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Enid's Story - Nursing bomb casualties and soldiers - Part One

by The Stratford upon Avon Society

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Archive List > United Kingdom > London

Contributed by 
The Stratford upon Avon Society
People in story: 
Enid Malein
Location of story: 
various hospitals
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A5827449
Contributed on: 
20 September 2005

56a - Enid Malein was born in 1920 in Erdington, Birmingham:

"At the beginning of the War I was working in Birmingham, at an export merchants.

Well at the beginning of the war of course quite a lot of the young clerks either joined up or were called up, and the shorthand typists were asked to stay on as long as they could. So several of us decided to join St. Johns, and do work in the evening at the hospitals or on ambulances. At home most of the men in the lane where I lived, they became firewatchers, my father was.
And there was also a first aid post at Tidbury Green, at a farmhouse and they wanted a volunteer to be a casualty, and I went, in the evening this was, and I had to lie on the side of the road opposite the woods, it was all quiet, and they had to come up and pick me up, I had to have a “fractured leg”, and they …, I think there were two or three men had to pull me into a car, the back of a car, and drive me to this farmhouse, and they put me on the kitchen table!
I joined St. John’s, and I had to be trained, I had to go with another nurse.
First of all we had lectures in Lionel Street at the Headquarters there, and then we went out on ambulances with another nurse for training.
I went after work, I had a few sandwiches at work and then went straight down to Lionel Street where all the ambulances were kept. And then we had to sit and wait for a call and we went out with a driver and the orderly, and the nurse was in the back of the ambulance. This was in 1940 I think.

I was very lucky actually. I missed the air raids, maybe perhaps they’d gone off a bit by then. That’s right, I was working in the hospital first at The old Queen’s Hospital in the evening, I used to go down and two or three days a week, evenings, but we had air raid casualties there - I made a mistake there, Saturday afternoon I used to go after work, I worked Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoons, that’s right. If we had a bad raid on that Friday night and the hospital was packed with casualties, we had to wash them and clean them up a bit.

(I was on duty was in the evenings after work and at weekends), but not every evening. And then one particular night when we had a lot of fog, and I was out on the ambulances by that time, and we had taken a patient to Queen Elizabeth Hospital and we were coming back down Bristol Road and it was so thick that we could hardly get along. Anyway, I had to catch my train at ten to ten at Moor Street Station, and they got me down there, and two or three minutes later and I rushed onto the platform and asked the porter which train it was, pointed to a train and I jumped in and we were off, and to my horror I realized I was …, it had gone straight through Bordesley Station, it should have stopped, and I suddenly remembered that there wasn’t a guard on the train and I thought I was going off to London or somewhere! Anyway, it went through Small Heath and then at Tyseley Station the train started to lurch and it went down, straight down into the engine sheds where they put them for the night - in the blackout and no names on the stations. No. And then anyway I opened the door and there was a big drop down, and I managed to sit on the floor and wriggle down on to the line and I saw some men with a lantern, and I yelled at the top of my voice and they came, they told me to stay where I was, because there were big holes for them to work under the trains and they came, they took me to Tyseley Station, they took me into the porters’ room and I sat by the fire and waited for the next train, that meant a walk from Shirley Station though, but my parents were on their way to meet me, they guessed what might have happened.

We were in Mary Street in Balsall Heath one night and the back axle broke; we had got 4 stretcher patients and I think it was one or two sitting as well, and there would have been the driver and orderly and myself and I think we were overloaded, so I had to get out then, and there was another nurse with me then when I was training, and she said well go off and catch your train and I had to find my way from there in the blackout and I didn’t know my way to Moor Street station.

The ambulance drivers, they had dimmed … Yes, most of our patients were either to be collected from the hospital and taken home, or from home to hospital, we didn’t do any of the accidents, no. People, I think they paid 6d. a week into the Hospital Fund.

But we always had to make sure they had got their gas masks with them when we went, it was the nurse’s job to go up into the
bedroom and get the patient ready and then the orderly and the driver would come and help with carrying them down in a carrying chute.
They were very difficult, and the stairs were little winding …, certainly in parts of the city.

At home we did see an air raid - a bomb went very, very close to the house just across the road, across the field, and there were a string of bombs, one dropped in the field and made a big hole, another one lodged onto a house but it didn’t explode so they were lucky really. And a German aeroplane was shot down, a bomber was shot down near Tidbury Green and exploded in a field. We had some of the bits of grit and …(the debris hit the side of our house).

