NURSING TALES - 1947-1952
pieces, recounted byJeanne Hopkins on behalf of a group of former
CRCMH nurses (of which she is a part), have been written especially
for The Shrine. Collectively, they provide a unique and at
times highly amusing insight into what life as a young nurse was like
some fifty years ago.
CRCMH Cadets at Bray (centre: J.Hopkins)
Jeanne was a
Cadet nurse/Student nurse/SRN at the CRCMH between 1948 and 1952.
She lives in Wales with her husband Kit, and is a member of The Society
of Women Writers and Journalists.
sixteen year olds enrolling for the pre-nursing course at CRCMH came
from all over Britain. These idealistic schoolgirls, many of whom
had been juniors in Red Cross & St. Johns' Ambulance Brigades, soon
realised their dreams of wearing a proper nurse's uniform. They were
issued lavender blue cotton dresses, white aprons and caps, topped
with short grey capes, the only disappointment being brown shoes and
stockings not sexy black. With severe post war shortages in mind Matron
Baughan had decided ladders and holes in brown stockings would draw
less attention to young legs than in 'St.Trinians' black.
Nurses were housed on wards 12 and 13 in curtained cubicles (with
no curtains on windows) and were allowed a full cooked breakfast in
bed on their one whole day off a week. Cadets worked 8am/4pm or 12noon/8pm
solely on the children's wards. Most of the children were long stay
patients in the Rheumatology Unit; one sympathetic ward sister allowed
pillow fights among the more mobile children encouraging her Cadet
Nurses to join in.
of The River Bank
life for the 'dormitory' Cadets was similar to that of a good boarding
school for girls. They were tutored in maths and English. A small
library of books, a sewing machine, a piano and radio were available
in the community room, also a stage for dramatics. There were tennis
courts and a hockey team.
popular punt moored on the Thames was given by Lady Astor, and picnic
teas could be ordered from the canteen. Swimming was a mud lark in
the river. New swimming suits were unobtainable so, for some, the
choices were skinny dipping or bra and knickers. Muddy knickers were
boiled clean in the dormitory milk saucepan - until the saucepan burnt
dry. Matron didn't like the smell of burning cotton and elastic and
the saucepan wasn't replaced.
became routine when a well handled dead grass snake, from Cliveden
woods, was found coiled in beds, stockings and toilet bags. A
Cadet Nurse exploring a hole in the river bank emerged with a badger
trap embedded in her dress. It was safely removed by 'Sparks' the
saw several girls covered with sheets hiding in the Doctors quarters
(strictly out of bounds) waiting for their return from the 'Feathers'
pub. Luckily, they could run faster than the Doctors.
by excellent Senior Nursing Staff, the Cadets took their ward duties
seriously. At eighteen they were proud to become Student Nurses at
the CRCMH - or other general hospitals.
(Not for the
The Grand Corridor
during daylight hours was alive with the comings and goings of hospital
life. However, after midnight this dimly lit corridor became eerily
Imagine a solitary
young nurse scurrying along to the silent dining room for dinner at
2am - shivering in her thin cotton uniform. Not surprising, most nurses
stayed on the comparatively cosy wards all night. Snacking in ward
kitchens on stale bread spread with margarine and a mushy "suspiciously
red” jam full of wooden pips (How else could there be fruit pips without
fruit?). 1949/50 were still austerity years and hospital jam arrived
in big tins starkly labelled JAM - probably made from swedes, apples,
and a strong red dye.
When a death
occurred on the wards at night, it was the junior nurse who escorted
the mortuary trolley to the isolated morgue. CRCMH student nurses
were tutored in giving 'Last Offices.' In addition, a respectful deference
for the newly deceased was 'de rigueur.' After a doctor confirmed
death, nurses gently bathed and prepared the body. The shrouded body
departed for the morgue securely sewn up in a white sheet, with identification
label attached. These winding sheets were sewn with white thread because
the use of safety-pins on a corpse was thought disrespectful.
Draped with a
black velvet cover, the heavy mortuary trolley was pushed by hospital
porters to the north end of the Grand Corridor. And out into darkness
with only a porter's flickering torch to light the way (batteries
were in short supply too). The long, long gravel path leading to the
morgue was hedged both sides with large evergreen shrubs - a particularly
unpleasant walk on a rainy night and even creepier by moonlight. Reverent
silence between nurse and porters was maintained until the trolley's
precious burden was safely behind locked doors inside the dark little
returned - and the friendly teasing began. Out went the porter's torch.
Owl hoots and ghostly shrieks followed a hastily retreating nurse.
On oone occasion in 1950, a junior night nurse was grabbed, placed
on the empty trolley, and propelled at speed down the infamous gravel
path ( and she's still laughing about it in 2003).
to run down the Grand Corridor to the wards, there was always a risk
of bumping into Night Sister doing her rounds. Nurses ran only for
fire and haemorrhage. Rules were strict. But at night on the Grand
Corridor - after visiting the morgue - junior nurses Power Walked
The Grey Night
This is a true
story. What happened remains in the memory of my nursing colleague
Elizabeth as clearly as if it were yesterday and not 52 years ago.
