District Nurse on Call

Written by Donna Douglas
Review by Cathy Kemp

Set in West Yorkshire in 1926, the latest novel by Donna Douglas introduces us to District Nursing in a mining community in the village of Bowden. In anticipation of bringing innovative, yet practical nursing into a community where people are used to calling on the local healer, Agnes Sheridan expects to be welcomed by the villagers. But this is a closed community, suspicious of new ideas, and though she has been funded by the Miner’s Welfare, Nurse Sheridan finds herself shunned when she offers her services. Her opponent, Hannah Arkwright, formidable in size and personality, is respected yet feared by the locals. Agnes pursues her ambition to attend to the health needs of the community using the skills she learned in her training, but finds her way thwarted by the locals, specifically Hannah Arkwright who is determined to continue using her potions irrespective of the developments in medicine at the time.

Though the General Strike was resolved within nine days in most services nationwide, it continued for months in Bowden Main mine along with other collieries in the area, resulting in miners and their families facing hunger, severe hardship and eviction. The pit manager’s wife, Carrie, a miner’s daughter, finds herself torn between the two sides in the dispute over working hours and lowering the wages of the miners: wanting to support her husband James in his role keeping the mine operating versus giving aid to those in need in the pit families.

This is an engaging book that draws the reader into the characters’ lives, developing the story as a believable record of the history from that period. It is also an exposition of the challenges faced by nurses in rural medicine during the years between the wars.