I started my SEN training in 1975.  I was working at the Yelverton Co-op at the time, and saw an item on BBC Spotlight, where they were complaining about the shortage of nurses.  They gave a telephone number, so I rang them, and told them about my GCE ‘0’ Levels; I had only three, so they said I could become a bedside nurse, SEN, because the SRN training needed five!!  Nowadays they want a University degree, and only spend a month on a ward; it’s impossible to get to know a hospital ward in only a month; we always had three, the first month we spent getting to know the ward and find our way around, and the next two getting to know the job.


All of us trainees wore pale blue dresses (no trousers allowed then), with different coloured belts denoting the stage of training.  First year Pupil Nurses (SEN) wore a white belt, Second Year a yellow, and the final colour was bottle green, to match the uniform.  I remember being on Harry Wright Ward at Devonport, just after qualifying, while waiting for my official badge to arrive, and I left my blue dress in my locker at Freedom Fields, and the SEN, Nurse Cocking, let me borrow one of hers.  You should have heard the cheers when I went onto the Ward!! All the lads were so chuffed that I’d qualified at last!!  I did manage to wear a bottle green dress, but that was later when I worked at Beechfield.


Student Nurses wore the same colours, except that for their third year of training their belts were pale blue, and then navy blue with the dress when they qualified.  We all wore caps, paper ones, which we were issued with (I think), but we had to buy white hairgrips to secure them.  We didn’t wear aprons like the Naval Nurses; I always thought how smart they looked, with their incredibly complicated caps and white aprons.  We were allowed to wear white cuffs, and were issued with a blue tabard to wear when dealing with patients.  We also had to wear black shoes.


We had three months in the School of Nursing at Woodside, where we were taught everything we needed to know, even how to make a hospital bed, although I did have the advantage of knowing about envelope corners, as I had been taught this when I lived at The Gables in Willand as a child.  After three months in school, we were assigned to our first Wards, mine was Geriatrics, and after three months there, I vowed and declared that I would never do it again, it was so difficult and tiring, but the Lord has a wonderful sense of humour; after I finished my training, my first job was in a Nursing Home, looking after elderly people!!!!!  I always thought I had an affinity for children, but on the children’s ward I struggled, and found that I got on much better with the elderly.


I was 28 when I started training, so that was maybe why I got on better with older people.  Anyway, from Geriatrics we went back into the School again for a week, to learn about the next stage, which was Surgical, and I was sent to Rooker Ward at Greenbank Hospital.  The Sister was an excellent nurse, but we didn’t hit it off at all, in fact I used to shake with nerves whenever I heard she was coming on duty!!  I got on much better with the Staff Nurse.  In the end, my Clinical Teacher had to intervene, and I was assigned to Hays Ward, whose Sister was a gem, she was young, and made every effort to make me feel as if I was making a contribution.  I learnt a lot from her.  Sister Park, when she signed my training book, said that she didn’t think I would ever make a nurse, and if I did she wouldn’t employ me!!  Twelve months later I was back on her ward helping out, as I was in between assignments, and afterwards, as I was leaving, she called me into the office, thanked me for my help, and told me that she was very impressed with the improvement in my performance, so we did part friends in the end.


I did a stint on the Ear Nose and Throat ward, Bewes, and thought I might like to work there when I qualified, but in the end I didn’t, which was a pity, because I did enjoy working there.  I was working there over one Christmas, and spent it in the Private Patients’ Wing, looking after four gentlemen who had had laryngectomies, but was allowed to visit other wards, to see their Christmas decorations, and we also had the Consultant dressed up as Santa!!   I think the Childrens’ Ward came next, and then the small babies, who terrified me, I was always afraid I would drop them.  I was also very surprised to learn, when handing out the meals that the mashed potato came out of a packet!!  I always thought it was real potatoes mashed up!!


I trained in each of the then Plymouth Hospitals, Mount Gould (Geriatrics), Greenbank (Surgical and Childrens’), Freedom Fields (Medical), and then finished my training at Devonport on the surgical ward.  I passed each of my assessments except the surgical one, which I had to retake, as I was in the middle of it when the Consultant, Mr. Sutherland Jones, walked in to check on his patient, and put me completely off my stroke, but I did manage to complete the assessment the next time, with Miss Courtier, the Nursing 0fficer, supervising.


I did my training before the new system came in; when we came onto the Ward we simply got on with the work, there was none of this Named Nurse business; we were all there to look after all the patients, and some of them were lovely, whilst others could be perfect nuisances.  I remember quite a few who were real characters, one of them was a lady on the Geriatric Ward who had a habit of collecting all the dentures of an evening and washing them, then leaving them all in a bowl, so we had the lovely job of trying to find which denture belonged to which patient!!  In the end we had to ask relatives if we could put the patients’ initials on their dentures, so it would make it easier for us to return them.  You couldn’t make it up!!  We ought to have qualified for “Carry on Nurse”!!


I signed on after I finished my training, as it had been so hard and tiring, but in the end I had to look for a job, and my dear friend Dot (now deceased) suggested that I ring around the local nursing homes, to see if they had any vacancies.  In the end I found myself working at Beechfield in Yelverton (no longer there) in the mornings, and in a care home at The Rock in the afternoons.  I was only supposed to do three months at Beechfield, but the Matron offered me a full time post, and I eventually worked there for 17 years!!


All my nursing jobs have been in care homes, and some were better than others, but in the end I decided that I had had enough, I was getting older, and less able to stand the travelling, as I had to catch the Dockyard Bus of a morning, so it meant LEAVING HOME at 6am, and was often not back until 10pm if I did an evening shift.  At one of the care homes in Devonport the Matron arranged for a taxi for me, when I worked an evening shift which finished at 9pm, otherwise I would have had to catch two buses, and not get home till 10.  I retired from nursing in 2005, then went to work for Warrens Bakery until June 2008, when I finally called it a day and finished work altogether, to become a lady of leisure, and since I retired I’ve been busier than ever!!



Sandra Phillips.