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Africa Second World War
Recollections of army nurses and nursing sisters from Africa during the Second World War with photographs
Below are recollection from those who served in Africa during the Second World War. If you would like to add your own memories or those of a relative then please contact Qaranc.co.uk
Below is a letter sent from Audrey Hayward recalling her World War Two memories to her family and is reproduced below with kind permission.
To the left is a photo of Sister Audrey Hayward taken in 1944 while still in her TANS (Territorial Army Nursing Sister) uniform.
The letter describes her voyage to West Africa in convoy WS.8B. Her recollection at the age of 86 years is remarkable and her family have researched her life during the war and the reference to being escorted by HMS Devonshire and Rodney is incorrect because these ships were otherwise engaged in the hunt for the Bismarck. The convoy was escorted by the fourth destroyer flotilla under the command of Captain (D) Phillip Vian; the flotilla was detached from the convoy to join the hunt as well, leaving the convoy with almost no escort to speak of. According to the London Gazette report of the Bismarck incident published in 1947, convoy WS.8B came within 85 miles of Bismarck while the Navy were still looking for her. There is more written in Sir Phillip Vian's autobiography Action This Day: War Memoirs of Admiral of the Fleet and his description of the convoy being attacked by the lone Focke Wulf exactly matches Audrey's. Sister Audrey Hayward also features in the book Sisters In Arms: British Army Nurses Tell Their Story
We sailed from Liverpool on May 17th 1941 (Dad’s birthday) on ABOSSO of Elderdempsters Line. Mostly civilian passengers, so we were placed last in the convoy, consisting of two troop ships and merchantmen. Our escort included two destroyers, HMS Rodney and Devonshire. We sailed N.W into the N. Atlantic before turning south. After about 2 days, e.g. May 19/20 at about 8AM we were bombed by a lone German plane. He placed a bomb either side of the ship which had a shallow draught to enable it to navigate W. African rivers.
There were two other QAs in the cabin with me and we had all been seasick. When the alarm of the air attack sounded we put on greatcoats and I climbed on a chair to reach for our gas masks (don’t ask me why) and tin hats. We were not allowed to close cabin doors because they could get jammed. When the bombs exploded the ship lurched badly and I shot over the top of the chair through a curtain onto the corridor. A passing seaman pulling on his life jacket called out, "Come on Miss, get to your action stations". This I did, but couldn’t get my tin hat on ---- curlers! Two flasks in metal rings either side of the WHB were lifted out of rings and landed on the floor. It is thought our guns had hit the plane as we had no return visit. Probably true as it was an important convoy of troops.
ABOSSOs’ engines were put out of action, some fridges also and the dining room was damaged. We were asked to go on deck where they would serve bacon and egg sandwiches in lieu of breakfast. I can remember one of my colleagues sitting on the deck looking very green saying "I have been praying for those B – Y engines to stop pounding now I must pray for them to start again!!
The convoy just sailed on and we watched it go over the horizon as we lolled in the breeze. We rejoined the convoy, as I remember, about twilight. We received a message from the commodore "To all on board Abosso, well done"!
At this time the Bismarck had already slipped out of port on her maiden voyage and was heading with her sister ships for the N. Atlantic. A day or two after the bombing we noticed we had lost two of the destroyers, Dorsetshire and Rodney [Note - this is a battleship]. We were pleased thinking "now it is safer!" In the battle between HMS Hood, Prince of Wales (both top class battleships) and Bismarck in the N. Atlantic, the Hood was sunk, she went down on 24th May with only 3 survivors of a crew of 1,400. Sank in 3 mins, the shell having hit a magazine. The P. of Wales was also hit which reduced her speed. Our two destroyers had left us to join the rest of the Fleet in Battle. The Bismarck was eventually sunk, Dorsetshire having fired the shot that finally sunk her.
We on Abosso heard about the sinking of the Bismarck, first we celebrated. Then we heard about the Hood and felt terrible and realising the danger.
Life was not all work and I could often see the funny side of events. I write of a few reminiscences, and I promise to write of any more I remember.
When first mobilised in 1941 we were given a list of things we had to buy other than the uniform. It was February and Mum and I searched the shops for white shoes and stockings and a cream parasol lined with red! Managed to get the former, but had to settle with a green lining – never used!
