I was born in 1929 and was brought up as an only child. But I wasn't the only child my parents had. A few years before I was born, my mother gave birth to a little boy.
My brother was born at home in Kirkham in Lancashire, just as I would be. But whereas I was healthy, he was not. He was a very sick baby. My father told me years later that he had a hole in his back - a sort of wound that was unhealed. Although I can't be sure, I think he must have had spina bifida.
I don't know what the treatment is these days for a baby with spina bifida. It's not a condition I know much about. But in those days, it was often thought best that a very sick or disabled baby was left to die. Or - who knows - even "helped" to die. I think that is what happened with my brother. My father told me many years later that our doctor said just after the birth that the baby would only live for about a week. Obviously it was terribly upsetting for my parents. Their first child...
My father arranged straight away to have his son christened. We were catholics and in those days we believed without even really thinking about it that an unchristened baby who died would go to limbo and spend eternity there. (What a terrible thing for a religion to tell parents facing the death of a child.) Anyway, my brother was christened. The priest came to the house for the baptism and the sick baby was given the name William.
Each day that week William lay in his cradle and each evening my father administered a medicine to him. He was told by the doctor to fetch the medicine from the chemist each evening. When my father eventually talked about the death of my brother, when I was an adult, he told me that the doctor had never explained what the medicine was or what it was for but my dad noticed that each evening after he had the medicine, William was worse. At the end of the week, he died.
My father told me that it hadn't even occurred to him to question the doctor's orders - in those days the doctor, like the priest, was a bit like God - you didn't question them and you certainly didn't challenge them. It didn't even cross your mind. However, looking back, my father said he'd often - naturally - thought about his sick baby boy and had concluded that, whatever the doctor had ordered, it had probably killed William.
He could never know for sure and I will never know. My mother had died by the time my father talked to me about this. I don't know if he had ever shared his opinion with her. Probably not. She was ill most of her adult life with pernicious anaemia and he probably would have thought she wasn't strong enough to talk about losing the baby.
My dad was of course a man of his time and when he talked about William and his death he talked about it simply and objectively. He just said that he thought the doctor had probably told him to administer a 'medicine' that had killed the baby. He didn't say he thought that was terrible, or for the best, or anything else - just that he thought that was what had happened. I'll never know if he was inwardly angry at the doctor or calmly accepting that a medical judgement had been made or even reassured by the belief that William had been spared a long life of pain and disability.
I suspect, because it was back in the 1920s, that he may simply have thought that's how life was and that was the professional decision taken by the doctor. It makes me shiver though to think that my kind dad may have spent that week trustingly giving 'medicine' to his sick baby son in the hope it would improve his condition, if in fact it was killing him.