The Filipino Nurse (1960-2009)

Location : Norwich

Bienvenida came to England at the age of 18 to be a nurse and enjoyed her career in Norfolk.

Can I take you back to your home in Tarlac City in the Philippines, and you leaving school and deciding to be a nurse?

Yes, I left school around the age of 18 years old. It was after High School. And then of course I work in a small clinic which this doctor is a family friend I think. And then I stayed with them for I suppose 3 years. And then, once while I was there this doctor asked …… this doctor is married to one of the managers down at the Hospital . .. . Doctor Napier and I suppose the daughter….. well Filipinos you know, you can get Filipino girls through nursing, so we did. So we were told to do our training here in England. And so I asked my dad. I said, “Dad,” I said, “there’s a doctor in the hospital,” I said. “They say they need some nursing students in England to train.” And then my dad said, “How long will you stay there?” I said “I suppose 5 years,” I said. “I’ll let you stay there for 5 years, after 5” he said, “you come.” So I went. But if you were in trouble . .. . I always remember my dad saying “if you’re in trouble girl,” he said, “don’t let me know.” (laughter) “If you’re in trouble girl” he said “don’t let me know.” So “no dad” I say, “after 5 years I’ll come back.” Yes I did. I did, I came back.

Can I take you to when you actually left, that day when you packed up and you were going to leave the Philippines to come to England? Who did you travel with?

I travelled with 3 friends. And I remember the airline was Qantas and we travelled from Manila to Heathrow Airport.

And were you met at Heathrow?

Yes. What do you call? One of the porter, the driver pick us because the Matron said, I think, he was told “there some Filipinos coming from Philippines can you just pick them in Thorpe Station and then take them to the Nurses’ Home down Drayton.”

So you arrived at Heathrow, but did you travel by road to get to Norwich and Thorpe or did you come…?

No, by train.

What kind of train?

Heathrow to Norwich. Steam engine.

Steam engine? So that was back in 19…?


1967? So that must have been one of the last steam trains. And when you arrived….

Funnily enough I left the Philippines August 27th 1967 and I was 27.

So all the 7s. Yes and it must have been very emotional saying goodbye to your family?

Well, yeah I cried.

Yes, but you were very brave and you were coming to train.

I did cry. When I was in the airport I didn’t want to go and my dad said, “You had better go,” he said “You chose that. You go.”

You go. So you…

And then my dad said. .. . I can see him now. He said “if you’re in trouble” he said, “don’t let me know.”

Because he was worried about you, yes. So you arrived…

And so we arrived in Thorpe. We were met by the driver. His name’s Walter, and there’s the three of us. The three of us. One is married and she left four of her children at home.

In the Philippines?

In the Philippines, this one is married. And then they took us to this nurse’s home down Drayton. But it was ever so dark. “Oh my gosh,” we said “what sort of home is this like a, like a. . . .. prison”.

Was it all wooden?

Wooden. Yeah and old fashioned, ever so dark and then towards the end we realised that night time they used to lock us 12 o’clock.

Right, so you arrived there. Was your English good at that time? All 3 of you had good English?

Yeah. We can understand, but we can’t really speak fluently but we can’t understand the accent there.

No, the Norfolk accent.

We can’t understand the accent! We spoke proper English, but the accent was difficult to understand.

And did you have a room each?

Oh we did, on the ground floor.

Can you describe the room?

On the ground floor, the room only has one bed and one old fashioned dresser, one old fashioned dresser. And at the time they used to lock us 12 o’clock.

That’s when you had to be back by 12 o’clock at night?

If you wanted to go out you have to be back 12 o’clock otherwise you can’t get in and then, because when we arrived, we stayed for 5 months and then we started school.

Right so 5 months you were in this Nurses’ Home. And what was the food like compared with back home?

We didn’t like the food that much, the cereal.

You didn’t like the cereal?

The cereal, yeah we didn’t like the cereal. The only thing we liked was the porridge. Was the porridge we like and the toast. But at the time in the Nurses’ Home we didn’t do any cooking at all we were looked after by. . .. what do you call?

A cook? A housekeeper?

A housekeeper. Five of them, I think.

And how was the place heated? Was it central heated?

No. No we used to have a fire.

A fire?

A wood burner. It was ever so cold, we used to have a burner. We didn’t have any central heating at all.

No, and what did you do for entertainment? Was there a television?

No. There’s a big television in the main room.

In the main room?

In the main room. So if you wanted to watch television you had to cross .. . . because there is a small alley in there, because we are in the annexe, you see. So we had to cross and go into the main room. And there is a big fire place in there and a sitting room and a gramophone where you…

You could wind up. And how many Philippine people arrived? You came with your 2 friends but were some more arriving?

Yeah, there were five I think. Five.

Just five of you?

Yeah. And so all in all there was ten of them, ten of us, and the majority they are French and Spanish.

French and Spanish?

Oh yeah. And I think we must have been just ten of us at the time.

And then where… After 5 months you then went to nursing school?

After, yeah 5 months, just to sort of acclimatise ourselves.

What was the weather? I mean in August it’s quite pleasant, but how was your first winter?

Oh, it was awful. It was really right, I can’t remember really whether we had a really sort of a fireplace, but I can’t remember, in the annex. But in the main building we’ve got a big fire. But in our bedroom I think we didn’t have…

No. And did you feel cold because… what are the temperatures like in the Philippines?

Oh yes. It’s hot. Very hot.

All year round?

Yeah. At home you need the air con., whereas here you just needed the heating on!

So you then went to the Nurses’ School, and did you go onto the wards to do the training at the same time?

No, I think the first 2 days they took us in the hospital to take us round to show this, this or blah blah blah, this, this, David Rice and then we explained what sort of patients are they. And then when you do your training, you go into sort of a ward.

And you were going to train in Hellesdon hospital as a mental health nurse?

Yes. I did there for 3 years. For 3 years in there and that was really… That’s quite depressing, that was quite depressing really. I suppose at the time we didn’t know what we’re going to expect.

And how did you keep in touch with your parents?

I do write my dad. I did write my dad, I suppose twice a month, twice a month.

By letter, because there wasn’t mobile phones?

Yeah. No, no. And then my dad used to say, “How are you?” you know. “How did you like life in there?” But I didn’t tell my dad…. I always remember this. … I didn’t tell my dad that I want to go back home because I didn’t want to upset my dad, because my dad said you know, “If you’re in trouble . .. . ”

Yes. And did you earn any money whilst doing this training?

Oh yes we did. I remember you used to earn £18 a month.

A month?

Yes, £18 a month.

And did they take money for your lodgings?

No. That was already clear.

That was clear?

Yeah, £18 a month. So they used …. there was our clothes, our uniform, everything.

They did everything?

Yeah. They clean our room, they cook our food.


Yeah everything.

So what would you spend your £18 on?

At the time we used to go into the city to buy things. On top of that I used to send money home to pay my air fare, because I came here fly now, pay later.

Oh right. So you had to pay that back?

We did. All of us I think, all of us. You remember this fly now. Fly now, pay later?

No I don’t. So that’s what you had to do?

Yeah. It is fly now, fly now pay later. In which we received £18 a month, and half of it will be sent home to…

To pay for that? And then when that was paid for did that leave you some money for going out?

We did. We did. But I think the first few months, we didn’t, we just stayed home.

Stayed back. Yes.

But some of the English girls, they’re ever so kind.

Were they?

Very, very kind. And they used to take us into the city. But at the time if you got £2 you pay your bus fare…you can buy anything… £5 is a big money then.

Yes, yes. Were you earning a lot more money than you would have done in the Philippines?

Yes compared the rates, oh we do yes. But what we do then, holidays, summertime, we do fruit picking.

Did you?

Yeah, we do fruit picking.

In the Norfolk farms?

No we used to go to Saxlingham.

Yes. And what fruits did you pick?

Strawberries. To earn some money.

So extra money?

For going to Samson.

Ooh is that the Samson and Hercules?

Oh yeah.

