The contributor’s niece was present during the interview and sometimes joined in.
Starting in domestic service
You’re going to start your story when you left school?
Having grown up in the village of Potter Heigham and gone to school there I left at the age of 14. A problem arose with my parents knowing quite what should happen with me next, because I had had periods of illness then, and it was finally decided that I would go and live with relatives. They lived in Hampshire and it was thought that a complete change might be a good thing, so when they came to the village on holiday … they were actually cousins, but they were older than me, and they had a daughter of 10, so I went back to Hampshire with them and spent nearly a year there. And things did change: I got stronger and returned to Potter Heigham the following summer. A lot of girls in my situation went into domestic service, which is what I then did and for my teenage years I worked, often described as a nurse/housemaid. That meant for a family where there were children and I had other duties as well, but I helped with the children, and this went on I would say until I was about 21 years old.
So that was locally in Potter Heigham was it?
No, I worked in Norwich probably for a year and a half.
Called to join the Church Army
There was a firm of solicitors in Norwich, Daynes, Keith & Durrant, and it was for the Durrant family I worked. They had three children, and I think I probably worked for them for almost two years. They had a seaside house at Overstrand and I used to go with them for the summer there, and I decided on a change one year, and whilst at Overstrand for that summer I went along to an Agency and got another job further afield, which meant that I went and worked for a family near Watford, and I was with them probably the same length of time. And thereafter for a year or two I worked in that area, and it was whilst living up there that I met …. I had never heard of the Church Army, but I met a Church Army Sister and found out about the work. Well, it called to me somehow that I could apply to them for training as a full-time worker. It was quite a procedure, references and such like. I would say I was 21. I had to go to their Training College just for two weeks, a group of us, the beginners, to see if we were suitable for that kind of work. After two weeks, yes, we were considered suitable, and that meant one year’s probation when we were sent off to work in various departments, I suppose again to see what we were best suited for. First of all I went to what was called a Mother & Baby Home in London.
Niece: Do you know whereabouts in London?
Knutford Place off the Edgware Road. I had four months working there. Life was so different, and when girls became pregnant, unmarried girls, they could be in very serious trouble obviously.
Because this would be the 1930s?
This was 1938, and the girls would come and they’d stay with us, and when they went into labour they would be taken to whichever hospital they were booked in for to have their babies, and come back to us two or three days later. And it was a very changing time, and sometimes, well, various things happened in the girls’ lives. Sometimes they could go home to their parents, sometimes the baby would be adopted and sometimes, because life was changing and not so many girls were going into domestic service, sometimes a girl could go and take her baby and work as a domestic in a home. But from my point of view of the training I then was sent . . ..
Could I just interrupt you and ask you what it was like to work in a Mother & Baby Home then. I mean, the impression one gets is that young women who got pregnant in those days were looked down on. What was the Church Army’s approach to them . .. supportive? … or judgmental? People would have expectations about that.
They were certainly not judgmental. Of course there were different types of girls, but mainly . . . well, when I say it they were girls as we were. I would say not judgmental. Out to help the girls, and they had very interesting lives. They could be trained in their own field of work.
And you encouraged them to do that?
I stayed in the same department for my second four months and I was then sent to Brighton. They had a Mother & Baby Home there, but one of the areas they had their own Maternity Home, so I was sent to Brighton. It was much the same sort of work and the girls when they left . . . they often had to stay a year, and sometimes they would have come from a police court, but I wasn’t into all that. But they were only with us because they were pregnant.
So by that time I was getting on through that year’s probation and then I was sent to a completely different department, Lodging House department, and I enjoyed that. There was this large dormitory . . I can’t remember, but I think there were two. I fail to remember some details, but just two long rows of single beds.
So this was a hostel for homeless people?
Yes, but some of them turned up every night. It was for homeless people, but they seemed to be regarding that as their home. They were elderly people and, well, it was providing a home for them.
Niece: And where was that?
Well, I remember the address was Lisson Grove, and I cannot now remember the area.
So you provided them with a bed and presumably with some food?
