Jean’s story continues about her experiences as a Voluntary Aide at the Walker Hospital in 1919

Came off duty at 9pm but we get up at 5.45.  I have already seen enough to know influenza is a tragic thing and it seems callous to be cheerful up here. But everyone is cheerful, friendly and efficient and very kind to each other, as well as to the patients and the atmosphere is sort of bracing. And there is no question but that we were needed badly. They have room but not the staff and they say it is the same everywhere, especially Balmain.

I’m still on orderly duty and still only enter the wards demi-semi occasionally on messages.

The matron’s first remark to me when I came was that I looked fragile – so she is trying me out before I go into the wards. She is a dear – very young, which is why I thought she was a new VAD when I first met her.

This is the order of the day. Rise 5.45, down 6.15, temperature parade and throat spray, morning tea, duty till 7.30, breakfast, duty ‘til dinner, duty ‘til tea, duty ‘til 9pm.  But somewhere in that fifteen hours, one gets three all to oneself to sleep, read, sew, walk in the garden (which is beautiful), go for a row or a drive in the hospital car or buggy. Of course, the whole day is interspersed with washing and spraying and changing and tooth-brushing and quinine – three tablespoonsful a day. The girls say it turns ones teeth and skin quite yellow, but all vanity abandon ye who enter here.  It’s such a funny world, all of us overalled from chin to ankle and wrist and hooded and the ward girls goggled and gloved.

And once in either a week or ten days – I haven’t found out which – we get an entire twenty four hours leave.

A new V.A. has just arrived – from my vantage post of 24 hours seniority, I have treated her with benevolent patronage and led her in – I’m sure she thinks I’m a Sister. As a matter of fact one gets called ‘Sister’ quite often. One never knows who anyone else is in this ghostly apparel and vice versa, they don’t know you.

Great excitement!  Someone has just nicked sixteen pounds belonging to the Hospital and there isn’t a penny to buy our daily bread or something.

By the way, our daily bread is excellent – only there’s so much of it, and we are on our honour to eat well and keep our strength up. In fact we are on our honour about all precautions which is just as well.

April 13.   Mother dear,  I’m telling you all these things in such detail because I know you will worry if I don’t. I am very well and tres happy and then some. But I am really beginning to worry a lot for fear you three (mother, father and brother) might get it – it’s so much safer in this antiseptic atmosphere. Don’t be careless – I don’t think you know how bad real influenza is.None of the staff have got influenza, and the entire staff of the hospital, nursing and domestic, is over 50. Even a flicker of a rise in temperature and one is sent off duty all day.

And everyone is kindness itself – people, with all this infinite amount on their shoulders, find time to fuss over you, thirty times as much as you would be fussed over in ordinary, unhurried life. They are like that to all the Aides. Chocolates are provided by the relatives of the patients, for the staff.

Thanks for the cake and biscuits. Also the masks and gloves. No, of course, I won’t give them away. One sticks to one’s own property like glue, but I want them in reserve in case my others spring a leak.

Also the toys – you were a little sport to be so quick. There are thirteen young patients, all convalescent – without a single toy.  Their only amusement seems to be pulling infinite yards of thread out of their towels, tying a piece of paper to the end and hurling them, like fishing lines, from bed to bed till the ward is a whirling maze. Every five seconds, when one is at the other end of the corridor, one hears a piercing shriek, “Nurse”, with exactly the same quantity of agony in it as when one of the wee babies is choking, and when one rushes in at full tilt – one is coaxingly requested to “undo my fishing line Nurse, it’s got tangled around Nellie’s cot“.

I’ve got a baby all my own to look after entirely and it simply makes up for all the rest of the ward work altogether. It’s 15 months old and convalescent so, of course, it can’t be given much attention of any sort when we are all so frantically busy.

I have been on duty 13 hours without a break today, except a few minutes for meals and the last two hours were simply farcically absurd. There was so much to do so where the “sufficiency of volunteers” is, I don’t know.

But I am amazed to find I am practically not tired at all. I must be in very good condition because the work was exacting and the rubber shoes and gloves and masks and goggles add to it tremendously. Multiply ‘homes day” by two and you just about get it. But I’m sure it’s physically good for one, let alone any other benefits.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Margaret Barbalet

    Fascinating and so relevant to now.

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