The 1931 census records showed that more than half a million Irish-born people were living in Britain, the majority of whom were women. Most arrived not as members of as young, single migrant workers. During the 1940s and 1950s, large numbers of Irish women were recruited as student nurses. By 1951, 11 per cent of nurses and midwivesin Britain were Irish. THE NHS could not have survived without the contribution that was made by its nurses form overseas.
The migration of Irish men and women to Britain in the Second World War to do war-work was continuous with a long history of Irish men and women migrating to Britain for employment. Both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors brought them to the country. During the Second World War, ‘push’ factors were unemployment and/or low wages in Southern Ireland and ‘pull’ factors were plentiful employment and relatively higher wages in Britain.
Nursing in England was an attractive career for a young Irish woman from a humble background. Training to be a nurse in Ireland cost money but in England , nurses were trained for free. They were also provided with accommodation and security which that brings. Ideal for a young woman arriving in a new country.
Much of what is known about the life of an Irish nurse in wartime London is know through the diaries of Mary Ellen Morris from Galway. She was an Irish nurse and writer, known for her war diaries during the second world war. These are stored at the Imperial War Museum and in June 2014 were published under the title ‘A Very Private Diary’.
After passing the examination to train at Guy’s Hospital in London as a nurse probationer. After training, she was transferred to Kent. Her diaries start here with the arrival of survivors from the Dunkirk evacuation, and subsequently, injured pilots from the Battle of Britain. Here she also underwent training in fever nursing, a specialisation prior to antibiotics when whooping cough and diphtheria were fatal. Working at the ‘home front’ during The Blitz, she spent many nights moving very ill children and babies from their beds to safer underground shelters.
Despite the wishes of her matron, she enlisted with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserves, known as the QAs and worked with them until the end of the war including being part of the D D Landings in Normandy.
What’s the Story? is an imagined piece that was written to pay tribute to two very barve women- Aileen Turner and Mary Fleming, two nurses who worked in a TB hospital in Grove Park, South London. TB was a highly contagious disease and little is known about why Aileen and Mary were drawn to work in this field.