Child Migrants, memories

Can you see the moon?

by Rupert Hewison (guest author) on 25 October, 2011

Former Child Migrant Rupert Hewison writes about a birthday phonecall from his mother, received while he was at St Faith’s Home, Surrey, England, in the 1960s.

Rupert was at St Faith’s from 1961 to 1964, before being sent to Tresca in Tasmania.

Childhood Memories of St Faiths, Fredley Park.

It was with mixed feelings I learned recently that St Faiths is no longer a children’s home. On the one hand I am glad to realise our way of caring for single parents and their children is no longer one of forced separation. On the other, a part of me is sad that the wonderful house and grounds of St Faiths no longer echo to the sounds of children playing in the old ballroom, building castles in the sandpit in the conservatory or exploring in the woods around the southern boundary of the estate.

I arrived at St Faiths in the Summer of 1961, aged 4 ½  – Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister, John F Kennedy was the new, charismatic, President across the Atlantic, pop music was beginning to shock mums and dads, and the mimosa tree in the conservatory of St Faiths smelt of something marvellous, strange and mysterious.

I slept in the boy’s room with Jamie, John, Ian and Raymond – upstairs at the front of the house over the kitchen. It was very exciting to have a television downstairs in the room between the ballroom and the conservatory. This was where (in 1963) we watched the very first episode of Dr Who, frequently hiding behind the settee at the scary bits.

A favourite pastime was playing in the woods. In the 1960’s there was still a perfectly conical bomb crater left over from the Second World War. We were forbidden to play in it but that didn’t stop us. I have lots of very fond memories of St Faiths but I would like to recall one in particular – the phone call on 20 November 1961.

It will be hard for today’s permanently connected ‘Gen Y’ with their mobile internet to realise just how primitive the telephone system was back then – in 1961 a blackberry was a scrumptious little wild fruit and a mobile was something that hanged from a ceiling.

Parental visiting was one day a fortnight and in between visits letters were permitted but not phone calls. So it was a great surprise one evening when the matron, Miss Cracknel, a large and very jolly ex-missionary back from India, came and got me out of bed. She took me to the ‘telephone room’ – the telephone was so important that it even had its own room – just inside the front door between the hallway and the loggia. The handset was big and, for a little boy’s hand, very heavy. I picked up the phone and said ‘Hello’. To my great delight I heard my mother’s voice say ‘Happy Birthday!’

I can’t remember what we talked about but it was so lovely to be speaking with my mother on my birthday. I was five and missed her so much and so wanted to be with her and have a big warm hug. In 1961 a telephone call like this at St Faiths was a very special treat. As we came to the end of the call my mother asked me ‘Can you see the moon?’ I looked out the little window. I had to stretch a long way and then I just got a glimpse of the moon so I said ‘Yes, I can see it.’ My mother’s reply lives with me to this day, she said, ‘I can see it too.’

After 45 very happy years in Australia my mother died peacefully just before Christmas in 2009 aged 82. At her graveside funeral service on a hot Australian summer’s morning, as if specially arranged, there was a very beautiful moon setting in the western sky. This Christmas Season I hope you are able to make many connections with your loved ones, if not in person then perhaps you can ring and ask them, ‘Can you see the moon?’

Rupert Hewison

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