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.
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.
|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
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
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!
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 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?).
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.
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
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.