To mark International Nurses’ Day, on Sunday, the Royal College of Nursing interviewed retired nurses from across the North-East and Cumbria for a new history of nursing in the region. Two former nurses shared their memories with Health and Education Editor Barry Nelson


Trained at Darlington Memorial Hospital and qualified in 1969. She then worked in accident and emergency and orthopaedics at Dryburn Hospital, in Durham City, before going to work as a district nurse in Weardale. She most recently worked as disability equipment educator in Darlington, before retiring in 2011.

WHEN I started training, I lived in the nurses’ home at Darlington Memorial Hospital. I had to live-in because you couldn’t live out. I suppose my early memories are about the comradeship there, of the other girls who were my set, and how we shared everything. Being trained on the ward, not in university, you had real patients. I worked for some really scary sisters, but it didn’t do me any harm .

When I started, the uniform was blue and it was a thick calico-like material that cut your arms – we used to call it sackcloth and ashes.

I once turned my dress up, just to make it shorter, and I was walking down the corridor in the middle of the night to go and have my meal and this booming voice shouted from one end of the Memorial to the other. It was the assistant matron. She got her scissors out of her top pocket and let my dress down there and then.

I think we had a lot more responsibility in those days. The keys were just thrown at you and you were in charge on a night shift as a newly-qualified staff nurse, or even during the day, and you learnt on your feet. Sometimes your knees were knocking, but you just had to get on and do it. There was always someone there to ask, and I don’t know if that’s quite true of today really. I don’t know whether nurses are as supported now as we were then.

There have been a lot of changes and, of course, there’s nurse prescribing now. It’s absolutely fantastic because at one time we could not even give two paracetamol without it being signed-off by a doctor.


started her nurse training in 1974 and qualified as a state registered nurse in 1977. She qualified as a registered mental nurse in 1989. She worked at Sedgefield General Hospital (now a community hospital), in County Durham, and North Tees General Hospital (now the University Hospital of North Tees), in Stockton. She retired in 2011.

SEDGEFIELD General was a post-war hospital. As a student nurse, you were in charge of the ward beside the sister, because there weren’t many staff nurses then. We learnt the job on the job.

Our first tasks in the morning were to wash the dishes up after breakfast, damp-dust the clinical rooms, wash and clean the bathroom and toilets, damp-dust the bed tables, then the sister would wet-mop the floor and we would follow dry-mopping, then mop our own portion of corridor.

Then you would see to the patients. Nursing then was focused very much on the physical side of care. It gave me a great pleasure to make patients comfortable.

Nobody used to dare challenge the consultant or the system. I was a staff nurse before the sister ever spoke to me.

We always had people on the wards who were recovering – there were the acutely ill, then those in recovery who didn’t need that same level of care. Nowadays, everyone is acutely ill, so the pressure is constant now, whereas you used to have 30 people on the ward with varying degrees of illness – and staffing has not changed to accommodate that.

I have fantastic memories – it was a wonderful time. Some people say they go to work because they have to, but I went because I loved it.

􀁧 May 12 – the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday – is International Nurses’ Day. A History Of Nursing In the North-East and Cumbria is published by the RCN Northern Region.