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International Nurses Day: A family history

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Student NT editor Desiree Deighton shares a family story.

To celebrate the nursing profession, I wanted to share my grandmother Maeve’s story, who in 1941, dressed up in her best school uniform for her nursing interview at Norwich Hospital.

”I am 17 years old. The year is 1941. 

Everyone around the hospital is very busy, the nurses look lovely in their uniforms, their littles capes and caps. They do laugh loudly. If someone would just stop for a second I would ask them the way to the matron’s office, but that is not possible, everyone is talking to someone else.

I will go into this door ’casualty department’. Everyone is very busy and I am still in the way. A trolley is being pushed by a man in a brown sort of overall, he is just going through the glass doors, desperately I ask “please could you tell me how to find matron’s office?” He is kind “just down this corridor, turn left carry on straight down the long corridor and you’ll find it at the end there”.

I hurry along and turn left. Oh, I have never seen such a long corridor in my life, shining wood and gliding people, I am hurrying as fast as I can but still smiling nurses and other people move past me, they must have learnt how to hurry without running.

Suddenly here it is, on the right hand side of this great hallway. Matron’s office. Oh! I am so hot, I wipe my face with my handkerchief. I comb my fringe with my gloved fingers and bravely, but in a ladylike manner, knock on the door. No answer, well she must answer. Perhaps I did not knock loudly enough. I cannot just go away: I have to write to my mother tomorrow. I give a great thump and before I get my hand away it opens.

She is tall and thin and very frightening. “Yes and what can I do for you?”

“Please matron I have come for an interview”.

“Speak up – what was that you said?”

“I’ve come to be a nurse, matron”.

She goes back to her big desk – I pull my gloves up.

“What is your name?” I replied but I am talking too loudly. “You are late”.

“Yes matron”.

“Come in and close the door after you”.

I am standing in front of her desk, my hands tidily by my sides.

“How old are you?” She is sorting through some papers.

“17 matron”.

“You certainly don’t look like 17, your whole attitude is that of a school child”.

I am stunned, I do not reply, there is nothing I can think of to say. Child? My mind is reeling. I feel a bit sick. She is studying my application form that I sent in some time ago. I keep saying to myself- please please have me, I will work harder than anyone. Time is going very slowly, I lean on my right hip then immediately stand up straight again.

“You have your school certificate?” It is not really a question, but I have of course to answer.

“Please matron I am taking it soon”

“And how do you think you will do?” This is certainly a question – I hesitate.

“Quite well matron” I mumble. I am feeling cold now, my hands are quite clammy inside the lovely gloves, I am just waiting to be dismissed.

Matron looks up at me, “That is all, I will put your name down to start in September next year, that will be 1943”.

I want to say so much, I must not show my feelings and remain ladylike. I will shout my joy later.

“Thank you very much matron”. Oh isn’t that lovely, wonderful, wonderful. “May I leave now please matron?” She has not heard me – I wait.

“Off you go, good afternoon, and get rid of that fringe and grow up before next year. I cannot have children on my wards”.

“I certainly will matron”.

I am outside the hospital now, just standing and looking in the bright sun, the nurses are smiling as they pass by me. I would love to tell them that one day, a long time away yet, I will be a nurse like them. They are talking and laughing together. I skip down the drive and go back to school.

That evening I write;

My Dear Mother,

You will be very surprised to hear that matron has said that I can go to be a nurse in September next year. I hope this news makes you feel as happy as it does me. I am well, hope you are well too.

Your loving daughter.”

Maeve was the daughter of a nurse, and trained as a nurse, midwife then health visitor. She was the youngest health visitor in England, and I could not be prouder to be following in her footsteps 77 years later.


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