Memories of St. Joseph’s

Elisabeth Lees – Jan 2011

After reading Tony Costello’s report of his years at the home in 1940, I thought you might be interested in a girl’s point of view of the home in the same period of time. My younger siblings and I arrived in early autumn of 1940 after being orphaned in July of the same year, we came from Oldham. There was myself Elizabeth (Alice ), Lucy, John, Kathleen, and Pricilla, ( Phyllis ) a young girl of nearly 11 yrs old my first impressions were not very good, it seemed to regimented, the daily routine was chapel, breakfast, and school, but we soon settled in and got used to it.

The girls were taught at the home by the nuns, but as there was only one classroom, the senior girls attended class at 9.30 am till lunch and afternoon classes was for younger children, we also had to attend school on Saturday mornings, sister A  was a very good teacher (strict but fair) and if pupils showed an interest in certain subjects she would encourage them. After lunch if the sister’s didn’t need us to do chores we were free to follow our own pursuits, the playground consisted of sand hills surrounded by the woods, I loved playing in the woods and we soon learned about the different types of trees and shrubs, red squirrels were prevalent in those days and very tame, they would come and eat out of our hands ( it is sad to read about how they are being decimated, I hope that something can be done about it ).

From the main gate of the home was a lane that ran for approximately a quarter of a mile to a cross roads, there was an army camp there.

I think all the land in that area belonged to the Brook’s family who were farmers, I remember we children got into trouble playing hide and seek in the corn field behind our playground, we were marched up to the farm and had to apologise to Mr Brook’s, we got a sharp lecture on the economics of food resources and what we were doing was not helping the war effort. In the summer we would go to the beach to play, there were long posts pushed into the sand every few yards in case of invasion, there was also an Ack Ack and search light battery on the sand dunes.

The soldiers stationed there were friendly and used to wave to us as we passed. As the war escalated evacuees began to arrive from Liverpool and soon our dormitories were so full that some younger children had to share a bed, even the nursery didn’t have enough cots so some babies had to sleep in prams.

Sister B was in charge of the nursery and pharmacy as she was a medical practitioner, I was often asked to help her in the pharmacy, we had to boil bandages as there was a shortage of medical supplies due to the war, sister also showed me how to mix herbs and powders with a pestle and mortar ( I hoped I would never have to try these concoctions ) sometimes I would go to the beach to collect types of seaweeds, these were used to make some form of iodine, it was a case of make do and mend. A doctor would visit the home once a month to check up on children with chronic illnesses. Eventually the over crowding was eased as an annexe and extra dormitory was built which was a relief.

The sisters took in children of every race, creed, and colour, but only the catholic children like myself went to chapel, the others attended the village churches.

I do remember Sammy a small Jewish boy who was very ill when he came to the home, the story was that his father had escaped from the Nazis and he and Sammy travelled across Europe till they reached this country, his father had to leave Sammy with the sisters as he was taken to a hospital near Liverpool. Sadly Sammy died a few days later ( that little boys face is still with me 68 years later ).

On a lighter note I remember quite a few of the girls and boys of that period, Tony Costello’s sister Pat ( Betty ) as I new her was one of my best friends, we got into quite a few scrapes together, we were also in the choir together.

Christmas was always a nice time of the year and Santa always paid a visit on Christmas day. Tony mentioned the Americans that visited but I think that was the village school as I don’t remember seeing any Americans in uniform at the home, in my opinion I think that it was the local rotary club backed by the Lord and Lady Mayoress at the time, anyway they made it an enjoyable day. I had to leave after my 14th birthday, and it was a very sad parting, but everything the sisters taught and did for me has stood me in good stead.