THIS beautiful young nurse stole Bernard Gorringe’s heart nearly 70 years ago.

“Sadly, she passed away last May,” he says. “We’d been married for 64 years.”

But he has wonderful memories of meeting her at the Palais de Danse – “the Pally” – in Darlington’s Grange Road in the early 1950s. The Palais reputedly had the best dancefloor in the North-East, with thousands of springs sandwiched between two layers of timber like a sprung mattress.

“I had to dance with her immediately,” says Bernard. “I can still remember what she was wearing: a mustard coloured skirt, matching bolero jacket over a broderie anglaise blouse, she was a picture. I could tell this girl was different - she had a gentle voice with a touch of Geordie.

“As we danced, she told me her name was Doreen and she was a student nurse and came from Annfield Plain.”

The Northern Echo: Student nurses, with Doreen Gorringe on the right, outside the pre-rebuild entrance to the Memorial HospitalStudent nurses, with Doreen Gorringe on the right, outside the pre-rebuild entrance to the Memorial Hospital

She was training at the Memorial Hospital, and living in the nurses’ accommodation in Elms Road, where there were three or four houses for student nurses. These have been gobbled up by the expanding hospital.

“I shall never forget the nurses’ dance at the hospital,” he said. “It was a requirement that all escorts be introduced to the matron.

“The introduction was more like a job interview. She wanted to know all about me, what I did for a living and where I lived. At one point I thought she’s going to measure my inside leg.

“Anyway, I must have passed muster and she bid me an enjoyable evening. Because Doreen was a student nurse, the matron was in loco parentis responsible for the moral and social behaviour of her nurses as in those days they did not come of age until they were 21.

“Another mandatory task was that I dance with the home sister. She was a sort of sergeant major who looked after the behaviour and activities in the nurses’ home.

“OK, I thought, here we go.

“The home sister was very well nourished and as I discovered was well corseted. It was like dancing with a dustbin. This was really another level of scrutiny.

“The level of discipline was considerable and the way the students had to behave was almost like a finishing school.

“They spent the first six months attending lectures but they spent an hour or so every morning making beds, and the wards had 30 or 40 beds so they had their work cut out.

“Looking at her course notes, I noticed that one of the activities which had to be achieved was turning a patient in an iron lung.”

In the picture Doreen, who qualified in 1954, is wearing a very distinctive Darlington Memorial Hospital badge which was given to nurses when they qualified. However, the safety chain was 12 shillings and six pence extra, and Bernard remembers paying that for Doreen.

The Northern Echo:

The badge has a silver square as its base and a red enamel cross with the hospital’s name picked out in gold at the front.

A ward sister from Stockton, who qualified in 1956 and spent 40 years nursing at the Memorial, has been in touch to explain the significance of the badge. She believes it was designed by one of the course tutors in about 1950 to replace a very-ordinary looking badge. In those days, most hospitals had their own nursing schools and each one had its own badge.

In the battle of the badges, the Darlington school had to have one of the best to befit its status as one of the best colleges in the north.

“The red enamel on the badge represents the fight against disease and illness and the white square represents service to humanity,” says the sister.

Then Isobel Johnson from Annfield Plain got in touch. She was presented with her badge when she qualified at the Memorial in 1960, and she nursed for 20 years in the north of the county, becoming night sister at Dunston Hill Hospital in Gateshead. Isobel thinks the design originated with the brothers of the St John of God, who had hospitals at Scorton and Hurworth and who also trained at the Memorial.

“We went to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in January 2000,” she says, “and my husband was looking in a souvenir shop and he said ‘this badge looks like your hospital one’. It only cost a few pounds so we bought it, and with came a piece of paper telling exactly what it means.”

It is a Jerusalem Cross, and was the emblem of the Kingdom of Jerusalem that existed between 1099 and 1203. The piece of paper says that the five crosses represent the five nations which were involved in the Crusades, which took place between 1096 and 1271 to prevent the Holy Land falling under Islamic rule. It also says the smaller crosses represent the stars of heaven which shone upon the shepherds, as they watched their flocks, on the night Jesus was born.

In truth, there are lots of potential meanings. The five crosses represent the five wounds of Christ, or the large cross represents Christ and the four smaller ones stand for the four evangelists.

Whatever its meaning, the Darlington Memorial badge was made partly of silver and so was very expensive to produce. We established last week that the nurses who qualified in 1966 were, because of the cost, the last to be presented with it.