I am writing this document to try and exorcise old “ghosts” that I thought were well and truly buried. I have never told anyone of my experiences at this home, though my sister who was there with me might guess at things that occurred. Apart from self release I can think of no other reason for this document as I am not the type of person to go opening up my innermost feelings.
Fifty years is a long time to carry fear inside and things that I had hoped faded and gone away now anger me and make me feel vulnerable again. Much of what happened was due to the prevailing attitudes, but to a five year old taken away from his family and in a “foreign” land I felt anger and rebellious at the treatment I and others received at this place.
It is often said “spare the rod and spoil the child”, well there was no sparing of the rod either by the Nuns at this home, nor by the teachers at the local school who seemed to blame all and sundry upon “the Orphanage Brats”.
All I can hope is that anyone who has the misfortune to read my ramblings can have some insight as to what made me such an awkward and stubborn bugger that I turned into. The few redeeming things that I can say about my experiences are that it left me with an overwhelming sense of fair play and treatment to those less able to fight their own battles. This has often led me into confrontation with authority and had me labelled as a troublemaker for which I give no apologies and I will continue to tell it as I see it!
It was all resurrected by a notice in the Daily Papers in April 2003 requesting details into the Home in Swansea, and fills me with anger even now.
I was about five years old when my older sister and I arrived at Killay House in Sketty which is a few miles outside Swansea. To a young London boy “wrenched away” from his family everything was strange and frightening. The place was a large rambling building run by Nuns under the Authority of the NCH, I cannot recall having ever seeing Nuns before and even now I still feel icicles up my spine when they address me in a severe manner.
I cannot really recall my initial feelings, only the numbness at the things that had recently transpired and losing my family. It was never really explained to me the reasons why my sister and I were “taken into care”, (a phrase which causes me some trepidation whenever I hear it nowadays) though over the intervening years I have heard all sorts of stories for which there must be a grain of truth in there somewhere.
I can remember that we were told to “be brave” as this was our home now and as it was late we would be “packed” off to bed and things would be sorted out in the morning.
Morning consisted of being instructed as to what was to become the normal day to day routine and woe betide any slackers or “mummies boy’s” who failed to carry out the allotted tasks. Each inmate was responsible for the sweeping and dusting around their own bed space and was jointly responsible for the tidiness of the shared bedroom, which was inspected with great gusto by those in charge with a zeal that would put an Army Sergeant-Major to shame. There were also individual tasks around the house which had to be carried out before breakfast and immediately after morning ablutions. My other tasks consisted of having to sweep, dust and polish the back staircase and window ledge, as this ledge was about six foot above the stairs my only access was by balancing a chair on the stairwell and climbing up onto the ledge with the inevitable results. All this had to be carried out before 07:00 which was breakfast time.
Breakfast was a set affair as we were sat at specified tables according to which “house” we were in and the tables were laid out correctly with table-cloths and place settings. After breakfast we were responsible for making sure that our school uniforms and shoes were up to the required standard and then make our own way to school.
As I have stated in the foreword about sparing the rod, discipline or punishment was the accepted fact of life at the home and to a young boy, who could never even remember his own parents punishing him, to be “punished” by so called sisters was frightening beyond all belief.
Punishment would be for the slightest infraction of house rules and would be applied with zeal and gusto towards any person requiring “correction” or needing to have “Satan” driven out. As I grew older the punishment increased due to what was called “dumb insolence” and being a child of Satan.
Caning, the strap and punishment baths were the “norm” as was “locking up” in little dark cupboards until the offender had learnt to behave. I couldn’t comprehend how I was a child of God and Satan’s at the same time and this added to my punishments for being “disruptive as I questioned why I had to punished for my “own good”.
Punishment baths were carried out not only by the Nuns but also aided by the older boys who would take great satisfaction in dealing out to someone what they themselves had endured. Stiff yard brooms were used as the offender was made to stand naked in the main bathing area and cold hoses sprayed upon them.
Caning and the strap were carried out mainly by the Nuns and on occasion by the visiting Father who would pray for your soul as he “drove out the Demons”. If you rebelled against a punishment you were strapped down for your own good as the sooner it was over the better you would feel, (little liars, I can never remember feeling “better” after one of those).
Beatings and assaults were also carried out by the older boys upon the newer and more vulnerable with fear being the order of the day. Any boy who complained was dealt with as a “squealer” and punished by “court martial”, as this was the early fifties the boys were full of how to deal with “traitors and cowards”. It was nothing new for the bigger boys to raid the younger boy’s dorm and subject them to punishment beatings, baths or making them stand naked outside on the fire escape in the pouring rain.
If you were caught crying or you wet the bed, you were in for a double dose, once from the sisters and then from the other boy’s for being a baby.
For nearly five years I endured the regime at Killay House and suffered breaks and bruises from the “accidents” along with the discipline correction, even being told many times that I was up for adoption as I had been abandoned. This was the period of forced apprentice’s to Australia and Canada so I’m luckier than some as I did get to go back to my parents, although their marriage didn’t last long and I became a “latch-key” child and had to fend for myself at home whilst my father worked or spent time in hospital.
What is it they say? “Kids today don’t know they’re born!” I don’t know about that but there was many a night that I wished that hadn’t been born.
The funny thing about the whole bloody lot is that I see the “yob culture” today and I bemoan the passing of corrective punishment and think if they had been around when the Sisters were in charge that they would soon be singing from a different hymn book.
I must be getting old; I’m starting to sound like an old fart and reminiscing about the “good old days”.
The time spent in the intervening years allowed me to bury my memories of what had happened to the five year old boy who had been “dumped” in that awful place, but now I feel the fear and anger against a system which still allows it’s regime to terrorise those that it is supposed to be looking after. As for my future, well one thing about being shut in cupboards, it taught you that you had to look inside yourself for support and growing up in the 60’s with the meditation era helped. I’ll just have to “don” my saffron robe and start prancing around streets singing “Hare Krishna”.
My wife is supportive, albeit somewhat shocked, she knew I was hiding something deep inside but put it down to the fact that I never was a communicator.
I’ve come across people over the years and listened to their stories of “a hard life!” and I think “you don’t know the half of it”. Life in this country is not so bad, when I see and hear of the sectarian and tribal brutality going on, even now I weep inside and feel “simpatico” as they say.
I must confess that I am still confused as to whom to direct my anger at, the authorities for my treatment, or my parents for abandoning me for nearly five years in that “Hell Hole”. When I cried, I cried alone! They stole my childhood and nobody ever said “sorry”, nobody ever explained or asked me what I wanted, even after being reunited with my family I felt as if I never belonged. I didn’t know them, I had no sense of family ties, only with my sister who had shared my experiences with me do I have any bond. Destruction of a person without physically killing them is quite an achievement, those who were supposed to care killed me emotionally along with many others, maybe God can forgive, but they carried out their work in the name of God and he didn’t seem to be on my side at that time.
We always make excuses after the fact as to why nothing was ever done,” we didn’t know!” “It wasn’t our responsibility!” but someone somewhere in government has to say “ENOUGH!” and ensure that Care means Care. The government is quick to take credit and taxes, but never to shoulder responsibility for what happens to its charges. An American President once had on his desk a card saying “The Buck Stops Here!” Well it’s time for the government whoever they are to stop the blame shuffling and take responsibility, no more party blaming, no more inaction, they can find millions to fight a war against an oppressive regime in another Country, what about a regime that allows the weak and vulnerable to be “bullied tortured and abused” by a so called caring society, ours!.
Sorry would have helped!