In 1950, student
nurses on night duty sat in the long wards under low hanging lamps
shaded with green covers. There was just enough light to study or
write a ward report. Incidentally, knitting was a forbidden luxury
(T'was thought the clack of two knitting needles might disturb 30
patients, most of whom had taken sedatives).
happened on Ward 6 around 3am.
a student nurse and alone on the ward, looked up from her studying
and saw a figure she took to be Night Sister standing just inside
the ward's double doors. Expecting Sister to do a ward round, she
hastily closed her book and went to greet her. By the time she reached
the doors the figure had vanished. Elizabeth quickly checked out bathroom,
kitchen and office. However, no one was there. A glance out into the
shadowy, empty Grand Corridor revealed nothing.
Puzzled - and
a little shaken - Elizabeth returned to the ward. It was then she
remembered the 'Night Sister's' uniform. It had not been the CRCMH
dark blue, but pale grey and ankle length with a shoulder cape instead
of a full-length cloak. Moreover, the style of 'Night Sister's' starched
white cap had seemed a little old-fashioned.
Later - on reflection
- Elizabeth realised it was a uniform similar to those worn by nursing
sisters during the 1914/1918 war.
War Cemetery was made for those who died in the hospital during the
1914-1918 war. It contains 42 burials of which two are nursing sisters.
Elizabeth [Betty] and I will be revisiting the Cliveden Cemetery in
spring 2003, having last seen it in 1949.
For more information
Habits at the CRCMH 1949-52
Taplow, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens and built in 1908 for Prince
and Princess Dolgorouki, became a Benedictine Abbey in 1926 and remained
so until 1988.
hurrying along corridors and disappearing into wards at all hours
enhanced CRCMH daily life. These Benedictines from neighbouring Nashdom
Abbey were popular with staff and patients and served the Hospital
with gentle dedication. We younger nurses were rather shy and in awe
of the black robed Benedictines - that is until the arrival of Peter
Peter wore a
black robe but he was a novice - a charming, fun loving young novice.
One dark winters night he came with four of us, by bus, to the cinema
in Slough. I cannot remember the film but who could forget sitting
next to a monk in a cinema?
two of us to Nashdom Abbey, where we were served afternoon tea in
a large graceful sitting room by a shy monk who tried not to look
at us. We were surprised to see on one wall a silhouette - feminine
curves still visible through a coat of thick white paint. Our black
robed host grinned and whispered it must be the late Princess Dolgorouki.
After tea, while
the three of us explored the gardens, a bell tolled at regular intervals
calling the monks to prayer. Peter stood with bowed head and quietly
prayed. We looked away to hide our girlish embarrassment, trying not
On that otherwise
memorable afternoon I was still too young to appreciate Nashdom for
itself. My interest in Sir Edward Lutyens' architecture and gardens
came later. [Now don't I wish?] Peter did not finish his noviciate
at Nashdom Abbey. He allegedly became a missionary. If he did, I am
sure his mission churches would always have been full.
Dom Robert Petit-Pierre
was an eccentric delight. He was invariably seen clutching bundles
of papers and walking at speed along the 'Grand' corridor deep in
thought - perhaps his mind was on higher things.
He became quite
famous for dealing with the supernatural and once appeared on television.
On the rare occasions he did speak to us, it was with sharp humour.
He greatly admired the erudite Abbot of Nashdom, who had been appointed
Abbot at the early age of 42.
Morris OSB, Abbot of Nashdom 1948-1974 was a less frequent visitor
at the hospital. We met for the first time when I was a senior student
on night duty in charge of male surgical. He came onto the ward at
night very late - when all the other patients were asleep - to visit
his friend Aime Tschiffely, the famous equestrian explorer and author.
They would talk
quietly for an hour or so. Then Father Abbot would come to the ward
kitchen for a cup of tea and a chat before returning to Nashdom. He
told me of his friend Aime's legendary 10,000-mile ride on horseback
from Argentina to Washington DC in 1925. In
addition, he lent me his own copy of 'Tschiffely's Ride'.
a modest teacher from Switzerland and feted by the American President
in 1925, was one of the most famous patients we had at CRCMH. It is
possible he died not long after leaving the hospital in 1952. You
can still get his 'Tschiffely's Ride' from Amazon.
The Rev. Dom
Augustine  died in January 1997 having joined the Benedictine
Order at the age of 18. The Times published an obituary.
Note: Aime Tschiffely and Dom Robert Petit-Pierre will soon be
appearing in our Celebrities
section - and rightfully so.
the first time in 53 years, CRCMH Nurses Jenny, Margaret, Betty and
Jeanne raise glasses to toast the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital
Shrine. Due to this website, there are now nine 1948/1952 nurses in
touch - and the search goes on.
Eileen, Jenny, Betty, Margaret and Jeanne
August 2002 - May 2003
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