Three Nursing Friends go to sea on a Hospital Ship
by Harry James
VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments) 1st Class Annabel ‘Hazey’ Hazlebrooke, Moira Bettison and Victoria ‘Vicky’ Mates had become the closest possible friends over the past 7 years; they worked together, they laughed and cried together, they enjoyed the good times together and supported each other through the tough times. Their friendship had begun when they had entered training as nurses in Spring 1937 as 18 year olds, though the oldest, Hazey, turned 19 only a few weeks later, she was a full 10 months older than Vicky and 8 months older than Moira. It was now February 1944 and the girls, as they still called themselves, were nursing as VADs on board a Hospital Ship.
On the face of it the girls were very different, not three people you’d automatically assume would be friends; they were almost stereotypes of the British class system of the time. Physically they didn’t seem that much different at a glance when in uniform. Only just over 1 inch separated the tallest (Hazey) from the shortest (Vicky). None of them was overweight, but closer examination did reveal a few physical differences; Hazey was a blue eyed blonde, the other two had brown hair, Vicky’s quite dark. Moira was green eyed and Vicky hazel eyed. Vicky was the shortest and also the most slender, wiry even. Hazey was lithe and willowy with easy languid movements, she was striking and could easily have been a model. Moira was perhaps the prettiest; her uniform hid an apple shaped body, wider at the hips and fuller at the bottom than the other two. Vicky had a permanent half smile which easily broke into a strong grin, she had mischief written all over her.
The physical similarities and differences were small compared to their upbringing and attitudes. Hazey showed the easy confidence of an aristocratic upper class girl, her mother was the daughter of an Earl, her father was a baronet and a naval Captain. She dealt with every situation with seeming ease, she seemed to just rise above trivia such as a dressing down from Matron for some misdemeanour or the other. Others demurred to her without her even seeming to notice. Hazy was an Old Roedean. Moira was almost professionally middle class, her father was a senior civil servant doing ‘important war work’. She had been to a good private day school in Surrey and had good manners drummed into her, her upbringing tended to make her risk averse and extremely respectful of authority, though she did have a twinkle in her eye. Finally, Vicky. Vicky was the daughter of a Thames Waterman, a well paid, skilled, blue collar worker. She had strong working class values of loyalty to her friends, family and community. She also had a well developed sense of fun. She was not quite the ‘cockney sparrer’ (sparrow), but nodded in that direction.
In actual fact, some of the above hid the real truth of the characters of the three girls, which when understood went a long way to explaining their friendship. Each had entered nursing in part to break away from their upbringing and to find something different to the various and different restrictions of their backgrounds.
Hazey’s demeanour was so ingrained it was a well fitting second skin, but it was a second skin. It hid some insecurities, not least of which was a feeling of inferiority when confronted with somebody like Vicky, who in Hazey’s mind had created her own achievements without any of the advantages enjoyed by Hazey. Hazey felt guilty about her privileges, she wanted to see the advantages of her upbringing spread more widely. Haze’s family had not been impressed by her choice of career. In fact, they were not overly impressed at the idea of a ‘young gel’ having a career at all, and to them a nurse was just a glorified servant.
Moira was closest to the person she seemed, but part of her was desperate to break out, do something daring and escape the bonds of middle-class, which were perhaps the most pretentious of all. Moira’s family had not actually tried to stop her going into nursing ‘so long as you work and study hard and progress from nursing to medical school’. Moira just wanted to have some fun and perhaps get into some (limited) trouble.
Vicky was aware of her comparatively lowly upbringing; it made her a very determined individual with a measure of inner anger. Vicky was certainly the brightest of the three of them, but that was not always apparent because of the limitations of the very basic education she had received. Later, after the war, backed by some doctors who had uncovered her intellect, she actually did go to medical school and became a respected Medical Consultant, but that was in the future. What they shared was a commitment to nursing and to caring for their patients and each was unswervingly loyal to the other.
In the time from 1937 the girls had completed their training at Guys Hospital in London and had nursed through the London blitz. They had experienced, with some initial shock, the discipline of nursing. They had each at various times felt the wrath of a Ward Sister or of Matron. Vicky had once been spanked with a slipper across Sister’s knee for cheek.
“If you are going to give me cheek, your bottom cheeks will feel the result!”
Very unofficial, but Vicky took it in her stride. Afterwards she told the others that Sister had laughed when she lifted Vicky’s skirt and saw she had cut off her uniform directoire knicker legs to make french knickers. Sister told Vicky not to worry about it, saying: “We all do it now.” She also approved of Vicky’s American style suspender belt. “No girdle to remove to get at your bottom for spanking!”
Late in 1941, they enrolled at the Red Cross as ‘mobile’ VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurses, the term mobile made them available for drafting away from their local area.
They were welcomed into the VAD with very open arms. The majority of VADs received basic nursing training from the Red Cross or from St John’s Ambulance and worked as emergency ancillaries to professional nursing. It was relatively unusual for new VAD entrants to be fully trained nurses.
The girls found themselves at Haslar Naval Hospital at Devonport, where the discipline was very quickly seen to be noticeably firmer. People seemed to be marching even when only walking, officers were saluted (not by nurses), everybody seemed to be ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’, there was a constant, unspoken, attitude of do-as-you-are-told-or-else. Hazey was the only one largely unaffected by this, she had been bought up in a naval family. She did her best to help the others adjust.
They had been at Haslar about 3 months and had managed to stick together, sharing the same duty roster. They came off duty at 16:00 one day with another of the VADs by the name of Rose and headed to their mess dormitory where they immediately took off their caps and aprons and collapsed onto their beds (cots in navy parlance), except Rose, who stayed fully dressed with a distracted and serious look on her face.
“Come on Rose, relax, we’re off duty now for 8 whole hours,” said Vicky.
Rose looked across. “Sorry, girls, I’ve got a Table with Matron in 25 minutes.”
“A table?” Queried Moira. “What’s that?”
“You don’t know?” Rose looked surprised. “Lucky you. OK, I’ll explain.”
