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 <—Life in a Wartime Nursery : Wimbledon         Life as a Servant —>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

Sister Warner sent me to  Massey’s Employment Agency in Baker Street, London, to apply for a live-in cook/housekeeper position so that I can have Marie with me.  The reception room was very big with four cubicles down one side of the room.  Two of the cubicles had a curtain drawn across them for privacy and in the other two there was a small table and two chairs. 

There were three well dressed women waiting and behind a big desk was a middle aged woman with glasses that sat on the end of her nose.  Her grey hair was plaited into two pigtails, each one pinned either side of her head.  She looked very stern, but, when I went up to her she smiled at me.  I told her my name and that I wanted a job as a cook, although I couldn’t cook, but was willing learn.  She told me to go and wait in one of the cubicles and draw the curtain. 

I sat there for a few minutes on my own and then a tall, slender, elegant lady came into the cubicle and sat down opposite me.  She said her name was Mrs Hurt and she had a big house in Billericay in Essex.  She had two sons Michael and Edward, who were away in the Navy and she needed someone to help keep her house orderly and cook for her, her husband, who was retired, and her daughter-in-law.  She said she has a cook at the moment, Mrs Attwood, who has worked for Mrs Hurt over 30 years, but she is old now and wants to retire.   Mrs Hurt asked me to tell her something about myself. 

I told her my name, but said everyone calls me Carmen.  I don’t know why I said that really, because it’s not true.  I’ve never liked the name Olga and Carmen sounds so much prettier.

 I told her I had a baby daughter and I wanted a job where she could come with me.  I said I hadn’t a husband and, I waited for her to ask questions why, but she didn’t.  So I continued explaining that I wanted a job in a private house as a cook, although I couldn’t cook, but I was willing to learn.  I thought it seemed a lot to ask.

“Carmen, Mrs Attwood can teach you to cook, so how would you like to come and work for me”.  My heart leapt.

“I would love to”.


Hendon House:   A week later she picked me up from the nursery in her car and drove me and Marie down to Hendon House, her home in Billericay.  It was a great big house and in the hall is a grandfather clock that chimes on the hour, every hour, and always makes me jump when I hear it.  There is a wide spiral mahogany staircase with pictures hanging on dark rich wood panelling, Rembrandt and Reynolds type paintings of the Hurts’ ancestors, their eyes following you as you climb the stairs.  

Marie and I have the west wing all to ourselves, which sounds very grand I know, but really it is just a bedroom and our very own sitting room and bathroom.

 How wonderful!   My very own bathroom. 

Mrs Attwood and her husband have their own little cottage in the village.  Of course, I knew with the war going on it was hard for people like Mrs Hurt to find staff because women were being called up to work for the war effort but even so, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be offered this job and was determined to do my best.

As soon as I had unpacked, I’d handed our rations books to Mrs Hurt.  There was no shortage of fresh vegetables there because they grew their own and had done for years.  They also had orchards with apple, pear and plum trees and they kept chickens.

On my first day Mrs Attwood showed me where the vegetable garden was and asked me to pull up some lettuces and then wash them.     I returned flushed with success with two beautiful lettuces and went to the scullery to wash them thoroughly under running water. When I took them in to the kitchen Mrs Hurt was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper and when Mrs Attwood saw the lettuce.

 “What the hell have you done to them?”

 “The water was so cold I washed them in hot water” I told her.

 She and Mrs Hurt thought it was hilarious and the pair of them couldn’t stop laughing. 

Every morning I have to make up a breakfast tray for Captain and Mrs Hurt and take it to their room.  They are an elderly couple and are usually still in bed  when I knock on the door.  The pair of them look so sweet sitting up side by side in their bed. They talk to each other with great affection; honestly they are lovely.   I call them Derby and Joan to Mrs Attwood but not in front to their faces. 

Later on I have to tidy their bedroom and then tidy and dust the drawing room.  Although the drawing room is big, it has a homely feel to it.  There is a grand fireplace with a mantelpiece above and it has a beautiful marble clock on it. 

