What do you remember?

Please get in touch with your memories (and photos) of the 1962 Smallpox outbreaks – simply fill in one of the ‘Comment’ boxes below or on other pages.

Your recollections and pictures will add to the value of the site.

Following an interview on Radio Wales on 11 January 2012, several listeners made contact via the BBC.

Vassalia Jefferies,  calling from Swansea said:

‘In 1962 my brother worked at Port Talbot, he had to be injected. There was some connection there. We all had to have an innoculation and my mother was nearly dying at the time. The injection made us really ill. My mother had to go into hospital. We were all lying on the same bed and we couldn’t do a thing, sweating and shivering, and it leaves a mark on your arm like a blackberry. It was the most horrible experience! ‘

Malcolm G John called about his wife Ann John:

‘My wife’s father worked as a stoker in Glanryhd hospital in Bridgend. The reason the smallpox was diagnosed there in one of the old dears is because one of the doctors had worked abroad and because of that he diagnosed it immediately. The other doctors didn’t know. This doctor had to burn all his clothes.’

Ted Smith from Llŷn said:

‘Round about that date, I was the hospital engineer at Alltyryn hospital in Newport. We had a panic because we had a special isolation ward with special facilities. The panic lasted two days where we had to shut the hospital gates. No one could leave or enter. We even had a police officer guarding the gates. It was a long time ago! This has just triggered a memory for me.’

David Watkins from Porth was a telephone engineer. His smallpox vaccinations were up to date because he was in the reserve army. But he was sent to all the dangerous areas because they thought he was vaccinated. He even went to the small pox hospital at Penrhys.  He was featured in a BBC television report on the 50th anniversary of the outbreak.

David Cole, who now lives in Bedfordshire said he had all the symptoms of the smallpox in Cardiff University and was rushed in.  But he did not have it. ‘I was kept in confinement for a week, but I’d had a reaction to the jab and actually had cow pox. It was terrifying.’

Margaret E Davies e-mailed to say:

‘I was very interested in your interview on Radio Wales this morning. I remember this very well as my father was involved in tracing the contacts of the man from Pakistan. My father worked with the Medical Officer of Health for Newport County Borough Council, Dr W B Clark. There were many contacts in Newport as a result of them being in the cafe in Cardiff. There was great difficulty in finding the people involved because there were a large number of Pakistani families living in the Pill area of Newport (the docks area).

‘I was in college in Cardiff at the time and my mother was a patient in St Woolos Hospital Newport. We both had to be vaccinated beacause of my father’s work, but we had to keep it quiet as the general public were not being offered vaccination at that time. Later a general programme of mass vaccination was started and I can remember people queing outside the clinc in Clytha Park Road Newport. I can also remember the pain in my arm from the vaccination! All the health department staff involved were working around the clock.  I know that they were all working with Dr Pathy.’

Paul Anderson commented on 12 January 2012:

‘I was nine at the time and remember having the inoculation at Cowbridge. I vaguely remember the children’s “joke”. ‘What is the Rhondda Valley famous for? – Smallpox’. As an adult I have come to realise what an insidious disease Smallpox is and thank medical science that it now only exists in a very few laboratories.’

Liz Gardiner commented:

‘I was 16 and attending Ferndale Grammar School when the outbreak happened. We were shepherded down to the doctors’ surgery and given smallpox vaccinations. It was quite scary. We were told we shouldn’t go anywhere near Penrhys (even though the hospital itself was well away from the main road linking the Rhondda Fach with the Rhondda Fawr valley).’

Trev Thomas commented:

‘I remember this very well as I was an apprentice motor fitter in the old Rhondda Transport Bus Company and we had a few buses off the because of it. My name is Trevor Thomas and there was some one from Tonyrefail with the same name and he had virus but I don’t remember if he died as well. The funny thing is I now live in Tonyrefail and I was 18 years old in 1962 so I do really remember it well.’ (Trevor Thomas of School Street, Tonyrefail died in the outbreak, aged 49. JS)

Carol Bowen commented:

‘My dad Gordon White who is 88 worked in the gelatine factory of Leiners on the Trefforest industrial estate. One of his work mates (not sure of his surname) Malcolm, a chap in his twenties contracted the disease.  As soon as my dad knew, he, my mother and brother and sister went to the clinic in Pontypridd park to get vaccinated. I was 15 and can remember queuing on the Broadway in Trefforest at our doctor’s practice – Dr Fudge. Malcolm returned to work, with an extremely marked face.’

Cath Arnold commented on 13 January 2012:

‘My father may also have been a possible link/source of transmission between the initial person ill and the later outbreak in Glanrhyd hospital. He was a doctor in public health and made some of the initial investigations as to the source of the outbreak in Cardiff and had contact with infected people.

‘He also regularly visited Glanrhyd hospital in the course of other aspects of his work. I remember him coming home and vaccinating us all in the kitchen at the earliest opportunity, as soon as he became involved in the initial investigations. It scares me to think he could possibly have inadvertently transmitted the disease but … I don’t know. I just know he definitely had been in both places.’

She later e-mailed:

‘My father’s full name was Dr Richard Thomas Bevan. He was involved with the smallpox outbreak for a varietyof reasons. His experiences as a doctor in the RAF Medical Service in India during the war meant he had direct knowledge of smallpox patients. After the war he held an appointment at an infectious diseases hospital prior to being a part time lecturer in the department of hygiene in the Welsh National School of Medicine. At the time of the outbreak In 1962 he held the post of  Deputy Medical Officer of Health, Glamorgan. From time to time he used to be consulted by District Medical Officers of Health in regard to major outbreaks of infectious diseases – in this case smallpox. ( Eventually he went on to become Chief Medical Officer for Wales but that was at a later date.)

‘I was 13 years old when the smallpox outbreak occurred. My father was a very calm placid man who never showed agitation but I could sense at the time that this was something more  important/serious than usual.

‘Having the vaccination done in the kitchen was not a totally unusual event for me as I also remember that was the way I received polio injections etc so I didn’t really feel any sense of urgency about the need to vaccinate us all. It was just the way of life in our family!)’

Mrs Mair Williams commented on 14 January 2012:

‘My father, Ray Richards, was at the time working in Simmonds Aerocessories on the Treforest Trading estate (as it was called then). I believe someone working there was a contact, so all the workers were vaccinated about the end of March 1962. Unfortunately my father had vaccine fever and was very ill. On April 6th he had a heart attack and died. I believe if he had not had the vaccination he would not have had a heart attack. He was only 55 years old.’

Hazel Robson commented on 15 January 2012:

‘I was 18 and lived in Pantyrawel in the Ogmore Valley I can’t remember precisely when I had the vaccine I was pregnant at the time. Blackmill Isolation Hospital was situated in Pantyrawel and was approximately 300 yards from my house. It was frightening at first knowing there were patients in the hospital with this disease and we watched vehicles coming and going. I can still remember the smell when they were fumigating the hospital.’

Jim Morgan commented on 16 January 2012:

‘In 1962, as assistant secretary of the Welsh Indoor Bowls Association, one of my tasks was to assist in the staging of the Home International Matches between Wales, England and Scotland. This event took place in March at the old Llanishen Indoor Bowls Stadium (destroyed by heavy snowfall in 1983). Because of the large attendance a mobile medical centre was set up offering inocculation and many people took advantage of this, including me. For my pains I suffered a severely inflamed arm and a three day fever – a common side effect apparently! However no one caught smallpox. At that time I was responsible for organising the Short Greens league which included several valley clubs. Widespread cancellations occurred but happily we were able to catch up with the prograamme before the end of the season. All in all a memorable period in my life.’

Mary Alleyne wrote from Cardiff:

‘I was a patient in the then East Glamorgan Hospital awaiting the birth of my second child. Mr Hodkinson was due a ward round on a morning and I had been told he would be likely to examine me.  However, the visit never took place and we learnt later that he had been taken ill.  Within a few days – by which time my child had been born – all patients were confined to their beds with visits to the television room banned.

‘Later it became apparent that something serious was going on and we learnt that it had to do with smallpox. No visiting was allowed and we were informed we would have to remain in the hospital in isolation for some time.  By now we knew that Mr Hodkinson had died.

