Nurse training

In October 1956, the brand new Group Preliminary Training School (PTS) for nurses was opened bringing together student nurses from Haslemere, the Royal Surrey and St. Luke’s. It was a real turning point in training as it was the first group PTS to be formed in the area, if not the entire country!  The new building extended from the Nurses’ Home at St. Luke’s Hospital, and all new student nurses lived there for three months. Prior this, student nurses trained in their hospital’s own PTS only.

Student nurses in the classroom

Student nurses in the classroom
Student nurses in the classroom

The Group PTS rest room

The PTS rest room
The PTS rest room

Student nurses writing a letter home from her bedroom in the PTS.

Student nurse writing a letter home.
Student nurse writing a letter home.

Anatomy class

Student nurses having an anatomy lesson
Student nurses having an anatomy lesson

If you trained at the group PTS at St. Luke’s Hospital we’d love to hear from you!


Mr Robert McMillan: Physician Superintendent

Dr McMillan
Mr McMillan

Mr Robert McMillan was Physician Superintendent and Consultation Physician at St Luke’s Hospital from 1947 until 1968.  He was born in Greenock, Scotland in August 1909, the son of James Sharp McMillan, a ship-plater and his wife, Mary Bingham.  After graduating in 1929 with a degree in Pure Science, Robert qualified as a doctor in 1939.

During the 1940s Mr McMillan was Assistant Superintendent of the City of Edinburgh Municipal and General Hospitals and also lecturer in tuberculosis at the school of Medicine of the Royal Colleges.  During this period of his working life, he submitted three articles on TB and scurvy to the British Medical Journal.

In 1947, Robert McMillan and his wife Janet, whom he had married in Glasgow in 1937, moved to Guildford to take up his new appointment as Superintendent at St Luke’s, where he faced formidable and frustrating administration problems.  Administration passed from Surrey County Council to the newly established National Health System and later in 1952 St Luke’s was joined in clinical union with the Royal Surrey Hospital in Farnham Road.  It was mooted that a new hospital should be built on the site of St Luke’s and Mr McMillan spent many hours planning this, but it was not to be.

Dr McMillan talking at a fete at St Luke's Hospital
Mr McMillan at a hospital fete in the early 1960’s. In the background (L to R) telephonist Dennis Hann, electrician Des Pettifer and fitter Bill Barrow.

Mr McMillan established the first allergy clinic in the hospital and improved the diabetic services.  He developed paediatrics and introduced closer liaison with the social services but his particular interest was in geriatrics.  He was the first to establish a geriatric unit in the area and in 1957 a symposium on the care of the elderly was held at Guildford.  Speaking at the symposium, Robert said that there was a tendency, “for old people to be lumped together in wards for the chronic sick regardless of the condition from which they were suffering.” He suggested that all students should work for a time in chronic sick wards.  He believed there was a case for making, ‘inducement’ payments to Sisters in geriatric wards.

On August 18th 1966 a fire swept through the main kitchen of the hospital during the day.  Surgeons continued with an operation only 15 yards away.  Cyril Brooks, the hospital group secretary, reported to the Times that, “Patients in wards nearby watched from windows as hospital staff and passers-by formed a human chain to save records, nurses uniforms and other stores.  Then they served the firemen ice-cream and lemonade as they worked in the sweltering heat.” The source of the fire remains a mystery but, at the time, Hospital Group painters were busy stripping the paint off the fascia boards outside the kitchen.

Fire at St. Luke's
Fire at St. Luke’s

In 1968 when Mr McMillan relinquished his post as physician superintendent, a party was held for him in Coyle Hall.  Surrounded by staff he had worked with during his years at St Luke’s, Robert McMillan heard Alderman C. E. Nicklin speak of the doctor’s many achievements including day rooms, the day hospital, Coyle Hall and the Betatron.  His interaction with voluntary organisations and his excellent organisational skills were also cited.

Mr Nicklin stated that Mr McMillan had, “changed the atmosphere of the rather grim 19th century architecture of soul-less institutional appearance.  He transformed them into cheerful, light and functionally efficient wards, so that no-one today can pass through St Luke’s without sensing that it is indeed a happy hospital-served by a dedicated team.”  The party continued, in Scottish tradition, with the piping in of a haggis and a bouquet of flowers was presented to Mrs McMillan.

Dr McMillan in cap and gown outside St Luke's Hospital
Mr McMillan in cap and gown outside St Luke’s Hospital

Although giving up his administrative duties, Mr McMillan continued to be a consultant.  He died in Surrey in 1975.

