late at night or shortly before it was time to get up I would often find some attention from Sister. If she was not around, I was quite happy to sit for half an hour, when normally it would finish completely.

The morning after such a large nosebleed normally did bring a telling off. There might be some spots of blood in the hall; I would have tried to wipe up as much as I could, but with only a dim light and not wanting to bend over, there was always the evidence. My bed was normally the more revolting sight; although it did not frighten the other three, the blood-soaked pillow and sheets first thing in the morning might have been something to wonder at. Once  the mattress protector  had been wiped down and my blankets  folded up, there was  just the need to return after tea to make my bed up with clean sheets.

A bath first thing on getting up, followed by the encouragement to wash out my pillow case and sheets in the bath once my bath was over, was the only punishment.. There was not any scolding over the state of my bed; there was little point in suggesting that I should have knocked on her door during the night. If I was having a nosebleed there was no way it could be quickly stopped. Often I was sent over to see the Nursing Sister, but by then the matter was over and little more could be done.

Having a rubber sheet on my bed kept the mattress from being stained with blood. After a while, my pillow was given a similar treatment. Instead of an inner pillowcase the Sister made up one made out of an old rubber sheet, and when it came time to sorting out my blood-stained sheets and pillowcase, the pillow could easily be cleaned. Others might have been upset over nosebleeds, but having always suffered from them; I did not really take much notice.

RAINY DAYS

 

It was quite easy to displease Sister. As many of my journeys to and from school were on rainy days, a raincoat was always needed for the mile walk. My school raincoat was almost new; it had been given to me when I left the boarding school, so unless I suddenly grew by a large amount it would last at least a year or so. This raincoat was now reserved for Sunday or best use outside the grounds. Sister now issued me with a raincoat that was totally waterproof, I was quite happy as it did not get heavy if I had been out in the rain for a long period.

What I was unhappy about on rainy days was putting something on my head. A school cap was almost useless if it rained; once sodden it would take ages to dry out. Sister thought my head should be covered; her solution was to provide me with a waterproof hat that could be tied with a cord under my chin. I have always hated anything under my chin. I did not actually refuse to wear it, but on coming home after school with my hair wet, it was obvious that I had not bothered to put it on. After a couple of complaints from Sister, it was clear to her that I was not going to wear it.

Punishments from Sister could be odd; I was now told that if I did not want to wear the hat, I would be dressed like a girl and have a hood on my coat. In the mind of Sister this would be the worst ever punishment a boy could be given. I did not object; as my play coat was already in the girl’s style with a hood, I had little problem when I was given an almost new navy raincoat with a hood attached. I was not really a sissy, but having to wear some items of girl’s clothes had never been a problem to me, and if they were similar to the design that a boy might wear, I never objected. That the coat buttoned up the wrong way did not matter; I had never learnt to do any coat up the boy’s way.

If I ever wore a coat that buttoned up in either direction, I had always found it more natural to do it up in the girl’s fashion, as this was the way I been shown by my mother at an early age. The punishment Sister had given to me was something I was quite happy with, going to and from school, my head kept dry, other boys did not even tease me.

In a way, there were a couple of advantages. As Sister had provided me with girl’s wellingtons, if I wore this coat with the hood up, as I had fairly fine features as well as being tall and thin, it was very easy to mistake me for a girl unless you were very close. Adults would pay little attention to a girl as they were seldom up to any mischief.

NCH children in raincoats and wellingtons

I annoyed Sister again over my clothes when it was time for a couple of us to have a new pair of wellingtons. Several of our garments came directly from the main administration building. For shoes, we were taken into the town, if there was nothing of the correct size in the stock at the Home. Sister probably still had a memory of my first objection to the boots I had been provided with on my arrival; if I was thought to be of good behaviour now, it was the treat of me actually getting some choice in what was provided, rather than the standard system of if it was the correct size it was yours. Most of my friends would have chosen the heaviest rugged looking boots available. It might be that at the age of eight or nine they wanted to show they were grown up. That it was impossible to run in the heavy short boots and that walking for any great distance was tiring made little difference to them. With two of us needing to be sorted out, I allowed the older girl to be seen to first; I could bet there would have been a telling off if I had put myself first. When my time came, I requested the same item; even the shop assistant suggested that there were some more rugged styles for boys. I was not put off. My new boots were of a similar design to the girl, but did not have such a pointed toe. That they were knee length and very shiny was to me all that mattered.

One treat was to be allowed to keep the box that the boots came in, although no time was wasted changing back into my shoes; I was allowed to put my shoes in the box to take them back to the Home. I did not mind that the box clearly stated ‘Girls’ and had an illustration of a girl in a raincoat and boots on the outside of the box; that could soon be covered up when I constructed something with the box once we were indoors. There was a comment from Sister on the way back, as to why did I have to be different from all the others; it was something for which a reply was not really required. I stayed silent, simply happy that I had been given a choice and had a good solid box to play with.

One of the reasons Sister encouraged me to wear wellington boots was to keep my clothing costs down. The majority of the children were clothed by the Home as part of their upkeep, a budget had been set as to how much a Sister could spend on a child each year, as a child became older it was increased slightly, this budget only applied to new clothing, any used clothing from the store at the Home was ignored. To keep us smart when we went to school or were outside the grounds, new clothing was often required from time to time.

The cost of keeping a child in care during my time had been worked out at £3 per week, a few parents that had entered their child as a private matter, were asked for this amount. The majority of children were paid for by local councils, so monetary matters never were an issue. My funding was to be £2 per week from my mother plus her purchasing my clothes.

Sister tried to help my mother by selecting very good used clothes from the stores at the Home rather than either request that my mother purchase a new item of clothing for me, or the Home supplying the new item of clothing and asking her for a payment. For most of the time, no clothing costs were given to my mother during my stay. At the time I did not understand this matter, I might have wondered a bit why those in the flat were given new more fashionable clothing and I was often provided with a used garment, nothing for my out of the grounds time was ever shabby. In a way I was quite happy over the older clothing, prefering the dull colours of years past to the current more vibrant colours of the mid 1960s.

Shoes were possibly the biggest outlay that my mother was going to have to find, with my growing feet, the longer the delay between pairs the less cost there would be. Most of our shoes came from a shop in town, with the many different fittings and sizes needed for us, only a limited selection were in the store at the Home. The regular September re-clothing meant new shoes for most of us, to stop arguments Sister normally chose the same style for all of us, there could be no arguing then of who had the best shoes.

As we were all given the more fashionably pointed toe design, I actually hated a pair of new shoes, given room for growth for the next few months they were always quite loose and rubbing the back of my ancle was one result, the other was that my foot was more suited to a round toe design, so were rather cramped.

Trying to get the shoes to soften up and feel more comfortable, only resulted in minor damage, Sister was cross that a pair of new shoes that my mother would have to fund soon looked like a pair of play shoes, I was often in trouble.

Encouragement from Sister to wear my wellingtons to school and change into my plimsols on arrival, might cut down on my shoe costs. With not getting told off for damage to my shoes, I tried to wear wellingtons on most school days and even during the summer, as I found my feet were far more comforatable. With the need to often change out of plimsols depending on which classrooms we were visiting, it was easier to wear my wellingtons all day in school. Occasional teasing from others and the odd cross word from a teacher of wearing boots indoors, was a minor price to pay if it kept Sister happy.

THE CAT
 

It was easy to be told off for minor matters even if they were not your fault. The cat that lived in the flat took to spending most of its time in our bedroom during the day. As there was little reason for us to be in our bedrooms during the day, it was actually the quietest place in the house. My bed was the usual resting place for the cat. When the cat vacated my bed, there would be an impression on the counterpane of where he had been resting. Sister occasionally inspected our rooms at odd points during the day, and would then find fault with the appearance of my bed. Rather than correcting the slight problem, I would often be called to put the matter right. The cat seemed to have a quite peaceful life.

If there was too much noise there was always the outside if it was necessary to get away from us. Another favourite place to sleep was in the vegetable rack on the floor in the kitchen; even if there were a few potatoes already there, a comfortable position could be made.

During one meal, the cat suffered an urgent case of the runs. As the cat headed outside, Sister made the comment that if he did it again, she would be taking him to the vet’s to be put down. This was not really the best conversation topic for mealtimes. Most were quite upset that Sister should have such thoughts on how to treat the cat, but something we could see was not an idle threat.

COLD NIGHTS
 

In the winter our rooms were quite cold; although there were a couple of radiators, the size of the room made it difficult to keep warm. Hot water bottles were available for anyone who wanted them. Just before we went to bed there was the ritual of getting Sister to fill them up, and it was up to you to make sure they were securely fastened.

Most of the bottles had a top that folded over the end. Once secured, they remained sealed until the following morning; the older ones grabbed these first. A few of the bottles were in the traditional style with screw stoppers and no matter how hard you tried to do them up they often leaked slightly. The bottles were in good condition, but the small washers on the stoppers were almost perished.

Part way through the night they would leak. Early in the morning you would wake up slightly damp; kicking or throwing the bottle out of the bed was the only solution. When it was time to get up, Sister often understood that a damp area in your bed was not something to really become cross about; if it was only slight, there was no need to change your sheet, and leaving your bed to air during the day, it was soon dry.

Sister told us that if we did not press on the hot water bottles they would never have leaked, so little was done about any replacements, and if we had damp beds it was our own fault. I preferred to have a damp bed rather than to challenge one of the older boys for a water bottle that would not leak. On the nights I wet my bed, it was not worth mentioning that the hot water bottle leaked. To end the problem of getting a leaking hot water bottle, I brought my own from London. It was much older and made out of metal; when filled it was boiling, but wrapped in an old pillowcase it was fine.

OTHER FLATS

During my time with Sister, I went with her on a few afternoons out to the common on a Saturday. These were often not with the entire group from our flat, but with another Sister and a few of her younger members. Both the Sisters were of the older Sisterhood, so the two of us from our flat could expect almost the same restrictions and required behavior; the girl slightly younger seemed quite happy to be taken out with me. The older ones possibly thought themselves lucky either to be able to stay in the flat under the control of the helper, or outside in the grounds with total freedom. These were about the only occasions where I saw the inside of another flat, and was soon able to make friends with a boy of around my own age who was selected to go on these outings.

The layouts of the flats were similar; the boys’ bedroom was one single room of five beds. As my friend was the eldest, at least he had some extra privileges. He told me that for the last four years he had slowly made it to the eldest. Before we left to go on the outings, the pair of us were allowed a short time to play quietly with the others, whilst the two Sisters had a break with a cup of tea. I was shown round the entire flat. In a way it was surprising how both the Sisters could choose almost the same items to display on the walls and shelves. If we had exchanged flats, we could expect that our lives would have been identical. Both Sisters gave their flats the status of not where to live, had there been the chance to swap flats.

The only difference between our bedrooms was that on the wall in his flat there was a large chart with each of their names, followed by a row of stars, similar to the ones used by our schoolteachers to add to our workbooks when we had presented good work. At school, I possessed very few stars; here the chart was full mostly with green stars but there were red stars in places. Thinking that here, the Sister awarded red stars for good behaviour in the flat, I asked my friend why his name had so few of the coveted red stars, and his row was mainly green. He was embarrassed at explaining the reason for the chart, but knew that I would not tell anyone else of our age group about it. The chart was Sisters method of keeping a track of who had wet their bed. Each morning Sister handed out the stars for them to stick next to their names, green for a dry bed and red for wetting it during the night.

He thought Sister had chosen a red star if we had wet the bed as it was similar to the red of the rubber sheets we needed on our beds.

LOST TOYS

The day room had to be neat and tidy before we left for school. Any toys left out risked disposal. Comics and the like if they had been left out would find their way to the utility room. Unless the owner was very quick at retrieving them and putting them into their locker, it was easy to find they were placed in the sack, ready for the weekly collection for the incinerator.

With the amount of rubbish that could be generated by each flat, normally only the items that could not be burnt were put in the dustbin. Once a week the groundsman would come with a tractor and trailer and collect everything burnable from the flats. As this was normally a school day, it was impossible to see what Sister had actually decided was rubbish.

Boy putting toy on bonfire

When boys reached the age of about seven, several of the Sisters would try to get them to decide that they were getting a little too old for soft toys or teddy bears. Sometimes the toy disapeard without their knowledge. The fate of most teddy bears was the incinerator, it would cause too many problems if it was given to a younger child as the original owner might demand it back at a later stage. Various stories were told to the boy by the Sister if they asked what happened to the toy, most Sisters said the toy was given to a more needy sick child.

Rather than just put it with the ordinary burnable rubbish, where an older boy might find it and torment the owner about Sister putting it in the rubbish sack for the incinerator, a Sister on a school day might personally take it down to the incinerator and dispose of it.

On occasions a boy who the really wanted to show he was grown up, and had told Sister he was too old for a teddy, would be allowed to go with the older boys and put it on the fire himself,  in most cases the final deed had to be done by an older boy, but it did really show to the big boys that he had no need for childish toys.

Once toys went into your locker they were normally safe; other children were not meant to take toys from your locker. With three older boys, this rule would have been useless had I liked the types of toys that the average boy requested.

Puzzle toys were one of my favourite possessions: everything from wooden puzzles in the shape of various objects, plastic squares that had several interlocking pieces, and nail puzzles that consisted of a selection of bent nails that were to be unlocked in a series of unusual moves. Several of these had to be kept out of the older boys’ hands as the only way they could solve the problem was to use force, and once this had been applied the puzzle was ruined.

The other three thought I was a little odd; my main possessions were annuals, books, puzzles, pens, paper and other toys that they decided more resembled items you would find at school. None of the other boys showed any interest in a ballpoint pen I received as a present. Instead of the normal blue ink, this had twelve different colours inside. To select a colour all you needed to do was pull down a small lever on the side of the pen. The whole rainbow of colours was represented. The pen had never been an expensive type; some of the ink shades did not work very well, and the large diameter of the pen made it rather difficult to draw with, but it was fun to use.

  The Sisters or Houseparents occasionally confiscated toys and other possessions. There might be a number of reasons why such an act was thought necessary. For boys it would often be due to us having something we should not have. Matches, cigarettes and knives would be taken off us if ever found. Those that were sensible did not bring such things into the flat.

Certain toys could also risk removal if it were thought we were playing with them in a way that would injure either others or ourselves. If we had toys that did not belong to us, they might be removed until the rightful owner could be found. At times, if we were badly behaved, taking away our favourite toy, might be a way of improving our behaviour. If a toy were taken away, it might be returned that day or a day or so later; it was rare for us to be permanently deprived of a toy.

Very occasionally for health reasons it might be necessary to confiscate a toy. The older Sisters might have upset a few younger children, when they recounted past times when one of their children had gone to the isolation ward with a favourite teddy bear or the like. On their return to the flat when they were better, they could not understand why the toy did not return with them.

In an effort to prevent a disease spreading to other children, such items were burnt when the child left the hospital. If we had any thought of finding such treasures at the incinerator by the orchard, our hopes we dashed when the Sister told us that the nursing Sister had her own little incinerator at the hospital for such items. By the mid 1960s, there were few serious diseases that required such drastic action.

Toys might remain in the possession of a Sister after a child had left the Home; sometimes a child leaving the Home was not able to take all their possessions away with them. If they returned for any reason, then having something that was theirs might make returning to the Home a little easier. How long such toys should be kept was up to the Sister – such items would be put in a box and generally forgotten about.

During the holidays on the incinerator days, our building was the first to be collected from it might be possible to be picked to help; eventually after the twenty flats were visited, the load would be taken to the orchard. A disused greenhouse that was now down simply to low brick walls was used as the incinerator, rather than any special device. As most of the rubbish was in sacks or boxes it was possible if you were quick to empty them out as you threw them onto the pile; a few useful items happened to drop at the area where the eventual fire would not reach. For a second chance, it was possible to toss any item you really wanted outside the brick walls to be collected later.

The staff decided that this area was out of bounds, but they could not supervise it all the time. Rich pickings of items that a Sister thought unsuitable could often be made; rainy days gave the best chance of making a find; a slow smouldering pile might last for several hours, giving us a chance to wait until the coast was clear. The threat of the cane from the Governor if caught, did little to stop our foraging. The cane was a minor price to pay for the chance of finding treasure.

Normally there were never any useful things to be found in the dustbins at the Home; it was worth however taking the occasional look. If a Sister had confiscated a penknife or other item, there was always a chance that it might be put in a bin rather than finding its way to the incinerator. During one of my odd searches, I found that one of the Sisters had chucked out almost the entire contents of one boy’s locker. These items might have been put in the bins, as they were due to be collected the following morning, rather than for the incinerator, which had been collected the day before.

Finding that every toy or book was smashed or torn up was a disappointment. Normally if someone was in a rage, it might be possible for a few things to be damaged, or there might be a general clear out of worn-out items. Everything seemed to have only recently been smashed; it looked as if they were smashed at the point of going into the bin rather than at an earlier time.

As the flat was at the end of the row, there were no overlooking windows; with the weather damp there were few outside to witness my exploration. My rummage through the bin showed that even to me there was nothing worth removing. I moved onto the next bin in the hope of finding something that might still be sound. This second bin was full of clothes. I took a few out in the hope that there might be something underneath. The clothes were all for a boy of around my age or slightly older. Nothing appeared to be damaged so I could not think why the Sister should chuck these out.

With my regular problem of getting into trouble over play clothes getting either soaked or dirty, I decided to take a few things. If I was ever outside and needed more protection these would come in handy, without the need for going indoors to get some more clothing. Selecting a raincoat, shorts, wellingtons and a jumper I headed off quickly before being seen. I could have taken a few more things, but I had to make it appear that I had not been through the bin. For most, there were few hiding places available for items that needed to be kept dry. I had the ideal hiding place in the flooded cellar under the Administration Block. Although it was possible for any of us to get inside, it appeared I was the only one to venture any distance into the darkness. Having hidden a torch inside that had never been found, I regarded the flooded cellar as mine. Soon these clothes were added to my other items I would not have been allowed indoors. The items might come in useful if they could keep me out of trouble.

  It was several years later before it was explained to me why the entire contents of a locker might be thrown out. Very occasionally, there was the death of a child at the Home. If there were no relatives of the child that wanted any of the possessions, normally the entire contents of the locker belonging to the child would be thrown away. This prevented any squabbling over the possessions. It was also thought of as unfair that such items were divided up.

In a similar way, the clothing was also disposed of. Although the names in a garment could be erased, it was often thought that other children would be able to recognise the items, and might be upset at having to wear the clothes of a dead child. In past years when we had all worn very similar items, once a name had been removed, the garments were sent back to the Block for later re-use, as it was thought that the origin of the garment would not be known. In later years, when we had more individually recognisable garments, it was always thought best to remove all traces of the child, to prevent other children becoming upset.

 

CLOTHING

 

I was different from the others in the flat, by having a suit as well as a blazer; the others only had blazers. Sister had originally brought back the suit from the main office. The suit was not new but there was little sign of any real use. In Sister’s mind, with our mixed sizes, there should be the possibility that it would fit one of us. The older three boys took one look at the suit and decided that it would not fit them, simply for having two pairs of short trousers rather than long trousers, which at their age they decided were deserved. 

They need not really have worried when I was given the task of trying it out for size – it was clear that it was designed for a tall thin boy. Until this moment, Sister had always complained about my odd shape, and that none of the clothes that were ever to hand ever seemed to fit me. My height at the age of eight was that of a 9 to 10 year old, and the waist measurement in my clothing read 5 - 7 years. My mother had found the same result when we shopped for my clothes; most of my shirts and trousers were taken in before they were presentable for wearing. 

The suit was a light brown, with a very faint lighter brown and green cross hatch design woven into the cloth. It was easy to see that this suit had not been purchased from an ordinary store. The label neatly sewn into the jacket showed that it had been hand-made for its original owner; it came with an extra pair of trousers, this proving that it was designed to give long service. In the manufacture there seemed to be plenty of extra material to let out as its owner grew. The suit was one of the occasional items of clothing that were donated to the Home when outgrown. I was happy to have such a nice garment; the other three did not tease me over the short trousers – they were relieved that it fitted me. Had it not then Sister would have made sure one of them were the correct size for it. 

On many Sunday visits to chapel I wore the suit, and on the visits home to London. Once out of the grounds of the Home, it would have been very difficult to suggest that I lived in a Children’s Home. The local shops seemed much more tolerant of me, if I was dressed in the suit, than on an ordinary Saturday when small hordes of us might descend. Once I arrived in London the suit would generally be put away until the moment it was time to return to the Home; the areas where I wanted to play were not locations where a suit or any good clothing should be worn. With the ability of my mother to let down the hems, sleeves and waistband when I eventually put on extra weight through the quantity of food at the Home, the suit still fitted and lasted for several years.

Child in waterproof rain suit

 

If we were playing outside, the older ones from our flat often managed to sneak into dry places if Sister had put us out in heavy rain. In a way, I preferred getting soaked outside than to being under Sister’s feet in the flat. Sister was a little tired of me returning to the flat, either soaked to the skin or half drowned, my dungarees were made of thick corduroy that soaked up any rain, the dark blue shade did not show how soaked I really was until inspected by her. I was now provided me with a waterproof playsuit to go outside in, I was the only boy of my age with one; it was the younger children that were normally provided with such clothing. 

When the younger children wore these play suits they were always quite loose in design; with my height it was an exact and very snug fit. The playsuit actually looked quite smart compared with our ordinary play clothes. As the trouser part ended a little short, it did not matter if I wore them inside my boots. When Sister first provided me with the playsuit, almost everyone in the flat teased me by saying I looked like one of the Robomen in a recent Dr Who episode. 

It was made of greenish dark grey cotton that was thinly coated on one side with rubber; it was in one piece and buttoned up at the back. Once you were inside, you always needed someone to do it up. If you wanted to get out of the playsuit, it was possible if you were agile enough to undo the buttons. If you ever needed to go for a pee, getting out of the playsuit quickly prevented your pants becoming soaked. A few of the younger children hated their playsuits for this very reason.

