Betty was born on the 1st of February 1925.
Betty is being interviewed by Loveday Herridge on the 26th September 2011.
LH: Now you were born….where were you born Betty?
Betty: At the Jessops Hospital.
LH: And the Date?
LH: And when you were a child, Betty, where did you live? Which area of Sheffield?
BR: First of all I think I lived with my granny, but I’m not quite sure about that. What I can remember is living in North Staveley. That is on the way to Dinnington that way, we lived there and my father was the electrician for the colliery at Aston Staveley. We lived in a colliery house, I can remember playing there and being taken to school with my cousin, and either my cousin took us or the lady who looked after us took Keith and I to school.
LH: Keith was who?
BR: Cousin, and we went to the little school at Aston.
LH: Right, did you see much of your dad if he was in the colliery?
BR: He was often called out to other places if they had faults and things. Yes, we did see him, and we used to have little get togethers and mum would read us little stories and sing to us. Then we moved from North Staveley to live in Treeton, which was a little mining village then.
LH: And when you lived first of all at Staveley how old were you when you moved to Treaton?
BR: Probably about 6 or 7.
LH: So you can remember your mum singing and reading to you before you were six?
BR: Oh yes, I can remember we used to have a little afternoon up in the garden. We had seats and we’d dance and play ring a ring a roses.
LH: Did you do that most days?
BR: No, there were days when. And I remember other times we had pencils and paper and we’d sit on our little lawn and play.
LH: Was that before you went to school?
BR: It was usually, before I went to school, yes, a little bit. But then, when we did go to school it was in the evening and weekends we’d do this. Before we went to bed or had a bath we’d sing. My mother was a lovely person always singing, making people happy.
LH: The fun of it, and can you remember, you said she read you nursery rhymes, you remember any of the other stories she read to you?
BR: Yes, I can’t remember, but I can remember this word ‘Aesop’s Fable’.
LH: Ah yes.
BR: I can’t remember very much of them, but I remember the name Aesop’s Fables and I remember The Water Babies.
LH: So I guess you remember Aesop’s Fables because it is such a funny word.
BR: Funny word isn’t it? Funny. But I can’t remember much about it.
LH: You can’t remember the stories?
BR: No, but I can remember the book.
LH: Was it an illustrated book?
LH: Did she show you the pictures?
LH: And read the stories?
BR: Yes, it was a beautiful book. Like the Bible, in the beginning. Pictures of angels and Lord. Lovely colours. She’d tell us about the Bible.
LH: Do you think that was the Bible, or do you think that might have been stories from the Bible?
BR: No, it wasn’t the Bible. It was a book with pictures, illustrated, and nice, you know the beginning and the words were in colours. I remember that.
LH: And, while you were with your cousin, was he the same age as you?
BR: Two years older.
LH: Was he nice to you?
LH: You enjoyed being with him?
BR: Oh yes, we got up to all sort of pranks. I cut his hair.
LH: Did you get into trouble?
BR: It was a wrong thing to do, but I don’t remember getting into trouble. Keith remembers now though.
LH: And does he still live in Sheffield?
BR: Yes, he lives in Stannington.
LH: Oh right, he remembers that now.
So both of you looked at your mum’s books and listened to the stories, and it might have been in the afternoon or in the garden.
BR: Yes, we’d sit at one side of her and she’d sort of lift me up onto her knee whilst she was reading.
LH: Do you think your cousin knew how to read at that point?
BR: Yes, I think so, because he used to teach me the letters. He could write and do As Bs and Cs, the alphabet and he’d teach me. I used to do an A with the curl, just like that using a curl. You know and on the Ds a curl.
LH: Do you think, can you remember at all the process of how you learned to read? Obviously your cousin helped a little bit.
BR: And my mother helped us.
We’d have sessions ‘Now Betty went to school’. Just little phrases. Then when you went to school that’s when you really learned with the teacher writing on the word board.
LH: So, how old do you think you were by the time you could read?
Betty: I could read when we went to Treeton. Definitely six. I remember when we moved I could read because I used to read to my sisters some times.
LH: Ah, did you have younger sisters?
LH: Can you tell me about them and what you read to them?
BR: I just read little stories, you know, little fairy tales and made things up, or tell a little bit of poetry to them.
LH: Were there books around the house and you could pick up a book?
BR: Yes, but we had to be told, there were certain books we couldn’t touch and they were on the shelves.Our books were in our playroom, we could do whatever we liked with them, as long as we tidied up. Or, even when we were small, if you had a book, you put it back.
LH: On the shelf?
BR: Yes, and a little shelf where we could reach.
LH: So, in your play room there were a lot of books?
BR: Yes, and a dolls house. We used to play wooden top, shuttle cock.
LH: Is this when you were living with your granny?
BR: No, I don’t remember living with my granny. That was when I just came out of hospital and mother and father were just getting together, you know, with the house and then that’s it.
