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15 October 2014
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Doris Irene Davies (née Scourfield) - Nursing in Wales in World War II

by Thomas Emyr Davies

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Contributed by 
Thomas Emyr Davies
People in story: 
Doris Irene Davies (née Scourfield); Thomas Emyr Davies
Location of story: 
Newport and Port Talbot, South Wales,
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A8076468
Contributed on: 
28 December 2005

Doris Irene Davies (née Scourfield) as a student nurse in 1940

When war broke out, I was twenty years of age and living at my family’s home in Ynys Street, Port Talbot in South Wales.

My father, Arnold Scourfield, was Head Storekeeper at the Steel Company of Wales as well as a part-time Secretary at the small general hospital in Port Talbot. I was the middle of seven children, one sister, Elsie, and two brothers, Reg and Will, older than me and one sister, Maud, and two brothers, Fred and Graham, younger than me.

I had left school at the age of fourteen, as you did in those days if you didn’t go to the grammar school. I had then been apprenticed to learn a trade as a seamstress with Winnie Leyshon and then moved to work making soft furnishings and doing alterations at Abel Jones’ draper’s shop in Port Talbot.

I was at home with my family when we heard that war had been declared against Germany. At the time, being a young woman with other things on my mind, I hadn’t taken too much notice of the build up to the war and the threat that we could again be caught up in a conflict like the Great War. The reality now became quickly clear to me as my brothers were called up to the forces. Fred had been in the Territorial Army for some time and was called up to serve with the Royal Engineers soon after war was declared. Will was also called up and eventually served in the army in Burma. Reg worked for the Steel Company of Wales and was therefore in a reserved occupation so was exempt from conscription.

Women of my age were also being called up. I was told that I had a choice of any of the forces but I decided that I’d like to go into the Red Cross as a nurse. The children’s ward at Port Talbot hospital had been taken over by an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) unit and the Red Cross, and because of his association with the hospital, my father asked the matron if there was a place for me. However, when I reported there, I was told that there were no places with the Red Cross but the hospital was recruiting for State Registered Nurse (SRN) training. I signed up and began my two-year preliminary nurse training.

I moved into the hospital nurses’ quarters, sharing a two-bedded room with Irthwen Davies, another trainee from Port Talbot who started on the same day as me. The hospital had two medical wards and two surgical wards as well as the children’s ward where the ARP and Red Cross were stationed. As a trainee, I was thrown in at the deep end, even having to take part in operations at short notice. I remember one evening being called (if you lived in you were called upon at all hours) with a brusque “Scourfield, scrub up!”, to assist at an emergency hernia operation. Not being very tall, I had to stand on a stool to assist the surgeon. I had to mop up the blood when the surgeon cut into the patient and Dr Hellier, a Scottish surgeon, saw my less-than-effective efforts and said in his deep brogue, “Press harder, nurse!”

The training was for general nursing so I didn’t specialise. We moved between the different wards where we were directed to attend to patients' needs. Among the patients were members of the armed forces who were recovering from injuries.
On my nights at home, I was able to see the bombing taking place in Swansea from my bedroom window. We didn’t have an air-raid shelter in the garden but would huddle together under the stairs when the sirens sounded but when we realised that the raid wasn’t directed at Port Talbot, we would watch the action unfold over Swansea bay from upstairs. The raids on Swansea intensified between August and October 1940. On the night of 1st September, 1940, we saw the bombers targeting the city centre. The sight of the parachute flares hanging over the city was particularly eerie and incendiary bombs levelled large areas in the city. From our vantage point, we not only saw the bombs but heard and felt them falling and exploding in the city. Again on 17th January 1941 Swansea experienced a second blitz. After raids, when we went into Swansea, we would find that yet more buildings and stores had been levelled — Ben Evans, often called the ‘Harrods of Wales’, was destroyed in three nights of raids between 19th and 21st February 1941 when the city centre was almost completely obliterated and 230 people were killed. Lewis Lewis (Swansea) Ltd was also lost as a result of enemy action.

Stray bombs fell on Port Talbot too. Houses were damaged in Ynys Street and nearby Oakwood Street. In Pen-y-Cae, there were fatalities when a bomb hit two houses. Casualties from bombing in Port Talbot were taken to hospital in Neath rather than to the hospital where I was training.

