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Beaten all over...and so scared I forgot to pray.

Jan McQueenie spent seven years at Quarriers' Homes in Renfrewshire from age 9 to 16. She left to become a nurse, later to marry and have a family. But the memory of life in a particular cottage at the home haunted her. Now she has written her story, as she puts it, "to lay a ghost."

By Alison Goodall, Scottish Sunday Mail, June 3, 1984

One evening when I was 12, I was deck-scrubbing the shed, when word came that I was "wanted."

The words, "You're wanted," struck terror into all of us, and we would make for the back stairs, trembling.

Often a "clipe" had been busy. But, on this occasion, I knew why I was wanted by our house-mother, Miss Morrison. I had been slow at my work. I had even been reprimanded at school for day-dreaming.

I was so frightened I forgot to pray on the way up the stairs. Maybe that was why my friends and I suffered so much. We didn't have enough time to pray to God for help.

I was grabbed by the hair and thrown across the hall. Miss Morrison had the dreaded stick in her hand, always used when she was in her worst possible mood.

I was struck up and down the hall, mostly on the head, as was usual. I kept my hands over my face, but the stick landed anywhere, legs, arms and back too.


Then Miss Morrison (not her real name) ordered two girls to "get the bottle." Castor oil, of course.

I was held down by the older girls, and Miss Morrison poured the dreadful stuff down my throat.

She shouted for me to get up and, when I started to rise, beat me down again.

Many times before, I had been beaten with the stick, but this was the first time I got all the punishments together.

She ordered me upstairs to bed. Every time I tried to walk, she beat me down again. And when I eventually got to my bedside and tried to undress, she got an umbrella to strike me with.

All the time she was shouting that I was a lazy tinker, the scum of the earth, and much more.

I was then dragged out of bed and made to stand on the landing in my nightie and bare feet.

Every time she passed me, I jerked my hands over my head. Even after 9 o'clock toileting, I went on standing, some times on one leg, some times on the other.

The radio news came and ended, then silence. But still my nightmare went on.

I was alone in the dark. I felt very strange; hot, but shivering with the cold.

I wanted to cry out with the pains, but I dare not; she would start on me all over again.

Then I remembered the words of a visiting preacher. If we had an urgent prayer to make, all we had to say was: "Lord Jesus, save me."

Just that. No please or thank you. And we were always getting into trouble at the house for bad manners!

I called to Him: "Lord Jesus, please save me." I didn't speak loudly but I prayed and He heard me.

I was being shaken again, but this time it was an urgent gentle shaking. I heard Miss Morrison's voice, first in the distance, then nearer and nearer.

"You're all right, you're all right," she was saying.

Soon I was sitting on her bed. She was holding me against her with one arm, and forcing something into my mouth with her free hand.

No, not castor oil again. Hot cocoa, and she was coaxing me to drink it.

The next few days are rather vague. But surely I'd been dreaming that Miss Morrison had been kind and had told me not to get up with the others.

I was late, they were all going downstairs. I got up, I reached the top of the stairs - fell down and knew no more.

I was in hospital and in great distress, my legs unbearably painful. A doctor and nurses gave me medicine, and put hot poultices on my legs. Sometimes they sponged me all over with cool water.

Nighttime was the worst of all. I screamed openly and couldn't control myself.

As I recovered I grew to love everyone who came near me; the nurses, doctors, wardmaids and, of course, the matron. She brought us sweets every afternoon.

I never wanted to leave. But, when it was time to go back to the home, it was to another house there, until I was completely better.

I knew I'd love it there, it was Mrs Mason's, the house where the weak girls lived, some for a short time, some for much longer.

We used to watch with envy in church when the "mother" ushered them in, all looking so happy.


The day and the time of my leaving the hospital were arranged.

That very night there was an air raid nearby. It seemed to last for hours.

We were put underneath our beds, but the thing that worried me most of all was that I might not live to stay with Mrs Mason.

That night I had to pray louder than usual, for the planes and bombs were so noisy.

I had been questioned about the bruising on my back and left arm, but I think they decided I got them falling downstairs.

Life in my new home was wonderful. No one was ever smacked or shouted at, no one was bullied in any way.

I was so used to working that I was sometimes gently chided for sweeping the playroom floor, or dusting the furniture.

I spent many happy days at Mrs Mason's, but was always aware that my stay was temporary. And one day I was told that Miss Morrison had applied to have me back, as she missed me.

I actually believed it. And a date was fixed for my return.

When I told a friend the news, she informed me that Miss Morrison once saw me walking into church smiling, and had remarked: "I'll soon knock that smirk off her face."

On entering Miss Morrison's for the second time, I knew what to expect and duly fitted in with the work.

To put it bluntly, I was terrified of the woman, and she knew this.

School was a sanctuary, apart from the constant worry at the back of my mind.

Had I done this or that properly at the house? What was awaiting me when I got back?

One of Miss Morrison's favourite items was: "Wait till you get out into the world, my girl! You'll know all about it then, eh?"

I often wondered, surely "out in the world" couldn't be as bad as life in that house.

Sometimes when my mother visited, she told me about the air raids in the towns around, always reminding me that I was safer where I was.

She would explain about food rationing and clothing coupons.

We in the home were forever being told about not wasting anything.

Sometimes if it was a favourites birthday, we had dumpling for dinner, as well as Psalm 19.

Another treat at bedtime was fried bread, instead of bread and margarine.

When it was almost time for me to leave school, I lay in bed at night wondering about my future. I thought about my beloved school, and the new life as a house-girl in front of me.

I was terrified at the very thought of being a house-girl. They were always getting in to trouble.

My mother asked the authorities to let me leave the home, but was told I had a debt to pay for all the care I had received.

The debt I and others were obliged to pay was officially called "Two Years' Service."

The constant hard work and discipline continued. Time was running out for me.

One day I packed my small case with my Household Guide and the Pilgrim's Progress and some handkerchiefs. These were my worldly possessions.

I hid them behind the cistern of the outside toilet, and made my plans for escape.

My mother had seemed keen enough to get me out. I thought there would be no problem, just a matter of going away on the bus with her after visiting hours.


However, the next day I was "wanted" and, as usual, left work in the shed for a showdown and punishment.

However, I was in for a different shock.

The usual hair-pulling and stick were absent. I was calmly told that I had to go to the main lodge.

This was terrible, I had never been to the "Lodge."

The woman there was very severe looking. "So," she said, "you're running away, are you?"

In front of her lay my small case. She kept questioning me about whether my mother knew. But, to my amazement, I wasn't punished.

My mother wasn't pleased when she next came, she said the lady at the Lodge was very nice, and was looking after my welfare.

She pointed out that it wouldn't be long before I got home.

Then, one visiting Saturday, shortly after my 16th birthday, my mother came with one of my brothers.

I could not believe her at first. Her exact words were: "You're coming home next Saturday."

One bright Autumn day, I stepped out into the big, bad world, my carroty hair shining bright and held down neatly with a clasp.


I walked to the main gate of the home beside my mother.

I carried my small case again - holding my Bible, the Household Guide, the Pilgrim's Progress, and an envelope containing £1.2s6d.

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