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Experiences Shared

Philida-May

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Philida-May was three years old when her mum died, and she has no memory of her. 

She was sent to a care home where she experienced no warmth, encouragement or joy, only neglect and abuse.

Philida-May can remember being in the home and that people used to come to ‘select’ children to live with them. She wore callipers and she was never chosen. The memory still saddens her after more than 70 years.

She describes a loveless regime in the home, with no treats or celebrations for the children at Christmas or on their birthdays. For this reason, Philida-May doesn’t know how old she was when various events occurred in her life. 

When new arrivals came to the children’s home, they had to be deloused and cleaned. The older girls were given the job of hosing the new ones with freezing cold water, then dressing them in badly fitting clothes and shoes from the store room. 

A member of staff at the home, called Mr Hughes, began to pay attention to Philida-May. He told her she looked like a Swedish girl, and gave her biscuits. This made his wife very angry and she would shout at Philida-May.  

One day Mr Hughes told Philida-May that because he was pleased with her work, she was allowed to go upstairs to an area she had never seen before. She remembers it was very dark and Mr Hughes came up with a cup of tea and biscuits for her. The next thing she remembers is she couldn't breathe as Mr Hughes was on top of her. 

When it was over, her wrist hurt and she was bleeding, but she didn’t know why. She remembers a man in a white coat carrying her downstairs. She was put on a rubber sheet, and she remembers being in a lot of pain. At the time she didn’t know she had been raped because she didn’t know what rape was. She never saw Mr Hughes again.  

Philida-May says that there is a ‘massive gap’ in her memory after this but she knows she started running away and was sent to many institutions across the country.

During one escape she ended up in the countryside. When she was caught, she was put in a detention room. She says ‘It was like a coffin … black with no blankets’. She thinks she was there for two days before anyone came and gave her any water. She was left in this institution for more than two years until she was old enough to leave.

Philida-May married and had several children. Her family knows about her terrible childhood experiences and she says ‘they are so supportive’. She has written about her experiences and says it is not for publication, but more ‘a healing process’. 

She did report her abuse to the police but they told her the abuser was thought to be dead and the case did not progress. She feels let down by the way they responded to her, saying it showed a lack of understanding of the extent of the abuse and neglect she suffered as a child. 

Philida-May has tried to find her care and medical records but has been told they have been destroyed. 

She believes it is very important that children’s homes are given unannounced inspections and inspectors should always speak to children. 

Philida-May says she has always made sure her children felt loved and ‘lacked for nothing’. Christmas and their birthdays are always celebrated. ‘There’s nothing more important for me than a loving family’ she says.

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