The women from Cherry Ward

Anthology from st. Ebba's Hospital 1971/72

Back in 1971/72 I worked as an unskilled nurse on St. Ebbas Hospital in Epsom outside London. St. Ebbas was finished in 1903. In the beginning it was an epileptic colony. After World War One it was a treatment centre for ex servicemen who suffered from what we today call PTSD.

When I worked there it was a part of The Epsom Cluster, which consisted of five big psykiatric hospitals. As a whole these hospitals housed a vast group of psykiatric patients and mentally handicapped people. The idea was to gather everybody under "one umbrella" to keep expenses down. 

Already when I worked at St. Ebbas it was a very outdated place. Not only what concerns buildings but definately also concerning care and pedagogy or the lack of both. I worked on Cherry Ward which was supposed to be for the ill and people of physical bad health. Many of the patients (today you would say residents) were permanently bedridden. Many others were in wheelchairs. Nothing was done to give them fruitful lives and they were not stimulated in any way. Most of them did not have any contact to their family. They lived completely loveless lives.

This is what these poems are about.

Read about:

Dinnertime for Songbirds


Sara Burns

Lesley Brown


Linda Beagley



Mrs. Hicks



They may have been family.

Tilbage i 1971/72 arbejdede jeg som ufaglært nurse på St. Ebbas Hospital i Epsom uden for London. St. Ebbas var en del af Epsom Cluster, der bestod af fem store psykiatriske hospitaler. Samlet set husede disse hospitaler en meget stor gruppe af psykiatriske patienter og udviklingshæmmede mennesker. Ideen var at samle alle under "en paraply" for at holde udgifterne nede.

Allerede da jeg arbejdede på St. Ebbas, var det et meget utidssvarende sted. Ikke kun, hvad bygninger angik, men bestemt også i forhold til omsorg og pædagogik eller manglen på samme. Jeg arbejdede på Cherry Ward, som var en sygeafdeling. Mange af patienterne (i dag ville man sige beboerne) var fast sengeliggende. Mange andre var kørestolsbrugere. Der blev intet gjort, for at de kunne få indhold i deres liv og de blev ikke stimuleret på nogen måde. De fleste havde ikke kontakt til deres familie. Det var fuldstændig kærlighedsløse liv.

Det er det, digtene handler om.


Cherry Blossoms

See Dinnertime for Songbirds performed on




Dinnertime for Songbirds

I have to feed eleven mouths

Greedy for the food on the spoon

Blended meat and vegetable

Eleven mouths

That is what I have to finish feeding

Within half an hour.


[Nurse Wanda from Jamaica  

Eats at the table set for ten

In the diningroom

There they eat with knife and fork

And have conversations]


I have to feed eleven mouths all by myself

They are like beaks on newly hatched songbirds

Opening wide when the spoon comes near

The spoon flies back and forth

In with the food

Empty out

It flies from one mouth to the next

I have less than three minutes

To feed each “bird”…

Oh, but they are not birds

In those mouths are human teeth

Round those mouths are human faces

Framed by golden, black or red hair

In those faces are eyes

Blue, brown, gray, green

Trying to focus on the spoon

Trying to focus on me

Behind those eyes are brains


Who is she?

Why does she feed me as if I am an animal?

No, not at all wondering.

These eyes have seen many faces like mine

They have seen many hands like mine leading the spoon

Into the mouths’ big black hole

They are used to see the fast movement of the spoon

Cutting through the air with a load of inedible mash

These mouths have opened and closed mechanically

For years

These throats have swallowed each and every spoonful   

Thousands of times

Without ever having tasted the food

They never had the chance

Because nobody found it necessary

To make tasty food for these mouths to taste


There are young women behind these mouths

Women chained to wheelchairs and beds

Women who had fathers and mothers

Sisters and brothers

Who perhaps even once loved them

These women were supposed to smile and laugh and dance

They were supposed to walk in the forest

To swim in the sea

To go shopping with friends

They were not meant to spend their lives in chains

Never feeling the fresh air in their lungs

On their skin

Living only because of

Being fed with spoons of bad tasting potato mash.


I am myself a girl of eighteen  

I look into their eyes

And I see their lost dreams

Floating astray

I wonder

How long do they have to be deprived of their humanity.


I lower the spoon and look at the mouths in the faces of the women

Who have names:

I say their names out loud while I feed them.

