During the Spring of 1943 I was pregnant and under the supervision of doctors and midwives at Woolwich Mothers and Babies Unit, Samuel Street, London.
On one visit it was announced that I should be evacuated to Loughborough during the last stages of my confinement. There were two reasons for us to be evacuated:
(1)That London was such a dangerous place to be because of the air-raids.
(2) More hospital beds were needed for air-raid casualties and some soldiers coming home injured from war.
It was a strange experience leaving my home and family in Greenwich; not knowing what to expect. My husband worked on the River Thames as a Lighterman and also as an Air-Raid Warden.
I travelled from London with other pregnant women by train - under the supervision of the W.V.S; when we arrived in Leicestershire we went to a village hall - where we met the host families - as we got to know each other local residents served us a high tea. I was allocated to a home owned by a young couple with a little girl who was around 2 years old; they called her “Tiny” because she was delicate and very tiny. I can remember the family being worried about their daughter’s health.
I, of course took my ration book and did all I could to help with the family chores. During the day I would take Tiny to the park and would often meet up with other evacuee to-be-mums.
The WVS kept a careful eye on us. The man of the house worked in a factory called the “Brush”. There was one air-raid during the time I stayed with the family.
When I went into Labour the family contacted the WVS who escorted me to Long Whatton House. I had a long labour and my Son Ian was born; by a forceps delivery on 17th June 1943. His birth certificate reads “Long Whatton, Castle Donnington”.
I stayed on for 2 weeks; my Mother came up from London to visit me -because of work commitments my husband kept in contact by letter and sent parcels.
When the big day arrived to return home I travelled with a group of new mothers and their babies. Once back in London I celebrated the birth of my baby with family members. I wrote a long letter to my host family thanking them for their wonderful hospitality - we corresponded for a time but eventually lost touch. (Jessie thinks the road of the host family was Park Drive and thinks there is a “Bird” name either in the name of the road or that of the host family.
Jessie and Ian attended the reunion in September 2009. Jessie was born on 24th April 1915
Lilian James and Peter
Peter William was born at 10 to 2 on Thursday 12th November 1942. Bill had just been discharged from the army on medical grounds. We were renting a 1st floor flat at 57 Fonthill Rd London.
I was evacuated to Loughborough, Leics. for the birth. A crowd of expectant mothers was gathered a Caledonian Road railway station to get the train North. When we arrived, we were given a list of things we should bring with us and were then billeted out individually with private families.
The maternity hospital at Whatton House, Long Whatton was a long distance from the billet in the Castle Donington area. It was lucky for me that I had false labour pains and was taken to hospital too early, (the transport was an army truck)
Peter was due on 27th October and we knew the exact week that Bill had been on leave and Peter conceived. After I had been 2 weeks in hospital, the Sister didn’t know what to do with me. On the 12th November she gave me castor oil to take. More went down the toilet than down my inside. During the time I was eating my dinner, I had slight stomach pains, so I asked to be taken and excused from the washing up At I o’clock the nursing mothers settled down to sleep, the nurses had their dinner. I went into the room where I had been sleeping, (the library in peacetime).
I started having real pains and rang for attention. Nurses came, took particulars, went away and that was that. Then I passed a pool of brown liquid and was bearing down. I was worried and rang again. This time a crippled nurse came and took me to the examination room, upstairs in the bathroom. Then she fetched the Sister, Sister took one look and shouted “the head, the head”. The bells stated ringing, the nurses rushed to the delivery room. The crippled nurse and I ran to the delivery room and lay on the bed. Told to lie on my left side and hold on to a rope, to push when a pain came and pant in between while. I’d had my enema and shave a fortnight before. Now that I was being attended to, I was no longer frightened. Yet I floated face down just under the ceiling, out of my body and watched myself. Peter was born at 10 to 2, all mauve and yellow and sucked his forefinger immediately, he had his bottom smacked and was given to a nurse.
I said “What do I do now”. I felt self- conscious just lying there with all the nurses around. Just wait for another pain I was told, then a nurse grasped my belly as the after birth came. Peter was put for a short time to the breast and I was given a cup of sweet tea I was put on a stretcher and taken by some laughing nurses to the main ward where the other mothers were just waking up. They were naturally very surprised and later kidded me, don’t cough or you’ll have another one. That evening I went to the end of my bed in order to let the nurse make it (as I had seen the other mums do) and got ticked off;
Bill travelled up to take us home. Because he was out of the army; we had to pay our own fare, although we had recently had a lot of expense in setting up home. Because he was now a civilian we had to pay £4 hospital fee. We appealed and it was waived or reduced. Some mothers were only taken to St Albans, so their fares were not so much as ours. We had no choice.
Whatton House was a large house in extensive grounds. Chestnut trees were growing there. The big ward had 2 fire places. The staircase from the hallway branched into 2 at the first floor. I’d liked to see it again. All the mothers received a parcel of cot blanket and baby clothes donated by the Americans. The wool which we could buy for knitting was very stringy.
On June 22nd 1997 the Lord Crawshaw, then present owner of Whatton House, organised a Whatton House babies Reunion Tea Party. Peter, wife Kathy, Bill and I went. We were joined at our table by a “babe” who was born exactly one week before Peter, James Gilbert. His mother died 2, ½ years previously; I would have loved to have been able talk to her. The house had been altered in part. We were not allowed to go into what I think was the large ward. The staircase seemed to have been halved.
This memoir was copied to LWHS by Peter James. His mother was 20 years old when he was born. His mother had 2 further children, both girls and her proud boast was that she never missed a meal having us; sadly she died in 2013, just short of her 91st birthday. We are grateful to Peter for allowing us to publish this memoir and photograph.
Mothers, Babies and Staff with the Rector W. E. Pilling November 1940
Photo Terry Ross, Terry and his mother, front row 2nd from the left