The Diary of Joan Mark of Cardiff, Nurse, 1939

Glamorgan Archives recently received a diary written by Joan Mark of Cardiff for the year 1939, the year Glamorgan Record Office – now Glamorgan Archives – was established.

Joan as nurse

Joan Mark in her nursing uniform

Joan was born in 1921, was educated at Howell’s School and was only 17 when she started to write her diary, recording her work as a trainee nurse at the Prince of Wales Orthopaedic Hospital in Cardiff. The Boots Scribbling Diary came complete with coupons for free gifts such as lemon barley crystals, indigestion mixture and Devonshire violets talcum powder.

Joan gives us a fascinating insight into her working life, set against the background of the impending War which broke out in the September of that year.  She records being on her feet all day, …was nearly sleeping on my feet is one of her entries.  She had to live in rooms in the hospital when she was on duty, and the constant sound of patients ringing their bells is noted many times; bells, bells, bells she writes.

Bells

Joan enjoyed working on the children’s ward.

Prince of Wales Hospital

Staff and patients at the Prince of Wales Hospital, 1930s – Joan is standing 3rd from left

Diseases such as scarlet fever, chicken pox and diphtheria are mentioned.  When helping at the babies’ clinic she records:

All sorts of babies came. We had to scrape the dirt off some before we could see their little faces.

Babies clinic

She also had to check for head lice and on one occasion found that several children were ‘alive’ with lice and had to try and get rid of them using Derbac soap and Dettol before the Ward Sister returned.

Joan was also expected to help out with the laundry, darn serviettes and cut miles and miles of gauze and wool for bandages.  On her days off she also had to attend lectures and take tests.  On one occasion she tried to swot for a test …but fell asleep.

One constant worry was the shortage of staff in the hospital. I hope we shall get some more staff soon, she writes, and that on one day the other staff were …all shouting and bawling at me.  They seem to think I can produce mattresses, plaster knives and clean counterpaynes out of the air.

The Matron and Sister ruled with a rod of iron and nurses could have their days off cancelled for misdemeanors such as not reporting a broken light or an untidy bedroom. In March they were given new nursing caps to wear:

New caps

We all had new caps given us this morning. They are all terrible and show all our hair at the back.  Matron told me to put mine in curlers, but I shan’t even if I’m the only one left with straight hair.

It wasn’t all work for Joan and she records visits to her family and her social life: trips to Barry Island, shopping at Woolworths, listening to the wireless, regular trips to the cinema, walks in Roath Park and visits to Star Street Chapel and Roath Methodist Chapel on a Sunday. In January 1939 the hospital maids had their annual dance, when the nurses had to wait on them and washed up afterwards; we were allowed to dance with each other as well at the end, but were told not to take the maids’ men.  Joan couldn’t go to the dinner and dance that had been organised for the nurses:

…so we held a dance on our own in the bedroom with the wireless and gas-fire in full blast and lemonade and biscuits as refreshments.

Staff dance

She was on duty on Christmas Day and was given presents from the Matron and other nurses. A band came at 7.30am and most of the nurses were dancing. Joan played with the children on the ward and a choir came to sing carols, followed by Christmas dinner at 7pm.

From August onwards the talk of War clouds her diary. On 24 August Joan writes:

Everyone seems to think there is going to be a war

War 24 Aug

Two days later she says:

They are making our Out Patients Department into a Decontamination Centre and pasting black paper over the windows of the Hospital. The International Situation seems pretty serious but I don’t think there will be a war.

Joan was due to take her holidays:

Sister Blake says I may have my holidays but must come back if War is Declared.

On 1 September she records that Germany had started bombing Poland and that she had gone on a trip to the beach where she …met two sweet little German exile children. Joan was on leave when War was declared on 3 September and on that day she records that the Germans had torpedoed a British liner (this was the SS Athena). A few days later Joan travels to Nottingham to visit relatives and she helps her Uncle to black out the windows.  She had difficulties travelling back to Cardiff as all the trains had been stopped and were being used to transport troops.

Preparations were in full swing when she went back to work the following week.  They only had eight patients and from then on were only going to admit 50% of their capacity so that the Hospital would be ready to receive any wounded troops.  On one day Joan had to strip and remake 48 beds in readiness. The Sister gave the nurses some advice:

Bomb

If a bomb falls on the Hospital – don’t rush into the flames or make martyrs of yourselves. Get under the beds and the quicker the better.

The Matron was worried …because the Russians have entered Poland.

The Sister said, What does it matter as long as they don’t enter the Prince of Wales Hospital.

