Childhood Illness in Mumbles in 1927

by Dorothy Williams


I was born in the middle of winter in 1924, in a terraced house in Park Street Mumbles. These years after World War One were extremely difficult for all peoples.

My father being a tall loving man still suffered at times from injuries and bad memories from serving a number of years in the army, before and in the Great War. My mother's life had been turned upside down from the death of her mother when 9 years old. Though she had a number of brothers and sisters and her father, the family became very disorganised because of it, making her life hard.

When I was about 2 ½ years old, I became very ill and though all sorts of herbal remedies were tried on me, nothing worked. Up until this illness occurred one's parents could not afford a doctor, nevertheless, a doctor was called for and the result was I had Diphtheria! This illness caused another load of big problems in my parents’ lives. Our house was now taboo to all and sundry because of contamination and was shut down to control this situation. The family was not allowed to go out for any reason, having a time limit of 4 to 6 weeks to remain inside. A black van arrived with men in white clothes and masks, to fumigate all round the house, plus all the family. Outside on the front wall of the house, a large red cross on a white board was placed, to warn other people not to approach it.

This situation made it very difficult to get food for the family, and my father was unable to go to work for a while. So, the food situation had to be reorganised. Luckily, my father had been growing some vegetables in the garden. Because of the cold weather he had onions hanging up in the back kitchen on a long string, potatoes had been earlier placed in the back kitchen in a sack, and the few chickens we had also helped with a few eggs. But, there was no bread or milk for the other children. So, with permission from the doctor this problem was solved in another way. The one and only lower front window with windowsill, was opened once a day to receive the necessary food. Mother would place a wooden board on the windowsill and the required items were supplied by a neighbour, who themselves lived in one of the terraced houses, whose front room had been turned into a shop. No monies changed hands until the time limit set for contamination had passed.

At this very young age with Diphtheria, an ambulance took me away to Swansea, where a sanitarium for infectious illnesses existed. This separation between child and parents caused much heartache and more problems. The loving parents couldn't visit the child, through isolation and lack of funds and transport. The young babe whimpered to be close to its parents and the desire for love. I knew none of these facts taking place at the time of course, because of my babyhood and illness, but my mother enlightened me of that situation when I grew up.

What I did remember however, though so young, was a nurse who attended to my tears and heartache, being left as it were in a strange place with no one to comfort me. I remember crying and choking whilst in bed, but an elderly nurse (so it seemed to me) asked me to put my arms around her waist as she needed my love, which I did many times, day after day, but that is all I remember about her. However, looking back over the years, this wonderful nurse tried to give me love to comfort my heartache, when I needed it the most. No isolation in a hospital, no doctor, nor medicine, could have done more for me, as a lonely sick baby, than this loving memorable nurse!