The sofas and armchairs are big and comfortable and the occasional tables on either side each have a bronze table lamp, as well as lots of photographs of the children.  There’s a rosewood sideboard with a pair of matching vases and Mrs Attwood told me they are very rare and worth a lot of money.  I wish she hadn’t told me that because now I dread dusting them in case I break them.  On the walls are even more pictures of the Hurts’ ancestors. 

There’s a glass cabinet which has their porcelain tea service displayed in it.  In the corner is a wind up gramophone and a big pile of records.  It reminds me of the Nurses Home in St Giles because we had one in the sitting room.  I try not to think about St Giles; I get upset if I do.

Miss Judith, is married to Michael, Captain and Mrs Hurt’s youngest son, and has two lovely boys, Patrick, who was nine and Nicholas, who was 10.  They are at boarding school in Windsor but home now for the school holidays.  Patrick has taken a fancy to Marie and wherever he goes he takes her with him.

Captain Hurt is very fond of Marie too.  He came into the kitchen this morning and said

“She’ll only bother you here, why don’t you let her help me pick some apples”.

They have an apple orchard and grow coxes apples and they were the sweetest apples I’ve ever tasted.  When I went to fetch Marie the other day, she was wearing Captain Hurt’s hat and they were both walking together with their heads bowed and hands behind their backs.

 Oh God she looked so cute. 

 <—Life in a Wartime Nursery : Wimbledon         Life as a Servant —>

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<—Marie                                                     Colonel and Mrs Hurt—>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

 

Dear Diary

The baby room is painted in pretty pale colours, yellow, pink and blue with pictures of bunny rabbits, kittens and puppies stuck on the walls.  There are ten cots in a row, each one containing a precious baby, and now the sisters have put another cot at the end of the row, for Marie.  Now all I have to do is look after all of them.

Thank goodness the babies have a timetable. With one of the Sisters help, I bath the babies every other morning.  I’m only allowed to make up enough baby food for one feed at a time and although it’s against the rules, the only way I can feed so many babies who are crying for their milk at the same time, is to prop up a bottle in the first baby’s mouth and then move on to the next baby.

After the babies have been fed I change their nappies and then it seems as if I have to start all over again.  It’s an endless round of feeding, changing nappies and giving the babies a little cuddle.   In the afternoon I put them either in a cot or, if the weather is good, in a pram outside. 

When it’s quiet, I have to write up the babies’ reports.     It’s the noisiest place to work in because there is always two or three babies crying at once.  But I don’t mind.  I have Marie with me.  She is beautiful and so good, she rarely cries.   I try to be fair and not pay her more attention than the other babies.  Thank God I’m always busy I don’t have time to  think about Mammie and home.  I’m so tired by the end of the day.   Sister Pateman and Sister Warner are very, very kind to me.

 ******

Dear Diary

My good friend Moores wrote to me and told me she’s decided nursing is not for her so she’s going home to live with her parents.  She wanted to come and see me before she left, but I wrote and told her I was too busy but I promised to keep in touch.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see her, I did, but I just couldn’t bear saying goodbye to her.  I’m such a coward.

It’s been a long time since any bombs were dropped on London and just when everyone thought the war was nearly over that horrible Hitler has sent over a new type of bomb.   It’s called a “doodlebug”,  It makes a low buzzing noise like a motorbike then there is silence, which is its engine cutting out and it glides without a sound for a few seconds, then explodes.

Last night I sat on the stairs and in the distance I heard a doodlebug.   It got louder and louder until it seemed like it was overhead when suddenly it stopped and there was silence.  I counted to ten and waited for the explosion, but it landed in the distance.  We were safe, but maybe somebody else wasn’t so lucky.    Whenever the sirens went off we are supposed to take the babies downstairs into the basement but by the time we’ve moved the cots down there, the all clear sounds and it’s all over.    Wimbledon has been hit a few times during these raids but has not suffered as much as some other parts of London where the devastation has been huge.  Even in the Blitz moral in the capital wasn’t as low as it is now.