LH: So you were a baby when you lived with your granny?
BR: Yes, I must have gone to granny’s whilst dad and mum were getting their house and I can remember the first house we went into the dining table was slung onto the ceiling because we hadn’t any room to put the dining table.
LH: So you bought it up and down?
BR: So it stayed there and we just had a little table to eat off.
LH: So that was the first house your parents had?
BR: Yes, just a little house.
LH: And then you were born and were looked after by your granny, and how many sisters did you have Betty?
BR: I had two, then we had another baby sister when I was a lot older. I must have been seventeen I think when Diana was born.
LH: So, you can can you remember not being able to read, or was it just a gradual process of absorbing?
BR: I can’t remember about that. I know we used to go running round and making pies out of slap-dap and getting petals and decorating it and inviting aunty and aunt to come for tea. We had little tea and giving them little drinks of water and giving them a slap-dap cake.
LH: What do you call that Betty?
BR: A ‘Slap-dap’.
LH: What’s Slap-dap?
LH: Oh mud.
BR: Dirt really but slap-dap. I can remember once, making sandwiches with little bits of, I was going to make my cousin a treat and the laburnum seeds falling off the trees and I said oh there’s little peas, Keith had them, I had them and it was someone coming up to bring mum some things from his garden and he saw all these things on the gate and he said, what are your children doing? There are all these bits, I’m sure of laburnum, what are they doing with the seeds? Of course we came out and said, oh, we’ve eaten them. So, I was all right, didn’t affect me, but Keith, they took him tot he children’s hospital and I think he had to be made to be sick. But, I didn’t have to be made to be sick, I was just all right. Then we took my sister, she had a big pram, big wheels, lovely and she was, we got her out of the pram and there were iris leaves. We put her in there and we said she was Moses in the bulrushes.
LH: I can just see it. So you’d read the story of Moses and the bulrushes?
BR: Yes, and I don’t remember, I think mum just picked the stories out of the Bible that she wanted us to hear.
LH: Yes. So, when you were at school I presume there were a whole load of books, different books that you hadn’t seen before. Can you remember what any of those were? That you enjoyed particularly or disliked?
BR: I don’t remember when I was in the very junior, I were moved up for that grade to the next grade I can remember the books then. At the end of the lessons, Miss Pashley would read a story for quarter of an hour at the end of lessons. She’d stand up on that ledge, on the desks, with the lectern. We’d read, we’d have Anne of Green Gables, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe. I don’t, I remember mum reading to us, to me, about Mowgli, Rudyard Kipling. And another little bit of him in the Just So Stories. Then this book suddenly disappeared and it was in Paula’s room and Stephanie’s room.
LH: But you didn’t steal it back again?
BR: I was told I had enough books and to share.
LH: Can you remember any other books that you particularly liked and loved to read? Did you read in bed, before you went to sleep?
BR: Mmm, oh, mum would come up and read us a little story. If I was having Anne of Green Gables at school mum would read a bit of Anne of Green Gables.
LH: Do you know where she got her books from that she read?
BR: No, but I remember we used to sometimes have parcels and there were books in.
LH: Do you think now as an adult she ordered them from the book shop?
BR: She may have done. My mum was a teacher, in London at a private school, in Stroud. I don’t know if she was still in contact with some of the teachers then, I don’t know what happened, but we used to always get a book at Christmas. Even if it was just a book for drawing that you’d colour, we’d always have one at Christmas. We didn’t have a lot of things at Christmas. We had an orange, an apple, a few nuts, some new pennies, a pair of socks, hair ribbon, rubber, a pencil.
LH: Can you remember any book that was your favourite?
BR: I liked Anne of Green Gables
LH: You mentioned that. And was there any book you were bored by? A type of book you were bored by?
BR: I didn’t really like Robinson Crusoe. I didn’t really like that one. But then of course, when you were getting bigger, you know, when we had, that Hawkins man, John Hawkins. I think it was by Robert Louis Stevenson, and they went on a boat, John Hawkins. Think they went on the Hispaniola.
LH: And you didn’t like that as much?
BR: No, it was a bit frightening.
LH: So you were really engaged in the books if you found it frightening?
BR: Yes, I remember my room was decorated with the alphabet. We used to copy, you know practice. Then when you went to the grown up, we called it the grown up school, instead of doing print we joined our letters up then.
LH: So when you went to the grown up school, which school was that?
BR: It was still attached to our school, the infants, and that is part of the play ground and we moved up and we were there. It was the second grade school.
LH: Did you read a lot when you were in what we would call secondary school now?
BR: Not so much, because we used to tend to go and play more. You know, running off, in the woods, playing more. We didn’t read as much and mum did read to us then. We went out in our own ways.
LH: Was she working then?
BR: No, not at all.
LH: When she started to have children did she stop?
BR: When she married she gave up her work because school was down in London.
LH: So, you said that the teacher always read to you for about fifteen minutes at the end of each lesson.