Once outside I was quite happy to go off on my own. Often I might be the only one in the grounds, but I was quite happy. When it was time to come indoors, I was not now told off, as I had normally managed to keep dry. 

OUTSIDE THE HOME
 

On occasions, I was thought to be responsible outside the Home. Having gone swimming quite often, at some point I picked up a verruca on my foot and was sent over to the nurse. I was given a note with an address of where I should go for treatment. At the age of eight, I was thought old enough to go there on my own. After reminding Sister I was going to be late home, I made my visit after school. After a few sessions, the verruca was finally removed and I went back to swimming again.

The other matter when it was thought that I was old enough at the age of eight to look after myself was on trips to the dentist. I made one first trip escorted all the way; from that point on other than one visit where it was necessary to give me gas when a tooth was taken out, I made my own journey to and from the dentist. There was not any fear, other than knowing that at some point there might be some pain and discomfort. The only part that I really disliked was having a rubber bung put between my teeth to stop me closing my jaw whilst the dentist’s fingers were too close. Once over, I returned to school. In a way I was reasonably happy with a trip to the dentist, as it got me away from the Home and trouble at school.

BATH NIGHT

 

A few items in the flat were part of another era. The soap that was used at the washbasins or in the bath was a basic type. Normally designed for the washing of clothes, it was thought good enough for our use. The triple green block of soap had the word ‘IBCOL’ impressed across its length. Once broken up, it showed only part of its origins.

The smell was not off putting; I can vouch for it simply having a soap-type flavour, when a chunk was inserted into my mouth by one of the staff for swearing. It could have been a worse punishment if we had used carbolic soap, but the taste of this green block was enough to stop my indoor use of certain words.

Toilet paper was similar to the type found in most public conveniences of the time. I had originally been used to a quality Izal hard paper or even the newer soft toilet tissue. Sister however managed to supply us with paper that seemed to be polished on both sides; we found it more use for putting over a comb and blowing through.

It was a partial failure for the intended use. It was not that soft toilet tissue was an unknown product in the flat. A roll was kept under Sister’s close watch in the end corridor cabinet. This was for our use when we had a cold, and not for us to use for the original intended purpose. None of us dared sneak a few extra sheets for comfort or cleanliness.

Until coming to the Home, bath time had generally been uneventful. Getting into the bath, getting rid of any dirt, and out again had really been the limit to the actual event. I had learnt that if I did not remove any dirt within a few seconds of getting into a bath, my mother holding the flannel could also remove dirt in seconds.

Sister did not really have the time to supervise the baths for everyone. The youngest girl could generally be looked after by her older sister; the two oldest boys were old enough to be sensible without making too much of a mess, and until I came, only the boy slightly older than myself had needed any supervision at bath time. All knew that if Sister was busy in the bathroom, more freedom existed for everyone in the flat.

My arrival seemed to spoil this event for them. For a few of our baths, if we were going to bed at the same time, we could now watch out for each other; if one of us did manage to drown the other, then it would be quite easy to find the culprit. If there was any mess of spilt water then we would be equally guilty. The idea that Sister had was whilst one was undressing the other could be in the bath. When he was out of the bath and drying off the second one of us could be in the bath. Once finished, the scum line could be removed and everything left clean for the older two boys.

Spending any length of time in the bath had never been something I had ever been used to. When I was very young I might have seen the odd plaything to keep me happy, but from the age of four, a bath was simply there for getting clean. My mother had no additional time for creating any fun. Any recent dislike of going for a bath was down to my mother supervising my baths in cold water after I had wet the bed at the age of seven.

I was a bit ashamed at first when I changed to get ready for my bath. With Sister demanding that I often wore waterproof pants, I wondered if I would be teased when I changed out of them. I was told by Sister that the boy that had left a short time before me often wore them, and that I was not the only boy who might feel a little embarrassed in having to wear them. Having already found others in the Home of around my age that wore them most days, it made everything fine. The odd times that I did have accidents, the matter was not bought up by either the staff or if any of the others were around when I went for an early bath, it seemed the staff were more pleased that we did not cause a scene if we need to go for a pee, for us there was more fun in teasing anyone that had an accident that was not wearing waterproofs.

I never complained to Sister over her request that I wore waterproofs under my trousers in the Home. I was upset and frightened over many matters during my stay and accidents did occur. I think it made me a little more confident to be mixing with others with Sister helping prevent these embarrassments. Once on my own in London, there were never any problems, but the final journey back by train to the Home and my nervousness started to return, a couple of trips to the lavatory were often made during the thirty minute train journey. I had noticed on occasions when others had returned from a visit away from the Home, they were escorted straight to the bathroom.

At odd moments, Sister even made our baths more fun by adding a foam mix to our bath water. It was not something that she would have ever bought, but as each flat had been given several bottles of a new play bubble mix for children, we were all allowed to try it out; she supervised the amounts that went into our baths. Other than that, we were generally left alone once it was thought we would behave. Once the bottles of foam were finished, we went back to the green blocks of soap and the never-ending scum lines around the bath.

Two small boys can have odd ideas of fun, most of which neither Sister nor my mother would have approved of. In my mind it would be difficult to work out which would bring the worst form of punishment. With Sister it would be a telling off, followed by either the slipper or extra chores: for my mother it would be the plimsoll and cold baths. ­

At our age we knew there were two ways of spelling the word ‘bath’ one had four letters – and the other had a silent ‘p’ in it. We each took it as a competition of who could do the most; when we had finished our bath and were allowing the water to run away, was normally the point of any competition. It was everything from climbing onto the laundry basket and seeing how far across the bath you could reach, to laying in a drained bath and how far in the air you could achieve. Both of these games took courage on our part; our bath area was behind a door, but the door was never locked; Sister passing could come in at any moment, and if not Sister than even the helper might be around to catch us.

T.V.
 

Since Sister’s original arrival, there had been a few modern additions to the flat. In the dayroom, there was a television for our use. Squabbling over which channel to watch, was not allowed. Normally the older ones would choose the programme to watch. Once switched to that station, the set tended to remain like that for the entire evening, unless a good reason to turn over to the other side was agreed upon, often only then with Sister’s approval.

The other modern device was the telephone. Normally only ever used by Sister or other members of the staff, it remained quiet for most of the time. When it did ring, it was often due to someone’s misdeed that had now been found out by one of the other Sisters, who was ringing to make a complaint. The use by us of the phone was rare. For us to receive or make a telephone call something very urgent had to have occurred; talking to relatives or friends on the telephone was simply never done by us.

CHRISTMAS
Boy afraid of Santa

This was meant to be a happy time for all. It was true I did like most of the activities, but I might have wished that I could have returned to my mother and there were just two of us.
In the Home, there were plenty of activities organised and whatever age we were, we had to show that we all believed in Father Christmas. Had an older child tried to convince a younger child that he did not exist, there could have been two unhappy children for the holidays.

Presents were well organised; on Christmas Eve we had a visit from Father Christmas to each flat, where he presented us with a main present each.
The following morning we had a selection of other presents to look at before the morning service in chapel. These might come from relatives, friends or for some children that had few close relatives, simply from the Home. Then a visit to Father  Christmas in the main hall after our Christmas Lunch with everyone together, when he would give us another present.


The only other disappointment during Christmas was in Sunday school at the age of 8. A few of us had thrown a few small bibles to each other for fun. The resulting punishment was two strokes of the cane on our hands, with us all soon in tears. The punishment was given by the deputy governor, the same man who dressed up as Father Christmas and asked us all if we had been good this year. Those that were thought not to be well behaved would receive no extra present. The cane gave a group of small boys the encouragement to tell him that we promised we would be very good from now on.

There was no child that really had more than any other due to family circumstances.
With a number of aunts and uncles, on odd occasions, I seemed to get more than the others did, but as soon as they saw that with my Christmas presents, I also received a selection of Birthday cards, any jealousy ended at that moment. If they divided my pile in half to make up for the two events, what I was actually getting for Christmas was often far less than they were receiving. One matter that kept me occupied for some time after Christmas was writing thank-you letters.


During my stay in the Home, I continued to keep a diary. At Christmas, I always received a small pocket diary from one of my aunts. The first one had been when I was almost seven; from then on a pocket diary always arrived at Christmas. There was always a small amount of money tucked into the first page. As the diary was quite small and my writing was not that neat, little could be put in each day’s entry. Although I did not add something every day, most weeks I could add a few words.

At the start of the diary it was mainly on the presents I had received. By the time school started, it was listing those that I disliked at school and what the punishments had been that week. This I wrote in a coded form to stop either Sister or others working out how bad I had been at school. Their punishments could also be recorded. When the holidays came and I was allowed to stay in London, a list of the films that I had seen took up most of the entries. To the others in the flat, my diary was of little interest. With me not writing about them or my friends, they could not see the point of keeping a diary in the Home. Every year the diary was slightly different in the theme; the only item that was almost the same each year, was the London Underground map, which I slowly memorised.


The other three had various toy guns, footballs and types of toys that to me were very uninteresting. It was one matter I was never bullied over, or found any of my possessions had been taken by them. There were continual arguments over missing toys. It could take a small object that was part of a larger toy to become mislaid, before either a squabble or fight started. On occasions, some of the arguments could result in very childish behaviour. At these times I was not involved. During Christmas, the two older boys were bought identical compendium games sets. Toys like these took co-operation from at least two of you to have any fun. I was the only boy to like solitaire; I could often end up with one ball, but never managed to get it to end up in the centre. Sister tried to treat these two boys identically whenever possible, and as they were the same age and had spent most of their time in the Home together, they had grown up more like brothers.

It took only one odd item in one of the games to become missing before the argument started between them. Each now decided to attack the other’s game to make them identical with an item missing. Cards from the sets were ripped in half, counters snapped, small models damaged. It took some time for two games sets to be reduced to useless mess. As the boys were older than me, there was little I could have done to make them see sense. If one had merely accepted part way through the destruction that they might be wrong, then some of the sections in each set could have been saved. When Sister eventually found out what was going on, life for all of us for some time was under a cloud.



One of my aunts as part of my Christmas presents had provided me with a selection of obsolete blank paper from her office. Multiple carbon sets and the like were to me fun to play with. For the other boys as I was happy with such items, it proved to them that I was odd. At one point I exceeded this by getting an office typewriter for my birthday. This had also come from my aunt, when her office had changed over to electric typewriters; the old heavy manual machines were no longer required. The object stayed at the Home only until the first visit to London where it could be kept safe.
With some encouragement, I might have been taught to type in the correct fashion, but my style soon evolved with one finger doing all the work. I had fun with the typewriter: with a two-colour ribbon in the machine and time, a picture could be created.

One of my birthday presents was a simple camera. Not really a toy, having basic features, it was possible to get fair results if subjects stayed still and there was enough light. Returning to the Home I brought it back with me. I managed to use up one roll of film outdoors during the snowy weather. It was put away ready to take back to London on my next visit. The roll of exposed film stayed safe in the locker but the camera did not. As it did not have any film in it, some of the others now thought of it as a plaything. It was not long before the small plastic lever that you pressed to take the picture was broken. If the adults wondered why I became upset at certain times, it was over these types of matters. On a later holiday in London I managed to buy another camera which was not taken to the Home.

Girls in Snow

PLAY

 

I could be mean. At one point I returned from London with part of a bar of Ex-Lax chocolate. Knowing full well what it was for, I removed the outer wrapper and left the few squares of chocolate wrapped in the silver foil slightly hidden in my locker. Within a few days it was gone. I never did find out who had stolen it.

Comics were sent to me every fortnight. My mother purchased a few cheap comics, rolled them into a small bundle and then sent them by post to me at the Home. The other boys in the flat were quite friendly for the period of getting to read the comics.

The ideas I had for play could at times annoy the adults. In the day room, there was a doll’s house; this was something for the girls to play with. With only one girl of suitable age, the doll’s house sat on the top of the boy’s lockers without much use. Over the years any furniture inside had disappeared; the girl not having any dolls that fitted inside showed little interest in it. Only on close inspection did I find that originally, this had been a doll’s house from the luxury end of the market. In each room was a small bulb fitting to give the illusion of electric light. In part of the house there was a battery compartment and at the side of the house several switches to turn the lights in each room on and off.

The bulbs had gone missing and the switches had become broken. This was down more to the design rather than rough play, and parts of the wiring were also missing. Repairing it for the girl was something I would have been quite happy to do, providing I had been given the parts, but as I would have to provide my own bits to get the house to light up again, there was a little reluctance on my part to repair the doll’s house.

I experimented on an idea of my own, to insert a small switch into the front of the house. In the normal way you would have set it to turn the light on when the front of the house was open. I changed the idea to make the light come on only when the front of the house was closed. It was worth sacrificing an almost dud battery, just to cause annoyance.

In the tidy life of Sister, if the front of the doll’s house were even slightly open, it would cause annoyance. I rigged the house so that during the day the light was out. Only when we all went to bed and Sister made her final check of the room to see that everything was in order, would my plan come into action. She would simply close the front of the house; at first the light going on was probably not noticed. Only when the main light to the day room was turned out would the light in the doll’s house glow and then flash when the bulb had been on for a few seconds. I only had to set the trap once; the following day I found the wires pulled away from the battery, my small switch having been missed.

 

In my experimentation to find out how things were made, I decided to find out how a golf ball was constructed. I knew that just under the outer white coating was a long length of fine elastic. The quietest place I could find to take a ball apart was in the bathroom. To speed up the removal of the outer coating I had selected a fork to pick the white pieces off the outside. Within a few minutes, the ball was in a state for the elastic to be unwound. Soon I became bored of the slow process of unwinding the elastic, as it did not come off in one length but in annoying short lengths. To speed the process up of getting to the end of the elastic, I sunk the prongs of the fork into what remained of the ball. Without warning, the ball suddenly leapt out of my fingers and appeared to attack me, spraying a fine sticky substance into my eyes and over my hair. The ball then set off around the bathroom at great speed, showering the entire area with a mixture of bits of elastic and a whitish spider’s web.

I made a retreat from the bathroom as the ball was still in full flight. My eyes stung. I made my way to the kitchen to seek help. One of the older girls attended to my face, washed my eyes clean, and generally tidied me up. Eventually I returned to the bathroom. Apparently, I was not the first to find that the centre of a golf ball may have a small amount of liquid rubber solution. Having pierced it with the fork, the rubber solution was under great pressure as it still had elastic wrapped tightly around it. My face was the first point for the solution to hit. It took quite a while to clean the bathroom up. Surprisingly I did not get in any real trouble; it appeared that I had learnt a lesson over such activities. It was thought that I had managed to make the worst mess in experimentation of undoing a golf ball than anyone else had achieved.

 

For most of our free time in the flat we got on with each other. There were a few squabbles and fights, but there was nothing very serious. If there had been a falling out, by the following day everything was back to normal.

Some of my activities might have seemed to be nasty, but in the main, I was allowed a little freedom. My room-mate who was slightly older than me, had a slight problem with one of his first teeth. His second front teeth were all in place; he always had a happy grinning smile. One of his minor first teeth was loose. In time it would fall out, but it was in such a position that when he ate it hurt. The Sister suggested that if it did not fall out in the next couple of days, he would be off to the dentist; this was something that he was dreading.

Alone in the dayroom with him, I looked at the tooth. It was quite loose; I offered to pull it out. At first there was a bit of reluctance, but my suggestions that it might save a visit to the dentist and that if he handed the tooth over to Sister there might be a reward, made him agree. I announced that on the count of three I would pull the tooth out. Having lost most of my first teeth, I knew how easily they came out. I started the slow count, and I pulled out the tooth just as I was saying two, and surprised him over my action. There did not appear to be any pain. The tooth was later presented to Sister. I don’t think it was mentioned that I had helped it out, otherwise I could bet that I would have been in some form of trouble.

 

When you were sent out to play, it was best to stay outside until the time Sister had decided you were to come in. Without us indoors, it gave Sister a bit of peace and quiet. Although we might have thought it was so that she could have a nap or drink endless cups of tea, it was often down to getting her own tasks done without constant interruption from us.

On the times I returned early, it was often down to a recent injury, either falling down or something falling on me, these were times when I judged it not really serious enough to go over directly to our hospital to be patched up, but thought it best for Sister to make the first decisions over any repair to me, I had used up my quota of sympathy over injuries, quite early into my stay.

The other need for a child to return indoors would be the need to use the lavatory. Sister knew quite well that boys would not just be returning to have a pee; we had about ten acres of woods and bushes for that. Our return was to the need to sit on a lavatory.

Reluctance on our part was due to the fact that once you were inside, you seldom left to return to play outside again, there were often minor chores found for you, lasting the exact time until the others officially returned indoors.

For boys, squatting in a quiet place in the woods was one solution, mainly dependent on the weather and the season. A good supply of soft ferns and dock leaves, made a useful item to clean yourself up with, giving similar results to our hard shiny toilet paper in the flats. Winter with no suitable plants around and you might be thinking about returning indoors for the relief and chores.

One possible solution was if the grounds man’s single outdoor toilet was unlocked, if you were lucky, there was also a supply of paper inside as well. Some of the Sisters were easier going over the return of children during our outdoors play times of several hours, but if you had a Sister who thought you should be outside for the entire time, the need for the lavatory could become a painful need.

A few years before my arrival the old outdoor lavatories were still standing, and were ideal for those out of doors. As Sister would say, ‘Make sure you go before you go outside’. It was not worth explaining that you didn’t need to go then.
 

NIGHT FEARS
 

Other than the need to visit the lavatory at night, or put up with the chattering from the others, I could sleep through the night without any problems.

Thunder and lightening did cause some problems, for me there was not any fear. One of the others became quite frightened if it went on for a little while, crying out loud then set of one of the others. With Sisters room having a glass partition in the wall she was soon in our room to see what the matter was.

Often before she actually came into the room I had already made my departure. It gave me the opportunity to visit the lavatory, and to get a bit of quietness. My ideal spot was on the chair in the hall. I could get a view across an open space and watch the flashes of lightening, and make a rough estimate of how far it actually was. Nothing did come very close, there was always a hope that something in the grounds might get hit, in good view was the governors house.

I was not afraid of the thunder and lightening. At the age of six I had been a little upset when we lived in the isolated house. My mother solved this by dressing me in my coat and wellingtons in the middle of a storm and taking my into the field. The house was quite high up and we had a good view across the water. I was soon encouraged to think of it more as a firework display. Any fear that I had ended at that point.

Eventually Sister managed to calm the others down, on her departure I was encouraged to return to my room, it appeared I was as much of a nuisance as they were.

INJURIES
 

The Home was a relatively safe place for children. If we followed the rules, and did not sneak out of the grounds, there was little chance of any road accidents. A slow speed limit was set for vehicles travelling around the grounds. With very few cars around, there was little chance of injury.

Tree climbing was not really forbidden. If you were out of sight in the woods, there were few adults to make any comment. Cuts, bruises and a few broken bones did occur at odd times, but as children went, we were possibly less likely to be injured whilst in the grounds of the Home. For those that were taken to school and back by coach, they were the most likely to be injured in the road when outside the Home, due to having little experience of road traffic. The majority of us had the same chance as ordinary children on our way to and from school. Older children supervised the younger ones, so all were normally safe. From the age of eight most of us were thought to be wise enough to walk to school without any supervision.

Other than playground injuries, all my injuries were in the grounds of the Home. Branches had a habit of digging into me, concrete and tarmac paths met most parts of my body on regular occasions. Minor scratches and the like I normally paid little attention to until it was time to go inside. With more serious injuries excluding nose bleeds, I would head back to the flat well before the time to go in, so that Sister could decide if it was a simple wash of the cut or to be sent over to the Nursing Sister for a little more work.

Not all my injuries were my own fault. Some of the older boys seemed to have a death wish for the rest of us, and it was thought fun to lay traps for the unwary. In the woods various pits were dug and covered over with sticks. Never deep, they could have caused a broken or sprained ankle if encountered at speed.

Most of these I recognised before any accident occurred. A rope tied to a tree branch was to me irresistible, I soon learnt it was wise to really tug the rope to see if it was securely tied or just lightly fastened, so that once you were part way up you fell.

Running down a path on a slope, I encountered what I took to be bushes with a small gap to get through. It was only when I reached them and due to the speed, it was impossible to stop, I found odd pieces of barbed wire were mixed in with the bushes and across the gap.

My knees and the surrounding skin took the full force. The pain was fierce, and some of the cuts were deep. There were several long scratches and open cuts. I limped back crying to the main part of the Home; it was easier to go directly to the Nursing Sister as the small hospital was on the ground floor. I did not feel like climbing the steps to our flat and then being sent down again a few minutes later.

The Nursing Sister thought the injuries looked horrific. It took some time to clean each cut. Soon into the cleaning session it was decided to stand me in the shower and spray warm water onto my knees in an effort to remove the dried-on blood and to see exactly how many cuts I actually had. Finally, I was returned to my flat with several soft bandages around my legs and knees. Once Sister saw them I was confined during my free time to the flat for several days. I was however fit enough for the walk to and from school. Bandages finally off, I was released to go on my active play again. Around this time I started visiting the Nursing Sister for regular tetanus and booster shots. 

During the summer months our free time could become a little boring. When one of my friends found a wasp’s nest that was buried into the ground, it was something that needed more investigating. I knew that a wasp could sting, but as yet, none had ever bothered me. It was only a short time after prodding the underground nest with a stick, that one took its revenge. When I had recovered from the sting and my tears, I decided that the nest needed a little more action; once it was flooded, there were no more problems from that nest again. I left them alone from that point onwards. Any wasp that dared settle anywhere near me from that moment on, had little future.

OPEN DAYS
 

Once a year the Home held an open day for members of the public. Those living outside the Home were given the chance to come and see how the Home worked. Our friends from school also attended as many activities for children were laid on specially.

During the summer months, various sporting events were organised. Some of these were by the various schools in the area – the grounds at the NCH were thought of as neutral. To a few of us from the Home, the schools invading our Home were slightly resented. If our teachers attended, we were now meant to cheer for our school, rather than our flatmates who might go to other schools.

