Reader’s photo conjures up images of TV series

Midwife Jane Gemmell handing over the baby she's just delivered to Margaret Whitehouse while a trainee midwife looks on behind Jane
Midwife Jane Gemmell handing over the baby she's just delivered to Margaret Whitehouse while a trainee midwife looks on behind Jane
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It could almost be a scene from the BBC’s hit Sunday night drama Call the Midwife.

Except this was for real and in Portsmouth, not the East End of London.

Shirley Redmond (Emma Noakes) goes into labour in an episode from the TV series Call The Midwife.  Photo courtesy of BBC Pictures

Shirley Redmond (Emma Noakes) goes into labour in an episode from the TV series Call The Midwife. Photo courtesy of BBC Pictures

The drama, set during the 1950s, is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth and features a newly-qualified midwife launching her career alongside an order of nursing nuns.

This photograph was taken in 1951 to illustrate a feature in Illustrated magazine of July that year, marking the third birthday of the National Health Service.

The midwife here is Nurse Jane Gemmell, who is pictured handing a newly-born baby to mother Margaret Whitehouse ‘of Portsmouth’, while a pupil midwife looks on.

The photograph comes to Remember When from Jane’s daughter Gillian Gemmell, of Goodwood Road, Southsea, who has discovered part of that feature among her family heirlooms.

The original caption (only half survives) said: ‘Hospital accommodation is free to all expectant mothers, but about half prefer to have their babies in familiar surroundings.

‘In Portsmouth, where health services are a model, midwives are ready to answer calls...’

Gillian says: ‘During her 30-year career as a district midwife in Portsmouth, my mother brought more than 3,000 babies into the world. It was a time when most expectant mothers had their babies at their own home.

‘By the time she was approaching the end of her career she was delivering her babies’ babies at home. The time came, however, when more and more were born in hospital as they are today.’

Gillian recognises her mother’s bravery during the war when ‘she risked life and limb to drive around Portsmouth in the middle of air raids to reach her patients and deliver their offspring’.

She adds: ‘I remember seeing my mother’s little car with sizeable jagged pieces of shrapnel sticking up out of the roof.’

Nurse Jane Gemmell died in 1971, but there is a good chance that the baby she has just delivered here is alive. If it’s you, please get in touch.