Vivid memories of Banbury's Horton General Hospital during wartime - a patient's view

The special feature to mark the 150th anniversary of the Horton General Hospital in last week’s paper has stirred some wonderful memories.

By Richard Howarth
Monday, 18th July 2022, 2:20 pm
How things used to be - nostalgic photos of the Horton, including this one of the women's surgical ward, have stirred memories for Banbury Guardian readers.
How things used to be - nostalgic photos of the Horton, including this one of the women's surgical ward, have stirred memories for Banbury Guardian readers.

We were delighted to hear from Christine Martin (nee Price), who has known the Horton for more than half of its 150 years and takes us back to the Second World War – and before the NHS came into being.

She writes:

‘I now live in Bournemouth, but look forward to the arrival of the Banbury Guardian every Thursday. Your news of the 150th anniversary of the Horton General Hospital this week brought back many memories.I’m approaching my 94th birthday. As I’ve been a patient several times from the age of four months, I have experience of the Horton over more than half its lifetime.The year 1943 was one of the most memorable occasions. I was in B ward, women’s surgical, one of the four emergency medical wards.

They were long, narrow wards with beds spaced as in the ward in your photo. There were no comfortable chairs beside them. There were no curtains to draw around the beds. When really necessary, portable screens were used. They were not thought necessary for the delivery or removal of bedpans, a routine occurrence throughout the day as we were kept tidily in bed.This was before the creation of the NHS, so all management, including that of finance, (with patients responsible for payment) was on the premises. There was an Almoner.

On the nursing side, Matron was firmly in charge with, on each ward, Sister, Staff Nurse and nurses who were mostly still in training. The Horton was an important nurses’ training school, with the trainee nurses living in the purpose built nurses’ hostel, now Rowan. Everything was impeccably run.The number of stripes on the sleeve told you of each nurse’s stage of training: one for nurses who had passed their first year, two for their second, three for their third. Ward duties and training were given appropriately. With newcomers, properly mitred sheet corners were very important and checked with a critical eye. There were no care assistants, but we were fortunate to have Nurse Philips, a lovely middle aged, unqualified but very experienced nurse, who gave us that welcome touch of personal attention and warmth.We were kept in bed until fully healed. With no antibiotics, this could take a long time. My five weeks in bed meant that I had to learn to walk again although there was nothing wrong with my legs, other than lost muscle. My mother was on B ward with bed rest for nearly two weeks after an operation on the joint of a big toe.In 1943, visiting was one hour on Tuesday afternoon (early closing in the town), two hours (or 1.5?) on Thursday and Sunday. Each patient was given two visiting permits, so families and friends had to prearrange takeovers. Children under 14 couldn’t visit. (Or be visited.)

This was wartime when food, including sweets, was rationed, and no fruit was imported. So there was little that visitors could spare, to support the very basic hospital meals.Flowers were the usual gift, often left for the nurses to arrange on our bedside lockers. They were taken away at night, because of the belief that the carbon dioxide they gave off could be harmful. (Now, of course, flowers are banned in hospitals because of bacteria growing in the water.)Surgeons and visiting GPs were treated like royalty. All patients remained quiet. As there was no background noise - no TV of course, or even small portable radios - we could listen, which we did intently, to these bedside consultations. It was very educational. We were a more trusting, accepting generation, and we felt secure.As patient and visitor, I have always been happy (if that’s an appropriate word) in the Horton. The changes over the years, like those in all society, have been interesting. The status and role of nurses and assistants are different from those of 1943. High standards remain, but the atmosphere is different.

I well remember the shock I felt in more recent years, seeing a teenage visitor perching on a patient’s bed, sharing a pork pie. Certainly not in 1943!’