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Recounting Blessings

Chapter 2



2.1        Banknock Village – ‘Its Early Curses on Me’

Schoolhouse, Banknock in 1944

 This was my home with my parents and sister, Elizabeth, from the July 1944 until August 1949. The house, its garden and adjoining rectangular acre of primary school garden, its school buildings and playground, its surrounding farm land, and all the simple but sufficient village amenities, became a dramatic environment for my infant years five to ten. In due course, many people and happenings blessed my development there, but, without doubt, certain medical conditions that afflicted my sister and me in these days, can arguably be perceived now in retrospect as curses. 


In late November 1944 I was a happy pupil in Miss Johnstone’s Primary 1 class - Infants 1 as it was then called – when, somehow or other, I contracted the contagious disease Scarlatina. Visions of my being whisked away alone and tearful in an ambulance in the middle of a cold wet night have never left my memory.  I may have been told where I was going, but I was so ill and unaware at the time that it appeared to me that I was being snatched from the security of my parents’ care into the unknown. It transpired that the unknown was Bannockburn Hospital for Infectious and Contagious Diseases. Equally traumatic was the first thing that happened to me in a ward there as I lay in a strange bed in the company of rows of other children. A nurse, gently, but clearly with a great sense of urgency, wrapped a burning hot kaolin poultice tightly round my neck and throat, and then whispered to me, ‘Do not try to get out of bed; try to sleep; your mummy and daddy will come to visit you on Sunday.’ My tears of discomfort and loneliness soaked my pillow but, alas, they did not reduce the extreme heat or the uncomfortable constriction of the strange scarf that had been foisted on me.


Next morning, and three times each day thereafter for about the next three weeks or so, the poultice ‘brutality’ was repeated. Only then the purgatory of having the sticky scarf yanked off was if anything worse than the process of renewal! Then, when mum and dad eventually came to visit during the first week-end, the nearest they got to me was on the other side of a ward window looking in from the hospital grounds. I was of course thankful to be able at least to see them again. I was also overjoyed that they had brought me some comics to read. Thus I started to relax a wee bit thereafter and to gradually understand a little more about what was going on.


As I was still very ill, being confined to bed did not bother me for three or four weeks or so. However, as my appetite gradually returned, and I became more resigned to my predicament, my natural childlike desires to be physically active and play with all the toys scattered around the ward floor called for some form of action on my part. So, disobeying orders one morning in mid-December, I stealthily slipped my legs over the side of my bed, reached out for the floor far beneath, and then tried to stand up …. Only to collapse in a heap as a nurse, too late, rushed over to try to prevent the inevitable! ‘I cannae staun,” I remember muttering to myself … “And when you’re a wee bit stronger, you’ll have to learn to walk again too, sonny, came the smiling rejoinder from the nurse! You’ll want to get your present from Santa over at the Christmas tree next week, won’t you? Well, from tomorrow, we’ll start practising … a wee bit at a time. Now, here, I’ll lift you back into your bed.”  ….. Progress ….hooray!


Only later on in life did I discover that, at a time when the very new penicillin type antibiotics were priority for our troops abroad and not for those of us ill at home, the dangers of my condition developing into rheumatic fever had been very great. I also found out later that this knowledge had weighed very heavily on my parents’ minds as my mum had barely survived this accursed rheumatic affliction in her teens, and that this fact had not been unconnected to her being advised not to risk having a second child after the birth of my sister in 1936. Little wonder my return home to Banknock in January 1945 was met with a greater emotional welcome than even I, as a most contented and loved bairn, had ever received before.


A minor blessing or curse, I do not to this day which, came my way, when, in mid-February of 1945, and my being barely back at school after convalescence, an opportunity was offered to us by Dr Melville, a friend of my mother’s Telfer family in Falkirk, to arrange for the surgical removal of my tonsils and adenoids. Chloroform haunts me to this day and although the memory of the prescribed ice-cream in the taxi home after the operation is soothing, the bucketful of blood I filled as a necessary result is still a vivid 'horror movie picture’ in my mind.


A much quicker return to school for the summer term for me only brought on more medical misfortune – Chicken pox! And then after being strong enough to enjoy a summer fortnight’s holiday in Rothesay and to learn how to swim in its fine indoor salt-water pool, the Autumn term of Infants 2, saw the invasion of Measles into Banknock School not long after the joys of VE Day celebrations on August 16th, 1945. I naturally succumbed like many others, but was then ‘fortunate’ to also catch German Measles, which, as was often said then, “It’s more a blessing than a curse.”


So the first real blessing to me from sporting activity in my life was swimming, albeit something to be only experienced during summer holidays. “A swim in the sea before breakfast” was my dad’s rallying cry to all in sundry, and this resounded in ours ears during all our youthful  vacationing in the likes of Lundin Links, St. Andrews, Monifieth, Saltcoats and Crail until we ‘escaped’ such family holidays late in our teens.


The Henderson Family in St. Andrews in 1946


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