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.
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)