 

******

Dear Diary

A few nights ago I heard a strange sound coming from one of the cots.  As I went down the row checking each baby, I realised the sound was coming from the end cot where Marie was.  The sound was her struggling to breathe.  Sister Pateman examined her and said Marie was ill.  She had pneumonia.  She told me to go and look after the other babies and she and Sister Warner would see to her. 

They put her into one of the bathrooms, put on the electric fire, turned the hot water on and filled up the bath so the bathroom was full of steam.  I was desperate to help my baby and told them that back home when I had scarlet fever, Mammie boiled some onions and put them in muslin cloth and tied them round my ankles, and that helped bring down my temperature. 

“Shall I boil some onions”?  I asked them.

“No, Olga, go and look after the other babies and don’t worry, we’ll see to Marie”.

Then about every hour throughout the night they took turns watching over Marie, running the hot water so the level of steam remained high helping Marie to breathe.   Any spare minute I could,  I prayed to God not to take away from me the one thing that made the pain of what happened, the loss of my family and my loneliness bearable.   

Two days after Marie was taken ill Sister Warner took her out of the bathroom and put her back into the nursery.   With the help of God and two wonderful women, Marie had fought for her little life and won.  

 

******

Dear Diary

Marie is walking now and we have to leave here because she is disturbing the babies.   The Sisters have asked me what I’m going to do.   I think I’ll get a job in a private house so Marie will be able to come with me.

******

<—Marie                                      Colonel and Mrs Hurt—>

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<—Home is a Refuge for Friendless Girls         Life in a Wartime Nursery—>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

Marie:   So many people were in the labour room of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, three medical students watching as part of their training, two nurses, Sister and a doctor.  After eighteen painful hours it was it was nearly over.  

“One good heave now Olga.  I can feel the head” the doctor said and then finally the baby slipped out. 

Before the mouth and nasal passages were cleared Sister had slapped the baby on its bottom and it cried immediately.  Then it was weighed, washed and wrapped in a blanket and handed to me – I had a baby girl.  I was frightened holding her because she was so small and I thought I would hurt her. 

“Babies are tough, Olga.  Give your daughter a cuddle” Sister said kindly.   I wish Mammie could see my tiny, perfect little daughter.

******

Dear Diary

I’ve christened my daughter, Marie-Thérèse, after my favourite nun at Alpha Academy and I’ve had to register her birth.  When the Registrar asked me the father’s name, I just shook my head.  I felt ashamed, but he was a kind man and patted my hand and gave me a little smile, but his act of kindness made me cry.   I have no idea how I am going to look after my baby.  I have no home, no money and no job. 

Then the problem was solved for me.  Miss Franks came to me and said that because of my circumstances, my baby would be taken from me and put in an orphanage to give me time to think about whether placing Marie for adoption was best for her.  She also told me that Matron from St Giles had said I could work at the hospital, as a maid, for a short time, which would give me some money, and I could stay in the refuge for a while until I came to some kind of decision about Marie.

I’ve asked Miss Franks if she could arrange for Marie to be baptized at St James’s Roman Catholic Church in Spanish Place and Moores said she would be Marie’s godmother. Immediately after Marie was baptized  I handed her over to a complete stranger to be taken to an orphanage in a place I’d never heard of, Gloucester.  If Moores hadn’t been with me I think I would have ended my life then. 


“In Jamaica we have Obeah men who can work evil against people who hurt you, you know, Moores.  They can make bad things happen to that person.  I only have to ask someone back home and it will be done.”

 “That’s voodoo, Olga”

“Maybe it is, but I want to hurt him for what he did to me”. 

“Would it help if I pop into John Lewis and bought a little doll and some pins, then you can pretend the doll is John Edward and stick the pins in it.”