‘Some months before I had had a smallpox vaccination, so I was not particularly concerned, but some of the other mums were very nervous. (I received a vaccination because I was a nurse in another hospital.)  My baby and otheres were given an injection – as a precaution we were told.

‘After about a week to ten days the confining of us to our beds became boring and was stretching the nerves of mums.  We had a discussion and asked for a meeting with the medical and nursing staff.  We asked for permission to visit the television room for a change of scene, whilst appreciating the isolation ban.  This was granted and the atmosphere became a bit lighter and more bearable.

‘We were able to see our families through the windows and parcels could be left for us at the main entrance.  I already had a young child at home and that was upsetting only to see her through a window.

On one occasion we saw a body being removed outside with accompanying staff dressed all over in white suits.  I believe a young child had died of smallpox.

‘After three weeks and one day we were allowed to leave.’

Sue Samuel (nee Jones) wrote from Gloucestershire:

‘My father, Morgan Hugh Jones was born in Maesteg in 1918. He went into the army and served five years in India in the 2nd world war. When he returned, he trained and qualified as an SRN and became a psychiatric nurse, working in Angleton and Glanrhyd (we then lived in Aberkenfig). He became a charge nurse and seven years before he retired he was night superintendent.

‘During the smallpox scare he had to remain in Glanrhyd. It must have been very worrying for my mother, as we had no telephone and therefore no contact. He was a very calm man and must have taken it in his stride. He had dealt with a lot of illness in India.

‘We had our innoculations quite quickly as we were contacts. My husband remembers getting his in the local clinic, and having to queue.

‘I was 16 at the time, my mother must have dealt with it very calmly as it didn’t really impact on me. It was my O level year – maybe that was why!’

Aidan Pathy commented on 30 January 2012:

My late father, Professor John Pathy, played a key but secret role in the 1962 South Wales smallpox outbreak as consultant in infectious diseases in Cardiff at the time. His role was not fully revealed until the broadcast of the ITV ‘Wales this Week’ program on the subject in February 2002. As he states in the program, ‘I had to continue with my general hospital duties; that would have been impossible if it was known that I had been in contact with smallpox’.

I recall, as an eleven year old, being lined up with my younger siblings to be vaccinated (with inducements!) by my father – probably amongst the first to be so treated.

I accompanied him on at least one occasion to Penhrys Isolation Hospital where he would park his car a good distance from the entrance, leave me, and walk the remaing distance with his bag of protective clothing. The area was known to both of us, as my father had been the Medical Superintendent at Llwnypia Hospital between 1952 and 1957.

Idrissa Stokes from Pontypridd contacted the site:

Her 10-week-old daughter came out in a rash after travelling with her mother on a bus.  When the doctor came to the house he ordered everyone to stay inside and told Mrs Stokes to feed the baby water.  When she told her son to go and buy a bottle, the doctor stopped him, saying he had told everyone to stay put.  But he also realised that the baby was being breast-fed.  It was concluded that she was reacting to the smallpox vaccination which Mrs Stokes had received at the start of the outbreak.  She made a good recovery once breast-feeding was stopped and anti-biotics were administered.

Non Brooks commented on 31 January 2012:

In 1962, I was living in Rhyl, North Wales, with my parents. During school holidays, we used to visit my two grandmothers who lived in Aberystwyth, Mid Wales, and Cwmgorse, near Swansea. When our doctor, a family friend, heard that we were visiting “South Wales”, we were advised to have a smallpox vaccination. My father and I were fine, but my mother was really ill.

Olwen Roberts (nee Miles) wrote from Pembrokeshire:

Mid-February 1962, my husband, then Headmaster of Brynconyn School, Llandisilio, and my two sons had travelled to the Rhondda to spend the half-term holiday with my parents. An aunt had recently undergone surgery at Church Village [East Glamorgan] Hospital and we decided to visit her, to be told that she had been transferred that day to Treherbert Hospital. We went to visit her, to be greeted with ‘There’s smallpox in Church Village Hospital!’

We decided to return home that evening and phoned our GP, Dr Peter Williams of Narberth. We were told to come to the side door and were given smallpox vaccinations. We had no nasty reactions but felt we were being ‘kept at bay’ locally, which was quite understandable. Dr Williams was a wonderful family doctor!

Sadder news came later that Mr Hodkinson had this cruel disease. I spent the following days waiting for the next bulletin on the news and could not quite believe it, that this excellent surgeon and obstetrician, with whom I had worked a great deal, was suffering in this way – and even died of it!

In 1946 I was a third-year nurse in Llwynypia Hospital and Training School and had spent several months on night-duty on the hectic Maternity Ward. Mr Hodkinson was kept extremely busy – always ‘on duty’ and always at his post with staff and patients (no blood bank in those days!). In the spring of 1947 we moved to the then new Church Village Hospital where I spent the months before my SRN exams in the Operating Theatre, where Mr Hodkinson was, of course, a very busy man and working for him was a pleasure. Hearing of his loss in 1962 was very sad – and of the patients who died.

I would like to think that at last I have paid my tribute to a very special doctor.

Sandra Nicholas commented via Facebook on Caerphilly Local History’s Wall:

I worked in the Parade in Cardiff in the Public Health Lab which was sending out the vaccine to the surgeries etc. Every day we had to fight our way in because of the people queuing outside thinking the vaccine was available there.

Denine Houston  commented via Facebook on Caerphilly Local History’s Wall:

My mother told me that when the smallpox outbreak happened everyone queued to go into the Twyn chapel for the vaccination. I was four at the time so have no memory of the event.  Mum always said that the same needle was used for a quite a lot of the injections –  not a very hygenic practice.

Barbara Downing wrote from Merthyr Tydfil:

I was working in the purchasing department of the Hoover factory (in Merthyr) and the works doctor advised everyone to be vaccinated with the exception of anyone who was pregnant.  My mother told me not to have the vaccination because she had been vaccinated during the outbreak in the 1920s and had been quite ill from having it, with four painful sores on her left arm.  However, I was vaccinated along with my colleagues, not telling mother that I had not taken her advice, but she very soon discovered because I wasn’t well enough to attend work for some days and had a very painful arm.

My cousin and her husband – a Baptist minister in Gendros, Swansea – were looking forward to the birth of their baby.  She had vaccination, unaware that it was detrimental to have it during pregnancy.  Sadly they lost their baby and she nearly lost her life too.  It was a dreadful time for them, as you can imagine.

One of my colleagues’ very elderly mother-in-law had the vaccination and she died as a result of it.

During the epidemic in the 1920s, my mother’s older sister contacted smallpox because she had a visit from the family doctor and he had just come from a patient who had the disease.  She spent some time in the Gelligaer Isolation Hospital and her younger brother was also admitted under observation.  My grandparents were very concerned and upset about it and had to keep a notice in their window – no-0ne to come near the house.

I trust my memory of this dreadful disease will be of interest.  Thankfully it has been eradicated.

Mrs Mair Windos commented on ‘Detective Work‘:

I remember this time quite well. My young nephew was one of the children kept in isolation at the East Glamorgan Hospital. I also have memories of the Howells family as my mother’s family originated in Trealaw. My own children were aged 7 and 3 at the time. We were actually treated like lepers by people living outside Rhondda although we hadn’t started this epidemic. My brother-in-law had family members involved with the hospital in Penrhys.

Elwyn Richards commented:

I was 12 years old at the time of the smallpox epidemic in the early months of 1962. I still have vivid memories of having to queue outside the old Ambulance Hall in Edmund Street, Tylorstown, to receive the medication which was administered on a sugar cube. At that time I lived just down the hill from the Penrhys Isolation Hospital, where some of the smallpox sufferers were treated. I can still remember the name of the caretaker who lived in the gatehouse of the hospital, a Mr Bolton.

Patricia Roberts commented:

I was very ill after the smallpox vaccination so too was my father – I was just 13 and I remember our doctor was quite concerned about our reaction to the vaccine – but it was excellent to protect so many from the virus, the outbreak could have been worse. The BBC ‘Indian Doctor’ has been excellent in reminding us of the terrible event … with a little comedy too!