“QARNNS (Queen Alexandra’s Royal Navy Nursing Service – Matron and all the Sisters were QARRNSs), our bosses, have adopted navy practice. If you do something wrong which goes on report you appear at a disciplinary Table in front of a senior officer, Captain’s Table and so on. In this instance, Matron’s Table; it is rather like a trial, but much shorter.”
Vicky interjected: “What on earth did you do?”
“The Surgeon Commander told me that a dressing I had done was sloppy. I told him where to get off, which apparently is gross insubordination. I have a bit of a short temper, this is the second Table I’ve had for letting rip. The last time was to Sister. I was confined to the hospital for a month with extra duties. I guess this time it will be worse, being the second occasion and to the Commander.
“Anyway, you go and stand in front of Matron, who sits at her desk, which I suppose is the Table, the charge is read out by Sister and you are asked to admit or deny the charge. Any evidence is given, Matron decides your guilt or not, depending how you have pleaded, and then if guilty you are declared a defaulter and she makes an ‘award’. That is the punishment.”
“What do you think you’ll get?” Asked Moira.
“I think it will be cuts this time, I can’t see I’ll get away with anything else,” came the reply.
“Cuts?” Said Moira. “What are they?”
Hazey spoke in her usual matter-of-fact upper class drawl: “I would imagine she means the cane, certainly that is what it was at school.”
“The cane!!!” Gasped Moira. “What, hold out your hand and get hit?”
Rose spoke again. “Er, no, you don’t hold out your hand, you bend over the desk.”
“So, basically, you think you are going off now to get your bum thrashed?” Said Vicky.
“Oh no, it won’t happen straight away, and Matron won’t do it. It will be one of the Sisters and it’s done by arrangement. They give you time to think about it, but it’s that or go home. Anyway, I’d better get off, it won’t do to be late.”
Rose was only gone for about half an hour. She returned in slightly better cheer, announcing: “Oh well, that’s that bit done with. I’ve been awarded 3 cuts from our Senior Sister and I’m getting it tomorrow straight after duty at 08:10 in the morning. It’ll give me a few hours to recover before next duty. It could have been worse.”
All four of them went back on duty at 24:00. At 08:00, Hazey, Moira and Vicky bade Rose good luck and headed off to the dormitory. Rose took a trip to the heads (lavatory) to prepare herself and then set off for Matron’s office, which was made available for punishment purposes.
By 08:30 Rose was back to the dormitory. She threw herself face down onto her cot and pulled her skirt back to uncover her bottom.
“Get me a cold towel, someone please, and put it on me bum.”
The other girls looked across and saw Rose’s buttocks had three livid red raised lines right across the centre, neatly spaced.
“I’ve had worse at home,” said Rose. “But Sister is pretty good with the rattan. I’ll certainly feel it for a day or two. Perhaps it’ll teach me to mind me tongue. I don’t know, I certainly think I’ll pause in future before letting rip.”
Life continued at Haslar for a few more months. The girls by now were settled into naval nursing routine and discipline. They had managed to avoid getting into any serious trouble, suffering only some boring extra duties for some infringement or the other. All three were well accepted by their QARNNS seniors and were treated as the fully competent nurses they were.
Hazey noticed that from time to time Moira had started asking her questions about punishment, such as: “Were you caned at Roedean?”
This was not actually a common occurrence, but Hazey confirmed she had once been caned by the Head. She was a 16 year old 5th Former at the time.
“Did it hurt.”
“Of course it jolly well did, but I got over it.”
“Did you get it over your clothes, or, you know…?”
“Over my gym knickers.”
“Were you frightened?”
“No, not frightened, but, well, nervous, let’s say.”
And then, eventually: “Were you excited?”
On that question Hazey looked steadily at Moira. She replied: “Look Moira, what is this actually about? Why are you so interested in this?”
Moira thought for a moment before replying.
“I’m not sure I really know, but, I suppose I was a goody two shoes at school and I was always slightly in awe of the girls who were always getting into trouble. They seemed so daring somehow and seemed to ignore the consequences. I rather wonder if I would be up to it and just for once I’d like to be naughty and daring, but I don’t know that I could take it if I ended up getting cuts.”
Hazey looked at Moira anew before saying: “Moira, I’m quite sure you could take it. It wouldn’t kill you. It certainly hurts, like hell actually, but it’s not life threatening. You are sore for a day or two, but it doesn’t stop you carrying on with life. You can actually get quite a nice warm feeling when the worse wears off, but for me it’s not worth it for that. I don’t actually find it exciting, but I met a couple of girls at school who admitted to feeling excitement.
“Look, my advice to you is, if it happens it happens, just go with it, but don’t try to provoke it. If you did make it happen firstly I think you’d feel massively guilty. Secondly, that feeling of guilt would likely destroy any feelings of excitement which you might otherwise feel.”
Moira thanked Hazey and her questions became much more infrequent, but did still occasionally arise.
In June 1943, Matron called together all the VAD nurses and told them that the navy was looking for additional hospital ship nurses. Any VADs wishing to volunteer should let their Senior Sister know in the next 48 hours.
It did not take 48 hours for Hazey, Moira and Vicky to come forward. They were an inseparable package.
The Mediterranean had become a key focus area of operations and Vicky observed: “We might get a Mediterranean cruise out of it.”
They found themselves on a train heading to Newcastle to join a brand new hospital ship, HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Nightingale. The initial month was to be spent ‘working up’, making sure everything worked before formally accepting the ship from the shipyard builders and building a working team on board.
In fact they were the last of the nurses to join. All the others had been on board for a week before Hazey, Moira and Vicky joined them. They were welcomed on board by Matron Christine Mould in her office.
The welcome was in many ways similar to that received at Haslar. Their nursing experience was a prized asset. However, Matron had more to say.
“Firstly, understand that what I am going to say now was said to all the new joiners when they arrived, VADs and QAs alike, you are not being singled out. I need all of my nursing staff to really understand from day one what they have accepted by joining the ship, what their duties, responsibilities and liabilities are in the widest sense.”