For each spoon I deliver

I say:


Diane, Diane, Diane, Diane, Diane, Diane, Diane, Diane…

Leslie Brown, Leslie Brown, Leslie Brown, Leslie Brown…

Sara Burns, Sara Burns, Sara Burns, Sara Burns, Sara Burns…

Linda Beagley, Linda Beagley, Linda Beagley, Linda Beagley…

Pamela, Pamela, Pamela, Pamela, Pamela, Pamela, Pamela…

Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama…

Fiona, Fiona, Fiona, Fiona, Fiona, Fiona, Fiona…


I promise myself that I will always remember those names

I will carry them in my heart and sing them out

Thus making these women live.


But out of eleven

One subject in wheelchair, name unknown

One subject in wheelchair, name unknown

One subject in bed, name unknown

One subject in bed, name unknown


How could these four women deserve to be remembered nameless?



Gitte Paracha Thorhauge



If you continue reading the poems under the picture you will get to know much more about the women who lived in Cherry Ward.




Fiona is the lucky one 

She has her mum and dad 

And they love her dearly

They don’t see her withering away

They can’t accept it

She used to be a healthy goldie locked child

That’s what she still is to them

They visit regularly 

When they come

They don’t hear

The rattly sound of her breathing

She flashes them a faint smile of recognition 

And they fill with joy.

They sit at her bed

Where she lies immobile 

On the air regulated mattress

They have given her to avoid bedsores

They gently wipe the saliva off from her mouth

And they give her oxygen 

Whenever she is in need.

They always tell stories about her happy childhood

The nurses swarm around them

Like bees and butterflies around the garden flowers 

They want to be near something normal

In their minds they see little Fiona running

And they see her smiling and gigling

When the parents have left 

The nurses change and feed her

They gently wipe the saliva off from her mouth

They talk to her like the parents did 

They might even pinch her cheek


Fiona is the lucky one.








Sara Burns

Sara Burns 1

When I am shown round in the ward

I see her

She sits like a sculpture

Her head high

Almost aristocratic

Her chin up

She has a sharp chin

I follow her eyes

Seeing the nurses that pass by

All in a hurry.


I see that her body is all covered by a sheet

Wondering why

Then she moves her hand

To her mouth

Making sure that they see her.


I notice that her cheeks are hollow

And her eyes are lying deep

Her hand is bony and slender

It disappears down her throat

When it comes out

It is covered in saliva

A few convulsions and she pukes

The sheet covered in half congested



I see her doing it every day

Sometimes we clean her

Sometimes the vomit dries

She is a little lonely woman

She is twenty nine years old

And she weighs twenty nine kilos.



Sara Burns 2

In the morning one of them takes me out of my bed

After my bath she puts me in my chair

While other girls are being pushed in the back

To go to the bathroom

My breakfast she gives to me while standing

Today it’s her but it is a different woman every day

None of them talk to me while feeding me

The food is blended

It tastes of nothing

They all shovel it into my mouth

I must be quick swallowing not to choke

After feeding me they all hurry away

Leaving me alone

The rest of the day I only see them rush by

The black and the white women

The days’ boredom lies ahead of me

While sitting in my chair

Not being able to walk away

And with absolutely nothing to do

The women don’t see me

They are engaged with other duties now

Two of them are making beds together

They tighten the sheets under the mattress of one bed

Then continue to the next

Another begins to take our pulse

She also checks our breathing

Although we are not sick

But handicapped

My turn comes but she doesn’t see me

Just finishes her job and walks off

As always.


I must do something to make them notice me

To show them that I am alive

I try different things like smiling

No response

I try making signs with my hands

No response

Then I stick my hand deep into my mouth

I take it out

Seeing it dripping with saliva

A black woman comes by

Wiping it clean

I feel her presence

Next I stick it even further down my throat

Until I puke

The same woman leaves her duties

She comes and wipes me clean.


The next day I do the same

Sticking my hand deep into my throat

When I puke the women flock around me

I have found my weapon.



Sara Burns 3

She is a queen

Sitting on her throne

Governing her people

A snowwhite gown

Covering her full body

Her chin firm and proud

Her head high

She stretches out her hand

Slender and bony

Using it as a tool

Of gaining

Respect and sacrifice

From whoever comes near her throne

Swallowing it right down to the wrist

Causing convulsions

Causing a puke

Down her gown of sheet

Causing her will to be done.


