Memories by Doris Bishop -
When I saw Doris at the 1997 Reunion I asked if she could commit her memories to paper and she sent me this superb manuscript which I hope you enjoy. Thank you Doris. Joe Hughes.
'In April 1936 I walked up those Centre steps and said to the man on duty -'I'm the new nurse.' I was 16 years old, the powers that be had decided to lower the entry age to 16. There were eleven of us started but several fell by the way. Of course there was no nursing school then. We went straight onto the ward. On my first day I was issued with three, dull blue overalls and I was sent to Ward 4 where Sister Stevens ruled. It was the 'lost' ward where patients could do nothing for themselves. We shepherded them down to the diningroom for lunch ; I had never seen such big metal trays, which were loaded up with three plates of meat puddings and three of meat pies. I struggled to the diningroom and fell over with the lot! I was smothered in pudding pie and gravy and Sister said 'Never mind dear, go and get a clean overall and come back.' From then on I thought she was wonderful.
Incidentally, my room was on the top floor of Ward 8 - absolutely isolated. I was completely terrified walking through that dormitory with all those patients. But my window looked directly down into Matron's rooms and she had no idea I could see her in her bloomers! Once again, Sister Stevens to my rescue, and after 3 nights got me moved to two storey dormitory where there four staff rooms, We had to wait years before we got a room in the nurse's home. After about a fortnight we were measured up for our uniforms, blue and white stripes, and bodice lined with unbleached calico. The hems measured 10 inches from the floor as you can see in the video (Copies still available - a wonderful memento JH). Stiff collars and cuffs and belt - so stiff they rubbed they rubbed one's neck raw, also black woolen stockings.
Then we started lectures and if you were off duty you had to come in. Sister Tutor said would we please wear stockings because the doctor giving lectures could see our legs.
That December Edward V111 abdicated and I was on reserve in Ward 8; this meant 2 hours off in the afternoon and then on from 7.30 pm to 9.30pm because these patients put themselves to bed anywhere up to 9.30pm. That evening Matron came to Ward 8 to hear the adication speech on the wireless as it then was (I don't know if she hadn't her own radio) and I had to stand to attention all the time she was there.
Every 3 months we were 'warded' - sent to a different ward - we all dreaded getting Ward 3. Sister Webb was bad tempered in the mornings , no one dared speak, if you did want the cupboard keys, she would throw the length of the ward along the floor - and I might say keeping our heads down - but as time went on I got on well with her. In the meantime we sometimes got sent to Beechmont, the private home. Night duty was awful. Specialling one patient, you weren't allowed a light in the room and, of course, had to walk there and back through the woods. It was all woodland then. But day duty was even worse. Mealtimes with the fearsome Sister Hoxey presiding at the head of the huge dining table with staff nuses etc...right down to the last nurse...ME...at the bottom facing Sister! She made me so nervous and I would drop my fork or rattle my spoon and they would all look down the table at me. They were a very superior lot when I was sixteen. When I got a bit older it was 3 months night duty - 5 nights on and 2 off.
My favourite ward was Ward 6 with Sister Brown. It was the refractory ward and, of course, being last nurse I had all the dirty jobs to do like scrubbing the 'padded rooms' which were always in use on Ward 6. The initiation ceremony was to shut a new nurse in the 'PADS' with a patient - it was terrifying!
In 1937 we sat our Preliminary Exam and we all passed - there were only four 'young ones' left. In was very hard work in those days. We waxed and polished the floors and then twice a year scrubbed all the wax off and then scrubbed it back in. On Ward 6 at 2pm we would all line up for our afternoon work with scrubbing buckets and brooms. We cleaned and polished the big can that the soup, tea etc...came down in and once a week we cleaned the cutlery- it was all counted of course. If a piece went missing , a couple of us would be sent to take around the pig swill bins - UGH!! What I liked doing was being sent to clean the lavatories in the basement dormitory as no one ever used them and I could smoke.
I admired Sister Brown very much, she was fair and never showed any favouritism but I upset her once. Margaret Fannon and I had been out for the evening and Fannon lodged right opposite Mr and Sister Turner and Sister Brown. In the early hours of the morning I gave a fine rendition of 'Knees up Mother Brown' and next morning when she gave the orders she left me until last and gave me a right roasting but she had a twinkle in her eye even then.