Keith Jones commented:

I and my family lived at 56 Sunnyhill, Maerdy (though the whole area has now gone!) and remember this incident very well.  I will never forget we were  playing outside (in the snow) and a very tall man in a very grey suit came up and asked which house the ill people were in.  We pointed down to 60 and 61 but told him he shouldn’t go in there because it was ‘catching’.  He said ‘I’ll be OK because I’m a doctor’.  I now wonder who he was?

Rosalynn Jones commented:

My husband and I worked in Polikoffs at the time of the outbreak, we were both 18 and remember the mass vaccination at the factory. I had to have two vaccinations as I was in a shop in Tonypandy the same time as a suspected case. My husband lived on Penrhys Road and can remember the ambulances going up the road and a while later the smoke from the isolation hospital where they were burning blankets etc from the ambulances.

Linda Matthews commented:

When I was in the top class of Junior school in Williamstown in the Rhondda (born 1951 so not sure if it was 1961 or 1962), for some reason my mother wanted me to have smallpox immunisation – possibly because it was in London. My sister who was born 1956 thought she was missing out and however hard my mother tried to tell her it wasn’t anything nice she insisted in coming along. I was one of only two children in my class who went for vaccination on that day.

Shortly after, my sister – 5 or 6 at the time – had a gynaecological problem and was seen by Dr Hodkinson in outpatients at EGH and a minor operation arranged. My mother took my sister for admission and maybe because there wasn’t a bed on the chidren’s ward or maybe due to the nature of the operation she was admitted onto ward 2 (adult gynaecology) of East Glamorgan Hospital. My mother was informed that Dr Hodkinson was not available to operate and another doctor would be doing the op.

After school on that day my mother and I went to visit. On arrival at the hospital we found it was locked down. For weeks we could only hand in parcels and my sister had to stay until the quarantine was over. She probably has a lot of memories of what it was like. As she was on a ward of adult women, they made a cot for her doll – out of a box and gauze and bandages etc.

When mass vaccination began my mother queued for vaccination. On reaching the end of the queue and explaining that she had a conversation with Dr Hodkinson shortly before he was taken ill she was give TWO vaccination doses. My sister’s worry that she was missing something may well have saved her life, having been intimately examined by Dr Hodkinson, although my mother was unaffected.

I thought I would impart this information as there are not many younger (well I am 60 and my sister is 56) people with memories of this time.

PS Ironically I now have an MSc. in Virology!

Rita Turrell commented:

I remember having to have the injection against smallpox, as I was to be bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding.  Her husband-to-be and his family came from Abertillery and surrounding areas and it was suggested that we all got vaccinated.  I can remember reading the papers at the time saying how serious it was, and being 17-years-old at the time was very worried.  I am pleased to say the wedding went off fine, and since I was vaccinated as a baby against smallpox had no side effects that some people had.

Jean Herbert e-mailed after seeing the Wales This Week programme on 20 March:

At the age of 10 I had the smallpox vaccination in Abercynon, Glamorgan and within a very short space of time developed a relatively minor version of smallpox, loads of spots, but no fever ( my mum – now 86 – was also affected).  As a result my family and I were isolated at home for some weeks with food delivered to the doorstep, and were visited on a daily basis by the medical officer of health Dr Williams and a specialist in the disease, Dr Cruikshank, who had spent many years in India. I became a bit of a curiosity and was frequently visited by student doctors who accompanied the Medical Officer of Health. The whole situation frightened the village half to death as you can imagine and Abercynon became a ghost town for a while. I missed quite a lot of school as a result and was due to sit my 11-plus in March 1963, which I did, although the children in my class had been told in no uncertain terms that they were not to make fun of me or even  run away when they saw me still covered in spots and scars.

I continued to have outbreaks for the next 20 years or so in ever decreasing levels of nastiness, as it is a disease which apparently remains in your system for ever. It would appear that for no apparent reason I was already immune to the virus and the vaccination just gave me an overdose!

Denise Buckley commented:

I was 6 in 1962. My father, Dennis Buckley was a bus conductor working for the Rhondda Transport. As a result of his occupation our family were one of the first to have the vaccination in the clinic in Talbot Green and I was shown having my injection on the BBC news that evening. (It must be in the archives somewhere.) I remember it as a very worrying time. I remember my father fried eggs on the stove and the fat splashed up his arm. That evening he noticed the little marks on his arm and by bedtime had convinced himself that it was the start of the disease. He didn’t sleep that night and it took all my mother’s powers of persuasion to convince him it was the fat splash and not smallpox!

Maureen Bevan (nee Redwood) commented:

I remember this outbreak, I lived on the grounds of Glanrhyd hospital and had to be vaccinated as my parents both worked there. If memory serves me correctly my mum was quarantined in work and not allowed home.

John Bundock commented:

I was 14, living in Treherbert, in the Rhondda, and attending Pentre Grammar School. I remember the long line of people outside Dr Hughes’s surgery in Dumfries Street. I still had the vaccination scar on my upper arm from vaccination when I was a baby. Two more scars were added as the skin was scraped and the vaccine applied. I was a little unwell afterwards and had a few days off school, as did several others in my class. My absence may have been prolonged for a day or so as it coincided with the early period of the trout-fishing season. I recall another pupil saying that his parents had received a letter cancelling a holiday booking; the hotel informing them that it was not taking bookings from the Rhondda. It was almost incredible to hear, 18 years later, that the WHO had declared smallpox to have been eradicated. I now relate the story to young parents who see no need for vaccinations against other diseases like diphtheria and polio which, although eradicated from most countries, are only a plane ride away.

Ted Meyrick commented:

I find it amazing that in all the foregoing account there is no mention of the laboratory work which diagnosed and eventually contributed to the control of the outbreak. I was, at the time, working under Dr.Arthur Evans at the Public Health Laboratory at Cardiff Royal Infirmary. There the two of us undertook all of the laboratory diagnostic work for the outbreak and, in addition, did a great deal of specimen collection from Penrhys and other outbreak centres.

Carrine Williams commented:

I too remember this incident well being in my mid teens at the time. My name is Carrine and I was living with my family in Bryntirion, Bridgend, taking public transport to school in Newton, Porthcawl. I have a clear memory of queing with my sister and all of my cousins at what is now Riversdale practice to have the vacination. I was the only one in my family to have a reaction and was very upset at having to miss my Uncle’s wedding a few days later. I bear the mark of the vacination site to this day. Prior to the vacination my parents kept me from school as the bus I would have travelled on would have originated in Pontypridd before travelling to Porthcawl. We did not know, at that time, that the disease was as close as Glanrhyd, where Mum had worked during the war, and Blackmill where one of Mum’s sisters was living. I do remember how anxious people were and how people avoided large gatherings. Information was not forthcoming, perhaps to avoid panic, but that only led to speculation and misinformation being rife. Thankfully, through the dedication of the health professionals the crisis was contained and eventually passed. God willing we won’t be put to a similar test in my life time.

Alan Bennett contacted Smallpox1962 with this moving report of the impact of the outbreak on his family in 1962.

On 7 February 1962 my second daughter was born at East Glamorgan Hospital. Mother and daughter were released a week later. A midwife visited the baby for the next ten working days. My wife Joan became anxious towards the ends of the midwife’s visits she felt that there was something wrong with the baby. On the last day, expressing her concerns to the midwife, the midwife asked if the baby was feeding and sleeping normally. Yes. No problem then! As she was leaving, my wife still expressing her concern, the midwife decided to return to the baby to check her temperature. 103 and the baby was collected and returned to East Glamorgan Hospital alone.

Returning from work that evening I learnt of the morning’s events and decided to visit our baby leaving my wife to care for our 3-year-old daughter.

Arriving at the hospital I had no problem parking. Entering the main foyer a young nurse was entering from a corridor on the right. She asked if she could help and I said I had come to see my baby daughter who had been brought in that morning. She seemed to be a little distraught and before she could say any more a sister appeared from an office behind the reception desk.

The young nurse immediately informed the sister why I was there and the sister said to me, “I’m afraid you can’t see your baby.” Pregnant silence. As we stood there in the foyer the sister must have realized I was not leaving until I had seen my baby daughter. Then into the foyer from the direction of the maternity wing came a porter pushing a trolley loaded up with all sorts of supplies. The sister stopped him and then said to me, “Go with the porter who is going to the ward where the baby is and I will phone the sister of the ward and warn her you are coming.”

