MY FAM­ILY HERO

De­spite hum­ble be­gin­nings, Su­san Rose’s great aunt Eve­lyn Pike made a real mark on the nurs­ing pro­fes­sion

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Claire Vaughan

As a child, Su­san Rose was fas­ci­nated by Florence Nightin­gale: the im­pact her pi­o­neer­ing work had on the sol­diers she tended dur­ing the Crimean War and the pro­fes­sion she later helped to es­tab­lish. “Lit­tle did I re­alise un­til re­search­ing my own fam­ily his­tory that I would dis­cover a great aunt who also had a very dis­tin­guished ca­reer in nurs­ing. She, too, had to fight in or­der to be al­lowed to nurse, but in very dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances,” ex­plains Su­san.

Eve­lyn Pike was born in Rother­ham in 1887 – one of 12 chil­dren. Life cen­tred around the lo­cal pit where her fa­ther and broth­ers all worked. It was a tough ex­is­tence, which was to stand her in good stead later. Hav­ing con­tracted rheumatic fever at the age of 12 and see­ing how the med­i­cal team bat­tled to save her, Eve­lyn vowed to be­come a nurse. How­ever, left with a heart mur­mur af­ter her ill­ness, she wasn’t ini­tially ac­cepted for train­ing. “She even­tu­ally se­cured a po­si­tion in Gal­way, Ire­land, as­sist­ing in nurs­ing du­ties, un­til the Sis­ter helped her en­rol as a pro­ba­tioner at West Ham In­fir­mary, Ley­ton­stone, where she trained un­til 1914,” adds Su­san.

Nurs­ing on the front line

With the out­break of war came the op­por­tu­nity to work as part of the Queen Alexan­dra Im­pe­rial Mil­i­tary Nurs­ing Ser­vice ( Re­serve). Pre­vi­ously, only nurses of ‘an im­pec­ca­ble so­cial stand­ing’ were ac­cepted. By 1916, Eve­lyn found her­self nurs­ing on the front line and later at the 34th casualty clear­ing sta­tion – first at Bray-sur-Somme and then fol­low­ing the bat­tle­fields around Péronne, Abbeville, Doul­lens and Béthune.

“The more I re­searched, the more I was amazed by what she had done. The con­di­tions off theh clear­ingli sta­tionsi bbroughth home the stark re­al­ity of the war.

“The living con­di­tions for the nurses were prim­i­tive, but for a woman who had lived with­out run­ning wa­ter in the home and had used a tin bath in front of the fire, wash­ing in a can­vas bowl in cold wa­ter would have been eas­ier for her to bear than for some of her more gen­teel col­leagues.”

Un­der attack from the air

In July 1917, Eve­lyn be­came a Sis­ter, and later that year moved to the 26th Gen­eral hos­pi­tal in Eta­ples. On 20 May 1918, an aerial bom­bard­ment de­stroyed parts of the hos­pi­tal in­clud­ing the Sis­ters’ quar­ters. “For­tu­nately, Eve­lyn was not hurt, but there were two ca­su­al­ties in the nurs­ing staff and it was a grim re­minder that, in times of war, not even the nurses’ safety could be as­sured.”

Af­ter the war, she was recog­nised for the con­tri­bu­tion she had made to nurs­ing dur­ing her time in France, and in June 1920 was dec­o­rated with the Royal Red Cross medal (2nd class) by King Ge­orge V at Buck­ing­ham Palace. Now also a qual­i­fied anaes­thetist, she trained for, and passed, her mid­wifery ex­ams that same year.

The sec­ond phase of her ca­reer be­gan in 1922 when a short hol­i­day to South Africa be­came a more long-term stay as she joined the nurs­ing staff at the Port El­iz­a­beth Hos­pi­tal as a Sis­ter. Af­ter work­ing her way through the de­part­ments and learn­ing Afrikaans, she be­came Ma­tron there in 1932.

“In 1935, she was ap­pointed Ma­tron of Som­er­set Hos­pi­tal in Cape Town and was in­stru­men­tal in over­see­ing the mon­u­men­tal task of mov­ing into the new Groote Schuur Hos­pi­tal in 1938,” ex­plains Su­san.

Dur­ing her ad­min­is­tra­tion, she pi­o­neered the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of prac­ti­cal nurs­ing meth­ods and made many other im­prove­ments. “On her re­tire­ment in 1945 she was awarded an Hon­orary MA by Cape Town Uni­ver­sity for her ser­vices to nurs­ing ed­u­ca­tion – quite an achieve­ment for a woman who had left school at the age of 12!” She re­ceived many other ac­co­lades and in 1970 a bronze bust of her was un­veiled in the Groote Schuur Hos­pi­tal.

Eve­lyn died in Septem­ber 1978. One of the doc­tors who paid trib­ute to her at her fu­neral said: “She’ll be re­mem­bered as one of the true greats in the nurs­ing pro­fes­sion.”

Su­san also has great re­spect for Eve­lyn: “She was a determined woman who achieved great things and de­voted her life to nurs­ing with­out any of the ad­van­tages of wealth or ed­u­ca­tion.

“What re­ally stands out about her life for me is the fact she coped very well in two very dif­fer­ent nurs­ing roles and never stopped ris­ing to the next chal­lenge and try­ing to work harder for the good of oth­ers,” she adds. “I don’t think she did any­thing for money or per­sonal am­bi­tion. De­spite her or­di­nary start in life she was never fazed by any­thing or any­one.”

SU­SAN ROSE lives in York­shire. Re­cently re­tired from teach­ing, she be­gan re­search­ing her fam­ily tree in 1995.

Eve­lyn Pike is pic­tured third from right, on the back row

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