Life in the orphanage

By Louise McWatt

March 11, 2009 / BBC News

Phyllis Gallimore lived at the Seaman's Orphanage in Newsham Park from when she was five years old. She says her life changed for the better at the outbreak of WW2.

When war was declared in Europe in 1939, Liverpool and its docklands were seen as particularly vulnerable to enemy attack. Children across the city were quickly evacuated to the relative safety of the surrounding countryside.

Phyllis Gallimore was one of many youngsters who left behind life at the Seaman's Orphanage in 1939 to start a new life as an evacuee on EB Royden's Estate in Frankby on the Wirral. She lived there for six years.

Though life as an orphan was tough, overall Phyllis sees her experience as a positive one. 

Speaking to the BBC Phyllis recalled her 'Oliver Twist style' life in Newsham Park, her love of books, and why she still hates carrots.

First of all Phyllis, can you tell me how you ended up living in the orphanage? Were you an orphan?

"I wasn't an orphan, no. My father was away at sea, but I had no mother. My mother died giving birth to my baby sister in Oxford Street Maternity Hospital with what they used to call 'white legs' - basically a thrombosis in the legs. Ten years later I was in in the same hospital giving birth to my first child with the same complaint, the same surgeon and the same ward. The doctor said that if he'd had the same drug he gave me ten years earlier my mother would have lived.

"My father had been at sea most of his adult life. During the War he was on the Bar Lightship in the Mersey. He was an engineer. They couldn't move that ship no matter what happened. If a mine came towards them they just watched it pass from the side of the boat. They had to stay put."

So how old were you when you were sent to live at the orphanage? What can you remember about it?

"I was five years old. The orphanage in Newsham Park was Oliver Twist style. Soup every day, and they weren't fussy how they punished you. It was really cruel. Brothers and sisters were segregated - can you believe it! You could only see your siblings for a few hours on a Saturday.

"Every Wednesday we would be served 'slink'. This was basically all the leftovers from the week - everything went in that pot! More often than not it was made up mostly of stringy carrots. The Mistress - Sally Seymour I think her name was - used to come and inspect our plates. She'd come round and say 'You'll eat that!' and if I hadn't eaten it by the time the meal was over my plate would be re-presented at tea time with the carrot still on it. If I didn't eat it then I got sent up to the Matron's room where I was made to eat it.

"I had to think of a way out of this. So I hatched a plan. I had a handkerchief - a bit of linen - and I used to wrap the carrot up in there and put it in my knicker pocket. Then I would go out to the grill in the yard afterwards and drop the carrot into the drain.

"Anyway, one day I was doing this when I felt this tap tap tap on my shoulder. It was Sally Seymour. She made me bend over, fish the carrots out of the drain and eat them there and then. I was sick. To this day I still can't bear carrots - can't go near the things."

So how did life change for you in 1939? What happened when War broke out?

"When War broke out we had to be evacuated. The Government approached EB Royden. They told him he either had to give his land over to the army, or to house us orphans. He chose us. Even orphans make less mess than the army! So off we went to live in Frankby.

"The War was one of the best things that ever happened for us children. It was an absolute relief. All the old harsh masters and mistresses left, we got a whole era of new teachers who cared for us. We got the countryside, and a fantastic place to live. It was heaven for us kids. Everything was so much easier."

What do you remember about arriving at Frankby and the Royden Estate?

"I was nine by the time we went to live in Frankby. When we arrived on the estate they built a lot of huts to house the younger children, but us older ones had a dormitory up in the big house. There were secret rooms up there, great panelled rooms and recessed windows. I was a real bookworm as a kid, but had been deprived of them at the orphanage. I used to love climbing up into these big windows with a book, drawing the curtains round so no one could see, and hiding away for hours. Any spare time I had that's where I'd spend it.

"There was no domestic staff, so because I was one of the older ones I used to help look after the youngies. I used to do everything for those children - bath them, darn their socks, clean their shoes, see they were at school every morning... that was my job. I used to love knitting, but during the War you couldn't get knitting needles. I remember we used to knit scarves on nine inch nails! I even made a pair of slippers on them!"

It sounds incredibly tough, but like an extraordinary adventure at the same time. What do you make of your childhood when you look back on it now?

"Overall I see it as a positive experience. The orphanage was cruel, but Frankby was a fantastic place to live. I learnt how to look after myself - and others - when I was very young, and grew up very independent. I brought my children up to be very independent too. I always say to them - "If you want anything, there's the world, now go out and get it".

Pound Pup Legacy