Tag Archives: National Health Service

Granny’s Ornament Part Two…

Kenneth Victor O’Bray aged 10 months May 1922

My Mum and her brother, Kenny c. 1932 my Mum would have been about 9 and Kenny 11 years old.

Two years into Uncle Ken’s apprenticeship, his life takes another turn…

A few days before Christmas, a neighbour visited Granny and saw her putting Holly branches around the fireplace and remarked “You should not put up Holly, it means a death in the family’ Gran chose to ignore this ‘old wives tale’

The United Kingdom declared war on Germany on the 3rd of September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland. France also declared war on Germany later the same day. The state of war was announced to the British public in an 11 am radio broadcast by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. (1)

Most of the country was in shock. Kenny as my grandparents always called him, was 17 years old that July 31st, and I have no doubt that he would have signed up as soon as he was 18 years old.

On about the 20th of December, Kenny complained of a tummy ache, so he stayed home from work. The pain got progressively worse, so the family doctor was called in. This was before the National Health Service was formed in 1948, so all house calls were to be paid in cash.

Because Kenny was feeling so poorly, Granny put a stool next to his bed, piled it up with books and put his food and drink on it, so it was eye level and easy to reach.

When the doctor arrived he examined Kenny and said it was nothing just an upset tummy. My Mum also had the same stomach pains so the doctor thought it was this. Days later, he worsened and the doctor was called in again.

By this time, my gramps was very worried and asked for him to be taken to the hospital as the pain was getting worse, but the doctor refused to admit him saying” With all those books piled up next to him, he can’t be that ill’

The next day, 23rd December and again, Gramps called the doctor in. This time he examined my Mum and left some mixture for her to take. Mum told me, that she refused to take it, because he had a strong foreign accent, and she was certain he was a ‘spy’ and the mixture was poison! Kenny worsened on the 23rd of December.

My mum remembers her parents and neighbours at his bedside, whispering ‘Is he still breathing?” Get a mirror and hold it up to his mouth’ Mum was in the bedroom next door worrying and in pain herself. Kenny died that evening. He was 17 years old.

Once again, the doctor was called and Gran and Gramps made him examine Mum at the same time. She was admitted to the hospital immediately with the same symptoms as Kenny had.

She had appendicitis and was operated on that day, and she recovered. Kenny meanwhile was autopsied. They discovered he had peritonitis. A ruptured appendix spreads infection throughout the abdomen. it requires immediate surgery to remove the appendix and clean the abdominal cavity or death occurs.

Mum was lucky her appendix had not yet burst. Kenny was not. My Granny and Gramps were so upset they tried to sue the doctor. I read Gramps’ diary of these events leading up to Uncle Ken’s death and wept.

My Gramps was not successful in suing the doctor although he tried very hard. Granny told me of her visiting the cemetery after Kenny’s burial and sitting on his gravesite and weeping, every day.

Plymouth was one of the most heavily bombed British cities during World War Two. The first bombs fell on the city on 6 July 1940, with the heaviest period of bombing occurring in March and April 1941. (2)

Many years later when she related this sad family history to me, we were at the cemetery visiting Uncle Ken’s grave. I noticed a large chip in the granite headstone and pointed it out to Granny. ‘Oh, yes” she replied, “I remember that!” She continued, “One day when I was visiting the cemetery, sitting on the edge of the grave, when the air raid sirens went off. I just carried on weeping and shouting to the sky ‘Take me now! I don’t care!” when a large piece of shrapnel hit the side of the headstone!

I asked her if she was afraid but she said ‘Not in the least!” and told me, that she continued to sit there and cry and shout, all whilst the air raid roared and blazed around her. I think this was her expressing her grief in a most dramatic but cathartic way, and was probably a good thing to do.

Grief can drastically alter a person’s attitude to life and I know families who lose a child never really recover from the shock. My grandparents, whilst not always talking about Kenny, did answer my questions and let me look through all his sketches and drawings they had.

My Mum was affected by her brothers’ death. Her parents were strict she said, timing her outings and expecting her home at a certain time, if she was spotted talking to boys she was called into the house.

She was constantly “kept an eye on” not allowed much freedom, or chance to meet people, and consequently, married far too young and too fast. However, I believe that they were afraid that they would lose her too, especially during the war years with constant bombs and air raids.

