Memories of Cornwall Park Hospital - Part Two

The hospital's facilities

Memories of Cornwall Park Hospital - Part Two

On 24 February 2024, Cornwall Park hosted a Heritage Day to commemorate the 39th General United States Army Hospital, Cornwall Maternity Unit, later National Women’s Hospital and Cornwall Geriatric Hospital which all found their homes on Cornwall Park in the 20th century.

Our Health Journeys documented the experiences and memories of some of the hospital staff for the Heritage Day. Many staff shared anecdotes along the same themes of the hospital facilities, treatment, maternal care, toileting, and stories about some of the doctors.

Explore Part 2 featuring the hospital facilities below, head to Part One and Part Three (coming soon) for more, or click here to listen to the stories in the staff’s own words. For some of the groundbreaking and internationally significant work first undertaken at National Women’s Hospital, click here to read about Professor Sir Graham (Mont) Liggins, and here for a video presentation on Professor Sir William Liley.

Image Description
Image Description
Cornwall Park, Auckland, with buildings of the Cornwall Park Hospital. Whites Aviation Ltd: Photographs. Ref: WA-25902-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22914730

The Long Corridor

“The hospital was designed like a headless fish skeleton with one very long corridor as the backbone and wards were the ribs either side, with several small passages leading to blocks for administration, radiology, theatre…” remembers administrator Ngairene Rogers. Central to the fish skeleton, the long corridor was a feature of many memories from former staff of the hospital.
More than one nurse remembers staff including the night supervisors riding down the corridor on their bicycles, and some staff used scooters. “The orderlies used scooters to do their deliveries. I loved seeing them scoot down the long corridors and they were always careful to keep to the left so not to disturb the staff walking, the food trollies, patients’ trolleys, and other traffic. It seemed to be a terribly busy place in 1963.” Nurse Karen Andersen Yates remembers the scooters fondly, and fellow nurse Verna Harford remembers, “Walking down that long corridor and thinking, why don't we have a scooter...?”
For nurse Colleen Williams, “…we just walked for miles to and from our quarters in the wards. It was still the rule that we changed from our ward uniforms to our dress ones before we left the ward and/or went to meals. All this took so much time, the changing, the walking, the hurried meal. Sometimes it was hardly worth the effort.” In contrast, medical laboratory technologist Kathryn Schollum remembers the corridor fondly; “I can recall during lab parties, which were legendary, that we used to get our bikes or our scooters and have races along the wide, lengthy corridor of the old Cornwall Hospital. So… we did work hard, but we also played hard.”
At the far end of the long corridor was a standalone shed that contained the old medical records from the 1940s and 1950s. It “was a long trek for a medical records clerk,” remembers Ngairene Rogers. “As the shed also contained boxes of apples for patients the clerk would announce ‘I'm going to the apple store for a chart’ and would munch on an apple as she returned with the chart.”

The Cold

The hospital had been built as a temporary structure by the United States Army in the Second World War, and subsequently the facilities were of a standard acceptable for temporary use. The continued use of the hospital buildings without upgrades to the facilities made for cold wards.
“Because it was going to be temporary, it was made from prefab materials, now that meant no insulation, and I remember being very cold on early morning shifts in the winter. My friend Robin, she wore her pyjama pants rolled up to her knees under the uniform on night duty when she was sitting writing reports,” remembers nurse Rosie Deveraux. For Colleen Williams, “The wards… were sunny enough, but not very well heated, as they stood on piles under which the wind blew. The walls were thin and not at all insulated. We were busy enough to keep warm, but the patients really needed their hotties and warm dressing gowns in the winter.”


The Nurses’ Quarters

“The nurse's sleeping quarters were close to the wards, and my friend Sharon went sleepwalking, and ended up in the ward in her pyjamas and her nurse's cap,” Rosie Deveraux remembers – quite the sight for staff and patients alike who may have come across her on her walk.
Student nurses lived onsite at the hospital in the nurses’ quarters. Despite being adults, the student nurses had rules and curfews to follow that didn’t allow them much of a life outside of their studies. The 11pm curfew meant that for those going out for the evening, they needed to be back in time for lights out or risk being locked out until morning. For Verna Harford, one of her friends potentially broke one of the rules the nurses were to follow. “We all lived in the nurses’ quarters… and we had a nice little room and one of my friends had a pet… I’m not sure we were allowed to [have pets] but there was definitely one, that’s for sure.”
For Karen Andersen Yates, the nurses’ quarters compared unfavourably to those she had had at Auckland Hospital where she did the first part of her training. “Our room in the nurse’s home was quite simple. Coming from Auckland Hospital, where the furniture in our rooms was colonial, this was so simple, and tacky, including the bedspread. I rationalised it was only for six weeks, and it was a new experience.”