by Irene Smith of Maraylya

Having watched “Call The Midwives” on TV I thought you may like to read how I became one of them!! I was born and bred in London, having survived the Blitz and rationing which went on long after war was over. Our schooling had been badly interrupted with being evacuated because of the air-raids.

We returned to Pinner and Harrow in Middlesex where I came to leave school at 15 years of age. I knew that I wanted to become a nurse but I was far to young to start my training. I knew that I had to find a job and as a family we were regular attendees at Hinge Road Congregational Church in Harrow. One of the leaders at the Church worked at the M.O.F. (Ministry of Food) suggested that I take a job in his office, which I did. This meant travelling on the Underground from Harrow to Baker Street station to his office which was located in what had been a very splendid hotel opposite Selfridges. When the war was declared the Government commandeered most of the hotels in London. During my “filling in” time with the M.O.F. I was transferred to another hotel to learn to use a comptometric adding machine. If my memory serves me right this was the Carlton Hotel in the Haymarket. Years later they had turned it into a theatre where I saw “Phantom of the Opera”.

My weekends were taken up with sporting activities with the boys – mostly cricket and tennis. I used to score for our Church Cricket Team, so where they went, I had to go. I was also encouraged to do voluntary work at our local hospital in Harrow. This made me all the more determined to make nursing my career. I had read somewhere that some hospitals were taking student nurses at 17 years of age. So I began to write and send off my applications. In 1948 I was accepted at EGH (Edgeware General Hospital). I went for an interview with the Matron, who signed me up for the next school. We were given an appointment to be measured up for our uniforms, also the date and time when we would start our SRN training. When I got my SRN I had visions of going to Australia, New Zealand or Canada, on making enquiries we found they all needed Midwives.

With my friend, Joyce, we both applied to do our Midwifery Training. We had a nasty shock when we discovered we had to go back to Student Nurses pay, with no living accommodation. We had to find somewhere to live near the hospital, a bike ride away. Eventually we found a “bedroom” sharing bathroom toilet with a family. Good job we were so busy at the hospital, we got back to “the digs” so tired we just fell into bed. It didn’t end there. Joyce informed me that she could no longer find the money for her half of our accommodation.

I was in the Nurse’s sick bay with Meniere’s Syndrome (as it was called then) where I became friends with one of the Nurses, called “Pritch”, who helped to look after me. After my recovery I remained friends with her. By this time my parents had moved to Cornwall. “Pritch” was like a second mother to me. I woud go to see “Pritch” on my days off when she wasn’t working. I told her what was happening. She discussed it with her husband and they offered Joyce and I their spare bedroom as long as we didn’t mind sleeping together.

In the UK to get your SCM (State Certified Midwife) it is in two parts. Your first part is in hospital under supervision. The second part is with a District Midwife. I drew a short straw, the midwife I was allocated to was a “Miss” – no wonder!! It was the hardest part of my training. With the help and understanding from “Pritch” I made it and what was more I got my SCM first time. Now the world was my oyster. I decided to go down to Cornwall to be with the family again and get some spoiling from my mum. I never got Australia then, that came much later.

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