THE challenging but rewarding life of a trainee nurse in 1960s London was the subject of an entertaining and informative talk at the Thursday Friendship Group at Holsworthy Methodist Church.
The guest speaker was Mrs Liz Jones, a former Modern Matron at Holsworthy Community Hospital who also worked for many years as a district nurse in the area.
As a talented pianist from an early age, the Royal Academy of Music beckoned Mrs Jones on leaving school. And keen on sport, she considered becoming a PE teacher. But it was nursing that called the loudest, and at 18, she left home to train at Barts – St Bartholomew’s – the internationally renowned teaching hospital in the City of London that was established in 1123.
It was a strict regime here for a trainee nurse: a world of sisters and matrons to be obeyed, pressed collars and cuffs, bedpans, learning bandaging and washing techniques, injection practice on oranges, and “matchbox-sized living quarters with green lino”. Hemlines had to be below the knee, black shoes and black stockings were the regulation, make-up was forbidden, and men were certainly not allowed in nurses’ rooms.
Some of the sisters were terrifying, said Mrs Jones. “But it was about discipline and respect – you wouldn’t argue with a sister or a matron. The needs of the patient always came first.”
Hygiene routines were demanding. “But we didn’t have hospital infections as we do today. And it was such an advantage to be learning on the job.”
Balancing the rigours of the nurse training, there was a busy social side, where friends were made for life.
“It was the Swinging Sixties,” said Mrs Jones. “I loved it.” There were parties, boyfriends, free theatre tickets, museums, St Paul’s Cathedral, the annual Matrons Ball at the Grosvenor, and Christmas was celebrated in a big way both in and out of hospital.
As training progressed, there came more responsibility, with second-year trainees authorised to take charge of a ward at night. In the fourth year, they would be qualified to nurse recovering patients after heart or brain surgery.
After London, Mrs Jones took up nursing posts in Tetbury and Bedford – and later moved to Devon with her husband David to raise a family, and run a farm and a bed and breakfast.
She returned to nursing at Winsford cottage hospital at Halwill and the old Dawfield hospital in Holsworthy. She later spent many years as a district nurse in the area before becoming the first Modern Matron at Holsworthy Hospital, retiring in 2008.
The Thursday Friendship Group meets in the Bodmin Street Blue Room or chapel hall, from 2pm to 3.30pm, where everyone is welcome to come and share tea, coffee, cake and a chat. Guest speakers are regularly planned for alternate Thursdays, and on the other Thursdays, the group holds games and quiz afternoons. On September 21, the group will host the Bude Ukelele Band.