Eventually I was called up, I was in the civil nursing reserve and I was sent to Stafford Emergency Hospital which was in the grounds of the County Mental Hospital and I went in May. And I was only there for a few weeks, and I was asked to go to Solihull to deal with an epidemic of chicken pox at the Children’s Convalescent Home and I stayed there until the October and looked after the children, and then I had to go back to Stafford, and fortunately I got the same billets, I was billeted with a prison officer and his wife and two daughters, they were very nice and I was able to go back there.
Well I took my bike with me, and I had to take it from home on the train down to Birmingham and pushed it from Moor Street across to New Street and they put it on the train for me there, and I used that then to cycle backwards and forwards from the hospital to my billets, in Stafford.
I took it on the train to Stafford from Birmingham, and then I took it to the hospital. I had to push it and carry a big suitcase with one … and it was a long way as well, a long walk.
Then I was at the hospital for about, I don’t know, till the war finished anyway.

I was there on D Day, and we had some of the first D day boys in, and we were told to clear the hospital. The patients at the hospital then were children, we had a children’s ward and a ward for elderly people, elderly ladies, and they had been bombed out of Coventry, and then we were told to clear the hospital completely so we knew something was going on.
And we knew we were going to have military patients, we put red, white and blue flowers in the vases and cleared the floor and they all came in with their great big heavy boots and made a mess. They weren’t wounded, they were suffering from fatigue and general …(shock) and tropical disease, malaria because some of them had been in the Middle East and getting into the cold water it brought it on really. And so we had most of those suffering from …

All army, yes. Later on we did have one or two in the Navy, no RAF at all. But later on as we progressed, some of them were the first boys to go to Belsen Camp. And then later on the prisoners of war were released, and we had some prisoners of war as well.

We did have a small operating theatre but the very serious injuries, they had to go to …, say if it was an eye injury, they had to go to an eye hospital. Oh and we had resistance movement chaps as well, and one night I was asked to …, sister asked me to get a young Dutch boy ready for bed who had just come in, and undress him and get him into bed, you know feeling a bit down, and I took his shirt off, and to my horror his poor back was absolutely red, bright red with these awful marks on his back where he’d been whipped by the Germans, and it was a dreadful thing to see. But he was a nice lad, and there was a Dutch hospital in Wales, they sent him there the next day so he was able to go there.
We had another man, a French man and he was very funny, we had a lot of fun with him, and he came in just as he was dressed with a very evil-smelling old sheepskin coat hung up in the ward!
And then we had two prisoners from …, they were South African. One was a big black man, and the other was white. We put them in a ward which was empty at the time, a small ward, thought that it would be nice to have two Africans as they both came from Africa, and the coloured man worked at an abattoir in Johannesburg, the other one came from Durban I think. Anyway every time we went into the ward there was dead silence, they never spoke to one another and the black man spent most of his time, having a good wash. He was a very, very clean man and I think he was trying to get away from the other man, there was no conversation.
They were both in the army, and they were fighting for us, the South Africans. The white man was very nice, we got on alright with him, and the big black chap he was very jolly and we liked them both, but they didn’t …, no conversation, nothing they just did not want to know and get together.

The food was cooked over at the mental hospital, probably very short-staffed, and I think a lot of mental patients had to help in the kitchens, and the food was pretty awful. I remember when we had our elderly lady patients, and I was serving some rice pudding and it was on a trolley, and when I looked at it, just before I gave it to her, I saw some legs sticking up out of the pudding! And I quickly told the lady it wasn’t for her you know, and took it back to the ward kitchen and one of the nurses, by the way we were nearly always hungry, and one of the nurses was sitting on the kitchen table with a dish of this rice pudding and she was tucking in to it; anyway we looked at this other pudding and it was a cockroach!
And then another time sister was serving some stew in the ward kitchen, and the soldiers were all queuing up at the hatch in the dayroom, and she put her fork into the …, her spoon into the stew and she pulled out a packet of cigarettes. And then on another occasion, same ward, she was serving some cabbage and she put her fork into the cabbage, and there was a dishcloth in the … , and of course the soldiers complained about the food anyway, so the army came in then and said that they had got a cook, and put a new cooker in and everything, and we had decent food, we did our own cooking after that."

[concluded in Part Two]

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