LH: Did that happen as you grew older?
BR: Yes, that started when we went to the bigger school.
LH: Oh, I see. Right, was there a time when you began to choose your own books?
BR: Yes, there was a library. You could go and you could only have one book.
LH: In the school?
BR: Yes, you could only have one book and you had to return it in two weeks time.
LH: So, did you use the library?
LH: And get a book every two weeks?
BR: I didn’t always get a book, but I did use it. As I say, we were more running out playing and playing hop scotch and a bit of tennis or hitting the ball or cricket.
LH: So perhaps in the winter you read a bit more when it wasn’t so nice outdoors?
BR: Yes, or we used to do little puzzles and jigsaws and as you got older things got just a little bit different, you know. I remember how the children from round about used to call in, because we had a big enough house that we could have a play room, so they used to come and play with us. They’d do their own thing, but before they went home we used to have some toast and some Bovril. And mum would have us in the kitchen all on this mat. They’d say to mum, “Mrs Roberts sing, sing that song that makes us cry”. They said, “Are you going to sing it, please sing!” I can remember once, I was sitting there and I said, “Don’t pull my mummy’s skirt”, you know and I flung out at somebody. I remember when they’d gone mum saying to me, “Betty, don’t behave like that, these people are your guests and you don’t behave like that.” I said “I don’t want them pulling your skirt mummy.” She said “That was all right. It wasn’t bullying it was just trying to get my attention, you shouldn’t have been pushing it.” Well, there were several people around saying “do sing that song, make us cry”.
LH: What was the song?
BR: Danny Boy.
LH: Oh, Danny Boy. Well, it makes me cry.
BR: And the song, what was it called? I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen. They’d plead for her, “sing it Mrs Robertson,” they said. And you know they were wiping the tears like this on their sleeves, ‘cause you know they didn’t have tissues in those days. [Laughs]
LH: Your mum sounds lovely.
BR: She was, and the children, remember if I see them, (one’s cremation was about a fortnight ago, and I went), and they remembered my mum singing those songs.
LH: How lovely, that’s a tribute to her.
BR: “Do you remember Betty, how we used to come up to your play room and the fire was burning.” And, do you remember she said, “Your father used to keep coming and peeping in”, [laughs], we had like a fire guard, it was open, fastened to the wall. He’d let us make toast, we’d make it in the dining room fire, where not to be seen.
LH: How old were you when you left your second school?
BR: I think I was about thirteen. Thirteen/fourteen.
LH: Then did you go to another school?
BR: Yes, I was going to Woodhouse Grammar School, and suddenly I became ill and I had rheumatic fever. I went to hospital and I was in hospital six months, flat, couldn’t do anything, feed myself, anything! And, I can remember saying, “I don’t want to get better, I don’t want to go in a wheel chair, I don’t want to get better.” Gradually I did get better, but I couldn’t continue at Woodhouse because it was too far, apparently as we had to get a train and then there was a steep hill we had to walk up. It would have been too hard for me to do that. So, I went to, as a trial, I went to Dinnington Technical College, and that was all right because we were collected by bus and sent home by bus and had meals at school, and things like that. Obviously couldn’t have got my own. I did my remainder of my education there.
LH: How large did books figure in the school, the Technical school? Was reading important at the Technical school?
BR: Not so much, not so much. You had to get on with what you were studying, you know. I decided I’d do housecraft.
LH: Was there a library at the school?
LH: And did you use that?
Not so much, no. I was slowing down, in a way, I’d tend to sort of read more or less at home or take a book up to bed and at the weekends I had to rest, even at school I had to rest, I had a period at school when I had to rest.
LH: Because of your rheumatic fever?
LH: So, how did you choose the books that you read at that point Betty? Was it you who decided what you wanted to read?
BR: You know, you used to hear people saying there was a book, “have you read so and so?” “no, I need to get it”.
LH: Who would say that to you? The other girls?
BR: The pupils at school or maybe the English mistress would say I would advise you to get this book.
LH: Can you remember what sort of books she advised you to get? Any of the titles?
BR: Not particularly.
LH: Do you think it might have been, I’m making a guess. Do you think it might have been people like Charles Dickens?
BR: I didn’t like Charles Dickens.
LH: But you must have read Charles Dickens to know that you didn’t?
BR: Yes, and we read Pride and Prejudice. We had all those books, or you either had one, or concentrated more or less on one. I liked Wuthering Heights.
LH: You like Wuthering Heights?
BR: I loved it, I did.
LH: How old do you think you were?
BR: Probably in my teens.
LH: And why did you like Wuthering Heights do you think?
