When we were packing to move to this house, we had to reduce our belongings quite severely. In our previous house we had a huge loft, large dry barn and other outbuildings where we could store a great quantity of miscellany and tended to store anything which might be useful one day or had sentimental value. As well as all our “Stuff” we also had boxes which had come from my mother’s house as she had moved in with us. Many of these boxes had not been opened for 20+ years! They all had to be opened and examined to evaluate the contents and decide whether they merited keeping.

One of the boxes contained  a collection of diaries. I have kept a diary for most of my life. Many of them were filled in for January and then gradually tailed off to entries marking appointments etc for the rest of the year and little else. A few carried on for several months with mostly trivia, no great thoughts alas.:)

I glanced through them and noticed that January 6th was significant several times in my life. The first time I found it was 1958. That was the day I started my general nurse training.

The letter I had  received a few weeks earlier had given me a list of things to take with me, which included 12 white handkerchiefs, 6 pairs of stockings, a laundry bag and an umbrella! All these had been carefully labelled with Cash’s name tapes and carefully packed in a trunk which had my name painted on the end and sent on ahead, as instructed. I was told to arrive between 2pm and 4pm on Jan 6th, so, being my father’s daughter, I arrived promptly at 2pm! 

The Preliminary Training School was housed in a pair of large house about 1 mile from the hospital The school was built in the grounds of the house. I was shown to a six bedded room, very plainly furnished with a lino covered floor, there was only one occupant when I arrived, a beautiful olive skinned girl. This was Havva, a Turkish Cypriot and the only foreigner in a set of 76. A large number of the girls were from Birmingham and the surrounding counties and spoke with varying degrees of a “Brummy” accent which I found quite difficult to understand at first. The rest of us were from all corners of the UK and Ireland. There were 75 female students and one brave male. It was still quite unusual to have male nurses in general training, though there were more in mental nursing and the armed forces.

We had had interviews about a year previously where we had a written test, a thorough medical and an interview with a panel of the Matrons of the 3 largest hospitals in the group and the senior tutors, where they had told us that a new scheme of training was starting. We would spend 3 months in our 2nd year at the Children’s Hospital, 3 months in the 3rd year at the Women’s Hospital and the rest of the time divided between the General Hospital, where they dealt mainly with Accident and Emergency admissions and had very busy Casualty and Outpatients Departments, and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which did very specialised work in Cardio-thoracic surgery and Neuro-surgery as well as the general wards. In this way we would get the most rounded training possible. Each year we would return to the school  for a study block.  We would take our State Registration exams after 3 years and once registered we would do a fourth year as a staff nurse and then get our hospital badge and certificate.

At 4pm we went to tea and met the rest of the set. Over the next four years we became as close as a family and made life long friends. I suppose this is because we were all single, (we had to leave if we wanted to get married) and for at least the first two years we had to live in the nurse’s home where we came under the care of the Home Sister and the warden who guarded us like novice nuns!  Board and lodging  and laundry was automatically deducted from our monthly salary, so we mostly ate together too.

After tea we assembled in the school building where we were welcomed by the tutors and given our schedule for the next 12 weeks.

The day started at 7.30 am with breakfast, followed by a short service, then 30 mins cleaning! ( we were told this was so we could supervise the ward maids, but I think we were a form of cheap labour)

Lectures on many subjects including, anatomy, physiology, nutrition, medical ethics and  history of nursing would be given in the mornings and after lunch we would learn  the practical procedures including invalid cookery. The evenings were “free” for writing up notes and revising.

We were free from 1pm Saturday until 10 pm Sunday. Hospital placements were arranged for us in the last three weeks, one morning session, one afternoon and one whole day.

Despite the long hours, low pay ( it started at £7 a month) and a few miserable sisters, most of us finished the three years. A few left to get married and one left after the first hospital placement complaining that it was nothing like “Emergency Ward 10” (a popular soap then on TV):) A few left before their 4th year, again to get married and a large majority completed their 4th year, before dispersing around the world.

Do you have a “special date”?

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