To our friends the Home seemed so wonderful. There was a play area with climbing equipment, there were smooth roads and paths to cycle and roller-skate on, a football pitch, woods and a host of other interesting areas. All of us tried to explain it might seem a wonderful place for one day, but live here for years on end and it might be thought of in a different way. For us it was life in an open prison; there was nothing physically stopping us from leaving the grounds, except for the knowledge of the punishment we would receive when caught.

Our friends from school had arrived, and were happily playing on the equipment. A few of us from the Home had some far more important matters. If it was dry and hot there were always plenty of drinks purchased from the refreshment stand. Our targets were adults who had purchased small bottles of pop. Few realised that they had paid a small deposit on the bottle. If we saw they had finished their drink and had some litter around, we simply went up and asked if we could clear up for them. Possibly thinking this was some form of chore the Home had set for us, they happily allowed us to retrieve the empty bottle and other items. If you had courage and were polite, the Open Day could be very lucrative.

At the end of the day when the visitors had left, if we were near to the refreshment area, we might be allowed to finish the remains of the cake without having to pay. Often this treat had been after our own tea, so there was an actual limit to the amount of cake we could eat. When we had finished the nice soft parts of the sponge cake, the hard-burnt edges became something to throw at each other once we were out of the Sister’s view. The birds would soon finish any bits that fell on the ground.

On one of the Open Days, my mother and cousin had decided to come up. On this occasion I did not have to resort to collecting bottles, but had treats almost forced upon me. Several of the flats were open to visitors for tea, as this brought in extra funds to the Home. Those of us who lived in the houses that were serving teas were not welcome back whilst the teas were in progress. Our teas were known as ‘bag teas’; these consisted of a brown paper bag containing sandwiches, a biscuit and a piece of fruit. At some point we were to return, collect our tea and make ourselves scarce until it was time to come in at the end of the day.

It had been fun spending the afternoon with my mother and cousin; I should have returned to collect my tea. My mother decided that the pair of them would have tea in one of the flats and to save me running off I might as well join them. To have tea it was necessary to purchase a ticket at a single location. At that point you would be allocated the flat to visit. This system made it easy to regulate the numbers of visitors going into any single house. There was no actual choice of flat; I was dreading our tickets being made out for my flat. Although my mother and cousin were paying for my tea, what Sister would say on my arrival for this proper tea I dared not think. Thankfully, we were allocated another flat for tea. The tea was very nicely presented for the guests to admire; possibly visiting adults thought our meals were always this nice. To me there was the pleasure of squash to drink with my meal rather than a mug of tea.

Finally, it was time for my mother and cousin to leave. Saying my farewells after a day of fun was in my mind far worse than when my mother normally left after a visit. I was unhappy but I did not show it at the point they left.

Eventually I returned to the flat. Instantly I was in trouble from Sister. She was cross that I had not returned to collect my bagged tea. I tried to explain that my mother and cousin had visited and I had been taken out to tea in one of the other flats. At this point, I was made to sit at the table and eat my bagged tea. With it being a little while since my full tea, I managed to get through it after showing my feelings. I did not bother with any supper a little later when it was time for bed, which for me came quite early. It was so easy to have a pleasant day ruined.

If Sister wanted to keep me out of mischief, sending me to bed was an easy option. Our bedtimes were earlier than many of our friends that we met at school. During the summer, having to lie in bed awake, whilst there was still plenty of daylight outside was boring. On the evenings that I was sent even earlier, living at the Home became really unbearable.

 

One event that was organised to raise funds on the Open Day was to belt the living daylights out of an old car. This was aimed more at the men. Some of the older boys might have liked to have a go, but actually paying to use a sledgehammer was not worth the money. During the day, the old car was reduced from a car that was too worn out for the road to something that had dents in every part imaginable and not one piece of glass remaining intact.

Once the Open Day was over, the car remained where it was first put; it was out of the way on a piece of waste ground. Eventually the groundsmen would take it away to the far side of the woods, where a small dip in the ground seemed to be the location for all manner of rubbish that could not be burnt.

To children an old car was a plaything. Soon the more careful ones had swept out the car of its broken glass. With the car sheltered by overhanging trees, it remained dry. At some point, it became my climbing frame. I did not indulge in sitting in the driver’s seat pretending to drive. I climbed up from the inside and sat on the partly open metal sunroof. I was quite light and the thin metal roof could quite easily hold my weight. With the various men pounding the car the sunroof appeared to have become jammed in this partly open state, allowing a small thin child just enough room to crawl up through.

The roof decided to slide back into the fully open position. I fell forward; my mouth now took the full force of the top front rim of the car. This was a part of the car that was still undamaged; my mouth also had little effect on the car. The blood from my mouth and nose covered the top of the car, the seat, the front shelf and even the bonnet. As well as my regular nosebleed, I had managed to cut both my upper and lower lips and taken a good sock to my teeth. For many friends of my own age, this would have merely loosened their remaining first teeth. I was well ahead of them, my second teeth had appeared quite some time ago, and taken together with my height, it could give me the chance to appear older than I really was.

Some friends escorted me back to the flat. Sister was perhaps a little sick of my continual injuries. If my friends expected to see Sister concerned over my injuries and to be sympathetic, they saw her at her best. I was quickly whisked inside. Apparently, the telling off could be heard through the closed door and even when they had reached the ground outside the flat.

My face really ached, after swilling my mouth out with several glasses of water and mild disinfectant. Sister decided that a good sleep with a hot water bottle next to my face might take the pain away. The next day, there was a slight telling off for the blood on my pillow and sheets, but her mood compared to the day before was mild. I did not appear to have broken either my nose or my chin. In her mind, I was fit enough for school. Friends from yesterday eventually caught up with me; other than finding out if I had managed to break any bones, the amount of blood I seemed to drip around had given them the impression that I was very badly injured. Most were surprised at how Sister had reacted. All I could do was explain that this was how Sister normally acted; that I was returning too often with injuries might have been the true reason. Had a different member of our group had similar injuries, they might have been treated in a more sympathetic manner.

Once everything healed up, there was little to see any sign of me trying to chew through a car. My chin never did fully develop, and my front teeth remained pushed slightly back, but not eating my crusts at an early age might be another cause.

GUNS

 

One afternoon I had been outside at play with a friend; we had stopped by one of the trees on the main grassed area in the Home, facing some of the flats. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my knee; it was so sudden that I simply fell down. On getting up, there was blood coming from the inner part of my knee. The bet was that someone was quite close to us, with either a catapult or small toy gun that originally was meant to fire soft plaster pellets, and having run out of those, something like a small piece of flint was now used as ammo. The bushes were the most likely hiding place, but none of our enemies could be found. Escorted over to the small hospital, it might be best to get a plaster put over the cut; although the blood was not spurting out, there was a small constant trickle. The Nursing Sister was out, however I was soon attended to by one of the other staff. It was best not to say much about the cut being caused by something like a catapult, it would only cause problems. As the cut was clean, once the blood was wiped away, and a plaster put over the cut, all seemed fine. I headed back to the flat, my knee still stinging.

Sister was more unhappy over the blood that covered my sock than the cut to my knee; she remarked that for once, it was not the front of my knees that I was damaging. I was accused of climbing a tree to end up with this type of cut. It was best to let her have her own ideas of the injury; if I said that I thought one of the boys in the next block of flats had a catapult, she would have soon been on the warpath. The cut healed; there was a small lump under my skin which I took to be the remains of the scab. For some odd reason, once the scab had completely faded away there was still a little lump.

The adults only started to take more of an interest after I had been for several X-rays as part of our growth study tests in May. A morning off school meant several of us were very willing to be measured, weighed, X-rayed, photographed and generally prodded, every three months or so. 

Later the Nursing Sister, the Governor, and the local doctor became interested in my knee. They found I had a small piece of metal in my knee; their solution was that I ought to have whatever was in my knee out; it appeared to be a gun pellet. I expected the Nursing Sister or the doctor just to remove it like a splinter. However, I was taken to a hospital in the next town for more X-rays. It was December before they decided they wanted to take the gun pellet out. It was originally expected that I would have a local anaesthetic, but from what the Nursing Sister told me, and the attention I received,  I was going to be given a full anaesthetic and put completely out. To the Nursing Sister this seemed far too much bother. I could guess that if she had been allowed, a small cut with a knife and the pellet would have been taken out in her hospital.

The most annoying matter was that I had to miss breakfast, however as my appointment was quite early in the morning, I would be back at the Home for lunch, but would probably miss afternoon school. I did not have any worries over the operation; I was more interested in what else was going on. The most painful part of the visit to the hospital was to have an injection in the rear. This really hurt; this one was not to put you out but to relax you. Then I was taken on a trolley to the operating theatre. I was afraid that the next injection was going to be even more painful, but there was just a minor prick in my arm, and I was told to slowly count. On waking up after the operation, all I wanted to do was sit up, but the hospital staff kept pushing my head down and telling me to lie still; it seemed to feel like I was rolling over. When I was allowed to sit up, there was nothing to see as the cut that had been made to the side of my knee was covered up with a bandage. It seemed I was lucky having the Nursing Sister with me, as she would be able to see that the cut healed properly. On our way back to the Home, I was told that there had been four stitches to keep the cut closed. I was not to go out playing football or to run about for the next couple of weeks; swimming and other such activities were also forbidden. When the cut had healed a little more, the stitches would be taken out; until that time the cut should be kept dry. I would have a fresh bandage put on when we arrived back, but as soon as possible, it would be best to let the air get to it.

I had a souvenir of my hospital visit. This was a clear plastic container, with the pellet that had been removed from my leg. At the point we had left the hospital this had been taken from me; apparently the Governor wanted to see it.

When I did get to look at the cut, it was far larger than I thought it would have been. It was just over an inch in length. There was no real pain; it was just stiff to walk on. It was easier to keep the leg almost straight and hop on it; the cut was just on the point that the knee bent. This was the first opportunity that the Nursing Sister had to see the cut. Her comments were that she could not understand why they had made a large cut; she could have made a small cut and pulled the pellet out with a pair of tweezers, possibly not needing to put any stitches into my leg at all. But I would be able to show my friends my latest battle scar. Soon I hobbled back to the flat accompanied by her, not having eaten since the previous evening; I was more concerned with wanting something to eat rather than resting. It was decided that it was best if I went to bed and was still for the rest of the day. I was soon washed and changing into my pyjamas before I could offer any protest. Eventually some soup and bread was brought to me. It was thought best that I only had a light meal at this stage. Once finished, boredom encouraged me to have a nap. When the others returned, as I was wearing pyjamas and the cut was covered up, there was little to show off. At teatime, I was allowed out of bed, then for the rest of the evening, and allowed the most comfortable chair.

The next school day was missed; it was felt that perhaps walking to school was a little too much for me. There was a visit to the Nursing Sister; the cut seemed to have healed enough to allow it to go without any covering, but again there was a warning not to play football. On returning to school, the cut and stitches were enough proof for the teachers to allow me to miss games lessons for the rest of the term, which disappointingly was very close.

 

At Christmas, there was a change to our bicycles. I had brought my own bicycle to the Home; this was now rather too small for me. The two oldest boys were getting a new bicycle each; this was partly paid from their paper round and in part by the Home as their Christmas present. As part of the deal, they would pass their two old bicycles down to two of us; these would now become our presents from the Home, and we would give our bicycles to two younger boys; this deal seemed to work out the best for all.

 

Slowly my tastes in food changed. At tea and at other meals, I found the sweet spreads were actually to my liking. Marmite and peanut butter were still high on my lists of preferred tastes though. I was the only one who liked to put the OXO spread on my toast. Normally it would be used in gravy, but to me it was similar to Marmite in style although everyone else found it too salty. If you were the last one to scrape out the jar of any item, it gave you the privilege of opening the next jar. On starting the next jar of spread, it was the custom to engrave your initials into the top of the spread before taking the first spoonful.

Until coming to the Home, trips to the dentist had been quite a rare event. Losing most of my first teeth before the age of six, there was never any real chance for any decay to set in for most of my teeth. The last few first teeth that were still in place soon started to decay within months of my arrival. Sweets were to blame, it was the increase in cheap boiled sweets on a Saturday, rather than the smaller quantities of more luxury sweets from my mother.

POCKET MONEY
 

Saturday was the most important day of the week. Our mornings were generally occupied with indoor chores. At the end of lunch, pocket money was given out. Deductions for items like Church, Cubs and any stoppages for breakages, Holiday fund, Christmas fund, School events and the like were kept back. The amount of money you received depended on how old you were. It was thought that the older you were the more money you needed. Try to explain this idea when an older boy is scoffing a large amount of sweets in front of a smaller boy, and it appears unfair.

Most Saturday afternoons any money left once the deductions had been made would be spent on sweets. Until this point in time whilst I had been with my mother, sweets came at various periods during the week when I was good – not vast amounts but just enough to make me willing to behave at times.

An organised trip to the sweet shop was the normal way of spending our money. Age group–wise I was in the middle; the older ones were allowed to go off as a group. I was grouped with the younger girl, and taken by either Sister or the Helper to the sweet shop. The apparent reason for this was that at eight, I was thought too young to leave the Home on my own. That I went to the annexe of the school either on my own or with one other boy, and we had to cross various roads on our journey to and from school did not seem to count. Until my arrival, the younger girl had often been taken out by her older sister, but my arrival now made it worthwhile to allow the older girl her freedom to be with her own age group.

When you did get to the sweet shop you spent all your money. There was no use for actual money at the Home. Sweets purchased, you returned to the Home. I soon found out that it was best to eat all the sweets before tea. Older boys finding that you had sweets might arrange an unfair swap or decide that you were offering them the rest of your sweets as a gift. To the older boys one of your large humbugs was equal to one of their fruit pips in a swap.

Eventually I was allowed out on my own to the sweet shop. Although there was a busy main road that we had to cross, a pedestrian crossing made the matter reasonably safe if we were alert. The older group was not really something I wanted to be involved with, from what I had learnt, it appeared on occasions some of their behaviour would not have pleased Sister. If I had been with them, I could easily guess that I might be the one landed in trouble.

The other reason for often being able to be on my own was the older boys’ love of football. Special trips to a nearby town to watch a league match, and a treat they willingly used the majority of their pocket money. Only on one occasion did I let the adults talk me into going with the group. Most of my pocket money was taken from me to pay for the entrance fee. Eventually we arrived at the ground. Being taken in the small van was never my favourite way of travelling.

Before we left, Sister read the riot act of how we were to behave. If there was only one adult in charge of us, we had to spend the entire time in a single group. Although the match might last only 90 minutes we would be away from the Home for much longer. Our Sister saw to it that we would not be the ones to cause a problem by requesting to visit the toilet at at an inconvenient moment. We were given three choices, either wait until we returned, have an accident which all would see, or wear waterproofs under our shorts, Two of us opted for waterproofs, the older pair refused such an offer, deciding that wearing their raincoats might hide any problems until their return.

With only a small amount of money left, I decided to buy some sweets to give me some pleasure while standing in the cold watching a football match that I had paid for. The sweet shop near to the football ground was quite busy, so there was no time to waste on choosing how to spend the remaining money. Cheap boiled sweets were possibly the best value. My odd taste in sweets was often not my friends’; Winter Mixture was possibly the most revolting choice I could make, and few wanted to make even poor swaps for my sweets.

I chose a plain cough sweet marked at 6d on the jar. As I was in a rush, I had not noticed that instead of 6d per quarter these were 6d per ounce. As I had asked for sixpence worth, there was no problem for the assistant; although there were only a few sweets for the money, they were strong. At the Home, I was one of the only boys of my age to be able to suck a Victory V lozenge to its end, without either crunching it up or spitting it out. If older boys tried this trick on me, I was quite happy to accept their free sweet when they liked to tease younger children. Asking for a second one normally upset them. Today’s cough sweets were strong, not hot but just full flavour. During the match I slowly went through my purchase. It was not necessary to eat another one as soon as one was finished, the taste stayed in my mouth; there was a nice numbing sensation.

Eventually the match ended, we were taken back in the van, and returned to the Home ready for tea. I could actually name the local team that we visited, but as to who they played was forgotten. From that point on, if there was ever a suggestion that I could go and watch football, it was something that I opposed. It appeared that if you misbehaved during the week, you were not thought good enough to go and see the football. If only I had known that rule on the Saturday I was selected to go and see the match.

During the summer, I spent as much time as I could outside. If this was spent alone, it was more by choice rather than lack of friends. One of my favourite areas was near to the small cemetery; this was too far from the main area of the Home for many to bother with, so I could be left to my own thoughts. The quiet solitude was broken only by the sound of a train passing. If it made me feel sad, it was because the trains were heading in the direction of London, where I would have preferred to be. The other sound that seemed to carry for miles was the sound of an ice-cream van. Whilst in London it was a regular treat to have an ice cream from one of the many vans that passed. In the Home it was wishful thinking.

SISTERS' VIEWS

Our Sister had rather an old fashioned view of how the flats should be run. Her ideals were those of the early 1950s. There was nothing wrong in this as we were well cared for; however by the 1960s, the idea that we should integrate more with the outside world was now slowly coming to fruition. Perhaps children in other flats did have more activities outside the grounds, but for our flat and a few others that were run by the older Sisters, life had not changed that much over the last decade or so.

On a Sunday, our Sister believed that any play should be quiet and respectful for that day. Although we did go out to play in the late afternoon, any ideas we had of activities that most children were allowed, was discouraged. The older children in the flat were trusted over such matters, however the wearing of football boots and the like for active play was not allowed. The younger members of the family were really too young to obey such a directive.

With our Sunday afternoons needed occupying, Sunday school once afternoon lunch was over, kept us younger ones in order. During my time of torture of Sunday afternoons spent with a small group of other children in the administration block, it was possible to look out of the windows and see the majority of the children in the Home happily out at unrestricted play. The hour or so of staying listening to stories from the bible was really uninteresting for me. In a way it was even mor boring than chapel, at least there were things to look at during that service.

 There was a problem on one afternoon during the lessons when I knew I would soon have to visit the lavatory, we were getting near to the end, so simply believed that I could last out and would soon get my freedom. Lessons were normally for one hour, this one just seemed to take longer. I could have asked to leave the room, permission might have been granted, but with is so near to the end I might have been told to wait, which would bring even more torture.

The pain of needing to have a pee just became too great, I realised that if I asked now and even if I was granted permission to leave, I would never make it down the stairs to where the toilet might be unlocked, on a Sunday parts of the building were locked up, on those days we would have to go outside to the rear of the building, where there was an outside lavatory. The pee came out a little at first, then I knew I could not hold on, soon my underpants were soaked. With Sister insisting that I wore waterproof pants to the chapel service, I still had kept them on for Sunday school. There was the thought that they might leak.

The lesson at that point was ending, all the others were more intent in getting out of the room, rather than to see my standing back in the hope that nothing could be seen. I was more or less in luck, by the time I reached the flat there was just a slight dampness to my shorts, as they were a dark grey shade there was nothing much to see. The others were all outside by the time I returned, so it was quite easy to see Sister alone. There was no telling off, I was just escorted to have a bath. After my bath it could easily have been my pyjamas I had to put on, but Sister allowed me to put on ordinary play clothes. Until I could be sure that there would be no more problems in the Home, the waterproofs were put on whilst Sister was in charge if I was going to any event.

VISITS OUTSIDE THE HOME

We were not confined to the Home for all of our free time. On various occasions, 'Friends of the Home' did organise days out for us. In my case I was only taken out a few times, with my odd weekends in London and the long summer holidays away from the Home I was not often around when the visits away occurred.

The visits were often on a Sunday, our family group would be taken to a nearby town, various regular friends of the family as they were known would then select us and we would go off with their family for the day.

The selection of who we went with was determined mainly by our age and sex. The older boys often went off with families who had boys of the same age. The girls would equally go off with families who had children of a similar age. If I was an odd one out I was neither one of the older one's, nor one of the younger ones who went off often in pairs.

On the locations I went on the visits, each time I was rather badly paired up with the family that took me out for the day. It was well known beforehand what our ages and interests were, but things never seemed to work out just right.

We always were dressed in our best Sunday clothes so any form of rough play was out of the question. On the first visit I was paired up with a boy of around my age, after a quick lunch with the family both of us were sent out to play in the local park. The boys' only interest was in football, not a sport I was interested in, the weather was not all that great, with the risk of falling over and getting covered in mud there was little I could do for the duration of our time together. There were few other things that could be done, our behaviour during the day would be when were returned to the Home, so it was never worth the risk of getting into mischief or the like during our day away.

Eventually the day out ended and we returned to our ordinary group. The boy slightly older than me had an equally boring day, he was teamed up with a boy that was of his own age. The boy that he had visited had no interest in sports at all; they spent the entire afternoon up in his room, where it appeared he had been shown endless science experiments. If only the pair of us had been allowed to swap over with the families we visited then each of us might have had far better days out. All we decided upon was that if we were taken out on a future visit and allocated the same families, some minor suggestions would be made as to the families we really wanted to go with.

The next time were each went out on a visit; the families we were with were not the same for either of us. I was allocated a family that had a daughter of around my own age. Once lunch was over it was suggested that we might want to stay indoors as the weather outside was a little overcast, any plans of going out as a group for the afternoon was not really possible.

There was little we had in common, the girl was mainly into dolls, the afternoon was totally dull. The family having very religious beliefs, did not appear to think that the television should be turned on during the afternoon simply for entertainment purposes. Eventually it was time to go and meet up with all the others. For the remainder of the day I had to listen to all the places they had been taken to and the interesting activities they were involved with.

Before each visit we were always given a lecture on the behaviour that was expected of us, if anyone was thought not to be able to behave they would not be going and would have to spend the entire day in the flat without any of the others. When it came to the third visit, I was almost in the mood to be denied the trip out. The weather was pouring with rain, even if a family that we were going to visit had any plans for the day the chances were that these would be cancelled. To me staying indoors did not really matter if it was here or on a visit.

