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Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: My mother, a very modern midwife

Here is my family on 17 June 1947 sitting in the sun in front of our home in Leicestershire. The large lady is my lovely grandmother, landlady of the White Hart, Nettleham, and known to all as "Ma". To the right is my uncle Geoff, recently returned from serving on HMS Cumberland during the second world war, and in front of him is his pretty Scottish bride, Jean. My parents, Arnold and Dora Greaves, are on the left and my little sister Linda and I sit on our mother's lap.

But this was no ordinary family house, for my mother was matron of a small private maternity hospital and this was our family home too.

During the early stages of the second world war, she was the nurse in charge of a first-aid post, Knighton, Leicester, where schoolboy Richard Attenborough was a volunteer, offering to run errands, including fetching baked beans on toast from the canteen in the hope that he would get a plateful too.

My parents met at a New Year's Eve party in 1941 and married the following September. But after the war, my mother was no longer content with being just a housewife and mother. So, being a single-minded woman, she decided to start her own maternity home and rented a large Victorian pile at Thurmaston near Leicester.

The building was dilapidated and the garden resembled a wilderness, but my mother was undaunted. While my father went off to his nine-to-five office job at the East Midland Electricity Board, she would set to work preparing for the arrival of the first patients, with aunties and cousins drafted in as cleaners and, later, nurses. Finally, after the severe winter of 1946-47, the staff were appointed and the first baby was born at Roundhill nursing home.

She was a conscientious midwife and often stayed up all night with a mum-to-be experiencing difficulties or bringing a baby, that appeared to have died, back to life. She could also be found in the kitchen preparing midday dinner for 40, or outside gardening, growing vegetables, apples and soft fruit. We also kept poultry and pigs, and even at one time a cow and a pony.

In many ways, she was a nurse before her time. Once a day, the gramophone played jolly music such as Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing while the women raised and lowered their legs, slowly doing their pelvic-floor exercises. Mums were also encouraged to get out of bed after childbirth rather than, as was common then, staying horizontal. She was advanced in her thinking, allowing fathers at the birth when in most hospitals it was forbidden. She often joked that they hadn't lost a father yet!

She was also sympathetic to unmarried women who came to stay and work until their babies were born; some remained for years joining the domestic workforce.

Eventually she sold out to the NHS in 1963, but remained as matron until 1970. Sometimes she may have delegated her role as a mother but her life was dedicated to her work, bringing babies into the world and improving the lives of many along the way. 

Mother celebrated her 90th birthday on 15 March 2003 with a big party. Family from around the world included two daughters, eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. There was also a very special card from Lord Attenborough. She died a few months later, as she would have wanted, in her own home, having just enjoyed a bowl of raspberries ... grown in her own garden, of course. Helen Warren

Playlist: Celebrating Mum's Polish culture

Ach Spij, Kochanie (Oh, Sleep my Darling) – a lullaby, sort of

My mother sang this around the house in the 50s and 60s, and it passed into the limited repertoire I sang to my children. Even my grandchildren got to hear it, although the Polish words probably meant nothing to them. My mother sang a lot – which was nice – and went on about the songs and virtues of prewar Polish culture. My siblings and I would sooner have watched TV than listen to her reminiscing about the superior talents from her time and complaining about the devil's inventions that superseded prewar media.

You can now find Eugeniusz Bodo and friends performing Ach Spij, Kochanie (1938) on YouTube. Of course, I know the scenario: two would-be drunks trying to go out for the night sing to the daughter of the house but end up falling asleep themselves. The performances are superb. My mother died 30 years ago, but thanks to the devil's inventions, I can finally see where she was coming from. Janina Leitch

We love to eat: Knickerbocker glories


Vanilla ice-cream

Chopped fruit

Your favourite sauce

Sprinkles and paper umbrellas

Tall glasses to serve and long spoons to dive in with

It was my 31st birthday this summer, and in keeping with family tradition, I set the evening menu. For pudding we had knickerbocker glories and I got to tell my three children a little of their family history.

My grandad, a headteacher, retired on the day I was born to become a portrait artist. In the school holidays, he would whisk me off on the train to Liverpool to visit the galleries to share his new-found love of art, imparting an appreciation of it that remains with me. While I enjoyed looking at mysterious paintings, and the special time with Grandad, the real highlight of every trip was what followed.

Grandad would scout out a cafe serving magical knickerbocker glories, served in tall glasses with special long spoons and paper umbrellas on top. In those days, when I was barely able to see over the top of the table, these ices were the ultimate in pudding extravagance, and it seemed Grandad's enjoyment was equal to my own.

He died eight years ago, but his great-grandchildren, two of whom never had the privilege of knowing him, continue to be fascinated by stories about this amazing man. This year, his memory has been celebrated on my birthday – we are still sharing the ultimate ice-cream experience, 25 years after the tradition began. Emily Noble (known as Emilove to Grandad)

We'd love to hear your stories

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