Call Nurse Millie

Written by Jean Fullerton
Review by Janet Williamson

This novel, set in 1945, tells the story of Amelia (Millie) Sullivan, a Sister employed by St. George’s and St. Dunstan’s District Nursing Association. She lives in the Association House with thirty other busy qualified nurses, mentors, and trainees, and nurses the sick, injured and dying within their poverty-stricken, filthy East End homes.

Shortly after Winston Churchill announces that the war is over, Millie’s father, Arthur, succumbs to a stroke. Millie’s mother, Doris, is jollied through bereavement by her snobbish sister, Ruby, but sinks into depression. Juggling her career and caring for her mother takes its toll on Millie. When she meets Alex Nolan, she believes him to be a spiv. When called to deliver a child in the police cells, she discovers that Alex is a police sergeant. Romance follows, he proposes, but Alex’s ambitions lay in Palestine. Millie finds herself having to care at home for her now-suicidal mother. Respect for her actions draws support from her mother’s neighbours and former patients who ally with Millie in caring for Doris while she continues her duties, to the detriment of her relationship. Then she meets Jim Smith, a man with a passion for politics.

Despite a revelation coming as no surprise, and stereotypical women with rollered hair and roll-up cigarettes dangling from their mouths, the characters are well rounded, the period and political details evoke nostalgia, and the patient’s stories are convincingly and vividly told. One involving the children of the Walters family was particularly moving. The writing shines off the page and begs for a sequel.