Oh, it was highly organised. There would be people working in the kitchen, staff in charge. There would be breakfast, there would be lunch and evening meal, and they would be served at a hatch, and of course there wasn’t much privacy for them but it was all very well kept, and clean and a bed. And I’m simply not sure what they did during the day. There would be a place for them to sit, and some of them were very elderly. And of course I was a probationer doing as I was told. Helping generally. Of course when it reached the end of the year’s probation it was then decided .. .. I suppose there may have been 23 or 4 in my actual group . . . so then at the end of the year those of us who had spent that two weeks in the Training College, we went back to the Training College and started the final term of training. The Training College was in Bryanston Street, London, off the Edgware Road, but it was actually just within a few yards of the Marble Arch. Again there was a further two weeks to decide whether we would settle down and continue with the training, and the training consisted of lectures . . . I loved the lectures, they were very interesting! There was the Women’s Training College and then next door was the Men’s Training College, and also there, next door, was the Church Army Headquarters. Mornings would be spent in the Lecture Room.
What sort of things were the lectures about?
We worked towards getting .. . well, it was called the I.D.C. . . Inter- Diocesan . . . maybe, Certificate. We worked towards that. The lectures were on Old Testament, New Testament, the Creed, Pastoralia… well, there must have been another, a fifth subject.
Different lecturers came and, oh my goodness, rules were so different. We shared the same lecture room with the men. Conversation was not allowed! The men sat in the front. I don’t know if they were supposed to be there before we went in, but they were always sitting there when we arrived, and we had to sit at the back. We also would meet . . . we shared the Chapel – it was a lovely Chapel – and, of course, we had to do First Aid. And I remember that we would have to go out, we would walk out in a crocodile to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, and there would be heckling and the tutors would be there watching how we were dealing with .. .
So you were preaching the gospel?
Oh yes. Yes. And we would also be sent to parishes. Sometimes it was to give a talk, an address, and other times the vicar would send us out visiting in the parish. I marvel now at how I dared because I feel I was so lacking in experience, but that was what . .. . ..
Church Army work during the War
And you were under orders presumably? I mean, you didn’t have choices about what you did? You were told.
No. No choice whatsoever. And we were getting on with our training when everything changed, because I was a member of what they called the War term, and War was declared. We’d started our training in May. This was in September, and of course we knew a few days beforehand the possibility. But there was radio. No television of course, and I remember clearly that Sunday morning, the 3rd of September 1939. One trainee Sister was detailed to listen to the radio really every few minutes . . . frequently .. .to hear what was coming over on the News, and in twos we were sent to various points, told where to go, and help with evacuation, mothers . .. women and children. Well, off I went with another girl, Annie Bannister her name was. We were told to go to a playground in Hampstead. I don’t remember whether it was West Hampstead, East Hampstead. So we arrived and there were mothers and children assembling. We must have then got on a coach and been taken to one of the main stations, but as we stood there word went round, “War has been declared”. So we simply didn’t know what to expect. We had all been given a brown carrier bag with rations in. With World War 1 so recently over, twenty years before, we simply were under orders and found ourselves on a train and, as I remember it, that day we went to Nuneaton. I can’t distinctly remember, but I think that was the name of the place, and of course people were assembled at that end to take the evacuees, and they were all dispersed to various places where they would be living. My colleague and I did return to London that night, and I will never forget . .. well, it was an absolute shock! . .. when we came up out of the Underground to find a blacked-out London. That I wasn’t prepared for.
Niece: And that was on the day that War was declared?
That was the day War was declared. And London .. . well, I mean coming up out of … you were running into piles of sandbags that had been placed there! (laughs) This was Oxford Circus, I think. We had to walk up Oxford Street to get to our College at Bryanston Street. The following day again we were sent somewhere. .. I really don’t remember where we went, and that was pregnant women and children, I think, and we got on a train and we were taken to Minehead in Somerset, and we had to stay the night there. Then we returned to London next day. Well, of course the first night we expected to be bombed. The Air Raid warning did go and we got up in the night and went to what we had been told was our air raid shelter. Of course we weren’t bombed for several months, and by the time our period of training was finished we were quite used to living in a blacked-out London. We were commissioned by the Bishop of London and sent to work in various departments. I myself was sent to the Women’s Caravan Mission Department. That meant that two of us would live together in a caravan. I was sent to the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich where we went, the more experienced Sister in charge. We were termed Church Army Mission Sisters, and the Sister in charge, her responsibility was booking missions in advance. So I spent the next few months working, going from village to village to various parishes taking the missions and that went on, well, I think it was for a few months. I remember I worked with Sister Doris Wright and then came the news that the Church Army Training College had been bombed. Things were pretty bad in London then, but nobody was hurt. When I saw the building later and tried to walk in it I realised what a miracle that was. But, of course, the students then in there had to be catered for, their training had to discontinue. So one of the students was sent to work with me in Suffolk, and Sister Doris Wright, with whom I’d been working, was sent elsewhere. So I spent a few years working then with Sister Sadie Graham, a lovely Irish girl, and arrangements were later made for their training to be completed elsewhere.
