My first Christmas away from home was 1958. I was at the end of my first year  nurse training and was on Junior Night duty. I was working on Casualty at the General Hospital Birmingham, which was right in the centre of town so very busy.

My brother was in Malaya doing his National Service, so it must have been strange for my parents to have us both away for the first time, though as they had always  kept open house to our friends they were not too short of the company of young people.

It was quite unusual for a junior to be on Casualty, but we were an extra large set so I was the lucky one who was quite spoilt by the more senior nurses (I think it helped too that I was little and looked even younger than I was!)

The evening started early as, by tradition, the night nurses did the carol singing round of the wards. Each of the ward sisters had chosen a carol and we had been rehearsing them for several weeks before. We all assembled, wearing our cloaks red side out and carrying lanterns. As we approached each ward the sisters dimmed the lights and stood at the ward door to greet us. As many patients as possible had been allowed home, but there were still plenty left on the wards to enjoy the singing. All the wards had a Christmas tree and decorations and it was a lovely experience.

After the singing we had a quick meal and then it was off to Casualty at 9pm for a hectic night. The nursing staff was supplemented by senior medical students and several burly policemen! The main police station was just across the road from us and we had a good working relationship with them. They opened up one of the day clinics and lined up spare stretchers ready for the many inebriated customers we were expecting, the uninjured ones were going in there,  and they did a sterling job filtering out the drunk and disorderly  (I think it was probably easier for them to do this than try to process them in the police station!) They were useful too for the occasional obstreperous patient. I don’t think we had so much violence against staff in those days and I don’t remember security people being employed in those days.

On a normal night we were usually busy until about midnight and then it quietened down for a few hours, before the morning rush started, but on Christmas Eve  they just kept rolling in, literally! We were too busy for any of us to take our meal breaks, just quick cups of tea from the constantly refilled teapot and a hurried snack from one of the generously donated hampers. We had no serious accidents brought in fortunately, but a constant stream of cuts to be stitched and bones to be set and those suffering from alcoholic poisoning of some degree or other. At last about 4.30am it quietened down and we were able to congregate in the office and relax for a short break and to exchange cards and presents. The Sister who was Italian had bought us all beautiful scarfs (I stillhave mine 40 years later!)

At 6am it was the night staff job to go round the Nurses home waking up the day staff and I can’t tell you how gladly I performed that duty that night 🙂

At 8am the day staff took over from us and we went off thankfully to partake of a hearty breakfast.

I was on duty again on the next 2 nights and then had four nights off ,so we had our family Christmas a few days late, and then I went back in time for New Year’s Eve and more of the same!

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