So the porter and I set off through double doors at the side of the reception desk into a long enclosed walkway linking the main building to a separate building some 50 yards distance. While we were walking along I tried my best to find out from the porter what on earth was going on. All I got from him was “I know nothing and I just do what I’m told”. Arriving at the end of the walkway we stopped outside the glass doors to the detached building the porter rang the door bell and was gone.

Shortly after, a sister appeared in the small foyer behind the glass doors and we conversed through the closed glass doors. She advised that it would be better to phone in future to inquire about the baby’s condition. She then asked me to return part way along the walkway and go through a side door on to the outside lawns and make my way along the building to the third window and she would arrange for the baby to be taken to there.

Sure enough, three young nurses appeared at the window and the centre nurse was holding the baby. That was the last time I saw her for several weeks.

Reading through this excellent site I realized now, after all these years, that our baby had been considered a possible smallpox risk and was possibly the last patient to enter that isolation ward at East Glamorgan Hospital.

Susan Owen commented:

I was six years old at the time and living in Aberdare, just over the mountain from Maerdy and Ferndale. I can remember queuing at the clinic in the Rock Grounds Aberdare with my parents to be vaccinated. I was too young to be frightened and have only just learnt how close the outbreak was.

In 1949 my grandmother worked at a hospital where there was an outbreak of Smallpox. It as a small outbreak compared to this one, but a few people died. It was also the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the US.

I didn’t really know that she had witnessed smallpox until a few months ago. I remember when I was young, I asked her if she had ever encountered smallpox during her life (I was interested in the subject at the time). Since she was born in 1912, I thought maybe it was a possibility. Her response was odd. She got very quiet and told me that it was terrible disease” and that it “smelled awful”. I had no idea what that really meant and I never asked anything further (not that she would have answered). Anyway, I found information on the Texas outbreak recently and it made me realise she was working in that hospital during that time. So was my grandfather.

It really was strange. She would talk openly about Spanish Influenza if I asked, but she wouldn’t discuss smallpox at all. Whatever she saw really disturbed her.

Bernie Dando commented:

I was just over three years old when the outbreak happened. I remember being in the queue which i think was at the doctor surgery in School Road, Yardley Wood (Birmingham). I was with my mom and uncle my uncle was quite ill when he had the jab . My mom did say that when we went the doctor doing the vaccinations said that he had only three doses left. We were near the front of the queue but there were a couple queuing with us and women was a conductress on the buses. Mom said the woman could have her place so long as I got the jab . Until I saw the site I didn’t realise how bad the outbreak had been.

Rochelle Bowden commented on the photo at the top of the site:

My dad Don Bowden is in that photo, he was caretaker, with my mum, Sheila Bowden. They were the last to leave the smallpox hospital in Penrhys, before it was burnt down. They lost their home and all their personal possessions. (See Penrhys Compensation Claim)

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60 thoughts on “What do you remember?

  1. I was working at Whitchurch Hospital at the time of this outbreak. All staff and, I think, all patients were vaccinated. The daughter of one staff member contacted cowpox and was very seriously ill.

  2. I was home in Cardiff from boarding school as a 10 year old when the outbreak occurred. We didn’t have a phone at the time so a policeman called with a message to say I couldn’t return to school until I was vaccinated. I thought I would have some extra days off but my Mum thought differently! Next morning we joined the queues outside the clinic in Richmond Road. I was duly vaccinated and sent back to school. Some weeks later the school decided to take the precaution of vaccinating every pupil. I protested that I had already been vaccinated but no one listened to 10 year olds in those days and I was given a second vaccination. Unsurprisingly a few days later I became very seriously ill. Imagine the litigation today!,

  3. I remember as a very small boy queuing up with my father in Church St. Merthyr Tydfil with what seemed like hundreds of other people to be vaccinated. The panic was really palpable, very scary as a little boy.

  4. As a result of having two doses of vaccine I contacted encephalitis and was in a coma for six weeks waking up in Landsowne Hospital in Cardiff

  5. My mother Margaret Williams worked at the Parc Hospital near Bridgend where she started work as a Nursing Auxiliary and worked her way to Ward Sister. During the smallpox outbreak she was put into enforced quarantine at the hosptal. She worked at the hospital over the period of the emergency but she was not allowed to come home to Sarn to see or look after me and my brother. I was 13 at the time and my brother was 10. Along with almost everyone else in Sarn we were vaccinated by the local doctor. My father worked shifts at the Wyndham Colliery and my recollection is that we did not see much of him during that time. It was not until much later that I realised the seriousness of the event.

  6. My father was a bus driver on public transport and was vaccinated when the scare began.My brother and I ,15 and 10, at the time were fine but my mother who was 54 was seriously ill with vaccination fever.I remember her arm was so swollen and raw it looked like a piece of meat! She lost a lot of weight and was ill for many weeks. Years later suffered badly from Rheumatoid Arthritis. Some research has found out that there was a link between both illnesses.

  7. I was at Porth Grammar Technical School at the time of the outbreak, aged 16. I remember the tension and panic. I was sent by my parents for the injection at Dr. Maxwell’s tiny surgery in Ynyshir. The room was packed with very worried patient. I remember realising that this surgery was the perfect place for the infection to spread. One of my class mates had been in contact with family members in Swansea, he and his family were placed in a form of “quarantine.” My injection had no reaction, I needed a second one. At school our whole class refused to do P.E. as they had sore arms, this was seen as a dangerous rebellion. The class was caned – apart from me as the second injection was so recent. A highlight was an International football match between Wales and England was switched from Swansea to Ninian Park. It must have been one of the last games for Johnny Haynes and John Charles.

  8. I was eleven years old and attending Ferndale Junior School at the time. There was a case of Smallpox diagnosed locally, one child of the family concerned was in my year. We were also living just 1-2 miles up the valley from Penrhys Isolation Hospital where the first case diagnosed had been taken and I can recall a big outcry regarding the fact that that was the nearest Isolation Hosptal to the original outbreak.

    I remember being in a group of children marching up from the Junior School to the local surgery and queing for hours to get our immunisation. The surgery was in Duffryn Street and the queue was past the Rhondda Hotel, all up the hill at the side of the hotel and down the length of Union Street which ran parallel with the main road (Duffryn Street). It was a bitterly cold day and the GP must have injected hundreds of patients that one afternoon.

    Living so near, and experiencing the panic of the older generations you couldn’t but understand the seriousness of the situation even at such a young age.

    The injection itself confirmed the horror of the illness, for the side effects and soreness people experienced was bad enough.

    It’s hard to believe it’s FIFTY years since this outbreak, memories are still quite vivid. Thank God it was wiped out.

  9. I think I may have been in Jen Gabriel’s class because I was also aged 11 and in Ferndale Junior School when the smallpox epidemic occurred and a pupil from my class had to refrain from attending school because a family member had contracted the disease. I recall my mother’s insistence that I re-join the queue for immunisation – the GP’s surgery in Dyffryn Street was directly across the street from our shop and I had sneaked home. It was so cold that day and it took hours to be seen. Another memory is that the smallpox outbreak caused our “11+” examination to be postponed until April 1962!!

  10. I was 10 years old at the time. My first memory is of being contacted by my dentist Tom Morgan and being told that I had to be innoculated against the smallpox virus. Apparently he had been playing golf with Robert Hodkinson the doctor who died. All his patients had to be vaccinated.
    Our family doctor refused to vaccinate me as I was asthmatic. My mother refused to be vaccinated until I was. I was eventually vaccinated after queueing for hours outside the clinic in Ynyswen near Treorchy. I was very ill afterwards and still have the scar on my arm to this day.
    I can remember it was a very frightening time and I can remember watching the news every night for more details.
    I can remember my mother being very upset at the loss of Robert Hodkinson as she said he was a lovely man and an excellent gynaecologist who had apparently been there at my birth.

  11. [Reply to Creighton Harries, above] Yes, we were in the same class, would you believe! I can remember a lot about the scare because not only was the one girl involved in our class, she also lived just up the road from where I lived…..can remember her well! Had forgotten the fact that our 11+ had to be postponed though. (P.S. my surname was Thomas in those days and I went as Jennifer all through schooldays)

  12. I was a student at Swansea Art College at the time of the smallpox outbreak and having returned there by train from Ton-Pentre on Monday morning, was promptly asked to travel back to the Rhondda in case I might have been in contact with anyone already carrying the disease and thus be in a position to pass it on to other students.
    At this date, I believe my aunt, Edna Phillips, was head-teacher at Trealaw Infants School and she became extremely ill after being vaccinated. She had a very high temperature and an infected arm, which she was later told might have led to brain damage had the infection reached her brain. She made a complete recovery but her upper arm remained permanently disfigured.

