Saturday, 29 September 2012

U is for Uniform

Originally the "uniform" of this post was the khaki kind. Given the proud involvement of Cam and various members of his family, both past and present, in the military I planned to provide some history for you all. But plans changed when this post just dropped in my lap, as the saying goes. 

The uniform now the subject of this post is white - or rather blue and white striped (see below)!

Not only do we have four generations wearing khaki in the family,  there are three generations wearing the white of registered nurses. To celebrate our most recent generations' progression through their training, Didi was asked to share her recollection of her training. In her own words...

Nursing.LC001.FinalYear1947 by Preciousmetal_au


I had come from Stoneleigh, my parents’ home at Ando, on 30th January a very excited 19 year old to begin a career I had wanted to start for years!

I well remember my Uncle Archie, a dear man, quite old and not driving any more, offering to take me out to RPA the next day. Bless his heart, he and I carried my huge suitcase with a walking stick through the handle by train all the way to the Hospital! We were to start at the Preliminary Training School the next day (alias PTS).

As World War II had not finished and the American soldiers were still in the Nurses’ Home and various other parts of RPA as well, we were to be lodged in a block of units in Summer Hill, a suburb not far away, and commute daily to the Hospital by train morning and evening. What a blow!

We soon settled in to lectures and hands on practice with dummies or other nurses for patients!! We soon learned how to take temperatures, take a pulse rate and how to bathe patients in bed. To do so we had to find a basin, fill it with water and sponge the patient with a warm washer – hands, arms, torso, as far as “possible”. Then hand them the washer for them to wash “possible” themselves! We also had to “rub a back” to avoid bedsores, “carbolise a bed”, clean a bedside locker, make beds with top sheet turned down to an exact measurement, give an injection etc etc.

Six weeks later we graduated from PTS and were to start real nursing in the wards. First of all we were housed in huts specially built for us as the soldiers were still in large parts of the Hospital. These were rather crude and small but we didn’t mind – we were about to start real nursing.

My first ward was a Men’s Medical with rather sick patients. Two new nurses went together to our first ward. There I saw my first “Red Cross”, a man had died. It was very emotional but we soon learned with a senior nurse how to lay out a body and prepare it to go to the Hospital Morgue.

In First Year we were called “Probationers”. Our uniforms were blue/white striped dresses, our white caps had to cover all the hair on our heads which was very difficult with long blonde hair. We had one star on our caps to denote First Year and each year gained another star. We didn’t get our white aprons till much later and stiff cuffs and belts and that was what we wore for the 4 years, with black stockings.

We felt we had good training as we were sent to a different type of ward every few months including Theatres and Psychiatry, Neurosurgery, Children’s, Central and Dressings Autoclaving.

We were also very disciplined. If Matron came into a ward to ‘do rounds’, we had to quickly take off our cuffs, put them under our apron and with hands behind our backs say “Good Morning Matron” and wait till she had finished doing rounds with the Ward Sister and we were dismissed!!

Most of our intake of 32 girls was from the country – only a few were city girls and as we had very little money to go into town to shop on our time off we made very good friends with each other. Those friendships have weathered 68 years and the few of us left meet regularly to lunch in the city. We have minded each others’ babies while new ones were coming and our children are friends and so we cherish all that.

During our training we were in the wards by 5am to make beds and get our patients ready for the day. We usually had a 4 hour pass most days: 9am - 1pm or 10am – 2pm. Some slept through it but sometimes I would get on a tram to the city just to look around!! Evening duty was 1 or 2pm – 7:30pm. Night duty 8pm – 7am for several weeks.

Our final exams took place in the Great Hall at Sydney University, not far from RPA. When our results were out we had a Ball (where Jim and I, having that day bought a ring, felt we were engaged though I couldn’t wear it on duty – I had it on a string around my neck!).

Soon after we knew we would be called to Matron’s Office to find out results and be told where we would go as Junior Sisters with Veils.

I was very surprised to find out I had been 2nd in NSW in my Practical Nursing Exam so Matron wanted me to teach in PTS. With great courage I declined that posting and was sent to King George Hospital, the Gynae and Obstetric part of RPA.

It was the happiest time of my career as my job was to admit patients for surgery, take their history and when they were taken to Theatres I would assist the surgeon and get to know what they had had removed or otherwise tampered with so I could know how to nurse them through their time in Hospital. I stayed there about 18 months, went home to Ando for a time and was married in 1949.

After a time I did some local nursing in patients’ homes and also a while at a Hospital in Gordon owned by a nurse who had been Senior to me and loved to have PA girls on her staff!

After that no more nursing, just babies but I ran a Dental Clinic at the Spastic Centre for 12 years!!

Melodie and Skye, I hope your careers will be as happy as mine was. I am so proud of you both and what you have already achieved and thrilled to have 2 more “Sisters” in my extended family.

All my love,

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