Story 66

So pleased to have met him

Our family lived in Plymouth for 18 years until 1984. As Catholics we usually attended our Parish Church of St. Thomas More in Southway.

Leonard in bed at Midhurst hospital

On one occasion in the late seventies, there weren’t many people at the Saturday mass. My wife nudged me and whispered, ‘I think that is Leonard Cheshire down at the front of the church.’ After mass we waited outside and sure enough it was Leonard Cheshire. He had been visiting Cann House, a Cheshire Home in Plymouth, and was waiting for a lift back there.

My wife, Celia, said to him, ‘I helped to nurse you when you were taken ill.’ He smiled and said, ‘I think I was a bit far gone when I came into hospital so I don’t remember much.’ Celia nursed Leonard back in the early 1950s. At the time, Leonard was involved in setting up the second Cheshire Home in Predannack, near Helston in Cornwall. By then the first Home, St. Teresa’s, was already established as a rehab centre. Leonard had been pushing himself with the conversion of the dilapidated RAF Huts at Predannack, helped by volunteers from the RNAS at Culdrose, Helston.

He had been on his way back from Predannack to St. Teresa’s when he collapsed. He was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital by Fr. Ripley. Celia had been a student nurse there at the time. She went on to become a staff nurse in the theatre and a midwife. A week later he was transferred to the King Edward VIII Sanatorium in Sussex.

Fast forward to the seventies again, when we spoke with Leonard Cheshire after mass, we asked how the Cheshire Homes were doing. His reply was an unexpected one. ‘Well, you probably know that when they were set up our residents were mostly ex-service people who for one reason or another had no family to look after them when they were very ill. Those people were grateful for the help we were able to provide. Things have changed nowadays; one of our residents is a teenager who had a bad motorbike accident which left him severely disabled. His comment to me when I asked him how he was doing was: ‘why did it have to happen to me?’ in a bitter tone. Attitudes have changed.’

With that his lift arrived and we bade him farewell. Celia was so pleased to have met him again. She said, ‘well for someone who was so ill himself he looks pretty good now.’ Sadly, Celia died in 2000 when we were living in Gloucestershire. Since then I have built a relationship with the Cheshire Home in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and have been able to help some residents when they go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

My wife nudged me and whispered, "I think that is Leonard Cheshire down at the front of the church".