She paused for a moment, looking each of the girls in the eye to ensure she full had their attention.
“Here are three documents for each of you. I expect you to have read them and to understand them.”
Matron passed over to each of them a bound folder, each folder containing about 5 or 6 typed pages. The first folder had a label reading: ‘The Legal Status and duties of QA and VAD nurses afloat’; the second was entitled: ‘Naval and nautical terms and layout map of HMHS Nightingale’; the third: ‘Disciplinary Expectations and Procedures for Nursing Staff aboard HMHS Nightingale’.
“These are not official documents published from above. I have produced them myself over the past few years with some help as needed. They are documents I wish I had myself at various points of my career; the last document combines official regulations with procedures which I have laid down to be followed on this ship.”
Matron continued: “We will likely be sailing into danger. We are a hospital ship protected by the terms of the Geneva Convention. However, hospital ships have come under attack in this war and there are occasions when we are not protected. For example, if we are alongside a warship accepting a transfer of casualties from them, the warship remains a legitimate target, we would be collateral. Your status, actually like us QAs, is non-combatant uniformed civilian; you should understand what orders you must obey under both naval regulations and maritime law.
“The second document is probably self explanatory, learn the language on board so that you understand directions and orders and can be quickly understood by crew members; know your way around the ship, even in the dark.
“The third is one I sincerely hope you won’t need, but I still want you to understand it. Ward discipline is much like any hospital, but probably stricter and snappier. We just don’t have time to mess around. You will find yourselves under great pressure when the wards are full. You are human and will make mistakes, but we can’t afford stupid and repetitive mistakes or failure to follow instructions. A day washing bedpans can be amazingly salutary, and I am sure the Sisters have a range of other ways of keeping you in line which I don’t need to know about.
“In the event of a serious breach of discipline you will be formally charged and called to a ‘Matron’s Table’ in front of me, that is a disciplinary hearing. If I find against you my available sanctions start with removal of privileges such as shore leave. For the most serious, I can put you ashore at the next safe port to await transport home and likely dismissal from further service. There are various punishments I can award between these two points. The document explains the procedures, your rights, and how you must conduct yourself if subject to a disciplinary award.
“Last point. You have been used to getting genuine free time, going ashore to the pub after duty and having a drink and so on. None of that applies here. When you are on duty you are on duty, when you are off duty you are on-call. There is strictly no alcohol for any medical or nursing staff, not in any circumstances; breach of that rule will have serious consequences.
The girls remained silent.
“Very well, let’s not end this meeting on that last point. I want a happy and committed band of nurses, supportive of each other and, when this all over, able look back on their time aboard Nightingale with pride and sense of achievement, having made many new lifelong friends. That was my experience as a nurse in the Great War and I want it for you.
“I understand you all have some experience as Theatre Nurses, so I am assigning you all to the Theatre Ward under Sister Jane Dustin here. Good luck, Sister will now take you to your quarters. Today is Monday, your first duty roster will be 08:00 Wednesday morning. Use the time in between now and then to meet your new colleagues, to thoroughly find your way around the ship and to study those three documents.”
They left the office with Sister Dustin, who spoke first.
“OK you three, as you might guess, I am known on board as ‘Dusty’, just don’t call me that to my face. To save you the trouble of finding out, Matron is known as ‘Cheesy’ Mould, but only the Surgeon Commander gets away with calling her that, and even that is only in private or ashore in company with her senior QAs.
“Frankly speaking, we have had VADs on other ships who have been completely useless. The naval sick berth attendants have had greater skills. We have been very fussy about the nurses we have accepted for duty on this ship. I have read your records. If in the next week your performance lives up to your record I will treat you in every way like experienced senior nurses.”
Vicky spoke: “OK, that seems fair enough.”
The reply was: “It is fair, but the correct response from you is ‘yes Sister’, no more.”
“Yes Sister,” they all said.
When they reached their mess, nobody else was there. Sister Dustin showed them their cots and lockers and left them to it, but saying before departing: “Anything you need, just come and find me. I am approachable, but don’t waste my time with total trivia.”
They sat down at the mess table, looked at each other, and jointly grinned.
Vicky said: “Phew! What have we let ourselves in for?”
Moira said: “I suppose we should unpack,” but actually started to glance through the documents. It was the third document concerning discipline which drew her attention the most.
The document had a short index at the front:
- Procedure for conduct at a disciplinary Table
- Possible punishment awards
- Loss of privileges
- Confinement to quarters
- Loss of seniority
- Discharge ashore
- Procedure for administration and receipt of cuts
Moira turned to the introduction:
‘This document refers to procedure and conduct of Tables and Punishments for serious defaults of nursing duty or conduct of non-officer rank nurses (VADs).
By accepting service as a VAD you have also voluntarily accepted adherence to the arrangements here described. As a civilian, you have the legal right to refuse punishment. If you take this course you will automatically make yourself liable to be put ashore at the first safe port to await transport home where your case will be reviewed by the VAD Commandant staff and further action decided.
If your default is of a criminal nature, you may be handed to the civil authorities for further action.’
Well, that seemed straightforward. She then turned to section 3.5, ‘Cuts’. She couldn’t stop herself doing so.
‘Cuts are strokes of a rattan cane delivered to the uncovered buttocks of the offender.
Cuts are normally administered by a Senior Sister.
There is no limit to the number of cuts that can be awarded. However, if greater than 6 it is normal to allow the defaulter to opt to receive them in separate punishments of up to 6 each. If Matron, or other awarding officer deputed by Matron, decide that greater than 18 cuts are justified they should give serious consideration to awarding punishment number 6 – discharge.
Punishment cuts of up to 6 should normally be executed within two weeks of the award, which time period allows scheduling without interruption of the duty rosters of either the defaulter or the administrating Senior Sister.
The administration of a second or third punishment making up an award of more than 6 cuts must be within 2 weeks of the previous punishment.
