Those who wet their beds were forced to put soiled sheets on their heads by members of a harsh regime which was devoid of love, the UK's largest ever public inquiry into child abuse at residential homes was told on Monday.
It is tasked with looking into child abuse in 13 church and state run homes in Northern Ireland.
Christine Smith QC, Counsel to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, said that young people at Sisters of Nazareth properties in Derry were known by their numbers rather than names and many were allegedly subjected to humiliation, threats and physical abuse.
Ms Smith outlined details of the alleged abuse, which included physical assaults using sticks, straps and kettle flexes.
- bathing in Jeyes fluid disinfectant, today more associated with outdoor cleaning jobs like clearing drains
- separation of brothers and sisters, not even telling them if they were in the same home
- locking in cupboards or threatening to send them to a hospital for those with learning disabilities at Muckamore Abbey in Antrim
- forced farm labouring or working in the laundry instead of going to school
- removal of Christmas presents and other personal items
- leaving youngsters hungry through inadequate food or alternately force feeding.
Some people who contacted the inquiry claimed when they were ill they were forced to eat their own vomit.
Ms Smith said allegations included sexual abuse by older children, visiting priests, employees and in one instance a nun.
The Nazareth House Children's Home and St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, were run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Derry.
A senior member of the order made a submission to the inquiry acknowledging that an individual sister or common staff member, having worked long hours with children from troubled backgrounds, may have lost her temper and acted inappropriately.
She accepted there was scope for bullying because they could not keep eyes on all the children.
"The sisters always tried to provide the best care with the staff and resources available to them," she added.
She said they had little information to give the inquiry about sexual assaults, but were extremely upset about them.
At Nazareth House in 1996, a sexual abuse allegation was raised with police.
"Police advised the home in 1997 that a prosecution would not be made," Ms Smith said.
In August 1997, a further allegation of abuse against the same person was made by two people. The individual was subsequently dismissed.
The children in these homes have nothing like a normal upbringing. They must feel unloved as it is just not possible for the number of staff to show affection to such a large number of children.
Kathleen Forrest, inspector, 1953
Kathleen Forrest, a ministry of home affairs inspector, said in a 1953 report: "I find these homes utterly depressing and it appals me to think that these hundreds of children are being reared in bleak lovelessness."
The treatment of children in church-run residential homes is a key concern of the investigation being held in Banbridge, Co Down.
It is chaired by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart and is considering cases between 1922, when the state of Northern Ireland was founded, and 1995.
Those allegedly abused in the Sisters of Nazareth homes in Derry will give evidence later this week. The religious order has already issued a public apology.
Ms Forrest inspected the Derry homes and two more run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Belfast.
"They can know nothing or little of the world outside and must be completely unprepared for it, either in character or knowledge."
She added: "This is not meant entirely as a criticism of staff, but their task is impossible."
Ms Smith said delays by the order in submitting evidence were causing considerable difficulties. Material was not properly ordered and was still being received up to last week, despite hearings being planned for many months.
This less than whole-hearted and rapid response on the part of the congregation has caused considerable difficulties to the work of the inquiry. The congregation is not the only body whose approach has produced problems.
Christine Smith QC
"The congregation is not the only body whose approach has produced problems. We do appreciate that this is not always avoidable, but we hoped that such late delivery could have been avoided - given the difficulties which it causes for the inquiry."
She added: "Until recently the cooperation by the congregation of the sisters of Nazareth in the provision of material has not been as complete or rapid as the inquiry would have hoped."
The order was asked to cooperate voluntarily and produce documents in 2012.
Ms Smith acknowledged that the information was old and not stored in a single orderly archive.
"A considerable amount of material was provided. However, the information which the inquiry received has been provided in a haphazard and piecemeal fashion."
The inquiry team spent a considerable amount of time trying to work out which nuns were which and when they were involved in the homes.
A significant volume of information has been provided in recent days. On Friday they received two further witness statements.
Public hearings are due to finish in June 2015, with the inquiry team to report to Stormont's power-sharing Executive by the start of 2016.