On call day and night for the people of Harris

When retired Queen’s Nurse and author CATHERINE MORRISON was researching for her book, Hebridean Heroines, about Queen’s Nurses in the Hebrides, she came across many remarkable women, none more so than Kathleen Jones who spent more than a decade as district nurse in Harris, where she threw herself into the community yet still somehow found time for her love of the outdoors. Here Catherine tells her story.

Wednesday, 14th August 2019, 2:32 pm
Queens District Nurse Kathleen Jones had all the qualities needed in an excellent nurse  hard-working, efficient, conscientious and capable  and she became a much loved and respected member of the community during more than a decade caring for the people of Harris in the 1950s and 60s.

Kathleen Jones was born in Somerset in 1917 and carried out her general nurse training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London in 1943.

She completed her midwifery training at Perivale Maternity Hospital and Bridgewater DNA Metropolitan. She also trained as a health visitor and then a Queen’s District Nurse.

Before Kathleen went to Harris in the Outer Hebrides she worked as a maternity sister in Wells District Hospital in Somerset from March 1948-March 1949.

As Kathleen was a Queens’s Nurse it was customary for each district nurse to be supervised annually and the first recorded supervision in Harris was in May 1949 and the last inspection was in 1962 and she returned to England in September 1963.

Her move to Harris must have been a cultural shock but she led a very full life both at work and socially during her time as a district nurse.

In her diary, covering 1954 -1958, Kathleen described many of the experiences of her life in Harris.

Kathleen, or Nurse Jones, as she was always known, was obviously a very fit and intelligent woman who took an interest in all aspects of life.

She mentions in her diary finding bees and birds’ nests. Also seeing oyster catchers, sandpipers as well as catching 50 sea trout and one salmon in an afternoon. Kathleen mentions in her diary that on one of her days off that she went deer stalking and bagged a stag weighing 14 stone 6lbs with none points. She described the day as a “grand day”.

Music was a passion for this well-educated woman. She was in the local choir and taught the violin to the local doctor’s children, played badminton and was involved with the Girl Guides.

It was well known in the area that she liked to swim in the sea, regardless of the weather, and was comfortable in boats whether going fishing or out to see her patients.

On a day off she writes in her diary that she “dug the foundations for a garden frame”. She loved gardening and as well as having flowers such as daffodils, crocuses, forget-me-nots and red hyacinth she had strawberries, turnips, leeks and lettuce.

As well as her own garden she attended to the surgery garden and in January 1956 she described the weather as “mild with a south gale” which allowed her to cut the rose hedges and check over the garden. A few days later she planted some bushes with help from the GP’s wife.

In February 1955 she writes about trying to skate down the steep slope on the Clisham Road in Tarbert.

In the same month there were severe snow storms and Nurse Jones mentions that a guillemot had landed on her lawn “probably blinded by the snow”. She then took the bird and let it go free in the West Loch. This would not have been an easy task.

Despite her other activities her work as a Queens’s District Nurse was her main focus.

She writes of being called out to attend to a birth at 6am and not daring to return home because of the snow in case she wouldn’t get back in time for the birth. The baby was born at 7 pm which meant she spent over 12 hours at the confinement. When she returned home she stopped off at GP’s surgery to let him know about the birth and “have a cuppa”.

She was friendly with the local GP, his wife and family. She recalls, in her diary, giving a Toni (hair perm) to the doctor’s wife in preparation for a medical dinner that she and her husband were attending in Stornoway.

Another morning at 5am she was called to Rhenigidale to attend to a lady who had a miscarriage. It is probable that Nurse Jones walked to Rhenigidale as there was no road at that time. She returned home by boat via Scalpay. The next day Kathleen wrote that “she felt cold and stiff after the visit but all had gone well”.

It would seem that most babies gave Nurse Jones an early start. It was 4am when she was called to a lady in labour at Bowglass and, although “the birth was slow all was okay in the end”.

In 1953, she recalled that at 3am she was called again to Bowglass and the lady gave birth at 4.20 am. Kathleen described it as”‘very convenient and quick”. Interestingly she also notes in her diary in 1956 that she delivered more than one baby within the same family. With her being so long working in the area as a district nurse, it is understandable that this would happen.

