A young Hilda photographed in black and white

Despite my short-term memory problems, I remember my past clearly

Hilda moved to England, aged 19. She trained to be a nurse and raised a beautiful family in the South-East of London. Now 81, her short-term memory has recently challenged her, but memories of her early life remain clear and full of adventure.

My memory isn't as good as it used to be. But I have been through some stressful times in life and think that has a lot to do with it.

I remember things clearly from my early days, but I do forget more recent things.

Growing up in Jamaica

Before I came to England, I did the Jamaican local exams, which took three years to complete. In the first year, there were six subjects and the second year there were seven subjects and the third year, eight subjects. I passed every single one except maths. I hated maths.

The exam questions would be printed in England and circulated in Jamaica, because, of course, we were still under British rule. Children would study really hard in those days. It was important to get the Jamaican Certificate of Education. 

I had been lucky enough to attend a boarding school to do my study. Out of all my brothers and sisters, only I got to go.  There were 14 parishes altogether and I lived in the Clarendon Parish. My father, he was a farmer. He had a lot of land. My mum, she was a haggler, buying and selling items in the marketplaces.

Moving to England

I’m glad I came to England.

I was one of 11 children, though three have sadly passed away. I arrived in England on the ninth of December 1960, where I was received by my eldest brother. He had sailed over on the SS Aurega in 1952, and eight years later I joined him. When we came to England, it was easier because we travelled as a British subject.

I’ve been through a lot and there have been challenges. I’ve had name-calling over the years, but I have thick skin.

When my brother sailed to England it took about two to three weeks to get here. My younger sister, and I - we flew, and it was a lot quicker.  I remember December 9th clearly.

I was told it would be cold, but I hadn't prepared for how cold it would be.

I mean, December to January in Jamaica is winter, and that's when we're at our coldest so I thought it'd be the same as that. 

I really regretted not bringing warmer clothes for that trip. My mum had sent me a cardigan to travel in because she said it would be cold. But the cold that I was used to in December was very different and I really didn't think I'd need it. So, I sent it back to my mother.   

When we landed in the UK, we landed first in the coldest part, up in Scotland, and I sat shivering waiting for the connecting flight, in only short sleeves. I got to London Airport, as it was called then, and I was so cold. I really wish I'd taken that cardigan!

I thought it was midnight when I landed. And it was actually just evening but the smog was so bad. You couldn't tell whether it was day or night.

Hilda smiling to the camera

Hilda can remember her past clearly.

Adjusting to the change

My brother lived in Camberwell and was the first person in our family to buy a house here. He earned £7.50 a week then.

I'd sent a telegram to my brother to say which date I was coming but no one ever received the letter. This meant no one was at the airport to greet me. So, I got into a cab. I'd been told they were reliable and safe and simply gave him the address, which was 10 Graces Road, Camberwell, London SE5.

I'd never knocked on a door before. It sounds silly, but I didn't know what to do.

So, the cab driver got out of the cab and knocked on my brother's door. In Jamaica, we all had verandas, so you'd shout up and let them know you're here.

We also had dogs so if the dogs were barking, you knew somebody was there and if it was a friendly bark, it was someone you knew. If not, it was possibly a stranger. But there was no telephone in the house. And certainly, no mobile phones. We used to have to use an old penny - we called it a copper - to make a phone call.

My brother was surprised to see me!

Studying to become a nurse

From 1962 to 1963 I then stayed at my cousin's house, Conway Road in Plumstead, London, and I studied O Level Biology. I came top of the class.

I didn't tell anyone that I'd already studied it back in Jamaica and that it was my favourite subject!

Hilda as a young woman with three others in their nursing uniforms

Hilda in 1963 with three other women during her nurse training in London.

I have a clear memory of the evening classes at college, where we'd have the electric lights on because the windows were quite high up.  We couldn't see out and couldn't see what the weather was like.

Just like the day I landed, I couldn’t tell what time of the day or night it was because of the SMOG. I remember often leaving the building and I couldn't see my way home. I couldn’t even see someone walking in front of me.

There used to be people who’d walk in front of the bus holding a lantern to guide it. The streetlights were no good.

So, once I'd passed my O-Level, I did a two-year course and studied to be a nurse. I waited for recruitment openings in the hospitals. They usually came four times a year and over my career, worked in several hospitals, whilst also raising my children.

One of the hospitals I worked in was the Seamen's Hospital in Greenwich. It was my favourite place to work, out of all the hospitals. Only seamen were admitted there, and they had such interesting stories but some terrible injuries.  

Hilda and her family dressed up for a christening

Hilda with her 4 children and great granddaughter, at her Christening.

Reflecting on my journey

I remember things clearly from my early days, but I do forget more recent things and I know I probably repeat myself. I know this is all happening.

I try to keep my mind busy and have lots of family and friends, particularly at church. My baking keeps me occupied, as well as my family. We recently celebrated my brother’s 90th birthday and we danced all evening!

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