  13. I was 13 at the time of the outbreak and our family home was in Llantwit Fardre, where Dr Hodkinson lived; our GP was Dr Wakelin. East Glamorgan Hospital was just a mile away. I was a pupil at the Pontypridd Girls Grammar School and remember seeing an ambulance travelling towards Pontypridd, whilst making my way home from school. The ambulance drivers were completely clad in white protective clothing and we knew from that that they were carrying smallpox victims. I remember queuing outside Dr Wakelin’s surgery for vaccination. Nobody went to public places and I remember my mother being very angry when she discovered I had gone to the cinema in Pontypridd, to see a Cliff Richard film, with friends; there were five of us and I think we were the only ones there!!

  14. Bruce Lervy – Smallpox, medical students and a stripper in 1962

    I was a medical student in Cardiff at the time of this outbreak. The first case was diagnosed on the weekend of the annual weekend migration of the sports teams of the medical school to play opponents from various London medical schools. A significant number of the students had eaten in the cafe on the evening before their departure to London. The location of their accommodation was in a number of bed and breakfast hotels around Sussex Gardens and matches were played at many sports grounds in several different areas of London. Had any of these students been unfortunate enough to have acquired the infection then there was a potential for spread into the metropolis. The students returned home by coach late on Saturday night, the majority living in the medical student residences in Howard Gardens. Early on Sunday morning the President of the Medical Students Club was awakened by the Professor of bacteriology, Prof Scott Thompson, and asked to accompany him and his team to rouse the occupants of the residences and advise that they receive smallpox vaccination. It takes little imagination to picture the fragile state of some of the students being awakened at 6 a.m. after a heavy social weekend in London. As the student president knocked, as delicately as possible, on each bedroom door with the message that the professor of bacteriology required access, the response from within was not always genteel. The message conveyed was one doubting the parentage of the president and suggesting that he should go away. At this point the professor joined the conversation through the still closed door, assuring the occupant that the information was correct. Once the door was opened the need for vaccination was explained and an amnesty was declared for any unauthorised occupants of the room provided they also accepted vaccination.

    Over subsequent days senior medical students assisted with the vaccination programme. The vaccine was in quite short supply and was provided in thin walled glass capillary tubes. These were snapped open and a small bead of the content applied to the skin. A small superficial scratch was made through the liquid using the sharp end of the broken capillary tube. One vial would be sufficient to vaccinate about 10 patients. It would be questioned today as to whether this was a safe means of performing the procedure, with the possibility of transferring disease from one patient to the next.

    One of the people who came forward for vaccination was a stripper from one of the Cardiff night clubs. She was insistent that she received her vaccination somewhere where any scar would not be visible during her act. Further enquiries deduced that at the climax of her act she would be entirely nude except for a jewel in her umbilicus. She was adamant that with the risk of a vaccinia scar this was the only site on her body where she would be prepared to be vaccinated. Those carrying out the procedure deliberated over this request, but could find no information to suggest that the request should be denied, and it therefore went ahead. Those who have had smallpox vaccine will remember the discomfort from the swelling of regional lymph glands, in the axilla, a few days after the vaccine. What had been forgotten by those vaccinating this young woman was that the lymph drainage from the umbilicus is to both axillae and both groins. The young woman returned a couple of days later, scarcely able to walk and certainly unable to perform the artistic gyrations required during her act. At least she was protected from smallpox.

  15. ‘Treated like lepers’ – Laurie Jones of Pandy Dairy, Tonypandy in 1962

    It’s strange but I’ve been thinking back to the smallpox outbreak in south Wales for a number of weeks still hardly believing it had really happened. I was twelve years old and a pupil at Tonypandy Grammar School at the time of the outbreak and my mother was hospitalised at Llwynypia Hospital less than a mile away from Penrhys Isolation Unit over the same period which was really frightening. She had met Dr Hodkinson – a name I still remember.

    My family ran the Pandy Dairy which comprised a general grocery shop and two milk rounds operated by my father Gwyn and his brother Will. Between the two brothers we delivered milk and supplied groceries to many of the community in pre super market mid Rhondda.

    At weekends my younger brother and I helped my father deliver milk and groceries and I will never forget the panic and fear that descended on the community over those dark weeks. We had a few customers who had been taken ill and one who had died of smallpox. Many customers were aware that we had been in contact with smallpox victims and the reaction to us was extreme especially at weekends. What appalled me at the time was how many of our customers refused to have any contact with us when it came to paying their bills. Many refused to open their doors to us and I remember my father having a struggle as we were treated like lepers by many – a memory of the “community” I can never forget. I remember a district nurse Nurse Johnson who had been similarly treated.

    The vaccination programme was the complete opposite with dozens panic queuing at the local surgeries and clinics – no such fear of the doctors who had similar contact to the community as we had. Many suffered adverse reactions to the inoculations and most of my classmates had very sore arms and felt poorly for a day or so, one or two contracted “cowpox” I remember. We all had blisters then scabs which fell off at about the same time and finally scars which are still evident!

    Rumours were rife and many people were terrified of the possible outcome, the cafes and local dance halls were deserted even our local church hall! There was a great deal of misinformation and most of us had thought that the outbreak had originated in the Midlands and were resentful that smallpox had been introduced to an isolation unit in our community.

  16. I was 11 years of age at the time and can remember waiting in a massive queue with my parents and sisters near the Rhondda Hotel in Ferndale. After a few hours we were told that there was no vaccine left and that we would have to return on another day. We were eventually vaccinated at the old Ferndale clinic in Oakland Terrace a few days later.

  17. I was six years old in 1962. I had been admitted to East Glamorgan Hospital and examined by Dr Hodkinson just a few days before he became ill. The hospital was closed and I was put into ward 2. (The childrens’ ward had been closed due to an outbreak, I think.) Being the only child on a womens’ ward resulted in my long hair being brushed, combed, curled, plaited, put into rags – you name it! I remember standing on the radiators in the day room to be able to wave to my parents in the car park. It seemed like ages until I could go home. I was one of the lucky ones. It is only now that I realise how worried my parents must have been.

  18. I was 14 at the time of the outbreak and can clearly remember the panic queuing for injections at Trealaw Clinic, opposite the cemetery! I was a pupil at ‘Porth County’ at the time and 3/4 of us went to have our injections but were refused as we had no letter from our parents! I’m pretty sure it was St David’s Day as we had a half day off school. I also seem to remember it was very cold that winter and we were all shivering after queuing for hours!

  19. My father was the chemist in Cilfynydd and we were given the vaccination before anyone else by our doctor because he didn’t have enough vaccine to go round. We were told not to tell anyone and not to have a bath for 6 weeks or go swimming. My school was next to the cemetery and I remember being sent home from school one lunchtime because they were cremating one of the victims of the outbreak and, apparently, they were still contagious even after death. It was feared we would breathe in the infectious spores.

  20. I was a radiography student resident in East Glamorgan Hospital during Feb 1962. My recollections are a bit different from some others I have heard so maybe my memory is flawed. I was particularly friendly with the telephonist and a Night Sister and we used to congregate in the telephonist’s office both when I was on call, and often otherwise when I had little better to do. The telephonist acted as bed bureau and I actually took the incoming call – well, in those days everyone mucked in. There was a patient being admitted to the block (maternity) for an RPC opperation. I thought I recognised the voice so I handed the call over and the telephonist took the details. The patient was admitted and she died soon after admission.
    The Registrar on duty that night was a Dr Dutta, an Indian, and it is my recollection that it was he that made the smallpox diagnosis, but I don’t know when. I remember comments in the hospital being made to the effect that only an Indian Doctor would have recognised it. My friend ,the Night Sister laid out the body of the lady,(no laying out was ever done by the maternity staff), and soon went off duty and went to London for a long weekend with her friend the Sister off the paediatric ward. I was told that Dr Bob Hodkinson had also been present at the PM.
    Within a few days there were queues for vaccination in the valleys and all staff were re-vaccinated. By the time my Night Sister friend returned home, in oblivion, her father said to her – go to Carnegie Clinic (she lived in Trealaw) for a vaccination, so when she turned up they asked what had taken her so long. She said she had been in London for a few days. Next question was “What did you have to do with the patient”. Answer “I laid her out”. 🙂 How to clear an area !!
    Most of the rest of my memories concur with what has been on TV recently, in particular the memories of the Path Lab Tech Rhodri Powell who I was delighted to see is well after so many years.

