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The move to Swindon came about because of our persistent efforts to get rehoused since we got married. We had been registered with at least three different Housing Authorities in London and Surrey, but in spite of our Tuberculosis medical history we gained very few points for their Housing Lists: the lists were incredibly full and we were not living in overcrowded conditions.

The break came when I registered at the Labour Exchange at Tooting for a job in an “Overspill Town”. After several months on the waiting list and interviews at two different Employment Offices in London I was finally offered a job at the Vickers Armstrong aircraft factory in Swindon. I was told that a council house went with the job and I wouldn’t have to report to work until after I had moved my family into the new house at Swindon.

Shortly afterwards I received notification from Swindon Borough Council that a house on the new Walcot Estate was now available for me and that I should arrange to move in as soon as possible. Consequently I left my job at Mitcham and arranged for a removal firm to take us to Swindon. We had no opportunity to view the house; we didn’t even know where Swindon was, but fortunately the removal men did.

It was a great day for us, 27th August 1956, our own place at last. Our seventh home since we married, and my parents helped us to move in.

The Walcot Estate was very new, built to accommodate hundreds of families moving out of London and other parts of the country to start a new life in what was still open countryside. We were only a few miles from the town of Swindon, and there were Country Service buses of course, but the nearest bus stop was a very long walk through the Estate. At the time we moved there, most of the roads were laid out but not all finished, and there were no pavements and no shops. Gradually some Mobile Shops would find their way on to the Estate when they realised that many tenants with young families were isolated there, but it wasn’t a very economical way to shop and very unreliable.

Our house, at 8 Hamilton Close, was in a terrace. Some of the houses in the Close were still only half-finished and only a few were occupied. There were no fences or gates and the gardens were still full of builders rubble. From an upstairs window the outlook was just an enormous building site in a sea of mud, but to us it was home and Michael, now three years old, absolutely loved it. He had never had his own garden before, and it was a job to get him to come indoors, as he was content to sit on a pile of bricks with his wellington boots on, even when it was raining.

As we had our own back garden at last, we decided that our “refrigerator”, which up to now had been a bowl of cold water on the kitchen floor, should be moved out of the house into the back garden. I dug a suitable hole and sunk into it a deep square biscuit tin, big enough to take the milk bottles and butter etc., and this served as our "fridge" for quite a long time.
Mike says: shades of my dad's army training - "Improvised meat storage" from his army butchery manual - click here to see that drawing.

About two days after we had moved into the house, I bought a map, got on my bike and cycled out into the unknown countryside in search of Marston Aerodrome, where the Vickers Armstrong factory was situated. I had no letter of introduction, just a verbal promise from the Employment Exchange interview some months earlier that this firm had sponsored me. I parked my bike in the car park of this imposing building and sought out the Personnel Department.

After a short interview, I was referred to the Site Medical Officer who apparently saw all new arrivals. He was not happy when I told him I was an ex-Tuberculosis patient and insisted that I should be registered with the Swindon Chest Clinic to ascertain my fitness to return to work.

On the 30th August 1956, I duly attended the Chest Clinic at Swindon, had an X-ray and saw Dr O’Donovan, the lady Chest Physician. The subsequent result of the X-ray was that there was suspect trouble on my left lung (previous trouble had been with my right lung!) and consequently the Doctor ordered me to stay at home and await a bed at the local hospital where she could assess what treatment I needed. My weight, incidentally, was 8 stone 7 pounds (53.98 kg).

I was admitted to Gorse Hill Sanatorium at Swindon on 20th September 1956. This was a small Cottage Hospital on the outskirts of the town, with two long dormitory wards, one each for men and women, separated by a wide courtyard and garden. Most of the patients in my ward were local men and as I had only lived in Swindon a short time I welcomed the chance to talk to them and hear about the town and local industries.

I discovered that Occupational Therapy played a large part in the social life of the patients; the ward was more like a workshop - almost every patient was involved in making something and most of the items got sold on visiting days. After the twice-weekly visits from the Occupational Therapist who supplied the necessary materials, the beds were scattered with rolls of cane and sheets of leather, etc. It was also a common sight to find lengths of cane in the bath soaking to soften before being woven into baskets, etc.