I was still classed as one of the younger ones and had no choice over what I was going to wear on the visit. The older ones although smart in their appearance were allowed a little freedom. For me it was best clothes plus my school raincoat, I was jealous of the older ones that were allowed their anoraks if they wanted. I was not even going to be trusted to walk the short distance from our flat to the minibus in my shoes, like a rainy school day I was forced to take both my shoes and plimsolls in the P.E. kit bag.

My biggest dread was that one of the children I was going to visit might find that I was wearing waterproof pants. As I was in my best shorts, there was always the risk that the lower part of the pants might show from beneath the shorts. When at play with the children on any visit, I had to restrict the amount of any active play I became involved with.

MODEL RAILWAY

 

Almost every small boy in the Home was afraid of an encounter with the Governor. It was not the case that we were always caught by him doing wrong deeds. He had the ability to be at any location where you were up to mischief or simply doing a minor deed that you knew was wrong.

With my agile and fast movements, I was often in a position to spot the Governor and depart the site of any crime before he descended. Often a clue to his whereabouts was to keep an eye on where his car was parked, if it was located other than by his house, it meant he was in the area – not the best time to be found in the orchard or near the incinerator. If you were a younger boy, the small cane or baton that he often carried with him, gave a clue to what you could expect, if you were caught committing a crime that did not warrant serious punishment. A quick very light swipe and you knew not to be caught at that activity again.

A few months after my arrival; a group of older boys had decided to make a raid on the local outdoor model railway club that was next to the grounds of the Home. This was run by adults, for the enjoyment of adults, we were not invited.

The model railway club was located on a plot of land that at one time had really been part of the estate of the Home.  A disused railway cutting separated the two locations, and although this was really out of bounds, we used this as a wild play area where few staff from the Home were ever likely to visit.

To show that we were not welcome in the club, a tall gate was padlocked shut when not in use. Surrounding the club area was a fence with barbed wire; this was in a way odd for something in the Home: it would have been thought that any fences would be used to keep us in not to keep us out.

For a challenge, the older boys had decided that if adults wanted to keep us out there must be a good reason. All that could be viewed from outside the fence were lengths of concrete girders with lengths of railway track. For the inquisitive, there had to be something very special for the need to keep us out. If damage was done to property in the Home, it was quite easy for the adults to work out the most likely persons responsible.

Possibly recent war films of prisoners escaping from camps were the basis for the event. The older boys took pride in finding ways over the wire. A few of us younger members were used as lookouts, and if any adults were spotted we should shout out a code word to alert those inside the wire. Had any adults been spotted, shouting out something would have brought far more attention to us than had we just been thought playing in the vicinity. Eventually the older boys emerged. They had found the hut where the members met. Nothing worth removing had been found except for a small amount of loose change. The money was now divided up according to age and deed. We were quite pleased with our share of the spoils and soon made ourselves scarce. All of us knew that if our Sisters found money on us, there would be many questions as to how we had come across it. Pocket money on a Saturday was soon spent and apart from church money or money for cubs, there were very few left with money after Saturday afternoon.

That particular day was a club day. Originally designed to teach and inform, it had turned into a meeting place where the latest records could be played and the older ones could show off the latest dance craze. For the eight to ten year-olds, it was more of a place to cause a nuisance. The club was the one place where you could spend money in the Home. A small tuck shop that sold fizzy drink and a few sweets catered for the lucky few that still had a small amount of money. A few things were offered at less than the normal shop price, but few of us ever had any money left to take advantage. Together with a friend, we had soon spent our money on a bottle of fizzy drink and some sweets. We stayed around, as when you returned the bottle the deposit money was given back enabling more sweets to be purchased; if we had not been greedy we would not have been found out.

At what moment the Governor had been informed of the deed we did not know. Picking the very day that the model club had its meeting was not the best idea of the older boys to mount the raid. Had it been done the following day then it would have been several days before the matter became known.

With the grounds being generally deserted, the Governor had come across to the hall where the club was held. If the day’s takings were up, he soon found it out. Grabbing one of the older boys, who was the least likely to have any spending money, soon brought forth the names of his close accomplices.

One by one the gang formed, and he managed to round up most of those who had been involved. The normal rule was that you did not split on anyone, but it did not apply if you were an older boy telling on a younger boy, or by dropping someone else in it your punishment might be slightly less.

All of us were marched outside and formed into a line. From where we stood, we could see that the others who had been in the club had come to see what was in store for us. They kept at enough distance to be not really in view, and even the Governor knew they were there. Possibly them watching our punishment was the worst thing that could happen. The shares of the money were soon worked out until the missing amount was accounted for.

Several small scraps of paper were now handed to us. The figure of money we had stolen was written on each. These were to be handed to our Sisters when we returned indoors; this amount would be deducted from our next pocket money, and anyone failing to hand the slips in would lose twice the amount the following week or for however many weeks it took.

The punishment was not yet over. Each of us now received a whack across the palm of one of our hands with his baton, and was given the instruction to go and return to our flats. All of us seemed to have the stick in a similar manner. It did not hurt; we did flinch when the blow first landed, but there was no pain. Our audience was made to think that we were severely dealt with. None of us let on that it did not hurt; we let the others think we were just brave over the matter.

The thought of returning to the flat was not a happy one. Losing pocket money and getting even a light whack was one thing; having to admit to Sister what you had been up to and the punishment that would come from her would be far worse. The older three boys from my flat had not been involved in this crime, and having seen them witness our removal from the club I could guess that Sister already knew I was in trouble.

There was little time wasted by Sister over the questions on what I had been doing. The story that I had not actually been into the model railway was believed; however it was just stupid of me to take the money off the older boys. Sister thought losing next week’s pocket money was a just punishment; I did not argue at this moment, that the Governor had only requested the missing money be returned. It was thought that for the next month I should miss going to the club.

SCHOOL
 

In the second year of junior school, our old building was closed down. We now joined the main school where two new classrooms had been built in the playground to take us. One activity at school that occupied a large amount of my time was the swapping of possessions. Minor swaps would be amongst friends, and then other boys in the same year would be involved, followed by boys older and younger.

Often the item you were acquiring was not even the thing you wanted, but if you could provide the person that you were finally swapping with the item they were looking for, it made the deal. After Christmas was one of the best times to do any exchanges. I was wise enough to avoid any of the swaps that involved large toys or items that were easily identifiable. Marbles, cars, puzzles, pens and the like could easily pass around the playground several times before getting completely lost as to who really owned them. Often it was easy to witness a few that made stupid or unfair swaps. A few days later, a parent would be up at school trying to find the culprit that had their child’s best possession and demand that it be returned.

Some boys had toys that were of little interest to them, and offering money rather than a swap I did quite well. At the Home my locker often had the toy items changing quite regularly. If I had any doubt over a recent possession, taking it back to London for a few weeks often let things cool down a little.

 

One of the reasons for getting into trouble was due to my reactions, having being teased over the colour of my skin. In the London school, I had found no problems; at this school, I was finding that I was now being teased more than ever before. Once a few knew that this upset me and I became angry, the teasing was done more for fun on their part rather than anything malicious. It was equal to that given to a fat child or any child who does not seem to fit in with the majority. When there were groups teasing me there was little I could do. The only chance of retaliation was when one of my tormentors became isolated from the group. The minor fight and arguments that then started was the main reason I was often in trouble.

Most of the teachers thought I should ignore such name-calling. For a short period this was possible. When it went on every day, my short temper tended to get the better of me. One of the favourite names to call me was based on a character from a comic that most of the boys had read in a story entitled ‘Packi and His Elephant’. The regular tease was to shout out “Packi where’s your elephant?” I regarded that as one of the less hateful comments.

SCHOOL PUNISHMENTS

 

At the age of nine most of my lessons were with our own class teacher, it gave me the most chances of attention over any poor behaviour, and was now seen by her for my wrongdoings. Punishment-wise I was more embarrassed to be hit in front of others; I was apt to show my tender feelings. Crying in front of my class was far worse in my mind than the original punishment. If my friends were able to be brave, they did not often show their true feelings. If I was a nuisance, I never really learnt to behave at this school. Each time I was questioned over my latest activity, I never seemed to be able to explain why I did so many things that they disapproved. The events just seemed to happen; it was never my intention to be disruptive in any way.

If our teacher decided that a punishment with her 18-inch ruler on our legs was not the correct method, you were asked to remain after the rest of the class had been dismissed. Most of my punishments were now after the lesson had finished. Alone with the teacher it allowed for a more involved telling off that would not have been possible during a lesson period. Questioned in this way, it might be possible to have a good enough reason for one’s behaviour; this then allowed release without any punishment. A few in our class found that there was one stage worse than the ruler on the legs. With all the other female teachers in the school, if a punishment like the cane were necessary, they would send you to the Headmaster. Our teacher seemed to be the exception.

 

Our teacher could use the threat of punishment. Her ruler was always on the top of her desk; if we were coming close to it being used, she would often tap it lightly on the desk. If we had any sense we would then behave. The cane was never brought out to threaten us; she used the fear of those who had already received it, to announce to others that it was kept in her drawer and would be taken out when you were to be given it. This was a very good way of keeping the fear of such a punishment in our minds.

A few of our friends never did believe us when we told them about our teacher keeping a cane in her desk; they always thought it was only the Headmaster or a couple of the masters that ever gave you the cane. The few of us that had received the cane from our teacher were in hope that the non-believers would soon be shown it. In the normal way these friends never got as far as being hit with the ruler because of their constant good work.

In my mind, the cane that our teacher used did not really count as a cane. This was not the long bamboo cane that I had experienced in the Headmaster’s office, or at the other schools I had attended. It was a shorter thinner smooth cane about the same length as her ruler and did not hurt as much as the normal cane. With this cane, there was a second advantage for me. As it was not the official junior school cane, as she referred to it as the ‘infants’ cane’, there was never the need to enter it onto the punishment pages; only when the official junior school cane was given, did it have to be recorded. The Governor from the Home when he paid his visits to our school would not know of my deeds. I was just happy the cane was always given without an audience.

Our teacher had two methods of using the cane. If the punishment needed to be a little harsher than the ruler used on the legs then the cane was used on your legs. To be hit on the legs with the cane was painful; it seemed to sting for such a long time afterwards and the marks could last for several days. There was often the request by our teacher that we should pull down our socks; this exposed the flesh of our legs just below the knee, allowing more pain to be felt. In a way I was happy over this order; once your socks were pulled up after the punishment, there was no sign of having had the cane. If you had gone a stage further than the cane on your legs, it was then given on your hands. The cane could land anywhere from the centre of your palm to across your fingers; if just your fingers were struck then it did really hurt.

Once over, I was allowed to sit down where a little more about my poor behaviour was discussed. I would now find my teacher consoling me and explaining that it was not her intention to make me cry, it was that she had run out of options of how to curb my bad behaviour. With any other teacher that had ever punished me, there was always hatred in my mind after the event. The cane given by my teacher did hurt, but I was unable to feel dislike for her in any way. I was happier that none of my friends had been around to witness my punishment. Only once did I feel that I had been punished in a more severe way than normal on one of the days I was given the cane on my legs. That time it had really hurt; it might have been on a day when she was angry with others and had taken it out on me.

Our teacher was quite capable of making one cry with an extended telling off; there were few in our class that could take a telling off that lasted more than ten minutes without crumbling. When I met the rest of the class outside, on many occasions I allowed them to think it had been a telling off I had received. If I announced that I had been given the cane, the information might get back to the Home, I did not want a second punishment for getting into trouble at school. Three on each leg was the maximum I ever received.

New Staff - The Housepartent

Each flat normally had two full-time staff looking after us. When I arrived, our flat was slightly different, having only seven of us and only the Sister full-time; the helper was often there only part-time. When Sister had any time off, the helper looked after us on her own. It became known to all that Sister would soon retire. A new lady now came in, first as the day relief for Sister, then as a trainee Houseparent. It was finally revealed shortly before Sister actually retired, this lady was going to be our new permanent Houseparent. The staffing level was also increased; we would have a second adult permanently to join us; the only point when it would drop to one adult would be when one of them had a day off.

Our numbers now increased to ten to match the other flats, by adding two young boys and a young girl. The four youngest now formed into a group. The eldest girl was on the point of leaving school and going to college. Her presence in the flat had been more to help Sister than to play with us. The other four were older than me, and had been in the Home far longer than I had. They formed into a second group of four; I just did not fit into either group easily. For most of the time I had to be placed in one of the groups – ­neither of which really wanted me, nor I them.

With the new Houseparent, we found our lives were much easier on chores; but to me there were still too many restrictions over my life. The Houseparent told me that if I wet the bed, I would be given the slipper by her, which in my mind  would be better than getting the cane which my mother would have used.

On going to bed, there was now more worry over  bedwetting that was still happening quite often. Within a few days of her taking charge I soon learnt that it was not an idle threat, and the slipper first thing in the morning soon became a regular event; even on Christmas morning at the age of nine there was no amnesty for wetting my bed. What made me really cross over these punishments was that none of the others were given the slipper, the three older boys were just given a few extra minor chores as punishment.

I was restless at night, even with our room now down to three, I was kept awake by the other two even if they were asleep. When I woke up and sneaked off to the lavatory at night, on many nights I took longer to return. Unlike the other older ones who might want to explore and be up to mischief, all I wanted was to have a chance for some silence. The chair I would sit on in the hall if I was having a nosebleed was often my resting place for half an hour or so, my departure was over the thought that the Houseparent might come out of her room and find me.

 The other changes were that there was no restriction if we wanted to go and visit the lavatory during day, as long as we didn't cause a nusance to others. Now I was aged almost ten the new Houseparent let me off having to wear waterproof pants to chapel or on visits to the village with her, although I still had to keep a pair in my draw which she had just replaced with a slightly larger size.

One matter we found different between Sister and the new Houseparent was in the way that they reacted if we were in trouble. We had all been used to what to expect if we were in Sister’s bad books: first there would be a strong telling off then a selection of chores would be set. Once Sister was satisfied that you had learnt your lesson, the chores would come to an end. If Sister gave me the slipper I would be taken to the bedroom and lightly punished and that was then the end of the matter.

With our new Houseparent there was a very different reaction. We had been quite used to Sister getting angry over very minor matters, but she never physically hit us out of anger. If you were close to the Houseparent, you could find that she hit out at you; often it was the back of her hand and wrist that would land on your head or shoulder. As children, most of us were quite light in build; the Houseparent was quite short and stocky. One of her hits could actually knock you down. If I were going to be punished, I would have rather have been hit with the slipper or the cane. To get her hand suddenly hitting you was upsetting. We soon learnt that if we had done wrong, it was best not to be close if she was losing her temper. 

I was given the slipper from the Houseparent for several matters other than  bedwetting, which always reduced me to tears with the force of her blows. The first time was after I had failed to clean my play shoes before lunch. They were not very muddy and as I was going out in them after lunch, I had just put them in the shoe cupboard. If they had been very dirty and started to drop bits of mud onto the other clean shoes, I could see why the Houseparent would be cross. As there was just a little dirt, I could not see the point in cleaning them if I was going out as soon as lunch was over.

There was a telling off; that I did not go straight away and clean them was the reason that I should be punished. Unlike Sister, I was now taken forcibly in front of everyone to my bedroom. There might have been a chance if I had really apologised at that moment to get off, but within seconds it was too late; I was made to lie across the end of the bed after she demanded that I should give her one of my slippers. The hits came quite fast; four heavy blows soon ended the matter of not cleaning my shoes. I was in tears but not given any chance to recover. I was now led out of the room and back to where my shoes were. Now I was told clean them; I was not going out again that day.

I annoyed the Houseparent after this punishment by never wearing my play shoes again. Every time we were sent out to play, I wore either plimsolls or wellingtons. Slowly the shine on my play shoes vanished. The Houseparent did not ask me to clean them again. When my feet grew to the next size up, the play shoes were removed and never replaced. 

 

 

  I managed to get the Houseparent cross enough to use the slipper on me  when one of the younger boys said that I had taken some of his sweets. I was innocent of this matter; he had been foolish enough to leave a half-open packet of sweets around; the first one passing had simply taken them.

I was finishing the last of my own sweets at the time. Had I spat it out, he would have easily seen it was not a type he had purchased. By the time the Houseparent was told of the loss of his sweets, I had finished my sweet so there was no way I could prove my innocence. Now accused of stealing his sweets and teasing him by eating them in front of him, meant I had to be punished. The journey to my bedroom was made.

The Houseparent wanted to make the punishment hurt. I was angry at having to be punished over something that I had not done, so there was little co-operation over taking my trousers down and giving her one of my slippers. Only the threat that if I did not take down my trousers, she would remove both my trousers and underpants, got me to co-operate over the matter. At the age of almost ten, I would have been too embarrassed to be hit on my rear without anything on, even if there were no others to see. I was already in tears with anger, before the blow even hit. The three blows were heavy, more tears came quite easily. I was told to pull my shorts up, and asked did I now admit to stealing the sweets; my anger was still there so I refused to admit my guilt for something I had not done. Having stood up I was now bent back across my bed and a further three hits with the slipper were given after my trousers were taken down again. I was really in tears.

I was taken still crying to the boy who had lost his sweets, and told to say sorry. Having had the slipper, I was not in any mood to apologise to a younger child. Just inches away from him, my anger got the better of me: one slight shove from me and telling him I did not take his sweets ended my freedom. Removed at speed, it was possibly a surprise to all that I was not clouted all the way to my bedroom. The only comments from the Houseparent were that I should know not to steal. This time my trousers were not taken down; six hits came in quick succession. Pain-wise it now really hurt, having a dozen hits I thought was an impossible number for such a minor offence.

I had gone past the crying stage; the Houseparent ignored my screaming. I was not going to be returned to the others. As it was early afternoon, it was too early to send me to bed. My bed was now stripped of all its blankets and sheets. I was told to lie on my bed until I was thought of good enough behaviour to rejoin the others. Knowing how the mind of the Houseparent worked, I would have thought she would have told me to lie on my back, but I was allowed to lie on my front. As she left, I was told that she did not want to see me out of the room for any reason.

My crying slowly stopped. The pain however was still there to the full; it felt as if my rear was hot and cold at the same moment. Unlike with the cane there were no actual ridges that I could feel, it was an all-over throbbing pain. I must have stayed lying on my front for a long time. One of the older boys sneaked in and stood by the door – he was risking similar punishment just for his visit. I was told that the Houseparent was not in a mood any more, and that soon she would be in to see me. It was now known that I had not taken the sweets; one of the girls had put them safe to stop them getting eaten, and she had only just come back from playing outside, so did not know that the Houseparent had accused me of taking them. Within seconds, he departed. I should have been happy to hear that I was innocent, but it was too late, I had already been punished. Shortly the Houseparent came in. I was not in any mood for her, even if there was to be an apology, I kept my head buried in my pillow and faced the wall. Now I was told to get up from my bed. It was not really an apology; it was suggested that had I not pushed the boy, I would not have been in so much pain.

During tea I stood up to eat, the others took my standing up to show that I had really been hit. Although they did not know the number of times, they knew it had been quite high in number. After tea was finished I was on the list for washing up. To make up for the punishment I was let off, but going to watch the television was a little painful. When my normal bedtime came I was not hurried off but I was allowed to stay up as late as the older ones. Being punished that day did have a few benefits, as I was able to watch a couple of programmes that I would not normally see.

When we were sent off to bed, the older three begged to see what my rear was like. Their description was that it was blue and red. I was given a mirror to hold so I could see the reflection in the main mirror; it did not look that bad and the pain had generally gone now except if I touched the main area. Once in bed, I spent my night on my side or front, which resulted in a wet bed. The following morning I was back to normal and had more or less forgiven the Houseparent, with the bruises from yesterday I was let off the slipper, even though they were sometimes given across my hands if the Houseparent was in a hurry. I was excused chapel that day; I hated to think what sitting on the hard wooden seat would have been like. For lunch, I seemed to be given slightly better portions of food. 

I thought school on Monday was going to be normal, but when it came to leaving the flat to go off to school I was kept back until last, and then told that I could have the day off. I knew the Houseparent did not want me telling all my friends about the punishment. Now alone, we came to an agreement. If I did not tell my friends, I might find the odd reward came my way if I was good. I could now see some pleasure in life; telling my friends at school how I was punished was not really something I would have done. In the normal way, I would not even tell them over being hit by a teacher – telling on the staff at the Home was even less likely. For a little while, my life at the Home was easier, when the entire matter was forgotten, everything returned to normal.

When I was to be punished by the Houseparent in the evening, I would be taken to her sitting room, so as not to disturb the younger boy in my room who had already gone to bed. Often my own slipper was not requested; as her sitting room was next to the shoe cupboard it was easier for her to select one of the larger slippers from the shelves. If they were all in use, then one of the rubber galoshes that belonged to the older girls was chosen. With her room being fairly cramped, if I were to bend over there would not be enough room for her to get a good enough swing at me. The palms of my hands were the targets on these occasions.

 

On the days the Houseparent had time off, the helper was in sole charge.  Some of the older boys were a little more mischievous, but we all knew that anything we did would be reported to the Houseparent on her return. It appeared that I was not to be given any leeway over my activities so a few of my actions resulted in the slipper. There was the choice offered to me by the helper, either I could accept the slipper now or wait for the decision by the Houseparent on her return.

The slipper from the helper was always quite light. There might have been the chance that the helper would have forgotten and not reported me. I chose punishment at that moment; it seemed an easy way out and was soon over. If I received the slipper for bedwetting from the helper, it was in font of the other two before we went off to the bathroom; this to me was a little embarrassing, but I was never in tears.

 

When the Houseparent took over from Sister the chores lessened slightly, but it was easy to see that a few other flats could be wonderful to live in. At one point when our flat was closed down for redecoration and minor alterations to the layout, we were divided up between several other flats for two weeks. I was placed in a flat where the others were my age or slightly younger.

The style of life was so different. Although there was no real misbehaviour, the flat seemed to run so smoothly. Chores were not things that were either ordered or required; if you did help out, it was through wanting to be helpful, rather than being told to do something.

There were no punishments for any minor matters, I was told that if you were really naughty you were sent over to the governor, but for most of this time living in this flat was great.