“Don’t laugh, Moores, believe me Obeah works,  I know, I’ve seen it working” I told her.  I looked at her and there was a little smile on her face.

“Forget all that rubbish Olga” she said putting her arm around me. 

“You need to concentrate on finding a way to get your baby back.”
 
  ******

Dear Diary

Miss Franks wanted to see me.  She showed me an advert from a newspaper.  A toddler and baby nursery in Wimbledon wants help in its nursery and she thinks that with my nursing training I should apply for the job particularly as no school leaving certificate is asked for. 

It is a private nursery in a very big posh house at the end of a long drive in Victoria Drive, I was interviewed by the two trained nurses who ran it called Sister Warner and Sister Pateman.  The Sisters told me that the mothers of the babies at the nursery are in the navy or army and when they have finished their tour of duty, or the war is over, they will take their babies back again.   I explained I had a little baby, Marie, and they said yes your little baby can come along. 

Then they took me round the building and explained how the baby nursery takes babies from six months up to two years old.   The baby room is on the top floor of the house and there is a play room next to it which is full of soft and wooden toys made by the local people living in the area and my bedroom is on the same floor.

Then they showed me around the toddler nursery which takes day children from two to five years of age.  The children are able to come to the nursery any time after 7.30 in the morning and have to be picked up by 6  in the evening.  The nursery is on the first floor and also has a playroom as well as a sleeping room for the children to rest in during the day.    Each toddler has their own overall, towel and flannel, which is kept on their own peg.  Sister Pateman and Sister Warner’s bedrooms are on that floor.

On the ground floor are two bathrooms each with electric fires over the bath and the staff dining room.  Next to the air raid shelter in the basement is the laundry room where there is a big sink with a wringer.  

Each baby has its own cot and bedding and every day nappies have to be boiled as well as washing the cot sheets and towels.  When I saw the amount of washing that had to be done I thought I can’t do this job, I won’t cope, but Sister must have seen my face, because she said I would not be doing the washing.  A local girl comes in each day and does it and another woman comes in two afternoons a week to do the ironing. 

 “They were desperate for some help and you were a godsend to them Olga”, Miss Franks said later.

 For the first time in a very long time I felt happy, it meant free board and food for Marie and me and I got paid as well.  I’d have done the job just for the board and food.

Six months after Marie was taken away from me  I’ve got her back and I will never, never, never, EVER give her up again to anyone. 

I miss my family.

******

<—Home is a Refuge for Friendless Girls          Life in a Wartime Nursery—>

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<—The Refuge for Friendless Girls                               Marie —>

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

I never knew places like this existed.  Matron said I was lucky to be here because this is a Catholic refuge and other girls in my state end up in the workhouse, which, she says, are very unpleasant places and the treatment of the women in them is often cruel and harsh.

 “Here”, she said,  “they will treat you well and take care of you until you have your baby”. 

 My room is cold and bare, with an iron bed, a table, a chest of drawers, a large white enamel jug and bowl.   On the wall is a big crucifix of Jesus on the cross.  I like the cross being there.  It makes me feel I’m not so alone.  

There are eight other women here, all waiting to have their babies.   I spend my days cleaning the refuge or peeling vegetables in the kitchen.  When I’m not working I stay in my room and say my rosary.   We are forbidden to speak to each other during the day but can talk for one hour in the evening after prayers.  But I don’t want to talk to anyone.  I feel ashamed.  I keep myself to myself. 

Why do I dream of the things I can’t have. 

Last night it was Cissie’s wedding.  I saw everything so clearly. 

Father Baker performed her wedding ceremony at the Holy Trinity Cathedral and there were flowers everywhere.  Cissie walked down the aisle on Sydney’s arm to the music of the wedding hymn, looking beautiful in a simple white silk dress with a long tulle veil and a spray of orange blossom in her hair.  The tots and I were the bridesmaids and we wore pale blue dresses with broad hats trimmed with blue lace and chiffon.    Over sixty people attended the service, as well as Dyke’s family and friends and including three of Cissie and Dyke’s children.