BR: It was Cathy and how Heathcliff came into their lives. It was that thing, well better find out about him, oh he’s not very nice is he, no, and then that’s it yes, he did. It was all what they used to get up to and that, running down the moors. And I can remember going there and we went on the moors, my Paula and Cecily, mum and dad and myself and we walked on the moors a little way and then there was a stone where you sat and I said “I’m going to walk up further up, keep turning and when you can’t see me, turn round and come back.” I went running up, and I crouched behind something, I don’t know what it was and I was calling to Heathcliff, I was calling “Heathcliff, Cathy” and two people were walking past as I was calling and ran down past my mother and father and they said “There’s voices up there! We’re so frightened.” And my father said “no, I think I know who is making the noises” and my father came up and I was crouched down and he said “Betty”, he grabbed me like this.
LH: How old do you think you were then Betty?
BR: I think I was about 15 or 16. I was able to go myself. I like Jane Eyre, then of course you were interested because you could go around their house and the church and everything.
LH: Did you do that?
BR: Yes, and you’d think about the brother. He wasn’t a very nice brother. Mum said well we don’t know he had one way of doing things and the girls had another. Also you had a lot to learn about the Brontes, didn’t you?
LH: Did you learn that at school, or from your mum?
BR: At school and then when you were doing your homework you were helped by your mum. You know they went to Belgium and lots of places and they changed their names to get their books published.
LH: Did you have reference books at home? An Encyclopaedia?
BR: We did, we did. I think somebody mum knew sent mum the money and we got these encyclopaedias. Twelve. All sorts of information you could find, and I can remember everybody, from the village used to be coming up – “can we look in your encyclopaedias?”
LH: Did your mum mind?
LH: Wasn’t a question that some books you weren’t allowed?
BR: Oh, some books you weren’t allowed.
LH: Oh, still?
BR: Still. Some books of my mum’s, her beautifully leather bound books, poetry books and things like that. Books somebody had given her as a present and things like that.
LH: Was there ever a time when you were allowed to look at her beautiful books. When you were older?
BR: Yes, we could, and we had our own Bible. No, we didn’t have a prayer book, we had a hymn book. Mum had hers and father had his, but we didn’t have ours, we had a Bible. We had to look and share mum and dad’s prayer book and hymn book.
LH: Were these books in a play room or did you have a bedroom of your own?
BR: I had a bedroom on my own. My books were in my bedroom on a little shelf.
LH: There were family books?
BR: Yes, in the playroom. And we used to get the Children’s Newspaper.
LH: Oh yes, tell me about that, what was that?
BR: It was a children’s newspaper. All sorts of things were in it. Things happening in Australia or New Zealand and you’d get maps of them and get the animals and things they had there. You’d have little crosswords to do and writing a little story. It had various kinds of little poems that we’d never really heard of. Quite strange, a little story went on each month.
LH: Was it a monthly news paper or weekly?
LH: Was it delivered?
LH: Was it from a newsagent’s who delivered it?
LH: Can you remember, as you were getting older, ever buying books for other people as presents, or for yourself?
LH: Where did you buy them?
BR: A shop in Rotherham, I don’t know, it was a bookshop near the church.
LH: So, did you buy yourself books?
BR: Not particularly. I had a lot of books given to me.
BR: Yes, birthdays.
LH: That was about 15/16?
LH: And when did you leave the school?
BR: When I was seventeen.
LH: At that point were you reading regularly, when you were seventeen?
BR: Not so much. Sometimes you’d just take a poetry book up to bed and read.
LH: We’re coming up to the beginning of the Second World War aren’t we?
BR: Yes, yes. A lot of these things you had to give to the war effort, and they wanted paper. Paper was in great demand. I can remember mum and dad, (we’d still go, well it wasn’t a playroom, but was still used, but we didn’t have money to buy furniture for it then), I remember them thinking which books should go. They said, “That is for Betty, Paula and Cecily to decide. If they want them they won’t go, they should decide, but we’ll tell them it’s needed for the country.”
LH: So, did you take that as an opportunity to give away books you weren’t interested in?
BR: Yes, they had to go to somewhere in the village and a van came to take them saying it was coming on Saturday.
LH: Did this happen once or more than once?
More than once.
LH: So your stock of books must have diminished entirely.
BR: Well, yes it did, then you were getting new books later on. You couldn’t really buy books in the war time, not so much. I went to do my training and the books you got were really books for work.
LH: When did you start your nursing training?
LH: 19 when you started? Where did you go to train Betty?
BR: Royal Hospital.
LH: Here, The one that is called the Hallamshire.
BR: No, on West Street, it is no more, it’s pulled down now.
LH: What made you go for nursing?
