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15 October 2014
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Nursing Sister in Wartime: Princess Mary's RAF Nursing Serviceicon for Recommended story

by Thanet_Libraries

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Doreen Smith
Location of story: 
North Africa, Italy, Palestine
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 June 2004

I was in Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service. I joined as a Nursing Sister with the Red Cross and seconded to the Air Force but then transferred to the RAF Nursing Service. I was first stationed at Ely, Cambridgeshire but especially wanted to go abroad. I managed to speak to the Chief Matron (even though only Matrons were allowed to put in requests to her!) and was granted an overseas posting.

I went to Algiers on the Oronti and then to the main hospital at Tunis. I was posted to field hospitals in Sicilly, Catania,Italy Foggia and Palestine, Tel-a-Viv. Lastly at the main hospital in Cairo.

In Tunis we were based in an amphitheatre, actually where the lions would have been housed! We were transferred to Scilly. We worked in field hospitals near to the aerodromes where we did the primary treatment and then the wounded were sent to convalesce at the base hospitals.

Often when we arrived to set up field hospitals our equipment came later. At one place the legs for my bed were missing and I woke with ring marks from sleeping on wire spring mattresses. We would always have to scrub down in order to make places hygienic. We were usually based in schools but in Catania, Sicily we were put in a monastery. We had no fridges but the marble altar mad a very good cool place to keep the drugs! The Nursing Sisters had their billet away from the hospital and previously our accommodation was a ladies’ brothel! In order to deter prospective clients we had an Italian guard marching up and down all night. In the barrel of his gun he placed a red rose!

We worked very hard but we played hard too! In Catania in Sicily we were going to a party at one of the messes. We passed some troops on the airfield and one of them was firing a gun. I shot under the seat and the bullet went straight across. We didn’t stop but the Wing Commander in charge of the aerodrome said “he would see them when he got back”.
One day we were in Rome and were able to visit the Pope. He asked where I was from and where my parents were. I told him London and he asked me if I would like him to say a prayer for them. He was marvellous because he could converse in many languages.

The next time the Wing Commander took me out we going to a party and a bullet from the American troops hit the car. We pulled up and the Wing Commander shouted “come over here whoever fired that shot”. The biggest negro I had ever seen came over wearing a helmet covered with netting and flowers as camouflage! He said he was called Private Moses and the Wing Commander told him to take him to his CO. The trouble was that the Americans shot first and asked questions later.

It was from the main hospital at Cairo that I returned home and was then demobbed.

After the war I worked at the British hospital for Mother & Babies in Woolwich. I trained at Battersee Polytechnic as a Health Visitor and was one of the first in the country of 3 Health Visitors to be appointed in Thanet.

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