Story by Graham Jones | Photo by Rev Simon Copley
Myrtle Walker says “In my mind I seem to have a whole book of poems” and indeed she has had a book of her poems published.
They reflect many aspects of her life which started in Scotts Pass, Clarendon, Jamaica in 1933. Myrtle told me that she had a really happy childhood and that “whenever life got tough, I always reflected back to my loving parents.”
The youngest of seven children, Myrtle is the sole survivor since her sister, Amanda, passed away in January.
She told me that boys were prepared for trades such as tailors, carpenters and cabinet making.
Myrtle became a dressmaker as there were no shops selling ready made clothes.
She married Wilfred, a carpenter, who came over to the UK in 1956 as part of a recruitment scheme from Jamaica to help rebuild homes in Britain, to deal with the post war housing crisis. Originally Wilfred went to work in Birmingham but then moved to Barnsley Road, Pitsmoor in a shared house opposite the Sportsman pub.
Myrtle followed him to Sheffield in 1957:
“I cried and cried. It was September and so cold. Such a culture shock, like shell shock.
Everything was so strange. Wilf bought me a big coat. We were living in one room in somebody else’s house. When I came I thought the house would be Wilf’s.”
However, she is adamant that the people were kind to her. As a black person sixty years ago, she was a novelty but she experienced no animosity.
Myrtle had six children, four boys and two girls and is now a grandmother and great
grandmother. One son is a retired firefighter who lives in Jamaica because he finds England too cold.
Myrtle admits to having a lively imagination and used to love telling her children and grandchildren stories about a runaway boy and about Rumplestiltskin.
She did a variety of jobs including working in a peanut factory but ended up working on the nursing team on various wards at Nether Edge Hospital. It was hard going but being part of a good team made all the difference.
Myrtle had to retire early as her eyesight was already failing due to glaucoma. Her eyesight is very poor these days but she is mobile and active and tells a good story.
She used to be part of the congregation at Christ Church Pitsmoor but now she goes to St James. She also attends the friendship group there. People from St James and SADACCA have separately told me that Myrtle still has a most beautiful singing voice.
Myrtle has a long association with SADACCA, right back to when it was on Weston Street. She is chair of the SADACCA women’s group. In 1991 another SADACCA member, Carmen Franklin, typed up Myrtle’s poems and they appeared in book form.
She first had a poem published in the Afro-Caribbean magazine ACE.
“I was very excited to see my work in print.”
She has also written plays which have been performed in front of large audiences.
Myrtle’s poems encompass a variety of themes including a hurricane, a child’s experience of racism, Nelson Mandela and domestic life.
Her favourite poem is “My Peace Garden.”
My Peace Garden
In the mist of the morning I can see a light.
Shadows are fading
Soon it will be bright
Leaves with early morning dew Glisten in the sun.
A spider near the garden fence A little web has spun.
The shadows now have faded The sun has now come through.
The scent of roses, chrysanthemums Come wafting through to you.
There’s calm, peace and tranquillity In the garden I adore
I wish it could stay with me Now and forever more.