Ray's Story........

I will start by telling you that I was born in Manchester in 1948 where I lived in various areas, mostly in the ’slum’ areas, moving around at fairly frequent intervals.

I went to secondary school, after passing the 11+ at Salford Tech High School until I was thrown out at 15 yr. old.

After miraculously NOT getting in trouble with the police I joined the Merchant Navy in 1965 as a catering boy, a job which I enjoyed greatly.

In 1966 I took a ship going to Rio de Janeiro but 4 days out the orders changed and we were on our way to Canada. From there down the East Coast of America, through Panama to Australia round Australia and off to Japan. That’s when problems began.

On reaching Japan I unloaded the laundry and off to the beach as fast as my little legs could carry me. We had docked at a small port in Nagasaki bay called Miikai and it was a matter of minutes to the beach. Once there it was off with my shorts and into the sea (I had trunks on under the shorts) for a swift dip. To my delight there was a lifeguard tower there, this meant somewhere to dive off, which to me was an unexpected bonus (I had always loved swimming and diving and at age 11 I had passed my life saving certificate). I immediately set to playing about, diving off the tower and generally ‘showing off’ in front of the little girls. After a while some Japanese lads tried their English out by talking to my mate and me.


And that was the start of my new life!

After talking for about half an hour I decide to see my mates who had just arrived, I got up went to the edge of the platform an dived off. I was looking at my shadow on the water, thinking “good swallow dive”. The water looked a bit strange it was then that I realised the reason for this. It was different, it was too shallow! I tried to abort the dive by ‘flattening out’ but too late.

I hit the sand with the front of my head and stopped, there was no pain but somehow I knew I had broken my neck (the cartoon of someone stuck in mud kicking their legs in the air was wrong) I just stayed still. I slowly floated to the surface, face down. I tried in vain to turn to get AIR, no chance; I could get to about 1 inch below the surface but not get my head up enough to breathe.  I lay there with the sun on my back thinking ’well Ray this is what dying is like I knew it was nothing special’. Surprisingly I was totally unconcerned that I was going to die and just placidly looked around me, waiting for the end to come. It is amazing that when death is inevitable you become quite detached from the present and everything is acceptable.  Total peace, complete quiet and absolutely content.

My head came out of the water and I gasped and gasped for air, the sweet stuff of life. I faced the crotch of a Japanese guy, he had seen what had happened and lifted me by my shoulders so that I could breathe. My mates then came over and carried me to the shore, lay me down on the sand and somebody called an ambulance.

I woke up to find myself in a hospital accident bed with a nurse telling me, in Pidgin English that I had ‘dislocated’ my neck, which I took to mean that I had broken it. I thought  ‘WOW, THAT WAS CLOSE’, because, like almost everyone I thought that if you broke your neck you were DEAD, and I had cheated death and similar to a broken leg, six weeks and all over and done, back to normal. Little did I know that this was the beginning of life as I now know it?

I was flown by a U.S. military helicopter to Kyushu Rosai Hospital about eighty miles away, although I was not conscious for most of the journey I am told that I had ‘died’ four times and been brought back by a U.S. naval officer. I remember waking to find this big, hairy guy ‘kissing ‘me and thinking “ AY-UP I’LL PUNCH THIS BLOKE”, and then losing consciousness again. After that the next time I woke the surgeon was drilling my head with a brace and bit, the same kind as I had used at school for woodwork! “What are you doing” I asked “Shut up, stay still” was the curt reply. Five days later I awoke, under an oxygen tent, with ice sausages around my neck taking the swelling down. The nightmares I had in those five days would make a good horror film.

I was in Rosai hospital for four months. It was in the country, the population was rural, they didn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Japanese AND I could not point. How I was understood during that time I have no idea. A mixture of bad tempered tone of voice, shouting and a great deal of understanding on behalf of the nurses I suppose. I certainly was not the best of patients. Fit but unable to move. Speaking but unable to be understood and with spikes in my head with twelve kilos of iron suspended from them stretching my neck back into place. NICE!


After two and a half weeks of swearing cursing and calling the nurses all kinds of ‘slanty eyed Gooks’ AND worse I was made too feel very, very small when one day about eight of these hated, young girls, preceded by my ‘mama sans’ trooped into my room, one behind the other, and surrounded my bed.

