The Story of Our Lives: Digital Archive launch, June 2018

Listen to the first 12 oral histories in the NHS at 70: The Story of Our Lives Digital Archive.


Explore the rich diversity of NHS history through people’s voices. These are a taster of the oral histories recorded by our volunteers in South Wales and Greater Manchester. To listen to the stories in full, register here and visit the Digital Archive. We will be adding to the Archive over the coming weeks. More than 140 oral history interviews have already been collected by our fantastic team of volunteers and you can find out more about their work here.

Everybody has a story to tell about the unique place of the NHS in everyday life since 1948. Get in touch now to share your story


Philip Prosser was born in Tredegar, South Wales, the home town of Aneurin Bevan


Philip was born with ‘club foot’, a condition where one or both feet point down and inwards. He describes how his father paid a weekly subscription to the Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid Society and he was able to have surgical operations to treat his feet. The Society was a self-help organisation that provided medical services through small weekly payments. By the time of the Second World War, around 95% of people in Tredegar were covered by the service


It was exactly the same as the NHS in 1948. We already had it in Tredegar before that.


Tredegar Sign

Plaque of Tredegar Medical Aid Society

Credit: NHS at 70

Charles Howe was born at Park Hospital, Trafford which was later to be the birthplace of the NHS


Laboratory notebook c.1950s
Credit: NHS at 70

During the Second World War, Park Hospital (now known as Trafford General Hospital) was taken over by the US Army and the local Conservative Club became the local hospital. Aged 11, Charles suffered a burst appendix and was admitted for surgery. He was later told he was treated with penicillin powder which had been donated by the Americans at Park Hospital – penicillin was not in production in the UK at that time. He was in hospital for VE Day (May 8 1945) and remembers shouting about the bombs dropping and asking why they weren’t going to the air raid shelter. His deep interest in science led him to join the NHS as a technician where he specialised in blood tests for haemophilia, later becoming a Laboratory Superintendent in Withington Hospital. He describes the many significant technological advances during his career and believes the most significant to have been non-invasive technology including the introduction of ultrasound and scanning techniques, ‘the results are just incredible’.


Joyce Thompson was born in Padiham, near Burnley


Joyce reflects on healthcare before the NHS. During her childhood, people only called a doctor if they couldn’t treat the illness themselves. Her older sister had meningitis aged 6 and the doctor had to visit five times a day. Her sister was lucky to survive as two other children in the same village died. Joyce’s father was a member of St John’s Ambulance and was very much in demand. She remembers neighbours coming to the door for advice and believes this awoke her interest in nursing. After her initial training in Manchester she moved to Northern Ireland to take up midwifery and then returned to Manchester, becoming a Chief Nursing Officer and working in the NHS until the 1980s. One of the proudest moments of her career was opening Royal Preston Hospital in the early 1980s which involved closing other local hospitals, ‘with no problem other than the fact that it took a lot of time to talk to the people in the small hospitals who were terrified’. Joyce reflects on her recent experience of hospital treatment and the care she received, ‘I don’t think there would be much life for people without the NHS’.


Joyce Thompson 1950s Ward Sister

Joyce Thompson as a Ward Sister in the 1950s

Credit: Joyce Thompson


Hylda Whitehead was born in Prestwich, Greater Manchester 


Hylda Whitehead Shorthand Book

Shorthand book c. 1950s

Credit: NHS at 70

Hylda’s birth was ‘touch and go’ as her mother had a retained placenta and was attended by a GP at home, pre-NHS. On leaving school, Hylda’s first job was in an insurance office and then she joined the NHS as a medical secretary at North Crumpsall Hospital. She describes daily work routines of wearing white coats and sitting in on patient consultations, taking shorthand notes and then typing up letters, ‘there was no training, you had shorthand skills and common sense’. She reflects on her relationships with hospital consultants and the impact of manual and electronic typewriters on her work. In 1989 she moved to the Manchester Royal Infirmary where the role of the medical secretary began to change as a consequence of new technology. She talks about her involvement with the British Society of Medical Secretaries and the development of training courses for Medical Secretaries. She reflects on the satisfaction she gained from her job; her husband used to say he envied her because she always looked forwards to going to work.


