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15 October 2014
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My experiences as a VAD Nurse

by perryhouse

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Ready for work! VAD Nurse Kath Lewis, RAF Halton, Bucks

Contributed by 
perryhouse
People in story: 
Kath Thurlby (nee Lewis)
Location of story: 
RAF Halton, Bucks
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A8906556
Contributed on: 
27 January 2006

Before the war I had trained with the Maidenhead St John Ambulance. After war was declared I went to work as a VAD nurse at Princess Mary’s Hospital in RAF Halton in Bucks. I was 26 years old. Then in June 1940 I was sent at very short notice to a hospital in West Kirby on the outskirts of Liverpool but shortly afterwards I was sent back to RAF Halton. This was at the time of the Battle of Britain.

Much of my work was as an operating theatre nurse where I saw many young men with horrific injuries. It was a miracle we all got through it. In the operating theatre, my job was to read down what operations the surgeons were doing that day. I had a little room which contained all the instruments required for the operations being performed that day. I used to have to lay out the instruments for the surgeon who was performing the operation at that time. I had to help dress the surgeons in their gowns and masks, then I had to stand on the left side of the sister in charge of the operation, take away the used instruments for cleaning and re-sterilisation, and any discarded limbs or anything as a result of the operation. There was a very good Polish surgeon who worked at Halton. After the war he went on to set up a specialist Burns Unit in East Grinstead.

We had very many casualties from air fights and bombing raids. Sometimes we had to stay working for almost 48 hours. Two of the bravest boys I met were Welsh. One was called Brian Hughes I think. He had every bone in his body broken. The other one was called Owen. He was burnt to a cinder. When people had been badly burnt we used to float them in a bath of water.

I met a lot of interesting people during my time as a nurse, including Bomber Harris who led the Dambuster bomber air raids over Germany. I was also presented to Princess Mary, our Patron, when she came to inspect the hospital.

When the war ended in June 1945 I was discharged from the services. Then I returned to Maidenhead to live with my family until October 6th 1945 when I married Jim Thurlby and I came to live in Burnham where I still live today.

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