Article by Elizabeth Lloyd

Twenty-five years at St Luke’s by Matron Brigit Coyle

Bridget Coyle was Matron of St. Luke’s Hospital from 1942 – 1960 . In 1955, Coyle celebrated 25 years at the hospital – here is her account of St. Luke’s from 1930 to 1955.

Matron Brigit Coyle, taken just before retirement
Matron Brigit Coyle, taken just before retirement

It is a privilege for me to have the opportunity to write about my twenty-five years at St. Luke’s and I call to mind a few of my memories and some of the changes which have taken place during that time.

When, on 18th January, 1930, I came to St. Luke’s as a Ward Sister, it was known as Warren Road Hospital and was under the Guildford Board of Guardians, but in that same year it passed to the control of the Surrey County Council. The staff consisted of 1 Resident Medical Officer, 7 trained nurses and 20 probationers, patients numbering 150.The hospital was at the time recognised as a Preliminary Training School for nurses in affiliation with Lambeth Hospital, London.

WW2 photo of staff in fancy dress. Brigit Coyle back row wearing a turban
WW2 photo of staff in fancy dress. Brigit Coyle back row wearing a turban

In 1932 I was for a time acting Home and Theatre Sister, and in 1933 I became Night Sister. Being the only trained person on night duty, I was responsible for the supervision of the general wards, the deliveries in a 10-bedded maternity ward and the night theatre work. The theatre was then situated in what is now the committee room, and many times I assisted in carrying the patients up and down stairs. On coming off duty in the morning, I would often give a lecture to the nurses, as in those days we had no sister tutor. My off duty was four nights per month all taken together, and I can recall a period of ten weeks when I had to work without any off duty.

In 1934 I was promoted to the post of Assistant Matron with the added duties of day and night theatre sister. In 1935 our first sister tutor was appointed but we had to share her with the Farnham County Hospital and Milford Sanatorium. New construction was now under way and in 1936 the present modern nurses’ home with nurse-teaching department was completed, giving us 72 bedrooms instead of the previous 20; in 1937 the new boiler house, isolation block and observation block were built, and the old laundry converted into a staff dining room.

Matron Coyle and staff at St. Luke's Hospital 1950's.
Matron Coyle and staff at St. Luke’s Hospital 1950’s.

In 1939 the annexe wards and departments were built and equip-ped for the war effort and staffed by the Civil Nursing Reserve, some of whose members joined the permanent staff after the war and are still with us. Everyone worked frantically to get all the windows covered with wire netting and blackout. We were inundated by expectant mothers, evacuated from London, and St. Luke’s House was taken over to accommodate them. Elford was taken over as an ante-natal hostel. The present Out-patients’ department was turned into a first-aid post and decontamination centre.

In 1940, at fifteen hours’ notice, we had to admit 700 casualties from Dunkirk, and every available space in the annexe, main hospital and St. Luke’s House, was packed with beds to meet this crisis. The terrible burns received by some of those boys who had been rescued from a sea of burning oil, and who remained with us for many months, are still a ghastly memory. In this year St. Luke’s became a complete training school for nurses.

Photograph of nurses from 1950
Prize Giving 1950. Matron Coyle in black on the front row

In 1941 I was seconded as Matron to Woking War Hospital, the Southern Railway Orphanage; but next year Mrs. Guy, our Matron, was forced to retire owing to ill health and I returned from Woking to become Matron of St. Luke’s.

In 1943 a pathological laboratory, staffed by one technician, was started in April and the radiotherapy centre was opened. Pymhurst was purchased and opened to house our preliminary training school nurses. In 1945 the hospital was re-named “St. Luke’s.” The following year we applied to the General Nursing Council for recognition as a male nurse training school: this was granted in the same year and still continues.

In 1947 I was privileged to visit America to attend the International Congress of Nursing as a representative of the Surrey County Council Matrons’ Association. In January 1948, after much hard work, we opened Comeragh Court, Woking, as a home for 30 ambulant T.B. patients, but in July, when control passed to the Ministry of Health, this home went over to the Woking Group. This year the occupational therapy department was opened, and we also became recognised as a Part I midwifery training school.

Matron Coyle on the ward
Matron Coyle on the ward

In 1951 the visitors’ canteen was opened in the patients’ waiting room, and in 1952 the League of Friends of the Guildford Hospitals was formed and has since given us much valuable help. The interchange of student nurses between St. Luke’s and the Royal Surrey County Hospitals commenced in January 1952, and in April we first sent students for a period of training at the Milford Chest Hospital. In 1953, the new Group pathological laboratory was opened by the Minister of Health. And so to 1955 and the commencement of a new wing to the Nurses’ Home for the Group preliminary training school.

Matron Coyle at her home in Ireland post retirement
Matron Coyle at her home in Ireland post retirement