I was admitted to the Royal Alexandra Orphanage, Maintland Park, on the 10th February, 1938, just before my 8th birthday. I remember walking up the long drive holding my mother’s hand.
Once through the large doors of the building, I was taken to a room where a number of people were sitting around a table. From there I went to a pink tiled playroom with a rocking horse at one end, and was shown my locker which formed part of the seating around this large room. I was given a number; 3, which I was told to remember. Later I was introduced to an older girl, Eileen Mead, who was to by my monitor.
I clearly remember the routine of our days. Up early, stripping our beds, arching or mattresses with the help of the girl in the next bed. There were 48 of us younger children in the South Dormitory. After washing and being inspected by Miss Matthews as we left the washroom, we re-made our beds, folded our night clothes etc. and put them in baskets under the head of our bed, in line with the basket under the bed either side of us.
We lined up in the playroom with the rest of the girls from the Dormitory, and filled off to go along a corridor into the Chapel for morning prayers. After breakfast, we went to our classroom for schooling, and after lunch I seem to remember running around some gardens in front of the school before returning to our lessons for the afternoon. We had time to play in the playroom or playground before tea, and then afterwards we cleaned our shoes before bed.
We had no lessons on Wednesday afternoons, but went to school on Saturday mornings. That day our classroom was set up as a shop, and by buying and weighing groceries, we learned the value of money etc. The first Wednesday and Saturday of each month were visiting days, the days I so longed to arrive. On non-visiting Wednesdays, our time was taken up by bathing and hair washing.
On Sunday mornings, weather permitting, we walked in a ‘crocodile’ round the outskirts of Regents Park Zoo where we saw the animals caged near the perimeter. In the afternoon, we were encouraged to write letters home. We all attended a service in the Chapel after tea, and the younger children left before the sermon in order to be in bed by 7 pm.
Once a year in the summer, a fleet of ‘grey green’ coaches would arrive on the drive to take us all to Mr Rank’s house (Mr Rank of the flour milling industry) where in a marquee in the grounds we had strawberries and cream.
We all had a suitcase each with our names stencilled on the lid. Blue ones for the girls, and brown for the boys. Once these were brought into the dormitory and lined up by the wall, we knew holiday time was near. I still have mine, although a little worse for wear, it is in a plastic sack in the garage as I feel I cannot part with it.
During my first year at the Orphanage, my mother came on day to take me to see Sir Harold Gillies who was a prominent plastic surgeon at the time. I was born with bi-lateral ptosis (a drooping of the eyelids) and he admitted me to his private hospital in Dollis Hill where I had the first of a number of successful operations.
When came the War, and the school was evacuated to Bedford where children were billeted with private families, I didn’t go to Bedford. I went to stay in a large house in Woking (namely Brackendene, Woodham Rise, Woking). Together with Beryl Wise who had asthma, Valerie Rivers who had her leg in a plaster after breaking her ankle, and another girl of about my age whose name I cannot remember. There were two older girls, one being Doreen Lidslene.
The house belonged to Mr and Mrs Young, and although I have enquired I have never found out what connection Mr and Mrs Young had with the Orphanage, or why I was sent there. Maybe because we each had health problems as I was first getting over an eye operation.
Shortly arriving at Brackendene, Mrs Young arranged for the soldiers to come and take away a full sized billiard table and the billiard room became our playroom and also school room where Mrs Young taught us from text books. We had a maid called Annie (in maid’s uniform) who supervised us, more like a house mother, but Mrs Young always supervised our prayers in our bedroom where there were four beds (Doreen had a room elsewhere) and always ‘tucked each of us up’ before going to her own dinner. She always dressed for dinner and I still remember the soft velvet of her dark red dress.
We attended church on Sundays, taken by the chauffer ‘Rutland’ in I imagine to be a Daimler. It was yellow and black. Maybe it was Mr Rutland, but we only knew him as Rutland. We were allowed to play in the beautiful garden, but not allowed in the kitchen garden. Whilst there, Mrs Young invited our relative to visit and my late mother often spoke of what ‘a lovely lady’ Mrs Young was, and how kind it was of her to give each visitor a large amount of fruit and vegetables to take home.
I am not sure how long I stayed with Mrs Young but after the Christmas holiday which I spent at home, I joined the rest of the school, and was billeted with Mr and Mrs Claridge at 17 Nelson Street, with another little girls, Ivy Matthews.
At the beginning of February, my mother remarried and I should have been restored to her care, but I caught German measles, and in those days, children were kept in bed for about a fortnight. Whilst in bed, the school went off to Bishops Wood camp, leaving me in the care of Mrs Claridge. I had no chance to say goodbye to friends. I had made a close friend of Gwen Wallclock, another June Bambridge. I have often wondered what happened to them, and I expect they in turn wondered what happened to me.
My mother came to take me home on 3rd March 1940 where I was happy living with my ‘mum and new dad’. I asked my mother late on how I was able to be seen by Sir Harold Gillies when money was so short all the time. Her answer always was, “it was through the Orphanage”, so I feel forever grateful to the Orphanage for their referral.
Later in my teens in 1948, I heard Sir Harold Gillies speaking on the program In Town Tonight. He said he had wondered how previous patients had fared since their surgery. I wrote to him and suggested I could attend his clinic at St Bartholomew’s Hospital so that he could see how successful my treatment was. I had a letter back from Sir Archibald McIndoe inviting me to see him in London. The outcome was that he admitted me to the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead, where he was rebuilding the faces and hands of many airmen injured in the war. After two or three more operations, Sir Archibald McIndoe completed the work started by Sir Harold Gillies, which had been halted during the war.
In the 1980’s, my husband and I joined a Discovering London group, and one of the tours took us to Haverstock Hill. At the time, the ‘Home on the Hill’ had been replaced by flats. I cannot remember seeing the Chapel, but the gymnasium is still in use as a sports hall. The houses where the babies were housed were still there, across what would have been our playground. Maybe they have now gone, and only memories remain of part of my childhood I will never forget.
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