Receipt of cuts is not an allowable reason to avoid the duty roster. Administration of cuts should normally be made at the start of a rest period of at least 4 hours.
Defaulters receiving cuts should be standing in silence outside the appointed place of punishment 5 minutes before the set time. The required dress is Ward dress uniform without apron or cap, they should remove any lower body underwear garments which cover the buttocks prior to reporting for punishment. Stockings should be worn and supported by garters or a suspender garment which does not cover the buttocks.
Defaulters will be called into the appointed place and must stand and await instructions. They will be asked to confirm their name and number and their willingness to accept the awarded punishment. They will then be told to take position.
The position is facing the end of the desk, bent forward at the waist with the upper body resting on the desk. The uniform skirt should be raised to clear the buttocks either before or after the bending movement. Defaulters are advised, but not required, to grip the sides or, if within reach, the far end of the desk.
Defaulters must not in any way seek to avoid a cut by any movement. Any attempt to do so will cause the cut to be void and to be delivered again. Once bent in position, defaulters will not rise until authorised to do so. Any attempt to stand before being authorised will result in the entire punishment recommencing from and including the first cut.
On completion of the punishment defaulters will be told to rise and will be dismissed.
If more than one defaulter is receiving cuts they will be called into the appointed place singly.’
Moira looked up at the others, who had begun to unpack.
“These punishment procedures are really detailed, it looks as if everything has been thought of and that makes it look as if they are really used. It’s no idle threat. I wonder when in Matron’s career she wished she had had this document?”
Hazey replied: “The trick is to follow the rules, or at least not be caught.”
To which Vicky said: “I always seem to get into trouble for something or the other, so I might as well resign myself. I’d better read up.”
They sailed a few days later to Devonport where they were told they would be shortly sailing south to a hot climate and to draw hot weather uniform.
The ship proceeded south and put into Gibraltar. After a week in Gibraltar they headed east into the Mediterranean and put into Alexandria, Egypt. It was now October 1943 and they heard that allied troops had entered Naples.
Alexandria, and the large military hospital there, was to become their base from which they steamed to the Bay of Naples where casualties from the fighting were ferried out to them. They then headed back to Alexandria at speed, stabilizing, operating on and generally treating the casualties, often fighting to keep them alive on the way. The return voyage was always hectic in the extreme; there was no real rest time. The duty roster went out the door. Sisters gave out rest breaks as and when they could.
Then, on one return voyage in January 1944, carrying casualties from the raging Battle of Monte Cassino, they had to go alongside a Cruiser at sea to take off burns casualties which the Cruiser had picked from the sea after a merchant vessel had been torpedoed. The next 48 hours were hell. The ship took an extra 5 days to return to Alexandria due to storms off the Egyptian coast which the ship needed to avoid in order for the surgeons to be able to continue to work on the serious cases.
Around 21:00 hours three days later, Sister Dustin approached Hazey.
“Nurse Hazlebrook, you have been on active duty now since 08:00 today, coming up 13 hours. I think you came on duty at the same time as your two friends, Bettison and Mates. Things are a bit quieter now. I’m standing the three of you down for four hours rest from 22:00. You can tell the others. I’m planning on going off duty at 23:59, so Sister Knowles will be on duty when you come back. Don’t be late!”
Hazy gave Sister Dustin a thin smile. Both knew that Sister Knowles was a stickler with not much sense of humour.
“Thank you, Sister.”
Hazey passed the word and an hour later the three of them headed off to their mess. When they got there, Vicky said she was dying for a fag and was going up to the deck for 20 minutes before turning in. She asked if anyone wanted to join her. Both of the other two agreed that a breath of fresh air would be welcome, and even though Moira was a non-smoker she went along as well. As they went to set off, Moira turned back and went to her locker. She took out her rolled up uniform cape.
“It gets cold up there at night, best be prepared.”
On deck, Moira suggested they should go and sit under the last lifeboat on the starboard side.
“The moon is on the other side at the moment, it’s really dark under that boat. Nobody will notice us there. We will be left in peace to chat.”
“Good idea,” said Hazey, and led the way.
Once settled in place, Moira glanced around and unrolled her cape. Wrapped up in the middle of it was a bottle of rum.
“Anybody want some?” Grinned Moira.
Vicky and Hazey were speechless.
Moira said: “I brought a couple of bottles with me when we came aboard. By the time Cheesy gave us her speech, I thought it was too late. Somebody told me the Navy was famous for rum, bum and baccy. I thought I could get away with one out of three!”
Vicky and Hazey looked at each other then back to Moira.
“Hell,” said Vicky. “This is a bit strong for you; decided to be a rebel, have you?”
Vicky was unaware of the conversations Moira had initiated with Hazey back at Haslar and just smiled when Moira replied: “Let’s just say I had a moment of madness and decided to break out of my shell. Anyway, do you want some or not?”
Moira opened the bottle and offered it to Vicky.
“You first,” responded Vicky.
Moira took a large swig and passed the bottle over. Vicky took an equally large gulp and passed the bottle to Hazey, who muttered: “Oh well” and took a swig.
They stayed for about 20 minutes and each took several swigs of the rum. Between them they had drunk maybe slightly more than a quarter of the bottle, not enough to be drunk but, considering how tired they were, it certainly made them a bit light headed.
With the bottle rolled back up in the cape, the girls carefully made their way back to the mess. They removed their uniforms and fell into their cots into a deep sleep. In their slightly befuddled state, they forgot to arrange to be woken.
They were due back on the Ward at 02:00. At 02:20, they found themselves being rudely shaken awake by another VAD who had been sent down from the Ward by Sister Knowles to fetch them. They quickly dressed and hurried to the Ward.
“Now we’re for it,” muttered Vicky.
“Knowlesy will have us on duty and washing bed pans for a month!” Hazey responded.
“Pity it is Knowlesy. Dusty would probably just give us a dressing down. She knows how tired we all are,” said Moira.
Sister Knowles was waiting for them. “Where have you been, why are you late?”
As usual, Hazey took on the role of spokesperson.
