Jennie and I went to see Anton and Erin, from “Strictly come dancing”, when they came on their annual visit to St. David’s Hall last month. This was the third year we had seen them and once again we had a magical evening, superb dancing (how do they do it on such a small stage?), great music, singing from Lance Ellington and interesting  and humerous chats from them about the show.

Erin and the other two female dancers had some beautiful dresses and that triggered one of my memories from over 50 years ago when I went to Matron’s Ball.

This was an annual event at the General Hospital Birmingham, a formal affair held in January. All the nurses and doctors who were off-duty were invited but there were rules. The nurses had to be accompanied by a male escort. We had to take the name and address of our proposed escort to Matron’s office and assure them that our parents approved of said escort (we didn’t reach the age of maturity until 21 in those days and Matron considered herself in loco parentis!)

Matron then sent a formal invitation to the boy.

My friend Chris and I decided that we would like to go and fortunately we were both due to be off duty. We were on junior night duty and worked nine nights on and five off and January 6th came during those five nights so we made preparations. I had a suitable boyfrend but Chris was between boyfrends so I introduced her to one of the fifth year medical students who was working as a dresser on Casualty where I was doing my night duty. The medical students were not automatically invited so they were going around being extra nice to the nurses and hinting that they either owned or could acquire an evening suit!

Dress was formal evening wear and my parents paid for my dress for my Christmas present. It was silver and blue brocade with a full skirt. The top was fitted and had shoestring straps. I managed to get matching blue and silver long gloves, made a blue velvet bag to match the bit of blue velvet along the neckline and had satin shoes dyed to match.

On the morning of the ball we went back to the nurses home and spent most of the day pampering ourselves ready for the great occasion, scented baths, hairdos, facepacks etc. Those of our friends who were not going all joined in the fun of getting us ready.

The nurses home was carefully  guarded in those days by the warden and home sister so the male escorts had been shepherded into the visitor’s room on the ground floor. When we opened the door to this room all I could see was a sea of black and white and hastily backed out. Fortunately our escorts had seen us and followed us out. My boyfriend’s father was waiting outside and transported us the short distance to the Grand Hotel.

Matron and one of the consultants were wating inside to welcome us. Most of the consultants were wearing the very formal “white tie and tails.”

It was interesting to see the sisters and staff nurses in their finery (and to make critical remarks about them). After the half time interval the most senior staff (Matron and the senior consultants) tactfully withdrew to a side room and everyone loosened up a bit, and by midnight some of the housemen were getting quite boisterous and belting out popular songs, I seem to remember”Ma he’s making eyes at me” and “Michael row your boat ashore”.

It was my first formal ball which is why I suppose I remember it so clearly. There were other balls, January for the General Hospital, and May for the Queen Elizabeth. The nurses home at Q.E. had its own ballroom in the home built by Lord Nuffield. I enjoyed them all but the first made the biggest impression, even more than the last one at the General where we all had the added adornment of a small dressing on our arms thanks to the emergency vaccinations we had had to have a few days previously due to an outbreak of smallpox in the neighbourhood.

I don’t know whether they still hold these balls now, but I think we had a lovely family atmosphere then and were not interfered with by bureaucrats, who would probably want to bind us with red tape and charge us for the privilege.

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