Nurse returns to St Thomas' Hospital over 65 years after training there

Tuesday 13 March 2018

Black and white photo of Grace Jones in nurses uniform

A retired nurse who trained at St Thomas’ Hospital in 1952 has returned to the Trust to mark the National Health Service’s 70th year.

Grace Jones, 89, started her midwifery training at St Thomas’ just four years after the NHS was launched on 5 July 1948.

She recently returned to the maternity unit to see how much it has changed since leaving the Trust more than 65 years ago, with her daughters Ruth and Eurian. During her visit she shared her memories of what it was like to work in the early days of the NHS with members of the current maternity team.

Grace, who has three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, said: “It was wonderful to step back into St Thomas’ after so many years and to meet the new generation of students and midwives.

“Although the hospital looks the same from the outside, it was unrecognisable inside. It was great to see how far we have come as a profession over the last 70 years in caring for women and their newborn babies.”

Speaking about her first memory of St Thomas’, Grace said: “In those days all the nurses had to live in a home which was on the corner of Westminster Bridge. When I arrived I couldn’t sleep because of the chimes from Big Ben, but after a few nights I got used to it.”

In the early 1950s rationing was still in effect but because the nursing accommodation was full board that included all meals, the trainee midwives only received one week’s ration every six weeks.

Grace, who now lives in Conwy in north Wales, said: “We used to claim our ration of sugar, butter, eggs and bacon which was a real treat. Time off was precious because we worked 52 hour weeks so we enjoyed spending our month’s allowance of £4 on shopping in the West End.”

At the time only registered nurses could begin midwifery training, which involved spending six months in a hospital and six months in the community.

Matrons and sisters were very particular about the appearance of the pupils and the uniform was strictly enforced by morning checks as nurses left for their ward duties.

Grace said: “We weren’t allowed to wear any makeup and hair styles should have been short but we adapted the 50s style by using a cloth band and wrapped our hair into it to create a roll at the back and a bit of a quiff at the front – getting your cap to fit neatly was the challenge.”

New mothers were in ‘confinement’ on the ward for up to two weeks after giving birth and their babies stayed in the nursery.

Grace said: “It’s hard to imagine now, but back then women were confined to their beds for most of that time and were given instructions about breastfeeding, bathing, dressing and undressing babies and general domestic hygiene.

“Babies were labelled in the nursery so we could identify them and there was virtually no security on the wards. The smog in London was so bad in the early 50s that some of the babies had dirt around their noses.

“Premature babies did not have such a good chance compared to now, but were given careful nursing care. There was one lady, Mrs Penny, who gave birth to a tiny premature baby who the nurses affectionately called Baby Halfpenny.”

Grace did not complete her midwifery training because she got married and gave birth to her son, Glyn, in 1953. After having their second child, Ruth, in 1955, the family moved to north Wales and Grace started nursing again in the A&E department of The Royal Alexandra Hospital in Rhyl. She had her third child, Eurian, in 1963 and went on to work as a ward sister in geriatrics until she retired in the 1990s.

She said: “The humanity, dedication, understanding and expertise remains in the staff at St Thomas’ and in the hard working staff of the NHS.”

Lynne Pacanowski, Director of Midwifery and Head of Gynaecology Nursing at Guy’s and St Thomas’, took Grace and her daughters on a tour of the maternity unit.

Lynne said: “It was lovely to meet Grace and her daughters and to introduce them to the fantastic team of midwives and students at St Thomas’. Our staff were fascinated by Grace’s stories and inspired by her dedication to the nursing profession. It was a great opportunity for us to highlight the unit’s achievements on the year that the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday.”

Last updated: March 2022

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