Dennis (aged 3) 1951
Just after Dennis was born, my mother developed a hernia and became very ill. She needed an immediate operation but for a long period of time kept going on as normal, no doubt she was thinking and worrying about the welfare of the six children. She carried on until it became an emergency; then the family were separated and taken in by various friends who took pity on us. Kevin and I stayed together, as we were the only ones of school age. Mrs. O’Keefe took us on; she lived in a beautiful house in Ward End, which at the time seemed like a palace to us. With fitted curtains up to the windows, fresh sheets and blankets on the beds. The house had many different rooms with furniture appropriate to the room. It had a most picturesque garden with a little brook at the bottom. Can you imagine the luxury of a hot bath every night? The only disadvantage was the location of the house and the distance we had to travel to school; the journey required catching three buses each way.
Our school was The Holy Family in Small Heath, which is nearer Hay Mills. I really cannot remember how long the journey took us. I remember I was not and am still not very good at travelling on buses. Before we reached our destination, I would persuade Kevin to get off with me and we would finish the journey on foot. It is little wonder that I knew the streets of Birmingham so keenly. The rest of the family were all taken in and looked after very well. Those who helped us tended to choose their favourite child. Pat, on the many occasions she was away from home, was at this time at a convalescence home in Macclesfield.
During the time mother was in hospital, the convalescence home decided to discharge Pat and send her home. They just would not listen regarding our family situation, it seems they had an epidemic of one of the childhood illnesses, and required the home to be vacated. So in order to take care of Pat, Kevin and myself returned from Mrs O’Keefe’s house. As may be imagined my mother discharged herself prematurely and of course immediately she was home, all our other children were returned promptly.
Pat in convalescence 1942 (Aged 2)
In discussing Pat for a while, she was continually coming down with illness and was constantly in an emergency ambulance to Selly Oak Hospital and later to the Children’s Hospital where she would spend a lot of time in an oxygen tent. She was finally diagnosed with valve trouble to her heart, but it would be many years before they were able to operate. So she spent most of her young life away from home, either in hospital, convalescence or at open-air school.
I was about 10 years and I can remember Pat being in a convalescence home in Malvern. While she was there, I would make the return bus journey on a weekly basis. I would travel on what was known as the Midland Red Bus and would carry some little treats for her. I know she looked forward to seeing me because she would be standing at the window waiting for me to step off the bus. It was not possible for my Mother to make the journey because it would have taken a full day and of course the bus fare was cheaper for me. She would make the journey every now and again, even though it was necessary to take all of us with her. In time Pat was transferred to Cropwood open-air school, which is near Bromsgrove. I remember the permitted visiting times were once every month. A local train took us there, so that was a day we all looked forward to.
The grounds and area of the home were so lovely, and of course the train journey was exciting. Because of these circumstances with Pat’s health, a lot of responsibility fell on my shoulders and I became the second mother to the rest of the family. Mother would be away for hours either at outpatients or sitting by Pat’s bedside. Local police were regularly coming to the door, informing our parents that they were needed immediately at the hospital, in the belief that Pat was drawing her last breath. So of course I was left in charge of the family, this arrangement would certainly not be tolerated today, family emergency or not. In 1953 Pat was eventually called in to The Children’s Hospital as she had gained enough strength to have her heart operation.
Our next-door neighbour in Berkley Square was a Mrs Rowley, who ran a boardinghouse for Irish workers. One of which, a Mr Sweeney, she eventually went on to marry. She already had a family, including a daughter who was the same age as myself; the daughters name was Barbara.
Mother was often attending to the needs of Pat at the hospital and at those times it was my responsibility to take my younger siblings out for the day.
My Holy Communion photo
I would tuck the babies in the pram then take with us whatever refreshments I could muster, which might have been bread and sugar sandwiches and a bottle of water. I would take this picnic and go off for the day or for whatever time I was instructed to be away from the house. We would just walk to all the parks around the locale, some being near to home, but others were further away. We would walk miles, pushing a pram around the streets of Birmingham. The little ones, who could walk a short distance, would take turns in having a ride in the pram. When I first started doing this, I suppose I would have been around the age of 8 years, but taking on the responsibility and of someone much older. When now I look at our own grandchildren, of a similar age, I cannot believe the responsibility that was placed on such young shoulders. An unexpected calamity did arise one time, when taking Kevin, Brian, Dennis and our Betty to Victoria Park, Small Heath. While Brian and Dennis were seated in our very large twin pram, I was occupied pushing Kevin on the swings. Suddenly we heard a piercing scream; it came from poor Betty, who had caught her finger in the mechanism of the pram hood, while working the steel ratchet up and down. In her panic Betty had trapped her finger and was pushing the hood in the wrong direction.
I managed to free the injured finger, which by then was bruised and bleeding. Thankfully the local Park Keeper came to our aid, and provided a first aid dressing. I know to this day that our Betty still carries the markings on her finger, resulting from that day in the park.