The Evans twins were two of six babies born in the town that day. Ronnie was first at 12.45am followed by Rita at 1.20am.
“My mum was six months’ pregnant before realising she was having twins because in those days there was no such thing as scans,” said Reet, as she prefers to be known. “So, there was then a run around getting another one of everything and people knitting like mad.
“Ronnie was born first and they said ‘you’ve got a lovely little boy’ and mum went ‘oh, my husband will be disappointed, he wanted a girl’. Ronnie was a scrawny thing and then out comes Rita, and they went ‘no wonder he’s scrawny, look at this size of this one!’ So, dad got his girl.”
But it was more than a week before Ronald Evans got to see wife Eileen and the new additions to the family. He was a Fleetwood fishing boat skipper and was on a three-week sailing to Iceland.
Ronnie and Rita’s story came to light after an appeal to find the six babies born in hospital in Blackpool on 5 July 1948 kicked off a 75-day countdown to mark the 75th birthday of the NHS on Wednesday.
The twins were born at the old Glenroyd maternity hospital in Whitegate Drive instead of Fleetwood’s smaller Milton Lodge hospital. Such a birth pre-NHS would cost have many times Ronald’s wage for three weeks’ fishing. So, unsurprisingly, lots of people had babies at home, delivered by their grandma, auntie or local midwife.
The NHS helped Ronnie and Reet and their families in many ways over the years. As children they drank a bottle of Zebo, the black-leading fluid used to clean stoves – “we were rushed to the doctor’s but he said not worry, we’d just poo black for a few days”, laughs Reet.
But the family was urgently in need of the very best healthcare when Ronnie was 18 months-old and contracted polio – a potentially fatal disease that’s unknown in the UK today thanks to mass childhood vaccinations.
He was left partially paralysed and experienced years of physiotherapy to return his limbs to working order. One exercise involved practising with an improvised blow football game to improve his facial muscles.
“I was in hospital once and someone in the next cubicle said ‘what’s up with him’ and they said ‘he’s had polio’. And I’m blowing this thing and this man came in and it was Stanley Matthews.”
The legendary England and Blackpool FC footballer then sent out and got the young Ronnie a proper blow football to play with.
The twins still live in Fleetwood a few hundred yards from each other. Their older brother, Keith, died in 2017.
Ronnie worked first in the building trade, including on every bridge on the M65, and then as a haulage driver. Reet worked in the Fleetwood shoe trade and later at the old Smiths crisp factory.
Reflecting on their lives lived in parallel with the NHS, she said: “The only thing that I can say is that I’m so grateful we were born when we were. Our parents could have never afforded the treatment that we both had. And I’ll support the NHS fully till the day I die.”