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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.


I arrived in the UK on the 9th of March 1958. No, I came by myself via boat. It was in winter; it was cold very dark and we arrived in Liverpool. And all the chimneys were going, were in operation and I thought, I wasn’t very happy because I thought what am I letting myself into. You know. And we took a boat train. They call it the boat train, I dunno why, from Liverpool to Euston. But because it was, 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, Ghana, you know so you had different people. I think we were about six or seven from Sierra Leone. We were the least- we had the least number of people travelling.  But all of us arrived and it would appear that most people were coming to London. if you were coming to London then you came to Euston station. When I got to Euston my dad was there waiting for me. And then we got a cab or something like that and we went to Stratford where we lived. Dyson road. You know. Yes, I was 19 when I first arrived in England.

Healthcare career

I did my general nursing – 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 my main – and I ended up as labour wards superintendent. I worked in the National Health 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 and they go back they wear the uniform, attracts us. They’ve got their flying cap, it’s not like now, you know, and red belt, and, you know, they’re so immaculate and, you know, “oh that’s the sister so and so” and you know, we admire them and you – that’s one. But since I was in school, I decided I was going to be a nurse, because I wanted to help other people and… it’s a profession that I liked since school.


I trained at Bethnal Green Hospital Cambridge’s road. You know. E2. London E2. I did my general nursing there and I did my paediatrics. Because then, you had to do- in your general- when you do state registered nurse you had to do general paediatrics, nursing, surgery. Sometimes you are lucky those disciplines are all in the same hospital. But if there not. We go. There’s a children’s hospital Queen Elizabeth Children’s hospital in Bethnal Green road. Yeah that’s where I did my paediatrics. But it was all within the three years you’ve got to that, you know.  And in my hospital where I trained we didn’t have the paediatrics section, so we did, you know, we had to go down there. But we had a TB unit. A unit for tuberculosis and you’ve got to do a period there as well. I preferred the surgical ward. Surgical ward. I didn’t like the TB ward obviously. Because whilst I was on the TB ward I was very apprehensive just praying for my time because we had to do three months there. And for my time to finish. And the other discipline I didn’t like was theatre because all the surgeons take different sizes of gloves. And some of them even do the…its size 7. We had a surgeon I’ll never forget, surgeon Nicholson he takes a seven, but it must be a special seven gloves. And we had all the drums labelled surgeon Nicholson, surgeon Nicholson because he uses different instruments and so. So, if you work in theatre you don’t only have to be quick, witty, you’ve got to know which surgeons you’re scrubbing for because every surgeon is different.


When we first came to England in 1958, there were not many coloured nurses, so you suffered that discrimination, you know. And when you see a co- another coloured nurse, whether she’s where you come from or not, you tend to, you know. And some of the discrimination we suffered was, they thought, that we are surprised to see- to hear you talk English, speak English, they were- you know, that was a big surprise for them. And the patients, they were- the sisters, we have to suffer because if you are in the ward, say you are the only coloured nurse, you do the bedpan sluice, because it’s not like now; you have to take the bedpan, you wash it, you know, and all that. When I say bedpan, it’s bedpan. And then you got- you do, they 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. (Interviewer: So, they gave the black nurses the worst–) Yes, the menial tasks, the menial tasks. You know. And you’re only lucky when you stay second year and so. But in every situation, you find a way of dealing with things and say enough is enough, you know, as long as you don’t do it in an awkward position, because they report you to matron and you know, there’s lot of discrimination. 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, you know.

Advice to young people

My advice would be to any young person coming into Britain is to be abide by the law. You know in every situation you’ve got to abide by the law. Even if you don’t agree with something you sit and discuss it you don’t go and do something, retaliate because somebody’s offended you. You cannot do that. There is a law and you should go by the law. And if you go by the law and then there is no justice, even then you can’t retaliate because the law is a biscuit it depends which way you look at it, so.

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