When her brother died and Mum’s infant son, my baby brother Christopher, died at three days old and she thought they were ‘cursed’ I must admit when my own son was born, the thought did cross my mind that the boys of the family did not live for long….. but I quickly quelled that thought! (3)

Today, my two ‘boys’ are healthy happy men and I am grateful.

October 1938. A sketch by Uncle Kenny of the Barbican where the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for America on the 16th September 1620
August 1939, This was taken four months before Uncle Kenny died. He is 17 years old, and it was taken at the Whitsands Beach, near Plymouth Devon.

The above photo was the one that I always remember, it is hung on the wall when I lived with my grandparents and is still there today. Below is Kenny’s Death certificate. The cause of death reads: “Perforated appendix generalised peritonitis Certified by W. E. J. Major Coroner for Plymouth after post mortem without inquest”. Because there was no inquest, I believe this is why my grandparents decided to try and sue the doctor. There should have been an inquest, so they could express their outrage, grief and sorrow at the behaviour of the doctor.

A few days ago I received an email from HM Coroner’s Office in Plymouth Devon. I had inquired about obtaining the Post Mortem report.


Good Afternoon

Thank you for your email and for updating the information provided.

I have made enquiries with our archivists and unfortunately, they do not hold any Post Mortems reports for 1939. Unfortunately, we are unable to assist with your enquiry any further.

Kind regards

Debbie, HM Coroners Office 1 Derriford Park, Derriford Business Park Plymouth PL6 5QZ

I had hoped to obtain them to add to this story. It was not to be. Perhaps, in the future, I may be luckier. I am sure they are held, just not digitized yet.

A Brief Note on Holly Beliefs in the West Country of Devon, England.

It was always considered terribly unlucky to bring holly into the house before Christmas Eve and even more so to leave it in the home after Candlemas Eve (1st February)“.


(1) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/sep/06/second-world-war-declaration-chamberlain

(2) https://www.plymouth.gov.uk/newsroom/plymouthnews/plymouthblitzremembered

(3) https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/01/14/my-brothers-keeper/

Read Part One of ‘Granny’s Ornament” here:


Memories of A 1950 British Christmas

I was reminded of the city I grew up in when images of the tornado that shattered the towns in Kentucky were shown on TV and online recently. Our city after the blitz looked exactly like that…. and it was not until I was a teen that the city workers had finally cleared away the last of the debris and rebuilt our city completely.

Plymouth, England, After A Raid – 1941

Plymouth Reduced to Rubble after A Raid – 1949

This was bad, but after London, the worst bombed city in England was Liverpool.

Christmas 1950 was still bleak, I was five years old and Christmas that year was to be austere, to say the least, but I was not aware of that at the time. It is only with age that I remember and think wow! That was hard.

WW2 had finally ended in November 1945 the year and month I was born. Our city of Plymouth was battered and bombed, and by the time I was born, rationing and shortages were still all over the country which lasted until I was nine years old!

I often think, as so-called ‘victors’ in the War, shouldn’t we have been better off and not ‘on the rations’ until I was nine years old?

One person’s ration for a week.

There were few Christmas trees or decorations, At our primary school, we cut up strips of newspaper, glued them together to make paper chains to hang in the classroom.

We did the same at home. Occasionally, if you were lucky we could buy coloured strips of paper but mostly it was the newspaper chains. Dad would go out and find some Mistletoe and Holly to put around the mantlepiece.

We did not have a tree at home, but we all had fun at school, making the ‘decorations’ we sang Christmas carols and exchanged homemade cards coloured with old, worn down crayons. We always had a Carol Service at school before we finished for the year.

We had no books or school library but our teacher read out loud to us each Friday and she finished the book the last Friday before we broke up for the Christmas holidays. I remember the book, it was called ‘ Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw. (1)

Back to Christmas 1950. Below, is a photo of me, Dad and his mother, Emily Marion. It always makes me laugh as I am wearing my ** National Health Service** free glasses- hence the gawky look! (I hated those glasses with a passion and once buried them in the garden!) (2)

In this photo, we were shopping in the Nissan huts, temporary metal huts set up for various bombed-out shops until re-building could commence in our blitz-wrecked city. and I was meeting Santa.

Looking at this photo now, I see that I was not exactly dressed appropriately” for the weather. Severe shortages were still in effect, and although I was warm I do remember my legs always being cold, after the fashion of those days!

The photo below was taken in 1943, The Nissan huts were still in use in my photo above.

A view of the busy Market Hall in Plymouth, showing that Woolworth’s has opened a large stand in the market. The main F W Woolworth & Co. Ltd. store had been severely damaged during an air raid.