So you went to go dancing?

Oh yeah.

And you enjoyed…

You know at the time you can trust men, you can trust people. Do you know what I mean? I suppose they see us going to Samson. We never go to Samson 2 or 3. It’s always 5, 4 like. Never 2, no. We always go out in a group. And people then, men they’re ever so kind. You know, you never think about…

They didn’t get drunk or…?

Oh no. It is the only thing we go, Samson – Nurses’ Home – Samson – Nurses’ Home

That was your main entertainment?


And then you… you’re married now so presumably you met your husband? Did you meet him at the Samson?

I think I saw . . . .because we live in a Nurses’ Home and the nurses then, we used to have lots of parties. Yeah, we used to have lots of parties and every Independence Day we used to celebrate, you know Independence Day in the Nurses’ Home. Because in the… you know St Andrew’s Hospital, you get loads of Filipinos in there as well.

As well. Right.

They go to, they go to Hellesdon dance and then Hellesdon will go St Andrews. And the staff ball dance, I think there I met my husband.

Right, because he lived in that area?

That’s right, yeah. And of course my husband’s . . .. you know, coincidently my husband’s dad, father, used be a charge nurse down at St Andrews Hospital.

So therefore…

And so therefore every staff dance down Hellesdon, Hellesdon, St Andrews staff goes to Hellesdon and of course my husband does, get a girlfriend there and then…

And he’s English?

Yeah, my husband is an Englishman. Yeah, I met my husband through friends.

And in the beginning you said that your father wanted you to go back after 5 years. Did you go back later for a visit?

I did. I did, but at that time I met my future, I met my husband. You know, my boyfriend then I think. And I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to go back you see, come back here in England. And of course my boyfriend kept writing me. I got lots of letters. I’ve got my letters upstairs.

You still got them?

Oh yeah. We used to write I suppose.

Oh very romantic.

Oh yeah. And then, I always remember my dad cried really. My dad said, “If this English man wants to, to marry you,” he said, “you had better go back to England.” But my husband then wants to go to the Philippines to meet my parents. But at the time we were under Martial Law.

Right. So it was a difficult time?

Yeah. And so my dad said, “Not to let your boyfriend come here because I can’t take responsibility if something happened,” he said “that will be…”

What was it like living under Martial Law?

It was terrible. You’re more restricted. And there, you’re under curfew. After 8 o’clock I think you stay at home.

Who was, who was controlling the country then?

It was Marcos, I think.

And so it was difficult for…

I think it was Marcos yeah. And so when I went home, we were under Martial Law. And then my dad said, “You had better go back.” I always, always remember even now, when my dad said, “If you’re in trouble don’t let me know.” So in the years when I came back I daren’t upset my dad. I daren’t tell him. I always tell him, “Dad, I’m alright, I’m happy, blah, blah blah.”

So what year were you married?

I got married 1975.

So you came back in ’67 you arrived here until ’73 and then you got married. And where were you married?

Oh we got married in Wymondham Abbey. My mother-in-law organised the wedding. I got a very nice mother-in-law because prior to that while we were waiting, she explained it to me, sort of about expenses, blah, blah, blah, at the time. Because we don’t get much money in the nursing. I saved, I bought a cheap engagement ring, I bought a cheap wedding ring, a sort of glass wedding ring. And then my mother-in-law said you had to pay these, you know you had to pay the…. I can’t remember now what I paid.

Like the reception?

The reception, something like that because in this country the bride……

The bride’s parents do the reception?


And yours were in the Philippines.


Did you have anybody from your family at your wedding?

No I didn’t. Just my friends and A. who also used to be my Ward Sister.

She came to the wedding?

Yeah, and some of the girls from the Nurses’ Home. And then one of my Charge Nurse who gave me away, Mr S.

Very difficult time for you thinking of your people in the Philippines.

Yeah, I did, especially when I get married. I thought about my dad. When I enter the church and read the marriage, I thought about my dad. I kept in my mind “If you’re in trouble don’t let me know”. My God I said to myself, “If I be in trouble I’ll be by myself”. I said to myself “I won’t tell my dad, I won’t tell my dad”

And now you’ve been in England, do you think of England as your home now?

