A nurse’s diary: life in the war

The notion of nursing as a caring profession often falls under the microscope. Dedication and commitment are undoubtedly of paramount importance in such a demanding job.

DaisyYoungAnd it appears that over the past 70 years or so it has always been that way, according to rare archives that have been kept by one Island family, providing an intriguing insight into life as a World War II probationer nurse.

Daisy Young (pictured) came from generations of Islanders, and lived here all her life. She was born in Ryde in 1914. She attended Sandown Grammar School until her education was cut short by a minor stroke at the age of 15.

Daisy was left slightly paralysed on one side, and her family were grateful when she was offered a job as ‘chief cook and bottle washer’ in one of Ryde’s grander houses. She seemed destined for a life in domestic service – until the outbreak of war in 1939.

Unable to join the Armed Forces, she began training for a career as a nurse, which might otherwise have been closed to her because of her disability. Her training began at the Royal Hospital in Portsmouth, but she was evacuated to Winchester after Portsmouth was bombed.

Daisy kept a diary of her work as a probationer nurse, part of which Island Life can now publish, courtesy of her family who have kept it safely throughout the years.

During one hectic spell in 1940, Daisy wrote: “Called at 6.15am, cold and dark. On duty at 7am, and 20 beds to be made in half an hour – completely mechanical, hardly a word spoken, we’ve not woken up yet!

“Fractured pelvis has urgent demands and it takes three to lift her; there’s no one else in sight, so I must struggle alone. Her plaster cast creaks, but she doesn’t budge off the bed. Still no one available, then it is too late. Screens, and a bowl and clean sheets – 20 minutes’ work, and half an hour behind now.

“An orgy of cleaning: bedpans and washbowls, tooth mugs, tidying lockers – Sister’s arriving, and is not in a good mood. The coffee urn’s empty – I had hoped for a drop or two back in the kitchen.”

Daisy then reveals that it is ‘toilet cleaning, labelling of jars, saving of specimens and tidying beds before the physician arrives’.

She continued: “My elevenses, but Sister comes up with an armful of x-rays, asking could I take them down; also would I call in to the laboratory with the specimens, and tell them in the kitchen that we have one diabetic.

DaisyYoung_0002“I dash into the kitchens when everyone’s finished, and find the coffee all gone and the dripping all eaten. I dash back on duty, to be told I’m three minutes late.”

After helping Sister remove patients’stitches, and congratulated on a good job, Daisy wrote: “Admit two new patients, but there are no empty beds yet. The two to be discharged must get up at once, and I help them to dress and pack their belongings. Make the beds and admit the new patients.

“Dinner’s arriving, but not enough helpings. I go to the main kitchen and argue with cook for two extra dinners. The sight of the dinners makes me feel quite empty, so I furtively take a roast potato, and commence eating it behind the door. ‘You may go to first dinner, nurse, if you are so hungry,’ says Sister, bustling in suddenly. My face is scarlet!”

After many more duties Daisy then served tea at 4pm, and had to wash all the patients before the vicar arrived for a service at 5pm. She added: “Off duty at last at 6.30pm. I have a day off tomorrow, and if I make a dash for the train, I’ll get home to Ryde tonight.

“I gather up text books, for on the train I must study. My feet feel weary and the books are heavy. A young man approaches and offers to carry my case. I looked at him, and told him I had met him before.

“He told me ‘You were on night duty, and one night I called you 15 times, and every time you came and made me comfortable. My bones ached – they were all sticking out. I hadn’t been married long, and I wanted to live’.

“In the train I relaxed before I took out my books, and just for five minutes I had time to be glad.”

In 1942, after qualifying as a State Registered Nurse, Daisy married Pat Young, who had returned to the Island after 13 years in the army, and set up home in Freshwater. Their two sons, Patrick and Jonathan, still live on the Island. Pat worked for the West Wight Bus Company until 1973. He died in 1982 at the age of 81. Daisy died in 1986.

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