She looks at her hand

Her tool of power

Dripping with puke and saliva

A servant rushes to help

Bends down and cleans the hand

the ruling stick of Cherry Ward.



Lesley Brown


I am the new girl of this place

Having been moved here

Not long ago

Now spending my life behind bars.


My crime!

I can sit!


Oh yes, I can sit

I am so proud I can sit

And I am a curious soul

So I sit up whenever I get a chance

I like to hold my head high

Overlooking my surroundings

My view being the other young girls

Of the place

Lying flat on their backs

On beds all around me

I never talked to them

never touched them

I don’t think I ever will.


She is a slim long limbed girl

With brownish hair


Her eyes are blue

And she has a light splash of freckles

Tossed over her nose

She struggles to hold her upright position

Swaggering dangerously from side to side

While sitting

Then loses her balance.


I spend every day in that bed

Unable to get out

Because of the bars

And admitted

Because my legs are no good

I hope that one day

They can take me out into sun

Then I would not feel that my life

Is wasted away

But the women in uniform all

Walk by very fast

Giving me no time to express my wishes

Having no time to read my mind.


I go and sit by her bedside

She is a lovely girl

Despite of her twisted body

Her freckly smile is mild

And charming

I take her pulse

Talking to her in the process

Knowing that time is short

Having to go to the next bed

With another girl and then another

And another again

Making sure by taking their pulse

That they are all alive

Hearts beating

But for what?


I have not met that uniformed girl before

She takes me by the hand

I find her different from the others

She smiles to me murmuring

Making me smile back

I can feel her presence

I hope she will stay forever.


Then she lets go of my hand

She goes to the next bed and the next again

Taking all the girls by the hand

One by one

While smiling and quietly murmuring   

Giving them hope and keeping them alive.




She is twentynine

She would have been waiting for her loved one

Or for her children

She could have been a mother now

Waiting for her kids to come home from school

She could have been a doctor

Or a dentist

Waiting for the patients to arrive

Or she could have worked in a factory

Waiting at the line

To do exactly her task making functional products

She would have

If not!


She sees people around her

People in uniform

Different colors

She doesn’t know their names

They never talk to her

They never touch her

When she feels lucky

She sees their faces above her

Looking down on her

Standing around her

Talking about their own lives

Reminding her of what she could have had

If not!


She is waiting for the sun to strike her hair

To hear a gentle voice talking to her

For someone to sit on her bed and hold her hand and touch her

To feel a comforting hand on her cheek

And perhaps a little pinch

She is longing for it

She is dying for it

She could have been touched by her lover

If not!


She masturbates a lot

Using her thumb

It makes time slowly pass

While she lies in her bed

Different from other people

Her body twisted

Legs grown into an immobile angle

She can’t stand, sit or walk

She never could

Her head has taken shape from the way she has been lying

For years

Flat on the one side and the hair worn off

She can’t eat by herself

She is speechless and wordless

And thougts have difficulty forming in her head

Clouds seem to be forming instead

She was set in this world by a mother and father

Who abandoned her

When she was little

They were told it was the best thing for them to do




Linda Beagley


Bare feet on the wooden floor

That is how I remember Linda Beagley

The way she puts her feet softly

Like in a daze

A small woman

A girlish like body

With tiny breasts

Her face full of plum size violet tumors

Hanging from her cheek

Misshaping her chin

Filling her mouth

Her place of detention

A high backed armchair

Plastic upholstered

In the far end of the ward

Around her waist and tied around the chair

Simply a rolled up sheet or nappy

To immobilize her.


Those few times she was allowed to walk

Though  only to the bathroom

She was pushed down the aisle

First she was pushed one way

Then the other

Just one finger in the back

Like a spear.


She wasn’t ever allowed to walk freely.

They said it was necessary to tie her up


”She will run down the aisle

And drink dangerous liquids from the kitchen!”


She was all alone in her section

Segregated from the others by wooden partitions

There she had nothing to do

And nothing to look at

Apart from a couple of empty beds

Perhaps once in a while the sun would peep in through the windows

And make a break of the monotony of her day

Or a cloud would show in the sky

Otherwise nothing.


She was an epileptic

Getting serious grand mal fits and convulsions

Destined to die young in an ongoing rage of fits.


One day I made my way down to her in her lonely corner

She had just had a fit

She was very weak

With saliva running from her mouth

She had unconsciously slipped down from the chair

The head just about above the tied around bedsheet

She had been close to  be hanged.


For forty years I have been thinking about Linda Beagley

How I would have liked getting to know her.




Mama and Pamela


The couch is gray


Facing the aisle

And Sister's office

Medicine room at the back

The setting for two lives

A young one and an old.




Dark skinned


Poking her eyes

Making the days pass

Trying to see.




Long and hanging breasts

Clapping against her stomach

Always trying to escape the dull life

Of the couch

Steeling away her freedom.


The couch is what defines them



They have no personality of their own

No inner life

No desires

No wishes


At least that’s what we think.





I have never seen human skin spotted

Like Mamas

White and slightly brownish

It fills me with wonder and awe 

And also a bit of disgust.


She sits naked on the gray couch

Flashing her long slender breast 

Body stiff and uncomfortable 

Her light blue eyes starring 

But not able to see

Then she tries to stand up

Breasts swinging and clapping against her stomach

The string around her waist holding her back

Her eyes showing her desperation 

As she tries again and again to get to her feet 

And get rid of the couch.


They send for the jumpsuit

Specially made of nylon


Double hemmed 

Zipper on the back.


She is not naked anymore

But she is still not considered human.




Pamela (that is what they call her)


She is has potential of being a beauty

Her foreign looks

Her jet black hair 

I am told that she lost her family

Because somebody cut her hair

It was a thoughtless thing to do 

But cleanliness must prevail 

Says Sister

The family could not recognize their newly cut daughter 

They never came back 

It was something to do with religion

Or perhaps just a bad excuse

Now she only has the gray plastic covered couch 

She likes to crouch 

Legs up under her nighty 

Poking her eyes 

Perhaps when she pokes them hard enough 

She can bring images of her parents 

To her mind 

Perhaps the pain makes her forget

The couch she shares with Mama.



Mrs. Hicks


Bare feet

Upright toes

On the morning floor

Mrs. Hicks performing her daily duties

Moving slowly

But determined

Apron around her waist

Ninety years of collected wisdom.


Mrs. Hicks lying in the bed

A geriatric without a past

No room of her own

No furniture of hers

Over her bed

Empty walls

No pictures from her previous life.

Determination gone

The apron stowed away

Black vision taking over

Loss of appetite

Loss of life.


I am sitting on her bedside

On a chair

There is no sound

But her heavy breath

I am not allowed to move away

Not even for a pee.

My task

To prevent her from






Joyce is a physically strong woman

She is tall

Strong build

Face sharply cut

Black straight hair

Cut straight off at her strong square jaw.


She belongs to the elite of Cherry Ward

Spending the days in the dining room

With the others

Talking, reading, doing handicraft

Until one day

Depression absorbs her

Her strong and violent ways deteriorate

she becomes a zombie

Spending her time in bed.


That is when I come into her life

From the day the treatment is decided


At the nearby hospital for mental illness

And I have to take her

A welcome change of the everyday routine.


We go by the hospital bus

That also collects others for similar treatments

Soon we are behind new and to us unknown walls

First we sit waiting

Then our turn comes

We are being called upon

Being asked to follow

We come into the treatment room

It is huge

Other patients are lined up

Lying on narrow black benches

In a row

Already electrodes fastened to their heads

We pass them on the way to the bench

Being pointed out to Joyce

They ask her to lie down

Then they tie her up

Fasten the electrodes to her head

Gag her.


When all the patients are ready

The electricity is turned on

I look at Joyce

Her body shakes and trembles

Her behind and back lifting from the bench

Until only her heels and her neck is touching it

Her teeth cutting into the gag

Her eyes wide open

I look down the row of the patients

They all look like Joyce

Turned into human bows.


Then the electricity is turned off

For this time

Everybody falls down on the benches

Tired, sweaty hair

Joyce has to go nine more times

Will she be better?







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Nyeste kommentarer

29.05 | 17:06

Mine burmesere har heller aldrig haft problemer med at åbne kattelemmen selvom den var låst indefra! De andre har aldrig lært det😊!
Da jeg lejede mig ind på en vens bondegård med bl.a høns var der en tydelig forskel på mine to burmesere og de to Maine Co