Kathleen also writes of missing her New Year dinner when she was called out at 4pm to a confinement and the baby was not born until after midnight.

Babies are no respecter of special days as Kathleen mentions that she missed her Christmas dinner when she was called to a confinement at 5am and the baby did not arrive until 9pm. She did have cold turkey at 11pm.

Another mother in Scadabay who Kathleen attended, delivered her baby successfully. However, the mother suffered from pre-eclampsia and, because of the complication, Kathleen stayed with her longer than she normally would, which resulted in Kathleen missing her day off that week.

Because of ‘no day off’ she wrote that she missed getting her car serviced. At that time nurses often had to use their day off for getting their car serviced and collecting stores.

On February 10, 1954, she wrote that “this is the first day off this year”. She had been covering two districts for four weeks as the other nurse was off. It is hardly surprising that in May 1954 she wrote “suffering from exhaustion”.

As well as attending to antenatal mothers, delivering babies and attending to them postnatal, Kathleen wrote of many other duties she carried out.

She mentions carrying out polio vaccinations and attending schools to see children. She speaks of caring for a man with a septic finger, seeing a child with a fractured femur, assisting the dentist who had his surgery in the doctor’s surgery and giving first aid to young men from Back in Lewis who had got into a fight on a May Day outing. She was tending to their injuries until 11.20pm.

Some of the other callouts that she noted were for a bleeding tooth, a man who fell in the dark and needed stitches and tending to people who had been on a bus that had been blown off the road. Many had been cut by glass.

She also spoke about accompanying patients by ambulance to Stornoway. On one occasion she accompanied the nurse in the next district, who was ill, to the Stornoway hospital.

Car trouble was a constant problem to herself and others. The GP was hurt after running into a ditch and Kathleen had to take him to hospital. Another day her car was making a “queer noise” but took her on her rounds without mishap.

She was also called out that day from the school to a confinement in Luskentyre and “thankfully she made it”. One of the GPs who was covering the area at the time his car broke down and Kathleen had to tow him back to Tarbert. On another occasion she writes of having to remain in first gear all the way to Bowglass as the roads were so icy.

With thick snow in February 1954 she recalls getting chains on her tyres as being the only way to get around.

There was more to being a district nurse in Tarbert than delivering babies and attending to illness!

How Nurse Jones managed to fit in her garden work, her badminton, her choir, her swimming in the sea, which she did whenever she could, her fishing, teaching music to children and her many other activities as well as caring for the community of Tarbert illustrates the strong person she was.

The annual reports from the Queen’s Nurse Inspectress portrays her character and work ethic:

1949-Capable methodical worker, good type

1950-Capable and conscientious, happy and hard working.

1953-Most capable, wastes no time

1956-Efficient nurse. A little reserved and manner can appear brusque at times.

1959-Capable, conscientious and diligent. Her services are appreciated.

1961- Hard working, well suited to this kind of district. Gets on with patients.

1962 (Her last report) Capable conscientious nurse. Manages a busy district exceedingly well.

The reports from the Queen’s Nurse Inspectress point out that Nurse Jones was well suited for district nursing in Harris.

Although the reports indicate that she could be reserved and brusque at times this may not be a criticism.

This was a nurse carrying out her professional duties in a very busy community to all ages at all stages of life, 24 hours a day.

She obviously knew the community and, as every district nurse knows, there are times when one has to be brusque and keep a professional distance.

Nurse Jones was obviously an amazing woman who lived life to the full.

The fact that she remained in Harris for over 10 years is testament to the enjoyment of her work and lifestyle.

She came from England to go to a mainly Gaelic speaking remote community where she was on call day and night yet managed to pursue her own interests.

She was obviously well respected by the community and this is illustrated in the gifts she received from them, such as mutton, chickens, fish and a haunch of deer.

She returned to England to be near her mother.

After she retired from nursing she devoted herself to painting, which was another of her interests.

Queen’s Nursing should be proud that she was one of their own.

The diaries are owned by Nurse Jones’ family and have many other fascinating insights and stories.

Her nephew is currently developing a television project inspired by her life and based on her diaries.