My father Ernest James Taylor died in 1942 at the age of 52 whilst serving in the CID with Sunderland Police Force, he left behind Hilda (my mother) and five children, Dennis, Christina, Reg, Peter & Pamela. Two other brothers Ernie and Worthy had joined the Army and Air Force so were no longer living at home.
During WWII times were not easy for anyone and constant air raids and food rationing were commonplace conditions which were felt by families all over the country.
Ours was a Police family through and through, in addition to my father I also had three uncles and a brother who served in Police Forces around England and to this day I have two nephews who serve in the Force.
For practical reasons our mother Hilda reluctantly accepted the offer from St George’s (Northern Police Orphanage) to care for my brother Reg and I and we entered the institution in 1943.
Reg was 7 years old and I was 6 at the time, the adventure of travelling by steam train from Sunderland to Harrogate was soon forgotton when we saw our mother leaving us in new surroundings in the care of strangers.
It was the same for all of the orphans, being medically checked, allocated a bed, new clothes and introduced to a strict and controlled regime all driven by religious principles and teachings, which in retrospect probably didn't do us any harm. After a short while we all made new friends and learned how to ‘stand on our own feet’ and yet remain part of a large family with some 70 children.
Personally, I accepted the situation quite rapidly and soon felt proud to be part of St George’s, wearing the uniform also developed the feeling of belonging to a family like group – boys or girls, we were all looked after in a similar manner, there were no favorites or special treatments allowed.
The routine of walking to school and church in pairs in a crocodile line no matter what the weather was like was unquestioned, just like the sports days, the assemblies, carrying out our work duties, the daily dining room ritual of sitting on hard benches at tables and eating whatever was placed in front of us was accepted as being completely normal.
To this day the greatest joy for many of us came with Christmas and its celebrations. Gifts and presents were very limited and many children would have received perhaps one gift and maybe a piece of fruit. This made the occasion all the more memorable, I can recall opening up my present one year to find I had been given a Kaleidoscope, I was overjoyed and treasured it for a long time.
In our case visitors were rare, this is not surprising given the distance and circumstances our family had to negotiate. Sadly over time this separation from family during the formative years inevitably brought about not so much a division but a loss of closeness which in retrospect is only to be expected. It just wasn’t possible for St George’s to replace the loss of family emotional support for such a large number of children and we had after all been taught to not only cope, but to think for ourselves and learn how to be independent.
As I mentioned earlier my brother Reg and I entered St George’s in 1943 and left to travel to New Zealand in 1947. Some of the children at the orphanage spent many more years in care than us, in some cases entering as toddlers and leaving in their late teens.
If I was asked to sum up my time spent at St George’s House I would have to say that it was beneficial and a good experience for me and not one that I would want to change. Coming to live in New Zealand at the age of 10 however meant that I lost contact with my orphan friends for a period of about 57 years – when I eventually reconnected with them in 2004 a virtual lifetime had passed and, after my wife Vera and I attended some of the annual reunions, although we were all by that time elderly, the friendship bonds were renewed. It was fascinating to hear about the lives and achievements of those I had known as children so many years ago, most of whom had found success in their chosen occupations and lifestyles. I should mention that thanks to our organizing Chairperson and Committee, reunions are still held every year in Harrogate, as close to St George’s Day as possible, long may that last.
I say thank you St George’s.
Old Boy 560