DEAR MISS BULFORD – PART TWO
With much excitement, my first posting after basic training was to RAF Halton near Wendover, Buckinghamshire, the trade training school, called the ‘Medical Training Establishment’ where I would start my training as a Nursing Assistant. I was now known as “J2844104 LAC Bulford” (Leading Aircraft Woman) and would answer a question put to me with the following, ‘104 LAC Bulford, Ma’am”. In 1966 when I was 20 years old, and other girls my age were enjoying ‘Swinging London’ and pop groups, I was marching, shining shoes and making bed with perfect ‘hospital’ corners.
RAF Halton Medical Training Establishment Crest
The camp I arrived at was enormous. In addition to the Medical Training Establishment (MTE) where I would do my training, RAF Halton also had on its property the Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Hospital, the RAF Institute of Pathology and Tropical Medicine and the Dental Training Establishment, in addition, hundreds of apprentices or ‘boy’ entrants attending the No. 1 School of Technical Training learning to be aircraft technicians, electrical engineering and administration trades.
The handbook below has the crests for these various schools on the cover. ‘Main Camp’ was where I signed in and then directed to ‘Hospital Camp’ and given an arrival information book (below) with a large map attached to find my way.
After a very long walk to my barracks, I found the two-story red brick building named ‘Paine Barracks’. My shared room was on the second floor and again, a long bright room with 14 beds seven on each side. The number of girls who intermittently arrived from all parts of England were all strangers to each other. They were pleasant and chatty, and, after introductions and a sizing up of one another, we started to exchange ideas about what the next stage of our life would be like.
Most of us seemed to be of the same idea; we came from similar backgrounds after all. We had left school at 15 years old and wanted to see life and get more education before settling down. A Corporal arrived to show us the way to our mess hall on the main camp and we all set out for our tea. Once more, I found the food to be very good, I suppose it does not say a lot about meals at home! We still had to clean the large dormitory we all slept in, the bathrooms and our uniforms and shoes, but inspections were only once a month and not quite so stringent.
The following day started the next phase of my learning. We were known as “Course 642, Medical Training Establishment” We attended the classes every day, once again, marching to and from them. Our tutor, Sergeant Constantine, (Sarge) and various other tutors were assigned different subjects but Sergeant Constantine was our main man.
Sarge taught us anatomy and physiology, first aid, infectious nursing surgical techniques removal of sutures, transfusions, infusions vaccinations and general examinations. We learned about the body systems, body cells tissues then bones and the skull. Plus, types of wounds the composition of plasma and blood and platelets and the heart and other tutors taught us everything needed to take care of patients, such as care of their body, hair, teeth, intake of food and their general comfort.
With much hilarity, we practised giving each other first-aid, bed baths, and shampooing each others’ hair. Then fittingly, ‘Last Offices’ were shown and practised. ‘Last Offices’ the laying out and preparation and treatment of the dead. I actually found this very interesting and enlightening, probably because my Granny whom I lived with for a few years had in a no-nonsense way had introduced me to death at a very early age. 
We went to the hospital wards a few times a week, to be bullied by the ‘Sisters’ – Princess Mary’s Nursing Sisters were Registered Nurses and officers – but did they ever teach us well!
In England, in the RAF all the Senior registered nurses were addressed as ‘Sister’. Not in a religious way, but as a formal address. In civilian hospitals, she would have been called ‘Matron’ 
With our other tutors, we had to learn ‘Passive Defence’ the definition of which is ‘Any action which will reduce the effect of a nuclear biological or chemical attack’ We went into great detail about symptoms and proper treatments. (Should we be so lucky to survive such attacks!) This was something I had never even thought about, but we still managed to fill whole exercise books of information and treatments and I found this quite scary.
One day, we were taken out to a huge field with bunkers which we were herded into. Once inside this bunker, we were told to take down a gas mask off the wall and put it on. Sgt. Constantine then set alight a gas bomb. We were ordered to remove the gas mask hold our breath then – Sgt. Constantine was with us – walk in a circle three times, before exiting the door. We did so, but not before some girls were shrieking with fear and crying to be let out! When we eventually stumbled out gasping some of the girls vomiting and with tears falling down our faces we were told this ‘exercise’ was to alert us to a gas attack. Very enlightening. These exercises, we were told, was because should such an event take place, the military would be called upon to assist civilians.
We were taught how to sterilise, prepare and layout numerous treatment trays and instruments everything in those days being metal. In a military hospital, we had reams of RAF forms to learn and ‘civilian’ forms too. Admissions were different for each. We had something called the duties of a ‘Crash Orderly’ Actions to be taken after a military of civilian plane crash, shown in my notebook, below.
I particularly like “Kettle is put on for tea” The panacea of British life!
Many studies for the general care of a patient were performed, and one day, in class, we had a ‘mock’ plane crash alarm in the woods although, at the time, we did not know it was a ‘mock’ It was very frightening and realistic. Everything we did was recorded in our study books, which I still have. I rooted them out to write this story and I enjoyed reading and reminiscing. Everything we did I now realise, was extremely thorough, which I will explore in part three.
 The word “matron” is derived from the Latin for “mother”, via French. The matron was once the most senior nurse in a hospital in the United Kingdom before ca. 1972. She was responsible for all the nurses and domestic staff, overseeing all patient care, and the efficient running of the hospital. Matrons were almost invariably female—male nurses were not at all common, especially in senior positions. They were often seen as fearsome administrators but were respected by nurses and doctors alike.
The matron usually had a very distinctive uniform, with a dark blue dress (although often of a slightly different colour from those worn by her direct subordinates, the sisters) and an elaborate headdress.
More recently, the British Government announced the return of the matron to the NHS, (National Health Services) electing to call this new breed of nurses “modern matrons,” in response to various press complaints of dirty, ineffective hospitals with poorly disciplined staff.
Dear Miss Bulford – Part One Basic Training
My Brothers’ Keeper – An Early Introduction To Death
2 thoughts on “Dear Miss Bulford – Part Two”
I really enjoyed this very vivid account. Thank you.
Thank you, Valerie, I am so pleased you enjoyed the story.