Memories of War by Florence Remmer

Florence has kindly allowed me to blog her memories of war after a wonderful chat prompted her to write some down. All of the story is in her own words.

“I was 6 when the second world war broke out I 1939, the eldest of 3 siblings. We lived in a back to back house in Myrtle Street, Leeds Road. We were very poor, as was everyone else in the street, but I didn’t know it as everyone else and all other families were the same. We drank out of jam jars and mostly had jam or sugar on bread for our meals…… was rationed and my mam had to sell the “points” in the ration books to provide even the barest amount of food for us. As I said earlier everyone was in the same boat and I have told you the above just to put you in the picture of what life was like for us in the 1930’s.

I remember when I was 7 being evacuated to Nelson in Lancashire. I remember the morning quite well, being on the platform in Bradford station, a whole crowd of us. We had a box over our shoulders containing a gas mask and a bag with soup and a couple of other provisions in, I can’t remember what they were, I know they were to be given to the family in Nelson who were going to “ take us in” and look after us for the duration of the war. I didn’t like leaving my mam who had come to the station to see me off. We were evacuated because the government thought that the Germans were going to bomb Bradford at some time, Bradford had rail road links and a large gas works……..Dad came to visit one day and I cried and said I wanted to go home and that’s when dad took me back home to Bradford.

Bradford was indeed bombed, I think in 1941?, I had another sibling born by then. I remember the bombings quite clearly. Dad was working at the gas works on those nights. Mam and myself were down in the cellar, we had black gas masks on, my siblings had red and blue gas masks on and the baby was in a large khaki‘ish contraption attached to a pump which mam and myself had to keep pumping to keep the oxygen going. We only had a candle to light the cellar.

I remember the sound of the German aero planes overhead, a deep slow thumping noise. One night there was a loud bang and we heard a sound that sounded like pebbles rolling from the roof, it was very frightening. We discovered the next day that a bomb had been dropped very near our street, and had landed in St. Peters church in Leeds road. We had to leave our house the next day for a while until the bomb was “made safe”. A while later, I think about three days, we went up to see. We went up in a crocodile from our school, St. Peters, in Leeds road. we went into the church it was all shattered and there was a huge hole in the middle.”

Memories of a retired pharmacist……

You may remember a while ago that we featured a brief anecdotal story about a retired pharmacist Cissie Yeadon? Well fortunately for us, Cissie agreed to blog more of her career.

Cissie served her apprenticeship at Boots The Chemists in Kirkgate, Bradford from 1947 – 1949. She qualified in 1950 in Edinburgh as an external student of Bradford Technical College, as it did not have university status then. At this time, Cissie was becoming one of only a few women who were brave and clever enough to embark on such a career in medicine.

When the National Health service first came into being, she thought it was the ‘best thing since sliced bread’! She still maintains this opinion, and believes it to be one of our finest achievements despite all of the criticism and abuse it has suffered. Cissie believes that when she undertook her training that it really was in a different world altogether, compared to today.

Back then, most medicines were made from plant derivatives and made by hand to order. Tinctures contained ingredients preserved in alcohol, for example, Tincture of Digitalis, Belladonna, Stramonium or Nux Vomica. Latin names and labeling were used for the medicines to correspond with their Latin ingredients.

If customers came along with a specific prescription that needed to be made up, Cissie would enter their prescription specifics into a prescription book and issue them with a number. This allowed them easy access to that particular prescription again if that customer required it….genius!

Before awareness and legislation came in to protect pharmacists and patients, many a mixture would include small quantities of highly poisonous and dangerous derivatives. Back then, adult cough mixtures contained opium balanced with an emetic such as squill or ipecacuanha.

Methods of making medicine have also vastly changed, Cissie made very intricate and complex mixtures that would be used for various illnesses. ” I used to make pills, suppositories, pessaries, plasters, cough mixtures, stomach medicines and tonics”.

Let’s take a look into how pills were made…….”Pills were made by mixing the active ingredient with an inert substance and rolling it into a kind of sausage shape which was then put into a pill machine which then divided the sausage up into small cylinders. These pieces were then put into a pill rounder with French chalk to prevent them from sticking together. A pill rounder was a small cylindrical wooden box usually made form polished wood. The pills were thoroughly shaken with a round motion until they were round. They were then coated with a non toxic (and often sweet!) varnish and placed carefully on a well greased til and left to dry with regular turning to prevent them from sticking.” Cissie would have made hundreds of thousands of pills in her time as a pharmacist, for many different ailments.

Suppositories and pessaries were also hand made in the dispensary, the base of which would have been cocoa butter or glycerine. This would be carefully heated, but not left to boil or bubble. The active ingredient would then be added and the mixture poured into a mold, and left to cool. If you were using cocoa butter for the recipe, then Cissie would over fill the mold to allow for shrinkage. However, glycerine would not shrink, so they were filled exactly.

When antibiotics appeared on the scene they took the form of Penicillin lozenges, cream and ointment. Lozenges and ointments came directly from the manufacturers, but creams were made in house at the dispensary. To make the cream Cissie had to use what they used to call an aseptic technique. She needed to don sterile gloves behind a screen which had sterile curtains, and use a sterile rod to mix the penicillin tablet into the mixture.

Later Streptomycin and other antibiotics were discovered, so gradually old herbal and plant based medicines were phased out and replaced by more modern products.

Cissie finally retired when she was 77 years old after experiencing many changes in medicine throughout her career.

If there weren’t people like Cissie to make our medicines back then, who would have hey?