When a boy of my age who normally lived there wet his bed several times, he did not receive the slipper in the morning, and was allowed to put his sheets in the laundry basket without the chore of washing them out. Unsure over the layout of the flat I tried not to leave the bedroom at night, with a few wet beds during my stay, I also found there were never any punishments or chores.

Meals were strange as for almost every meal we were given a choice of what we would like to eat. The meals and general life it appeared were normal and not put on for guests. Eventually our flat was ready and we appeared from our various locations. Most of us had experienced slightly different ways of life, trying to hint that other ways of running a flat were possible, such matters were soon quashed and our more boring existence returned.

RE-DECORATED FLAT
 

The Houseparent brought a few ideas that were more modern into the flat. The walls now had a little more decoration. When Sister had been in charge, there were a few framed pictures of angels and similar works of art. The Houseparent replaced these with framed pictures of children at play. Most of them were just simple sketches; it was thought that we should also play and act in a similar fashion. The Houseparent had some humour, a naughty sketch showing a boy peeing was hung in the boys’ bathroom. This was later moved into my bedroom and hung above my bed for a short while. I did not know if it was just a joke by the Houseparent or done to humiliate me; I took it as fun and did not get upset over the apparent insult.

Other humour was also now part of the daily life. A small door plaque was fixed by the Houseparent on the inside of the lavatory door which read, ‘Hey you, Who me? Now what, Please Wash Your Hands.’ Such humour to Sister would not have been allowed.

Our green industrial soap was now replaced with ordinary domestic soap. Toilet paper changed to a soft style and toothpaste now came in tubes with a mint taste. It was nice to go back to flavoured toothpaste. Originally I had brought a tube of toothpaste to the Home on my arrival. With the other three wanting to use it as well, I needed to change to the solid blocks of toothpaste provided by the Home. My mother could have afforded buying the occasional tube of toothpaste for me but having to fund it for the other three as well was not possible.

  Odd items on occasions could find their way into the flat. A modern designed pair of chairs was with us for a short while. Made entirely out of white polystyrene, they were certainly unusual, and very light in weight. The material was the same as found in certain types of packaging; if crumbled it could turn into thousands of small tiny balls. We were warned not to damage the chairs, but simple use over a few days by a group of children and odd slight damage did occur. It was not long before odd pieces of polystyrene were helped from the solid chair by idle hands. Within a short while, the two chairs left the flat and found their way to the incinerator with the rest of the burnable rubbish. One item of modern technology that was of useless design; in a way it was possibly a good idea that we did damage them and get them thrown out. A careless match and a serious fire could have started.

  The Houseparent decided to have a rather vigorous sort out of the contents of the flat. For once, it was not the contents of the lockers, but a cabinet in the main hall. This unit held everything from tablecloths to cleaning material; it was not for us to go through, as most of the doors remained locked. If the Houseparent was bringing the flat more up to date, a number of items that had originally been kept by Sister were now going. To keep us occupied a couple of us had the task of removing what the Houseparent called rubbish, either to the area in the utility room where items ready for the incinerator were kept, or the longer journey to the dustbin. It was in our own interest to decide that the majority of the items the Houseparent was discarding could be burnt.

   

With our bedroom divided up, the older two had a room on their own, the brother and his sister took over what had been the Relief Houseparents’ room, and the boy a little younger than us came into our room. As there was only a slight difference in ages between the two of us, it was thought we should now take some responsibility for looking after the two younger boys. My room mate seemed to have the first choice over who he wanted to act as a big brother to, selecting the younger boy in the other room; he possibly guessed that as that boy shared the room with his sister, she would do a lot of the work.

Our main chore in the morning was helping them getting dressed and making their beds. At their ages of three and almost six, it was thought that they were too young to do this all on their own. Once we had washed and had dressed ourselves, we set about dressing the two younger boys.

Both of them were at school so their clothing was not that difficult to sort out. The boy I looked after could more or less dress himself correctly, but for speed it was easier to physically dress him. It took little effort on his part if he was willing to sit still. There could be fun for me if he played up; I would lightly snap the leg elastic on the waterproof pants he wore under his dungarees or trousers until he co-operated with dressing. He had been told that when he could prove that he did not have any day time problems, the pants would not have to be worn, except on long journeys and for chapel when it might help save embarrassment.

Once our own beds were made, we set about helping the other two boys. On many mornings I needed to find him clean sheets, as he had often brought up odd bits of mucus due to his illness. The Houseparent apparently welcomed this; it was not really the best sight before breakfast.

The regular wet beds between them were much easier to face. As their sheets were taken to soak, we had them tell each other that they had made the best stain. Taken in this way, both were quite happy to think of it more as fun. I wished that I could face the event in such a way and not be punished by the Houseparent. I knew not to make a fuss over the punishment, with my mother giving me the plimsoll for wet beds before I came to the Home. If the Houseparent mentioned to my mother that I was making a fuss, I would be in even worse trouble. My mother would have suggested to the Houseparent that I should be caned for bedwetting.

The only time I was let off the slipper by the Houseparent, was if the younger boy in our room had brought up some more mucus during the night. Rather than wake the Houseparent up with the need for clean sheets, he was encouraged by her to share my bed for the remainder of the night. There was never the need for him to admit that he might have caused the accident if my bed was wet in the morning. I think the Houseparent let me off the punishment simply for the reason that she was not woken up by him asking for attention.

Other than bed-making and helping them dress, there were few chores other than to help with shoe cleaning where they might need a little bit of a hand. We encouraged them to always go out in their wellingtons to avoid cleaning their play shoes. The Houseparent did not give us any praise if their shoes were clean; they were the ones praised if their clothes were smart.

 

BROKEN GLASS

One of the new members of our family was not in as good heath as the rest of us. He suffered from a serious problem although not something that could be passed onto us; it meant that although being able to appear to be reasonably healthy, there were many restrictions as to his life.

A special diet always needed to be followed, and at all meals, two forms of revolting medicine had to be taken by him before any food could be eaten. We were never to share our sweets with him; the Houseparent did allow him some sweets but there was only a very limited choice he was allowed.

Before going to bed, there was a session of physiotherapy to bring up the congestion from his lungs but, for the most part, he fitted in quite well with the rest of us. This only affected me during the night. On many occasions, there were bouts of coughing. I tended to wake up, within moments, he would be asleep again. For me it was different; once I was awake, getting back to sleep again was always difficult, and often at the moment I was starting to nod off the coughing would start again. The following days I would be generally irritable due to the lack of sleep, and even resorting to wax earplugs did little good. The Houseparent looked after the boy with great care and saw that we did not upset him or bully him for any reason.

Matters came to a head one day shortly before tea. Three of us had been given the instruction to put away our toys and tidy up the dayroom before tea started. Two of us started to tidy the things away. The boy had a jigsaw puzzle partly completed; this was in the lid of the box. It would have been quite easy to move the lid of the box to a flat surface rather than to put the puzzle completely away. This was suggested by the two of us, but he was adamant that the puzzle had to stay in the middle of the table. He would not get into trouble for leaving things out, and as we were the older ones, we would be at fault.

The other boy had a good idea; he was going to go out and pretend that he was telling the Houseparent of the refusal to put the puzzle away. Going out of the room and along the corridor he was out of sight. There was no intention of actually telling the Houseparent, it was simply that this method might get the puzzle put away. Spotted by the Houseparent, he was given the message to go and tell the boy to come for his medicine. On his return, it was with glee that he told the boy that the Houseparent wanted him, although not mentioning it was for his medicine. A flood of tears now started. I took this opportunity to put the box with its puzzle onto a higher flat surface. This upset the boy even more, and I was nowhere near when he grabbed the box and upset the puzzle totally. The tears now became a loud howl; the two of us decided that it was perhaps best if we were not on the scene.

A hasty retreat was now made to the bathroom, where a washing of our hands occupied the time whilst the Houseparent went to investigate why the boy had not come for his medicine and to see who was making that awful noise. A safer place would have been in the secure lavatory cubicle but this was already occupied, and the boy inside possibly thought it best to remain there if there was trouble around.
The Houseparent pounced, my partner in crime vanished at this moment, and as I seemed to be the culprit, there was little point in him staying around to see if he was also guilty. There was a major telling off for my bullying activity. I was grabbed by the shoulders and shaken to show how I should feel to be bullied by someone else.

The Houseparent although not tall was well built, and this was no match for my light build. I was lifted slightly off my feet. My head then went back onto the lavatory door; a pane of frosted glass in the door might have been slightly less hard as it shattered than the wood or my head.

When I started to scream, it was due to the lumps of glass that were embedded in the back of my head. It was possibly a surprise for the boy inside the cubicle to find that my head had broken the glass. Like my many nose bleeds I now seemed to drip blood onto every available surface. I was wrestled to the bath and the cold tap was turned on at full force to wash away the blood and to clean my cuts. It was not that she was trying to drown me; it was that the force of the water was so strong it just felt like she was. At the same point my head was held under the flowing tap, I was struggling to get free.
My screams brought all to see what the commotion was, but all were soon sent away. Now dragged to the bedroom, I was put to bed with a towel wrapped around my head. Left alone the Houseparent went to sort tea out for the rest of the family group.

The nursing Sister was sent for; soon my cut was examined and there appeared to be no glass remaining. The force of the water had made a good job of cleaning out my cut. I should visit her tomorrow and a further look would be made as to how my cut was healing.

Left alone I was angrier at missing tea than I was about the cut to my head. Shortly after this, the Governor came to see me. It seemed I would survive. Once he left, the Houseparent said that I would be brought some tea and I was allowed to visit the lavatory at this point. In my mind I felt well enough to get up to eat, but I was confined to my room for the rest of the day. The only point that I saw the others was when they came to bed; it appeared I was to be kept quiet. Once left alone, they told me there had been a massive row before the Governor arrived, between our Houseparent and the Nursing Sister over my injury.

The following morning apart from some blood on my pillow, I felt fine. I might want to get even with the boy at some point, but that could wait. Once breakfast was over, instead of chores I was sent over to see the nursing Sister. My cut had healed nicely; her only thought, once some antiseptic ointment was in place, was that I should try not to put my comb through that area for a while. In a couple of days, I should be back just to make sure everything was fine.
On returning to the flat expecting to get ready to go off to school, the Houseparent told me that I could have the day off school, and to go and change into my play clothes.

I was given the choice of either finding something to do quietly in the dayroom or to go outside. I opted to go outside, and I was asked to return by noon for some lunch. As things went I was quite happy with the day off from school, and apart from my head itching a little where there was a little clotted blood, I felt fine. Wandering round the Home when there were no other children was the best thing about the place. Other than a small amount of noise coming from the nursery school there was nothing else that informed you it was a Children’s Home; it was just like having a large park to yourself.

Eventually around noon, I returned to the flat for lunch. Once over I was again given the choice of inside or out and I opted for outdoors again. I was happy, but things returned to normal later in the afternoon when the others returned from school. The Houseparent commented I had not been seen since lunch and wondered if I had been up to any mischief. Tea and chores over, I was free again until bedtime. The others had asked about my head, but as I seemed to be fine, nothing more was really said.

The rest of the day was spent outside. It was only when I was returning to the flat, I was met by one of the boys who said I was to go over and see the Governor. Not really having done anything wrong over the past few weeks, I did not appear afraid when I rang the bell and went into the office in his house.

Within moments, it was easy to see that things were not fine. I was told that if I did anything like that again I would be severely punished. It was over in seconds. I did not have time to realise if it was going to be two or more strokes. I only felt the first stroke really sting, from that point onwards it was simply pain.

I wondered if the Houseparent had asked the Governor to give me the cane, or if the Governor had decided I needed to be punished. With the Houseparent not here, I did not know why I should be given the cane. I was told to return to my flat. That I was crying was in my mind the worst part; there was only a short distance between our flat and the Governor’s house.

I hid in some bushes and wiped away my tears. I was shaking; at school when I was given the cane I was prepared for the ritual of the telling off and then the punishment. This time it had been so sudden. The punishment was unfair; I had not bullied the boy, and it was not really my fault that the window was broken.

It took some time before I felt the courage to go into the flat. The others were not around; the older three were at the scout meeting and the younger two boys had already gone off to bed. Only the helper was there, not knowing about the previous day’s activities in full and as there now was no sign of my tears, I was sent off to have my bath.

Soon in my pyjamas, I was given supper and then sent off to bed. In a way I was happy about this – I did not really want to talk about receiving the cane. I did not see the Houseparent at all that night; it was the helper that came to see we were in bed. The following morning the Houseparent was back on duty. With a wet bed, there would normally be the slipper, but I was just hurried along to have my bath.

During breakfast, I expected all to be informed over my visit to the Governor and the punishment I had received, but nothing was said. Only when I was just about to leave, was I taken quietly to one side by the Houseparent and asked if I was feeling all right to go to school; it was mentioned that it might be best if the matter was now forgotten about.
At school if I admitted to friends over the punishment I had been given, the teachers would soon find out, then they would be on the look out for other things I might be doing wrong. Finally the school day finished and life returned to normal.

It was only later that I found out more about the reason for my punishment. Unknown to me the Houseparent had come up with an excuse and had told the Governor that ‘I had performed’ on her. How or what I had actually done to the Houseparent was not something I had been accused of when I visited the Governor. All that he said to me was ‘that if I did anything like that again I would be severely punished’. I simply thought that he was accusing me of bullying the boy; he never explained the full reason he was going to cane me. The Governor apparently had accepted her word over the matter, and had not asked any of the others about the event.

Had actually been accused of this event, I would have asked how was I allowed enough time to undo my trousers to do such an act. The Houseparent had grabbed me almost the moment I had been found by her. It might have been quite possible that my trousers were soaked at the time my head went through the window.  I don’t think I had an accident in my pants but it could have easily happened; my thoughts and what I remembered were more on the pain from the glass splinters in my head than if I was wetting myself with fear.

When I had been dragged to the bath and the cold tap turned on to its full extent, there was a lot of water splashed about, if she needed any evidence of me soaking her, it was easy to find. On being taken to bed there did not seem to be a telling off other than for bullying the boy. If I had actually done such an act to her deliberately, everyone in the flat would have been told about it.

Had I been in dungarees and waterproofs the Houseparent could not have used this excuse. From that point on, I wore my dungarees for most of my play, with the length of time it took to get out of them, she would not be able to use that excuse again. If my punishment had been warranted over such a matter, why did she tell me that the whole matter should be forgotten about. The Houseparent wanted to make it up to me, during the next couple weeks there were no punishments of the slipper by her, even if I wet the bed.   

 

The Houseparent did try to calm me down at times. The younger boy in our room had a physiotherapy session before he went to bed, in the normal way our bedtimes would be around an hour apart. If the Houseparent was a little late, I would be getting ready for bed at the time his session was coming to an end.

The final part of his treatment was some medicine to help him have a peaceful nights sleep. I didn't get to know exactly what it was, but to him it seemed it was something he didn't want to take. Quite often in an effort to try and persuade him that if was fine, I was given the same dose, which appeared to get him to feel fine over taking it. To me the taste did not seem as bad as some of the other medicines he took, having only got a whiff of them, to me they seemed far more revolting.

The Houseparent solved two problems at once, it got the boy to take his medicine and me to be a little calmer.

On the mornings I woke up with a wet bed, I never realised that sometimes it might be after taking the medicine, and that it would prevent me from waking up during the night. Had I worked out it was causing many of my wet beds, I would also have put up a fight having to take it. Receiving the slipper was a bit of an ordeal, but I was in a far better mood after a full nights solid sleep.

CHANGE OF FLAT

  As well as the increase in the number of children in our flat, there was also an increase in animal numbers. There was a dog for the Houseparent, and guinea pigs and a rabbit for the younger children. At first, the younger children found their pets wonderful playthings; the actual cleaning out of the cages was not such a nice task for them.

My Saturday chore was now cleaning out the rabbit; I did not mind this. It was always surprising how much mess one rabbit could make. During the week, he was fed and watered, but on a Saturday a whole morning could be spent first cleaning out the cage, then removing all the used straw and other material, then cleaning down the entire patio. It was difficult to call me in to do other chores until I had completely finished my tasks. If there were puddles on the floor in the flat, the dog took all the blame.

The other major change to the flat was that we all moved downstairs when I was getting close to eleven years of age; the staff and almost everything in the flat came with us. A slightly different layout of the flat gave us one extra bedroom. At first I shared a room with the boy who was slightly older, the two eldest and the two youngest boys now having two rooms, the youngest girl not now having to share with her younger brother.

Within a short while it reverted to me looking after John in one room and the boy slightly older looking after the youngest boy had found the night coughing from John too upsetting.

Keeping things simple over the move was achieved by unscrewing the flat numbers and swapping them over. All mail still went to the correct address when it was worked out where each flat really was.

HELPING OTHER SISTERS
 

Helping with chores was not normally something you volunteered to do; the Sister or Houseparent normally found enough of these without the need to ask for more. It was however worth offering to do odd chores for other Sisters and the staff at the Home as odd extra treats could come your way. If you were playing anywhere near the administration block you risked being called to take messages to the staff or to find out the location of a member of staff.

From time to time items were donated to the Home; these could be clothing, toys, books, or various other objects that might make our lives more fun. Comics and annuals were something that I was interested in. On a few occasions I was close enough to the offices to see what might be taken inside, but not close enough to be found if simple messages needed to be relayed to members of the staff.

The best assortment on one occasion was when a pile of comics that must have been in an attic for many years was given to the Home. These comics from more than ten years ago had stories that I knew I had not read. I was not the only boy around and such gifts were meant to be evenly shared out – however as the comics were more story type rather than picture types there was not much interest from the others, so I was allowed to take as many as I could carry. There was a need to limit the amount to return to the flat with as your locker would not be allowed to overflow.

THE OUTSIDER

One problem I had was to have other children around me, having spent most of my time on my own other than during school time. My reaction to having to fit in with the group was not that successful.

When I was teased or wound up in some way, I had great difficulty keeping control; it might end in a fight, tantrum or tears. With not knowing how long I was going to be in the Home and the lack of freedom I was used to, it took very little to upset me.

I would have been far happier to be in the boarding school; although I might have been punished more often, life had seemed far more enjoyable. By now, I would have been in the middle or upper form and could really have had fun.

VISITS

 

I was the most fortunate in our group over the matter of visits. If things went smoothly then I could expect a visit every three weeks or so. If I had gone out of my way to be disruptive and upset the running of the family group at the Home, I could have easily expected that visits to be less frequent. As my mother had to spend a large amount of time looking after my grandmother, on certain occasions an expected visit might be delayed. It was disappointing but it soon could be made up. Others in the flat had either few or no visits. How they managed to keep happy with almost no contact was something that I could not understand.

I often managed to get longer periods away from the Home during the summer holidays. This was the period when I was happy; for most of the time I was out of the house. The confines of the Home made me take full advantage of my freedom. For my mother there was one extra bonus – for the full weeks I was away from the Home, the two pounds fee did not have to be paid to them. My food, pocket money and clothing that I needed during my holidays could soon use up the money my mother saved.

Visits from my mother took two forms. If there was enough time and my grandmother was in a reasonably stable condition then I would be collected on either a Friday evening or Saturday morning and taken to London; my return to the Home would be early Sunday evening. If my grandmother was not very well and needed quiet, I would simply get a visit from my mother mid-morning on a Saturday; I would have a day out with her instead of going back to London. These normally started out by visiting a small café near the school annexe. The treat was to have a rum-flavoured cake topped with a dollop of cream, and a cup of real coffee. Then it was a trip by bus to a nearby town. Money was not that plentiful, but during the trip out there was enough for lunch, and possibly tea and if I had been good, a small toy. If we did not go on a trip, we might visit one of my aunts and uncles. I would be spending my entire day in the same town as the Home, and could actually see my school from their window. I was never allowed to visit on my own during my stay at the Home. Getting away from the Home was all that mattered. I was slightly disappointed at not being taken back to London for the weekend but a day away from the Home and its stifling life was something I was quite happy with.

Visits to London were the treats that I really lived for. I tried to be good in front of my mother in an attempt or hope that she might decide that I could stay in London and not have to return to the Home. If I was just going away for the weekend, there was not the need to take any clothing with me, the shirt I was wearing to London might do for the return journey, or it could quickly be washed for my return on Sunday. There were a few play clothes that still fitted that were left in London, as I was aiming at some outdoor play during a visit it was necessary to take my wellingtons with me, to save carrying them I always wore them on my visits to and from London. On the half term or longer stays, I took some extra clothing in my case, just to allow a little more choice and for the general changes in the weather.

There was only one slight fear about visits back to London with my mother, on reaching eight my mother had told me that she would cane me if I wet the bed. Having now found out that Sister did not punish us for bed wetting, I did not want to return to punishments from my mother.

On my second visit back to London, I thought Sister must have told my mother about my bedwetting. I was now to take a spare rubber sheet back to London, this was to replace the rather small one I already had on my bed in London.

For visits to my mother as I would be traveling by train, Sister had told me to wear my waterproofs under my trousers just in case I did not manage to get to a lavatory during my journey. When it came to changing out of my best clothes when we arrived in London, I was a bit embarrassed when my mother saw the pants. I explained that all us youngsters wore them when we went on long coach or train rides. They were put in my case ready to take back to the Home.

At night without my mother knowing I put them on over a pair of swimming trunks under my pyjamas, in case of any accident. With the ability of been able to visit the lavatory when I wanted to on my visits to London, there were no problems, after a few visits I did not bother with them, but there was always slight fear in the back of my mind on my visits to London that I might get caned by her, the cane my grandmother had used on me at the age of five was still in the kitchen.

Sunday afternoons when it was time to get ready to return were always the worst. I tried to keep a brave face on it, but the thought of the boring and frustrating time ahead of me until the next visit did get me down. If I had played up at this point, I could guess that a decision might be made that perhaps visits back to London were not such a good idea and that it might be best if my stay at the Home became like the others’.

