Alice explains how she came to live in Glasgow. She then talks about her career in nursing. Finally she describes meeting her husband and tells the interviewer about her family.
AM: Well I stayed there in domestic service for a while. In that… during that time the people my mother was working for in Northwood, the lady being Scottish, said to my mother, “You can stay here and get another job or whatever or you can come with us to Scotland.” Well they had been very, very good to my mother, and me because I was allowed to visit her every Sunday and she was allowed to wash my uniform together when she did their laundry so I was always spotless at school. And she [my mother]went with them to Glasgow. So one day again I wrote a letter to my mother and said, ‘I would like to be where you are. Can you find a way?’ And there was such an office for refugees in Glasgow, Pollokshields. And she wrote back to me.
‘Yes you can but you would have to work in the same position elsewhere but here.’ So I thanked the people and left, with my little case, on my own to London. I took a train from London and looked out the window as we approached Glasgow, it was a long journey in those days and everything looked so black. The buildings were very, very dirty from soot and smoke. Yes, it looked quite depressing really. I don’t know how I never noticed anything like that in Vienna. I don’t know. I suppose I was more aware then. Well, I think I said that…yes my mum’s employers were very kind to me and I was able to stay there, to come to visit on a Sunday, unless mum sometimes came to London.
INT: But you had moved to Glasgow by then?
AM: Yeah but this is in Glasgow, yes.
INT: Oh I see, right.
AM: Yes. It was still the same people, yes. What do you want from me?
INT: So tell me about what happened when you came to Glasgow? What work did you do? Were you studying? This was still wartime wasn’t it?
AM: Oh yes it was very much wartime. When I went to see Miss Layman, who was the secretary in the Pollokshields Office for Refugees, she said I would have, I would have to go into essential work. There wouldn’t be much work for titled people here but I would have to go into essential work, which is munitions factory work or… she couldn’t really say what I could do.
And I said, well “I was at school being trained, or getting training, to become a chef.” But of course rationing – there was no food to cook anything with. But the other trades that were being taught were nursing, millinery and tailoring. She said, “The only thing that I could offer you of that lot is nursing because it is essential.” And I said “Well, I would like that.” She said, “It is being treated as if you were in the army so I suggest that you don’t go for training but that you go into a nursing home just as a help.” I had time… six months before I would be eighteen by that time…no I was seventeen when I came. So at seventeen when I came to Glasgow I needed a job for pocket money and I was asked to be a nanny to a little boy who is, who was Seymour…what was his name now? Diane Wussen’s cousin…?
AM: And I was his nanny for several months. Seymour Gordon. And then I applied for several nursing homes and the one that I was recommended to I had to have two recommendations and I got one from the other Jewish lady who was a nurse in Clarkston, was Mrs Livingstone, and I got one from a doctor who knew my mother from Vienna and he was a doctor in Stobhill Hospital by that time. So I had recommendations from Mrs Livingstone and Dr. Horowitz. That was medical recommendations and I went to present myself in a place that was a women’s hospital and maternity called Redlands, in the West End. And I was employed; I was employed.
AM: Well I didn’t know anything about anything but I became very familiar with all sorts of medical terms. I was…my first job was in the nurse, the nursing home…the maternity, the maternity home.
AM: On night duty. I was to stay behind a senior nurse called Taylor who was very Glaswegian, Scottish, and I couldn’t understand a word she said so instead of being like I was to you, in saying you garble too quick, I said “Would you please teach me Scottish?” and she said “I’ll learn you Scottish lass”.
INT: That’s nice.
AM: And she taught me some terrible words and I didn’t know they were terrible words. And she told me what I had to do and instructed me to follow her into the bathroom, which was a slunge [a sink with an open waste-pipe] with a big sink and a big basket of soiled baby’s nappies. And there was a huge toilet brush. “Switch on the cold tap” and she said it in Glasgow bad words what I had to do. I’ll say it in nice…the same words but not in the Glasgow way. She said “You slunge the shite off the nappies.” Only she didn’t say it like that! And I am learning the Scottish twang and repeating it with every nappy so it would stay in my mind and the door opened and the night supervisor came and she said “Nurse!” I was already being called nurse, I was so proud of myself, seventeen.
“What are you doing?” And I’d practised this, the way she said it – “I am slunging the shite aff the nappies!” And she turned purple and couldn’t find anybody else to interview. Everybody disappeared, they were all laughing, disappeared. And that was the first Scottish word that I learned! Well I stayed there and I visited Nurse Livingstone and one of the patients that was in the…not in the maternity but in the hospital side of the home, was a beautiful lady who had the most beautiful pale blue nightdress with matching dressing gown. She was blonde with blue eyes and most unusual features and her name was Esther Green. I got to know her because she observed me. Unbeknownst to me I was doing whatever anybody asked me. I didn’t know what my duties were and what they weren’t so whatever anybody asked me I did.
So I ended up doing everybody’s duties and they were having a lovely coffee or tea in the room. And one day this lady, and I had work to do with these people, they were ill and they needed their dressings and things seen to, you know, and one day she said to me “You’re a Jewish girl, aren’t you?” She was Esther Green, she said “I’m also Jewish.” I couldn’t believe it, she was blonde. Oh I admired her negligee with her dressing gown “Don’t be mad,” she said “I did it myself.”
