“See what God can do”
Dorothy Smithson (20th October 1928 – 22nd September 2020)
I was an illegitimate baby born in Frome in Somerset in October 1928. In those days it was a disgrace to be illegitimate and I grew up thinking it natural to be called bastard by children at school.
My mother was mentally unwell and so I was born in the Home where she was institutionalised. Because of her illness she wasn’t allowed to keep me so I was put into a local home for babies.
Thereafter I saw her once a year.
When I was two years old my mother’s sister Flo witnessed her husband being run over and killed by a horse and cart in the street where they lived.
She had a 2 year old daughter called Christine and when my aunt became a widow she decided that another child was needed to be with Christine and she went to the Home where I was living and demanded that I was given to her to bring up.
She sent Christine and me to Sunday School in the village.
Life with my aunt wasn’t easy. Christine was a very favoured child and I was on the receiving end of my aunt’s dislike of me and the fact that I was illegitimate and I was frequently abused and hit.
At the age of 14 I left school and my aunt took me with my carrier bag of my limited belongings to London on the train to work for a scientist who lived in Crystal Palace and taught at Dulwich College in south London. I was to be his housekeeper. As long as I kept his house clean he would keep me.
Later on I went back to Crystal Palace to work as a waitress in the Queen’s Hotel but I soon realised that it wasn’t safe for me to stay there and I needed to move on again. I didn’t know what to do so one day when walking the streets with my carrier bag I felt prompted to go into a newsagent’s shop and explained my predicament to the lady behind the counter and asked if she knew of a family who needed a Nanny for their children. It turned out that she knew of a family in Dulwich where both parents worked and they were looking for a Nanny to look after their 2 year old child and their 6 month old baby. So off I went to be a Nanny not knowing very much about small children!
This all took place during the war and we often heard the sirens so we would all rush to the Andersen Shelter in the garden. The children’s mother was anxious about the bombs and told me she didn’t want me to take the children up to Crystal Palace. One day I needed to go to the shops so took the children with me up to the Crystal Palace shops. When we got back home the children’s mother was there and she was very angry with me for disobeying her so she sacked me.
Once again I didn’t have a job and wondered what I should do?
I did the only thing I could think of and that was to go and knock on my Sunday School teacher’s door. I knocked on her door and asked her if she could advise me what to do next. That wonderful lady took me into her home and I lived with her and her husband and family for the next 6 years,
In this time I was found a job as a Secretary for the North London Gas Company and travelled to work in London each day on the train.
When I was 20 my very good friend Stella and I saw an advert for nurses in a newspaper and we decided we would apply together. We weren’t sure how to go about this but Stella said her Mum would know and indeed she did. So Stella and I went off to King Edward Hospital in Ealing one very wet day for our interviews. The Matron who interviewed us was sharp with us berating us for coming into her office dripping with rain which was causing puddles on her office floor. She told us she would let us know if we were successful in our application. We left the hospital saying to each other “Well that’s that then. She obviously won’t have us as we dripped rain all over her office floor.”
To our amazement we learnt a few days later that we had both been accepted for nurse training!
For the next four years Stella and I trained as nurses, then midwives and after that I did further training to become a District Nurse. I absolutely loved this work because it involved being with people and thus District Nursing became my life’s work.
Stella and I attended Maldon Road Baptist Church in Hampstead Heath and it was here that we were baptised together.
When I was District Nursing in London a student from Estonia arrived and I was asked to help him as he settled in. He could speak very little English so I thought the best thing I could do for him was to teach him English. We bought bikes and enjoyed cycling when we had days off and thought nothing of cycling from London to Eastbourne.
Then one day my Estonian student George asked me to marry him and this seemed the natural progression of our relationship and so we were married at Cheam Baptist Church by Mr. Matthews in 1952.
We moved to Clarendon Road in Wallington and I continued District Nursing until our children came along, Ray and then Sue.
When our children were 8 and 10 years old George left us and I brought the children up on my own. I was pleased to be able to continue working as a District Nurse. Later we were divorced and George died some years later of a brain tumour.
I then moved to Partridge Green where I continued District Nursing.
One of my patients in Partridge Green was a lady who was dying of cancer and I nursed her until the end. On her deathbed she asked me to look after her husband Ernie and I said I would. Little did I think a few years later that Ernie would ask me to marry him! We were married in the 60s .and we moved to Horsham and ‘onto the hill’ as we called it – Denne Hill - to a cottage that needed a lot of work done to it. We loved it there – in the heart of the countryside, surrounded by fields and trees. It was very peaceful and it seemed rural yet with a wonderful view over Horsham. Ernie adored golf and played frequently so I learnt to play golf because I said “I’m not going to be a golfing widow!”
Ernie died 4 years later. One day he said he wasn’t feeling well and he was diagnosed with cancer and died 3 weeks later. So I found I was a golfer’s widow.
I felt totally lost and had no idea what to do. I had been going to Brighton Road Baptist Church for some time so I asked the then minister David Richardson to help. He was wonderful and so helpful. He conducted Ernie’s service on the hill at our home and there were over 200 people there from Mannings Heath Golf Club.
I had many chats with David Richardson after this and I found him really helpful.
I was able to open our home and garden to many Church events and we raised a lot of money for the church. People would often come up on the hill to see me and chat and it was a wonderful haven for me and for others. Sometimes church friends who might otherwise be on their own, came and joined me for Christmas.
Eventually I decided it was time to move off the hill and move into the town so I found a home about a mile from the church.
My Christian faith has been immensely helpful and important to me in my life. From Sunday School days where I became a Christian at the age of 12, throughout the ups and downs of teenage years , my twenties, nursing, marriage, motherhood, widowhood, marriage again and widowhood once more.
The hurt, pain and rejection of early years left their mark. It has always been hard to rise above being called a bastard as I was so frequently called in my formative childhood years.
But God by His grace has helped me to be changed from the ‘rubbish’ I then believed I was, into His much-loved child. My early life’s experiences although so painful and damaging have equipped me to draw alongside so many other hurting people over many decades and to share the love of God which I have experienced so richly in my own life.
So, if you think you are ‘rubbish’, believe me, God can come into that and transform your life as He did mine.