To the staff my trips to London enabled me to spend more time with my mother. In reality during my weekends and holidays in London, little time could be spent with my mother. My grandparents needed full-time attention, and other than the journey to and from the Home, my mother never really had the time off. I could stay indoors and keep quiet, but that would have been as dull as life at the Home. It was the chance of life in the normal world during the visits to London that helped me with my life. If I had been confined to the Home and did not get any visits or time away from the Home, there was a good chance I would have become a real problem.

Weekends in London although not pre-planned, were always mapped out in my mind with a range if things I could do depending on the weather and if the adults had any plans. If I had returned to London on the Friday night then Saturday morning at the earliest opportunity I could be free as soon as breakfast was over. Saturday morning cinema was my main activity. It might have been odd but although there was a cinema in the town where the Home was, our lives seemed to be organised so that it was only on very rare occasions that it was ever visited, and then only as a family group at Christmas. With our number, we could have always organised a sell-out on a Saturday morning, which most of us would have been willing to spend our pocket money on.

Only managing to get to London at odd weekends, I was certainly at a disadvantage when it came to the serials, but as there was an introduction at the start, it was possible to make up for the missing episodes. Joining the queue to get into the cinema was a little odd. I seemed to revert to being one of the local London kids. A child on their own would soon be picked on. However I found it quite easy to find other boys around my own age, and although I might not have seen them before, gaining temporary membership in their gang for the morning was fun. In the Saturday morning cinema, there were two distinct groups; there were the cinema staff and any older children that had gained the coveted free admission to be monitors against the rest of us.

Sundays were mine until about four o’clock. This was the point when I had to have returned home; miss this deadline and all the following Sundays in London would have been miserable. Cinemas opened late on Sunday afternoons so that was normally out. Swimming first thing in the morning and a visit to an outdoor market, were often how my freedom was spent that day.

Life in London was so different. During my activities, the Home became only a vague memory; it was so odd to experience all this freedom of the sights and interest, then to have two or more weekends when almost every moment of your time was organised in a way that allowed you no freedom. I could have quite happily gone for a long walk in the area surrounding the Home on my own without causing any problems at all. Confined inside the Home was so frustrating, when it was possible at other moments to have such freedom. The late afternoon of a Sunday could come round so suddenly. The return by train seemed to pass in no time, then it was into the Home and life was back to normal.

 

Once alone in London, there were always interesting things to do. On visiting playgrounds and the like, I found it quite easy to merge in with the local boys of my own age. We did get up to some mischief, but nothing serious was ever attempted. London in the mid 1960s for boys was similar in appearance to the London that boys of our age found at the end of the war. Large areas had been cleared for redevelopment. Although often fenced off to keep the likes of us away, there were few fences that could keep a determined boy out. Weekends were often the best for such exploration; there was seldom any work going on at the building sites so we had relative freedom of what we wanted to do.

New buildings that were being constructed were seldom of much interest to me; old abandoned buildings that were days away from being demolished were far more fun. With care, we could play as we liked. We might keep a few bonfires going, but we never decided to set fire to any of the buildings simply because there was so much fun to be had whilst they still stood upright.

Salvage companies had often arrived before us. Some of the buildings could have been dangerous; that they had removed all the floorboards was simply a challenge. The ability to hop from one joist to another above a large drop to the floor below was fun.

The houses had often been in occupation until quite recently. Families moved out and often left all manner of junk behind. Some of the local boys were good at collecting anything that looked to be of any value and would then take it down to the local markets; the rest of us regarded odd items of cracked and unwanted china as playthings. Dropping china and glass on the floor on purpose was strange – often it never broke and we had to put more physical force into actually smashing them.

The adults also scavenged lead and copper pipes; some of the houses we explored had water running from the walls. The best finds were in houses where there was flooding in the basements and cellars. If some floorboards had already been removed, then light helped us in our search for treasure and adventure. If it was total darkness then assortments of battery-powered torches and lit candles were used. It was simply down to luck that we never found a cellar into which gas had escaped.

Stepping onto the floors of cellars even if you wore your wellingtons was always a bit of a risk; you simply did not know the depth of the water in the building. At first we might test the depth of water with a stick. After a time this would get boring; you would then take a chance. Old play clothes were the best type of clothing for such activities, although most of us would normally have liked to wear long trousers or jeans; there was a definite advantage in shorts when the water was up to your knees. By the time most of us returned to our homes there was little evidence to where we had been. Ordinary play in playgrounds and the like seemed to satisfy most parents as to acquisition of dirt.

Only at one point did I nearly meet with a serious accident. We had clambered across a row of garages that adjoined a group of houses that had just become abandoned. In our rush to get at this new site, we were in a little bit of a hurry; cutting a corner of the final garage, I went across an asbestos roof. Like someone sinking into a frozen pond that was giving way, I was slowly disappearing. With luck I managed to get to the side without going completely in. The drop would have been about ten feet; although I might not have suffered any major injury, getting me out would have proved a challenge to the boys I was with.

One item we did take that was not really abandoned was lengths of rope. Hung from trees and high buildings all manner of play activities could be thought up. Possibly the adults soon claimed them back, but to us that was fair; all we did was hunt the next one down.

Commercial buildings proved equally interesting. The Underground station at Swiss Cottage had stood for many years; owing to redevelopment, a newer updated station had been built a short distance away underground. The old station building above ground still functioned, with a small group of shops surrounding the building; it slowly seemed to fade away until finally the metal panelling to keep the public out went up. Part of the building was soon demolished, however the vast carcass seemed to stay untouched. We never regarded ourselves as the public; the old shops were the first to explore. All the stock had gone but there were plenty of odd finds available; clean cardboard and paper to draw on was my main acquisition. We did have fun in the shop that repaired and sold umbrellas. Several damaged and uncompleted umbrellas made marvellous swords; no injuries were achieved even though our play had been quite violent.

The floors above the station were a mess: stacks of old newspapers, books and other rubbish were all over the place. If we helped clear up the place it was to throw all this stuff onto the stairwells and then slide down the pile. With the amount of paper and cardboard, we found it was quite a soft landing. A group of lavatories to us were asking to be smashed up. The water had been turned off and anything of remote value had already been removed. Smashing such heavy objects up was actually exhausting. Our final act was to smash a couple of the remaining plate glass windows in the arcade that had survived the demolition by the workers on the site. These were not the largest windows, but when eventually we did manage to get a brick through, the sound in this desolate arcade was deafening. Departing quickly was a wise move.

 

If I had a whole day to myself, the Zoo in Regent’s Park was one place I could visit. The cost to get in would take most of my pocket money, but if I had sandwiches and a drink my duffle bag, the day could go without further expense other than the bus fare home. Often I made a first quick tour round the Zoo. There were notices as to the times animals were fed, and returning at the correct time often brought much more interesting sights, rather than the normal points in the day when most animals seemed to be more or less asleep.

The vultures were the best of the birds to watch. On one visit when the keeper was feeding them, I was the only one watching this activity. Perhaps the keeper was a little worried that I might be upset at the sight of the food going into the cage, and asked if I wanted to go and find my parents. I was quite happy to watch the birds come down and squabble over the food.

The advantage of visiting the Zoo on my own was that I did get to visit parts that family groups did not see. In the Lion House, I was allowed to go and visit the rear of the building; wearing an old raincoat and wellingtons,  no harm could come to my clothes. This part of the Zoo was not as clean or as fresh as the front of the cages, but as long as I was quiet and did not make any sudden movements, I was quite safe. The big cats were far more active in this area.

 

Coin-operated machines were always of interest to me. If I was in London and had a little pocket money, any machine was a good bet as to where it would soon go. Everything from an automated snack bar, where to obtain food or drink you needed to put money in a slot, vending machines that dispensed cartons of orange squash or milk, and a cinema where hot dogs came from a vending machine.

One machine that was always a regular interest to me was the automatic photo booth. Adults might have thought the odd half-crown that I used up to get four or five pictures of myself, might have been a waste of my pocket or birthday money. I can now see this was money well spent. Over the period I was in the Home and had used these machines when I was in London, I probably had over a hundred pictures of myself. Many were discarded over the following months, but the few that survived can show a small boy having some fun. Without these images, all that would be available from my time in care would be a single photo from the Growth Study Test and one photo holding a chimp from my holiday stay in London during Christmas.

 

On some occasions, I did put my suit on if I was going out on my own. A slightly longer bus ride than visiting the park took me into the centre of London. The shops I could visit if I was smartly dressed were far more than if had I gone dressed in my play clothes.

I often had money to spend in the period after Christmas and my birthday. Once I had reached nine, it was thought I was old enough to decide what I spent it on; if I wasted it then that would be my own fault. There was little need to tell me not to buy toys that might be dangerous; guns and other fighting items were things I would not be spending my money on. As I already possessed a spirit-fired steam engine on a plinth, it might be felt that there was little else that I could buy that would be more dangerous.

Another toy I had in London was a chemistry set complete with test tubes, a burner and a small assortment of chemicals. In the instructions somewhere was possibly the wording that adult supervision was recommended for certain age groups. As my mother had little free time, I was allowed to work through the experiment book on my own. Once this was completed, I set about my own inventions. The most dangerous one was heating half a test tube of oil until it vaporised and then setting light to the gas. Certain household chemicals when mixed and burnt could have other interesting results.

Even when funds were limited, it was interesting to go round the large department stores on my own. Without my mother, I was able to go to the sections of the store I was interested in and take more time, rather than the quick glimpse that I might have in the normal way. It was not only the toy sections that I visited. As I was smartly dressed, the clothing section for boys was something I quite easily matched for quality of appearance in a few of the top stores. The staff realised that a boy in a suit and wearing clean mud free wellingtons must have a parent close by, so I was left alone without getting asked what I wanted, rather than a general kid that had just wanted into the store. Some of the clothing for boys in the stores was what I could only wish for, but to most of my friends the clothing would be regarded as soppy; even if I did have such things, I would never be able to wear them in front of them.

My mother only had a limited amount of time to be away from the house. If I needed clothes or the like during the holidays, spending time with me going shopping was always a problem. With me not spending much time with my mother, it was often noticed that I had grown an inch or so since she had last checked my height. It was now thought that, within reason, I was old enough to buy clothes for myself. Before I left the house there was always the instruction of what I was to buy, and as if to reinforce the instruction it was noted on a piece of paper, which I should show to a member of staff. If I purchased something not on the list or chose something unsuitable then my next pocket money would be used to purchase the correct item. I knew that this would happen if I did ever try something silly.

As I was on my own, it was up to me where I looked for clothing. Some of the more expensive shops did at times have clothes at reasonable prices. Although my mother set a limit for the purchase and did not give me any more money than was necessary, I was to obtain a receipt and return any change to her. If I had been a girl, then fashion might have played a major part over my choices. To me it was just purchasing items that were more traditional and dull in colour. Something that was modern and brightly coloured was not my idea of clothing I wanted to be seen in.

I was well behaved and did not cause any trouble. A couple of the stores had food halls; many of the items on offer would not have been of any interest to most children of my age, but on occasions small samples were on offer to passing customers. Never really a glutton, I could not resist many of the offerings. If I surprised the adults, it was that the delicacies that they produced were actually to my liking.

 

The other interesting form of play was visiting playgrounds. The standard types that had slides and other play equipment were seldom bothered with on my visits to London. I preferred adventure playgrounds. These could spring up on various undeveloped building sites for short periods and were the most interesting to me. Often there was some adult involvement in the running of the playgrounds. This was mainly to stop total anarchy but, within reason, we were given a free hand to what we did and constructed in a playground. To many adults these playgrounds were nothing more than glorified rubbish dumps. Wood and sheets of corrugated iron were used to construct things that seemed to have little merit on design. For most of us, that we were allowed to construct play equipment and items totally to our own designs was the main object. Students and adults in the holidays often did help us over some of the major items. A rope swing on a pulley might be twenty feet in the air and travel for thirty yards. This needed some expert help if it was to remain safe for any length of time, but in the main we were left alone, and anyone misbehaving was told to go away.

There were a few minor injuries; these were mostly splinters and minor cuts owing to the salvaged materials we were using for our construction, but no serious injuries were really sustained. To the adults this form of play possibly was slightly safer than allowing us free rein over the local redevelopment sites. Our material that we used in the adventure sites often came from buildings that were soon to be demolished. Some of it was scrounged by us and other items were brought into the playground in more controlled amounts. The adventure playground in St. Johns Wood was slightly fortunate as an additional source of unusual material; a small film studio almost directly opposite did seem to give us on occasions all manner of odd items to make use of.

London was a smokeless zone; it was hoped to control the numbers of bonfires that were in use. On most days, a small bonfire was kept going with all the offcuts of wood and cardboard that we did not have a use for, and as long as we did not allow the fires to be out of control or to make large amounts of smoke, the adults used to allow this form of play. If only the Home could have allowed these freedoms for us to make an adventure playground, life would not have been so boring.

 

My ability to become injured whilst at play in London was equal to that at the Home. Often on my eventual return, there would be the odd grazes and cuts to be cleaned up. Injuries in London though seemed less painful as the injury had long since passed when I eventually arrived indoors.

The most serious happened when I had been playing on a few abandoned cars with some local boys in an area that was ready for redevelopment. We were aware of the broken glass and did try to avoid cutting ourselves. It was at the front of an intact car that I injured myself. At some point I slipped and my hand went into one of the headlights on a car. I must have done it with quite some force as the lamp shattered. Until this point, we had always found it a difficult challenge to lob stones at headlights until they smashed, but this time it broke quite easily. The pain was not that bad. It was the lump of glass that was sticking out of my hand when I removed it from the lamp that was the more revolting sight. Without any real pain I pulled the splinter of glass out; the spurt of blood that followed the glass was possibly my best effort yet. The boys I was with suggested that I ought to go home. During my walk home, I took a closer look at my cut; if I pushed the triangular flap of skin back into position the blood did stop, but it then hurt. I walked the mile home, leaving a small trail of blood on the ground. Once home I was soon cleaned and bandaged up.

 

If I wanted to explore, the Underground gave me the most freedom. With this form of railway transport, there were only two points where adults might inspect your ticket. This was at the very start of your journey and at the very end when you left the station. Unlike an ordinary railway, all the lines interconnect, so it was not only possible to get from one end of the line to another but to swap over onto different lines and travel in various directions. In reality, you were only permitted to travel the distance of the train ride that you had paid for. If I was bending the rules slightly in that I was actually travelling to the destination I had paid for, it was just that I took a rather indirect route. A day could be spent travelling wide across London and into the more remote country areas.

I soon learnt that it was best to stick to the more populated areas for this type of travel. Some of the more remote stations only got occasional trains. If you got off at one of these stations, it was often a long wait between trains. A double platform, and it was quite easy to return in the opposite direction. If it was a station with two separate platforms, it was necessary to go through a ticket inspection. All I was able to do was to wait for a train to take me a little further up the line, making sure I never arrived at the final station where ticket inspection was inevitable. At certain days of my exploration, I did buy a Rover ticket; this allowed me unlimited travel on buses and the Underground. I could stop and start my journeys at any point.

As I was always on my own when I went on these longer journeys, adults never questioned me over what my intentions were; it was when I was with friends that we seemed to be watched carefully by the adults. I tried to travel to as many parts of the network as possible. It was quite an easy feat for the more built-up areas, but in the almost country areas the delay in the returning trains and buses wasted too much of the time that the ticket was valid for.

 

MANY HAPPY RETURNS
 

There was a new event for me at the age ten: a birthday party. Until now, constant relocations really prevented any gatherings of friends. The Houseparent had decided that I could have a birthday party in the flat, and invite a friend from school who was not at the Home. There had not before been the possibility of a birthday party at the Home, as my visits to London had coincided with my birthdays. This year I was going to have a party, but it would be a few days after my birthday, when I returned from my holidays in London.

It was an easy choice of who would come as my guest. If my friend was a little apprehensive of accepting the invitation, it was due to the odd tales that he had been told about the Home, though most of these were exaggerated. Reassurance that he would be free to leave at the end of the party gained the acceptance.  After all, we all left the Home to go to local schools, and he would have been able to gain his freedom the following morning.

Many friends from school would have liked to enter the grounds to see what the Home was really like, but apart from an open day when everything was made to look attractive, they never saw the boring everyday routine.

The day came, and as normal I was quite excited. As a special treat my mother had been allowed to attend. This was possible as my party was on the same day that I returned from London. The Houseparent seemed to find an extra pair of hands very useful as the helper’s day off and my party coincided.

Birthday parties were generally more relaxed times, and with a wide range of ages in the flat, activities and games had to be organised so that no one group seemed to be left out. I was always at a difficult age, neither one of the older ones, nor one of the younger ones.

The Houseparent had worked out how the party was to run, at what point food would come out, when games were played, and at what time the party was to end. It was a full and hectic event, and with the need to keep an eye on the younger members of the group and see that they went to bed at a regular time, perhaps the party finished earlier than had it been designed for my age group or older. All had fun; even my school friend seemed to find the rather well–organised style of life interesting.

A memorable souvenir of the event was to receive from my guest a quality fountain pen as a present, far better than the ballpoint pens provided by the school or the fountain pens that could be afforded with ordinary pocket money. Any hope from the adults that my writing would improve with the use of a better pen was short lived; my style of writing remained the slightly shaky scrawl that was to be found in most of my workbooks.

SUMMER 1967

 

My summer holidays in London had been interrupted by returning to the Home so I could go on a group holiday with the others. The older boys went off to scout camp so really it was not the entire family group. It was thought that a holiday by the seaside would be something I would not want to miss. Whilst for all the others a trip to the seaside was a new experience, for me, although it could be fun, it was nothing new; I had spent two years by the sea before coming to the Home.

Having to return from London was perhaps not that much fun. If the holiday was to start badly the journey was by road. Car and coach travel have never been my favourite method of travel due to travel sickness. We travelled up in a car and a small van; most of the journey for me was in the van peering out of the small back window trying not to feel sick.

Holland on Sea was our destination. By late afternoon we had arrived at the small bungalow on the top of the cliffs where we were going to stay. We were told not to wander off. There was a short trip down to the beach for a quick look around and then it was back to the bungalow to sort out everything.

Along with the Houseparent, a married couple were going to help look after us during the holiday. At this point, I was allowed to eat and generally became happier with the holiday. The sleeping arrangements for us children were on thin waste–cotton filled mattresses, placed on the floor in various parts of the bungalow. The adults had proper beds. I was going to share the room of the married couple; it was thought I would be the quietest of the group and not want to spend the night chattering. After a light supper we all went off to bed; it appeared the sooner we were asleep, the sooner the next day would start. I was quite happy sleeping in a room on my own; at some later point the married couple must have gone to bed, but I was not woken.

The following morning I did wake up quite early. It was not really dawn, but just starting to show the first stages of daylight. The curtain was partly open together with a window that was slightly ajar. My mattress had been placed under this window. It was not really raining outside, but a slight drizzle was allowing the odd drop of rain in from the open gap. I thought about closing the window, but as it was something that I had not really seen as to how it worked, I decided that I might make a noise and wake the couple up.

My other thought was on visiting the lavatory. I was not desperate to go but had I been in my own bedroom, I could have left the room without waking anyone up. With my mattress being positioned at the furthest point from the door and not knowing the layout of the room, I decided to wait until it was lighter so I could see my way out. Soon I was asleep again. When I woke up again it was still not fully light, there was the feeling of drops of rain hitting my head, but I also knew my bed was wet. The trouble I would be in for wetting the bed would be later. I went back to sleep until it was time to get up.

I could have not have chosen a worse time to wet the bed. Unlike the Home, our mattresses here did not have a rubber sheet on top to give protection from accidents. That I had managed to soak the mattress through to the other side seemed to be a major wrongdoing. This was not the best way to start the holiday.

There was no time to punish me. I was soon in the bathroom with the bath running at full flow. In the Home, the hot water supply varied from day to day, one large boiler feeding twelve flats on one side of the grounds; it could be temperamental over its supply and on many occasions if too much hot water was used by all the flats, the temperature dropped considerably. Here the hot water came from a tank that had been heating up during the night. The bathwater was hot, although cold water was running into the bath at the same time. When I was ordered into the bath, it was far hotter than usual. Within moments I was in tears owing to its temperature, with the bath being quite full there was no room to add any extra cold water. I was told off for acting like a baby. Eventually I was allowed out of the bath, and whilst I dried myself off, the Houseparent went off to get my clothes.

During breakfast my accident was revealed to all and that I had ruined a mattress. We were all reminded that before going to bed, we should make sure we visited the lavatory. If there were any more bedwetting, part of our holiday money would be used to purchase rubber sheets for those that needed them. If only I had not been made to come on this holiday, life would have been much more fun.

 

Another disappointment for me was later that morning. We were all bought ice creams; this was something we rarely had at the Home. The excitement did not last for me. How I bumped into one of the girls I did not know; it was a total accident, her ice cream fell onto the grass and was ruined. The worst part was that we had only just received them and had managed about two licks each. Instead of accepting my word that it was an accident, my ice cream was removed from my hand and given to the girl – life was not fair.

The Houseparent took me to an empty room. Even as this was a holiday, I was not going to be allowed to disrupt it for others. The slipper for wetting the bed was not very hard and soon over. At least I was not receiving any extra hits for the ice cream event, but it was enough for me to hate this holiday.

Whilst the others were indoors playing games, I was now sent outside to sit by the side of the building to think about whether I wanted to improve my behaviour. Keeping out of the others’ way whilst I got over my tears was a good idea, which were more over the loss of my ice cream rather than the slipper for wetting the bed. It would have only taken one of them to tease me, for me to lose my temper.

That night my mattress was moved into the hall. Even with it staying out of doors for the day it had not dried out.  After been in my bed for a short while, I could feel the dampness of the mattress. The following morning when the Houseparent checked my bed, she saw the dampness of my lower sheet and pyjamas, I was given the slipper. It was pointless arguing that I had not wet the bed, the punishment would only have been increased.

The third night I woke up when it was still dark, with my bed now in the hall, it would have been quite easy for me to have walked along the corridor to the lavatory. My mattress was still damp from the original accident. When we got up, the chances were that I would be give the slipper again. There was little point in getting out of bed for a pee, my mattress was soon soaked again. Having already been told I had ruined the mattress after the first night, I knew that I could not do any more damage, so I was not worried over a new accident. When we were back at the Home, some of my pocket money would be stopped to pay for a replacement mattress. On getting up, I was given the slipper, and told once I had finished my bath, to put the mattress and my sheets outside; it was thought pointless giving me any clean sheets.