After the bombing incident at sea I was making my way to my Action Station but couldn’t get my hat on. Great mirth – it was sitting on curlers!
When in Africa we had a busy social life and were made welcome by the civilians stationed there, but we had no mufti. We borrowed a sewing machine, purchased some material and made an evening dress. I shired the bodice (not sure how to spell that) with elastic and decide to have it strapless. All was well until one evening, when coming down some stairs in the club, somebody stepped on the hem. I had to almost sink to the floor to save my modesty. Never lived it down.
After an outbreak of dysentery in the sister’s mess the bearers were asked for a stool for culture. The senior one, quite a guy, refused and said, "I am not fit to sh*t for public!!" He did eventually.
When mobilising for second front we were issued a valise to contain – blankets, pillow, a wooden tripod to hold small canvass basin for washing and could also hold a larger one to sit on and a canvass bucket. We were also asked to purchase a Beatrice Stove, flat iron and hurricane lamp. Imagine packing those after being used! We were housed two to a belle tent. I forgot to mention the camp bed which was also rolled in the valise. They had to conform when rolled to a certain size as they had to fit in a given long space in a lorry. There were many practices! My tent companion decided on a bath – closed the tent flap, but forgot the braiding. She called to me, "I’m on my back in the bath with my legs up the tent pole." What a view.
We were invited to the RAF Mess to have drinks with the pilots who were bored waiting for larger fuel tanks. About a dozen volunteered and we were picked up in a truck by the Adjut.. When nearly there he pulled into a field gateway and explained the men had no facilities for ladies and he suggested we went behind the hedge in the field – it was dark – but not to go into the field as it was mined!
I was i/c of resuscitation and pre-op.. This was linked to Reception and the Op. Theatres. Two – and each had two tables – 4 op. Teams. They, the op. tents, were linked with a square tent between them for sterilising. We were also responsible for all the drips – saline, blood and Penicillin in the 600 bed hospital. No drip stands – we used the guy rope inside the ward marquee. Because we acted as a blood bank for collection and delivery we grew some marvellous mushrooms!
I also did a spell of night duty. The only lights in the wards in the beginning were hurricane lamps and torches. Later the R.E. fitted up two lights in each 25 bed ward. Doing a round one night I was visiting the POW wards, (as an advancing army we had a lot) and found the Pioneer Corps Private standing under the light reading and his loaded rifle resting 10 feet away on a locker in the middle of the ward. Words did not fail me.
Among the first officers we admitted was a young Lieutenant who lived on Corton Road, just round the corner from us. I visited him and decided to write to his mother to say he would be OK and we usually discharged, (?flying) patients home, in about 1 week. (This communication of course is not allowed). His mother went to see Mum and said how grateful she was as she hadn’t been notified until the next day!
I can’t think or write any more, but you may not realise that when I retired from the T.A. I held the rank of Lt. Col. - Not bad for one who missed a first class education.
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Lieutenant Colonel Audrey Hayward was a registered nurse and midwife and served in Africa (Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast which is now known as Ghana) and France during the war from 1941. Lt Col Hayward was part of the first medical unit to land via Mulberry Harbour after D Day where she nursed in the 600 bed Casualty Clearing Station. Following this hectic time Sister Hayward was posted to India until the end of World War Two. She continued her military nursing career after the war in the Territorial Army in locations such as Germany, England, Scotland and Wales.
Lt Col Audrey Hayward was awarded the Territorial Decoration for her 30 years of service. She was also awarded the Associate Royal Red Cross for her work as Matron at the 257 Eastern General Hospital Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve.
After WWII Miss Hayward worked as a midwife and then trained as a Health Visitor where she worked in Brixton and Croydon. Miss Hayward was appointed the Deputy Chief Nursing Officer at Greenwich in London and later became the Director of Nursing Officer at Croydon where she was responsible for Health Visiting and School Health, Domiciliary Midwifery and Day Nurseries. During this time she continued her TA service at Chelsea.
In 1976 Miss Hayward was made an Officer of The order of the British Empire (OBE).
Lt Col Audrey Hayward died peacefully on 10 January 2011, aged 94. Audrey was the much loved aunt of David, Jane, John and Richard. A Service of Thanksgiving will be held at the church of St John the Evangelist, Shirley, near Croydon on 31 January 2011 at 11am.
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37th Military Hospital RAMC West Africa World War Two.
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