BR: I don’t know, whether because my friend was a nurse or whether because I’d been sick and I’d noticed, I’d wanted to be a nurse. I had a terrible job getting in, I mentioned rheumatic fever, no, no. I said to my father, “Shall we try the children’s hospital?” And we made an appointment and they turned me down and I was so depressed. My father took me to the Mount at Broomhill for coffee and I was miserable, I was maybe crying. But a lady was looking at us and my father said, “It’ll be all right dear, something will happen, something will happen.” I said, “No it won’t” and this lady came up and she said to my father good morning and was I his daughter, and he said yes and she said why is she so upset? And my father told her, said she’s determined and she’s not interested in anything else but nursing and she’s been turned down from various hospitals around and we couldn’t travel far as it was war time. And this lady, we found that she was called Miss Biddle, she was something to do with, in charge with the nursing recruitment and she said, “Take this to Miss Sampson at the Royal Hospital. Will you be able to go this morning? It’s getting late but will you be able to go?” My father said yes so she rang up and made an appointment and we went and Miss Sampson said, “Right, you will be accepted”, but there’s certain things you have to do. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. You can’t go to the swimming baths, you can’t play tennis and was I prepared to be examined every three months and if I became ill I’d have to leave, yes yes yes.
LH: And so you got accepted to start nursing?
BR: I was not sick once.
LH: I am sure you weren’t.
BR: Matron was sort of, sort of kept an eye on me.
LH: Betty, you have such a wonderful story,
[second recording; interview resumes]
LH: I need to try and keep on track and ask you about reading.
Your started your training in 1944?
LH: And you mentioned having to give up books at the beginning part of the war and throughout, to be recycled I suppose by the government. So, were your studies at all affected by this sort of thing? Were there resources, reading matter for you?
BR: When we did our training you mean?
BR: We had a list of books we had to get, they were only very small books, about, like that and a red folder a sort of anatomy of hygiene and medical history and we had to buy those ourselves.
LH: Where did you buy them Betty?
BR: I think there were in the hospital. We went to the board room to buy our books. My parents gave me money to get the books.
LH: Do you have any of those books?
No, I’ve given them all away.
LH: Do you think they were Government Issue for wartime?
BR: Well, they could have been. As I say, they were very small and on rough-ish paper. Those were the books we had to have. We had a book on medicine, it was a joy to read this book, I think it was called Sear’s. The surname it was Sears.
LH: What was it about?
BR: People with pneumonia, pleurisy, liver complaints, things like that.
LH: So that was a lovely book
BR: Yes, my father bought me that one and it wasn’t from the general store. It was from somewhere else. I don’t know where I think there was a shop somewhere in High Street or roundabout there where you could get medical books.
Can’t remember the name of the shop.
LH: And while you were studying, Betty, what happened to your own private reading? Did you not have time for that?
BR: Oh yes, my mother and father gave me a book, the Bronte’s, Jane Eyre and Charlotte and Anne and a bit of their poetry at the back.
LH: You’d read those as a teenager hadn’t you?
BR: Yes but I’d liked and they gave it me when I left home you see.
LH: You left home? Where did you go?
BR: Oh yes, went to the nurses’ home. On Fulwood Rd, Tapton, Tapton Court where everyone lived. Lovely grounds and beautiful place – donated by some wealthy people.
LH: Were you happy there during your studies?
BR: Oh yes, you had your own little bedroom and you were fed and watered. The only thing I sometimes think now, we were looked after so well, we didn’t know how to change a plug. Cooking, it was all done for us.
LH: So, you had this lovely collected edition of the Bronte’s?
BR: No, it was falling to pieces.
LH: Do you remember reading anything else whilst you were there?
BR: Yes, we had a library. Toc H. It was really for the patients but we were allowed to get books from Toc H.
LH: On a daily basis you went to the hospital?
LH: And you were able to use the library that they had?
BR: Yes, Toc H.
LH: Just explain to me what ‘Toc H’ is?
BR: That man in the wartime, Tubby Clayton isn’t it? That person, he did some good work in the war time, First World War. He did like little clubs and things for the soldiers. Toc H we called him. Tubby Clayton they called him.
LH: So that was his bequest was it? His library? Or a charitable?
BR: Yes they used to come round with a trolley with books and they would sort of say ‘You might like this book’ to the patients and then they’d ask us if we wanted a book. I think it was a fortnight they come. Might have been once a month but I know we could get books and we used to share books, you know. ‘Cos obviously we had people, nurses all came from very wealthy families and they could afford to bring books and share.
LH: Can you remember any of the titles of those books that you read?
BR: Yes, I’ve written some down. I thought I’d forget.
LH: Fantastic, yea.
BR: I remember, which I never read at home Wind in the Willows. Peter Pan. Dylan Thomas.
LH: Dylan Thomas let’s see, so … poetry the plays?
BR: Under Milk Wood.
But later on from this when I’d done my training I was a sister when I had done my training then it came up on the wireless, quarter of an hour Under Milk Wood and everything stopped. You came in an evening and you had to listen to that. And then the poem he wrote. And then the poem he wrote, Do Not Go Gentle into the Night.
LH: Did you read that then when in training?
LH: That must have meant a lot to you.
BR: Yes. Yes, And there were others which I read when I wasn’t in my training, I was trained and working.
LH: Where were you working?
BR: At the Royal Hospital Annexe, the Mayfield Valley.
LH: I know down there yes.