Deciding to train as a midwife
Well, since there hadn’t been newly commissioned people coming out of the Training College, and some people working in the Church Army had felt led perhaps to join the nursing profession or the Forces, I was then told that the work with the Mission Caravan would have to stop. That couldn’t continue and I would be sent back again to work in the Mother and Baby department. Well, when I say I enjoyed that work, I felt that it was a very worthwhile work, and I was happy to make that change, and I think then I went to another Mother and Baby Home in Devonshire Terrace, Paddington.
And there was excitement obviously, and I think most of my experience of the bombing was fires. I remember some very grim sights. We would have to go out sometimes in the night, if a girl went into labour and take her to the hospital. After I’d been there for a while I was sent again to the Mother and Baby Home at Brighton, and really I had made up my mind at that point that I would train as a midwife. I realised later it would have been wise to have done general training first. I really don’t know how it is now but then if you’d done general training it took a further year to do midwifery, but if you had not it took two years to train as a midwife, which is what I did.
I would say I was about 28 years old and I left the Church Army I think in April of 1945 and I spent that summer at my brother’s farm and started nursing about October, and of course that, for me, was a memorable year because of the change in career and the fact that my brother’s wife was pregnant. And I went and stayed with them for the summer and my particular job was to help with the children, and there was that wonderful day when the new baby arrived, Patricia; she arrived I would say round about breakfast time, whatever that was, and she was lovely. It was a beautiful day, and one thing I loved doing when I stayed at the farm, I used to love to go down and bring the cows up for milking. It was about a mile I think, it was a long walk. I loved it! And as I came back, I got back with the cows – that was after lunch – I was greeted by a very elderly neighbour, Mr P. senior. He looked at me and he said “The War is over”. I could never describe the feeling, and on that day Patricia had been born. The War was over and that lovely old clergyman, Reverend Munn, came in to see us a day or two later, and his wife, and they told your parents (speaking to her niece) there was a book of sacred Scriptures called Veda and that is how little Patricia Florence was christened Patricia Veda Florence It was because she was born on V.E. Day, but you’d got to think of a suitable name, and the Vicar said there was a book of, I believe it was Hindu, Scriptures and that made it very suitable for her to be christened Patricia Veda.
I finished the summer at the farm and I went to Birmingham, Loveday Street, Birmingham for eighteen months to do Part 1 Midwifery training, and that made one a maternity nurse. Then there was a further six months to do, which I went to Derby and did, and that was further experience and district training included in that six months, and I qualified as a midwife at the end of 1947. And coincidentally they wanted midwives because they’d just opened a new block at the old Yarmouth Hospital, so I was able to apply for a job there and live near my family again, which was wonderful. My parents were there, both living, you see, then. Of course I lived at the hospital, but I was able to see them and see all you people. And that went on for almost two years.
An unwelcome interruption
By that time I had found that I really loved looking after premature babies, so I decided to go back to Birmingham to another hospital, the Sorrento, to do a six month course, care of premature babies, but my mother became so ill I knew that I couldn’t leave her. This was September. I knew I couldn’t leave her, so I had to write and say .. . well, it was delayed, not cancelled. And my mother died very soon. She died in September when I would normally not have been there, and after that I went and started the course a little bit late, which turned out to be very important – the fact I was late – because it got round to Christmas, and one of the midwives came on duty on this premature baby ward covered in a rash. Well, alarm bells started ringing. She’d got scarlet fever! And of course she was despatched as quickly as possible to a fever hospital. The rest of the staff were told “It’s no good sending you off duty”. I mean there were these miniature babies! “No good sending you off duty. You will report to a doctor every morning for a week. You will be examined.” Which just meant having out throats examined and making sure we had no spots, for a week. Every morning before you go on the ward. Which is what did happen. But what it told the Matron was, because I’d been late arriving because of my mother’s death, I had never had the medical examination that the others had had. Well, that reminded her. She sent for me and she said, “You never had the medical did you? You weren’t here.” “No, Matron.” “Well”, she said “Go up to the clinic this morning and a doctor will examine you.” Which is what I did, and I felt she was fiddling about with my shoulder rather a lot, and she then said to me “I think we’ll send you to the Anti-T.B. Clinic.” Well, I didn’t think much about it. I did as I was told and went to the clinic. And of course that set further alarm bells ringing. They realised I had tuberculosis. And again they didn’t want me there. So I actually came home. It was Boxing Day when M. arrived on the ward with a rash, so this was all happening within the next day or two. I was sent home to Potter Heigham, because my father was here and one of my sisters was here. And that was at a time when there were mobile clinics going round the country because there was a lot of T.B. about at the time, and they were trying to root it out and find … so there were mobile units going round, and that was because they were finding cases they were filling up beds in sanatoriums and hospitals. And I was quite a long time before they found me a bed. It was probably the middle of the summer. Then I was sent to Nayland Sanatorium. That was in Essex, and I had rest and chemotherapy there and it amounted to – I can’t be quite sure now, but it was all of two years, and it was then made clear to me that, whilst they were discharging me I must not work with mothers and babies again. But I was told that if I could stay well I could then do general training.
