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Former Bury St Edmunds West Suffolk Hospital nurses reunite 52 years after they began their training together



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When five former West Suffolk Hospital nurses who began their careers together more than 50 years ago reunited for an afternoon tea, they were transported back to some of the most formative times of their working lives.

Lynn Neal, Sally Rayson, Elizabeth Hartley, Paula Rivers and Valerie Cook, all aged 70, started as trainee state registered nurses in 1970 at the Bury St Edmunds hospital.

They became friends, shared a house and, after their three year course with their careers taking some of them elsewhere, kept in touch.

Former West Suffolk Hospital nurses Elizabeth Hartley, Lynn Neal, Sally Rayson, Valerie Cook and Paula Rivers reunite at The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton
Former West Suffolk Hospital nurses Elizabeth Hartley, Lynn Neal, Sally Rayson, Valerie Cook and Paula Rivers reunite at The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton

On Saturday, a reunion at The Angel Hotel in Bury saw them catch up for an afternoon of reminiscing – as they stepped back to the morning of January 5, 1970 when four of them, minus Sally who joined a few months later, posed for a photograph gathered outside Margery Blyde Nurses Home with the winter air crisp with promise.

Lynn, of Sutton near Ely, said: “We were just going to walk off to the nursing school. We quickly became friends, had a great time and worked hard.”

At the time the hospital was based in Hospital Road and the five of them lived in one of the houses the hospital rented from the council in Caie Walk.

A photograph taken on January 5, 1970 outside a nurses home across the road from the old hospital before they started at nursing school – minus Sally who started a few months later
A photograph taken on January 5, 1970 outside a nurses home across the road from the old hospital before they started at nursing school – minus Sally who started a few months later

Lynn said: “One of the things we were laughing about on Saturday – there was a ward we all worked on at some point, we started at 8am and our first job was to pull the beds out with the patients in them, damp dust all the beds around the back and push them back again. It was far more hands on – all this machinery and equipment now – when you look back it was far more basic.”

It was a time of long hours and plenty of night shifts.

During weekends at the old site before the hospital moved to Hardwick Lane, transport was arranged to pick them up at 7.25am and a taxi was booked when they finished at 9.30pm.

Before the age of 24 hour shops, they had to be organised for food but there were moments they were caught short.

“The lady that cleaned the house lived at the back of us. I remember knocking on her door and she kindly gave us a tin of mince,” said Lynn. “It was the time of the coal miners’ strike and you only had certain time for electricity. I can recall the little coal fire we had there being the only light.”

After a lifetime of nursing, Elizabeth still volunteers at the hospital and the reunion was ‘absolutely brilliant’.

“One of the girls did say it was like stepping back – talking about old times,” said Lynn.