Thursday, 3 February 2011

Vera Duxbury (neé Clarke) shares vivid memories of nursing during World War II

I still have many memories(happy & sad)of my training days at Marguerite. As you know they were the war years, which I would to share with you (Jane) although you were a very young girl(5yrs?). You must have been on Girls' Ward, you would have been too old for the babies' ward.

No, I wouldn’t have been on the photo of the lesson on the veranda. I left in 1945, to do my General training. I do remember of course, how we used to wheel your beds out on to the verandas for school lessons. This photo is of myself & two other friends in our uniforms, taken I think in 1943--4, just outside the Nurses’ Home. I would have been 16--17 yrs. I am on the right, the one on the left is Nurse Moorhouse and the middle - Nurse Cliffe. This is the only memory ‘thing’ I have kept, and my certificate.

My first memory would be the day I started, on my 16th birthday in March 16th 1943. When I arrived I was shown to Matron Downs’s apartment, & then taken to the sewing room where I was fitted for my uniform dresses, caps & collars (I had to provide all my aprons myself, being war time) all 13!! I was then taken to my bedroom which was situated in the main building to start with (under Matrons eagle eye!).

I slept my first night accompanied by dozens of black clock beetles, I had lain on several which were dead, but there were more running around in my bed. I was appalled & disgusted. I can"t recall whether I complained to anyone, I was young & shy, but as I was moved to the nurses’ home the maid who cleaned the rooms must have reported her findings.

You probably wouldn’t know the layout of the other wards, so I will explain briefly. The main building was at the head of the fairly long tree-lined drive, which Matron’s window over-looked (Matron kept an eye on all comings & goings!). At the side & to the back of the main building was the Nurses’ Home (looking to the right standing at the road end). Also to the right was Boys’ Ward, "small boys",& "large boys". Also still looking to the right at the top end of Boys' Ward was Babies’ Ward.

Attached to the right of the main building was the "stoke hole" as we called it, then there were various out buildings large & small, where we would wheel the boys to stay on the night we had dances in their ward (Matron allowed this about once a month, as in war time there was little or no entertainment available). The boys used to love it, & would ask us to go to see them dressed in our long dresses. Airmen from surrounding air bases were invited, & sailors from the "dry" ship in Wetherby (so called because the Sailors & the Wrens trained simulating a ship on water)& of course our own friends.

Night duty was rather frightening when we were either on duty on Girls’ Ward or Babies, as only one nurse was on duty there. Girls’ ward was situated in the main building, as were the kitchens, nurses’ & sisters’ dining rooms, X-ray, treatment rooms, & operating theatre.

One or other of the nurses on Boys’ Ward would have to go to the stoke hole, to stoke the boiler, & to operate the autoclave to sterilize the dressings for the following day. This was a nightmare. The autoclave had to reach 20lb a square inch, & if it went over it would blow off steam, and the first time I did it, it did. I just flew out of the stoke hole absolutely petrified!

Staying with the Boys’ Ward, I was on night duty with I think Nurse Parkinson, "Parky". The night started fairly quiet, though the planes were passing overhead, going out on bombing raids. Boys’ Ward was quite long, there must have been at least 16-18 small boys at the top end & about the same number of large boys, up to the age of 16yrs. The sluices, toilets & treatment rooms were at that end of the ward.

All the boys were in frames or plaster casts, there were no "up" patients. On this particular night, very dark, with only a very dim light because of blackout restrictions, all windows were covered with blackout blinds or curtains. Suddenly, one of the toilets at the far end was flushed. As it was so quiet, all the boys asleep, it sounded so very loud, we were so afraid for there seemed no explanation. We didn't go down the ward to investigate, so it always remained a mystery whilst we both were at the Marguerite.

Many years later about the late 1980s, my friend Dorothy Cliffe (the Nurse in the middle of the photo) & our Husbands went for a visit to the Marguerite, just to renew old memories. We were given permission to wander round all wards (the Hospital was then a home for the elderly)& we went to visit Boys’ Ward. Little had altered, just extra toilets had been added by breaking through a side wall. We spoke to some of the nurses & were told they all thought the ward was haunted. Apparently there were many unexplained incidents, so we told them our own story! We shall never know now, but….

One more memory. The Nurses at Marguerite had to do a stint on each Ward throughout the two year course of Orthopaedic training, it was a good training & I grew up quickly. As I explained previously, Girls’ Ward was situated in the main building. A long corridor ran straight from the imposing front door to a door at the rear of the building.

The Sisters’ dining room & the Nurses’ dining room, plus doors through to the kitchens, were to the right of the corridor, & the door to the Girls’ Ward to the left. There was a small ante room off this corridor, where once a week (I think on a Sunday morning) we Nurses queued up with our two jam jars & Matron would give us our rations of butter & margarine in one jar & sugar in the other (so much was kept by the cook for his baking). As you can imagine we ended up with small amounts to last us for a week! Most of us had used up our portions by about Wednesday! so when we had either a jam or a lemon curd tart for tea, we would scrape off the jam or curd, & make a sandwich, & then make another sandwich with the pastry case. We were so hungry in those days. The bread was a horrid colour but quite tasty.

When on night duty on Girls’ Ward we had go into the kitchens & put the heat on under the huge vats of porridge, at about 5am ready for breakfasts, & as soon as we put the lights on, the horrid black clock beetles would scatter away under cupboards etc.

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