Marie Hancock- Memories of a Foreign Nurse at QEII

Marie Hancock

Arrival to Welwyn Garden City and the QEII

On arrival at Welwyn Garden City railway station late evening on 31 October 1964, a taxi took me to the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, where I was greeted by the friendly housekeeper of the nurse’s home. Next morning, a sunny November day, I was introduced to the Matron, Miss Mary Stone, a tall and formidable looking lady, who welcomed me as a new member of her nursing auxiliary staff. I was not a qualified nurse and later found out that foreign qualified nurses were not recognised as such in England, so there were a number of highly qualified nurses demoted to auxiliaries, making beds, assisting patients with feeding and personal hygiene, arranging flower, going around with tea trollies and tidying up the kitchen situated just outside the ward.

Working at QEII

Our smart and comfortable uniforms consisted of green short-sleeved dresses and crisp white aprons. We also had a reversible black/red cloak to be worn when going off from the ward to our accommodation in cold weather.

Our salary was £17.00 a month with free accommodation and food, plus free English tuition. The small single rooms had wash facilities and good cupboard space. The building within the hospital grounds was called Hostel, where all the foreign workers lived.

Working shifts varied from earlies, lates and nights, with days off in-between mostly on weekdays. Food was served in the spacious dining room on Level 8 with a lovely view over the nearby houses and the wider countryside. Most enjoyable was the full English breakfast, especially after a night shift. I cautiously tried my first cup of tea with milk and sugar. I loved it and have been drinking it ever since.

Learning English

I soon made a number of good friends, foreign and English (the majority of foreigners were German). On our days off we explored the town (Welwyn Department Store), the surrounding countryside and, of course, London. The first theatre show we saw was “The Mousetrap”. Some useful English was learned in the process.

An important condition of my one-year works contract was to learn English in a recognised teaching establishment. Matron insisted that classes were attended according to the timetables. So, if lessons coincided with a work shift, we had to drop everything, jump on a bus and get to Monkswalk School (I had never seen women smoke on a bus before). With this strict regime and mingling with the locals and patients, my knowledge of English increased pretty rapidly, and it was all a lot of fun. I even achieved a Cambridge Proficiency Certificate.

Annual Leave Adventures

We were also entitled to some annual leave, so in the summer of 1965 two if my friends and I decided to travel to the country for a fortnight. We obtained Youth Hostel Association membership and went off hitch hiking, starting at the then” Lemsford Café”, locally known as the “Greasy Spoon”.  From there we travelled along the east coast right up to John O’Groats, then down the west coast, crossing over to Ireland for three days and then back to the QEII Hospital. A great adventure.

Before returning to our next shift we went for a drink in the local pub “The Beehive”, which by then was a well-liked establishment, in which we learned some more “colloquial” English.  That evening two young men started chatting to us Berry and Derek and we remained good friends for the duration of our stay in WGC.

Education and Other Working Positions

Apart from working mostly night shifts I attended evening classes at the then “Mid-Herts College” until I passed my A-level. Following this I went on a full-time secretarial course. Once suitably qualified I was back at the QEII, this time working in the office of the Social Work Department on the ground floor. A few years later I went “up in the world” to Level 5, working as orthopaedic secretary (a job I had done in Germany) for Mr David Williams until my retirement in 2005. A leaving party was held in the Beehive with all my friends and colleagues from the QEII wishing me a happy retirement. Of course Barry and our two daughters also celebrated with me.


I recently attended the “New QEII Hospital” and was shocked and very sad to see the bulldozers demolishing the A7E department and the old hospital looking empty and forlorn. I will always have fond memories of the building and all the people I was fortunate enough to meet and befriend. Time moves on.

This page was added on 04/03/2021.

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