Back to Nursing, and another interruption
So I was fortunate in that I was offered a job at Melton Lodge, a children’s orthopaedic hospital. So I went there as a Staff Nurse and I clearly remember when that was, because in the February were the events of the East coast floods. They happened while I was there at Melton Lodge and never will I forget going out the following morning after the sea had been in. It was going out again, but there came a message from what was then called the Escourt Hospital, because they had had to take in patients I understand whose homes had been flooded and they wanted help. Well, somehow I felt interested that they wanted help and I wondered if I could change the work I was doing at Melton Lodge, so I wrote to the Matron and, yes, she considered my application and I went there and worked as an Assistant Nurse, and this was part of the time I was serving, as it were, to make sure I was well enough to do general training. I completed that two years. I stayed well and I started general training at Lowestoft Hospital. I was really enjoying that. I enjoyed the lectures in the classroom, and got through P.T.S. (Preliminary Training School) and was told it was time for me to go to the chest clinic and have a check up, and that was when the specialist had to admit that we’d made a mistake and once again I was sent back because the condition had become active again, and – this was Christmas week – I was sent to Foxhall Hospital, Ipswich and the doctor there explained .. .. he said to me “If you were a lady of leisure you would be all right, but you’re a nurse, you’re not a lady of leisure. So what we’d like to do is to do surgery.” They did something they called a thoracotomy. He said “We’ll give you six months rest” – and it was streptomycin in those days, the drug they were giving, a fairly new drug. “And then after six months we’ll operate and you’ll need a further six months of convalescence.” So that year I spent in Foxhall Hospital, Ipswich.
Niece: You once said to me that when you found that you’d got T.B. in a strange sort of way you were really relieved because you knew there was something wrong with you.
I can remember before any diagnosis was made, I can remember waking up one night – that was some time before – and wanting to turn over in bed. I wasn’t having any kind of treatment, I didn’t know I was ill, but I woke up and I wanted to turn over in bed and I wasn’t sure whether I would manage it. And I thought about that afterwards. I had to make the greatest effort to turn over, and I managed it. I succeeded. It was unbelievable, the exhaustion you felt with that condition. And, yes, in a sense I can imagine I did say that to you – yes, it was a relief to be told that there was a reason and you weren’t just one of these weary people.
Niece: I think it’s amazing that you were in a hospital with premature babies when you got T.B.
I’ll never forget that! How quickly they had to get rid of me. I mean it’s a dreadful thing to have an active case of T.B. Working on the ward! Breathing on these little ones! I have to trust I never did any damage.
How did you cope with setbacks like that?
It’s hard to say how I coped. I suppose there was no choice.
No, but you could have been forgiven for being severely fed up!
I always felt on looking back that I wasted a lot of the time. I was worrying, I did worry about what I was going to do. The time I spent in Nayland Sanatorium, the first session, I feel I wasted a lot of that time, because when I got to Foxhall Hospital, probably because of the Occupational Therapist, I took a real interest in painting. And I started painting, and I really enjoyed painting, and I continued after I got back to work again.
Niece: I remember coming to see you at Foxhall Hospital and your bed was outside wasn’t it? The open verandas you had to be on.