The threat by the Houseparent of using our holiday fund to purchase rubber sheets did not happen after one of the other boys wet his bed. It was really too late to buy us a rubber sheet as we had already ruined our mattresses. For the rest of the holiday his soaked mattress was placed at the end of the hall next to mine as a punishment. Both of us wet our beds most nights due to their continual dampness; in the morning we dragged our mattresses outside to dry off slightly.

The Houseparent was kind to me over my bedwetting during this holiday.  Often if I was given the slipper I might be in tears.  Although the punishment of the slipper was still given, all the punishments were very light, not hard enough even to make me upset, but loud enough to let all the others know I was punished over my actions. They seemed to take great enjoyment during the holiday of peering around the corners in the bungalow and watch the Houseparent slipper me.

  At odd times the holiday was fun. When taken down to the beach there were several activities. We were told off for prodding a seal that had died quite some time ago and had turned to a hard lump of skin. A couple of donkey rides were organised for the youngest members of the group; ponies were available for anyone too large to fit on a donkey. I was the only one to take up this offer.

Nearly all my holiday pocket money went on this activity during our stay. I was a bit of a nuisance at times, when group activities or food was organised; I was at the opposite end of the beach on a pony. The owner of the ponies gave me longer rides as there was not a parent around waiting for the ride to end. It appeared if one child was already on a pony, it was a good way of drawing other children in. I was not in any hurry to get back to the rest of the group.

  During the holiday, some of our holiday fund was pooled together to buy a kite. The big black pirate kite would have been a wonderful toy to have in the grounds of the Home with its vast space. Where our holiday bungalow was, there was not enough room to run to allow the kit to be airborne easily. Eventually the kite was up in the air. Strong winds made it unmanageable, and within a short while it had tangled itself around some wires that ran high across from some wooden poles. Possibly it was luck that the string snapped as soon as the kite became tangled. It was doubtful if the wires were for telephones to the holiday bungalows. Our flat could have had one less returning depending what the voltage in the wires had been.

The final morning had two of us taking our matresses to the end of the garden where the rubbish for collection was stored, we had damaged them beyond any further use. There was the comment from the Houseparent that next year we should both need to remember to bring our rubber sheets with us.

On the next visit my mother paid to the Home, the Houseparent wasted no time in reporting my bedwetting every night and all my other faults during the holiday. During the journey back to London, my mother questioned me why I had wet the bed every night. All I could say was that it had not been every night. Any hope of my mother thinking I was old enough to go without a rubber sheet on my bed in London now vanished forever, even though I had not had any problems during my visits home.

Every boy had a rubber sheet on the bed
 

On one of the camping trips we had gone on, the rooms were ready for us, every bed had a rubber sheet on it. As the Houseparent was not there, I had no worries about any punishment for wetting the bed.
The adults were ready for all our night problems, like many of the other boys, our only task in the morning was to wipe down our rubber sheets and put our sheets or sleeping bags into soak.

 

BULLIES
 

Bullies came in two groups. There were the ones that thought it was fun to make a smaller or younger child’s life a misery, and the other sort that might be helping someone else even up a score. If you had older friends or means of rewarding a bully it was quite easy to get an enemy sorted out. Often your foe would never know it was you who caused their misery.

Telling an adult about such actions was never any good; later on when the wrongdoer had been punished the accuser would be dealt with. I had the advantage of being a fast runner. Often labelled a coward I could often outrun my pursuer and let easier targets be found. If you did tell on someone and the staff found them innocent, you would be punished instead, and would later receive a thumping from the boy who had been found innocent.

 

Firework night could allow bullies to have fun under the cover of darkness. A large bonfire and firework display was arranged in the grounds each year. For several weeks we scrounged all form of burnable material for the bonfire. If the groundsman helped, it was by diverting the rubbish that would normally have gone to the incinerator, to our pile.

The adults thought we should not possess any fireworks. The older boys managed to obtain bangers from friends at school, and then would sell them at a slight profit to younger boys, allowing more fireworks to be purchased. During daylight hours, we experimented with the bangers by taking them apart and piling the contents up, before having the courage to light the loose gunpowder without getting singed; or accepting the dare to hold a banger in your gloved hand whilst someone lit it.

On the actual night we started off in the family groups, but soon after the bonfire was lit, the older boys started to drift away from their own group. Their fun would be with the remaining fireworks; letting them off behind unsuspecting younger children was their idea of fun, and in the darkness they could not be identified.

The only injury I experienced was not my fault. An older boy had a firework that was a rather feeble Roman candle you could hold in your hand; this showered a fairly meek spurt of sparks out of the end; rather one of the more elaborate type that had to be put in the ground. Totally bored with his few seconds of fun, it was decided to see if the firework could provide more enjoyment for him. The end was not hot, only warm to the touch. Stuffing it inside the leg of my wellington was a minor prank. Had the firework been completely finished it would have only caused slight discomfort. In its inverted position, one final burst of sparks was the result.

One of the other Sisters came to my rescue. It was not long before I was in the hospital at the Home, with all the others who had been injured that night. The main injuries seemed to be burns from sparklers. The Nursing Sister with many years experience was always ready and waiting for the stream of minor injuries that visited her.

My injury seemed to tie for worst of the night with a boy who had been hit with a piece of burning wood. As he needed more urgent attention, once my charred sock had been peeled off my leg and the inside of my wellington, I was sat on a chair with my foot in a large bucket of cold water. Within a short time I was given full attention by the Nursing Sister; it was at this moment that Sister arrived. There was more pain from her telling off than from the Nursing Sister putting a dressing over my burn. Not wanting to get anyone in trouble, it was easier for me to admit that I had been foolish with fireworks rather than someone had caused the accident. The only punishment was that next year I would be staying indoors, and not going to the firework party. Once in the flat, it was bed before the others arrive back. The following day it was returning to the Nursing Sister for a fresh dressing. Not making a fuss over the matter seemed to end the event.

BLAME

 

One game everyone played was to try to get someone else blamed when things went wrong. If you were seen to be good then life was easy; get blamed for problems and life at the Home could be awful.

One of the helpers tried to get us interested in modelling with clay. If we achieved a reasonable item, she knew someone who would be able to fire the work to preserve it. It was similar to school only there, the teacher in charge deemed few items suitable. To see an afternoon’s hard work rejected and thrown in the clay bin on regular occasions was a little disheartening. The efforts we achieved at the Home were worth firing for posterity. They were put safe in the utility room to dry out before transporting to the kiln when dry.

The following morning I was set upon by both the Houseparent and the Helper. Our work that had been put safe to dry out now had some new additions. Many of our items had been mugs or plates. Nearly all of them had comments engraved into the soft clay such as ‘poor work’, ‘must try harder’, ‘failure’ and similar comments. One item however had the words ‘Good achievement’ neatly engraved onto its flat surface.

My offering was the only item to get praise; to me it was clear that someone was trying to get the blame put on me. The adults could not see this; the work of the words had to have been done by me. I tried to argue that it was not me, but I was the one in line for punishment. If only the adults had realised that the engraving could not have been mine, the lettering was too neat, and a word like ‘achievement’ was one that although I might know, I would have never have attempted to spell. As a punishment, I was given four hits with the slipper. The items we had made were thrown away; the clay sessions never restarted.

 I was told that if there were any more problems of mischief at night, I would get the slipper again. Leaving my room at night after the Houseparent had gone to bed now became a risky business. If there were any problems caused by the others during the night, I was going to be in trouble and receive four hits with the slipper for any misdeeds that she found as I had been out of bed, or to stay in bed and accept two hits for a wetting it. Half my bedwetting was now down to finding out that the older ones had been out of bed, my fear of receiving the four hits, made me simply wet the bed while I was awake, knowing that I would not be able to hold on until morning.

 

As one of the youngest, it was quite easy for the others to put the blame on me for any bad behaviour. Two older ones blaming a younger one, it was easy to see which the Sister or Houseparent would believe.

As some point, some of the family group were acting out a scene from a film we had all been taken to, where an umbrella was used to make a person fly through the air. We did have enough common sense not to leap off our balcony using the younger girl’s umbrella in the hope it would allow us to fly. On the ground, the older boys had attempted to see if simply jumping up in the air would allow a moment of flight. The umbrella went inside out; during an attempt to put it back into shape it fell apart. The decision to give it to me ended their responsibility with it. The umbrella’s owner had seen it go inside out and was now upset. It was not long before the adults found out about the latest problem, as I was the last one having hold of it, I must have been the one to damage it.

If the girl had said it was the older ones that did the damage, I would have been believed when I said that I was not the one to break it. On questioning the older ones about who was responsible, all denied causing the breakage. As usual, I was in trouble. Once the hits from the slipper were over, I was informed that I would have to pay for a replacement. Pocket money for the next few weeks was reduced until the price of a new one was made up. A few things like this set me against almost every member of the family group.

 

One matter that could cause me to become angry was when I was told that I was wrong and I thought I was right and often could even prove it. On returning from a visit to London, my mother might bring a few odd little items for the younger members of the family. They were never anything major, but just a small token gift.

On one occasion around Christmas, she brought a couple of novelty gift tubes. Slightly bigger than a cracker, when a metal ring was pulled at the bottom of the tube, several small toys were fired out of the other end. There was a clear warning not to look at the top as you fired the tube. To make sure everything went without any problem, my mother set the tube off in front of the younger ones, and allowed them to hunt for the odd little gifts and paper bits that were showered across the room. The tubes had come in packs of two so my mother handed the other tube to the Houseparent, as she might like to set it off when the entire family were around.

The tube was put safe by the Houseparent and forgotten about during the first few days of Christmas. When it was brought out, it was mentioned by the Houseparent that she had something else for us. At this moment, I did not get into a rage. What did set me off was when the Houseparent peeled away the paper covering the top and tipped the small selection of little toys onto the table. I spoke up saying that she was meant to have pulled the little ring at the base of the tube, to shower the gifts into the air. I now received a telling off for trying to tell an adult how to open something.

I sulked with rage until we left the table; the tube was left on the table and I retrieved it. Pointing it away from my face, I pulled the little ring. The tube now fired, and although, the toys were now gone, a small stream of paper objects came out. If I had waited until the Houseparent had completely left, everything would have been fine. Now I was told off for playing with the tube and sent to my room for a short while for my disobedience. This was another part of Christmas at the Home that I disliked.

FOOD
 

My views on the food at the Home did get me into trouble at one point. Normally on the days Sister was on duty, we knew exactly what was on offer. With Sister’s years of experience, she knew what we liked and disliked and to balance a meal so that at least there was something that was liked by each of us. My comment to a friend as we walked back to the Home, was that tonight was a day when the relief was in charge of the meals, and on those nights the meals were not very good. A friend from the Home would have known not to let the comment go any further; he did not live at the Home but his mother worked part-time there. Within a couple of days, the Houseparent cornered me. It appeared that my comments had been mentioned to his mother, who in turn had passed them on to her. Now I was questioned as to what I did not like about the meals. I was more used to savoury tastes and the like. The meals here were designed for the average sweet-toothed child, and possibly were not for the likes of me. For my tea, if there had been cheese on toast, Welsh rarebit or more savoury items, I would have been far happier with that style of meal rather than something more elaborate. For the rest of the day it appeared I was not in favour and was set extra chores.

 

Sister had a simple rule: if it was on your plate, you ate it. If she knew that there were certain items you did not like, then the portion size of the item was reduced, but it was very rare that an item was left off your plate simply because you did not like it

My main hate was parsnips; for some reason the taste really revolted me. During Sunday lunch, this hated vegetable often appeared at the best meal of the week. The only way I could find of eating this item was to cover it in salt and eat it with an item that took part of the taste away.

After the Houseparent took over from Sister, our meals changed slightly. There was a little more freedom of what was not eaten. That good food was going to waste was not so much of an ordeal. On occasions, the Houseparent demanded that something was finished. It could turn into a battle of wills.

With Sister, the offending item would be taken away to reappear at the following meal; once eaten the normal meal could continue. This was only bothered with if the uneaten item could remain fresh enough. Extra chores would be found for you over any item that could not be saved.

The Houseparent seemed to find that sitting at the table after the meal and looking at the item, often had the desired result. If you wanted to go out to play or watch television, then finishing the meal under her watchful eye was possible. It was mainly the younger ones who suffered this punishment. If you were on washing up, watching someone face a pile of cold cabbage, seemed to make your chore last even longer. If we did try to help in the odd moments when the Houseparent was distracted, it was to remove part of the pile from the plate. Had we thrown it in the bin, the crime would have been found out; mixing it in with some dirty washing-up water made it look as if it had come off several plates.

On the days we were not able to help, we often finished our chore before the offending plate was cleared. For the person sat at the table, making excuses that they had to visit the lavatory never worked. The only real solution after making this request was to be either sick or allow a puddle to form under the chair. Then the item did not have to be finished but the mess that was made had to be cleared up. If the washing up was still in progress, those were involved in that task were the ones to clear up the mess.

  Most of the time our food was perfectly fine for growing children. All our meals were well balanced; compared with our friends at school, we were probably better fed than they were. On the housekeeping side there was a budget to keep to, so it was not possible to follow all the requests of a child for the latest item that arrived on the food front.

The only food that really was poor was bread. Often during the warm summer, the sliced wrapped loaves could soon turn mouldy. When the Home had baked its own bread there had never been a problem. Often at the weekend, the modern style sliced bread could be found to have mould growing almost as fast as you looked at it, but once toasted it was fine. One thing I had already learnt was that any food having a minor amount of mould is fine to eat; if it’s too mouldy and walking faster than you, then possibly it’s too far gone.

One change was that there were far more sweet items served at meals than I was used to. The best pudding in my mind was trifle. If it was a day old and had been kept in the larder, the fruit had a slight tang to the taste, and this was when I enjoyed it best. Most of the others did not seem to share my taste over the fermenting fruit.

I was greedy only on one occasion; it was having an extra portion of a pink milk pudding. It was on Saturday lunchtime shortly before we were all taken on a shopping trip into town. Although I had not felt unwell when we set out, the walk so soon after lunch upset my stomach. It was just luck that when I was sick it was on the pavement; had it been inside a shop, there would have been a good chance that I never was allowed to eat another pudding.

Some of the food that did come our way was quite luxurious by our standards. The Home had an arrangement with one of the famous named supermarkets in town. On a Saturday afternoon, the van from the Home went down and collected any food that had reached the date marked on the packet. Once back at the Home the Sisters were allowed to make their selection from the wide assortment of items that would not appear in their normal food allocation. If I developed two favourites, it was for cheese and onion crisps plus sugar-coated jelly babies.

Several savoury items occasionally appeared in the selection, often disliked by the majority of the household; it was a nice treat when either Sister or the Houseparent brought back something where I became almost the only recipient other than the adults. Sometimes it was simply the name on the product that put the ­others off; if they had tried the cheesecake they might have found that it was not really like cheese as they knew it.

There was once an item I was pleased to see at the Home – real coffee. This was with us for only a very short perio­d; the Houseparent had acquired a couple of tins of ground coffee. Other than the Houseparent, ­I was the only one who ­liked the real coffee to drink. On a few days that I was thought to have been good, I was allowed a cup. A few simple luxuries like this and my life could have been wonderful.

MEDICAL RESEARCH

 

Our regular visits for the Growth Study Tests every three months were welcomed by most of us. An entire morning off school was something of a treat.
Part of the old school at Highfield was used for our tests. Since the school had closed down, two thirds of the building was now used as a main hall for various group meetings, the reaming third of the hall had been turned into the specialist area for our medical tests. The medical part of the hall was only use for these tests and was closed off when not in use.
On the days we were to be tested, we left our flats instead of heading off to school we went to the medical part of the hall, only about 15% of the children at our Home were involved with the tests, in any one session there were normally only about 8 to 10 to be seen at any one time, boys were seen separately from girls, so there was no problem in entering the hall and going into a side area to take our clothes off, we were allowed to be in underpants for some of the tests.
The various tests were on weight, height, puberty development, bone structure. As most were more complicated than ordinary visits to a doctor, and information gathered over several years more time was spent in measuring and recording the data.
We could be embarrassed when the staff touched certain parts of our body during the tests when we were without our underpants, on occasions a few of us experienced erections. With the others occupied with their own part of the test, it was generally only the staff that witnessed our embarrassment. At our young age, we did not understand why things like this should happen. If this had been in front of the Sisters or a Houseparent we could have expected some form of punishment; the medical staff took little notice of us.
Another part of our tests were photographs done without any clothes on, with only doctors and no NCH staff around, there was not really any embarrassment to be seen like this. We were positioned on a turntable in one area of the hall, with a camera at a distance away. Four photographs were then taken full length of us standing perfectly still with our hands at our sides from front, back and each side. To allow accuracy and that we did not move our body positions between each shot, the turntable moved in a fixed quarter turn for each photograph.
The other test was a series of x-rays, this was done in a more enclosed area of the hall as our final test.  We would be provided with a pair of plastic pants to put on. To us, the only reason why you would be provided with such a garment was that you might wet yourself. At our ages we could understand little about the complexes of x-rays, and even if we were older learning that x-rays could be dangerous, might have introduced even more fear if they explained about the need to put a thin layer of lead in the pants.
The x-ray session seemed to take the longest part of the tests, positioning the machine to take the x-rays of our hand & wrist, jaw, head, calf, thigh, arm, chest. The boring part of these x-rays, was standing still once positioned over the machine, whilst the doctor went away to another area.
For a young child on their first session, the plastic pants hid any accident that happened during the session, strong elastic in the leg area, kept this matter secret from the doctor, allowing your return to the  dressing area to put your clothing back on and  to try and hide the event. In future sessions you would know not to be afraid, when it came to putting the plastic pants on ready for your x-ray session, you might find they were already slightly damp.
Having time off school, made up for any discomfort and embarrassment we might go through.
As a reward, once we had dressed back into our school clothes, if there was time available, we could be rewarded with our own photograph, of us standing on the turntable.
On occasions if you were one of the last to be seen, it was thought that if you returned to school late you might miss your lunch; you were allowed to have the remaining afternoon off school. Those of us that had the dislike of afternoon games and PE lessons, made sure we were always the last ones to be seen during our test sessions.

 

Philip Howard


MY TEMPER
 

It took only a few minor events to occur before I lost my temper. The Houseparent had the solution to my problem of needing to release my excess energy, by giving me the instruction to go and find an isolated spot in the grounds and to shout my head off. For a few occasions I tried this idea, but to me it did little good. When sent out on this exercise, I was not in a mood anymore, so did not really have any excess energy to use.

I was not the studious type; however one of my main possessions were my comics and annuals. If I could be left alone then there were no problems. Interrupt me with minor chores, instructions to join in games with the others and matters that served no real purpose, then I did seem to cause a nuisance at some later point. At school, I was given the instructions by the teachers that if I was indoors and someone was upsetting me, instead of getting angry I should quietly leave the room and go for a walk along the corridor, and by the time I had completed the circuit of the corridor I should be calm enough to return to my work.

UNHAPPY IN THE HOME

The Home had now decided that they want to find out what my intelligence was and why my school work was poor. Although I did not appear to be unique, there was only one other boy from the Home who was going to be tested. A day trip to London was not really a holiday as we would be made to do similar work to that of school, but it was a day out that in the normal way we would not get.

The Houseparent took us both up to London early in the morning; it was a route I knew well. Finding which Underground lines we needed to be on, once our destination was given to me, was quite easy. If either of us had wanted to get lost and out of captivity, going in opposite directions would have been enough to cause problems. However any chance of freedom and a happy life ever again would have been nil.

Very little was explained to us about the day’s events; apparently we soon would be back, but there would not be enough time for us to return to school. We expected to be going to a school for our test. Eventually when we did arrive at the location, but although the building resembled a school, there were only adults inside.

Instead of simply being sat down and given a written test to do we were separated. I would have my test first and the other boy I had come up with would be seen in the afternoon. The Houseparent was not going to be with us. I was led away with one of the staff; it was not that I was afraid, but everything was different from how I imagined it. The tests were my ideal form of exam; there was no need to give long written answers, just a single-word answer or the like was required. I was allowed short breaks between each series of tests. Some items were easy; others seemed impossible.

Apart from the actual tests, there were questions about life at the Home, school and when I went home, plus other questions on how I felt about various things.

The questions of did I like my trips to stay with my mother, and what I did on my visits. I could only say that it was my favourite activity and that I went swimming, to the cinema and to the park. I was asked if my mother punished me if I was naughty. I said that my sweets and going outside were stopped for that day; but my mother did not give me the plimsoll or cane anymore.

There were questions about if I liked school and was I bullied. My reply was that I did not find school much fun now I had a different teacher. Any bullying was down to the colour of my skin; I was unable to explain to the others at school why I had a tanned complexion.

Time was spent asking if I had any problems living at Highfield; my main reply was that I would like more things to do and to have others of my own age in the flat to play with.

I was asked was I afraid at night and was my bedwetting down to fear of the dark or something that I had not told the Houseparent about, and did the other children tease me. All I could explain was that it happened in the Home and during the summer holiday with the Houseparent when I did not wake up in time. The only way the others teased me was by watching me receive the slipper after wetting the bed. I was asked what did my mother say if I wet my bed when I stayed with her. My answer was that there had not been any wet beds during any of my visits to London.

The final question was what things would make my life happier. The only real suggestion I could give was that I would like to return to my mother. The answers I gave, possibly painted a rosy view on life at the Home, rather than how I really felt. In my mind the staff from the Home would soon be told of what I had said.

The tests for me ended at lunchtime. I was told not to talk about the test I had taken, as the boy who was to be tested in the afternoon would need to come fresh to them and should not know the answers.

