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Memories From Our First Holiday

Elizabeth McCann

Elizabeth McCann (12), Valerie Deegan (12), Patrick Deegan (11), Janet Deegan (8), Paul McCann (10), Stephen Sweeny (9), and Michael McCann (9).

Elizabeth went on the first Birmingham PHAB Camp in 1967 when she was 12 years old, along with two of her younger brothers Michael (9) and Paul (7) McCann. They lived on Watery Lane where their parents ran the Crown and Anchor pub. They had each gone to St Anne’s School and Elizabeth was now at St Michael’s Roman Catholic School.

They were referred for the camp by Gene Pack “a charismatic youth leader and sociologist who ran an Adventure Playground in Sparkbrook” (as described by Tony Gray 16/09/2016).

Elizabeth had been on one previous residential experience before with her older sister. She met with Maxine Ross-Wallis and Andrew Miles 29/11/2016 to describe some of her memories of the camp. The following write-up was approved by Elizabeth McCann 04/12/2016.

So how did you come to be on the camp?

Well all I can say is that it must have been Gene Pack that put me forward and my brothers. In fact, I’d forgotten that they were there too. Gene was a really nice guy. He was a youth support worker I think and did lots for young people in the community. My older brother Robert will remember better because he knew Gene growing up. He was a great guy. In fact we even went to stay with Gene’s mum – she had a place in Grimsby and we’d stay with her from time to time, because it helped my parents out with us being such a large family. Thinking about it, he made this playground on the waste-ground that was opposite Farm Park off the Stratford Road in Sparkbrook. He put up tire swings and adventure activities. Anyway some years previously my face had been burnt in an accident. I had scares on my face for a few years, and I think children made fun of me, and for one reason or another, I’d been held back a year a school. To cut a long story short, I think those early experiences stayed with me and by the time PHAB came around I was having some problems and I think Gene thought the holiday would really help me. Apparently I was 12 by then, but these memories merge and in my head I seem younger than that when I look back.

So what’s your first memory of the camp?

The nicest memory I have is being in the dormitory. It must have been when we first got there. It was lovely because it was all children together. I’m welling up thinking about it. And I remember seeing the beautiful young girl in the wheelchair (we think this is Susan McEvoy).

“So that’s the tall man I described and there’s the beautiful girl in the wheelchair – that’s my first memory seeing her. She was lovely. I think that was the play we were preparing.”

[The man is Doug Stewart, the leader, and that the little girl in the red circle is Susan McEvoy, as remembered by volunteer Tony Gray. Also present is Liz McCann herself rehearsing to be the back of the horse - see the two girls with the coats on their heads. The taller one is Liz and the other is Valerie Deegan.]

I remember she was really pretty, she had a beautiful dress on and I remember she was very small, very petite, and I remember just wanting us to get to know each other which I think we did as the time went on. When I think about her I have a smile on my face and I remember a smile on her face. She enjoyed it – she enjoyed being with all the children and making friends. I can’t remember much about the specific interaction but I remember it was nice; happy.

Who stands out the most for you?

The two blonde brothers with blue eyes. (the photographs have confirmed these are Philip and Terry Smith)

“That’s the older brother (Philip) with the bow”
NB: The tallest boy is Cliff Maddox whom Liz remembers persuading to go and see the horses with her... And the boy at the back in the black tie is Michael Green who has also been back in touch in 2017.
“That’s the younger brother (Terry) fourth from the left, leaning in.”

Oh they were lovely. They were really nice. Both were in wheelchairs. I remember sitting round one evening, outdoors I think. It may have been a campfire but I don’t quite remember. I know we were all in a circle and we were all singing. And I had it in my mind that it was the younger brother I was sitting next to (Terry) – oh he was so sweet – but looking back I think it must have been the older one (Philip) because he’d be more my age wouldn’t he, and I must admit I fancied him. He was gorgeous looking.

