MASS vaccine programmes – like the one we are all involved in right now – are not new.

An amazing 30,000 parents signed up to have their children vaccinated sixty five years ago, when children – like this little team from Paisley - were being immunised against polio. There was only enough vaccine, however, to give 2946 children their first injection.

Pupils at South School, Paisley, get their polio vaccinations. Pic: Herald and Times

Pupils at South School, Paisley, get their polio vaccinations. Pic: Herald and Times

The 1950s saw an epidemic of the disease in Britain; there were 45,000 cases, and hundreds died. In 1955, it was announced in America that Dr Jonas Salk and his team had, after successful trials, developed the first vaccine. (Eventually, it was delivered in a sugar cube.)

The first children in Glasgow to receive their jags were immunised on May 10. 1956. This picture, however, shows the history-making Paisley pupils who were among the very first in Scotland to receive the vaccine several days earlier.

The Glasgow X-Ray campaign - workers on their lunch break flock to George Square, 1957. Pic: Herald and Times

The Glasgow X-Ray campaign - workers on their lunch break flock to George Square, 1957. Pic: Herald and Times

The Evening Times reported: “Five Paisley schools were visited by a team consisting of a doctor, a nurse and a clerkess. The first was the South School in Neilston Road, where about 15 pupils were treated. Other schools visited were Lochfield, Todholm, St Charles’s and St Serf’s. Children up to the age of nine years were treated.

“The second injection, for which supplies will arrive at the end of this month, will take place in June.”

By 1959, young adults were also being inoculated - here, an employee of school furniture firm JD Bennet of Bridgeton, receives his injection.

Sometimes, other measures had to be taken when mass vaccination was not an option.

In 1951, rising levels of tuberculosis (also known as consumption) and a chronic shortage of beds and nurses led to a special scheme for Scottish patients to be treated in Swiss hospitals, where it was believed the fresh mountain air was an aid to recovery.

Liz Cowan.

Liz Cowan.

Times Past reader Liz Cowan, of Muirend, remembers being sent to Orselina, ‘a little village at the top of a mountain, near Locarno.”

She says: “My little sister died at four and a half from TB and meningitis. Penicillin had just become available but it was too late for her. My paternal grandmother died shortly after of TB and diabetes. By then, the mass X-ray programme had started and we all had to get checked.

“I had a shadow on my lung - the early stages of TB - and the only cure then was to catch it early, and have lots of fresh air and sunshine.”

Liz was selected for the trip to Switzerland.

“The Red Cross escorted us – we were a motley crew of various ages, standing there at Central Station, not knowing anyone, holding our suitcases with labels tied round our necks with string,” she says. “We travelled to London, then Folkestone, boarding a small ship called SS Canterbury. The crossing was very rough and our last meal soon departed from our stomachs….”

At Calais, the children were met by the President of the French Red Cross, then travelled by train to Basle.

“At Orselina we were left in the care of nuns, some local helpers and one nurse, who was the only person who spoke English – we became fairly adept at speaking Swiss German of a fashion,” says Liz.

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“Homesickness settled in and there were lots of tears. But we soon settled down to a fairly routine way of life. We slept in wide, sunny dormitories with wooden white painted beds. After breakfast we all had to lie down in open air balconies for a few hours – it was quite boring, but was probably beneficial, combining resting with fresh clean mountain air.”

Liz says her memories of that time away from home are mixed.

“By the time I went home I could ballroom dance fairly confidently, sing lots of songs and had completed knitting half of an adult’s yellow jumper,” she laughs. “We went on outings, a boat trip into Italy.

“But food was a major obstacle. I became very adept at moving food around the plate and feeding the birds and animals discreetly. I did this to avoid the consequences of having my nose pinched and chin pulled down to be ‘force-fed’.”

Liz has kept in touch with her friend Pam, from Cardiff, whom she met in Switzerland.

“When my son was born, I named him Stephen after the caretaker’s son at Orselina,” she smiles. “Stefan was a lovely kind boy who played piano for us.”

Liz adds: “Children are tough animals. We adjusted. I became quite streetwise – I learned to swear in three different languages – and we were actually a happy lot. None of us wanted to go home when the time came.”

In March 1957, Glasgow launched a five-week long, mass X-ray campaign against tuberculosis. With the help of 20,000 volunteers, units around the city aimed to X-ray every Glasgow resident aged over 14.

At the first session in George Square around 10,000 people turned up to hear John Maclay, Secretary of State for Scotland, standing on a floodlit balcony of the City Chambers, read out a message of good wishes for the campaign’s success from the Queen.

The previous year, 363 Glaswegians died from TB. The figure for 1950 had been 930. The city’s death rate from TB was still one of the highest in Scotland.

By the end of the first day, March 11, 25,000 people had volunteered to be X-rayed. The organisers said this was a world record for a single day, beating a total of 17,000 achieved by Los Angeles in 1952.

There were gimmicks to encourage people to take part.

Tex Ritter, the singing cowboy, who was appearing at the Empire Theatre, was X-rayed. May Bygraves presented a washing machine to the winner of a lucky X-ray draw. The Evening Times reported a special song had been written to make trendy teens ‘dig’ the message that being X-rayed wouldn’t make them ‘square’.

In the end, 712,860 people were X-rayed – more than 85 per cent of the targeted population. “The figures we have reached,” said councillor John Mains, convener of the Corporation’s health and welfare committee, “will go down in medical history as a world record and a great achievement”.