As I sat by my friend Theresa’s bed in the nursing home, I couldn’t help but think of my days as a social worker in the beginning of WWII.
When we first met we were graced with time on our side and we found that we were always searching one another out. We talked and talked and talked about our families, our youth, our relationships, our passions and WWII.
Theresa was a Sister in WWII just like my sister Rosy. She was based at the Royal London Hospital and did meet Rosy a month or two before Rosy was transferred to the tuberculosis hospital. She remembers Rosy not just for her efficiency and tender care and because they apparently worked in the same ward for a few weeks, but for two other reasons. 1. She thought her red hair and green eyes were so captivating and 2. she entertained the patients and sometimes the doctors with funny one liners, ridiculous answers to question and even silly jokes, like my grandfather Lou who had a quick wit and joke for every occasion. I laughed when I heard that because that is definitely Rosy. One day, Theresa happened to be attending to a patient next to Rosy, when she remembered a question the doctor asked Rosy. She replied with the funniest answer which not only made the patients laugh but the doctor too. She didn’t always do that, of course, just when she felt the mood needed lifting.
“Nurse!” the doctor shouted. “Where’s the man who belongs to this bed?!”
“He couldn’t get warm,” explained the nurse, “So I put him in bed with that lady who’s running a 105 degree fever.”
Theresa showed me the entry in her diary of 25 December 1939 and let me read it. It read: “We had a celebration on the wards today and even the doctors and surgeons came to talk with us and share cake. All week, I have been working with a caring and very funny nurse called Rosy, whose red hair looked like it was on fire and tells the funniest jokes all day, making patients laugh and even made a serious looking doctor chortle.” The above small joke was included in this entry.
I was moved beyond words, for I had never heard this one before, but had heard so many others which made me miss my gorgeous sister all the more today.
The diary entry continued, “One doctor, Teddy asked if she would like to see a movie this coming Saturday. We went to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in ‘The story of Vernon and Irene Castle’. At the bottom of the diary at a later date she wrote about their partnership between Astaire and Rogers, “It was the end of their partnership for ten years, until they reunited for ‘The Barkleys of Broadway’. I heard years later that their relationship was amicable, both wanted to explore new avenues”.
After the movie he walked me to the nursing quarters and kissed me goodnight.
We talked non-stop that night and I think we both felt like close friends do and that we would be with each other for the rest of our lives. It was a magical feeling as I looked out my bedroom window and saw the blanket of snow over our lovely town and the doctor walking off into the night.”
Theresa told me that a few months into their relationship, he proposed to her and he also joined The Royal British Army Corps with his brother a week before they were married because he felt he could be of more use to the wounded. They grabbed every moment possible to be together. Teddy even took her to the country in Kent for the weekend to meet his parents.
Theresa she showed me a letter one day, after being in the nursing home for a few months. She had a bunch of letters wrapped with a red ribbon in her bedside table and told me that, because she is nearing the end of her life, she can’t help but pour over them more and wondering what might have been.
He wrote, “Dear Theresa, I miss you. I can’t say where I am or what I am doing, although you know that as a medic I sometimes have to get the wounded away from enemy fire and do emergency treatment. Once with the wounded soldier, I do a brief examination, evaluate the wound, apply a tourniquet if necessary, sometimes inject a vial of morphine, clean up the wound as best I can and sprinkle the sulphur powder on the wound followed by a bandage. And, sometimes, I drag or carry the patient well out of the battlefield and back to camp. The casualties are taken by ambulance to an Evacuation hospital further back where first-class attention is administered by the medics and nurses. I think of you while I hear explosives or enemy fire wondering if this is it. Sometimes I work at that hospital too and if the case is one whereby the wound is so severe and the casualty won’t get better very soon, he’s shipped back even further to a General Hospital and eventually back to England or the States. I hope you are doing fine and wonder how your job as a nurse is going? I received another letter from you yesterday and I can’t tell you how much they mean to me. Matron sounds like my sergeant major! I always look forward to your letters. Keep writing, Love Teddy”. Theresa told me how exceptionally proud of him she was. I remember reading it with such intensity and awe.
Teddy was accidentally killed in 1943 and when the telegram was delivered to her door, she thought her heart would stop from the pain, but as she told me she did marry again in 1948 to a very caring man, another doctor called John. A photo photo of him sits on her bedside table in the nursing home. Most days, she remembers Teddy and on the anniversary of his death, every year, she celebrates his life by lighting a candle dedicated to his memory. Her second husband didn’t mind at all for he knew how much his life was valued and how much his wife really did love him.