Nancy's family lived in Devon and she began her Nursing training in Taunton at the age of 18 in 1940.  A family friend was the Lady Mayor of Honiton, who advised Nancy to go straight into full Nursing training rather than go through the Red Cross.  Another young woman from the area, Mary, was also going to Taunton to train and she and Nancy became lifelong friends.  They went to France together and then to the Far East.

The training lasted 3 years.  By 1943, there was a great shortage of Army nurses and the Government was calling for recruits to join the Queen Alexandra's Nursing Service.  Nancy and Mary joined up.  They both went to Shaftesbury where the Americans had built a great 'hutted' Hospital.  Nancy was then posted to Benendon School, near Maidstone, which had been converted into an Army Hospital.
Nancy Bushell 01
Nancy Bushell 02

The Nurses were getting ready to go to France; they were given all the kit and they were shipped out at the end of July 1944.  The lorries turned up at the Hospital at about 3am and they were told they were moving out.  They went to somewhere outside Southampton, but as there were no station names or streets signs, there was no knowing exactly where they were until they got to the port.

Nancy (Byrde) boarded a Hospital ship and crossed to France, landing at Arromanches.  She disembarked with Mary, whose name was Pidgeon, and the Staff Sergeant checking names declared "We've got a b***** Aviary here."  They were taken to a 'tented' Hospital in Bayeux; everything was under canvas.  Casualties were coming in constantly and Nancy was in the front line, being a Theatre Nurse.
The nurses all had fun with parties and their billet was next to the Officer's Mess!  It was also in an orchard and nurses and doctors enjoyed apple fights.  A medical orderly called ‘Brains’ was at everyone’s ‘beck and call’ – there was a constant cry of ‘Brains do this’, Brains do that’!  Suddenly, you would be told you were moving early in the morning, and Nancy went to Lille and then to Ostend, where the Corps took over a big old Naval Hospital.  Belsen was liberated about that time and nurses were needed to go there but Nancy says that only the older nurses were taken as it would have been too traumatic for young women.

As the Allies advanced, the Hospital became a German Hospital.  Nancy remembers that the first thing the British Colonel did was to take the Jack Boots off the German Orderlies.  Nancy felt quite sorry for the young German casualties but there was no fraternisation with the wounded.  Nancy recalls a young, badly injured boy with a candle, in an old tin, burning at his bedside – it was his 18th birthday.

At the end of the war in Europe, Nancy remembers being on Parade and a General coming to Ostend to take the salute.  She was then posted home on leave before going out to the Far East.  Nancy arrived in Hong Kong in the Summer of 1945.  One day, Matron sent for her and told her she would be going to Shanghai to pick up the women and children who had been interned.  Nancy boarded the 'Strathmore' and went first to Japan, where the ship docked at Kure and a group, including Nancy, went ashore and saw the ruins of Hiroshima.  She picked up a small cracked vase from amongst the rubble and a melted glass bottle.  She still has the vase.

Then on to Shanghai.  There was only one other Nurse on board and she and Nancy explored the Bund together.  They took the interned families on board, but the men had to be left behind as they were still in POW camps.  Nancy travelled back with them as far as Hong Kong, where she was still stationed, while they went on to Europe.   She met her future husband, Peter, in Hong Kong but all was put on hold when Nancy's Mother broke her leg.  She had to apply for compassionate leave to go home in the Autumn of 1945.

Thanks to SSAFA, Nancy was able to get a flight home.  Unfortunately, there was something badly wrong with the aircraft and it crash-landed in Burma.  The plane was a write-off and passengers and crew had to trek through the jungle, sleeping in houses on stilts and trying to avoid the Dacoits – marauding bandits.  The RAF eventually sent another plane and Nancy continued her long journey via Calcutta to England. 

Nancy Bushell 03 Nancy Bushell 04

Her family home was now in Sutton Valence, South East of Maidstone, where her Father taught at the Sutton Valance School.  Nancy was demobbed in 1946 and it was from her home in this Kent village that Nancy married Peter Bushell in June 1948.

Compiled by Susan Moores - May 2015

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