After the ceremony everyone went back to Mission House.  In the back garden Mammie had arranged for a large booth made of bamboo and coconut leaves to be built and decorated with lignum vitae and pink bougainvillea.  This was where all the wedding presents were put before they were unwrapped.  There was a table in the garden covered with a white linen table cloth and on it stood the wedding cake with a net over it and pinned in several places.   

After the bride, the wedding cake was the centre of interest and the guests had to bid money to uncover the cake.  They would try and outbid each other and by the time the cake was uncovered Cissie and Dyke would have several pounds, as well as lots of lovely presents.  It was such a happy, noisy day with so much laughter. 

I thought about Michael Sales and the pretty earrings he gave me at my leaving party in Kingston and how he said he’d wait for me to return so I could be his girlfriend.  But not now… not me Michael.  I hope you find someone nice.

 

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<—The Refuge for Friendless Girls                            Marie —>

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 <—The Rape of an Innocent

(Continued Olga’s Diary)

Dear Diary

Matron called me to her office.  I’m not surprised.  I know my work has not been good lately.  I was hoping she would tell me I could go home.    Dr Randall, who carries out some of the three monthly student medical examinations, was sitting behind Matron’s desk.   He spoke first. 

“I’m sorry to have to tell you Nurse, you are pregnant and I’m sorry but you’ll have to leave St Giles”. 

The room started spinning and I don’t remember what happened next, except I was sitting down and Matron was giving me sips of water from a glass.   I was in shock. I couldn’t believe what Dr Randall had said.  Neither of them asked me any questions, which was just as well because I didn’t have any answers. 

“I don’t know how I got pregnant” I told them and I started crying.  Matron was very, very kind and said

 “Leave things to me, I will arrange everything”.

Later Moores came to my room and asked me what had happened, so I told her what Dr Randall said. 

She asked me who the father was and I said

“I don’t know”.  

But she didn’t believe me,

“You must know who made you pregnant Olga, after all you it’s not like you know a lot of men. What man have you been with?”

And then it began to dawn on me that maybe it had been John Edward.  I had never mentioned to anyone what happened that day in the pub, even when I saw Moores the next day I didn’t tell her. But now I told her everything.   By the time I’d finished, she was crying and hugging me tight. 

“Oh, Olga, I’m so sorry. I let you down. It would never have happened if I’d been there.” 

Still holding me she asked hadn’t I realised afterwards that I might be pregnant. 

I told her “No.  Mammie brought us up very strictly at home and we never talked about things like that, so I had no idea how babies were made.  When my sister Chickie was pregnant we were never allowed to discuss why she was getting bigger and bigger.  We knew she was going to have a baby but  Mammie never told us how babies were made.  We were always told that babies were sent by God and delivered to the mother.  That was the sort of upbringing we had”. 

“Oh Olga”, Moores said, “and you a nurse.  Never mind, my family know a doctor who will get rid of it for you.  It won’t help you get your job back but at least you won’t be burdened with a baby and can go back to Jamaica and your family won’t know anything about it.” 

I knew Moores meant well, but I was horrified by her suggestion.

“But, I would know.  I can’t do that.  It would be a sin.”

When I went to bed I thought about my family.  There had been so much gossip about us over the years, so many scandals and I didn’t want to be another one.  When I thought of Mammie I ached to put my head on her lap, just once more, and feel her hand stroking my head like she did when I didn’t feel well. 

I don’t feel well now Mammie.

Then I said my prayers and prayed for God to forgive me for my wickedness and the shame I had brought on my family

 ********

 Report:   Prepared by Miss Geraldine Franks, Superintendent
Catholic Refuge for Friendless Girls, Barclay Road, Fulham, London
 

Subject:   Miss  Olga Josephine Browney 

  Olga Browney was referred to the home by Miss Mary Norton, Matron, St Giles Hospital, Camberwell.  Throughout the interview Miss Browney sat on the edge of her chair with her head bowed. 

I told her that the first thing we had to do was to complete a registration form for her and she would have to tell me something about herself.  As she answered my questions her voice trembled and her hands shook and when she mentioned her mother she started to cry.  Miss Browney has made it clear she does not wish her mother, or any member of her family, to be informed about her situation.  She says she does not want to hurt them.

We then moved on to the father of the child.  At this point she refused to talk about him and no amount of encouragement on my part would make her.   I decided not to press the matter. 

I then asked her what plans she had for supporting the baby once it was born.   When I explained that she could put the baby up for adoption, for the first time in the interview Miss B raised her head and said she would keep the baby.  As gently as I could I explained to her that she may have no choice in the matter especially since she was not prepared to take the baby home to her family in Jamaica.  I asked Miss B, how, if she kept the baby and stayed in England, she planned to manage, support and care for herself and the child.    Miss B said she would find a job and work.

It is quite obvious that Miss B feels she has brought shame on her family by her predicament, but I am concerned about her decision not to return home and have tried to persuade her to change her mind.            

I am at a loss to understand why the fear of confronting her family with an illegitimate child is greater than choosing to remain in a country at war, without the support of friends or family and treats unmarried mothers with contempt, not to mention the problem that her colour may bring. 

Fortunately, there is time to persuade Miss B to place the child for adoption.

                                                Geraldine Franks  (Superintendent)

 <—The Rape of an Innocent

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<—Bad News                            Refuge for Friendless Girls—>

Olga’s Diary (Continued) 

  

Dear Diary 

What did I do wrong:   The water in my bath was so hot the bathroom was thick with steam, burning my skin and I could barely see the bath taps.  But I didn’t want to cool it down, I wanted it as hot as I could bear it.   

Earlier Moores had said she’d meet me at the pub, but wasn’t there when I arrived.  So, I got my ginger beer from the barman and sat down.  The pub was busy and noisy and though I’d been there a few times before, this was the first time on my own.   

From where I was sitting I could see John Edward in the other bar with a group of friends.  Before the war he was a senior doctor in St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington and very well respected.  Now he was working as a doctor in the army based somewhere near London. He’s very popular and everyone knows who he is.  He has a reputation for being a bit of a ladies man.  Moores would often tease me about him saying I had a crush on him and, it was true, I did like him a lot, but he’d never even noticed me.  

I’d been sitting there for half an hour and Moores still hadn’t turned up so I decided to get one more drink. I decided I’d go back to the Nurses’ Home if she hadn’t arrived by the time I’d finished it.  I felt a twinge of disappointment when I went up to buy my ginger beer because I couldn’t see John in the other bar.   

I sat down and the next thing I knew he was sitting opposite me.  He smiled at me but I was overcome with shyness.   

“Olga, isn’t it?” he said loudly so I could hear above the noise.  Goodness, I thought, he knows my name.   

“Yes, it is”.  

 I was getting a really good look at him now.  I’d never seen anyone so handsome, except, of course, film stars, but most of them were dark haired.  John was slim and fair-haired and he had such a lovely smile.   By now I was hoping Moores wasn’t coming because I wanted John all to myself.  He told me he had three days leave before he had to report back to the army.  I could see some of the other girls in the bar looking at us, a bit jealous I thought, and I felt so proud that he seemed interested in me.   

My initial shyness was gone and I was surprised by how easy he was to talk to.  I told him where I came from and all about my family and he talked about his life in the army.  We talked like two people who had been friends for ages.  He offered to buy me another ginger beer and while he was at the bar I went to the ladies toilet.   

As I came out he was standing in the passage waiting for me and took hold of my hand.  

“Come with me, Olga, I want to show you something.”   

We went down the passage, in the opposite direction of the bar and John opened a door and we were in a small dirty yard where there were lots of beer barrels and crates of beer.   He closed the door and I wondered what we were doing there.    