Then I had three months at the Sanatorium with Sister 'Pansy' Wadsworth - all those TB, GPI's - syphilitic, of course. The floor covering was royal blue lino. Her saying was 'Clean the corners nurse and the middle will take care of itself.' Of course it did because every spare five minutes we had, out came the decker to buff it up. But it certainly did look nice, she was very good to us. She would take the cream off the big cans of boiled milk and give it to us for tea. At this time, 1936 -1937, the Welsh girls were coming on the staff and we had a good choir. Ward 2 had 42 epileptics and remember - no treatment! In fact the only drugs ever used on any of the wards were Bromide and Paraldehyde. I only saw two injections given the whole time I was at the hospital and that was heroin and both in the pads. In Ward 2 we had some kids, as we called them and they had a nursery. Once again, if you were last nurse you were sent down with those kids - with help - to a hut on the edge of the cricket field. There was a swing etc..but none of them could play but the nurse scrubbed the table and chairs and floor in cold water every day. What a relief when you were relieved for elevenses. Sister Cox was a sweet person, never raised her voice...'
Then, of course, there was the weekly baths! Wards 1,2,3,4 and 6 used the general bathroom and every 3 months one of these wards had to clean the baths once a week. You can imagine what the baths were like and we cleaned them with 'bath brick' which was literally a small white brick of Vim or suchlike. The routine was the nurse cleaned the baths while the patients (if you were lucky) rolled up the coconut matting and swept the floor and then we both scrubbed the floor. So this particular day I thought 'No way!, and threw several buckets of water over the floor to sweep into the drain. BUT the drain was blocked and we got soaked mopping it up.
1938 and the Irish girls started to come. We already had Fannon (my best friend) and Halvey. These girls were very shy and sweet. All this time we were studying for our final which we sat in April 1939. I passed and received my RMPA certificate, also my coveted strings, but what a mixed blessing they were. They looked so smart, but were starched so stiff they rubbed the backs of one's ear raw.
The great day came when I was put in charge of Ward 7. All the patients worked in the laundry but the nurse in charge of Ward 7 was also in overall charge of the gardens. When it was exercise time, a nurse from each ward counted her patients in and out and I was in charge of the overall numbers. After they'd all gone back in Staff Nurse Powell(me) had a last look round outside. I looked so smart and felt so pleased with myself! BUT a flock of pigeons came over and unloaded all over me - hair, cap, all down my back - I was smothered! Pride comes before a fall and how. By this time I was studying for my State Prelim. Miss Wheeler was the tutor, Miss Morris the Matron and Miss Mc Dermott, the Assistant Matron. I'm afraid she and I never got on. When I was staff nurse in Ward 1, Father John used to visit and I used to tease these young Irish girls and say I was going to tell him what they'd been doing but they got their revenge on me. They ganged up on me in the six bedded sideroom, pulled my pants down and forced me onto a commode just as Miss Mc Dermott walked in! Of course we all stood to attention and she said 'Staff nurse put your strings on, they are not supposed to be hanging round your neck. ' She never noticed my pants were round my ankles. Of course we all fell around with laughter afterwards.. Those were good times.
Then the war came. Blackouts - wooden ones - were fitted right into the windows. On night duty with all those bodies and not a breath of air! We had an outbreak of dysentry and the patients were in the two siderooms in Ward 1. I would have a bucket of disinfectant under the table and give it a good kick now and then. Sister Bass ruled and I mean - ruled. She would inspect every bed every morning and if there was a mark you had to stay on and change it. All stairs had large Tate and Lyle treacle tins screwed to the walls with a candle burning in each and a nurse patrolled every hour on every ward, dormitory etc....If you were luucky you got ten minutes before you started off again. Att 8pm, 12mn and 4 am Night Sister met you in Ward 6 for potting. Sister Irons was Night Sister - big, bustling and always jolly except for one occasion when I had been to an Irish wedding and gone straight on night duty. I went to her office, picked up my report sheet and went on Ward 1 on duty. About 30 minutes later the phone went - it was Sister Irons who said 'What the hell am I doing with your keys, you must have got mine.' I had got all the master keys - I blamed it on the Irish hospitality!' JH