  21. I travelled on the Snowhill to Carmarthen train on the Friday after the outbreak was found. At the time I was a serving member of the a R.A.F stationed at a camp just outside Leamington Spa. I had to attend my local clinic and despite providing the M.O. with documents proving that I had been given tha course of injections etc on my initial entry into the R.A.F 18 months before, I still had to have another one by legal requirement. I was told it probably would not take and that’s what happened. I was informed that I would not be able to return to my Unit until I was cleared by the local M.O. As I had only just arrived at home in Neath on embarkation leave, I was confined to my home address for a week until cleared to return to my Unit.
    I also remember at that time that a Neath rugby player, Ron Waldron, had been picked to play for Wales against Ireland, but of course that got called off.
    Years later I married an Irish Girl who told me that all the children in her village had to be vaccinated against the threat of smallpox as the result of the outbreak in Wales.

  22. My parents, Lawrence & Dora Phillips, had only recently moved to The Bungalow in Treffgarne, Pembrokeshire, from Cardiff in 1961 and were planning on doing bed and breakfast as they were on the main Haverfordwest to Fishguard road and it was a large property. I was just under 6 years old. However customers failed to materialise and I can recall my father saying to my mother that people were too afraid to come and travel but I had no idea at the time to what he was referring.

    Also of interest:
    TENBY OBSERVER 23 MARCH 1962:
    There was a smallpox scare in Tenby when a 21 year old man visiting the doctor’s surgery in Tudor Square was thought to have the dreaded disease. The surgery was immediately closed and a notice posted outside the door. The man had a heavy rash which resembled smallpox. He was immediately isolated. A consultant travelled 100 miles from Cardiff to examine the suspect. After a series of tests had been carried out the young man was allowed to return home. But it was evening before the panic subsided. Police officers visited Tenby’s Round Table Ball at the De Valance Pavilion asking for an announcement to be made to the 450 dancers that the ‘all clear’ had been given.

  23. I have printed below a statement from my mother Maureen Weeks”Sully”, we still have the cuttings from the paper when smallpox was around. My mother worked for Freda. Freda’s mother was the actor Dilys Davies. Think the year was 1956.

    In the Heart of Doctor Freda Davies

    Afan Valley, Monday
    The world produces its heroines in the most unlikely places. And Afan valley is as unlikely as any to be found.
    Freda Davies was just 32 when she died. Her death was reported today. A doctor. A dedicated woman. And finally, a heroine.
    The story was going around the valley today that she died, not from the smallpox that struck all around her, but from overwork. From sheer exhaustion.
    In Afan Valley South Wales, tiers of drab miners’ cottages perch giddily on the slopes. The pits spout their dust. The people are warm. By many standards their life is drap.
    “One day” said Freda Davies when she was a small girl with chin in hand staring through the big bay window of her parent’s house on the hill, “I will be a doctor. And I will look after these people.

    Resistance
    When little Freda returned to the valley from medical school it hadn’t changed. But Dr. Freda was greeted with frowns and a passive resistance by the folks she grew up with.
    Never before had they known a lady doctor in the valley. The miners first nursed their ailments secretly rather than tell Dr. Freda. So she went to them. She chided them. She cracked jokes with them. She tore round the valleys like a whirlwind in her little green car tending the sick and the dying.
    In winter, her daily round through ice and snow was like a Monte Carlo Rally. But a knock at her door for help never went unanswered.
    A month ago smallpox struck at the heart of the Rhondda Valley, just over the mountain from Blaengwynfi, where Dr. Freda worked with her father. As the epidemic spread nearer, the ice cold fingers of fear gripped Dr. Freda’s patients. She did not hesitate marathon job of vaccinating them all nearly 3,000 altogether.

    The queues
    Each day after a hurried breakfast she was at her surgery. At 9.am she started vaccinating the long queues at the green painted converted shop that was her surgery in Bleangwynfi. Alongside her Frank Taylor, her husband, who is a medical student, filled in the forms. Then they dashed two miles down the valley to Cymmer to open the surgery there at 11.30 a.m. She went on vaccinating her patients until 1 p.m. A hurried lunch and Dr. Freda was off again on her rounds. Back by teatime to hold evening surgeries and long vaccination queues stretching down the narrow hillside streets.
    She did the work of 10 men without a grumble. “said Mr John James, a close family friend.
    “It made me feel exhausted to watch her. We asked her to ease off, but she refused. She would not spare herself and she was always worrying about her patients. Every night she went on vaccinating them until nine and 10 O’clock”.

    End of dream
    For her husband the tragedy was the end of a cherished dream. When he qualified they hoped to set up a lifetime medical partnership to look after the people of the Afan Valley.
    Hundreds of family Doctors in South Wales have worked to the point of exhaustion vaccinating their patients. An estimated 250,000 people have been immunised in the past fortnight. But in the Afan Valley there is an acute shortage of doctors. There were only four to look after 10,000 patients. Now there are three

  24. At the outbreak of the Smallpox in South Wales, I was a student at college in Didsbury, Manchester, from my home in Nantymoel. My second cousin, Gillian Williams, was a nurse who volunteered to look after the smallpox patients at Blackmill hospital. After the outbreak was over, everything in the hospital was destroyed and the hospital became a geriatric unit, where my dad died many years later. In our digs at Didsbury, five of us were from South Wales. All the students were vaccinated at the City Hall in Manchester and when we returned after the half term break, we were all asked how near we lived to the outbreak, and some of us were told to stay away from college for another week. I also travelled to Bradford at the time, and so went to areas of outbreak. We all suffered vaccination fever in varying degrees and some of us spent a few days in bed as a result of the vaccination. It was a worrying time for many people in the valleys, and is an experience not forgotten.

  25. My father was a Post Office Engineer based in Bridgend and he was unlucky enough to be working at the hospital in Bridgend on the day the first case of smallpox there was discovered. We lived in Penarth and we were told to get vaccinated as soon as possible. A family friend was a doctor in Maesteg and she came to our home in Penarth to give us all vaccinations. I remember being very frightened at the time as no-one else we knew was having to be protected in this way. Fortunately my father did not develop the illness and apart from sore arms we were all fine. I was eleven at the time but having the injection at home in the evening is still vivid in my mind.

  26. I was born and brought up on the main road in Tonyrefail. In the village, the husband of the children’s clinic nurse died in the outbreak. My mother was pregnant and narrowly missed, through providential circumstances, a consultation with the gynaecologist who died, during a time he was incubating but before he had developed the disease. I recall vividly the ambulances from Blackmill passing our home with a police escort, carrying corpses to be cremated in Glyntaff or Thornhill Crematoria.

  27. I lived in Aberdare at time of outbreak and attended Aberdare Girls Grammar School and was aged 15. A few days after receiving the innoculation I developed a fever and became unconcious for a few days more. When I ‘ recovered ‘ from that my hearing had deteriorated to such an extent that I had little hearing left which made my continuing education and life choices very difficult. I still rely on two hearing aids to cope in a hearing world so the smallpox scare really impacted on my life.

  28. During the outbreak my family were living in the Swansea valley. Both my mother and I contracted Vaccine fever. We were both quite ill for some time. I have two scars on my abdomen from having picked and scratched at the scabs. I was only five years of age when this occurred. I have very little recollection of it apart from being told that I had to have the vaccine and then becoming very ill.

  29. I knew Wayne Mansfield when I was an infant and it’s strange how you remember things. The family was still living in 12 Tegfan at the time – we must have been about 6 years old. I remember when he came to call for me my aunt was a bit reticent for me to go out to play. I realize now how strong the stigma attached to this was – and we are talking about 2 to 3 years later. Not long after, the family moved from Tegfan – I don’t know where to.

