Christmas on the wards of a big London teaching hospital in 1959 meant a procession of carol-singing nurses, cloaks turned back to reveal scarlet linings and holding lanterns.
This emotional seasonal scene is just one of many in a fascinating memoir written by retired State Registered Nurse Greta Barnes MBE of Sutton under Brailes.
Mrs Barnes’ book, Perched Like Doves, also shows the NHS in its infancy in 1959 as St Bart’s tended to the acute hospital needs of the cockney population of the East End.
Attachments to different wards - neurology, paediatrics, surgical and other departments - were part of the rigorous training.
Stringent attention to detail and cleanliness was supervised by ward sisters. Discipline was harsh.
“During my short time at Barts I performed a very minor role indeed. In spite of this I still felt I had belonged and I was part of a relatively small, close-knit community,” she said. “I felt privileged to have completed my training at the hospital during its golden years.
“A warm feeling washes over me as I remember my time at the famous institution - the never ending polishing of bedpans on night duty, the washing of all the walls on the operatingtheatres, the special Christmases, the devotion and sharp tongues of the sisters, the eminent doctors and the carefree medical students - and the sheer camaraderie of hospital life.
“Above all I will never forget the bravery of patients who were the very reason a nursing career was so worthwhile.”
The patients included many who - before the advent of modern medicine - stoically endured their illnesses, many losing their lives of conditions that are now routinely healed.
Perched like Doves (the title refers to the nurses sitting on the walls of the fountain at Bart’s) includes the young Nurse Tisdale’s friendships with her fellows, many of which have endured a lifetime.
Mrs Barnes, who left St Bart’s to marry husband David, went to work at Stratford-on-Avon’s district hospital. She was founder of the charity, Education for Health.
This honest and compelling memoir, takenfromher diaries, is full of genuine laugh-out-loud moments and heart-rending tales of bravery as well as stories tinged with trauma and tragedy.
The book is available from WH Smith, Waterstones, most book shops, Amazon and www.troubador.co.uk