Life as an NHS nurse in the 1940s: ‘You have to forget about yourself’

This article was taken from:

By  Jude Rogers

In the first of our series speaking to nurses from each decade of the NHS, Evelyn Lamb, 86, remembers the early months of the service, when money was pouring in

The early days of the NHS were so exciting. We never had any doubt that it would work. I was in the first cohort of training nurses, in a hospital in Lincoln, just shy of 18 years old. In our first nine months, we weren’t allowed to do anything technical, but just made ourselves useful – we helped in the kitchen, passed things to the doctors, and studied in technical college at the same time. Then we went to PTS [preliminary training school], where we learned how to give bed baths, do dressings, take temperatures and make poultices. It was hard work, and we had to be in at 11pm at night. And remember there was nothing disposable back then – aprons, syringes, everything had to be boiled. And we never wore gloves, apart from in the theatre.

Nursing during the polio epidemic has never left me, really. I remember some of the nurses went home, they were so frightened by the isolation hospital. I had to nurse people in iron lungs, including a lovely little girl who was only six. She was a great fan of [the radio thriller] Dick Barton, and I remember the chap who played him coming to see her. Years later, I read she died, and found out she had been the youngest person to live in an iron lung. I think of the progress we’ve made with ventilators, and I see her.

To learn to cope as a nurse, you’ve got to have the ability to forget about yourself. You have to strengthen that ability to focus on the people you’re looking after. I still take that rule. If you dwelled on your own feelings, you’d be overcome.

There was so much money coming into the NHS in its early days. Before, hospitals had [separate] concertina screens, and now we had [fitted] curtains! Lincoln had a lot of industry back then, and we had a lot of men coming in with hot metal in their eyes from the furnaces. The best part of the job was the satisfaction you felt when you were on night shift, making the beds on one side of the ward, making the patients comfortable. That was lovely.

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