Anyway, as we were sitting there, some adult must have noticed the sparkle in both our eyes. I think it was Robin (Worboys) – she was a beautiful young female helper – I reckon 17 or 18 and I remember her name clearly because I’d only heard it being a boy’s name before. She wore such trendy sixties clothes and she had long brown hair and never wore shores – went everywhere without them! And I remember her saying you can give him a kiss if you want. And I just thought yes – brilliant! And I remember we just had that little kiss and it was, it was wonderful. I loved that atmosphere. I remember thinking, ooh this isn’t people being strict – you know. People aren’t being horrible to me, or shouting at me all the time or telling me I’m naughty or whatever. This was nice. This was people telling me I could do things. In fact I remember Robin was one of the helpers I felt very at ease around; she was fabulous – absolutely fabulous. Along with the others, I thought – these are people I can relate to. I felt these were people I felt safe with; they were people I wanted to know, that I could connect with.

I loved that boy though. I think they felt I’d ran too fast with his wheelchair one time – maybe been a bit rough but we were loving playing together I remember that. Oh no wait – it wasn’t that. There was a pond in the grounds wasn’t there and we were running him near there and they was worried I’d push him in the pond by accident. I wouldn’t have.

“that’s me (Liz McCann) holding the doll. I don’t know what we were doing there.”

Another thing I remember there was a boy I ran off with one day to go and see the horses we’d spotted in a field nearby. I think he was the brother or son of one of the volunteers actually – one of the older tall male volunteers – but I don’t know… I can’t remember the lad’s name. Anyway, me and him became very pally. We’d all gone to our dormitories – I think it was rest period – and they’d said we were going have something going on in the big hall later that day. And I said to this lad – who I think was a bit older than me – “I’ve seen some horses; I want to go and ride them. Come on, let’s go and sneak out.” And then I thought, it’s a bit far but if I get him to push me in one of the wheelchairs it’ll be alright. But what happens was – we got out – and he must have been thinking ahead because he agreed to push me there if I pushed him back. So I thought.. alright then… But of course it was downhill there but uphill back!

Anyway – we got down there and there was a little fence – just a little fence – and these horses were far off the other side of the field. But I’m determined I’m going to get on one of them horses; by hook or by crook I’m going get on a horse. So I says to him “come on we’ve got to get to them horses.” And he says “well you go first”. And I remember going into this field and he’s following me, but the next thing is we’re up to our waists – well it seemed like that – in mud! And he’s going “no – stop – we’ve got to go back!”. And I’m going “no I want to get on that horse” – ooh I was determined; but I think I eventually realised I was defeated. So we came out and I’m covered in all sorts having been looking all immaculate, nice and clean and sparkly before. And to make matters worse – he had no sympathy and still wanted me to push him back up that hill. So anyway I did – but I remember thinking I didn’t like him so much now.

So we get back to the centre and I knew I’d be in trouble if I was seen like that so I says to him “you go in through the boy’s corridor and walk through to the girls corridor and head for the bathroom. I’ll go to the girl’s bathroom window and you can pull me in.” My plan was then to get washed and changed and no-one would ever know. Anyway, at some point the nurse (Miss Tither) found us. In fact I think she’d found him, knew he’d been with me and made him tell her where I was

Anyway, she walks into the bathroom and I think must have seen me half way through the window. And I remember she shouted “Elizabeth – get in now!”. She was really angry and that upset me. In fact I think I had a few run-ins with her and I remember feeling that hurt and confusion each time. In fact I think one time I shouted that I wanted to ring my mum and go home; I wonder if any of the volunteers remember what that was about? But looking back now as an adult, it’s funny, you know I think I can see she was a kindly sort, but I think she misunderstood me and looking back I probably misunderstood her.

Another time, I can see us now, I think the Evening Mail were coming or something to take our photographs. And we were putting on a play for them and I remember that tall chap planning it (we think this is Doug Stewart – Leader). And I’m thinking I’m going to be something nice in this play. Well I wasn’t – I was the back end of a horse or a cow or something and I didn’t think much to that. Funnily enough – I think the little girl in the wheelchair (Susan McEvoy) was the front end. (NB: Tony Gray states that Susan was actually the Princess and Valerie Deegan was actually the other part of the horse!)

