A Tawny Owl's Tale

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During the mid 1950’s I had the privilege to become involved in the running of the Girl Guide Brownie Pack within Mearnskirk Hospital. Starting as a Guide Ranger, I was appointed the Tawny Owl to assist in the running of the pack held in Pavilion One of the hospital.

At that time much of the hospital was given over to the treatment of infectious diseases, mainly tuberculosis and polio. Many of the persons suffering from these diseases were children and in an effort alleviate the rigours of their treatments and their lengthy absence from their families and home lives, certain activities were designed. Amongst those activities was the formation of dedicated Boy Scout and Girl Guide groups within the wards.

Pavilion One of the hospital held up to twenty girls aged between six months and sixteen years. All these girls suffered from orthopaedic tuberculosis and were severely restricted in bodily movement. Part of the then treatment for this condition was the encasing of the affected parts in plaster body casts which the child had to endure for months, if not sometimes years.

br1As if this physical imprisonment was not enough hardship to bear, another of the curative remedies practised was the exposure to the fresh, clean air of the Mearns. Most days the children were wheeled out onto the verandas of the pavilions regardless of the weather.   

Hail, rain, snow or sunshine it didn’t matter, out they went with only one recognition of their situation being the addition of a waterproof covering over their beds in really bad weather.

The children came from all parts of Scotland.   A baby from Campbeltown,  a ten year old from Shettleston, a five year old from Uist and one from Govan.  Many of the parents who came from outside the city tried to get a job either in the hospital or in the vicinity so as to be near their child.

Visiting regulations were very strict. No person under the age of 15 years was allowed into the hospital as a visitor and visiting hours were Saturday and Sunday afternoons only.

br2School was held as normal, five days a week, from 10 am till 3 pm.  The teacher had children who could sit at a table doing their lessons and the bed bound had a specially adapted board mounted across their bed to use as a desk.   They all sat exams just the same as normal school children. There was a piano in the ward and the teacher would arrange a musical lesson.

Every week, Scout, Guide, Cub and Brownie meetings were held within the wards.  Brownies were in the afternoon so school finished an hour earlier on that day much to the delight of the girls.   All had uniforms or part uniform, e.g. a Brownie who was encased in plaster would wear her Brownie tie and badge.

The group was expected to operate much as a normal pack would do, taking into account the drawbacks in mobility of the participants. Games were designed which could be conducted from bed  to bed and were much enjoyed by all. Tasks were allotted whereby girls could earn badges much the same as their active sisters outside hospital. All these extra curricular activities were enthusiastically enjoyed by not only the patients but staff and helpers also, and it was worth all the effort entailed to see the positive effects on the children’s morale.


Every year the Glasgow Taxi Owners Association (as they still do today), took a group of children to Troon.   When the taxis arrived at Mearnskirk, the children complete with plaster casts were carried into the cabs, usually three children and one adult per cab and off we went to Troon.  This was the first time out of the hospital environment since their admittance to hospital and they loved every minute of their temporary freedom.  The cabbies were extremely generous and gave everyone bags of sweets and small presents.  The adults usually rescued most of the sweets to share with the children left behind in the ward.

Each Christmas the actors in the Glasgow pantomimes came to the children’s ward and gave them a Christmas Party.   Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter, Jack Milroy and Ricky Fulton were among some of the actors.   They would arrive complete with Christmas tree and decorations for the wards. Once these were in place the party would begin and every child received a present from them personally.   One year the ward was closed to outside agencies owing to an outbreak of a rampant childhood bug, so no Christmas Party.   The ward was not re-opened until February and almost immediately the Stars arrived for the party suitably bearing all the trappings of Christmas cheer.   That year Christmas came to Mearnskirk Hospital in February.

Times and treatments may have changed but many a child will remember the happy times they spent in Mearnskirk Hospital owing to the efforts of volunteers and staff in injecting a little childhood normality into their otherwise arduous and trying lives.

Fiona Bittle



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