A Tribute to Beryl

Beryl (my wife) started her Nurse training a few weeks after her eighteenth birthday - in those days you could not start your Nurse Training before your eighteenth birthday without your parents’ consent. Her first day actually on a Hospital Ward was 1st September 1948, a rather special day! In 1951 she went to Moorfields Eye Hospital to study opthalmic nursing, and went on to become Deputy Matron at Nottingham Eye Infirmary.

In those days all Nurses lived in the Nurses’s Home, for which they paid, so after deductions they were left with little more than pocket money. Beryl and another Nurse, Sylvia Poole, became great friends and remained in contact with each other until Beryl’s death in 2015 - Sylvia died a few months later.

When Beryl died Sylvia wrote me a most wonderful letter, part of which appears below. It provides an interesting insight into the life of a Nurse seventy years ago.

The Beryl I knew and remember

We met at Moorfields, September 1951, to undertake the one year Opthalmic Diploma Course for qualified nurses.

Beryl had a great sense of fun, was full of mischief and very enthusiastic. Our off-duty often coincided and we usually spent this time together, apart from days or nights off, when we went home.

Here are some of my memories.

On a few evening occasions we went by bus to the opera at Sadlers Wells. We could only afford gallery or standing tickets: that evening out cost us two shillings sterling. I wonder what it would cost now? After residence deductions our salary was reduced to pocket money.

One evening standing at the side of the stalls we sat on our bags in the interval, we had been on our feet all day, on the way home we ate a box of very squashed gooey chocolates which we forgot were in my bag. We had of course missed our supper at the hospital.

One evening Beryl decided we would give each other a home perm. In those days this was a lengthy very smelly business. We were half way through when the fire alarm sounded. We had to assemble, covered in curlers, reeking of perm, to the amusement of everyone present, and endured much teasing the following day. The perms were OK though.

During the winter a couple came into the Nurses' Home weekly for a few times to teach Scottish dancing. Once again Beryl’s enthusiasm rose, and I was “ordered” to go. Two hours dancing after a day on our feet - we were not allowed to sit down on duty in those days. Life was very strict. But Beryl gave it her all, as always we survived.

One evening I could not find her. I started searching, being aided by two other nurses. I finally went back to her room to leave a note and heard sounds of movement and that well-known giggle. She had been hiding under her bed for a joke.

One lovely sunny evening we sat looking out of a window onto the street alongside the building. We had no money to go out. Gradually activity began in the road and an East-End Street Party gradually developed inside a couple of the houses. We heard some of the names being called out, and the noise from the piano was very entertaining. Next morning at breakfast we sat opposite two rather “superior” nurses. Typically Beryl couldn’t resist teasing, and started talking as though we had actually been at the party. The two nurses were horrified that we had actually mixed with the locals, and Beryl kept it up throughout breakfast. I expect word got around all the nurses that day.

We were invited to join two other colleagues on a continental holiday at the end of the course, to Ostend, Belgium and a day each at Holland and Luxembourg1. You will have some idea now of what those two weeks with Beryl were like, our first time abroad. To save for this we would go to Woolworths (nothing over sixpence) to buy the cheapest possible toiletries etc.

After Moorfields we always kept in touch but sadly didn’t manage to meet very often. It was a hard year at Moorfields, not a very happy atmosphere, long hours, and very strict Rules, and Beryl played a large part in enabling us to keep going and to qualify.

In memory of my valued friend.

Sylvia Poole

6th August 2015

1 You can read Beryl's diary of their holiday here.