Exciting days at the birth of NHS in Fife

Nurses at Victoria Hospital Kirkcaldy celebrate New Year's Day Jan 1 1960.
Nurses at Victoria Hospital Kirkcaldy celebrate New Year's Day Jan 1 1960.

This month’s celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the setting up of Britain’s National Health Service has rekindled a wealth of happy memories for former doctors, nurses, porters and other health professionals, including one former Fife grandmother, who recalls life as a young nurse across the Kingdom.

For Olive Brown (nee Sinclair) those memories go all the way back to 1959 and basic training along with a number of other, soon to be nurses, taking their first steps on a career that would span decades and bring lifelong friendships.

Princess Royal offically opens new wards at Victoriia Hospital Kirkcaldy November 22 1960.

Princess Royal offically opens new wards at Victoriia Hospital Kirkcaldy November 22 1960.

“All of us ‘rookies’ were initally sent to Cameron Hospital to complete our three month basic training before being forwarded on to Kirkcaldy’s now long gone Cottage Hospitalwhich was situated at the foot of St Clair Street,” Olive remembers.

“Then, knowing very little, we split into two groups with some studying infectious deseases such as polio, while others took up the basics in physiology.

“I remember the Cottage having circular wards and with a glass partition down the middle – long gone now of course.

“We worked Monday to Friday, and half day Saturday with the afternoon and Sunday to ourselves, as long as we were back in residence by 10pm though.”

Nurses complete their three month training at Cameron Hospital Fife 1959.

Nurses complete their three month training at Cameron Hospital Fife 1959.

Not long after, and with the completion of the first phase of the new Victoria Hospital, the Cottage, built by Michael Nairn, which had served the people of Kirkcaldy since 1890, was closed for good.

On a cold November day in 1960 Olive and her colleagues stood alongside the Princess Royal as she declared the Vic open. The plaque can still be found today in the Hayfield Road entrance.

“They were exciting times, what with new medical advances, there was always something new to learn, “

Olive went onto complete midwifery training in Glasgow followed by a stint at Forth Park before heading over to Castle Terrace in Edinburgh to complete her Queen’s Nurse training.

The new nursing team at Victoria Hospital Kirkcaldy, November 1960.

The new nursing team at Victoria Hospital Kirkcaldy, November 1960.

Back in Fife as a district nurse in the days when most births still took place at home, Olive moved around the Kingdom delivering new Fifers into the the world.

“It wasn’t all rosy, getting a call at 3am in all weathers and seeing all walks of life, but I look back with much fondness, having worked in Glencraig, Ballingry, Inverkeithing, Windygates and Kirkcaldy.

“We had a strong bond which still exists despite being scattered as far away as Holland, Canada and Australia. We still keep in touch, and that’s very special.”

Plaque unveiled by the Princess Royal,  Hayfield Rd Entrance - Kirkcaldy.

Plaque unveiled by the Princess Royal, Hayfield Rd Entrance - Kirkcaldy.

Newly trained Fife nurses outside old nurses accomodation block Victorial Hospitla Kirkcaldy.

Newly trained Fife nurses outside old nurses accomodation block Victorial Hospitla Kirkcaldy.