BR: Beautiful, lovely, homely. It was like a family, you know, all the patients stayed in a long time and kept coming and going for treatment. We’d go out of our house, to the pictures to a football match.
LH: Like a home. How long was your training?
BR: Four years, you signed and trained for four years, you did threeish then you had a commitment to give the hospital back a year when you trained. You stayed in the hospital whatever happened for a year.
LH: At Fulwood until 1948?
BR: Yes, then I went to do several, … to the Jessop Hospital to do midwifery.
LH: When you were at Fulwood, again, thinking about your reading, was there a library there for your patients that you could use?
BR: Yes, it was still Toc H.
LH: So do you remember specifically the books your read at Fulwood?
BR: Yes because I lived at Fulwood in the nurses’ hall. We lived in the hospital. The sisters lived there.
LH: Can you remember specifically anything you were reading at that time. You were just starting out as a paid worker so may have had a bit more money. Did you spend any on books?
BR: Not a lot. The only thing I did spend my money on I remember, The History of the English Speaking Peoples I got.
LH: Then we should go on to your training as a midwife -at the Jessops. How long was that training?
BR: About six months, but, I wasn’t allowed to do my second part. The doctor, Dr Worth, said he wouldn’t pass me medically to do my second part training, said it’d be too much for you having to get up in the middle of the night and cycling. You couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t allow me to do it. My friends all went to do it; they left me on my own.
LH: This is all because of your rheumatic fever?
LH: How disappointing for you.
BR: He wouldn’t take me, so I went back to the Royal Hospital. I was a staff nurse there. Mr Heinz worked on the pay block at the royal hospital, the private patients looked after on a separate landing. Mr Heinz did the dressings and things like that. One day, he came and said to me, “Nurse Roberts, I want you to be my ward sister at Fulwood.” I said, “Oh Sir, I don’t know anything about plastic surgery, oh no, I couldn’t do it.” And he said, “Well, I want you to consider. I will teach you all you have to know”. And every time I saw Mr Heinz I used to run away, lock myself in the lavatory, hide, anywhere to keep myself out of his way. Then one day the phone rang, it was the matron, she said there’s a chit for you to take to Atkinson’s yard or somewhere else. I asked what for, she said to go and get your sister’s uniform, and on Monday you start work at Fulwood.
LH: So you were chosen and there was no escaping. Did you enjoy it in the end?
BR: I did, I stayed there all the time, all my nursing career. They were so different, you know, sometimes you’d get the doctors were a bit cross and demanding attention. It wasn’t like that at Fulwood. You were invited to go out with them, safaris with them, treasure hunts and things like that. It was a family, truly.
LH: So, with this sense of family did you ever find yourself reading to any of the patients, or choosing books for them?
BR: Not really, we used to get quotations and things, like Emily Bronte, but the medical staff would discuss things and what they read in the paper that was interesting. They included you and they’d have their books and they’d let you borrow if you wanted.
LH: Can you remember any of these books?
BR: Yes, there was that war-time pilot in The Last Enemy, his name was Hillary. An RAF pilot who got shot down and burned and went to a plastic unit in East Grinstead and he wrote this book The Last Enemy. Anna Karenina, War and Peace. That took a lot of time; you read little things. Sometime we had children on our ward and then of course you had to help the children but you were not a teacher. The children used to go upstairs if they could manage it (we didn’t have a lift) and if not Mrs Barracane set them work on the ward which was a bit difficult really. All of the men were around, it was really difficult for them to concentrate. They didn’t do a lot, a little bit of sums and they didn’t do as much as if they’d gone upstairs to the classroom. We used to read to them, little stories. Or help them with crayoning or drawing or making Christmas cards if they were in at Christmas or Easter.
LH: Can you remember any other books that you read?
BR: No, well obviously I read the Da Vinci Code but later, but that’s when I retired.
LH: You were obviously very busy in your life and I can see how it is difficult to find time to read, very much so. So you worked until when Betty?
BR: 1985. And my life really began when I retired. You couldn’t do it if you were working. I went to night school, I used to go to night school when I trained and we went to wood work. Often you couldn’t because you had to be on duty and if something happened you had to stay on duty. If something happened you had to stay on duty and you would miss out. But I liked to join.
LH: So you did Woodwork?
Oh yes I went to Public Speaking.
LH: Did you?
BR: Yes, that was poetry, as well. Had to stand up and recite a poem, but, more often than not I was missing.
LH: I would think you were too tired to do evening class?
BR: Yes, but you didn’t feel it. You did all sorts of things after work, like going out to dances and things like that at 9 o’clock. Anything that was happening, the parties, the Queen. We had a party, invited everybody on your ward, invited the relatives to come up. All going to see the Queen when she was coming, see her on the balcony at Cutlers’ Hall. Somebody had seen the car they’d say, ‘Are you ready to come?’. If you had a report to do somebody would take you down. We managed to do things.
LH: A very full life, so you were able to do things.