There was not much available for Christmas foods, but my Dad would go late in the evening, as the stalls were closing, to get the cheap ‘end of the day goods’ like apples that were slightly bruised, or some pieces of holly or mistletoe or a few small oranges which only appeared at Christmastime.

Nuts were popular but we would see them only at Christmas and they were very expensive, so it was traditional to put a few nuts in childrens’ pillowcases along with a small orange. We usually had two or three big walnuts, still in their shells in our pillowcases. There were no ‘stockings’ to hang up. We put pillowcases hung over the bedknob at the end of the bed for our gifts and I carried on that tradition with my children.

Most of the gifts were either homemade or knitted and always wrapped in newspaper. We did not care what it was wrapped in, we had presents! I do not remember feeling deprived of anything.

That year, 1950, only certain meats were off ration such as reindeer, horse, rabbit and whale meat was also on offer. If I ate them, I cannot claim to have a memory of it! If we had a chicken or duck we were very lucky or rich. Usually, it was lamb or pork.

1949: Workers rolling out the whalemeat roll from a conveyor belt at a Slough factory. Whalemeat will soon make its bow to the public and it will be unrationed and off points. It can be served as luncheon meat, warmed in a frying pan as a breakfast food or served cold with a salad…..Yum!!

Three years after the War ended, restrictions on food were gradually being lifted. Petrol rationing, imposed in 1939, ended in May 1950. . Flour was ‘off ration’ on 25th July, followed by clothes on 15th March 1949. Although on the 19th of May 1950, rationing ended for canned and dried fruits chocolate biscuits treacle, syrup, jellies and mincemeat. In September 1950 soap was off ration and became a very popular Christmas gift!

We were still having to queue for food, and often it was sold out, by the time we reached the head of the queue, so our Christmas pudding and cakes had carrots added to them, to sweeten and bulk it up. Even when I was older in the early 1960s, and learning to bake and cook at school, we still added carrots to our Christmas cakes and puddings. (3)

We all ate a lot of ‘organ meats’ such as liver and onions and occasionally, when they could be picked in the fields, with mushrooms too. Today, we would add bacon to the liver and onions. Steak and kidney pies were and still are, a favourite in England. I do remember eating calves’ brains – on toast!

Liver And Onions

(Photo from https://foodimentary.com)

Oh, and ‘Brawn’ or ‘Braun’ made with a whole pigs head, when you could get one. Tongue, ears, brain, eyes. Boiled for hours with various herbs and spices cooled, and then everything was removed from the head then pressed in a mold overnight.

Sliced and served cold in a salad, on a Summer day it really was delicious. I believe it is known here, in Quebec, as ‘headcheese’?


Tripe and onions were very popular too. Tripe comes from the stomach lining of farm animals and, I remember Granny telling me, it was a wonderful source of protein and would make my hair and nails grow. Still served in many countries around the world, I think in the UK it originated in the county of Yorkshire.

Tripe Before Cooking in Milk, Herbs And Onions

I ate it all. What did I know or care, what I was eating?? I had a full tummy. Today, I do not take Christmas for granted even with all the goodies available because, although austere bleak and not much around in Christmas, 1950 I do not remember ever being hungry. Plus our dietary restrictions were not a bad thing for our health. As a five-year-old, I was frequently cold, yes, but hungry? Never! I was a lucky one.


(1) Many years later on 25th December 1964 when I was 19, the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ came out. I remember sitting in the theatre watching it and thinking “I know this story”….of course, it was based on the book Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw that teacher used to read to us every Friday.

(2) Before the National Health Service was created in 1948, patients were generally required to pay for their health care. Free treatment was sometimes available from charitable voluntary hospitals. Some local authorities operated hospitals for local ratepayers (under a system originating with the Poor Laws).
History of the National Health Service – Wikipedia

(3) http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/4/newsid_3818000/3818563.st

A short video of Plymouth after the Blitz Raid, 1941. https://www.facebook.com/ForcesTV/videos/plymouth-marks-80-years-since-1941-blitz-raids-in-ww2/140680627959404/

The first items to go on points rationing were tinned meats, tinned fish and tinned beans; later, points rationing was applied to most tinned goods, dried fruits, cereals, legumes, biscuits, etc. When points rationing was first introduced, everyone had 16 points per person every four weeks. British Wartime Food – CooksInfohttps://www.cooksinfo.com › Cuisines