From the author David Wheldon
To everyone - This is a post to me in a recent topic from Dr. David Wheldon. It's so beautiful, I want to make sure that it got a thread of it's own.
David - This is a beautiful portrait of your mother. Your writing evokes such clear imagery of her and her life and the events of her time.
Also - I get the message - she gave you the gift of good character through her words and actions - and that has helped you endure. Thanks for sharing in such a lovely and as always eloquent way.
I think what kept me going during the worst of Sarah's illness was the memory of my mother, who died in 1996. She was one of the most courageous women I have ever met; frequently in Sarah's darkest hours I would feel my mother's presence. I'll tell you a little about her.
She was born in rural Somerset in 1917, the first of a large and rather poor family. The family surname was Sturgeon, a name acquired when an ancestor, William de Radcliffe, took boat to Ireland with his family. He had had a dispute with King Henry VIII and feared for his life. It was wise for him to change his name. He was discussing possible names with his wife when (the boat being becalmed) a seaman, fishing, caught a sturgeon. That's what the family called themselves.
My mother was to have been called Elizabeth Sturgeon, but her father got drunk on the way to the registry office and called her after an old flame, Florence.
She grew up to be a slim, tall, intelligent young woman of commanding beauty - she had slightly red, fair hair down to her waist - at a time when women's intelligence was hardly recognised. Today she would have been an academic. She wanted to study English. She was fortunate to be able to train as a nurse in Bristol. She enjoyed nursing children, and quickly became a Surgical Ward Sister at the Children's Hospital in Bristol. In itself the work was demanding; the hospital was pioneering the surgical treatment of infantile pyloric stenosis. These babies require skilled nursing, as fluid and electrolyte balance is vital, and the equipment of the time was primitive. Their results were good.
Her courage came to the fore when, one night after the phoney war, she heard a low-pitched droning sound. She looked out of the ward windows. A vast nocturnal aeronautic display seemed to be approaching the city. People went out into the streets to admire it. Then, when this aerial armada - in precise formation - was overhead, the bombs rained down. There were six major air raids in five months. In one night in 1940 about 5,000 incendiary and 10,000 high explosive bombs were dropped on the centre of the city. My mother could look down from the windows of the ward and see the city afire. Many of the children were too ill to be moved to the shelter, so my mother remained with them, they and she uniquely vulnerable. One night the operating theatre received a direct hit. The powerful operating lamp pointed upwards at the sky, and a short-circuit caused it to light up. A better beacon to summon enemy bombers could not have been lit. She and a medical student (at some danger of electrocution) managed to bring the light down and turn it out. Once, while walking down a busy Park Street one Saturday morning, she saw that numbers of people were falling down. This was a roof-level attack by an enemy fighter who was machine-gunning civilians. And she was tempted in her duty. When she went home to her village in the country for an infrequent weekend, her father would plead with her to stay in safety and not to go back to the destruction. But she quietly ignored him, and returned by train to Bristol. The railway journey itself was sinister. Blackout was enforced, but the sparks and glow of the firebox opening allowed the enemy to track the steam locomotives. When the train stopped at intermediate stations, she would hear the drone of circling aircraft waiting for the train to lead them to the city. The railway itself was a rich target.
She had sorrows. She lost her first-born (my brother) in early childhood, and her husband developed an adult form of muscular dystrophy, through which she nursed him for over twenty years until his death at 62.
She and I were very close, and had an extra-sensory bond. When she was dying, in hospital, rather unexpectedly, I felt her summoning me and I ran to her bedside and spoke to her, and held her hand while she died.
There are many unsung people, but I thought my mother deserved a small encomium; in the dark days I often prayed to her memory, and she never let me down.