Gill Wakely was born in London


Gill dates her desire to enter medicine to her experience of having Whooping Cough as a small child, pre-NHS, and being cared for by a female doctor. But lack of support led to her leaving school, first to work in a children’s home and then in the Zoology and Chemistry laboratories at Oxford University. She was encouraged by her colleagues to apply to medical school. At interview, she was questioned about marriage and family plans. She took up a place at Bristol University in 1959 and after qualifying went into general practice. She took up a 6 month locum in a single-handed practice in the ‘red light’ area of Plymouth. An early advocate of family planning services, Gill remembers setting up a clinic for young girls in the 1970s that led to the Bishop of Exeter preaching against her for being ‘immoral’. She reflects on the liberalisation of attitudes to sex and the emergence of sexual health clinics and the changes to general practice over the period including medical schools introducing integrated learning systems and much-needed developments to the role of practice nurses. ‘I’m a great supporter of the NHS, it is a wonderful way of providing health services to people without them having to worry about, can I afford it … when [the NHS] was envisaged, I don’t think anybody realised what a large amount of hidden illness there was. They thought that if they could overcome the infectious diseases and provide treatment for accidents, then they’d do themselves out of a job and they didn’t realise there was all this hidden longterm amount of illness’.


Contraceptive Pills

A selection of contraceptive pill packs by Kate Whitley

Credit: Kate Whitley


Jane Milne was born in Kingston in Hull



Jane Milne's nursing badges
Credit: NHS at 70

Jane began her nurse training in 1964 at Leeds General Infirmary and talks about her experience of living in the Nurses’ Home where the routines were strict with 10pm curfews and boyfriends only allowed into the lobby. Student uniforms were pink check dresses with aprons and floppy hats, senior staff measured the hats to ensure they were the required 18” in width. Nightingale Wards consisted of 24 or 28 beds with extra beds down the middle, or in the corridors if required. Ambulances delivered and collected patients directly on to the wards, not via A and E. Each morning shift began with prayers for the day. After qualifying as a State Registered Nurse in 1967 she then worked in the children's surgical ward for a year before going on to train as a midwife in Salford in 1969. Jane spent her career in various midwifery and nursing roles reflecting that she enjoyed elderly medicine the most and getting to hear their life stories. She considers the challenges of caring for an elderly population and compares the advantages of the NHS compared to other health systems, referring to friends who live in other countries who are fearful of the costs of healthcare. ‘I don’t think you can beat the NHS anywhere in the world. I’m very proud of it. When I’ve been at the receiving end … there were hiccups, nothing was perfect but I know all the staff were working over and above’.


Gwen Crossley was born in Wallasey, Cheshire


Gwen trained as a nurse at Ancoats Hospital in Manchester in the early 1960s. After a break to have her family she returned to the NHS to train as a Health Visitor and continued in that role until her retirement in the 2000s. She talks about how the role of Health Visitor has changed over time and her involvement in implementing new regulations to safeguard children from abuse. She explains how the 1971 diphtheria outbreak led to a major immunisation programme and reflects on how the prevalence of polio when she was growing up, shaped the advice she gave to patients. She sums up her experience of working in the NHS as, ‘happiness, fulfilment, I wouldn’t change a thing’. She is a leading member of the NHS Retirement Fellowship and is now a volunteer with NHS at 70 in Greater Manchester.


Gwen Crossley First Year as Student Nurse 1964

Gwen as a student nurse in 1964

Credit: Gwen Crossley

Yasma Osman was born in Manchester  


Yasma at a nursing conference

Yasma at a nursing conference

Credit: Yasma Osman


Yasma identifies as a British-born black Muslima. Aged 10, she spent time with her father’s family in Hargeisa, Somaliland and was inspired to be a nurse after seeing a little boy with a wound. She trained as a State Enrolled Nurse (SEN) at North Crumpsall Hospital and later did additional training to become a Registered General Nurse (RGN). She talks about caring for ill and dying family members and discusses the change in breast cancer treatment through comparing her mother’s experience in the 1980s to her sister’s recent treatment. She reflects on the increased focus in nursing on documentation of processes and IT issues and considers how recruitment and retention of nurses could be improved. She has experienced very positive change around understanding the needs of different faiths in the NHS but believes racial prejudice still has a negative impact on the career progression of black minority and ethnic staff.



