Jocelyn Parker: Wartime nurse received Royal Red Cross award

Jocelyn Parker in her Naval uniform. Photo: Supplied

Jocelyn Parker in her Naval uniform. Photo: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

One of the highest military nursing awards was made for exceptional service to Jocelyn Parker, who has died aged 97 in Norwich.

She was made an Associate of the Royal Red Cross Order – the second highest class – for 'outstanding zeal, patience and cheerfulness and for courage and wholehearted devotion to duty in naval hospitals' in the London Gazette on January 1, 1945.

The Order, which was created by Queen Victoria in 1883, recognises 'exceptional devotion and competency in the performance of actual nursing duties over a continuous and long period'.

Betty Jocelyn Parker, who was born in 1916 at Mildenhall, near the family's then home at the Hall, Barton Bendish, was the oldest of three children. After leaving boarding school aged 17, she spent two years in Bordeaux, France, as an au pair before becoming a student nurse at the Middlesex training hospital in 1936. In those days, after six years of training, a newly-qualified nurse would expect to earn about £9 a year.

At the outbreak of the second world war, Jocelyn, as she was always known, was still training. Her American boyfriend, a junior doctor, who was a Harvard graduate, was pressured by his parents to return to the safety of the United States. Instead, he volunteered for the Royal Navy because the senior service was chronically short of doctors.

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They dined on Saturday, he joined his ship on Monday and that Friday, he was one of 135 lost to a torpedo attack. At about the same time, her younger brother, Peter, wounded in the rearguard defending Dunkirk and taken prisoner, was route marched to Germany, where he died of pneumonia, aged 21.She then volunteered for the navy and joined Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service. When she told her father, Gordon, he said: 'That means another death in the family.'

As part of the preparations for D-Day, she was posted to Portsmouth, which was to be the sole clearing station for casualties. There, she was in charge of a ward for the most serious chest and stomach wounds, who could not be moved to other hospitals or even the cellars during the frequent air raids. Of all the casualties that passed through her ward, only two died. Post D-Day, she had no leave for a year and did not even get a half day's respite from her duties – all for £80 a year.

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Earlier in the war, she had been returning to London by train, when she was addressed by an officer in her compartment. Recognising the accent, she replied in fluent French. It was the start of a happy relationship. The officer, who came from the south of France, had been seconded to General de Gaulle's staff, then based at London's Ritz Hotel – sadly he was killed during D-Day.

She was later posted to the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich – the only female officer among hundreds of naval officers. Before her official transfer, she had been invited to an investiture at Buckingham Palace to receive her award, but just before she was due to leave, she was summoned to see the matron and ordered to go to Greenwich that very day. When she protested that it was her half-day and an important occasion for the service, the matron said: 'In the Navy, leave is a privilege, not an entitlement.' Her parents had already been told by the matron not to attend.

Jocelyn said that the matron, who was a regular, intensely disliked volunteer reservists. 'But,' she later told her brother,' I squared with her when I obtained the medal, not her.'

In the later stages of the war, London was bombarded by V2 attacks. After one V2 attack, during the night, she was buried under plaster. When she got out of bed to check that her nurses were safe, wearing her nightdress, she met the Admiral, who was in his pyjamas and coming to check on her. When he asked if she was okay, she did confide that 'they [the V2s] did get on your nerves a bit'.

After leaving the navy, she became sister in charge of sanatoriums at Wellington and later Malvern College before retiring to Heydon, near Aylsham, where she lived for 11 years, caring for her father until his death in 1979 and also her step-mother. Later she moved to Gooderstone.

She is survived by her younger sister, Enid, brother Michael, nephews and nieces.

A funeral service will take place at St George's Church, Gooderstone, on Monday, June 3 at noon.

Michael Pollitt

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