Ian Smillie's Memories

Ian Smillie's Memories

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In October 1951 I was diagnosed with Polio and was taken to Knightswood Hospital where I remained for some weeks during the infectious phase of the disease. So it must have been early December 1951 that I first went to Mearnskirk Hospital.

Isolation 1 was the pavilion where I was admitted. It was a ward divided by partitions into two bedded dorms. The partitions didn’t go all the way to the floor or ceiling and were half glass so you could see up the length of the ward albeit not very clearly! Isolation 1 was located off to the right from the main entrance road on the way down towards P5 with Isolation 2 on the opposite side of the road. These two wards were self contained and not linked to the theatres, x-ray or plaster rooms like P1 and P2, needing the ambulance (a Humber, if my memory serves me) to take patients for treatment in these departments.


Christmas was great with every patient getting a pillow case full of gifts. I think that if the patients had lots of presents from their relatives, that was what was in the cases but those not so fortunate had their cases made up by donated toys, so everybody had the same amount. In early 1952, all the up-patients were going to get taken into Glasgow to attend the pantomime. There was huge excitement in the ward and the buses had arrived when red spots were discovered on one of the younger patients while nurses were dressing him and chicken pox was diagnosed. The trip was cancelled and the ward was quarantined for 5 weeks. The disappointment lives with me to this day!! There was no visiting during this period although relatives came up to the ward and conversed and passed things through the windows to us.

I remember some fellow patients and staff: Maxwell Robertson from Aberdour; Robert Leinster; John? MacGowan; Nurse Harvey (very severe but fair) and the Physio Miss Milne



P2B this time, as Mr. Guest started a series of operations to fix my legs. This ward was a more traditional Nightingale style ward - open, 24 beds with a single side room. The toilets and washing facilities were at the end of the ward opposite the office and were called the slunge. It was around May/June/July that I was in and a fair amount of time was spent out on the veranda. There was good camaraderie in this ward and many games played especially “shove ha’penny”. One of the parents had made a proper board for us and beds were pushed together so you could play your next opponent in knockout competitions. Jigsaws were in big demand too. There was an (unofficial) inter ward competition involving spinning one of the round meal trays on your finger for as long as possible. Our ward held the record at one time at a number of hours!! One boy, Brian Drysdale, was brilliant at it, changing hands as one tired and being greatly encouraged by us and the nurses!

Visiting was once a week on Sundays for us kids--the adults got Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday-- and Sunday evenings in the ward were very low with some of the younger patients in tears. The wonderful thing was that the Boy Scouts had a troupe based at Mearnskirk & Phillipshill hospitals came in on Sunday evenings and that took our minds off the long days until the next visitors. They did badges like semaphore and others that could be done by bed patients. They had uniforms made for us to fasten at the back like a theatre gown so the bed patients could wear them.

The other huge excitement was when Donald (Campbell) came to the ward to take orders from us for sweets and crisps and the like. Donald ran everything to do with supplies - a quartermaster, I suppose. He was a wonderful santa -like person and everybody just loved him. He sometimes brought a projector to the ward with Laurel & Hardie films and also ran the “cinema” which the up patients could go to (on a Thursday evening, I think.).

Celtic played (and beat) Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final that year and the nurses made up rosettes in the team colours for the patients. It was a real event for us.  On the more serious side, teachers came in during the week and ran a pretty basic school which was, at least, a relief from the boredom.

Staple diet was mince & tatties every day at lunch time, except Fridays when thanks to the Roman Catholics, we got fish! Tuesday mornings were special because we got a bacon roll and one evening a week, we got chips!

Patients and staff I remember from this time are: Brian Drysdale; Colin Lavery; John Darroch (I had been in Millport hospital with John, too); Norman Livingston; Angus Shearer; Billy Morrison; Nurses: Gallagher Davidson and Sister Goodwin.



The children’s ward had been moved since I was there in 1954, so I was in P1B this time. It was just at the other side of the theatre block from P2. Again, it was in the spring/summer months and, after a short post-operative recovery time, I was moved out on to the veranda with a couple of the other older patients. We spent the next 3 months outside, day and night, with rubber sheets thrown over the bottom of the beds when the rain came on and was blown in by the wind. Going home to my bedroom proved quite claustrophobic after that!


Mince & tatties still reigned supreme, but I was lucky. I was in a full-length plaster cast from my armpits to the bottom of my left leg, so I was on a special diet so that I did not put on weight inside the cast!

Occupational therapy was great in this ward, and we made lots of leather goods and jewellery, which was enjoyable. School still went on but this time I had brought my own schoolbooks in with me and the teacher tried to help me keep up with what I was missing by being away from my own school.

The adults in P2B were also out on their veranda and the up-patients would come over and visit us. They were also allowed to have a record player in and with rock ‘n’ roll just getting a hold, we would waken in the morning to Fats Domino “Blueberry Hill” belting out. Trad jazz was also really popular at this time and on occasions, P2B would have a jazz band up to the ward and a party (Wednesday evenings, perhaps?) on their visiting hour. I seem to remember that these nights were stopped rather abruptly after one party got out of hand!

Patients I remember from this time are:  Danny McCloy; Alex Kernahan; Tommy McAllister (may not have been this time). Staff were Sister Goodwin; Nurse Winston (male) and Polish Johnnie (not PC, nowadays, but didn’t offend him at the time) He was probably what would now be a nursing assistant. Also not very PC, Johnnie would put bets on the greyhounds for us older boys!! Doctors were Daddy Dale and Mr. Guest.

Dr McIntyre (possibly the Registrar) explained the facts of life to the older boys at our request! How naïve we were compared to today’s teenagers! Dr McIntyre also provided medical services for visiting stars at the Glasgow Empire and encouraged them to visit the hospital. Harry Secombe, Billie Whitelaw, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers visited in my time.


These notes were sparked off by my meeting up with Tommy McAllister, mentioned above, at our local gym and discovering our mutual experiences at Mearnskirk.

Ian Smillie (14/02/15)



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