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Drawing by Alf in 1951 of imaginary furniture designs.

Hospitals, etc.
(page 2 of 2)

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"Imaginary designs" for furniture, drawn at Cheam, 1951



Home was still at Malden Road, North Cheam. I was again placed under the care of Dr Harwood at Sutton Chest Clinic, St Helier Hospital, and had to report to him monthly for x-rays and for medical examination. My progress continued to be satisfactory but a return to work was not imminent at this stage: I was ordered to take things very easy, get plenty of fresh air and take long walks every day, which I did.

On Saturday 22nd April 1950, I made my first and only visit to the football stadium at Wembley: dad got the tickets for the match and we saw the Amateur Cup Final of the Schools Challenge Cup.

On Saturday 27th May 1950, my friends Stan and Win were married at South Harrow, and I was the Best Man.

During 1950 Derek had completed his National Service in the army and had joined the London Vidarians Walking Club. He became an active member and all the family turned out for the race events at Mitcham Common to give their support. I joined the Club as a non-active member and was elected to the Committee. Dad was also a Committee member and was later appointed a Vice-President for his services in providing transport for the Club.

Convalescence was a slow process in those days and it was several months before the doctor considered me fit enough to undergo some training for light work. In the meantime I had enrolled at Sutton Art School and took a special commercial art course in the Summer 1950 term, which included life drawing, commercial design and a class in “Lettering”.

I was forced to give up this course mid-term because the hospital Almoner had arranged for me to attend a watch and clock repair course at the government training centre at Waddon. I started at there on 14th August 1950, and this was intended to be a seven-year apprenticeship condensed into a three-month course. Unfortunately, I never quite made it; I worked on clocks only for the first month of the course, then suffered a relapse.

Alf's drawing of a clock's train and escapement. Another of Alf's clock mechanism drawings.
Two mechanical drawings by Alf of clock mechanisms, beautifully-drawn in August 1950 whilst at the Watch & Clock Repair Centre, Waddon, Croydon.

On the morning of 10th September 1950 I suffered a bad Haemoptysis and remained in bed, and my parents sent for the doctor. Consequently, I was confined to bed again for another four months, awaiting a vacant bed at St Helier Hospital. I was eventually admitted on 18th January 1951, my weight at that time - 8 stone 7 pounds (53.98 kg).

On Saturday 31st March 1951 Fred and Dorothy were married at Worcester Park. However, I was in St Helier Hospital at the time awaiting my operation and so was unable to attend the wedding.

St Helier was a General Hospital, but had two isolated Chest Units. The male wards were on the ground floor with large French-windows opening out on to the gardens and the female wards were situated above this on the first floor, with a balcony.

Photograph of the 'Girls Upstairs' in June 1951.
"The Girls Upstairs" at St Helier's Hospital in June 1951:
June Dunning is far left in the picture.

My chest physician, Doctor Harwood made another attempt, on the 29th January 1951, to administer a right Artificial Pneumothorax but this failed, as it did when previously attempted at Ventnor two years earlier. I was then referred to Mr Bromley, the chest surgeon, who explained that he would like to operate, but first there would be a three-month preparation period. I remained in hospital during this time but was allowed to get up and walk around to build up my strength in readiness for the operation; I also took special exercises from Miss Kyper, the physiotherapist.

The operation, known as a “Plombage” took place on 26th April 1951 in the theatre at St Helier under local anaesthetic. It involved inserting fifteen plastic balls in the chest cavity to prevent the lung fully expanding. The balls were about one and a quarter inches in diameter with a hole through the centre so that they could be strung together, with gold wire I think. The operation was carried out by Mr Bromley, took about five hours and I remained conscious all the time, as the surgeon found it necessary to talk to me.

I remained in the chest ward for another four months after the operation, which was a great success and I gladly “suffered the torturous exercises” at the hands of my physiotherapist, the previously-mentioned Miss Kyper. Thanks to her and the medical and nursing staff, I gradually regained my strength and recovered sufficiently to await transfer to a convalescence hospital in due course.

During my recovery period at St Helier’s, the patients were encouraged to participate in occupational therapy: we did play-reading, watched some films (from a projector), borrowed a lot of books from the hospital’s mobile library, and I continued with my Lettering exercises. I even taught the art of Lettering to one of my fellow patients.

The occupational therapist started the idea of compiling a magazine comprised of original stories, poetry, drawings, etc., all contributed to by the patients of both chest units, men & women. I remember doing a drawing, probably a cartoon, for an inside page and also some work for the cover. There was only one copy - just the original work - and the book was entitled “the Paragon”; I did the title lettering on the cover. The finished book was passed around the wards both upstairs and downstairs for everyone’s enjoyment, patients, visitors and staff alike.

Picture of Alf in bed at St Helier Hospital , June 1951.
Alf at St Helier Hospital, June 1951.

Alf's cartoon of Doctor's Rounds, 1951.
"Doctor's Rounds" cartoon drawn by Alf at St Helier Hospital, 1951.

Most of the patients were spending several months in the same ward in bed and not getting the chance to meet other patients, so our book “The Paragon” proved to be an ice-breaker. More patients had a way to get to know one another, particularly when we started our own Pen-Pal club between the girls upstairs and the men downstairs.

