- Contributed by
- British Schools Museum
- People in story:
- Greta Underwood
- Location of story:
- Hitchin, Hertfordshire
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 August 2005
Mrs Greta Underwood, served as a ‘VAD’ (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse in India and Burma from 1944 to 1946, and was awarded the Burma Star. The British Schools Museum, Hitchin is proud to enter her story, with her permission, to the BBC People’s War archive. Greta still works as a volunteer in our museum. The story is provided in several parts, please read them all. This is part 1 ref of 4 parts. Part 2 is referenced A4859652.
A4859571 Part 1, My training as a nurse.
During the Munich crisis in 1938, I was awaiting to collect my gas mask and identity card from Hitchin Town Hall. War was almost inevitable. I was reading the posters on the wall, like 'Careless Talk Costs Lives'. But the one that caught my eye was 'First Aid Course for Beginners' It offered 12 lectures with basic training and a minimum of 50 hours practical nurse training to join the British Red Cross Society or St John Ambulance Brigade.
So I joined the Red Cross (Herts 26 Detachment) and began a course of first aid and home nursing. I was 17½ years old.
The little local hospital was paid for by the people of our market town (before I was born!). It is now the CAB building in Bedford Road. About a quarter of a mile away, Chalkdell Infirmary was, and still is, used for elderly infirm patients needing nursing care. In the area beyond the pre-fab wards, the X-Ray and operating theatres were built, with sleeping quarters for medical staff and nurses.
When war was declared on 3rd September 1939, our first aid post was situated in the out-patients building on Bedford Road. It was manned 24 hours a day by an ambulance driver and about six Red Cross nurses or Civil Nursing Reserves. We kept busy rolling bandages, making cotton wool swabs, and cutting squares of gauze, filling a drum ready for sterilising. We were under the watchful eye of the outpatients’ department sister during the day. The night sister added a job to the list — to set the breakfast trays for private patients.
In June 1940 I started full time nursing at Chalkdell. The pre-fab wards were still in the throws of being fully equipped with a matron and medical superintendent, to make the two hospitals completely independent of each other. Doctors, sisters and nurses, evacuated from the London Hospital, Whitechapel were settling into their nurses home, and discovering the shops, cinema and swimming pool locally.
In September 1940 matron decided it was time for me to do a spell of night duty. The ward was next to her office on the first floor, and occupied by the night sister, who went off visiting all the wards at 10, 2 and 6 o’clock. One night I was told "you only have one patient nurse, an expectant mother due any time; she's not in labour yet, but is here in case of air raids. Not to worry, the night sister is a midwife".
What a night that was! All was well, with no sign of a new arrival; night super was on her rounds in the black-out. Suddenly there was a commotion outside with people hurrying about and transport driving towards the prefab wards. It lasted most of the night, but not a sound of a siren - nor a sight of the midwife / night super.
My patient slept through the night. I was the restless one, not knowing what was happening outside. But when the night super returned to write up her report I learned that an enemy plane had dropped an incendiary bomb in the grounds of Ware Park Tuberculosis Sanatorium. It had lodged in a tree. All the patients and staff were being evacuated from there to our pre-fab wards, and were arriving as their beds were still being made up.
Our hospital became the Lister Hospital, and later moved to Stevenage New Town.
This story continues at article A4859652
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