“We’re truly very sorry, Sister. After 14 hours on duty we simply fell asleep and didn’t wake up in time.”
At this point, in spite of her reputation, Sister Knowles was inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and started to think in terms of simply giving them some nasty extra tasks during the duty period. She did not want to shout on the Ward in the middle of the night, so she came close, face-to-face with Hazey. She started to speak and then stopped and sniffed.
“Have you been drinking, Nurse Hazlebrooke?”
Hazey realised it would make matters worse to lie, and admitted to taking a small tot of rum.
“And where did you get this rum?” Came the question.
Before Hazey could reply, Moira admitted to providing the rum. Sister Knowles transferred her position to be in front of Moira. She sniffed.
“It would seem that you also have partaken?”
Moira confessed that she had. Sister Knowles then approached Vicky.
“I imagine that you are going to make it a full set?”
Vicky gulped slightly and admitted that she too had a tot.
“Come with me,” ordered Sister Knowles.
They set off in the direction of the Ward Sisters’ office where Senior Sister Parker was sat at the desk. Sister Knowles went in and Sister Parker looked up quizzically. Sister Knowles began.
“I’ve got Hazlebrooke, Bettison and Mates outside. They turned up 30 minutes late for duty and that was after I had to send somebody to fetch them. But it doesn’t end there.”
“Really, what else?” Sister Parker enquired.
“I smelt their breath, rather accidentally at first. They have been drinking and have admitted it. I don’t really know what to do.”
“Are they actually drunk? Are they fit for duty?” Enquired Sister Knowles.
“No, I don’t think they are drunk, and I think they can continue on duty.”
In her mind Sister Parker cursed Knowlsey for bringing this to her. Surely she could have dealt with it herself simply by making the girls’ lives uncomfortable for a day or two, but now it was in the open.
“Well, Sister Knowles, you are the Ward Sister on duty. It is your decision. What do you want to do? I should tell you that if you do decide to handle the matter yourself it will be better for everyone for me to remain unaware of the matter.”
Sister Knowles thought for a moment. It was not in her nature to do things on the quiet. She was officious.
“I think, Sister, that I am going to put them on report. It’s too serious not to.”
“Very well, Sister, it now becomes my responsibility to take the matter to Matron and get a Matron’s Table convened. I don’t believe in dragging these things out. Please go and write the charge citations now and bring them to me. Tell the nurses that they are on report and will be informed as soon as possible when their Table will be. Meanwhile, they should return to duty.”
Sister Knowles left the office, relayed the decision to the girls and sent them off to their duties, telling them to report to her when they came off duty again at 06:00.
Out of Knowlsey’s earshot, Vicky said: “We really, really are for it now. Remember what Cheesy said about alcohol?”
“Yes, I do,” retorted Marion. “Do you think we might get, you know, cuts?”
Hazey bought the talk to an end. “Look, we can all agree it’s serious. Hopefully we won’t be put ashore. In fact, I suspect that we won’t be going ashore for quite a long while. I don’t think Matron will want to lose us as nurses; at least I hope not. But whatever happens we have to accept and deal with it.”
By the end of the 4 hour duty period, everything was arranged. The girls reported to Sister Knowles.
“You will appear at Matron’s Table at 10:30 hours, just over 28 hours from now. I have written the new rosters for that period. You will be coming off a 4 hour duty period at 10:00 immediately prior to the Table. You should be outside Matron’s office in your Number One Walking Out uniforms at 10:20. You should stand silently and wait to be called. Your cases will be heard together. You may have a friend to speak for you if you wish.”
The girls were dismissed and headed for the mess in silence. Each took to their cot and pretended to sleep, but it was well over an hour before any of them succeeded in actually doing so.
The next hours passed, sometimes seemingly to drag on endlessly, sometimes seeming to be galloping towards the appointed hour only too quickly.
The final duty period before the Table eventually ended and the girls hurried to the mess deck to get changed and be ready. They checked each other over and declared themselves fit for muster.
Hazey pronounced: “Chins up and stand erect, ladies. We may have defaulted but we remain strong. If asked or necessary, do you want me to speak for us all?”
Vicky and Moira agreed to this.
“Right, come on then, let’s get this done.”
And off they went to stand and wait outside Matron’s office.
At exactly 10:30, Sister Knowles emerged, stood to one side and ordered them in. They marched in smartly and lined up in front of Matron’s desk, at which she remained seated and looking up straight at them. Standing alongside Matron’s desk was Senior Sister Parker.
Matron opened proceedings. “Sister Knowles, please read the charge citations.”
“Yes, Matron. Nurse Hazlebrooke is charged with arriving late on duty without authority or adequate explanation. She is also charged with consuming alcohol whilst aboard this ship, contrary to regulations.
“Nurse Mates is charged with arriving late on duty without authority or adequate explanation. She is also charged with consuming alcohol whilst aboard this ship, contrary to regulations.
“Nurse Bettison is charged with arriving late on duty without authority or adequate explanation. She is also charged with consuming alcohol whilst on board this ship, contrary to regulations. She is further charged with bringing alcohol onto this ship for consumption by herself and others on board, contrary to regulations.”
Matron spoke again: “You have each heard the charges against you. Yes or no, do you admit the charges? Hazlewood?”
“Very well, do you have anything to say before I consider your awards? Is one of you acting as spokesperson?”
Hazey responded. “Yes, Matron, Thank you Matron. We are all agreed that I may speak for all of us.”
“And what do you have to say?”
“Firstly, Matron, we were not drunk or unable to perform our duties. We had come off duty immediately before drinking the alcohol and had completed 14 hours without a rest break. We were physically and emotionally exhausted and made an appallingly bad judgement. Nurse Bettison has admitted supplying the alcohol. She bought it on board before knowing the regulations which you had established on this ship, and we have no experience of any other ship. When she heard your words when we joined the ship she was too frightened to hand in the drink. She hid it and forgot about it until the night in question. We all shared the decision to consume some at the time. Notwithstanding what I have said, we are all deeply sorry for what we have done and freely admit our guilt. We recognise that we must accept consequences.”
“Thank you, Hazlebrooke, that goes some way to ameliorate the anger I am feeling. It does not excuse your actions. Do either you, Mates, or you, Bettison, wish to add anything?”
“Sister Knowles, can you confirm that they were fit to perform their duties?”
“I can, Matron.”
“Very well. Sister Knowles, please take the defaulters outside for a few minutes whilst I discuss this with Senior Sister Parker and consider the awards.”
With Sister Knowles leading, the four women left the office and stood in the corridor. It seemed like an hour but was in fact only 10 minutes before they were called back in. They returned to their line in front of Matron.
Matron stood and spoke. “You have escaped being put ashore by the very skin of your teeth. If you had been unfit for duty, I believe that would have been the only course of action available to me.
“You have been outstanding nurses and I am relieved not to be losing you, subject to you accepting my award, but I am hugely disappointed by your behaviour. Your punishments need to be severe and exemplary.
“My awards are:
“Hazlebrooke, 2 cuts for late on duty, 4 cuts for consuming alcohol.”
Hazey responded: “Thank you, Matron.”
“Mates, 2 cuts for late on duty, 4 cuts for consuming alcohol.”
Hazey slightly nudged Vicky with her elbow. “Thank you, Matron.”
“Bettison, 2 cuts for late on duty, 2 cuts for bringing alcohol on board, 4 cuts for consuming alcohol. As this is greater than 6 cuts you may opt to receive half the punishment at each of two separate occasions.”
“Thank you, Matron.” Moira responded with a slight tremor in her voice.
Matron spoke again. “The awards will be administered in this office by Senior Sister Parker. I will make the office available for that purpose.”
Then, addressing herself to Sister Parker: “Sister, there are no meetings scheduled in this office for the next three days that cannot be either re-scheduled, or moved to another location.
“These awards must be completed within 14 days of today’s date. Bettison, if you choose to exercise your option of two administrations the first must be within 14 days and the second within 14 days of the date of the first.
“Please now each of you confirm that you accept these awards.”
“Yes, Matron. Thank you Matron.”
The others followed suit. The Table was formally bought to a close and they were dismissed.
Sister Parker called them to her as soon as they left the office. “Sisters’ Office now, ladies, let’s get this organised.”
They went down to the office together and lined up in front of Sister’s desk.
“Right, I believe we will be back to Alex the morning after next. We will immediately discharge our casualties ashore and then port duty rosters will apply. I believe we will be in port at least 2 days to replenish and so forth. So, it looks as if you will be off duty and free no later than 14:00. Knowing you three, I imagine you would like to appear together and also to get this over with, so unless there are any reasons against I am going to administer these awards at 15:00 on the first day in port. Do any of you have any reason not to make that time and date?”
“In that case, if you haven’t already read the procedures, make sure you have done before the time. If you have read them, I strongly suggest you read them again. Bettison; this will be the first half of your award, do you want to schedule the second half now?”
Moira gulped slightly, looked at her friends and then spoke nervously: “If it’s acceptable to you, Sister, I’d like to waive that option and receive my 8 cuts together.”
Sister Parker looked carefully and steadily at Moira. “It is your right, but are you really quite sure about it?”
“Yes Sister, I want to get it over and done with”.
“Very well. Finally, you are entitled to bring a witness to observe the execution of the award. In any case, Sister Knowles as the Reporting Officer is obliged to observe. You are now dismissed ladies, go and complete your rest period.”
As soon as they were away from the vicinity of the Wards, Hazey addressed herself to Moira. “Are you sure you are being altogether sensible here? I hope you are not thrill seeking.”
Vicky wondered why Hazey put it that way and wondered what had been said. Moira’s response pretty much answered her unspoken question.
“Hazey, you know because I told you that part of me wants to escape my schooldays goody, goody reputation. Yes, partly I want to dare myself to take these 8 together and it feels somehow exciting. If I ever meet up with my old school chums, at least some of whom will have experienced Services life, I could steer the conversation to Services discipline and then tell them my experience. I think they’d look at me a bit differently. But, in all honesty I want to get it done with. I’m frightened I might chicken out of a second helping and end up getting dismissed, so prop me up and keep me strong, girls!”
From that point up until the time to go off duty, everything went very closely to the sequence and times predicted by Sister Parker.
At 14:00 they went to the mess, which was very quiet, many of the nurses had already been granted shore leave. They took off their aprons, caps and Ward service uniforms and put on summer dress uniform dresses. Hazey and Vicky were wearing the newly fashionable suspender belts to hold up their stockings. Moira was wearing a girdle to contain her fuller figure. Once she had removed her dress she modestly turned her back and removed her girdle. She replaced it with stocking garters and replaced her knickers, rather forgetting that she would not be wearing them. After brushing their hair, it was just past 14:40, less than 15 minutes to report outside the office, which was actually on the same deck and only 2 minutes away.
They looked at each other and each of them managed a smile, which turned into a rueful grin. Hazey had a thought which she addressed to Moira.
“Moira, you are getting the most and, unlike me and Vicky, you are a virgin at anything remotely like this. If there isn’t a set running order for us I suggest you go in first, the waiting is the worst bit and we wouldn’t want your nerve to fail.”
“Thanks, Hazey, I think I’ll take you up on that, if Vicky doesn’t mind.”
Vicky nodded and Hazey said: “I don’t mind being last.”
Hazey turned towards her cot and said: “OK, time to make ready.” She bent forwards, reached up under her skirt, pulled down her knickers and stepped out of them, picking them up as she did so. It was all done in one seemingly unhurried movement. She then tossed them onto her cot.
Vicky observed: “Blimey, Hazey, you make even that look elegant!”
Hazey looked at her seriously. “Look you two, let me tell you something that is not in the regulations and procedures, and please take my advice on this.”
She then delivered what amounted to a speech, though it was unprepared.
“I am a socialist, as I think you know. I want Mr Attlee to form a Government when the war ends and set about creating a fairer world. Look at us, I am the daughter of a Baronet and an Earl’s granddaughter, but you two are every bit as capable of anything I can do. But, I don’t want to chuck out the benefits of my upbringing in terms of the confidence it enables me to show, whether or not I actually feel it. The dignity I project, my manners towards others, standards of duty and so forth, I want everybody to behave like that.
“We are about to be punished. We know we deserve it, but that does not mean surrendering our dignity or our self-respect. Walk into that office with your head high. When you are told to do something, do it without hurry, but smoothly and with deliberate movements. Be in charge of yourself.
“When you feel a cut it will hurt, but don’t lose control. Gasp, or whatever is your instinctive reaction, but don’t move. Do as expectant mothers are taught to do; breathe. Take a long hard breath in, let it out slowly, and then relax for the next cut.
“Finally, when told to stand do it in the same way; unhurriedly and deliberately. Stand upright, straighten and smooth your dress, look at Sister Parker and remember to say ‘Thank you, Sister’. If she doesn’t dismiss you and says nothing, ask if you are dismissed, then turn and walk out, head high.
“Right, knickers off! Let’s see you do it.”
Vicky and Moira reached down and up and in a slightly swifter movement than Hazey they whipped off their knickers and tossed them onto their cots.
They all laughed.
“Well, be careful not to look like strippers, but not bad, not bad at all. Come on, let’s get on parade.”
They were in fact lined up outside the office 2 minutes early. Sister Knowles came bustling past and went into the office.
At precisely 15:00 Sister Knowles opened the door and simply said: “First.”
Moira stepped forward and into the office, trying hard to remember Hazey’s little speech.
This was the fourth time since Patty Parker had been made up to Senior Sister two years previously that she had been deputed to administer cuts. The first time she thought she had probably been at least as nervous as the defaulter, but she managed to carry out the punishment of 3 cuts more or less as required, though in hindsight probably slightly leniently.
Patty herself, as a young VAD in France with the Army towards the end of the Great War, had received 2 cuts for a minor insubordination, though the Army called them ‘strokes’. In those days they only had to lift their skirts and receive them over their drawers. Prior to her Army service Patty had also once felt the cane at school for rowdiness. That one was a case of instant retribution; one cane stroke on the hand. Nevertheless, Patty was grateful to have had at least that amount of experience of the process, even if she never ever imagined at the time that she would one day be grateful for it.
After delivering those first 3 cuts she realised that it was likely to happen again, so occasionally when possible she would practice in the Sisters’ office with a pillow playing the part of the defaulter. She became quite proficient with the rattan, the pillow also gave her the thought that a pillow set at the end of the desk for the defaulter to lean over might help to keep them in place and reduce the need of the taller ones to stretch their legs quite so far behind, and to keep their feet just a little closer together.
As she stopped in front of the desk, Moira noticed the pillow. At least there was no doubt about where she was supposed to stand.
Sister Parker spoke firmly: “Nurse, please state your name and service number and your award.”
Still thinking of Hazey, Moira looked Sister Parker in the eye and declared: Nurse Moira Bettison, service number Y stroke 721315, I will receive 8 cuts, Sister.”
“Very well, go to the side of the desk, take position over the pillow, feet slightly apart and raise your skirt to clear your buttocks.”
Moira did as instructed, managing to lift her skirt and bend forward in one movement. Making sure that her skirt was resting in the small of her back and would not drop back down, she gripped the sides of the desk and then parted her feet.
Defaulters were told to part their feet slightly in order to be braced. It reduced the chance of them moving. Moira was aware of revealing her sex and along with the trepidation it did feel both daring and a bit exciting.
Sister Parker picked up the rattan, which was basically a crooked handled senior school cane. She walked to Moira’s left side and started to line up the first cut. She did not go in for tapping the target, she just waved the tip of the rattan slightly to and fro behind the target spot, then keeping her eye on the spot drew it back to a point parallel to the floor and above and behind her head. Finally, she swept it down and it struck, as always she aimed the first one about halfway between the centre and bottom of the bottom cheeks.
Moira was forcing herself to keep her mind on Hazey’s words. She heard the rattan whoosh through the air, felt the blow fall and heard the loud crack. The sharp pain followed just a moment later and she gasped loudly. She remained alert and remembered the next thing was to breathe and relax, which she did. No sooner had she relaxed than the second cut landed, this time at the high point of her bottom. The second cut was somehow a quite different sensation. It still swooshed, but landed with a slightly duller crack. The pain that came was just as bad, but not quite as sharp. Moira remained in control and again she forced her brain to make herself ‘breathe, pause, relax’. The punishment continued with cuts three, four and five which were placed very evenly in the space between the first two. Moira continued to force herself to concentrate and remained in control of herself.
As the fifth cut landed, a thought passed through Patty Parker’s mind; usually it was traditional for the final cut to be the hardest, one to remember. The next was the sixth cut. It was very unusual for there to be more to come. Patty silently cursed Sister Knowles for insisting on dealing with this formally. Patty found herself wishing that she was about to land a firm cut on Sister Knowles’s backside and that image formed in her mind.
She snapped back into the here and now and decided that she would deliver the sixth cut as if it were the last, and then ease off slightly for the last two, but not so much as to draw comment from Knowlsey. She aimed the cut just above the crease line where buttocks meet the back of the thighs and made it hard. Moira yelped. She went up onto her toes and her back arched. The pain was considerable, but once again she regained control and relaxed in time for the seventh stroke, which was just that little bit lighter and near to the centre of her bottom.
For Moira’s final cut, Patty aimed to cross all the other lines across Moira’s bottom, from bottom left to top right. As the cane descended she lowered her hand a little and bent her wrist to angle the cane. The strike was perfectly positioned and no harder than intended. Moira experienced a different feeling. The pain was a bit less severe but it was right across her bottom, top to bottom and left to right.
Sister Parker walked back behind the desk and put down the rattan. “You may stand,” she intoned.
