ISLAND nurses are the subject of a new book launching next week in Lewis. Hebridean Heroines – Twentieth
Century Queen’s Nurses by Catherine Morrison, a district nurse in Bernera, Isle of Lewis, is billed as ‘a fascinating insight into the lives of women from the Western Isles of Scotland who worked as district nurses in the mid-20th century.
‘Leaving behind their close-knit island communities, these intrepid women undertook the long journey by sea and rail to the mainland of Scotland to train as nurses and midwives,’ the book’s publisher, the Islands Book Trust said.
‘The majority carried out Queen’s district nurse training and maintained that it ‘prepared them to go to the desert to work’ if necessary. Most of them eventually returned to the islands, to work in a role that required strength of body and mind.
District nurses worked long hours and were always available when called, regardless of hour, weather conditions or remoteness. In the book, they describe in their own words their everyday lives, giving an insight into the challenges they faced and revealing the resilience and strength of character required to do the job.
‘These women were true Hebridean heroines,’ the trust continued, ‘regularly going beyond the call of duty without thought for their own comfort, yet maintaining that ‘I was only doing my job, which I loved’. These stories are their legacy.’
The Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland (QNIS), founded in 1889, prided itself on training the best district nurses in the world, taking young women who had already experienced the rigours of Britain’s nurse training schools and putting them through a tough and challenging programme of further preparation which both extended their clinical skills and instilled a sense of resourcefulness and inventiveness.
Catherine Morrison said: ‘While working as a district nurse I encountered many patients who had been district nurses themselves and had stories to relate about their life and work, which I felt was part of the unique history of the Outer Hebrides and nursing. Then when I retired I became a Queen’s Nurse Visitor (visiting Queen’s Nurses who are more than 80 years old) and again was in contact with women whose stories about their working lives inspired me. I began to interview them and this book is the result.’
The foreword was written by Clare Cable, chief executive and Nurse Director of QNIS, who writes: ‘Contemporary community nurses work in a rapidly changing world which their forebears would hardly recognise – but there is so much to inspire them in the remarkable courage, dedication and self- sacrifice demonstrated by their Queen’s Nurse forebears in the Outer Hebrides. Thanks to Catherine Morrison, their unique testimonies have been recorded and preserved.’
Professor Christine Hallett, director of the UK Centre for the History of Nursing at Manchester University, wrote in the introduction: ‘ What was so impressive about the Queen’s Nurses of the Outer Hebrides was their capacity not only to bring fundamental nursing skill to their patients but also to demonstrate the ability to improvise, to push the boundaries of their practice when needed, and to work closely with the communities they served, winning the respect and affection of all.
‘Now that this book is bringing their poignant and moving stories to a wide readership, I hope their personal testimony may help inspire a new generation of nurses to understand the true potential of their work – the ways in which expert nursing practice, coupled with commitment and courage, can transform people’s lives.’
Hebridean Heroines by Christine M Morrison will be launched on Friday February 17, at the Storehouse, Lews Castle, Isle of Lewis, at 7pm.
Clockwise from above: A nurse and friend on her motorcycle; Bella Johnstone, copyright Dr Kenneth Robertson; A Hebridean Queen’s nurse in the 1930s; Catriona MacAskill – front cover image, copyright Denis Straughan.