AM: “I’m a designer and dressmaker.” She said, “I’d like you to visit me.” Everybody asked me to visit them and I said yes to everybody and I knew I wouldn’t go to anybody.
So one day she was ready to go home and she was going to give me her address and I said, “That’s very kind of you but thank God I have a mother here and when I have time off I go to see my mother.” She said, “You can bring your mother and I’ll make you a dress.”
AM: The deal, that was the deal! I would come and thereby developed the most wonderful relationship. We called ourselves cousins eventually.
AM: Because her mother and my mother found a connection through the Sephardi side of my family.
AM: So we never really found a solid confirmation of it but it appears and whether that had happened or not we were fond of each other and I had a most wonderful relationship with that family. They had one son with whom I’m friends to this day.
AM: He lives in Bournemouth and he says I am the only one who can talk to him about his time here.
AM: Because he was only eight years old then. And he’s pushing eighty now.
INT: So we will do a fast forward now I think? We do the edited highlights…
AM: Nurse Livingstone suggested I don’t stay in the Redlands but that I apply for training if I like nursing. I said, “I love it, I love the patients but I don’t like all the way the sisters are treating me.” There was one or two who were real anti-Semitic and when there was a Jewish doctor in charge of a ward Nurse Livingstone said “Tell him in Yiddish ‘Anti-Semitic’ and he’ll give her a hard time”! But I didn’t do that, no, no. So I applied and eventually I got my papers and when I was eighteen I started training but it was not quite without hassle because the matron from Redlands was very peeved and she was short of staff and I was a wonderful worker because I did everything everybody told me. Run upstairs; sweep downstairs; go to the next block and attend to twenty or thirty patients; took no time off.
While I was in Redlands I took ill as a result of that, because one of the maids stole my Wellingtons. I had only one pair of shoes for the street, one pair of shoes for working and one pair of Wellingtons and she stole my Wellingtons and when I went to see my mother I had to wait in the snow with my legs bare and I developed a very nasty rheumatism with bad sores. I had to be hospitalised then. However, I got better and started my nurses training in Stobhill.
INT: But you were going to say that the lady didn’t want you to go because you were such a good…?
AM: Yes she didn’t want me to go. She said “I’ll give you a bad reference and you’ll not get in.”
AM: I just smiled; I had a reference from Dr. Horowitz. Now I had to go – this is funny, so I put it in. I had to go for an interview with the matron who came from the Orkneys – her name was Miss Tulloch. She had a long blue gown. Her veil was right at her eyebrows and her sleeves were down to her wrists. Dark brown eyes and she had a deep voice like a man and she gave a frightening appearance to the poor little thing that I was. But I had to go for an interview and I said to Dr. Horowitz, Sol as I knew him, “What should I say to her that’ll give me favour?” He said, “You come from Vienna, just schmooze her” So I did that and she laughed; she knew I was schmoozing her. She said, “Oh you are very continental, nurse”. Ha ha! But I did well there. I did my general and my midwifery.
INT: Which hospital was that?
AM: Stobhill. All the hospitals are being closed.
INT: General nursing and midwifery.
AM: And midwifery with anaesthetics, which you were obliged to take anyway but I took it. It didn’t help you but everybody took it. And then I branched out into a nursing home as a Sister’s post, met my husband to be then at a dance when he was in naval uniform. We fell in love and got married. There’s one thing I missed out of the whole story and it annoys me. That my brother… my mother worked for her employers for very little if they would put up £100.00 to save my brother’s life, and they did. And she did and I helped. And my brother came one day during the war.
INT: Wow, during the war he managed to get out?
AM: I worked in Milton Nursing Home and there’s still a lady alive who calls me Sister Levi.
AM: And she comes to the Jewish Care.
INT: Yes, oh right.
AM: And unfortunately like me she has very poor sight and, yes, because I have made it to this age.
AM: So a lot of people here were my children that I helped to bring into the world.
INT: Wow. So because you were a midwife there were a lot of Jewish families that you did…
AM: And because I worked in the Southside then.
AM: So a lot of people knew me and all the doctors on the Southside knew Sister Levi.
INT: So you were always Sister Levi? Even when you got married or did you stop nursing when you got married?
AM: No I didn’t stop.
INT: OK, but you didn’t change your name?
AM: No. What I stopped was doing midwifery then and I worked in the Victoria as… in Gynaecology because I had worked in Redlands so therefore midwifery and woman’s troubles I knew well.
AM: And that’s how I met Esther because I knew woman’s troubles.
INT: Ok so then you had two children…
AM: Yes, yes but that doesn’t…
INT: You can still name your children in the tape. They’re going to listen.
AM: I see, oh well yes. We got married and my husband was a Naval officer, in the merchant Navy, and he had to ‘swallow the anchor’ because I didn’t want to be a wife without a husband.
It’s hard ‘swallowing the anchor’; it was very hard for him. He liked being at sea. It was not only a wartime job for him; he stayed on after the war. But when we got married he worked for his father, which was a Naval and Gents outfitters.
AM: Of course he knew all the ranks and he knew a lot of the world. We had a son first, bless him, and a daughter later, bless her, and they are now almost pensioners like me.