Headline 16 January 1962 – ‘Smallpox in Cardiff’

The banner headline in the South Wales Echo 50 years ago today:

‘Smallpox in Cardiff’.  The Medical authorities appealed for all passengers on a train from Birmingham on 13 January to contact them.

Below that:

‘Volunteers open lonely hospital’ . Minutes after the announcement of the disease ‘a group of volunteer nurses [from Tyntyla Hospital] were on their way to open the isolated Penrhys smallpox hospital.’

2 thoughts on “Headline 16 January 1962 – ‘Smallpox in Cardiff’

  1. At the time of the smallpox epidemic in 1962 I was employed as a shorthand typist at the Glamorgan County Hall in Cardiff. I travelled to work on the same ‘bus as Mr. Trefor Thomas who also worked in the County Hall and whose wife was a district nurse who contracted the disease. Sadly, Mr. Thomas also contracted the disease but didn’t survive. Because I had been in contact with Mr. Thomas I can remember that my best friend Wendy Williams (nee Gibbs) who also worked with me and travelled on the same ‘bus, had to report to the medical department each morning to have our temperatures taken before we could start our duties, and then again before leaving in the evening. We also had a memorial service in the County Hall for Mr. Thomas.

    I was getting married on 24th March and was leaving after the reception (as was the done thing in those days) to fly to Jersey for our two weeks’ honeymoon. However, I was informed by the Authorities that most probably the honeymoon would have to be cancelled as travelling “abroad” was out of the question. However, after about two weeks of being monitored for any signs of smallpox, a few days before the wedding date, thankfully I was given the “all clear”.

    It was an absolutely dreadfull and extremely frightening experience.

  2. In 1962 I was at Aberystwyth University staying in an University Hostel. I fell ill and underwent emergency surgery for a burst appendix despite the assessment if the hostel bursar who suggested I’d been out drinking!! Unfortunately after 14 days in hospital I was discharged under certain conditions about recovering. The hostel demonstrated its usual lack of sympathy and sent me home to convalesce. It was then my nightmare began! Several days at home in a South Wales Valley village a consultant at East Glamorgan Hospital died of smallpox. Rapidly an exclusion zone of several miles around the hospital was set up and I was in the heart of it!! The University informed me when I would be allowed to return. Eight long weeks elapsed with no advice from the university about my studies, no concern about my well being and seemingly no interest in my future! Eventually after much pressure to be allowed to return I returned two weeks before my final exams and obviously I was unable to complete them. Glamorgan CC generously gave me a grant to redo the whole year. I was totally demoralised and almost gave up the whole idea of an university degree but being the first member of my family to go to university I resolved with a less than positive attitude to continue and finally graduated. The smallpox outbreak almost destroyed my career, it taught me about the lack of care for young people who suffer crises during their education and for part of my career I became one of the first educational counsellors in the U.K. Often I suffered accusations of being a softee and doing an entirely needless job. The failure to receive support, advice and empathy during my period of confinement left a permanent scar on my personality and even now I suffer nightmares about that experience. It took me years and several higher degrees at different universities for me to recover. My experience during the smallpox outbreak did me much harm it taught me that determination can overcome any disadvantage. I am now retired after a very successful career in education having reached heights that I could never have hoped for as a child of a poor family in the South Wales Valleys. My work has been recognised with a CBE from the Queen which I accepted with pride. All of it due to the smallpox outbreak!

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