I’m pleased to welcome you today to the first day of the blog tour for A Nurse’s War: A Diary of Hope and Heartache on the Home Front edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson. Thank you to Midas and Sofia Saghir for giving me the opportunity to share this extract with you today.
About the book:
The second world war could not have been won without the bravery and selflessness of women on the Home Front. Women like Kathleen Johnstone.
This first-hand story of one extraordinary but unheralded member of Britain’s ‘Greatest Generation’ brings home with extraordinary lucidity and compassion the realities of wartime Lancashire.
In 1943, Kathleen, then 30 years old, was a nurse-in-training at the Blackburn Royal Infirmary. For the next three years she kept a meticulous diary of her day-to-day existence, leaving behind a vivid record of the real-time concerns of a busy, thoughtful woman on the frontline of the war at home.
Kathleen’s days were never the same. She writes in clear and lively prose about life in the hospital: of her fellow nurses, her patients, about death and dying, and the progress of the war as wounded soldiers returned from Normandy in the summer of 1944. She muses on being working class, wartime austerity, and her anxiety about examinations. Here too are dances, Americans and a POW boyfriend in Germany. Kathleen’s observations are witty, wry and astute – but above all relatable, even today.
Poignant and engrossing, Kathleen Johnstone’s tale of trauma, romance and friendship will leave a lasting impression.
Praise for the authors:
‘A vivid, intimate account of life in austerity Britain. Superb’
David Kynaston, author of Austerity Britain
‘Extraordinary – tender, intimate, striking, heartbreaking and witty – it grants us the lovely and dignified privilege of knowing a stranger’s heart.’
A.L. Kennedy, author of Serious Sweet
‘A social document of extraordinary interest and value.’
D J Taylor, author of Bright Young People
About the Author
Patricia and Robert Malcolmson are socialhistorians who have edited several diaries for publication. They have edited three differentvolumes of the diaries of Nella Last, theinspiration for the award-winning dramaHousewife, 49:, Nella Last’s Peace, Nella Last in the 1950s and the collected edition The Diaries of Nella Last. Patricia and Robert’s other books include The View from the Corner Shop: The Diary of a Yorkshire Shop Assistant in Wartime(the diary of Mass Observation writer Kathleen Hey) and Women at the Ready, a history of the Women’s Voluntary Service on the Home Front during the Second World War. They live in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada.
Extract from A Nurse’s War: A Diary of Hope and Heartache on the Home Front
Edited by Patricia Malcolmson and Robert Malcolmson
Friday, 30 July 1943
I am sure today has been the hottest day of the year so far. Not a breath of air in the wards, which are packed with emergency cases, and grilling in the sun on the balcony which is also packed. If it started to rain I don’t know where we should fit all the beds but there does not seem to be much likelihood of that happening at the moment. I was off duty this morning and had to attend my first doctor’s lecture in preparation for my Finals which I sit a year in September. During the morning I had heard rumours that I was going on night duty, which was unhappily confirmed by Sister when I got back on to the ward. I was supposed to be starting on Saturday night but as my day off for the week was Saturday I did not see the fun of coming back at 8.30 p.m. and going on night duty, so I went to Matron and have got a reprieve until Monday night. I thought I had better ask for another thermometer while I was there [hers was broken] and Matron looked at me in horrified amazement to think I had broken two so quickly. Had she known it was really three, I don’t know what her feelings would have been. It fell to my lot to take the temps this evening, about thirty of them, and every patient seemed to hold the thermometer in his mouth so awkwardly that I expected it to fall out every minute. However, I got round without a mishap but was not
sorry when 8.30 arrived and the night staff came on duty. I hurried over to my room and got changed and caught the 9.13 train home. When I got home my mother produced from somewhere some very welcome Tanzaro Grapefruit Squash, which I love and which tasted almost pre-war.
Saturday, 31 July At 8.30 p.m. as I was ready to start back [to Blackburn from Downham] the rain came – a torrential downpour. Fortunately I had left my umbrella behind at home several weeks ago so was able to set off with an umbrella, which at least afforded a little protection. There were crowds of people at the station, mostly women and children in cotton frocks, some of them already drenched to the skin [weather forecasts were not made public]. When the train came in and we all packed into the carriages the atmosphere inside resembled a Turkish bath more than anything else. We sat there in this awful damp heat in semi-darkness while outside the thunder crashed and the gloom was occasionally broken by flashes of lightning. At each station crowds of wet holiday-makers made a dash for the train from every available cover. All the glass has been removed from the roofs covering the platforms at the stations along the line [to lessen damage from air raids] so that even if the people were fairly dry to begin with they get wet dashing along the platform looking for seats. When I got to Blackburn there was a terrific scramble for the buses as the storm seemed to have started again with renewed energy. I was fortunate enough to get one fairly soon and was not sorry to find myself once more at the Infirmary.
Copyright in selection and editorial matter © Patricia and Robert Malcolmson
Mass Observation Material copyright © The Trustees of the Mass Observation Archive Patricia Malcolmson and Robert Malcolmson assert the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
End of extract
A Nurse’s War edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson is available to purchase now: