Former Nelson nursing students met at Crusoe’s Cafe in Stoke on Saturday to celebrate 60 years since they started their training at Nelson Hospital. Photo: Kate Russell.

Nelson nurses celebrate 60 years

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There were curfews, strict matrons and plenty of rules – but trainee Nelson nurses from 1958 wouldn’t change a thing.

Former nursing students from Nelson Hospital gathered at the weekend to celebrate 60 years since they started their training.

The group of 16 have made it a regular occasion since 1978 and come from afar as Christchurch, Cambridge and Picton to catch up on old times.

One member of the group, Mary Saxton, says their training lasted for three years and they were split into groups who all lived together in the nursing homes on-site at Nelson Hospital.

“I lived in Dalton House, which has since been pulled down for car-parking, and I was in Barton House as well,” she says.

She also got to be one of the first nurses to live in the Barbara Taylor home – which is now Franklyn Village.

“Some of us were as young as 17 and living in the home was a lot of fun. There was a huge amount of rules and curfews and we had a matron, of course,” she says.

“But, we had our moments when we were unhappy – we went through a lot of hard stuff but we all looked after each other.”

The trainee nurses worked six days a week – including five days on the wards and one day of school work, with maternity incorporated into their training, too.

Mary recalls contracting Rubella (German measles) while living in one of the homes.

“Because I was considered to be very infectious they sent me to my room and told me not to let anyone in. But my best friend snuck in and said ‘breathe on me – I want some time off too’. When the matron came back in, she had to dive into the wardrobe and hide.”

Needless to say, her best friend contracted the measles the very next day.

Another from the group, Solveig Sheed, ended up working as a surgical nurse at Nelson Hospital for 35 years and only retired 12 years ago. She says the reunions are a highlight for her.

“We enjoy it – as you can tell by all the gas-bagging. We were like a family – we borrowed each other’s clothes and knew each other’s boyfriends, and later on all our kids and husbands knew each other.”

Meanwhile, Mary says they all plan to keep meeting up regularly – as long as they are able.

“We said when we had our 50 year reunion that we wouldn’t make it to 60 – but here we are.”