There was an open veranda. There was a ward with doors that would close in bad weather. There was a veranda and behind that were our beds. It was very much fresh air treatment! I was trying to think … . that was certainly at Nayland. I think Foxhall Hospital was the same, a veranda and wide open doors. It’s a bit mixed up now in my mind… but it was certainly fresh air treatment. Some of the time I was in an individual chalet, and . . . well, it was individual and it was wide open to the elements. You could shut the door if it was the dead of the winter.
Another chance at midwifery
Then I got my discharge after Christmas, so I was a whole year in there, and I was discharged at that point. Well what was going to happen to me? Where was I going to live? One of my sisters got busy and made a point of explaining to the Council in Yarmouth .. .. well, this was Gorleston. She explained my whole situation to them: That I’d worked in Yarmouth although I had gone to Lowestoft when I had to go off sick again, and I was given a flat on the Magdalen Estate. That was nice. And I went and worked then at the Gorleston Hospital, which was the Medical Ward of the Yarmouth & Gorleston Hospital. I went and worked there then, as an Assistant Nurse, and I was really enjoying that. And of course that was when I went on duty one afternoon and I was told by the Ward Sister, “We’ve got three new patients I want you to look after this afternoon”. I knew what that meant. They’d been sent up from doctor’s clinic the day before and my particular job for that afternoon was they’d come in because of high blood pressures. I had to take the patient’s blood pressure in a reclining position, then I had to help that patient to stand up and take the blood pressure again in that position, and I’d got to do that every half hour, and the Ward Sister would be keeping an eye, and trying to organise and establish the amount of tablets, the medication the patient was going to need. I had to keep a constant eye on the changes as they took the tablets. And that was three people, and one of those patients I fell in love with! It was my destination, and we got married, and we had several years of happy marriage.
Niece: Can I ask a question? What did Matron have to say when you told her you’d fallen in love with a patient?
Well, it didn’t happen that way (laughs). The patient was probably only with us, may have been two or three weeks, I can’t remember. I knew I missed him when he left. Yes I did! Missed him very much. He was a nice man! A nurse said to me one day . . . . looked at the duty list .. .. you can imagine the duties we’d got to come in on .. . we were part-time. “Oh”, said B.J. to me “Ooh she’s put me down for Sunday, and I didn’t want to come in on Sunday”. She’d got children – I think it was somebody’s birthday – “Oh I didn’t want to come in on Sunday”. So I said “Well, I’ll come in for you”. I said “If you arrange it with Sister, I’ll come in”. I didn’t mind going in. So that’s what we did. B. had the afternoon off and I went and did her duty, and I was walking home that night to my flat, which was not too far from the hospital, I was walking down Crab Lane and a car drew up beside me and a voice said “Would you like a lift Nurse?” (laughs) It was my patient who’d gone home a few weeks before. Well, I was very happy to hear his voice! I recognised the voice, so that was all right! So I got in the car and he gave me a lift home.
And the rest is history!
And he obviously remembered where he left me, which was my home, and of course he lived very close, Beccles Road, Bradwell. I think he must have come to see me again then.
Niece: I think he must have done!
Well, obviously! (laughs) And it went on from there, so that Sister never had to be told. Gradually they discovered the way the wind was blowing, and we were married in Bradwell Church. That was a wonderful period, and I was so fortunate in my stepdaughters, you see, because they received me so kindly, which might not have been the case, because it isn’t always, is it?
I continued to work at the Gorleston Hospital, but there were changes between the hospitals. The Gorleston Hospital was going to close as such. People could stay there and work if they wanted. It did become orthopaedic and it did become a surgical ward. I can’t remember the details. But I decided, because they’d opened a new maternity block at Northgate to find out if I could practise midwifery again. And yes, I got the all clear because it had been several years.
I went to London. I had to go and do a month’s refresher course and then I went to the Mothers’ Hospital in London, and then worked for a little while at the Northgate Hospital on the maternity block, but I hadn’t just got myself to think about then, you see. I had my husband to think about. And I was uncertain, and I left there and I was not working. I went to visit a colleague once who was ill and there was a District Nurse with her, looking after her, and I was introduced to this nurse as also a nurse, and I said “Well, I’m not working at the moment”. And she looked at me with great interest. This was Nurse Phyllis Roach, District Nurse. She looked at me “You’re not working? Ooh” That rang bells with her because they were short of midwives. And when I said “Well, I’m only a midwife”, emphasising “only” – “Only a midwife!! That’s what we want. Can I tell the supervisor about you?” (laughs) Well, she was that keen, again I could see I hadn’t got much choice. So the next thing I know the supervisor of midwives comes from Lowestoft to see me. They were in real need of …. Well, of course, my only experience of district nursing was that three months out of the six during that training.