  30. I remember the smallpox outbreak well. My father decided that although the vaccine carried some risk we should all be vaccinated. I remember queueing up in Ferndale and having the vaccination. Although my school didn’t close assemblies and all other gatherings were cancelled, even the eisteddfodd was cancelled which was upsetting to me at the time because I had written a piece of prose which I had hoped would win a prize.

  31. I was a pupil at Porth County Grammar School in 1962, aged 17. I was living in Treherbert. I remember the urgency to get vaccinated and our doctor, Dr Walter Williams, coming to our house to vaccinate us. I don’t remember getting very ill after the vaccination other than the swollen arm, etc., but I do still have the mark on my upper arm. I also remember how people from the Rhondda were ostracised outside the valley. I was recently telling an aquaintence about this outbreak and its effects on us all – I’m not sure they believed me.

    • Hi Peter, I was in hospital for a while with Encephalitis caused by the smallpox vaccine. Best wishes Roger Mitchell

  32. My father died from a heart attack in April 1962 and my elder brother Michael came home from work one day and told my mother to take us to the doctor’s surgery under the Naval Club in Tonypandy the following day to get us vaccinated.

    When we got there there were two queues one around Court Street and the other from Llwynypia Road to the Naval Club the other side. Our turn came and my brother Stephen, my mother Edith Griffiths and myself, Lynette, had waited hours to be vaccinated and yet, the doctor was patient and kindly towards us probably already having vaccinated hundreds before us.

    Now, for many youngsters living in Llwynypia, our playing area was the mountain above the old Llwynypia Hospital and within yards of the Isolation Hospital at the back of Llwynypia Hospital. We would take jam sandwiches and pop to St Mary’s well and play in the pools around there.

    If we saw an ambulance coming up Penrhys Hill we would walk across to the Isolation Hospital and hide and watch them take a stretcher from the ambulance through the gates and the gates locked and the ambulance move away before we came out of hiding. We would then walk up to the gates and watch the nurses walk past the small windows of the hospital. Later we were told they were to stay there for weeks on end. Sometimes the caretaker would see us and shoo us away. At the time I was 11 years old and although told not to go near there, didn’t realise how serious it was.

    Years later, still living in Llwynypia, from my mother’s living room window we gathered to watch the hospital burn down, although we couldn’t see the actual hospital itself, as there were high walls and trees surounding it. The flames were very high and over the tops of both the wall and the trees.
    An end of a very sad era.

  33. I took a walk across to the old isolation hospital site last week and was surprised to find someone had bought the grounds and was building a home on it.

  34. My father was on business in Wales, he had dinner with a doctor, (I remember his name as Evans or Bevans). Father said that the man was not feeling very well at dinner. The next day Dad drove home to Worcester. We were contacted and advised that he had been exposed to Smallpox so had to stay in isolation at our house. My Mother, a Nursing Sister, had nursed infectious diseases and she was an enormous comfort when I had a bad reaction to the inoculation. My arm swelled up from fingertips up into my neck and I had a livid abscess. Mother made a poultice of sugar and something else, possibly iodine, and it helped drain the abscess. A bed was made up in the kitchen and I was in misery for days. It was quite the drama but my parents were very calm.

  35. On 7 February 1962 my second daughter was born at East Glamorgan Hospital. Mother and daughter were released a week later. A midwife visited the baby for the next ten working days. My wife Joan became anxious towards the ends of the midwife’s visits she felt that there was something wrong with the baby. On the last day, expressing her concerns to the midwife, the midwife asked if the baby was feeding and sleeping normally. Yes. No problem then! As she was leaving, my wife still expressing her concern, the midwife decided to return to the baby to check her temperature. 103 and the baby was collected and returned to East Glamorgan Hospital alone.

    Returning from work that evening I learnt of the morning’s events and decided to visit our baby leaving my wife to care for our 3-year-old daughter. Arriving at the hospital I had no problem parking. Entering the main foyer a young nurse was entering from a corridor on the right. She asked if she could help and I said I had come to see my baby daughter who had been brought in that morning. She seemed to be a little distraught and before she could say any more a sister appeared from an office behind the reception desk.

    The young nurse immediately informed the sister why I was there and the sister said to me, “I’m afraid you cant see your baby.” Pregnant silence. As we stood there in the foyer the sister must have realized I was not leaving until I had seen my baby daughter. Then into the foyer from the direction of the maternity wing came a porter pushing a trolley loaded up with all sorts of supplies. The sister stopped him and then said to me, “Go with the porter who is going to the ward where the baby is and I will phone the sister of the ward and warn her you are coming.”

    So the porter and I set off through double doors at the side of the reception desk into a long enclosed walkway linking the main building to a separate building some 50 yards distance. While we were walking along I tried my best to find out from the porter what on earth was going on. All I got from him was “I know nothing and I just do what I’m told”. Arriving at the end of the walkway we stopped outside the glass doors to the detached building the porter rang the door bell and was gone.

    Shortly after, a sister appeared in the small foyer behind the glass doors and we conversed through the closed glass doors. She advised that it would be better to phone in future to inquire about the baby’s condition. She then asked me to return part way along the walkway and go through a side door on to the outside lawns and make my way along the building to the third window and she would arrange for the baby to be taken to there.

    Sure enough, three young nurses appeared at the window and the center nurses was holding the baby. That was the last time I saw her for several weeks.

    Reading through this excellent site I realized now, after all these years, that our baby had been considered a possible smallpox risk and was possibly the last patient to enter that isolation ward at East Glamorgan Hospital.

    • How incredibly inhumane, but typical of the time, not to keep you informed. I trust that your daughter recovered and all was well. There was a very high level of panic at the time.

  36. It is strange reading about events that you were involved in but have no recollection of! My father has written of the events, Alan Bennett, and it is very interesting reading about it. Over 50 years on and I am fine!

  37. I remember as a 12 year old child, living just oustide Pontypridd, being told that a friend of mine, who lived opposite me at the time, had just lost her aunty to smallpox. Very quickly after hearing this news we were queuing at the clinic in Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd, along with hundreds of others, to be given the vaccination. I was 12 years old on the 1 March 1962 but am not sure if that was the actual day of the vaccination. I do not remember getting a reaction to the the vaccine or hearing much said about it all afterwards, but I do remember my mother telling us that Dr Hodkinson had died of smallpox and her being quite upset by it. My mother had given birth to my sister the previous August at East Glamorgan Hospital and it was he who had attended to her. It is only now that I realise, after reading this article, that my friend’s aunty was the poor young woman that Dr Hodkinson attended to and the first victim to die of this dreadful virus.

  38. We lived on Penrhys Road, Ystrad. My father Dr Ieuan Gwynne was a GP in Rhondda Fach, our neighbour was Dr Roy Morley-Davies and Dr John Pathy was a family friend. Although only 4 years old I remember being vaccinated (under protest) and how tense the atmosphere at home was as Dad worked long hours & was inevitably worried he would bring the illness into his home, and with the isolation hospital so close by. Years later he talked of the incredulity felt when told Mr Hodkinson had died.

  39. I was born at home in the police house in Llantrisant. Our family name was Morgan. There was complications with my birth; the midwife called Mr Hodkinson who came to deliver me. After my birth he told my dad he was going to see a smallpox victim; he was excited as he had never seen one before. I am so lucky he came and delivered me first.

  40. Remember it well. My brother and myself had the vaccination at Gelli school

    We developed cow pox and I remember being quite ill with it—thought at one time I wasn`t going to pull through

    Wayne Morris
    Cheltenham.

  41. I was serving in the RAF at the time of the smallpox outbreak in s Wales. My parents lived in Treorchy and both had to be vaccinated. I was not allowed to visit them for many months, and had to correspond by letter with them We did not have telephones in those days.

    In the RAF we had to vaccinate all the airmen, airwomen and officers who did not have a vaccination certificate. We also comandeered a bus from the motor transport section and visited local villages in Wiltshire to vaccinate the local population.

    I remember it vividly.