In 1942, I sat my preliminary nursing examinations at Park Beck Hospital in Swansea and moved to the second stage of my training. This meant moving to the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport for a further two years. This was again general nursing, although I worked mainly on a surgical ward. There were around fifteen beds to a ward and at times there could be four or five patients who had been operated on that day and required constant attention. The matron on the ward was very strict and some of the sisters could be difficult to work for. One trainee who was slightly ahead of me was Catherine Jenkins, whose brother, Richard, later became famous as the actor, Richard Burton. I would go to Catharine’s room to study together and she was a great help.

One of our most onerous duties was to keep the huge stove fires in the middle of each ward. They needed stoking all day to make sure they didn’t go out — this was particularly difficult at night when I would work alone and have to deal with patients, write up reports (three per patient per night) and stoke the fire as well, from 8.00pm to 7.30am.

It wasn’t all work and no play. Once a month, matron would invite members of one arm of the forces to a dance which would be held in the out-patients department of the hospital. I could also go home when I had some time off — which was only one day a week. This would mean a bus trip from Newport to Port Talbot and in the days before motorways, this was a long journey of two to three hours both ways.

I kept in touch with the developments in the war through the news reports on the wireless and also from watching the newsreels at the cinema which we went to regularly. Another source of information about the war was from letters which my brothers, who were away serving in the forces, would send home whenever they could — although of course these were censored to prevent sensitive military information getting into the wrong hands. Fred was the most regular correspondent, sending letters to me directly at the hospital when he was with the 8th Army in North Africa and the Middle East.

We didn’t hear it until later but my brother, Will, had a bit of a scare whilst serving in Burma. One morning, he woke to find himself the only one in the tent he shared with his fellow soldiers. The others had gone off on patrol and it was his turn to remain behind. Just then, the tent flap opened and a Japanese soldier entered. He thought his time had come and he’d been captured by the enemy but at that moment, one of his comrades came in behind and explained that they’d captured the Japanese soldier whilst on patrol. What a relief that must have been!

By late in 1942, I decided to apply to be transferred back home. I had to go before a committee in Swansea. They wouldn’t agree immediately, as I had done part of my training so I had to appear before an official in City Hall, Cardiff, before being granted permission. They suggested that I join the Civil Nursing Reserve as a State Enrolled Nurse in Neath General Hospital, where I cared for all surgical and medical patients from babies to the elderly. There were soldiers here too who were nursed in an annex, recovering from wounds and operations. I also spent some time on the maternity ward doing night duty. It was a very busy time. A number of American soldiers were posted in the surrounding area and they naturally joined in with the local social scene. Consequently there were quite a few babies born with American fathers.

Sometimes we nurses had to accompany a soldier being transferred to another hospital in a different part of the country. American ambulances with lady drivers were used for this kind of thing.

I still followed the news from the front. I remember being particularly affected by the hearing the news on the radio from Arnhem, where the Parachute Regiment had been sent in to hold the bridge until reinforcements caught up but had ended up being captured by the Germans. I wasn’t to know then but my future husband, Tom, was one of those paratroopers.

I was still working at the General Hospital in Neath when the end of the war came. On V.E. Day, I went with another nurse and two soldiers to a dance at the Gwyn Hall in Neath. It was such a relief to know that the danger which we’d been through was finally over.

In late 1945, I was coming off duty at the hospital when a handsome young man helped me onto a bus. He told me he was on his way to swim at the beach. A week later, a friend and I were given a lift by two RAF men to a dance in Neath and there was the young man I’d met. We got talking and he told me how he’d just been released from the army and had been given leave from a base near Oxford to be at home at his mother’s house in Neath. He told me about his service with the Parachute Regiment in North Africa and how he’d been captured at Arnhem and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. I remembered the history of what had happened at Arnhem and I said to him not to say he was there if he wasn’t and he got annoyed with me.

On the second anniversary of D-Day, 6th June 1946, we were married. We had two children, Pamela in July 1947, and Stephen in May 1955.

Tom wrote down his memories of service in the war and it has been put onto the BBC website under his name - Thomas Emyr Davies.

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