What came next was a complete surprise to me!  Shyly, they started to sing and one of them pulled from behind her back………A CAKE. It then dawned on me that they were singing ’Happy Birthday’ and it was my eighteenth birthday! All these people who I had so spitefully insulted over the past few weeks, had come in to the hospital on their time off, or they had taken time to organise a cake and learn the words to a totally weird, to them, song in a western style. A style which was completely alien to them. Did I feel bad? YES..

After being so belittled I started to mend my ways, a little anyway. I realised that everyone was trying to help me, even the ladies I had had such graphic and gory nightmares about during my ‘zonked out’ time. The things I did to those women is worthy of an ‘X’ certificate! But that’s another story.

I was in Kyushu Rosai for eight weeks and then I was transferred to Tokyo, to a hospital run by nuns. Me with NUNS, what next?

The hospital was in the centre of the red light district of Tokyo, a district called Seibo. It catered mainly for seamen and foreigners. I was in a room with a Swede a Norwegian and another Englishman.

My doctor was a ‘white’ Russian, he had got out of Russia at the end of the war, not wanting to be in a communist ruled country he told me he had walked through Manchuria to Hong Kong and then on to Japan where he now was doctor to four embassies. 

During the time I was in Siebo, sailors being sailors, one Yugoslavian was shot by the police whilst trying to climb the gates after night on the booze, another, a Norwegian, slipped while trying to climb into an American girls room via the balcony and straightened his broken arm which was encased in plaster of Paris. Many a time when caught with bottles of whiskey ( Suntory Red ) Yugo, as he was known, said that the scotch was for me and was allowed to bring it into the hospital. Alcohol is totally banned in Japanese hospitals! Many a night the Irish ‘fathers’ borrowed my scotch and fags so they could have a party with the nuns. They never paid it back though. Claiming they were poor. It was an eventful time to say the least.  

Later that month I was flown home with a doctor in attendance, this was the same doctor as before mentioned, which posed another problem. He had been asked by the American secret service to pass on information about the embassies he worked for but he had refused so, to get their own back they would not let him have a visa. So it was the ‘long’ trip for me as they would not let him land in Alaska, even though he had promised not to get off the plane. During the 26-hour trip my catheter blocked twice, once was ok but the second time he took it out and washed it in the toilet of the plane, because he had no more, and re-introduced it! It is no wonder that I got the ‘mother and father’ of an infection. I had never had one before and I thought I was never going to see the light of day again I thought that I was a ‘josser’ , ‘a dead un’ . Needless to say I wasn’t.

My big brother met me at M/C airport with the words “I told you to come down the pit with me”. A nice greeting after ten months!

I was admitted to m/c royal where during the two weeks there I had this raging UTI which they did not understand. But the highlight had to be when junior doctor ambled up to my bed end one day and nonchalantly said “I suppose that they told you in Japan that you would NEVER WALK AGAIN!” They hadn’t and this sentence will stay with me all my days.

Dr Mengele the nazi experimentalist could not have cultivated a better bedside manner.

In January 1972, I was transferred to Oswestry SIU, where I spent a year, during which time I made a complete nuisance of myself, not going to physiotherapy, OT or doing as I was told. What I did do was to make many friends (my old ones had disappeared) and spend my time getting pissed, arguing with ‘establishment’ figures and being a generally all round awkward ‘get’. My time at Oswestry ended when I became engaged to a physiotherapist, as this was looked down on in those days. Matron decided that enough was enough and I had to go.

As my mam was not fit enough to look after me, I was banished to a geriatric unit in Withington hospital. It was called the young ‘chronic sick unit’ BUT I WAS IT! everyone else was over seventy years old.

I spent five eventful years in the geriatric unit, doing all the things which all normal blokes do, then I met Liz and after a few years we got married in 1972 with about 200 people in attendance. We are still married 30yrs later. We have 2 dogs and we foster children (64 so far) and we aint finished yet!!!

Ups and downs, ups and downs, but…………….more ups than downs

There’s life in the old dog yet!!

Ray Hibberd



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