Veteran Stories:
Nesta Bass

Army

  • Nesta Bass on a British tank.

    Nesta Bass
  • Women of the Queen Alexandria's Royal Army Nursing Corps on parade in 1953.

    Nesta Bass
  • British hospital staff in Kure, Japan.

    Nesta Bass
  • Women of the Queen Alexandria's Royal Army Nursing Corps on parade in 1953.

    Nesta Bass
  • Nesta Bass in Korea in 1953.

    Nesta Bass
  • Nesta Bass at a Memory Project event in Victoria, BC in November 2011. She is holding a cape covered in unit patches given to her by the soldiers she tended to as a nurse overseas.

    Nesta Bass
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"Of course we didn’t speak a word of their language. You could still wash people, you could still dress their wounds. You could still make them comfortable with just a smile. You don’t need to be able to talk. As long as you’re smiling and sympathetic, you can nurse people."

Transcript

I went to the Westminster Hospital in London [England] to do my nursing training and the nursing training at that time was three years to get your nursing qualification and then you stayed on staff, worked for a further year, making it four years before the hospital would acknowledge that you were one of their nurses. Joined the [British] [A]rmy straight from that.

Well I was a little surprised that my very first posting was to Kure in Japan because I hadn’t really thought about it. When I thought about joining the army, that was as far as I’d thought. When my first posting came in, it was an overseas posting. It was a big surprise but the posting actually was to Japan. And then we were posted to Korea for a two-month period where life was very primitive. So they never kept us there for more than two months.

We went off to Korea wearing pants for the first time because that was not something we were issued when we joined the army in England. So we wore battledress pants and a battledress top and a tin hat. I do remember the tin hat and just a kit bag with our belongings in. And we flew over in a plane that just had sling seats along the sides of the plane and other stuff down the middle. So it was quite primitive. And then we were met at the airport and driven in jeeps to the hospital.

The hospital was an old school house, so it had no facilities that a normal hospital would have. And we were living in the house that I presume the staff might once have lived in. But the hospital itself was just an old school house so it was classrooms that we had turned into wards.

We used to go down to the Korean hospital and work on our day off because they were very short of nurses. And in fact for some reason they had lost a whole year of nursing students due to the war. But I’m not quite sure what happened to them. So they were really short of staff and we used to go down on our day off and work in the hospital. So that‘s one connection that we had with them. Of course we didn’t speak a word of their language. You could still wash people, you could still dress their wounds. You could still make them comfortable with just a smile. You don’t need to be able to talk. As long as you’re smiling and sympathetic, you can nurse people.

I suppose my main memories were the horrendous burns and having to sort of deal with the physical mess that burns are. And they were nursed sort of – they weren’t covered in dressings, so they looked terrible. You know if they were burnt to the bone and the bones were blackened and sticking through the wound. So they were pretty horrid to look at and to deal with as burns always are. But I had never come across them in my London teaching hospital. So it’s the burns I remember most.

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