What other activities do you remember?

The swimming. I loved the swimming. I was already good at swimming and we swam every day because the pool was onsite – it was great. It was when we swam that I realised how many of us there were because most of the time we were in groups. It was almost as if when I looked around there were children there that I hadn’t seen.

Archery! Yes I remember archery. I really enjoyed the archery – I remember that as a happy time. And I remember the table tennis – we all enjoyed the table tennis. And then there was a rest period in the afternoon – I remember that – we used to like our little rest in the afternoon. We used to go back to the bedrooms and talk, in fact yes – I remember the rest period was the time when we’d go back and have a little natter between ourselves. It was really nice – and for the most part we were on our own without the adults; that was our time. And I think – yes – that’s when I did chat more to the girl in the wheelchair and I remember that’s when I had the courage to ask her more about her life. I think when we – the kids that is – were on our own we got to know more about each other. I remember she explained to us about her condition – gosh I’d forgotten that!

I remember going to this lady’s house for tea and there were other ladies from the village there. They weren’t that old looking back – probably in their forties. Anyway, that was lovely. They were really nice and it was a big house with a coquet lawn at the back and an outdoor swimming pool. (there were a number of different parties that went to different ladies in the village, but Liz’s memory fits with that of Mrs J Shaw who lived at Westwood, New Farm Road, Alresford, Hampshire, who described her house in a letter to Jane Markham dated 22.06.67 as having “a flat drive which leads direct to lawn terrace, so it will be easy for any wheelchairs. We have an outdoor unheated swimming pool should any want to use it”).

And they’d laid on a huge spread – ooh it was lovely to see – and there were all these freshly made cakes – probably baked by each of the different ladies – and we were invited to try them all. I remember that was really great – I can see us all smiling and laughing and they were saying to me “which cake do you prefer?” – I think maybe they had a competition amongst themselves for who’d baked the best cake! I think we played croquet on the lawn at one stage but that might have been something else.

Do you know – I have great memories of our breakfasts. All the children would come down in the morning and we’d have cereals, we’d have eggs, bacon, sausage, orange juice, everything we wanted and we all got on really happily together. The eating times were really happy times.

Everybody was kind you know – I just remember how kind everyone was. Like I say the only issue I had was with the nurse, and to be fair to her she always seemed to turn up when maybe things looked bad! And do you know – I was telling my son about this – there was a boy with an replacement hand and it seemed hard like iron to us:

“Again the second one in on the left is the younger of the two brothers (Terry) and the boy on the far right is the older brother (Philip). And that's my brother Michael playing the symbols. And the boy in the middle, playing the bongos, had a replacement hand. I do remember we had an altercation.”

He was a stocky lad, especially compared to the other children. We’d all had lunch, and it was a lovely sunny day, a beautiful sunny day, and initially when I had this memory I couldn’t remember why I did what I did, but now you’ve reminded me that my brothers were there I remember! So I’d come out from lunch and I was with Terry and pushing him around in the sunshine and some of the other children came over and said “Liz, Liz, look he’s hitting people.” And I said “who’s hitting who” and they said “he’s swinging his iron hand a people”, and I went over to him and I said “don’t you hit anyone” and he looked and went to swing at my brother Michael and as he did I smacked him straight between the eyes and he fell to the ground and started crying. And as he did – out walked the Nurse (Miss Tither) and – well there you go you see – what does she see? Me at it again! But I was only protecting my brother Michael and standing up for the other kids. I don’t know, maybe something had gone on before – maybe you’ll find him too – I’m sure we’d both apologise to each other if you do – but that’s what happens between children isn’t it! I know I’ve always believed in standing up for people – can get you into trouble though!

There’s a Treasure Hunt mentioned in the report. Do you remember that?

Yes. Yes I remember a Treasure Hunt. I’ll have to think about that.