Lunch over I was now shown to a small room. This had toys for very young children and a few comics that were not really of any interest to me. I was told I could go and play in the small garden, as I was in my best dungarees any sort of rough play was out of the question, there were a few trees that looked like they might make an intresting climb but I decided against the risk of getting dirty. I spent the time making foot prints across an unused flowerbed.

Eventually the tests on the other boy finished, and we were left alone before the Houseparent came to take us back to the Home. Neither of us could really work out what all the tests were about, and there was little real explanation from the adults.

During the journey back, I was told that if the others in the flat asked why we had been up to London, it was best to tell them we had been given various school tests. Once back at the Home, there were questions by the others. There was very little I could tell them, other than that for half the day, we each had been given school tests to do.

FALL OUT - OCTOBER 1967

 

It was difficult to point to one moment when things at the Home started to go wrong. It was that several things started happening at once, that seemed to give the adults the impression I was not happy at the Home and I was falling out with every member of staff. In truth, I had never been happy at the Home. In my mind if I did anything to solve the problem, it would be my mother that it would affect and upset the most.

The main railway line with the fast trains I had thought of as an easy way of ending my stay at the Home; and also the high bridge that the main A6 road ran beneath was an alternative solution. I would not really have been scared of ending my life; the reasons for not going through with the action, were that it would upset my mother and it might hurt on impact. If there had been no possibility of returning to my mother, I do not think I would have been able to tolerate the Home until it was time for me to leave senior school. The test I had been to in London had given the adults the idea that I was not happy living at the Home, but I don’t think I had really let on as to my thoughts, if my stay was to be for many years to come.

GROWING UP

  If a few things about growing up had been explained to me, life at the Home could have been easier. I was odd: if Sister had still been in charge, having brought up a large number of boys over the years, she might have understood the problem that seemed to occur for me now I was almost eleven and in my last year of junior school.  The Houseparent had not needed to deal with many teenage boys. If I had been sent over to the nurse, or possibly able to talk to the Governor or his deputy, things might have been explained to me over the matter of growing up.

For education and my activities with others I was thought of as younger than my actual age; however my I.Q. and physical development might be classed as older. At the age of almost eleven, I was taller than most of my own age group, and even my looks had changed over the last couple of years.  At school, the music teacher had taken me out of singing lessons because my voice might be starting to break. Had adults explained a few more of the events that coincided with this event, life would have been much easier.

At night, minor disturbances kept me from the sleep I needed. I was waking up in the middle of the night with the feeling that I needed to go for a pee and that the front of my pyjamas was slightly damp. The major telling off that I received when my pyjama trousers and lower sheet was found in the laundry basket by the Houseparent made me hate living here. If I had worn thick cotton pyjamas it might have not been noticed; now that I wore light blue or light green nylon pyjamas the stain was easy to see, and I was given the slipper for this disgusting act.

It was not a case of wetting the bed, but if it had been explained what ‘wet dreams’ or ‘nocturnal emissions’ were, and what was going on during this growing-up period, I might have understood. Being marched to the bathroom for a morning bath after the hits with the slipper and having to strip my bed whilst everyone else went for their wash did cause embarrassment. To them the only reason I would be sent to have a bath would be due to wetting my bed.

Finally, the Houseparent lost patience with me. She could have made it worse, but I was spared any witnesses when she told me that my night-time problems must end. There followed a couple of extra hits with the slipper above the normal two hits. I was informed that I was to wear a pair of underpants beneath my pyjamas, and to put the waterproof pants that were in my draw over the underpants. When I could show that I was not going to cause any more problems, I could go back to being treated like an ordinary boy. There was the threat from the Houseparent if I did not wear the waterproof pants, if it was found that either my pyjamas or lower sheet were found to be damp, I would be given four hits with the slipper and I would be going to bed in long waterproof trousers over my pyjamas so she could see I was not going to cause a problem.

I was unhappy over the threat of the extra hits with the slipper, and was almost in enough of a mood to tell her that I didn't care, but I was too upset.   It took the helper to eventually calm me down and explain what was happening during this growing-up stage. It seemed that I might be affected several months before others of my own age.

The following nights I hid myself away when it came for getting ready for bed. An age gap in years meant that the three older boys had much later bedtimes as they were all at senior school, our paths did not cross and I could be on my own.

I kept the matter a secret for some time, but eventually one of the older boys found out what I was wearing beneath my pyjamas. Before he could start teasing me, the helper threatened that it would be quite easy to give him similar items to wear.

I did not protest at wearing them to bed. In a way, I was quite happy if it stopped the telling off and slipper from the Houseparent. Now in the middle of the night on waking up, after visiting the toilet, I could understand what was happening to me. I was less restless at night now and did not really mind having a quick bath first thing in the morning.

That I was not going to be given four hits with the slipper or teased by having to take the lower sheet off my bed on getting up, meant that I did not mind the punishment of wearing waterproofs to bed, due to their tight fit I asked if I could wear my full length waterproof trousers instead, the Houseparent agreed without any debate.

During this period when I did wet the bed, the trousers saved the sheet from any wetness. The odd rules if my sheet was not wet, there would not be any punishment of the slipper.

Had only know how the Houseparent followed this rule, I would have asked to wear the waterproof trousers as soon as she started to look after me. The upset of the slipper over wetting my sheets need not have happened.

DRESSING UP
 

A comment was made that I did not seem to join in imaginary games. It was that I did not really see the point of games like Cowboys and Indians, or to go out and play with the older boys and their toy guns in an imaginary game of war. At the start of December all of us tried to be on our best behaviour in the run up to Christmas; this was to try to persuade the adults that the presents we really wanted came our way.

I was sent out to the Administration Block with the instruction to get myself some dressing-up clothes; I might be going to a party where there was a dressing-up competition. One of the Sisters was in charge of a small assortment of dressing-up clothes that normally came out of store shortly before Christmas to enable anyone who was going to a fancy dress party to have something interesting to put on. Keeping them in one location meant that all had a fair share.

During the Christmas season we quite often attended parties and fun events, so this instruction I did not think of as odd. If there was a reason that none of the others were coming over at the same moment, it was due to me returning to London the next day for a weekend away from the Home.

I was confronted with a range of cowboy outfits, spaceman costumes, Red Indian headdresses and several other items that I did not really think stood any chance of winning any sort of prize. Finally, I was talked into a pirate costume. The main items were an eye patch and a blue and white striped shirt. I changed the idea of trousers that a pirate might have worn to a pair of riding breeches, but this was finding that there was a pair of long black leather riding boots, possibly as near as I could get to the type of boots a pirate might have worn. The pair of riding boots had actually made my day. Before coming to the Home I had owned a pair of long riding boots, but lost them due to my mother putting them on the bonfire before we moved back to London.

The boots I had chosen looked brand new; the Sister remarked that several girls had tried them on before me, but found they were either too tall or too narrow in the leg. With my skinny appearance, the fit was correct. The Sister thought I should return to my flat, fully dressed up, so that my Houseparent could see me. Leaving the building I had to take a rather long and hidden route back; I did not want to let any of my friends see me in a pirate costume.

The Houseparent seemed to accept my choice although other than the eye patch there was nothing really that could be classed as dressing up. If Sister had been in charge there now would have been the order to go and put everything away until it was needed; instead it was suggested that I could keep dressed like that until bedtime. If I complained that I did not like dressing up, the chance was that future Christmas presents might be at risk, so I played along, and stayed dressed up during tea and stayed like that until bedtime.

Friday was a bit of an odd day. Most went off to school as normal, but a few of the classes at our school were being given an extra day off owing to decorators needing to get to a few rooms before the Christmas holiday. The girl in our flat who went to the same school as I did was going to go off as normal. For once, I was not the one going off in a bad mood; she had to go with a group of the older ones instead of me.

One disappointment was that I would have to wait until the end of the day for my mother to collect me. If only it had been known earlier about the extra day’s holiday, I would not have to waste a whole day here. Once everyone had left for school, the flat seemed so empty. As the Houseparent knew I would not be going to school today, my school clothes had been put into the laundry basket the previous day, just in case I forgot and now went out to play in school shorts. I had made sure that the long trousers I had acquired were easy to find, and even though the weather was mild, I did not want to wear my play shorts outside.

Possibly the trousers looked a little odd due to my height; they were a good fit around the waist, but rather short in the legs. I was now told that if I was going to wear the long trousers I must wear the boots; she did not want me looking badly dressed in front of others. If I remained clean during the day, I could wear my costume home for the weekend. It was a challenge I won; long trousers during the winter were great to go to London in.

The choice of a pirate costume in a way was a good idea; the school had organised a Christmas play for which a few of our class had the more interesting parts, rather than just being one of the choir or other unknown part. Putting myself in front of others was not really how I wanted to be in the Christmas play; I really wanted to help move the scenery. Our class was given a short part in a play to act out the rhyme ‘Tinker, Tailor’. I managed to get a part in the middle of the verse as the Rich Man, so as not to be either at the start of the line or the end.

Parents and staff helped organise all sorts of costumes for those that had parts in the play. If I asked the Houseparent to help, I could bet something would be chosen that would let the others make fun of me. I played down my part when it came to the allocation of costumes. A fancy shirt was all that was provided for me. I completed my outfit with the riding boots and breeches. The time I spent having to dress up ready to go on stage was down to a few seconds.

Once on stage, my part was soon over and I was free for the rest of the play, until the whole cast were required to make a final appearance. If I had hoped to lurk somewhere in the back of the group, I was pushed to the front for the simple reason that I would be able to sit in the front of the group and not get anything I was wearing caught up in any of the stage equipment. I felt daft sitting amongst a group of infants, together with a girl of my own age who was also lacking any form of bulky dress. For the second presentation of our play the following evening I made sure that I was not anywhere near the front when the final group was formed on the stage. The infants sat on their own; I was not the only one with the idea of hiding away.  Once school had finished, I was allowed to return to London for part of the Christmas holidays.

CHRISTMAS 1967
 

I was unhappy during the Christmas holidays, that I would have to return to the Home for the week or so of Christmas festivities. The adults thought all of us should be at the Home during Christmas. I would have been far happier in London; there may have been less going on indoors in the London flat, but with all the cinemas and other activities that were possible, I would have preferred my solitary life. My only worry during the few days before Christmas whilst I had been on holiday in London was simply down to the plans that my mother was making for leaving London.

Once back at the Home, although I did not really intend to go out of my way to be annoying, there was friction at various points. I was almost eleven; to the adults as I was still at junior school this firmly put me in the younger group; the older five in our flat seemed to have so many extra privileges.

At one point, I think I annoyed the Houseparent. I was sent to my room; I guessed that at any moment, she would follow and I was due for the slipper. I waited ages; I could bet it was done to make me more afraid of what was to come. At first I had stood by my bed ready for her to come in. To speed things up I had already loosened the belt on my trousers ready to take them down if the demand came. If I was daft, I could have left the room and gone to see where she was, but in reality, I was not in any hurry to be reduced to tears. With our bedrooms having no personal possessions other than clothes there was little to keep me amused; I simply waited. Finally, the helper came in and  announced it was time for lunch. It appeared, as this was Christmas, the Houseparent had not wanted me to upset the rest of the flat; if I had been punished and was in a mood, I could have easily upset the others. 

Everything would have been generally fine had I been left alone. During Christmas, the Houseparent decided to show me up in front of most of the others one evening. With the holidays, our bed times had become a little more relaxed, and instead of getting sent off to bed according to our ages, the Houseparent tended to pack us all off to bed at a slightly later time.

My embarrassment was caused when she sent a couple of us to get into our pyjamas then to return to watch the television for a little longer. In the normal way if it was later in the evening younger ones would be going straight to bed once they had finished their wash or bath.

The comment by the Houseparent to me as I was leaving with the youngest in the group was that I should remember to put on my waterproof trousers. I was fair game for teasing that night. 

So that I did not complain about the other boy I shared a room with waking me up with his coughing, on most nights now, I was given the same medicine that he was taking that gave him an easier nights sleep.

For a short while, I did try to take part in events in the flat, but it was not how I wanted to spend Christmas. I had to admit that I liked the organised trip to the pantomime; we were taken from the Home near to where I lived in London. Outside the theatre was a bus stop with a route that stopped at the end of our road. If only I had been allowed to catch the bus to my home instead of having to return with the others to the Home it would have made my Christmas.

The Christmas party a coach-load of us attended was also fun, but knowing my problems with coach travel, I did not really tuck into all the food on offer as I knew exactly what would happen on the return journey.  There was the chance to win a prize in the fancy dress competition, and if the elastic on my eye patch had held together I might have stood a chance, but quite early on it looked as if it was mostly girls in the running for most of the prizes.

At Christmas, some of the rules over our behaviour were a little relaxed. I announced that I wanted to wear the pirate costume during the entire holiday. The moment I had chosen to make this request was at the very point that anyone that had borrowed costumes from the store was returning them. Dressing up and looking conspicuous was never something I normally did, and if the staff guessed I was spoiling for a fight over a minor matter like this none came. The Houseparent agreed that it would be fine for me to dress up for the entire Christmas holiday as I might enjoy it more.

With the eye patch broken and now lost and the striped shirt spending more days in the laundry basket waiting to be washed, it was decided that as it was colourful it would need to be washed as a separate item, like most of the coloured shirts that were worn for games at school. As we were now on our holidays there was very little of our clothing that needed special treatment so my striped shirt was not going to get any immediate attention.

If the others thought I was silly wearing riding breeches and boots for the full festive period I did not mind. As I was regarded as one of the younger ones, I was not going to wear shorts if I could help it. That I was actually taller than one of the boys who was a little older than myself did not seem to matter. I could understand that for junior school the uniform was short trousers, but in the Home we still had to wear them when we went into town, or for church and the like. When we were out together as we seemed about the same age, I looked rather stupid being taller and still in short trousers, while he was wearing long trousers.

 

The Home having rather religious beliefs, I expected to be ordered to dress in my best shorts for the various services, but the Houseparent went out of her way to see that the riding breeches were clean and neatly pressed. I played along with her and spent ages putting a good shine on the boots. It did get me out of other chores as I seemed to her to be fully occupied.

The Christmas service was extra special. All those who could sing were in the choir, and even small groups that were not good enough for the main choir had practised extra pieces, and were huddled in various parts of the chapel for their turn to come. If the adults felt I should join in, it was by giving me the instruction to help with the collection and the giving out of song sheets. In my mind, it was better than having to sit in the pews for the entire service.

 

Once Christmas was over, I managed to return to London for the final week or so of the holidays. The Houseparent decided that I might as well keep the pirate outfit; as the eye patch was now missing, it did not seem worth returning it to the Sister in charge of the clothing store. I was happy to be allowed to wear it back to London again. With Christmas and birthday money to spend, I could do so much. The weather might not have been fine but in London, there were plenty of places to shelter that were interesting. One major activity was to be taken to a theatre in the centre of London to see a play, whose main memorable line was ‘I don’t care’. Then it was returning to the Home, to find out more about what plans there were for me.

JANUARY 1968
 

During the first week of term after the Christmas holidays, it was announced by the staff that I would leave my junior school and go to my new senior school. The rules that they seemed to have set, dictated that I was to be aged eleven before I could leave junior school. With my birthday early into the New Year, everything slotted into place.

On my final day the deputy head teacher had asked me to come to his room at the end of the day. This was perhaps the only day I actually did not mind visiting him. He was a teacher we knew who gave out sweets. Having family in the retail sweet trade, he was known to have a small supply of sweets in his cupboard. If you were in his class on your birthday, he would allow you to choose a few sweets or a large box of chocolates. We all knew these were dummy boxes of chocolates that were completely empty inside. A few of the girls did choose such a gift, but no boy was ever seen holding a large box with a pretty illustration and ribbons.

On the previous occasion of making a visit to his room, it had been with a friend due to some trouble we had been in. He was teaching one of the top forms. The Headmaster was away that day, so standing outside his office for the lunchtime break owing to our behaviour had not been possible. Our crime it appeared did not warrant the cane, however the slipper given at full force on our rears did really hurt, almost as much as when I had been caned by him. If we could have left his room immediately after the punishment, everything would have been all right, but being ordered to stand up and endure a further telling-off in front of his class whilst we were in tears was awful.

This visit at the end of the day was a pleasure. As well as giving out sweets on your birthday, on the final day of school all in his class would be given sweets, and it appeared I deserved this as I was leaving. Some of the teachers might have said it was worth giving me sweets to get me to leave.

Once his class had left the room, after a short delay I was taken into the back room and allowed to choose a small selection. This slight delay meant that when I did leave the school playground everyone else had vanished. Within a short time I was back at the Home, a few of the sweets remained, but it was best not to tell the Houseparent the actual number I had eaten on my walk back.

There was a row now because I was a few minutes late. On my last day of school, it might have been expected that a few things might have delayed me, but to the Houseparent this was not allowed. Even if this was my last day I was expected to arrive back on time. I did not really sulk during tea, but my last day of junior school should have ended on a happier note.

SENIOR SCHOOL
 

I was happy with my new school, although it meant leaving the flat before the others as I had to travel a further distance. By the second day I had made a friend that came from close to the Home so I was not alone when I went into school, and although we were not in the same year and our ages were two years apart, we became good friends early on.

Back at the flat, there had been a week or so of the older boys simply trying to wind me up. Now I was at a different senior school from them, I was the enemy. I was an easy target with a new and different school uniform.

I was teased about the style of my new uniform; this was a plain dark blazer, and was far smarter than they wore. The item they were able to tease me over, was that for first and second-year pupils at the school I was at, short trousers were the norm. To them senior school pupils would wear long trousers.

Some of my new friends had told me that in the following school year there was going to be a change to the school uniform; the first and second-year pupils would have long trousers set as part of their standard uniform. I wondered if I could persuade the Houseparent to let me change to long trousers before that time to stop the older ones in the flat from teasing me.

On the occasions that they succeeded in winding me up, my temper got the better of me. The only time I was happy was when I left the grounds and headed off to my new school. At the end of the afternoon, it was coming back through the gates, and knowing that until the following morning, it would be a battle for me to keep out of trouble from the others in the flat. I could delay my arrival back into the flat by completing my homework at school; at the end of the day one form room was available for any pupils that wanted to do their homework at school. To the staff at school it was a way they knew it would be completed and for a few, possibly a more quiet place to do it in.

LEAVING THE HOME - FEBRUARY 1968

 

Things were starting to change; I knew that my mother and grandmother were soon going to be leaving the London flat and moving to Wiltshire, where an aunt and uncle now lived. The flat in London had only been twenty-five miles away and quite easy to visit. If they were moving to Wiltshire, it would be almost impossible to come and see me, and the visits to my mother would not really be possible due to the distance.

It was mentioned that as soon as my mother had settled in I would be able to join her. They thought during summer holidays, it might be possible for me to leave and return to her. I had the idea that if I was not able to return straight away to my mother, then their original idea that I might be moved to a different Home could easily come about. If my mother moved to Wiltshire with my aunt and uncle, to the adults it would make little difference if I were moved to a Home further away and there were to be no more visits from my mother. 

 

 One way of keeping me happy now I was 11, was to allow me to visit a friend who lived outside the Home. Once tea was over, I was allowed my freedom. A set time was given for my return and it was down to me to obey this time or risk this privilege being removed.

Fortunately my mother suggested that I might be able to return to her earlier than originally planned. Returning to the Home shortly before I was allowed to leave was not something I relished. I tried to live in the group and appear to be part of it. However you grouped the various members, it normally meant that I did not fit in.

There were a few days of minor chaos around half term, when it was confirmed by the Houseparent that I was leaving. The packing up of my possessions in the flat took some time. The contents of my locker were reduced considerably with a frantic selection of swapping to get toys, books and the like that would actually fit in my case together with my clothes.
The Houseparent saw that I had a full selection of new best clothes and an assortment of respectable play clothes. Of my own possessions, there was a slight problem over bicycles. The one that had replaced the bicycle that I had brought to the Home was not in current working order as it was partly in bits and under repair. My original bicycle was now really too small for me and was in the possession of one of the younger boys. Even if my bicycle had been in working order, when my uncle came in the car to collect me, the larger size of my current bicycle would have been impossible to get into the car.

The final point came, all farewells were said and that was simply the end. I sat in the car with the hope that I would not have to return.  I should have been happy; it was not that I was sad to be leaving the Home, but almost three years of my life had been spent here. There was the feeling that although I disliked the place, my future was not that certain, and there was the thought that if the ideas my mother had did not go as planned, I would be returning here. If there had been an absolute guarantee that I would never have to return, I would have showed my true feelings as to how I felt about the Home.

FREEDOM
 

For almost three years, leaving the Home had seemed impossible. My uncle had collected me shortly before lunch. After a quick lunch at my aunt and uncle’s flat, we set off for London. Soon we were in London; and all my possessions were back in my bedroom. This had originally been my grandfather’s room, but now it was mine. To be able to sleep in my own room without anyone chattering in the night would be wonderful. In the Home only the oldest girl had a bedroom on her own, something I would have loved.

As well as a good assortment of clothes, I left the NCH with a large world atlas. This was similar in design to the type sold by Reader’s Digest but with different covers and a logo of the NCH embossed on the front. Although I was very pleased with this gift, I removed the logo and lettering. I did not want reminders of my stay each time I opened the atlas or if any friends were to see it. The other gift from the NCH was a Bible with my name embossed in gold lettering.

One matter I did not really understand about my leaving; my mother questioned me several times about why the Home had requested her to take me back. I thought I was returning to her as we were going to move to the country. I had not been told at the Home during the last couple of months that I had done anything wrong at the Home, and that I was to be expelled.

What should have been a very happy event of returning to my mother in London before we left for Wiltshire, was overshadowed with the thought that I must have done something wrong, but I just could not think of any reason for the Home to demand that I should leave.

For main page please go to:
//www.theirhistory.co.uk

With thanks to the estate of Marcia Lane Foster for providing the sketches.

More Photos

More Photos are to be found at

https://www.flickr.com/photos/22326055@N06/albums/

 


 

 

 

A Group for EX NCH Children

The site is for members that were in the care of the NCH

To visit, please click on this  link, and it will take you to the site.

http://growingupinthench.lefora.com/





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