It was during the month that we were evacuated to my Gran’s house, that Fred, my stepfather, was taken ill, he thought it was the dust from the bombing.
“I will feel a bit better when I can just clear my throat”.
But it didn’t get any better, an X-ray showed that he had TB, we were all tested and fortunately were clear of the disease. Fred was told he had to start treatment at Milford Hospital, at first just for more X-Rays and then staying there for a week or more.
A month later, Doctor Ward, came around see us. He was quite short and round, dressed in pin striped trousers and a black jacket. I don’t think I have ever seen such a posh man, I couldn’t take my eyes off him, his hair looked like it was glued on there was not a hair out of place. He speaks very gently as if he talking to a child.
“Sit down, Ethel, I need to tell you something, now don’t worry, it’s just something that we have to do”.
“Is it about Fred”?
“No, it’s not about Fred, he is in a safe place”.
He asked Don to go for Mrs Salmon and for me to put the kettle on. As we waited for Mrs. Salmon to arrive, I noticed he kept sniffing as if he was trying to smell what was cooking—but there was nothing cooking, I think our house always had a smell like that. I followed his eyes as he looked around the room—after the bomb damage repairs, even I could see it already looked a bit of a jumble
I saw him rest his hand on the table—a Morrison shelter—his fingers were very pink with shiny nails, he quickly removed his hand when he felt the sticky surface. The table is covered with ‘lino’—usually this was a floor covering, but we had it as a long-lasting tablecloth—it can get a bit tacky after a while.
Mum was looking more and more worried, but he still didn’t say anything else, he just kept looking around, waiting for Mrs. Salmon. He glanced up to the hissing, broken gas mantle—we had electric light, but mum preferred the gas lighting, then the fly encrusted fly paper hanging next to gas light, caught his eye. Flies were able to land and take off at will—all the sticky bits were already occupied.
The kettle had hardly boiled, when Mrs. Salmon heaved through the front door, her face as red as a rosy apple—Rosy by name and Rosy by nature, as Mum would say. I winced as I watched her sit in our old armchair, it was pretty well worn out and very low, she always fell into it rather than sitting on it.
“Now then, what’s all the fuss about, is it the baby”?
Doctor Ward straightened up saying “No, the baby is doing well, it’s little David, we need to talk about, he is under weight, and we need to build him up. This means he must go to a home for a while where he will have the best treatment and a special diet to make him strong again. I will arrange for an ambulance to take you to the sanatorium tomorrow, if that is convenient for you Ethel”?
For once Mrs Salmon was speechless, we had all thought it was something to do with Fred or little Sylvia.
“Thank God for that, I thought it was something serious, there you are Effie, there’s nothing to worry about, he will be home before you know it”
The Doctor went the kitchen sink to wash his hands, then seemed to change his mind. He didn’t drink his tea either, he said. “Good afternoon ladies” and left, he seemed to be in a hurry.
Mum looked relieved, both of them smiling, they drank their tea and Mrs. Salmon read the tea leaves in Mum’s cup.
“Look Effie, now that’s what I call a good luck sign, everything is going to be alright”.
They were both smiling with relief, but the relief would be short lived—David was away for years. The hospital that he stayed in was miles away, in Essex, and it would be very difficult to visit. It must have been very hard for him to be away from all of us, Mum could only see him every three months. David was in a sanatorium for children with TB.
It would be at least three years before he came home—a completely changed boy. He had no lessons while he was away and couldn’t read or write. This made it very hard for Mum to manage him. For a few months he really was a wild child! I saw him rip up a shirt that he didn’t like, and one day he broke a model plane that I was making to a hundred pieces.