Oh yes. Oh yeah, yes.

And you’ve been back to the Philippines?

I went home before I got married, and of course I told my dad. And then I’ve only been home twice I think since then.


Twice. And of course I met my husband.

So you made your home in Mulbarton?

That’s right. Yeah. I remember when we were engaged, my husband, my boyfriend then, he called me on my ward. “And there’s some houses being built in Mulbarton,” he said. You know, “If you want,” he said, “have a look.” And then I’ve just been to have a look he said a 3 bedroom house £9,000. We were engaged then, engaged to be married and so after my shift, we went round to see them being built.

And did you continue your nursing right the way through to retirement?

Oh yes, oh yeah I did. I did on day duty for a while and then I came on night duty, and I did night duty until I retired.

What age did you retire?

I retired 63.

So a long time that you nursed in England.

I did, I did like my nursing. I missed it, I really missed it.

Did you see any changes, from when you first arrived and first learnt to be a nurse? When you retired, was it different to when you first arrived?

Oh yeah, oh yeah. Much, much different. That’s why I was supposed to retire totally, because I didn’t like the system. I didn’t like the system at all, it was all paperwork. No more, no more time for the patients. I can tell you the big difference when I first started nursing and then towards the end of my nursing a very, very big difference, I can tell you this much. When I first started my nursing, our patients’ ward were 40 patients. That is the caring is there, the caring is there. The only thing in the office was the ward sister or the charge nurse. But now, towards the end were more paperwork, you know, sort of about this by what do you call it, the new system came.

And that you lost that touch with the patient?

Yeah you lost touch with the patient. You were . . . you’re sitting in the office. Even when I was on night duty, you know you write reports in the office half of the night. And prior to that, before that, me, nurses you’re with the patient. You’re with the patient, you’re attending, looking after the patient.

Were they all age groups that you looked after?

When I first started nursing? Yeah. All ages. Because I work in a mental hospital so you’re dealing with manic depressives, schizophrenics, mental illness.

And did that carry on through your nursing or did it change?

I did towards the end. Nursing as what I said, all change together. I don’t know what happened then.

Did you get many older people with mental illnesses?

More young people then.

More young people?

At the time it was more young people then. Towards the end and of course towards the end of nursing, there were very young, they got older so they’re more classified as, you know, dementia. But during my early nursing you’re dealing with young people with schizophrenia…

Did you ever have anything to do with the David Rice Hospital?

Oh yes, oh yeah. Oh my gosh yes. (laughs) I think I spent a life in there.

You had to go in there with the patients? That was tough?


In what way was it tough?

You get, mostly suicidal patients and then in Hellesdon Hospital in the main building that’s where you get the schizophrenic, the manic depressives

With bad behaviour?


Did you ever feel frightened?

Not really. Not really, no. Funnily enough, no. Because towards the end of my retirement I was in one ward by myself on night duty. Of course this was when I got married. I was by myself on night duty, ward was sedated. They sleep all night.

So they were sedated.

I think it depends if you .. ..because at the time we locked the mental patients. The lock, they’re in the side room. We call it a side room. But there is, towards my end of my retirement I got my own ward. You know your patients.

You know how to handle them?

Yes. I get 2 side rooms, but I do have a part-time nurse until midnight, then after midnight they slip out there. But my nursing officer said “If you’re in trouble just give us a buzz”. They run straight away, which they did. At that time patients were all locked, but this time, nowadays, you’re not allowed to.

No. no. No it’s different.

Different altogether.

Did you enjoy all your career as a nurse?

I did. I did, very much so.

And you don’t regret leaving the Philippines?

No. In the end I made my life in here, I don’t know why, because I think I led a busy life, especially when I got married, I led a busy life. I had a very good husband, my husband also my duty, and my husband was. Sometimes we just meet on the road and say hello.

Bienvenida (b. 1940) talking to WISEArchive on 14th August 2009 in Mulbarton.

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