Tales to be told as nurses gather

Anyone who worked with the nurses from 1964 is welcome to join the morning tea at St Mary's Church hall from 11am on Sunday. 

It may have been 50 years since they studied together, but the nurses who trained at Wairau Hospital in 1964 still have vivid memories of all the good, and not so good, times they had together.

Some 27 of them will be getting together this weekend to celebrate their 50th anniversary as the class of ‘64. It's something that retired Blenheim nurses Mary Hickman, Helen Knapp and Robin Robinson are very much looking forward to.

The three of them, along with fellow class of ‘64 nurses Mary Agnew and Rosy Edwards, have been planning since April last year.

"Things were very different back then.

"You learned on the job so you went in with no experience and most of us were very young - only 17 or 18," Helen says.

The training college was run according to a strict code with a curfew of 9.30pm on week days, no sport was allowed, doctors were treated with absolute reverence and the students even had to change uniform to have lunch.

However, there was a lot of fun to be had, with practical jokes aplenty and a huge camaraderie among the student nurses.

For most of them, becoming a nurse was a lifelong ambition and a calling.

"I had wanted to be a nurse since I was young.

"When I was young I was friends with a district nurse who visited my grandmother.

"I thought she was just wonderful," Robin says.

For Helen it was a similar story, with a district nurse befriending her as a young girl while she was living in Seddon.

She held nurses in very high regard all through childhood and couldn't wait to learn their skills.

The reality of the training school was rather a shock though, remembers Robin, who as a keen hockey player was mortified to find out that sport was not allowed so as to prevent any injuries to the young nurses.

Marriage while studying was also forbidden.

"I was from Tuamarina and I remember being so home sick at the training college at Wairau Hospital, which is so silly when you think now how close it is.

"We were very young though and away from home for the first time," Robin says.

However, being out of the house gave the teenagers a new sense of freedom and they took their chances to experience it whenever they could.

Even though the rules were strict they still found ways around them.

"We weren't beyond stuffing our beds with extra pillows and a mop to make it look like we were asleep and then sneaking out down the fire escape," Mary says.

The patients would also sometimes take advantage of their inexperience, like putting a Disprin in their urine sample, making it fizz and bewildering the students.

Doctors commanded the kind of respect that saw the nurses stand whenever they entered a room, or meant that a student had to allow a doctor through a door ahead of them no matter what the circumstance.

All this saw the nurses develop a strong camaraderie that they took through their careers.

"It prepared us extremely well and was a wonderful time," Helen says.

The Marlborough Express