Then he pushed me against the wall of the pub and started kissing me very roughly.  With his knee he forced my legs apart and I was frightened because I knew then that something bad was going to happen to me.   

I tried to push him away from me but the weight of his body had me pressed against the wall.   

“Stop, please stop, you’re hurting me” I pleaded still trying to push him.   

“Stop struggling and it won’t hurt” he said.   

He pulled my dress up and my knickers down.  He’d undone his trousers and by now I was crying  

“Please, don’t” I said, my fists punching his shoulders.  I looked at him and he was smiling and then he covered my mouth with one hand and forced himself inside me.   

Suddenly terrible, terrible pain, as he repeatedly pushed himself into me.  The pain was so bad I thought I wanted to pass out prayed to God to let me pass out so I could not feel it any more.  After a few minutes I felt his body relax. 

 Again I said “Stop, you’re hurting me” and he laughed.   

“It’s OK, Olga, I’m finished now”.   He buttoned up his trousers and then went back inside.   

For a few minutes I stayed in the same position I’d been in throughout my ordeal, leaning against the wall because I couldn’t stand up properly on my own without its support.  I could feel fluid running down my legs but was afraid to go back inside to the toilet to clean myself up. 

There was a door in the yard that opened straight onto the street.  I tried to run back to the nursing home but my legs were shaking so much I couldn’t. I kept my head down all the way back not wanting anyone to see my tears or to make eye contact with me because I thought they would know what had just happened to me.  

 I felt so ashamed and humiliated and tried to think what I had done or said in the pub to make such a bad thing happen to me, but I couldn’t think of anything. 

I stayed in the bath until it was cold, crying for Mammie. 

****** 

Dear Diary 

I  have physical pain and yet I feel numb too.  How can that be?    

I’m not the person I was before. That Olga has gone.    I cannot concentrate on anything I am asked to do and am always being scolded by Sister Tutor.  She asks me  

“What’s wrong with you, are you sick?”  

 I can’t tell her.  I don’t tell anyone.   

 If I don’t pull my socks up there will be no point in sitting the first year examination again she tells me. I don’t care any more.  I have nightmares now and am too frightened to sleep, because, when I close my eyes, I see it all happening again, so I stay awake.  

 I want to go home, but I can’t.
 
 <—Bad News                               Refuge for Friendless Girls—>
 
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 <—-St Giles Cottage Hospital

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued) 
Dear Diary  

Oh, damn and blast, I failed my first year preliminary exam.  Knew I would.  There was so much I didn’t understand, but, Sister Tutor says I can sit the exam again, but if I fail the second time, that’s it, finished.  Goodbye Olga.  Moores failed too, but she doesn’t care as much as I do. 

Watch out, men about:   After a nursing lecture by Sister Tutor, she kept us all behind to give us another one about soldiers and men in uniform.

“A lot of women are being assaulted and worse, by airmen and soldiers from overseas” she told us.              “Care should be taken at all times because, these men have thrown away all sense of propriety because they are away from their home, in a country where no-one knows them and are taking advantage of women and the blackout,  to behave how they like without fear of retribution”

 Moores said she’d never heard anything so ridiculous.  All the overseas men she’d met were charming and treated her with respect.

“They’re a darn sight more polite than any Englishman I’ve been out with. Of course, sometimes there are rotten apples in a barrel” she said.

“But to give the impression that all airmen and soldiers from overseas do bad things and take advantage of women is wrong”.

 Moores was really quite angry with Sister Tutor. 

After the lecture Ethel and I were on night duty together on the men’s surgical ward and she asked me if I’d heard about Sara Donahue. 

 “Yes, isn’t it sad.  When is she coming back?” I asked Ethel.

Sara is in our group but she had to leave suddenly and go home because a close relative died. 

“It’s not true about the relative dying, Olga.  She left because she failed her three monthly medical.  We think she had gonorrhoea”.

“Oh,” I said.  I’d never heard of that so I asked Ethel what gonorrhoea was.

“It’s a sexually transmitted disease” said a young male patient, who had been listening to our conversation.

