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A Memoir of Langdon Hills Sanatorium - Part 2
by David Alexander

Air-raid shelter

     Langdon Hills looked across towards Tilbury and the Thames estuary and since the boys’ wing lay to the east of the site we had a good view of the fires caused by the German bombers going along the Thames corridor. I think the girls’ view would have been obstructed by the schoolroom and the Nurses’ Home; on the other hand the air-raid shelter had been built at their end of the site so they were nearer to safety than us. I only remember us all going down to the shelter on one occasion but there may have been more times. It was a busy night with incendiaries falling over the site and the next day we were able to see a large canister that had come down just outside the shelter. I presume it must have discharged smaller bombs as it fell but nobody told us what it was, or if they did I have long since forgotten. However, there were many nights when we could look out from the open doors of the ward and see the skies along the Thames glowing red.

Treatment

     The treatment as I’ve already indicated consisted of rest and fresh air. An important consideration was, of course, keeping us ‘regular’. We were not supposed to realise this, I suppose, but it did not take a genius to notice that sometimes the regulation mug of tea that arrived on your tray had your name written on its side in purple indelible pencil. It was not unknown for those who did not wish to be kept ‘regular’ to erase their name with a wet hand and swap the cup with another unsuspecting person’s - especially as it tended to be the kind of place where might was right if the staff were not about.

The other patients

     There was, in this context, a rough and ready pecking order among us, determined partly by age and partly by physique. The ‘alpha male’ so to speak was Vic Bentley, a young man of around 14 who had a room to himself adjacent to the ward and who more or less officially kept us in order. It was he who had the weekly comics first and they came to us in rotation after he’d finished with them. Then it was Wally Dunning’s and George Woodcock’s turn, then Peter Cotter and me and so on. At home I had only read the Hotspur; at Langdon Hills I could also read The Rover, Adventure and Wizard, as well as the picture comics like Mickey Mouse Weekly and Film Fun.

From left to right, George Woodcock, Wally Dunning and Vic Bentley. I am seated in the deckchair.
George Woodcock, Wally Dunning & Vic Bentley standing behind a seated David Alexander.
Photo: © D. Alexander. Reproduced by kind permission.

     We all wore a kind of ‘uniform’ although it was never referred to as such. For the boys it was grey flannel short trousers, grey socks, pants and vest and white shirt with a zipped up windjammer on top. (I don’t remember what the girls wore, though there is a half memory of grey gymslips.) I do have two photos taken while I was there - who took them I have no idea - they show Vic, Wally, George and myself, all dressed as I’ve described except that I am wearing a double-breasted jacket and Vic is in long trousers.

     I remember few names of the other patients: there was a Michael Henderson and a James Bunn; of the girls I only remember the names Louise Wheeler - Vic’s counterpart, Pauline West and Valerie Cleaver. We had very little mixing of the sexes; what did occur took place mostly in the schoolroom. A teacher came across from Stanford-le-Hope and held school for those well enough to attend; I have few memories of that room so I conclude I didn’t attend until near the end of my stay at the sanatorium. But I do remember that I was in the room on one occasion before Mrs Lee(?) had arrived and I opened the piano and played from memory some of the pieces I had learned at home. (I always have had some musical ability.) This impressed the others, of course - my moment of fame in a year at Langdon Hills.

Listening to the radio

     A lasting memory is of music. As a treat, the radio extension loudspeaker in the ward was turned on for a programme called ‘The Happidrome’ on Sunday evenings. This was a half-hour comedy and light entertainment programme featuring three comics called Mr Lovejoy, Ramsbottom, and Enoch. Usually the radio extension was switched off promptly at the end of the programme but occasionally we got to hear some of the programme which followed: Vera Lynn singing. Didn’t that make me miss home! All those yearning songs she sang for ‘the boys’ were enough to break your heart!

Diet

     The diet was fairly frugal as it was war time. I remember little of the food except that when we had bread and jam in the summer, at the time of the flying ants swarming, we would have to pick the wretched things off our slices before we could eat them.

Visits

     Visits from parents were few and far between; I think I may have seen my parents twice in the year that I stayed at Langdon Hills.

     To this day, I have no idea where the sanatorium stood; I was taken to and from a railway station in a van; it was the same when we went for X-rays (to Billericay? Dagenham?).

Discharged

     There is no big climax or shape to my story. I went to Langdon Hills in Spring 1943 and was discharged in Spring 1944, being judged well enough to return home.

Footnote

Upon completing this memoir I have since learnt that the Sanatorium stood in Dry Street and closed sometime in the 1950s. The house and land are now in private ownership; being known as Wootton House, and used as boarding kennels.

Title: A Memoir of Langdon Hills Sanatorium by David Alexander.

Copyright: © David Alexander, October 2005.

Comments: This account was supplied by David Alexander for use on the Basildon History website.

Page added: October 2005
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