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15 October 2014
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TEA WITH MOTHBALLS: a nurse in London

by cambsaction

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Mrs Alice Zeitlyn (nee Myers)
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01 June 2005

[This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Alice Zeitlyn and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs Zeitlyn fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.]

I was still at school when war broke out and we were evacuated to Berkhamstead — I had three school-aged brothers. Our elderly grandmother lived with us and used to save her tea ration and keep it under the bed in a suitcase. She brought it out one day as a treat, and Mother brewed up. It turned out to be undrinkable — there had been mothballs in the suitcase and the tea had picked up the taint of the camphor! We were all so disappointed

Mother used to hoard the sugar ration to make marmalade. Mr Churchill had said Seville oranges should be imported to keep up morale.

I trained as an SRN at University College Hospital in Gower Street, London. I started in 1943 and worked at UCH until 1947. It was a very exciting time in medicine because a lot of new things were coming in, especially anti-biotics. All the teaching hospitals were reserved for civilian casualties — from the air raids. UCH also had two sector hospitals — Ashridge and Garston (Watford) - and we worked on rota at all three.

UCH was a very advanced hospital so we didn’t have starched uniforms — just striped dresses and a small cap, and a short cape to wear between the hospital and the nurses’ home. We all wore different belts which indicated our status. Nurses were given individual rations and we carried them around in a little black bag which we took into the dining room to use as we wished.

The hospital block and the nurses’ home were joined by tunnels and we used them as air raid shelters. Once, a land mine went off at Spurgeon’s Chapel in the Tottenham Court Road. They had been aiming for Euston Station.

Most of the injuries we treated were from flying shards of glass, or limbs crushed by masonry. There were not many deaths but a lot of injuries to deal with.

One of my vivid memories is when on night duty we had to walk between the dining hall and the ward and you could hear the rats scuttling around under the floors.

We worked a 12 hour day with 2 hours off during the day. It was usually 8 am — 8 pm.

On my days off, I used to meet Mother at the National Gallery for the Myra Hess concerts. She was a famous pianist who organised these concerts. It was very strange there….the galleries were all empty of pictures — they had been taken off to the slate mines in Wales for safety.

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