BR: I were climbing up a tree, but I got fast and couldn’t get down. Somebody had to get me down. But of course we had to go to the cathedral services, walk in uniform. I remember when I was a young nurse, the King and Queen went to Bridlington or somewhere up there and they were coming past the Royal Hospital and the matron, invited me to go and stand on the steps with her and another nurse, Audrey Robinson and some of the doctors. And I nipped down the stairs and I said to her, “They’re coming, they’re coming!” And Matron said, “Miss Roberts, wave your flag with dignity.” I was really nervous. We used to go to the people’s houses for afternoon tea.
LH: The patients’ houses?
BR: No, no, to the steel magnates, you know. We had to have little white gloves.
LH: What was that about?
BR: And a cape. We went to afternoon tea, like the Viners, the Osbornes, the snuff people on Manchester Rd, no, Shore Lane. They had that lovely house with all the daffodils – went there.
LH: What was that about?
BR: They were just connected and wanted to help. I suppose the nurses, well Miss Sampson really, they invited that matron, and she would bring some of her little treasures and you had to have your cape on, the wrong way round, with the red showing. And you had to have little white gloves, which matron gave you, she had a drawer full of gloves. And the butler, they had a butler! And there was one time, oh yes, used to go in a funny little car, don’t know where they got the petrol from.
LH: So this was in war time?
BR: Yes, whilst I was training. We had to go meet the soldiers at the station.
LH: I suppose in the plastic section you had a lot of soldiers.
BR: No, no, no we would get some from East Grinstead and round there, if they lived in this area, but then they’d always go back, you could never count them as ‘our’ patients. We were looking after them for a period, so they could see their families, and then they’d go back. A lot of them joined the Guinea Pig Club, that was McIndoe, the Australian plastic surgeon and he formed the Guinea Pig Club for the injured pilots. Burnt, with burnt faces. We had some, some quite horrendous injuries, people who’d been shooting and backfired the gun and blown half their face off. They came to us needing care and if you had those in there, your off-duty was thrown to the wind, because you know, you had to stay and look after the patients. [Sir Archibald McIndoe was a New Zealand plastic surgeon who worked with the RAF in the 2WW and died in UK 1960]
LH: So you said Betty, when you retired your life began, but your life seems very busy when you were working, so how did it change when you retired?
BR: I went everywhere, went everywhere. We went to the theatre …
LH: Who did you go with?
BR: Friends, or, when you were training you got free tickets to go to the theatre on a matinée day.
LH: So you continued to do that after you retired?
LH: And what about your reading? Did that continue, did you find you had a bit more time to read then?
BR: Yes, because we joined the Reformation classes with Professor Atkinson. We went to university to do these and then we joined the philosophy the First World War and we even went to learn about to computers. I went with my sister a lot. We went to the theatres, all sorts of things that were happening, talks. All over the place we met. And I’ve kept a book of all those things I did.
LH: Have you?
BR: The Philharmonic concerts, all sorts.
LH: Did you keep a note of what you read at that time as well as what you did?
BR: Some of it, some. But the one that kept me going was, and I really didn’t need anything else – The History of the English Speaking Peoples.
LH: That’s really interesting. Did you buy that?
LH: Do you remember where you bought the books from?
LH: Blackwell’s, in town?
LH: Where were they?
There is a shop now, a Blackwell’s, but there was one round the corner.
LH: Was it expensive? It must have been to get the set?
BR: Yes, you got one book at a time. I got one book as a present.
LH: Was it a subscription? Did you pay in instalments to get the different volumes?
BR: No, you went to the shop and bought each one.
LH: Do you still have those?
BR: No. Then I got Mary Queen of Scots and then of course you see we went on holidays after we finished work. You were able to go and do all sorts of things.
LH: You told me yesterday that the Snow Goose was your favourite book? Is it now?
BR: Yes, it is now.
LH: When did you first read that?
BR: It was I think I found it in the Toc H trolley, first of all. It’ll be 1950-ish, ‘cos I went up to work at Fulwood in 1950. I really loved that book and I take it with me when I go to the hospital and I have to wait. I always read it.
LH: Why do you like it so much?
BR: It’s just the story and it’s so sad; it makes you cry as well.
LH: Why do you like to cry?
BR: If I found it really sad, when he’s going to get out in his little boat and he, you know, obviously he dies in it. This little girl is shouting to him and he doesn’t hear her, it sort of emotional in a way. I can cry over silly things. Oh, I liked another book: Shadow Lands, by C.S Lewis.
LH: You read that in the last 10 or 15 years?
BR: Yes and I went to see the play. We joined little groups for it, had talks about the opera. We set it up as we would think and we were singing the opera. I was only miming but people went to loads of things at the Crucible and the Lindsay Quartet.
LH: You’re obviously very well read. Are there any books you wouldn’t dream of reading?
