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A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service

1930–2000

Joyce Anderson

Joyce Anderson is a nurse and midwife from Sierra Leone. After arriving in the UK in 1958, she embarked upon an impressive 40 year career within the NHS. In her interview, she discusses migration, training at Bethnal Green Hospital, racism in the workplace and also provides her advice to young people.

MIGRATION

"I arrived in the UK on the 9th of March 1958. I came by myself via boat. It was in winter. It was cold, very dark, and we arrived in Liverpool. All the chimneys were going, were in operation and I wasn’t very happy because I thought 'What am I letting myself into?' We took a boat train from Liverpool to Euston. Because it was a boat you had loads of other lots of other people travelling and most of us were from the west African coast. Either from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, [or] Ghana. I think we were about six or seven from Sierra Leone. We had the least number of people travelling. When I got to Euston my dad was there waiting for me. Then we got a cab or something like that and we went to Stratford where we lived. I was 19 when I first arrived in England."


CAREER

"I did my general nursing [and] trained for three years. Then I went and did my midwifery for a year. I practiced as a midwife, but I used to work on the general wards, but ended up as a labour wards superintendent. I worked in the National Health Service for forty years. Yeah from ’58 to… I retired when I was sixty, and I’ll be eighty in three weeks’ time."


MOTIVATION TO WORK IN HEALTHCARE

"Well, people who’ve been over to England and trained, when they go back, they wore a uniform [which] attracted us. They’ve got their flying cap and red belt. They were so immaculate and, you know, [we'd say] “Oh that’s Sister so and so”. We admired them. Since I was in school, I decided I was going to be a nurse, because I wanted to help other people."


TRAINING

"I trained at Bethnal Green Hospital. I did my general nursing there and I did my paediatrics. Because then, [as a] state registered nurse, you had to do general paediatrics, general nursing, surgery. Sometimes you are lucky those disciplines are all in the same hospital. But if they're not, we [had to] go. There was a children’s hospital [called] Queen Elizabeth Children’s hospital in Bethnal Green road where I did my paediatrics." 


RACISM

"When we first came to England in 1958, there were not many coloured nurses, so you suffered that discrimination. When you see a co- another coloured nurse, whether she’s where you come from or not, you tend to, you know. Some of the discrimination we suffered was [people being] surprised to hear you speak English."


"If you are in the ward, say you are the only coloured nurse, you do the bedpan sluice. They [would] leave you in the sluice. If you are in the sluice, God help you, because you’ve got to do all the bedpans, empty all the denture marks, and you have to clean the special dentures, and sometimes they– they– oh, it was horrible. [They gave  us] the menial tasks."


"In every situation, you find a way of dealing with things and say enough is enough. As long as you don’t do it in an awkward position, because [then] they report you to matron. There was a lot of discrimination. Some of us just went with it, and said well it’s three years, we’ll do it and that’s it. And they only have respect for you when you start having better grades than their own."

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