- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Gladys Wall
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 November 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Pam Vincent of Age Concern Shropshire Telford & Wrekin on behalf of Gladys Wall and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I worked in a hospital in Norfolk. I was only 18. We were only about 7 miles from the coast. There were no shelters where the nurses were sleeping. We used to have to go downstairs to a narrow passageway and sit with feet against one wall and head resting against the other.
We never had enough time to be worried about things. We were always busy on the wards. If the sirens went we had to come down from our sleeping quarters to be with the children. They were handicapped children and couldn’t be left on their own. The wards were in separate buildings, so they wouldn’t all be hit at the same time.
One night the mother and baby unit was hit. The babies were brought over to us. We had to get up and look after them. The real nurses came over afterwards. I expect they had to clear up all the mess first. We were told not to move any baby from his cot, so we would know which was which. We fed them and bathed them and them put them straight back into their own cots. The mothers came over later. We didn’t question why we had to do such and such a thing — we just got on with it.
There used to be two types of warning. There was the usual one that everyone had. Then there was a crash warning, so we would know that the enemy had come over the coast. This was a different sound altogether. We used to pick up the children and take them to the shelters. There was not a lot of time to worry. Some of the shelters were not built underground, but were strongly built structures on the surface.
We had to have our identities checked ever such a lot and every time we went out. Once our local PC was there. I had finished my shift, at about 7.30 pm and was going to bike home (about 6 miles away) as I had the next day off. Mostly when on duty we stayed at the hospital. The Policeman said that there had been a crash warning and I shouldn’t be riding my bike. I took no notice, as I had as much chance of being hit standing still as riding my bike.
Norwich was badly traumatised. There was a whole week of night raids. Everyone walked out from Norwich each night to sleep elsewhere. We had four people(two different families) sleeping on the floor of the sitting room in our bungalow for several nights. They would walk back in the morning or catch a bus if the buses were running. We were friends with these people for years after.
The hospital was spread out. Every morning we had to collect the medicines for the different wards. One morning a couple of nurses took the basket to collect and distribute the medicines as usual. In their blue dresses and white aprons they were unfortunately very visible to the German planes overhead who fired their machine guns. The nurses were not allowed to do the medicines after this. The men had to take over. The men were dressed in navy so were not so visible to enemy aircraft.
We used to be put into pairs to do the fire-watching. Two nurses did fire-watching every night from 8 — 10 pm. The men took over at 10 pm. They would walk the grounds to see if anything had been dropped alight.
There was a military hospital quite near to us where the injured and infectious diseases were sent. The patients wore blue trousers so we always knew that they were from that hospital. It was a flat easy area to get around. They didn’t want hospitals in built-up areas.
Several of our male staff were called up, though none of the female as I recall. Some of our girls were married to them though.
I married an airman. I met him at the hospital and we were married by special licence. He was due to go to Canada to instruct on the loading and firing from aeroplanes. We knew each other nine weeks and two days before we were married. We met on a Monday evening and were married on a Wednesday. He had to go off at the end of that week to Canada for two years. We didn’t see each other during those two years but wrote every day. Some correspondence was by ordinary letter, some by airmail and some by aerograph.
We had American aerodromes near the hospital. I always had to go through one of them on my bike to get home. On entering I was issued with a card which I had to hand in at the other end. Sometimes they asked me to take more than one card through, as they had more cards at one end than the other!
The Americans hadn’t been over here that long and it hadn’t sunk in what war was all about. They had heavy bombers and weren’t very good night-fliers. They were so nervous. We could hear them coming back, badly damaged. Some didn’t come back at all. One came down in our village and he lost his flying boot on the way down. Someone found it later and kept it until he came to collect it. They were big suede boots with fur linings. They needed warm clothing high up in the sky.
Being in the country, food was easier. People grew their own vegetables in their gardens and got eggs from their own chickens.
They were strict in the hospital regarding baths. There was a line four inches up round every bath and no one was allowed to fill it over this line. Heating was in short supply. I remember the coke heaps which were used to fill the boilers for the hot water.
A visiting dentist used to come to the hospital twice each week.
We worked hard from 7 am until about 8 pm. There was ½ hour break early morning, then another ½ hour break mid-morning when we had to change our aprons and make the beds. We had ¾ hour for lunch and ½ hour later for a bread and butter tea. Most people in Norfolk used to have their hot meal in the evening as the menfolk worked. I found it strange having this bread and butter tea instead.
Once, towards the beginning of my time at the hospital, I was taken ill with measles. There was a dance on where we had heard there was to be a lot of food, so I went with the measles. Matron had me in the office over this and asked me why I had gone. She got an honest answer — I was hungry.
Normally we only got a few biscuits in a tin. We weren’t allowed to go off the wards until we had finished dealing with the patients. By this time, especially if you were in a far ward, the biscuits had all gone.
The hospital was right in the country. There were 2 airbases close by where we were allowed to go to dances. We used to bike there and back altogether. This was a strict rule. Someone had to go and collect the late pass and this person was then responsible for getting everyone back by 11.30 pm. Sometimes this was extended to midnight at Christmas or for the New Year party. One of these camps was English and one American. I never knew of anyone who went out with or married one of the Americans. I was senior in position at this time and I was in charge of the pass. I knew I would get into trouble if everyone didn’t get back in time. If anyone did let me down, then her name would not go on my pass again. It was in the interest of safety rather than strictness that we all kept together.
There were a lot of Americans in Norwich. We used to get two days off when we could go shopping in Norwich. There really wasn’t the time to meet any Americans socially.
There was a dance at the hospital each month. Usually men were invited from the military hospital. We only met up at the dance itself and didn’t mix otherwise. Every year on New Year’s Eve there was a party — a meal and a dance. The night nurses were relieved for 2-3 hours and allowed to change their dresses. The male staff and Matron would have their meal with us at a large horseshoe table.
Once, a whole lot of city children came for a short stay. They used part of our buildings but did not mix with our children.
We had the telephone connected to all the wards. A man who had been badly injured at the aerodrome used to answer it at night. He had lost one leg. He used to be relieved at the weekends when there were not many calls.
I went back to visit the hospital two years ago with my sister. She has since died. They were taking the wards down. It was odd how we decided to go just then — the only time I ever revisited.
I had a good time but it was hard work. I enjoyed nursing.
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