logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

1940s war-time
health care for children

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Food supplements for children

Bottles of orange juice and cod-liver oil, distributed to pre-school children in Britain during WW2

Bottles of orange juice and cod-liver oil, distributed to pre-school children in WW2. Photographed in Nidderdale Museum.

The Government was good to children in World War Two in spite of the severity of rationing. Children had their own ration books which were more generous than those of adults. Pre-school children had allowances of cod-liver oil and orange juice, and my mother had to collect mine from the local clinic.

The orange juice tasted wonderful but the cod-liver oil was absolutely disgusting. I wouldn't have any of it; so my mother, with the ignorance of her background, just gave me extra orange juice 'to make up'.

Clearly the refusal to take cod-liver oil was widespread, as it soon became available as 'cod liver oil and malt', a totally acceptable brown sticky substance that tasted like toffee and had to be spooned out of a large jar.

Once at school, there was free milk.

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The school clinic and dental surgery

My first years at school were before the National Health Service, but there was a free school clinic. Ours was in Mill Hill. The dental surgery was there. I had to have a lot of fillings in my teeth. I'm not sure why, as there were no sweets to be had during the war and afterwards they were rationed. Anyway, the point was that the drill was much slower than today's drills and it hurt dreadfully. There were no injections and the only way that the staff had to deal with complaints about the pain was to laugh them off and say what a baby one was.

I had what I seem to remember as quite a lot of tooth extractions at the school clinic. This must have been from my milk teeth as I have had a full set of teeth as an adult.

Tooth extractions were always painless because we were 'put out' for them, i.e. made unconscious. The general anaesthetic was gas, using a mask over the mouth and nose.

Dental treatment where there was no school clinic

My school was in a rural area and the dentist came to the school. It wasn't such a palaver for him as you might imagine because he had so little equipment. He did have a portable reclining chair, but his drill worked on a slow foot treadle. There were no painkillers of any sort and I remember feeling like running away when it was my turn. In better off families the dentist would come to the house and presumably be paid for by the family.

Neil Cryer

I always felt surprisingly cheerful when I woke up and I wonder now if the gas was nitrous oxide, laughing gas. I don't suppose that we were under very long because pulling a tooth is quite quick.

We didn't have to go to the clinic for cursory health checks because the nurses came to the school. These checks were mainly to look at children's throats, feel their glands and check their heads for lice.

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The doctor and the doctor's surgery

My early childhood was before the National Health Service and I well remember my mother taking me to the doctor's surgery clutching her half crown in payment. That was equivalent to twelve and a half pence in today's money, but it was worth a lot then. (As a benchmark, my father bought our house in Edgware (on a mortgage) in 1938 for 300 or so pounds.)

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

It always seemed to me to be a waste of time going to the doctor. He always seemed to take the money and give the advice to come back in so many days if things were no better. I suppose other people must have fared differently. There were no antibiotics available to the general public, and when I had measles my ears were extremely inflamed - but there was nothing the doctor could do. My mother always said that my deafness in later life stemmed from that time. Apparently, though, my mother did once take comfort from his words, "These things come Mrs Clarke, and, thank God, they go". In most cases, he was right.

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