The Freda Laycock Memorial Web Site
About Freda - by her daughter Kathryn Ingham
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My mum Freda was born to Samuel and Elizabeth Laycock of Hensall in Yorkshire, England.
Mum was one of eight children born to this couple, who were farmers. Mum used to enjoy telling my sister and myself about her life there, including walking the two miles to school every day – with the occasional lift in the pony and trap. The children all had jobs around the farm, collecting eggs or feeding the pigs and so they were kept busy.
family were members of the Methodist Church and through this the children
attended Sunday School each week. At the end of each year scholars who
attended regularly received a book. The book mum received one year was
called ‘Sisters of the Red Cross’. It was after reading this that mum
decided she would be a nurse.
the mid 1930s mum was interviewed by the Matron at Pontefract Infirmary
and was offered a place to start her training. On the successful
completion of this she went to St Luke’s in Bradford to gain a midwifery
qualification. By this time war was under way and mum felt she wanted to
do her bit so she decided to apply to one of the forces to be a nurse. She
was accepted by the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.
(Later on her grey cloak trimmed with red which was part of her uniform,
was often used by my sister and myself in our dressing up games!)
she was posted to Shaftesbury Hospital in Dorset to do some training and
she spent a short time at Oxford University………she was very proud of
completion of her training she waited to be posted abroad. The two
possibilities at this time were either Egypt or Sierra Leone in West
Africa. She knew it would not be possible to tell her family where she was
as all letters were censored. So she organised to send them a card before
she left England saying either that ‘Aunty Elsie is well’ or ‘Aunty
Sarah is well’ the initial letter of the name of the aunt revealing
where mum was being sent. In this case Sierra Leone.
then went out by convoy to Freetown the capital of Sierra Leone where she
stayed from 1941 to 1943. The nurses treated patients of all nationalities
including quite a lot of Americans. We know this as in mum's possessions
we have letters of thanks from them. Out there at that time the nursing
sisters had ’boys’ to help them with their household tasks. Again mum
obviously treated them well as one of the
letters from them says -
well as work, the nursing sisters had time for a social life as seen by a ticket we have inviting them to a Red Cross dance - to
be held by kind permission of Lt Commander Fenwick R.N. under the
patronage of his Excellency the Governor of Sierra Leone and the Commander
in Chief of the South Atlantic forces.
people in Sierra Leone were still a rarity. Once when mum had some time
off she went ‘up country’ by train. On her arrival she was greeted by
lots of children who wanted to see her, they were so fascinated by her
they each took hold of a finger and so she walked along accompanied by at
least 10 children!!
time out there came to an end and she arrived back in England in 1943.
Here preparations were underway for D-Day.
waiting for this day, mum was stationed in Catterick, Fleet and Luton,
ending in Southampton on June 14th, 1944, ready for embarkation to
Normandy on the 16th - 10 days after D-Day. She was to be part
of the 10th British Casualty Clearing Station.
they followed the troops, the sisters often lived under canvas, sometimes
in the garden of a convent, sometimes in a school and once in a training
college for Catholic priests! In all the places they stopped they set up
hospitals to treat the soldiers as they returned from the front line. They
travelled through Belgium and Holland before arriving in Germany. (On the
way through these places mum had the opportunity of meeting and shaking
hands with General Montgomery, something she was proud of). At one point
in Germany they set up a hospital in a castle!
in contrast to this on May 6th, 1945 mum was part of a team of
nine nursing sisters who went to a concentration camp Stalag XB –Sandbostel
in Germany to help relieve it. She did not talk about this part of her
life very much as it was too upsetting, but documents she kept throw some
light on what the conditions were like.
McLaren c.c. of the 10th Casualty Clearing Station writes in a
was placed in charge of the typhus ward – a dreaded place as typhus was
very infectious. Her example helped others. Again quoting from the report by Major McLaren –
were not enough British nurses to look after all the prisoners so German
nurses and helpers were drafted in to help – hence their presence in the
after this VE Day was celebrated but mum remained in Germany treating the
troops. One day she was out with friends when she was involved in a motor
car accident. The result of this was her return to England for treatment.
Part of her treatment was to have physiotherapy at Pontefract Infirmary
and it was there she met my father Charles Blackburne- and the rest is
history - or look on the
Knottingley and Ferrybridge web site for details of my dad's life.
marrying, mum did not return to work as she assisted dad in all he did.
She created a wonderful home life for my dad, my sister, myself and our
husbands and grandchildren. Mum, although a country girl at heart adapted
to life in Knottingley and enjoyed all she did. She took pleasure in
attending Ropewalk Methodist Chapel and she particularly liked the Bright
Hour and the sewing meeting that met there. Later on she enjoyed
membership on the Knottingley Townswomen’s Guild.
Sadly mum contracted Motor Neurone Disease from which she died in 2003.
The above article also appeared in Knottingley and Ferrybridge on-line web site and can be accessed by clicking here.