On visiting days, the ward was transformed into something resembling a handicraft shop; all the patients who wanted to show-off their handiwork and hopefully sell some would surreptitiously display their work on lockers and tables. Cane baskets, handbags, purses and paintings would appear from nowhere and the visitors looked forward to this unofficial market. I did some leather work and made a few small purses and wallets. I also did some miniature paintings and some lettering, but my main interest was in drawing cartoons and I found some ideal subjects among the patients, the nurses and the domestic staff. They enjoyed being sketched, as our sense of humour was obviously good for hospital morale.

The male Charge Nurse suggested that I did about thirty special cartoons to decorate the walls at Christmas. I started on these about October or November 1956 and he hid them in his office so they would be a surprise when they were pinned up in the ward at Christmas. The patients and staff were disappointed that they weren’t allowed to see them but the Charge Nurse was adamant and made them wait. He kept his promise and displayed them just before Christmas. Unfortunately, within days most of them were removed as souvenirs and I didn’t even capture one for myself. It’s a pity, because I think they were some of my best examples of cartoon work and recalled some happy moments at the hospital, and I now regret that I didn’t make duplicates at the time.

I had commenced my treatment of Streptomycin injections and PAS tablets on 28th September 1956 and by 7th November my X-ray showed a satisfactory result, so all treatment was discontinued. On 2nd December 1956 I discovered a swelling under my right armpit and reported it to the Doctor. Five days later the doctor attempted a right “aspiration” to draw off any fluid, but as this was done without a local anaesthetic and was unsuccessful, I consequently lost consciousness.

On 14th December I had an interview with Dr Harley-Stevens (the Senior Chest Physician) who said he had contacted my previous surgeon, Mr Bromley, who was now at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington in London. It was agreed that I should travel to London after Christmas, to see Mr Bromley with a view to having another operation.

I left Gorse Hill Sanatorium on 2nd January 1957 and travelled to London by ambulance and train, accompanied by June. My weight, on transfer to St Mary’s was 8 stone 9 pounds (54.89 kg). I had an interview with Mr Bromley on 4th January and we discussed the proposed operation. On 11th January Mr Bromley carried out a seven-rib Thoracoplasty and removal of the “Plombage” which he performed 6 years earlier, but this time under general anaesthetic. Mr Bromley visited me when I’d returned to the ward after the operation, and we were both pleased that the operation was a success. He gave me one of the plastic balls that he had removed from my chest, to keep as a souvenir (yes, I still have it). I stayed at St Mary’s in Paddington for another month, during which time June was able to visit me frequently because she stayed with friends in London. We travelled back to Swindon on 11th February, where I continued my convalescence in Gorse Hill Sanatorium.

In the meantime, June was finding it difficult to manage with me in Hospital. She was unable to get out to work herself and Michael was only 3½ years old and not yet at school. Fortunately by now the Walcot Estate was beginning to look more civilised and accessible and June made many friends both on the Estate and around the Swindon area, plus some local organisations were offering help.

Mike says: my dad fails to actually mention the Jehovah's Witnesses by name throughout the whole of his Annals, but this is who he is alluding to here. June had joined the religion (cult?) soon after they were married, much to his disinterest, but he never talked about it and never openly disapproved. Obviously here, he was also talking about the British Legion, to which she openly objected...

The British Legion sent someone to help dig the front garden for her, and also someone to visit me in hospital. The Legion representative was interested in the artwork that I was doing and asked me to draw some posters to advertise the newly formed Walcot Branch of the Legion.

My first efforts at drawing posters from a hospital bed were not very good, but they must have been satisfactory because I was asked to do many more in the months to come, especially after I was discharged from hospital. The Legion Branch thanked me for my efforts by making me a member.

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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.

Website produced 2003-2013 by Mike Allen - a fatuous platitudes production.

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