BR: I don’t, well, what was it we used to read and we had to cover it up with brown paper. What was it called? D. H. Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s Lover. We had to put brown paper on it so people wouldn’t know what we were reading.
LH: That was in the 1960s wasn’t it? So, you were still working then. Even as a nurse you had to cover it up?
BR: Yes, sister on the ward ten was reading it and she said, “Would you like to read this Betty?” And she said, “Keep the brown cover on it.” We read about some mountain Annapurna or something. People climbing the mountain not Everest.
LH: Was that non-fiction?
BR: Yes, also I read books about Montgomery; I have a great liking for that man. My father, he thought General Montgomery was a great person and a lot of people didn’t like him. They grumbled about him, about his flamboyancy. My father said,‘I don’t agree’, then I read a book, got it from the library here, I saw it in the paper, ‘This Book is coming soon’. It was about his stepson, when he’s in El Allemain and his stepson gets lost and captured and then escapes and he walks back and walked into Monty’s tent or caravan and it’s called Where the hell Have you been? That’s how he greeted his lost step son. It was a lovely book. Yes,
LH: Do you think it was the influence of your father that made you want to read these books?
BR: Yes, I think so. Also the stepson’s son, he wrote that book and was telling you about his softer side.
LH: So, when you retired from work did you live all through your working life in the Fulwood buildings?
BR: Yes I lived at Fulwood and then the sisters got a home at Tapton Edge which belonged to the Towzers who gave the house to the hospital. And I came back and lived there.
LH: You were a staff nurse?
BR: No, a sister.
LH: And when you finished work did that mean you had to move out?
LH: Where did you go to live then?
BR: I lived in a bed sit first of all at Endcliffe Vale. Then I moved into the flats in Storth Lane.
LH: Did you take your books with you? Gradually shedding them?
BR: Yes when I left I couldn’t take a lot of them with me. I invited my friends to see and look and see what they wanted. I said, “You can take whatever” and they did. Lots of books, lovely books on Churchill and Wind in the Willows, mm, Mary Queen of Scots, History of Sheffield. Lots and lots. Then I joined Storth Oaks, the drug rehabilitation. I was on the committee there and I went to help and I babysat for the children. And that was an eye-opener. I used to take some books to them. My sister does a very good job; she takes in books to the prison in Doncaster. It was on the wireless once that they needed books and she said have you anything Betty and I gave her art books and things, some of those.
LH: They do a lot of art work there don’t they at the prison. They’d have been very grateful.
BR: Very grateful yes.
LH: So the books you have here now, are they your very favourite books?
BR: No, some of my favourites went.
LH: Oh no. You let them go!
BR: I’ve got a bit of mythology and a book of Prof. Atkinson’s that he wrote. Some poetry books. I’ve got one, Other Men’s Flowers, by General Wavell. He didn’t write it, he just quoted poems that had been sent to him or he remembered and he wrote a little resume about it.
LH: Did you ever read thrillers?
BR: Agatha Christie, yes, yes. I got those from the library. And I went on the Orient Express.
LH: Oh did you? Did you read historical novels?
BR: Yes about the Kings and Queens and things like that.
LH: Did you read people like Georgette Heyer?
BR: Yes, and others.
LH: Josephine Tey.
BR: Yes, Daughter of Time. Oo I liked that book.
LH: Do you remember how old you were when you read that?
BR: I was at Fulwood, so I’d have been in my 30s.
LH: Did you ever not want to read a book because you thought it was a waste of time?
BR: Yes, sometimes I’d start reading it and stop and look at the back page and see what it said about it and see if it was worth it. And I get things from the library, I don’t pick, I let them decide and they get me some good books. One about Marco Polo, I couldn’t put it down.
LH: So what do you consider to be bad books?
BR: I don’t like these um, sort of sexy books. I mean you’ve got to read it, you’ve got to know about it don’t you, but I didn’t like James Bond books.
LH: When you were a younger woman were there any books that you didn’t want to read that you decided you didn’t want to read?
BR: Not really, we didn’t have an awful lot of choice. We wanted books.
LH: That’s interesting, you’ve mentioned that people have said, “this is a good book, do you want to read this?”. Is that mainly how you found your reading because people said to you?
BR: At work yes. When you were at home you didn’t have that input to your life. There is a new book for you. You’d always want it.
LH: So you knew that would be a good book?
LH: Are there any books you read but thought were a waste of time that you did read but thought that?
BR: Robinson Crusoe.
LH: I think you said before that you didn’t really like adventure books.
BR: But when I listened, or read a review about it and it tells you about the man, I thought ‘well perhaps’.
LH: You’d missed something? Well Betty I think we’ll draw this to a conclusion.
BR: My life changed, I did things I wanted to do and could do them at leisure.
LH: Did that mean more reading?
BR: Reading, and going out more. If I went to theatre, and I did little resumés about the films I saw.
LH: Have you still got that book? Could I see it? I am going to stop the recording now Betty, is that OK?