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It’s 1957 – the Nurse’s story

December 19, 2017 December 2017 No Comments

The young nurses after their first six week’s training

It’s 1957, the year the Russians scare the West by launching the Sputnik. It’s also the same year 18 year old Jo Leach (now McCauley) leaves Martinborough to begin training as a nurse at Palmerston North Hospital.

Sixty years later Jo’s back in Martinborough along with others from that same intake. They’ve remained friends all this time, meeting up every few years around New Zealand and Australia, where some now live.

I catch up with up with them at the Claremont Motel. I am a serious disappointment. They thought “Chris” would be an attractive young man, not a woman nearer their own age! They swallow their disappointment and entertain me with stories from their training days and their subsequent careers.
The rules sound draconian by contemporary standards. “We worked six days a week, had to be in bed by 11pm and we didn’t need to worry about what to wear each day. It was uniforms from morning till night: one for the ward; a different one for lunchtime (a whole half hour); and yet another one to wear in the Nurses’ Home when you were off duty. “ It wasn’t advisable to get too romantically involved either. “If you married you had to leave the course”. Professional standards were instilled by formidable Ward Sisters and Matrons, often ex-Army nurses who’d served overseas during the war.

It was also mandatory to live in the Nurses’ Home and everyone is positive this created the unbreakable bond they still share. They feel a bit sad that today’s trainees don’t have the same opportunity. “We had so much fun and there was always someone to share a problem with or a laugh”.

The skills and attitudes instilled by their training have served these women well. They’ve often been able to combine work and family, or use their qualifications to travel. One worked for many years as missionary midwife in the backblocks of Paraguay, some did further study to practice more advanced nursing, two had fun air hostessing for a few years and those with an entrepreneurial bent used their qualifications to run businesses in the wider health sector.

They’ve all loved their nursing work and feel privileged to have done it at a time when it was more hands on. But they’re not stuck in some nostalgic past. They recognise and appreciate the advances that have been made in modern nursing too.

Time’s run out. Our interview’s over. They’ve got lots of plans and they’re keen to get started. First stop the Lake Ferry Pub. They may now be in their late 70s but their enthusiasm and the strength of their friendships are clearly as strong as ever. It was fun to meet them.

(In case you were wondering, Jo’s brother is Foss Leach. Another of the group, Helen Winchcombe, spent her first five years in Martinborough. Her father Alex was a stock and station agent here).

Chris Cassels

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