My pen-pal was June; I had occasionally caught sight of her when the men were allowed to walk in the garden for exercise and the girls were confined to the balcony above us. June and I very soon discovered that we shared an interest in letter writing and consequently got to know one another very well. The letters got longer and more frequent and were passed by hand by the staff.

June was eventually transferred to a convalescent hospital at Cobham whilst I was still at St Helier’s, but she did visit me in the ward before she left. I think some of the nurses were relieved that they no longer had to act as postman for us.

Drawing of June Dunning by Alf whilst at St Helier  Hospital 1951.
June Dunning, drawn by Alf whilst they were at St Helier Hospital, 1951.

I was eventually moved, and on 22nd August 1951 went to the men’s convalescence hospital at Comeragh Court, Golf Club Road, Woking. By now June was nearing her time for discharge from Cobham and we still continued to write those long letters. For a while we even managed to visit one another from our respective hospitals and eventually June met my parents on visiting days.

Comeragh Court was a small compact hospital in a large old house in its own grounds which had several lawns, including a putting green for the patients’ use. There was a large cellar in the house which served as a workshop for patients wishing to do occupational therapy, and for this a large stock of surplus wood was made available. I made a useful pair of book-ends while I was there, which I later French-polished; I still have them at home.
Mike says: I have them now holding up my CD's!

Drawing of Comeragh Court by Alf, September 1951.
A pencil drawing of Comeragh Court, done by Alf, 11th September 1951.

Photograph of Comeragh Court in 1952.
Comeragh Court, front view, April 1952. Alf wrote on the back of the photo that this also showed Dr Birrell's car...

There was a billiard room for the patients where we had many organised snooker tournaments. A large lounge in the front of the house was used by patients who wanted a quiet read or somewhere to entertain their visitors. There was also a small room in the basement of the house which was fitted out as a library. Books were greatly sought after by the patients as we spent a lot of time reading in bed and we had the Red Cross to thank for providing these. An elderly lady from the Red Cross would visit us periodically to oversee the library and to order new books whenever possible, but one of the patients would normally be responsible for the upkeep of the library and the issue of books to the patients in the wards.

Photograph of the Billiards Room at Comeragh Court, December 1951.
The Billiards Room at Comeragh Court, December 1951.

Photo of Alf and Jim in the library at Comeragh Court, December 1951.
Alf and Jim in the library at Comeragh Court, December 1951.

Of course, this job fell to me for several months and I enjoyed it; it also gave me the opportunity to work on my own in a quiet room with a table, where I could draw cartoons and paint posters, etc. The posters were for the Care Almoner of our local clinic area (Woking Tuberculosis Care Committee) who was organising the sale of NAPT seals prior to Christmas, this being October/November 1951.

On 26th March 1952 I was invited, along with a fellow patient, to a Conference for Library Workers at the St John Ambulance Hall at Guildford on behalf of the Surrey Hospital Libraries Committee. There must have been about two hundred librarians there and the meeting was chaired by Lady Heald. We enjoyed the day out, especially the tea and cakes in the interval…

Comeragh Court had about twenty-five male patients and a fairly high proportion of nursing and domestic staff, most of whom lived on the premises. The patients were in four main wards each with about six or seven beds. The treatment needed by the patients was minimal as we were all awaiting our discharge to go home, but the nurses were always on hand if needed and a doctor made regular visits. We also made visits to neighbouring hospitals for x-rays, etc.

Comeragh Court was an easy-going but well-disciplined hospital, and I enjoyed my eight months there. In September 1951, shortly after I arrived there, the Sister-in-charge had encouraged the patients to hold a Fancy Dress Competition; I just took the photos!

Photograph of the Fancy Dress competition, September 1951. Photograph of the Fancy Dress competition, September 1951. Photograph of the Fancy Dress competition, September 1951. Photograph of the Fancy Dress competition, September 1951.

At Christmas we were allowed to decorate our wards; this again brought out the competitive spirit, but the biggest challenge and morale booster was the games tournament. We played cards, crib, snooker, billiards, putting and bowls, with the winner's names slotted into a specially-made tournament shield on a large board, permanently displayed in the entrance hall for all the visitors to see. I believe I still have my original drawing plans for it somewhere. I often wonder how long that board survived after I left the Hospital.

Alf's design for the Games Tournament shields.
Alf's design for the Games Tournament shields.
See, at least the drawing has survived!

I shall never forget the weeks prior to Christmas at Comeragh Court: I sat by my bed and made forty Christmas cards by hand. A friend had kindly given me several sheets of manila card which I cut up into suitable sizes, painted designs in water colours and carefully hand-lettered each one. All my family and friends received personalised Christmas cards that year.

Again I was very fortunate to have many visitors while I was at Comeragh Court. Woking railway station was only walking distance from the Hospital.

After eight months there I was finally discharged from Comeragh Court on 18th April 1952, during which time June and I got engaged to be married.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Text by Alf Allen 1999. Edited and spell-checked by Mike Allen 2003.
Most photos taken by Alf and most illustrations drawn by him; scanned from his albums, etc., now in my possession and digitally edited 2003-2005.
Yes, yes, the photos and layout need updating - the website was first designed in "dial-up days", before any sort of broadband, and everything had to be small so it uploaded and downloaded fast. Work to do, I know.

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