Moira carefully but purposefully stood. She swept her hands over her skirt at the back from the waist down to ensure it had fallen fully into place and then smoothed the front of her dress. She then walked to the front of the desk, looking downwards, as if she might be in danger of tripping on her own feet. Once in front of the desk she drew herself up, set her chin and looked steadily at the Senior Sister who had just punished her. She gained eye contact and said: “Thank you, Sister.”
Sister Parker told her that her award was now discharged and she could leave. She could wait outside for the other awards to be completed if she wished.
Moira turned and left the room, walking very upright and steadily. She went and stood next to Hazey but said nothing, remembering that the instruction to be silent still applied to Vicky and Hazey. She had been inside Matron’s Office for no more than 5 minutes; it felt much longer.
The door opened again almost immediately. Sister Knowles called: “Next!”
Vicky stepped forward and followed Sister Knowles into the office.
The procedure which followed was identical to what had preceded it. Vicky struggled slightly on the third cut and wriggled. Sister Knowles looked at Sister Parker and was clearly willing her to discount the cut, but Sister Parker let it pass. Vicky had to use all her determination not to jump up and tell the two Sisters to stuff it!
Finally Hazey entered the office in her usual gently commanding way. She took the punishment without sound or visible reaction, apart from the measured breathing. When her punishment was completed and she had returned to the front of the desk, she looked first at Sister Knowles, much to Knowlsey’s discomfort, she then shifted her gaze to Sister Parker and in clear aristocratic tones said: “Thank you for my punishment, Sister.”
Patty Parker looked at her and took an on the spot decision.
“Your award is discharged and you are free to leave. Your next period of duty commences at 22:00 hours, it will be an 8 hour duty. When you come off duty at 06:00 hours you will join the in harbour duty rota and remain off duty until 08:00 the following morning. From 10:00 tomorrow until 16:00 tomorrow I am granting you shore leave. You may inform Bettison and Mates that exactly the same applies to them.
By taking this action Patty had usurped Sister Knowles. As Ward Sister the rota was her responsibility. Patty had a shrewd idea that Knowlsey had planned to have the girls on duty throughout and to deny them shore leave. By imposing her own rota Patty had stopped an action which she thought would have been unfair and effectively be double punishment. More importantly, she had put down Knowlsey; she had correctly judged that Knowlsey would wisely bite her tongue.
Hazey rejoined the others and led them back to the mess, telling them the good news on the way, the effect being that all three entered the mess in much better spirits than might otherwise have been the case.
The mess was home to 8 nurses. When the girls got back, 3 of them were sat at the table and two were part of the skeleton harbour duty roster, so very unusually the mess had 6 of the 8 occupants present. Having been at a girls’ boarding school, Hazey was very relaxed in female company and behaved no differently than if she was in her bedroom at home. Vicky had easily fallen in with this way of life. Moira found it a bit of a challenge to her middle class ideals of modesty.
The girls were of course still without their knickers. Hazey unfastened her uniform dress and let it fall, she caught it just before it landed on the deck and laid it on her cot. In doing so, she turned her back on the five others. There was a loud gasp. All five, including Moira and Vicky, who of course had not seen their own bottoms, were gazing at Hazey’s bottom, which was showing 6 very clear stripes. In fact each stripe was actually slightly lighter in the centre than the surrounding area. It was banded on each side by deep red raised weals, the whole area containing the stripes had by now turned quite a bright red. Sister Parker had judged the cuts perfectly. In spite of the terminology, there was no broken skin.
“You’ve had cuts!” Exclaimed one of the other girls. “When did that happen?”
“Just now, all three of us.” Vicky responded.
“Come on then, let’s see you other two,” somebody else called out.
Moira was about to say: “No way,” but then the feeling of excitement returned and the ‘new Moira’ continued to emerge. “What the hell.” Moira dropped her dress, left it on the floor and walked over to stand next to Hazey, back facing the others. She felt brazen and slightly heady.
Vicky realised that there was no way out of this and followed suit, wearing a big cheeky grin.
Vicky’s bottom was quite boyish, smaller and narrower than the other two. The punishment, even though less than Moira’s, had left a visible effect no less bad. Basically, Vicky’s bottom was one bright red band with stripes in it, covering an area of about 5 inches top to bottom, whereas the marks on Hazey and Moira’s bottoms covered an area nearly 6 ½ inches deep, making the actual stripes much clearer and less merged into each other. Of course, Moira’s bottom had 8 stripes compared to the 6 each of the others, but only 7 of the 8 were parallel lines, still very nearly an inch for each stripe. The 8th stripe was clearly visible across the other 7.
Gradually the 3 off duty nurses came close and shifted their gaze from one bottom to the other.
“Can we go and get the others to take a look?” Somebody asked.
“No, you bloody can’t,” said Vicky, vehemently.
Hazey just calmly stated: “We are not actually a new art installation, though it would seem that Sister Parker has tried very hard to create one.”
“Can we touch?” Somebody else asked.
Again Hazey spoke. “Afraid not, gels, and I think that’s enough. We are going to shower and turn in for sleep now, if you really don’t mind.”
The next morning they came off duty and headed straight to breakfast. By now word had gone around and everybody noticed their obvious discomfort. The plan was then to have a short sleep before going on shore leave.
As they left breakfast, Moira felt a hand on her arm. She turned. It was Sister Parker who indicated with her head for Vicky to come with her. she only went a few steps away from the others before stopping and speaking.
“If you still have any of that drink aboard I strongly advise you to get rid of it. Chuck it over the side, or smuggle it ashore the same way as you got it on board and then dump it. I don’t care, but I’m sure you don’t want a repeat of yesterday afternoon’s ceremony any time soon.”
Moira grimaced and said: “Thank you, Sister, I certainly think that next time 6 will be quite sufficient for me!”
Patty’s jaw dropped slightly. Had she heard correctly? Had Bettison deliberately stated a certainty of taking future punishment?
“Well, if it’s me giving it, I’ll make sure you feel it.”
“Yes, Sister, thank you very much, Sister.”
© Harry James 2017