I spent a few weeks at the now long gone St Mary's Children's Convalescent Home overlooking the sea in Broadstairs, Kent. In the summer of 1956, when I was nine years old and my name was David Welsh, I was sent there from my home in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, to convalesce following illness with the now unheard of rheumatic fever. Broadstairs was such a truly beautiful place. In fact, I had never been anywhere so picturesque and lovely. The nuns and nurses at the home were kindness itself and ordinarily, I should have been very happy there. But I had never been away from home before and certainly not that far away from home and eventually, I began to get very homesick and miss my mummy. I started running away and trying to get back home with no maps and no money. Not exactly 'The Great Escape', more like 'Sammy Going South' in reverse.
On the first occasion, I was caught by a nun on the High Street and on the second occasion, by a nurse in the middle of the town and taken back. On the third and last occasion, I was caught by a uniformed policeman on Broadstairs railway station just as I was about to board a train to London with only a one penny platform ticket and taken back to the home. After that, the staff at St Mary's decided to send me back home a few days later, chaperoned, of course. I think they were concerned for my safety in case next time, I managed to get as far as London and be picked up there by some man and never heard of again. I had no sense of danger in those days, only a sense of adventure.
I understand that the home closed in 1958 and was demolished shortly afterwards. These days, I'd jump at the chance to spend a couple of months there, but things were very different in 1956. I remember sleeping in the dormitories with the other boys (boys and girls had separate dormitories); having to go back to bed to lie down for an hour after meals and the walk through the chalk tunnel from the grounds down to the beach on Stone Bay to paddle and build sandcastles. I also recall that when we went to sit on the toilet, we had to keep the green toilet doors open while the nuns sat on chairs by the wall watching us. This may seem very strange behaviour nowadays, but I think the idea then was that if any of us collapsed, they could see it happening and lend immediate assistance.
A memory shared byon Apr 4th, 2010.
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