When I asked my mother (Olga) how safe she felt in London during the first part of 1939, she said she wasn’t worried because people felt that war with Adolph Hitler had been averted.
Maybe the previous war was still fresh in people’s minds (after all in 1939 it was less than 20 years since the end of WWI) and that was why they simply couldn’t believe that the world could go through all that devastation again. Personally, had I been in my mother’s shoes, I’d have headed straight back to the safety of Kingston, Jamaica.
The reality for my mother was that war was a heartbeat away and she was in a strange country living with a malevolent, alcoholic aunt and had no idea that world events, personal tragedy and malicious intent would all combine to prevent her from returning home to Jamaica.
(Olga’s Diary Continued)
Fate steps in: Three days later two things happened one after the other.
First, Sydney got a big discount, bigger than he anticipated, on some bicycles he ordered for the shops and the second thing that happened was that he took ill and was rushed, by ambulance, to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington with appendicitis. Hours later his appendix was out and he was being looked after by Nurse Megan Lloyd who comes from Wales.
My “good old holiday” with Sydney is now being spent sitting by his bed every day in St Mary’s watching the nurses do their work while he sleeps. I noticed that the patients have a great respect for the nurses, which is nice, and, as I like the idea of helping people get well, a plan was beginning to develop that would mean I could stay in London and make Mammie and the family really proud of me.
When I thought the time was right I mentioned to Sydney I would like to become a nurse. His immediate reaction was definitely not, you’re going home with me and no arguing. So I enlisted help. Joanne and Nurse Lloyd. Sydney had taken a shine to Joanne and she pointed out to him the benefits of being a nurse and how it would help our community back home when I returned to Jamaica a fully qualified nurse whose training had been in a big London hospital. It took both of them to persuade Sydney to at least have an interview with Matron at St Mary’s. When AM heard her reaction was disbelief.
“A great hospital like St Mary’s only takes white, middle class young ladies to train as nurses” she told us.
“They would never accept a coloured person so don’t waste your time seeing Matron, just to be told no.”
She was right, but, for the wrong reason. Within five minutes of sitting in Matron’s office she announced I couldn’t study nursing there because I didn’t have a school leaving certificate but suggested we try the smaller St Giles Cottage Hospital in Camberwell.
“You’ll have more success there because not too long ago and before it became a hospital, it used to be a work house and they’re not so particular about their nurses”, AM told me, when Sydney was out of earshot.
We had an interview with Matron at St Giles, and shortly afterwards I was offered a place on a residential three month basic nursing programme, but first I had to have a medical.
Good news: I’ve been offered a nursing place and the best part of my new job is that I’ll be living in the Nurses’ Home at the hospital so don’t have to live with AM any more. Oh happy days!
I could see Sydney was proud of me and I knew Mammie would be too, in spite of being disappointed that I wouldn’t be going home now. I had to promise Sydney that if war broke out I would come home immediately. He gave me enough money for my fare and to keep me going until I got my first month’s wages which was going to be £2 a month. He also bought all the books I needed for studying, plus three pairs of thick black stockings and my black shoes. The rest of my nurses’ uniform would be provided by the hospital.
The night before Sydney left to go home he took Joanne and me to the theatre to see the Ivor Novello musical, The Dancing Years, and afterwards we had supper in a posh late night restaurant.
If I hadn’t met Joanne I’m not sure I would have chosen to become a nurse, but knowing that she would be close by, helped me to decide and that was a big comfort, not only to me, but to Sydney too, I think. He could reassure Mammie that I had at least one good friend. Sitting at the dining table watching them dance together, I thought wouldn’t it be just perfect if one day Joanne became my sister-in-law.
Something to pray for Olga.
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