 “Couldn’t put it better myself” said Ethel. 

I didn’t know what a sexually transmitted disease was, but I wasn’t going to ask because I had a feeling I would look stupid.  After all I am a nurse.  When we’re on night duty and the air raids sound, we have to pull all the beds into the centre of the ward and put each patient’s gas mask on their bed.  We’ve been issued with helmets which have to be worn when the bombs start dropping.  The first time I put mine on I thought, thank God, the tots can’t see me.  They’d never stop laughing, as a matter of fact neither could I.  It was so big I had to keep pushing it back so I could see where I was going. I looked ridiculous in it. 

Ethel and I were sitting at the big table in the middle of the ward writing up our reports and whenever we leaned forward to say something to each other, our helmets would bang together.  After a couple of times we started to laugh and then when we laughing so much we leaned back in our chairs and our helmets fell off crashing to the floor and made a terrible din and woke all the patients up. 

There’s still a routine on night duty, but it’s not so hectic.  By nine thirty the bed quilts must be folded in four and placed at the foot of the bed, thermometers in mugs, equipment trays fully laid up, false teeth deposited in mugs on lockers and all lights turned off except the green shaded one on the table in the middle of the ward.   

While some men snore, others light up cigarettes, not taking the slightest notice of us when we tell them they are not allowed to smoke in bed. 

But we do have time to write up our lecture notes and revise.  By the end of night duty, when I get to my room I’m too tired to undress and fall asleep across my bed clutching my books.

 

Horrible news:   There’s a wireless in the student nurses’ sitting room where we all gather round and listen to the news to hear how the war is going.  Before the war it was a games room but there doesn’t seem to be time to play games now, although we do sometimes play music on the gramophone. 

I was listening to the radio when Moores came in.  Before she had said a word I could see by her face that something was wrong.  But I wasn’t prepared for what she told me. 

As she sat down beside me she took my hand.

 “Olga, Joanne is dead.  The rest centre in Morley College was bombed last Tuesday evening and it seems that Joanne was visiting someone there.  Some people were rescued but most of them, including Joanne, were trapped inside.  By the time they pulled her out, she was dead.”

 “No, it’s not possible”.  

She had told me she was on night duty all week.

“Joanne changed shifts with another nurse, Olga.  Joanne was off duty.  I’m sorry”.  Then she repeated it.

“Joanne’s dead” . 

Alone in my room, I kept repeating the phrase “Joanne is dead” as if it would help me take in the terrible news.  The thought that I would never see Joanne’s face again gave me the most awful feeling I have ever had, worse than all the bombings and scares that I had experienced these last few months.  My world has changed.  I feel helpless – as if an invisible wall that once surrounded and supported me has gone and without it I feel disconnected from everyone and everything around me, tiny and insignificant. 

I’m so lonely.

Next day: I went mechanically through my duties until the last one when I was removing the flowers and potted plants from the ward and putting them in the bathroom for the night.  I remembered Joanne telling me how she loved doing this job at Paddington General because it turned the bathroom into an exotic florist, rich with perfume and vibrant colour.

 “For a few minutes Olga,” she said ”I’m back home in Jamaica”.  That night I cried bitterly for the loss of the best friend I’ve ever had. 

 ********

Mammie’s (Becky) Diary

These days I spend most nights listening to the wireless for news of the war in Europe. It is so frustrating that I know more about what is going on there than how my daughter and sister are managing in London. It is months since I have heard from either of them and I feel helpless because there is nothing to do except pray. 

We now know Germany is bombing London relentlessly and the loss of life and injuries, as well as the devastation to the city, is enormous.    I read in the Gleaner of how people have to go to use the underground tube stations to shelter from the bombs.  They often sleep there all night and then have go off to work the next morning trying to avoid unexploded bombs or fractured gas mains.   How dangerous it all sounds.

I wonder if Olga has to do this too. 

 <—-St Giles Cottage Hospital

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