Mary Hill

I was born in Coalville, a small mining town in Leicestershire, near the Charnwood Forest, the middle one of three children. My mother came from Yorkshire but my father was one of four brothers with families living locally. As children we were encouraged to bring our friends home so I had a very happy childhood. I joined the Brownies when I was nine and moved on to Guides until I was sixteen. At my primary school I learned about Florence Nightingale and she became my role model. When I was seventeen I entered a pilot scheme at the two Leicester Hospitals for “pre-nursing students”. We spent our time in the hospital moving round the various departments but not actually working on the wards. This gave us a good insight into the working of the hospitals. I spent time in the laundry, diet kitchen, dispensary and sewing room.

I was able to start my training as a student nurse or probationer when I reached eighteen. My first ward was the babies’ ward. There I stayed for three months with one day off per week and then I did one month’s night duty with one night off at the end of the month! On day duty we were called at 6.15 am, breakfast was at 7 am and a register was called. At 7.20 we went to the chapel for Prayers and on duty at 7.30a.m. We had 2 hours off duty during the day and finished at 8.15 p.m. Night duty began at 8 pm and finished at 8.15 a.m. with 20 minutes off for supper, which included travelling time to and from the dining room. We usually had 2 nurses on duty on each ward with 3 on the busy wards. My first salary was £25 per year with accommodation and food and worked out at £1and fourteen shillings per month.(about $£1.70) From this we also had to buy our own books and pay exam fees. My first exams came after 18months, Anatomy, Physiology, First aid, Hygiene and Nursing. My intake group all passed with 100%. Our final General Nursing Council Exams came after 3 years with external examiners and the title State Registered Nurse. We were then given a striped belt to signify our status. A further year later we took our Hospital Finals and were given a certificate and badge for our own particular hospital. I then decided to do Midwifery Training at Guys Hospital in London but this involved 6 months Private Nursing before starting the course. I didn’t like this at all mainly because of the attitude of some of the nurses who appeared to be looking for handouts from the patients. I gave in my notice and instead went as a Staff Nurse to do my Fever Training. I then became a Ward Sister. My time spent in the Fever Hospital was the happiest of my career, especially witnessing the recovery of very young children with diphtheria and whooping cough. We also had a small typhoid outbreak while I was there. An interesting investigation was held which culminated in the discovery of the cause. At the opening of a new church at the local monastery a little local café used water from a contaminated stream to wash the dishes!

Much of my training took place during World War Two but thankfully Leicester was not damaged as much as some of the other cities such as nearby Coventry.

I returned to my training school at Leicester General Hospital as a ward sister to increase my general nursing experience and was invited to take a Sister Tutor’s Course in London. This was for one year and I was fortunate to win a Ministry of Health scholarship after an interview at the Ministry of Health in Whitehall and was contracted to return to Leicester to teach there.

However whilst in London I had met up again with James, a fellow student from Coalville Grammar School. He was working as a research scientist at BP Research Centre in Sunbury, after taking a Chemistry Degree at Nottingham University. We eventually married but it meant spending the beginning of our married life apart. As a Sister Tutor I didn’t have to work at the weekends, so I did a fair bit of travelling between Leicester and London. When I became pregnant, I resigned from my job in Leicester and we found a house in the South. Life became less regimented. We had a daughter and five years later a son. My husband worked shifts at BP with the other chemical engineers.

As the children grew my daughter joined the local Brownies and I became involved with the district and division Brownie Packs, organizing the Brownie Shield and the Guide Cup and teaching first aid for badges. I also did voluntary driving for the Red Cross. I was a founder member of our Local Trefoil Guild and was later invited to become County Registrar for Middlesex. This involved liaising between the Guilds so that they could all work together for the benefit of the Guide Movement. I have continued this interest and am a member of Blakewater Trefoil Guild in Blackburn.

My husband developed severe contact dermatitis which they thought was a reaction to the petrochemicals and he moved from research to Production Control. There he was asked to spend two years in Turkey, helping to organize production and to establish new refineries. We could have all gone as a family but as our children were at critical stages of their education we three stayed at home. We all enjoyed a long school holiday in Turkey in the middle and Istanbul was very different in the 1960s. The plane had to stop twice to refuel on the way! This was a useful period of my life. I learned to crank my little Morris Minor on cold days, mend fuses and do all the other jobs that I had relied on my husband for. I was rewarded with long sunny days in Istanbul and we were fortunate to have a car and driver at the weekends for exploring further afield. We made many friends there and still kept in touch after my husband’s return to England. Subsequently he became involved with the European refineries. This involved frequent short visits to France, Belgium, Germany and Italy and he even travelled on the Simplon Orient Express. When he retired he was able to show me some of the places in Europe that he had already discovered.

We moved to Mellor 12 years ago and as they say “The rest is History.”

Mary Hill