David Jones was born in Coventry  


David trained at Liverpool Medical School in the 1970s and reflects on the differences between medical training then and now. Specialising in surgery, he explains how the advent of keyhole surgery was a major breakthrough in his career   and considers future approaches to reduced surgical intervention. In 2017 he was involved with the Manchester Arena bomb, ‘everyone was a hero … no one was more important than anyone else’ and talks about his experiences with the Manchester Air disaster (1985) and the Toxteth riots in Liverpool (1981). He reflects on the changes in relationships with patients and is very positive about his experiences in the NHS.



David Jones Surgery

Teaching surgical skills

Credit: David Jones




Alfred Samuels was born in Westminster, London


Alfred was the eldest of five children and grew up during the ‘Swinging Sixties’. His mother worked as a nurse in the NHS and he remembers the NHS supporting his father and mother during illness. He talks about suffering backache in 2011 whilst jogging. First he was given back exercises to relieve the pain but then had a scan and received a diagnosis of prostate cancer which suggested he would not live for more than 12 months, ‘ it was the worst kind of news you can expect, but for me also, it showed a human side to my doctor, because my doctor had tears in his eyes when he gave me the diagnosis, you could just see the humane aspect of this doctor was tested and he had tears in his eyes’.  Alfred talks about his treatment, the positive outcomes, and the way in which keeping a daily diary of his experiences led to him writing two books about prostate cancer. He reflects on the social stigma that is still attached to cancer, the lack of public health education about prostate cancer in comparison to other cancers, and the increased susceptibility of black men. ‘My condition is managed, there is no remission for me … When I look at the cost of my medication … if I was anywhere else in this world I would be dead …  we have a group of people who, day in, day out, go into hospital and try and help people’.



Alfred Samuels in 2018

Alfred Samuels in 2018

Credit: NHS at 70

Peter Welsh was born in Newtown, Cardiff


HeARTh Gallery

HeART Gallery, Llandough

Credit: Cardiff and Vale

After gaining a BSc in Geography at Swansea University, Peter joined the NHS in 1979 as a clerical assistant working in South Glamorgan Health Authority. He talks about his experience of working through 12 reorganisations of NHS Wales and management roles across the spectrum of healthcare. Currently Board Secretary and Lead Manager for University Hospital Llandough, Cardiff, he reflects on the importance of rehabilitation and support after illness and the need to think about healthcare in a holistic way. He explains the importance of the on-site Art Gallery to the wider work of the hospital and the positive impact on patient and staff morale. He thinks of the NHS as ‘one of the greatest riches we have as a Nation, it is to be treasured and valued and enhanced, I think’.

Peter Davies was born in Camarthen, West Wales   


At the age of 18, whilst a student in Cardiff, Peter suffered major injuries after being knocked over on the road. ‘The skill and dedication of the medical staff saved my life. That was a turning point’. He went on to train as a psychiatric nurse in the early 1990s and since the 2000s has worked as Hospital Chaplain at University Hospital Llandough, Cardiff. He reflects that he had always wanted to work on the coalface in terms of relating directly to people in critical care situations whether in general medicine or in psychiatry. He shares his experience of supporting families when they face sudden death, especially in Intensive Care when medical intervention is to be withdrawn and the family need to say goodbye to their loved ones. He talks about the cultural changes around the place of formal religion in everyday life ‘but when people are faced with serious health issues, particularly death, then questions come up about the meaning of life, about priorities in life, and finding meaning, which are so deep that even a non-religious lifestyle can’t suppress those questions and that search for meaning and significance’. The role of Hospital Chaplain is ‘a wonderful role and a great privilege’.

Peter Davies Headshot

Peter Davies 2017

Credit: NHS at 70