Russians

As the diary comes to an end there are glimpses of the day to day changes that War has brought to the country: being warned for having too much light showing in a window, the issue of National Registration cards, visits to air raid shelters, a colleague learning to knit socks for the troops and the evacuation of a family member.

Joan

Joan Mark of Cardiff

Joan went on to qualify as a registered nurse in 1943, but tragically died in a car accident in 1951, aged 29.

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The Prince of Wales Hospital, Cardiff

The Prince of Wales Hospital was originally founded as a Red Cross Hospital in 1914 at No.21 The Walk in Cardiff. Out of an initiative by Sir John Lynn-Thomas, a former surgeon, came the purchase of that property, which became the Wales and Monmouthshire Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers. The first Orthopaedic patients arrived in May of 1917. More property was acquired at the Old Mansion House and Richmond Crescent in Cardiff. It was renamed as the Prince of Wales Hospital when it was opened formally in 1918 by its namesake, the future Edward VIII and later Duke of Windsor.

The Prince of Wales’ main task was to help those who had lost limbs during the war achieve some sense of normality in their lives. To that end prosthetic limbs were developed at facilities on-site, so that they could be custom built to suit each individual.

Fitting of artificial limbs

In the first two and a half years of providing this service 878 legs (and 273 peg legs) and 287 new arms had been provided and 480 repairs had been carried out.

Once the prosthetic limbs had been fitted, they would be tested in the garden of the Hospital, which had been modified to house artificial hills and valleys with varying gradients and drops, sharp curves and sudden rises.

Special garden for walking

Once these tests had been completed, the wounded servicemen would be taken on a trip out into Cardiff, with those who were more mobile allowed to go to the shopping centre. One problem encountered was that at the time there was nowhere for them to sit down, so they had to either lean against railings or lie down on open ground. Eventually public benches were provided.

Even before the War had ended, it had been established in the Prince of Wales’ constitution that it would eventually serve not just wounded servicemen but also limbless civilians, from adults who had been injured working in mining or in factories to children who had been either born with deformed or missing limbs or had suffered an accident or illness that had led to the loss of deformation of limbs.

Further expansion led to new premises at Crossways in Cowbridge in 1930. The Prince of Wales would stay in The Walk and Crossways throughout the two World Wars, suffering bomb damage to the buildings in The Walk during the latter, before moving to Rhydlafar in the Pentyrch area in 1953, this site having previously been used by the United States military during World War II. The Hospital evolved to provide other services such as occupational therapy and speech therapy, before eventually being closed in 1998. Services were transferred to other hospitals and health centres in South Wales, with the orthopaedic services moving to Llandough Hospital in Penarth. The old site at the Walk had closed its outpatient services in 1972, and Crossways closed in 1965, apart from a special school attached to the hospital which closed in 1987.

Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant

Matron Clara Deacon of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Cardiff

Clara Deacon was Assistant Matron at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, which pioneered the treatment and rehabilitation of soldiers and sailors who were Great War amputees. The Prince of Wales Hospital was established to provide this service in Wales.

Clara commenced her duties as Matron in Cardiff on 8 January 1917. Her starting salary was £70 per annum, including laundry and board, and she was subject to a 3 month notice period. By 9 May 1917 it was agreed to appoint her as Commandant (a military establishment). In December 1917 her salary was increased to £104 and in December 1918 it became £130.

There’s little doubt that the Committee thought her an exceptional asset; so much so that in November 1918 it was agreed to strike a unique version of the hospital badge in her honour. The hospital badge was normally presented in a base metal to staff who gave good service, but it was agreed that this special badge should be in gold and enamel and set with diamonds.

They also recommended a more formal recognition of her devotion, ability and energy. In March 1920, Clara Deacon became a Member of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).

This photograph of the hospital staff was taken during the 1920s, and would appear to be outside nos. 1 and 3 Richmond Crescent. It looks as though Commandant Deacon, in the centre, is wearing her MBE.

The esteem in which she was held continued with a salary increase to £136 in December 1919. In 1923 it was further improved to £150 with an honorarium of £30. In 1929 Clara had her status enhanced, becoming known by the title ‘Commandant and Matron’, which seemed to attract a further salary improvement to £220 with £10 annual increments to £250, along with £15 per annum uniform allowance.

In August 1933 Clara decided to retire. Despite requests to withdraw her offer of resignation, she remained resolute and retired in January 1934. The minutes of the Executive Committee of 8 January 1934 note the retirement gift presented to their Commandant and Matron Clara Deacon.

Records of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Cardiff, are available to consult at Glamorgan Archives.

Roy Dowell, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer