11th November 1943

Again slept well.  Fine, sunny morning.  Mother better, chatted to me naturally for a few minutes.  To office, and then to Dr Penry Rowland’s.  Had to wait an hour, during which heard most interesting conversation between 2 patients – a woman and old Mr Buckingham, whose house was blown up in Essex St. last year.  Old Buckingham wanted to know why, if you killed a lot of men you didn’t know, you got the VC, but if you killed one you hated, you were hung.  “There’ll be a lot of murders done when our boys come home, they’ve been trained for nothing else.”  The woman agreed, and went on to say that her son had volunteered when he was 18 – “silly little fool”, and now he wished he hadn't.  In the Essex St raid old Buckingham’s wife was killed, and his daughter injured, but I gathered from the conversation that she had recovered.

Got a letter to the Infirmary.  Rowland urged the necessity of getting Mother in at once, and said he was convinced Father was on the verge of collapse.  Went straight down to the Infirmary.  I kept thinking this is the end, this is where we all come.  Aldous Huxley, “The Brave New World”.

Mr Robson at the Infirmary said he would send for the ambulance at once, so I rushed home to warn Father.  He took it very well, but cried a little.  Mother was lucid, and I told her gently what must be done.  She said “No, no, it’ll kill me” but I insisted on how Rowland had advised it, and she agreed, saying “I want to get well quick”.  I said “Yes, you shall be back by Christmas.”  “Christmas!” she said.  “I should think I shall”, her voice quite strong.

I did not know quite what to do, as I wanted to see Ella about taking the old man for a few nights, and I felt I could not bear to see her taken away, so I went quickly across the Abbey Field, the AA guns shining in the sun, and saw Ella.  To my surprise, she and Stanley were not at all keen, and made excuses, Pat coming home, no bed aired, etc.  I was surprised, and worried, but went to phone box and phoned Miss Ralling at the Essex County Standard Office, who at once asked Father to stay there.

To town for lunch, then back to the Infirmary.  I found the matron’s office.  She was a pleasant, kind woman and sent a young girl clerk to show me the way to the ward, along more miles of cold concrete, green paint, and water pipes.  I felt terribly depressed.  At last found the place, and there was Mother.  In the next cot an old woman with bright brown hair stirred grumbling to herself.  Mother knew me, and asked after Father.  I said “Do you want anything?” and she said “Yes, some licorice all-sorts”.  I stayed half an hour and then left.  I spoke to the sister, a very pleasant young woman, and told her not to let Mother know where she really was.  Poor darling, how she would hate to know.  Cried a lot both there and on the way home.

Left at 7.30 and suddenly decided I must talk to someone and went over to the Roses at Boxted.  As I went along the Straight Road, under the brilliant full moon I heard the sound of Boxted Church Bells, pealing over the silent misty fields, to celebrate Armistace Day.  How well I remember this day, 25 years ago.  Dodo very kind, listened to all my troubles, fed me, and then, as I dozed off as I sat, put me to bed among warm blankets with a hot water bottle.


Anonymous said...

Hello Catherine

I was wondering if yourself or any fellow comment writers know where the "infirmary" in question was situated. I grew up in Colchester during the 1950s and 1960s but never heard mention of any such place.

Best wishes, as always,


E J Rudsdale said...

Hello Chris,
The Infirmary was the hospital at Colchester's Workhouse on Balkerne Hill, which later became St Mary's Hospital. About 14 years ago the hospital was demolished and it was replaced by a new housing development.
I hope this helps and if anyone can add any further details on the Infirmary, please get in touch.
Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Hello Catherine

Thank you for that information. Really interesting for me as, at the age of 4 in the mid 1950s, I had the then traditional tonsils and adenoids operation in St Marys Hospital (and no visitors allowed!)
I had no idea that, not long before that, St Marys had been a workhouse/infirmary.

Best wishes,