Where are we in history now? This would be 19 .. .. ? Or the decade at least?
This would be the 1960s. Oh yes. I was married in 1959, so this would be later in the 60s because I went and worked for the Suffolk County Council. This was part-time, on a bicycle. My husband thought it would be a good idea for me in later life if I could drive, so at that stage, my late 40s, I took a driving test. Took a little while. The supervisor said “When you’ve passed the test there’s a car waiting at the Office, and you can do full time.” So I would say the last eight years of my working life were spent as a District Nurse Midwife. We did the two together in those days.
So was that home deliveries?
Yes. It was some and some then. Quite a lot of people were having their babies at home still. We would have to visit the homes and decide whether the homes were suitable for home delivery. Usually they were. And other people would want to go into hospital. So anyway various forms you’d be filling in, and we would take on. .. I don’t know how it is these days . .. but we visited for 14 days after delivery, and if the patient came home after two or three days in hospital we’d continue their visits until 14 days was up, and then we’d hand over to a Health Visitor.
So you were advising about breast feeding and that kind of thing?
Yes, we would, yes. Try and encourage that, yes. But we would then hand over and a Health Visitor would take that on. So I worked . .. when I think of it now it was a very busy life because you might be attending to a general case when you’d get a message that someone was in labour. But that was the way it was then. But we had always said that when my husband retired I would finish work. He had to retire 6 months before he would have done, but when he retired I then gave . . I think I gave 3 months notice . I said I would retire . I was 56 then and I finished work.
So how big an area were you covering?
When I started that job we were living in Bradwell, which I understand is Suffolk, although it is Bradwell, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, but we had decided to move and we, during the time that I was doing that work, we moved to Blundeston to a bungalow. And my area, I was one of a team of three – there were villages between Lowestoft and Bradwell. I had cases in Bradwell, Lound, Belton, specifically allotted to me, but then we did one another’s work.
Niece: That would have been a long distance without a car, if you’d had to cycle!
I didn’t do full-time without the car. I was only part-time then. But it was a very happy time, those last few years and I got back into what I was trained for. It was very interesting.
Reflections on changes in the Nursing profession
Can I ask you about changes you saw in the period you were working? I mean what are the greatest changes you would comment on if somebody asked you that question?
I think it was a really backward step when. . . that period of a year’s probation for a nurse when she started was so valuable, because when you get a girl, a person leaving school or finishing their education at, say, 18 years old, to me that seemed such an important time, because that person entering nursing, she had always had to approach people with respect, and to find yourself working on a ward … it might be someone you knew, and there might be a reluctance when you had to help that person to undress, help them to wash themselves. All that, it had to be approached so carefully under the supervision of an older, more experienced nurse. I think it was an invaluable time, helping a person how to be tactile. You wouldn’t normally touch someone – you don’t do that sort of thing, unless you’re helping them. That year’s probation was so invaluable, helping you to approach someone and ask them personal questions. To suddenly be told people were now going to university. They seemed as if they were supposed to learn that from a book, and I honestly feel a tremendous loss. They would learn how to talk to the patient, make them comfortable, comfortable with other people, and now I get the impression from what others tell me that when a nurse who has done her training from a book goes and has to mix with patients ….. I don’t know whether they still have …. they called them Orderlies . .. working on the ward, or Nursing Auxiliaries. I don’t know if they have those people now, but they are at ease with patients and can talk … I can well understand that nursing care is suffering because people haven’t got the right approach. They haven’t been led into knowing how to talk with patients and make the patients feel comfortable, because they, themselves are not comfortable. And now I’m told they’ve got to have a degree! I honestly think it’s very serious that patients are not going to have the same ease between them.
Because when you were nursing presumably things like feeding patients … I mean, we hear now that some patients who aren’t able to feed themselves actually don’t get fed because it’s nobody’s job to feed them. Presumably that was part of what you did.
Oh yes! And it was Ward Sister’s duty to see that we were doing it properly. I remember being told you must sit down to feed the patient. We don’t tower over the patient lying in bed, because it’s not the best feeling for them to have someone spooning food into them when they’re lying down or sitting up. Sit down, that makes the patient more comfortable with you. Oh yes, I think they can’t even reach some of the stuff that’s placed before them. I’m told that.