Do you remember much about the evenings?

Now funnily enough yeah – it was always comfortable because we were all together. And we knew we were going to wake up to our lovely breakfast in the morning, and we knew that we had swimming, and we knew the same people were going to be there tomorrow morning – when you wake up – you’re friends you’ve made will be there – that was nice – that was a special feeling unique to the camp. I think… if anything made me cry it was that I felt that loss when I went home – massively now I come to think of it. And I think now – looking back – that was the saddest thing that we never stayed in touch.

Actually – I think come to think of it we did have a meet-up afterwards. They put something on for us in a hall. And I remember, I think was having difficulties again at the time – emotionally. Because I remember I couldn’t tell mum and dad how I felt about this lovely boy in the chair (Philip) – we were a Catholic family – you didn’t tell your parents you liked a boy – I didn’t feel my mum could have related to it – this was my secret; I wasn’t going to tell people how I felt. But we had this meet-up that the camp had arranged for us all to see each other again. I’ve got a feeling it was at a school or something and they were putting a party on for all of us. And I remember I had it in my head that the only reason I was going was to see that boy (Philip) – I really wanted to see him again. And I remember as I walked in – I’m welling up now remembering this – I remember I scanned the room and he wasn’t there. All the other children were laughing and joking and jumping up and down and just enjoying it and I couldn’t see him or his brother; I couldn’t see them. And I remember this darkness, like a blackness came over me and just everything went black – he wasn’t there. And I remember one of the helpers coming over to me and she said “are you alright?” And I said “where’s Philip?” And I remember her saying “he’s not very well”. And I was so sad. I’d love to know what happened to those two brothers; I really would.

Do you think your two brothers who were on the camp will remember it?

Well I’m certainly going to ask them!

So what have you done since?

Well fifty years is a long time isn’t it! I’ve got two grown up children now and five grandchildren. And I have a nephew with cerebral palsy. I think he’d love to go on a PHAB camp. I’ve had an interesting career. Much of it spent in the public service union and liaising with the city councils and other bodies. Standing up for others has always been important to me and disability’s come into that. Looking back I think that Camp could have been the start of that – for the good. I think the people who set it up must have been marvellous – I’m so glad I went; it’s great to look back on it today. Strange though – different memories just keep coming back and I’m having to rectify what are the child’s memories with what I can see was happening now as an adult. Strange, but great. Money couldn’t buy that experience.

We then showed Elizabeth the photos of the first camp after discussing all of the above.

Her first response on looking at the photos:

My heart is pounding here and the welling up inside me is like–

If someone was to give you a gift in life of something – that is the most wonderful gift to give to a child – friends. For a child to have friends – People they can relate to.

I suppose that was their aim wasn’t it – those that set it up – shared experiences?

“I remember those grounds and that big house. That was the pool they was worried the wheelchairs might fall into, and the more modern block was the pool I think.

That’s me dipping my foot in the water. Those shoes look like the trainers we wear today don’t they? I remember – I picked those out specially because I knew no–one else had them – they were so unusual at the time. You know something – I looked at this picture and I thought it would be me dipping my foot in wouldn’t it!

So the other kids – that’s Valerie Deegan – she was in my school – I always got on with her – she was really nice, and now I think that was her brother Patrick next to her (I think he played up a bit actually), and their sister Janet by him; then that’s my younger brother Paul next to her and my brother Michael at the end. That might be Paul Murphy standing in between them – I’m not sure. Michael might still be in touch with him actually because we were all from the same school at one time or another.“

NB: Tony Gray has explained that whilst Paul Murphy was indeed on the camp, the boy she in the picture is in fact Stephen Sweeney.

Liz did not get to see this picture of the day out at Beaulieu Motor Museum, but in it you can see Cliff Maddox (in the tie), his older sister Faith Maddox (in the green cardigan), and her brother Michael in the green/blue stripy top (as identified by Tony Gray).
Liz McCann – centre– with Maxine Ross Wallis, and Andrew Miles 2016