Celebrating BAME nursing history

In honour of Black History Month 2019, the RCN Library and Archives team has launched an online exhibition sharing the stories of black and minority ethnic (BAME) nurses from decades past

Last year was the 70th anniversary of the NHS and of Empire Windrush, the ship that brought many nurses from the Caribbean to work in the newly formed NHS.

The RCN Library and Archive team delved back though its collections and found many interesting photographs, stories and artefacts – not only of the Windrush nurses, but of BAME nurses who arrived at different times and from different countries. 

Now, the team, coordinated by Raz Akram, has compiled these materials into an online exhibition.

Three BAME nursing students sit together at desks in a classroom

Above: International students during a class at the RCN

“We hope people will see what we have and use these resources, because they’re there to be used,” says Raz.

Within the collection are many amazing photographs of nurses from the 1950s, 60s and 70s – attending training at the RCN, working at hospitals around the UK and socialising with one another. Many of the subjects of the photos, however, are unnamed.

“It’s lovely to see, but we don’t know very much about them,” Raz says. “But if people see this, they might know who the person is. They might be able to fill our catalogues with information or donate items from the same nurses.”

The heart of the online exhibition is the oral histories – recorded interviews with inspirational nurses. “Our oral histories are very moving,” says Raz. “Personal stories really resonate and it's always important for people to tell their stories themselves.”

A group of four laughing nurses climb on a car

Above: People from different backgrounds and areas of the world were brought together to study and work as nurses

Raz and the team are also asking for nurses and former nurses to make donations to the archive. This could be in the form of photographs, paperwork, badges or an interview or written account of their time as a nurse.

“We want to promote diversity as much as possible at the RCN because we want our resources to reflect our staff and the patients that our nurses see,” Raz explains. “We really want to make our collections as diverse as possible.”

Explore the exhibition

Pictured below: A large group of students on an overseas introductory course pose outside the RCN headquarters in the early 1960s

Voices from the archive

Dr Neslyn Eugenie Watson-Druée 

Born in Jamaica 1949
Came to the UK 1969

“On my first morning at the training school, I was waiting for there to be daylight to get up and of course in March if it’s a cloudy day you don’t get daylight until 10.00. I went back to sleep and by the time I woke up I had missed breakfast and lunch. However, in those days there was always milk and bread. One of the girls made me some toast and said: ‘Now you mustn’t miss supper’. By then it was dark anyway. That’s my introduction and the next day I started work.” 

Portrait of Dr Neslyn Watson-Druee

Pictured above: Dr Neslyn Eugenie Watson-Druée 

Diane Morarji

Born in Trinidad 1958
Came to the UK in 1975

“I was age 17: all the way here on my own, but I was determined to go… When I arrived, all I had [was] my suitcase in my hand. The matron said: ‘This is your room, nurses’… The English accent was strange to me so I had to listen carefully to understand what people were saying, but it was like a challenge. I felt immediately very well off, I didn’t feel isolated… I just thought: ‘OK, this is nice, this is food I’ve never seen before, I’ll give it a go.’ I loved the food! I’d never seen puddings ever – I was like: ‘Gosh, pudding, that’s nice.’”

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