  42. I lived at the top of the Afan valley at the time and travelled to Port Talbot to grammar school. A girl from the village also travelling on the same journey was quarantined with her family as her grandmother was a resident at Glan Rhyd. We were 14, and the strange thing was that I don’t remember being all that worried. We didn’t have a T.V., and whether that made it seem less vivid I don’t know. I had been vaccinated as a baby so maybe was reassure by that. What a year though…I remember discussing the Cuba crisis with a friend as we ‘mitched’ games in the park…was the world about to end we asked? We began to feel cold, so got up to walk about; ‘They say it will get cold when the bomb goes off ‘ she said.
    Going through my mother’s letters recently (she died last year at nearly 101), I found one from my brother in London remarking on the outbreak and urging us to get the vaccination if needs be. Ironically, he’d left Cardiff not long before and clearly felt very far away from any infection at this time…worrying instead about family situations, earning a living, joining the army etc…ordinary humdrum worries.

  43. In 1962 I was16. My mother had been a nurse and had a medical book with a picture of a patient with smallpox. It had scared me so I went to Dr Spector and had the vaccination.
    Anyway, my mother and I were caught up in the events in Cardiff and were monitored for a few weeks. A bit like the Ebola crisis now! We lived in Ystrad and the Isolation Hospital was on Penrhys. I remember the ambulances coming with the staff all gowned up. I also remember the smoke from the chimney at the hospital. I think it meant that someone had died.
    It also made people comment that the Pope had been elected!

  44. I have found all these experiences very interesting to read. I lived near Pontypridd at the time, and worked at “Standard Telephones and Cables”, on Treforest Estate, where all employees were mass vaccinated at the surgery there. A colleague working with me told me a close friend of hers, an ambulance driver, had volunteered to drive one of the ambulances to the crematorium. I have now been living in England for over 40 years, and I’m always astonished to hear that people here know little or nothing about that harrowing time which we all experienced in 1962.

  45. I remember the smallpox outbreak very well. It was frightening; a family in my school had it and afterwards all their possessions had to be burned. I remember my father debating whether the family should have the vaccine or not and later queuing outside the surgery to have it. I was 14 years old at the time and my greatest regret it is disrupted the eisteddfod celebrations in school and I had won the senior essay competition, which could not be presented as large gatherings were discouraged due to the risk of catching the disease. It was a truly scary time. Irene M. Price (nee Howard)

  46. I was just 13 years old at the time and a pupil at the Rhondda County Grammar School for boys in Porth. I can recall the widespread concern over the outbreak, and getting my vaccination done by my GP. It was an unpleasant vaccine to receive, as well as the after effects, I remember being confined to bed for a day or two with flu type symptoms afterwards. There were number of people known to my family who became very unwell after the vaccine. One thing I do recall is the rumour being spread about the possibility of contracting the disease from various food sources. One I particularly remember relating to eating corned beef !!
    It caused quite a stir when corned beef was served at school dinners on one occasion.
    I also remember seeing the isolation hospital on Penrhys being burned down after the last patient was discharged from there.

  47. I remember this well,even though I was only ten years old. I was living in my old village of Clydach Vale Rhondda. I had to line up along with my elder sisters outside the old clinic on Pandy square
    to wait to be inoculated during this smallpox outbreak. I remember the smell of the clinic and many nurses.
    I remember the line of people stretching as far down as towards the Pandy Inn pub!
    There were sadly fatalities in Clydach to the Smallpox, a girl who was known by my sister died of the Smallpox. and lived in the same street as ourselves.
    I can also remember the isolation hospital on Penrhys mountain being burned down deliberately by the fire service in later years to wipe out any possible hidden virus. I was very young, and was not very afraid, but I remember my mother being afraid for us.

  48. I lived in Maerdy at the time the smallpox outbreak took hold. My grandmother ran trips to shows and we went to Aberdare some time after the outbreak. We came out to the private coach after having enjoying the show and heard some lads shouting at each other “Hey look at this boys – these people are from Maerdy where the smallpox is”. They were being informed of our home town by reading the name of Maerdy on the Jack Roberts’ bus that my gran always employed for the trips. They didn’t hang around for long after that! We decided not to go for fish and chips after all but went straight home to Maerdy. I was 17 and worked at the bookbinding factory in Maerdy/Ferndale. As far as I can remember not one of us workers missed a day during the outbreak but we were very hesitant of sitting next to people in the bus. I am currently watching ‘The Indian Doctor’ on TV and I’m struck by the similarities between the village in the series and Maerdy. ‘Trevelyn’ has its own mine – so has Maerdy. Smallpox broke out in the early sixties – as it did in Maerdy. Trevelyn has its own row of well-heeled shops, and social activities. I’m trying to remember if our doctor at the time was Indian too! Was Dr. Syngupta there then or did he come later? Does anyone out there know? I’d love to add this fact on to the others!

    • Sue Whittaker (nee Whitehead)
      I was 10 at the time of the outbreak and at Maerdy junior school. We lived in Edward Street just below the house where people were in isolation. I remember going with my sisters and Mother to the doctor’s surgery for our vaccinations, which were given on our forearms, because Doctor Mitra said the scarring would be less (he was right).
      I still remember how tense everyone was especially my parents who banned us from going to the cinema as my little brother was unable to have a vaccination.
      I would add that Maerdy was a wonderful place to be a child, we had the run of the mountains and used to spend entire days out and about with water from the mountain springs to refresh you, and whinberries to eat.

    • I think Dr. Mitra was the GP in Maerdy at the time. I had lived in Miles St., Maerdy and moved to Blaenllechau in 1960 and was in the Lower Sixth at Ferndale Grammar school at the time, then Sheila Jones.

  49. I lived in Aberaman at that time – I was 7 years old. My father, Les Thomas, was a physiotherapist and chiropodist. He had his practice at home at number 1 Margaret Street, Aberaman but worked in the mornings at East Glamorgan hospital as the resident physiotherapist. I remember him being in contact with one of our local GP’s, Dr Moffatt who had his practice in Glamorgan Street, Aberaman. The vaccinations were being done by Dr Moffatt and my father. I remember long queues of people out from our front door, and along Cynon Street. I remember asking my father to vaccinate me and he did it. Being so very young at the time, I obviously didn’t realise the enormity of the problem but I do remember feeling very afraid.

  50. I was eight and living in Nottingham at the time. However, my father was a doctor who had lived and worked in the Rhondda and who knew Robert Hodkinson, the obstetrician who died of smallpox. Hod, as he was known, had delivered me and my two brothers and was a family friend.
    Had my father visited the area around that time or had one of us been in contact with a friend from South Wales? I don’t know, but I remember him coming home one day with vaccine and lining us all up and vaccinating us. My mother fainted and so did we three children. He calmly laid us all on the big double bed one after another to recover and then vaccinated himself.
    I was the only one at school with a smallpox vaccination at the time and felt special.

  51. Stirs a few memories! I was 6 years old at the time and quarantined I think in Rhydlafar Hospital. Seemed like quite a few kids were banged up in the place, and I vaguely remember at least one death. All our toys were burned – devastating! – but I do remember a Nurse Coles who was lovely… my first crush. I think I have a photo taken of all us kids waving from the ward window.

  52. I was living in Haringey, North London and at primary school and so the outbreak must have been around 1957. I just remember the huge scab after the vaccination and the scar which gradually faded after some years. We lived near St Anne’s hospital, Tottenham. A neighbour worked at the hospital and people would cross the road to avoid the poor man when he walked home .

  53. I was a Staff Nurse on duty in theatre at East Glamorgan Hospital on the night of 8th February, 1962. We were alerted to the fact that a patient was coming in with a retained placenta, having been delivered of a macerated foetus in Maerdy. Mr. Hodkinson ( a first class surgeon) was officially on duty, but could not be contacted. A Senior Registrar from Cardiff Royal came to the patient and removed the placenta, after which the patient’s condition deteriorated and she subsequently died.
    I had been feeling unwell following my smallpox vacination, severe headaches, and told the Assistant Matron, who came to the anaesthetic room, that if I did not feel better the following night, I would not be on duty. I was not. Two weeks later the news broke that the patient who had died had smallpox and I, along with my husband and two small children had to be vaccinated, my second dose of course.
    I then had encephalitis and was so ill I was unable to work for eighteen months. I eventually recovered and went back to work in theatre EGH for another 30 years before retiring. Such an awful time and so sad that a brilliant surgeon like Mr. Hodkinson died.

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