I was very close to my parents and was devastated when they both passed away in December 2009 and January 2010. Mum had a particularly hard life with her father passing away after a serious injury at work when she was five years old. Mum's mother had three small children and decided she did not have the resources to care for them at home so put them in an orphanage for fatherless children. Mum often talked about her life in the orphanage and my sisters and I encouraged her to write a short book about her young life which she did and although she never published it, it is sold to raise funds for the museum which is still kept for the orphanage that she attended all those years ago. I intend to put her story on my blog a bit at a time for everybody to read and hope that you enjoy it like my sisters and I did as we grew up.
MY STORY AS AN ORPHAN
1939 – 1948
Chapter One - The Journey of Infants
Chapter Two - Two Years in the Infants
Chapter Three - The First Year in the Juniors Girls
Chapter Four - The Seniors
Chapter Five - Looking Back
Chapter Six - My Employment and my Marriage
Chapter Seven - My Thoughts
THE USE OF THE PHOTOGRAPH ON THE FRONT COVER, WHICH APPEARS ON OTHER REEDHAM PUBLICATIONS,
HAS BEEN KINDLY AUTHORISED BY
THE REEDHAM TRUST AND THE REEDHAM OLD SCHOLARS ASSOCIATION.
We all have the need to succeed something personal in our lives. I have for many years had the desire to write a book and my daughters have encouraged me often to do just that, but the inclination and time had never been there for me. However, being an avid reader, and in my retirement, I find Catherine Cookson books of such wonderment, especially her “Personal Anthology” “ LET ME MAKE MYSELF PLAIN” which I have now read and encouraged by her life and determination to put all I feel into my book in the hope the reading will be enjoyed by many.
My book covers nine and a half years as an orphan.All the orphans who spent their childhood at Reedham had lost their fathers,some both parents.
I dedicate my book to my husband and our three daughters.
Chapter One – The journey of Infants
Margo was getting on the bus in
travelling to her first
employment. She was very nervous and the
conductor in a cheerful voice said to her “Cheer up love, it may never happen,”
with a shy smile she gave the money for her daily ticket and sat down. London
Looking out of the window Margo wondered what life was going to be like since leaving the orphanage she had spent over 9 years at. She was now 15 and about to start earning her wages training at a well-known
hotel in the hairdressing
department. The world outside was
frightening and very large. She had been
home only at holiday times from the school, a few weeks at a time, and during
these times she had been forced with her mother and brothers on many occasions
to move from their home to a safer place overnight due to a bomb dropped close
by. At one time they slept on the cold
floor of a garage and another time in a pub cellar. London
Margo’s mind wandered back to the day in 1939 when war had been declared. She was 5 and her brother Roy was 10, they were both on a train with their mother who was taking them to an orphanage for safe keeping, unknown to them at the time. There was an air raid going on and windows were being blown out above the station as their train started its journey.
After about three quarters of an hour they had arrived at their destination and slowly stepping off the train, their mother led them down a slope to the road below. Turning to their left they could see a large gate beside a cottage. They were now walking through the gate and began going up a driveway between an avenue of trees. They could smell a farm; pigs and chickens could be heard.
It was a while before they reached the top of the hill and as the driveway led to the right, glancing to their left, Margo noticed a large meadow and a slope leading to some steps, later to learn led to the girls side.
They had reached the top of the slope; turning left they came out onto a long stoned terrace in front of this very large building – the orphanage. Not knowing what was going on Margo and Roy walked with their mother towards some very wide stone steps at the centre of the building. Either side of the steps and along the bottom of the building were large windows with the same above them. During this long walk the voices of children playing could be heard.
