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Army Student Nurse

Memories of an army student nurse at the Cambridge Military Hospital during the 1970s

Arlene Quinn recalls:

I was Q/Pte 1001065 ( I think ) and served at the CMH May 1971 to November before a posting to BMH Munster and then back to London at Queen Alexandra's Military Hospital Millbank for the rest of my service until I qualified in June 1974 and left the service in May 1975.

Student Nurse Army 1971 QARANC

I was in a training group with Arlene Selkirk, Anne Laidlaw, and Agnes ? ( now Marie Evans). I met my husband RAMC Private Clive Quinn when he was doing his 3 months general, posted temporarily from Tri- services hospital at Netley in Hampshire, as part of his RMH qualification.

I can remember Sister Slattery on ward 2 respiratory: "Flattery won't get you Stattery" was one of her sayings to the men. The AMSET (emergency trolley ) was based on ward 2. It was a huge red thing with a cardiac monitor and drugs. It had an anaesthetic box that lived on the top. If the cardiac arrest alarm came up for another ward, we had to grab the box and sprint down the corridor to where the emergency was. Two of us has to wheel the trolley as fast as we could to the ward. I can remember one event where I was on the end of the trolley wielding this heavy beast down past ward 4 to spy coming up from ward 8 ( High dependency unit ) their AMSET trolley coming the other way. We had to lean back and use our heels to slow our trolley down to turn the corner into the ward.

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Matron and Lieutenant Colonel inspections regularly took place. As students we were expected to look busy which was crazy as everything had been done for the inspection. So, we walked holding a bed pan or a jug from one bathroom or sluice at one end of the ward to the annex at the other end, smiling at the patients as they knew what we were doing. The "almost ready to go home" ones would take pity on us and call out nurse as we went by to keep us occupied.

Another memory was my first ward, Gynae ward 3, particularly surgery days. I dreaded being the "runner nurse" you had to roll down your uniform sleeves when in the corridor and roll them up when you were on the ward or pre- op or post op recovery Theatre area. With D&Cs being a short-operation you could be taking a patient down the long corridor to opposite ward 8/9 to theatre and get into a blue coverall and then bring back the next patient form recovery to handover to the ward nurse and then run back down again to theatre for the whole am or pm list! Exhausting. I remember the joke played on students was to get us to go to OPD for a "long wait" ! Or theatre for a "fallopian tube". We were rather naive as I recall. Sister Bradshaw ( I think) on Ward 3 caught me one day without my scissors and stated to the entire office "A nurse without scissors is a lavatory without paper!"

As a student nurse I was never very fond of children, however I loved working on ward one annexe on the babies' side, except at nights when it was so hot you could drop off before you knew it . The Senior in charge of training found out I hadn't done any children's nursing on the opposite nightingale side of ward 1 and I was transferred back for the final 2 weeks of my placement to get the experience checked off.

Night duty was a hoot, we had to do a round with night sister on the condition of the patient's and be expected to use our memory for handover and the first few hours on duty. I primed the patients to agree with whatever diagnosis and story of their condition I gave them. I did memorize the very ill ones on cardiac monitors ( again HUGE boxes- like a Dr Who Tardis size).

Once in the balcony ward, I had a patient go AWOL, he had slipped out to the pub for a bevy. I was so angry as I would have been put on a charge if night Sister found out.

I think it was ward 13 where patients had TB and during every shift we had to collect the sputum pots and tip the contents into a big bucket to take to the incinerator which was out the back, down a slope as I remember. We had to go fully gowned and masked with gloves on to hand the infectious sputum over: yup, I still have memories of cleaning the bucket and sputum pots which were stainless steel not disposable in my day.

The Grey Lady featured in many a night-time story, as we ate our supper. Whilst I personally didn't have an event there was always a very cold place in the upstairs corridors between ward 14 many sections (A,B,C,D and ward 13.

Because patients were posted to the hospital, they tended to stay there much longer than in a civilian hospital, so two of them were allocated (told) in the evening to be rostered to make the wake-up morning tea. They were grumpy sometimes, still it saved us a job first thing.

It saddened me to see that BBC documentary on the CMH hospital, with it all run down, and I didn't recognise bits of it at first. The historical element about the wars and plastic surgery was of great interest.

I have enjoyed my memory lane. I have had a fabulous nursing career that has taken me to Australia in the 90's and have only relinquished my license in May last year.

Arlene now works as a Coach and Facilitator at

Read about the history of the Cambridge Military Hospital.

Secret Tunnel CMH Aldershot Undertakers.

Grey Lady Ghost.

Aldershot Military Hospital Original Plans.

1932 Plans of the Cambridge and Louise Margaret Hospitals in Stanhope Lines, Aldershot Garrison.

Inspectors Report 1902 by Surgeon-General Keogh and Mr Fripp Cambridge Military Hospital

Miss Sidney Browne Matron-in-Chief Hospital Inspection 1903.

Forces War Records

Forces War Records are a genealogy site where you can find military records of over 6 million British Armed Forces personnel cross matched with over 4000 Regiments, Bases and Ships. This link includes a free search and a special discount of 40% off membership offer for visitors who use the discount code AF40 if they decide to become a member.
Search Now. A unique feature is their WW1 Soldiers Medical Records section.

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