By all means let someone go and get a degree, but let them do their nursing training first, then decide a certain branch they’d like to know more about.
Sort of specialise.
Oh rather! Yes, you need specialists, but now I feel it’s really going in the wrong direction.
What about things like hygiene? Again we hear things about hospitals not being as clean as they were. Was that any part of your duties or were there specified . . . . ?
They were called Nursing Orderlies and I think there would be maids . . a maid on the ward, and I think that was often sweeping in those days.
That would be under Sister’s control?
The maid would work under Sister’s orders, a ward maid, sweeping and dusting sort of thing. I‘m inclined to think that the Nursing Auxiliaries .. . because there would be bedpans to empty and all that, and I think their responsibility was, as far as hygiene went, to keep a high standard of cleanliness. Sister would inspect, and not only – Matron did a daily ward round or even twice a day.
Again we hear about Matron having gone. I mean the days of hospital corners and so on. Did you notice in the time that you were nursing that things were getting more informal?
I have to say that I have been retired for …. My husband will have been dead 33 years at Christmas, so that means I have been retired 36 years.
But I wondered if even then it was beginning to get more informal or had it not started?
It hadn’t started because this University training hadn’t started.
But, I mean, the feeling seems to be that young people nowadays are not as amenable to the kind of discipline that you more or less took for granted.
Well, we took it for granted because it gave us confidence that it wasn’t our entire responsibility. Someone else was telling us what to do and you knew you’d got to do it, and you knew your job was being inspected afterwards. But there isn’t the supervision that there was then.
What about changes in medicine and equipment and that kind of thing? Did developments in that sort of thing make the job very different? Easier? More complicated?
You see I just know .. . . I went round with a blue bag with my equipment in it.
Did the methods of delivering babies change in the time that you were doing it?
Oh I’m sure it has changed.
I’m sure it will have now but did it during the time while you were working?
Yes, because when I was working, when I used to visit patients . .. you’d deliver the baby, you’d visit twice a day after that for three days, morning and evening, and you’d bath the baby, and as the days went by you’d encourage and show the mother how to do it, watch her do it. Go in the evening, and providing everything was all right, after three days you’d go once a day. But then – it was after I’d finished midwifery – there was a certain relief that they were actually allowing the patients . .. mind you we kept them in bed for 8 or 9 days – in bed! Towards the end of that 8 or 9 days they would be allowed to swing their legs over the side of the bed .. .
This is in the 1960s? As late as that?
Early 60s – no, not the early 60s. It would have been the late 1940s, but when I went back – I would say that was in the 60s – if they’d had their babies in hospital they would be coming home 2 or 3 days later as a rule, and, no, they weren’t staying in bed as long when I went back.
Can I ask you one final question, which is about the way pay for nursing changed over that period? I mean everyone always says how badly paid nurses are. Did things improve during the time you were working or was it always what’s called a poorly paid vocation?
I do think in my working time it was always poorly paid. I remember when I was doing midwifery training in Birmingham for eighteen months I think my salary was £5 something a month! £5 something per month. And that was very difficult to manage on. But we had to!
Did you have to pay rent out of that?
That was very difficult.
But it wasn’t significantly better by the time you left? Not in real terms?
Yes, it was better by the time I left. But not in very real terms. But, you see, by the time I left I was married and my husband thoughtfully always said “I don’t think you should ever use your salary for housekeeping because if you stop work you will then miss it”, he said “Regard it as yours”. I knew what he meant. I got his point but I still did what I thought I’d do, but I got his point.
So, in conclusion, if we could just ask you to reflect on your working life and how you felt about the things you’ve been able to do.
On looking back I realise I’ve been very privileged in the work I was allowed to do. I met some wonderful characters! There’s so much kindness and affection in the world – if we give ourselves time with people we experience it. I feel it’s been a privilege to live to this .. . they tell me that I am now a nonagenarian because I’m in my 90s…. they tell me that’s the word. But it’s certainly a privilege to be able to look back on what was actually rather a varied career.
A very varied career!
And I am very grateful, and I hope that I can finish my journey here able to think clearly and remember.
I don’t think there’s much doubt of your ability to remember after what we’ve heard today!
All the happy experiences. I do remember once starting the day off by having to visit a titled lady because she’d had a little boy, a lovely baby. I visited her in her stately home, and I finished my day in a gypsy caravan – my last visit of the day was in the gypsy caravan. It was very varied. And she too had a lovely baby!
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