Now they were stepping up the stone steps, through two tall wooden doors into the entrance hall and on the floor an emblem and inside the circle four clasped hands with the words “Charity Makes All One” around the edge. On the walls a portrait of Andrew Reed the founder and a bust of him later to learn was the man the school was named after. They walked straight from the room into an inner room, with circular stairs on their right and in front of them two tall doors that appeared to reach the ceiling, these led into the dining hall. To the left and right they noticed corridors. They had heard a bell ring as they reached the inner room so waited quietly. From a room on their left a lady appeared. She was fairly short, rather on the plump side and dressed in a Navy suit. She introduced herself as Miss Blake – the matron. She greeted mother with a smile saying, “welcome to the school and this must be Margo and Roy”. Matron was talking to their mother when a tall boy dressed in grey trousers and a white shirt appeared from the right corridor and smiled at matron, but waited until she had finished talking. Mother then told
he would be staying at the school and she would be
visiting him and Margo every month and they would also go home at holiday
times. They were saying goodbye and Roy went away with the tall
boy. Margo began to cry as mother was
then saying the same to her, and as matron took hold of her hand shaking hands
at the same time with her mother, Margo began to sob as her mother was kissing
her goodbye. Matron began to walk away with Margo whose tears were streaming
down her face and looking back at her mother she disappeared as they were now
walking into a corridor. They walked
down one corridor, turned right into another and whatever matron was saying to
her she couldn’t hear as she was sobbing by now. They eventually reached a small door on the
right and as it was being opened, Margo could see boys and girls sitting at
small tables eating their dinner. All
this time Margo had been hugging a black doll, her favourite, and as the matron
was telling the teacher her name, her doll fell onto the floor, quickly picking
it up crying so loudly now the teacher put her arms round her saying “I will
look after the doll for you, come and eat some dinner”. Matron then went out of the room and by now
Margo was sobbing for her mother and wasn’t interested in eating any dinner. Roy
Chapter Two – Two years in the Infants.
A short time had passed since that first day. Margo had at last settle down, still missing her family. She had made many friends, one in particular named Rosie who was the first to make friends with her and they would play together with the toys always kept in a cupboard of their little room, but Margo had not seen her Black doll since the mistress said she would look after it. Margo had asked the mistress for her doll and had been told it was safe in her room. She never saw that doll again.
When new children arrived at the school they were all given a vaccination. Margo’s arm took a long time to heal as the scab kept breaking down; it had to be kept covered until it began to heal again, in time it completely healed over.
The mistress would bath the children twice a week and dress the girls in pretty dresses during the summer with white ankle socks and black shoes, sometimes a blouse over a pinafore skirt. In the winter a warm blue jumper and skirt and long white socks. The boys wore a grey shirt, and trousers and grey socks with black shoes. All their clothes were marked with their names. Their hair was kept very short. When they were taken out for walks they would walk in twos (crocodile style).
Margo’s brother Roy and other infants brothers and sisters came round to visit every Saturday. Sometimes Margo would see
in the dining hall when
they had their meals. Roy
The infant’s teacher was very nice (her name escapes me) The classes were held for about 3 hours during the mornings and afternoons allowing for lunch times. Margo enjoyed everything they were being taught. The teacher would hang on the classroom wall a black paper with each child’s name on it in white chalk. Every time the children earned a Gold or Silver star one was put on their paper. The children loved to see many stars on their named paper. When a drawing was put up on the classroom wall another star appeared on the infant’s paper. At the end of each term the children were given their paper full of stars to take home at holiday time.
The daily routine in the infants never changed. Their meal times were spent in the dining hall, sometimes they had their meals at different times to the older children. Their playtime was spent in their room opposite the big girls playroom where they had a toy cupboard full of books and games. They also had a large room which looked over the girl’s playground, where the larger toys were kept.
Clothes were sorted by the mistresses for what the infants were to wear each day. Visiting days were always one Saturday each month when a parent would come and take the children out locally for the day. Children always looked forward to this day, as they were able to talk to their brothers and sisters. They were dressed in their Sunday best, which was always a black overcoat and navy hat over their uniform. They usually came back with a book or a toy and most important sweets, which they didn’t see very often.
The war was going on during this time, so good things were in short supply. Holidays were always exiting times when some of the children went to their parent’s homes for Christmas, Easter and summer holidays when Margo and Roy saw their younger brother. The children would be searching from the classroom windows for their parent and would get excited when seen and would be waiting anxiously for the bell to go for the mistress to call for that girl shouting “see you after the holiday” At Christmas one present Margo always received was a Rupert book which she took great care of and loved to flick the pages quickly to see little Rupert in the top right hand corner of each page running and jumping. To this day Margo has continued to purchase the Rupert books for her daughters when they were young, then her grandchildren, now her great grandchildren. Margo always looked after her books which were shared with her younger brother, but got lost when their little sister arrived in the family home.
It was a sad time when holidays came to an end, they returned to the school and the first night girls cried themselves to sleep. In the mornings it was all over and everyone soon settled down for the new term. The children who had lost all relatives stayed at the school for their holiday breaks. It was never known if they went away during holiday times.
It was Easter 1941 and Margo with many other children who had their 7th birthday was being told they would be going up into the juniors the next term. The girls would stay on the same side of the school with the big girls, the boys lived on the other side of the school. On their return from the next holiday this is where they would be living.
More to follow next time. I hope you enjoy.