<—-St Giles Cottage Hospital
Olga’s Diary (Continued)
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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