PMRAF Nursing Sister Betty Mansell (1908-2001)



Betty Mansell trained as a nurse, initially at Clatterbridge where she did 2 years Fever Training.  She then joined her sister, Winifred (always known as Winnie),  at Chester Royal Infirmary in 1926, the first picture is of her as a junior nurse  in 1927.  The matron is greeting a government minister on the opening of new operating theatres.  After finishing her training, she and Winnie decided to train to become midwives at St Mary's Hospital Manchester.    They then moved on to work in a nursing home in Leicester before they had the chance to start working at the Manchester Jewish Hospital in Cheetham Hill, where Betty worked as a theatre Nurse and  Winnie specialised in Ear, Nose and Throat as a Sister and eventually became the Matron.  

In 1938, Betty applied to Liverpool City for a training grant to become a Health Visitor and undertook the training from 12th September 1938 until June 1939.  Her work was in some of the most deprived areas of Liverpool such as the Scotland Road area.  With the declaration of  war, she carried on her public health work  in Liverpool, which now included first aid duty during the bombing of Liverpool and transferring German internees to the Isle of Man.

She decided to join the forces in 1943 and initially applied to the Army but was rejected, so applied to Princess Mary's Royal Airforce Nursing Service and underwent training at Halton prior to going overseas.  The picture on the left is of her and her sister after she had joined the Princes Mary Royal Air Force Nursing Sisters and was about to leave for North Africa.  She left Liverpool on the Orontes on 13th August 1943 in a 96 ship convoy. She learnt that they had been allocated Cabin 13  on Deck C and was allocated Berth A. Fearing it was unlucky, she tried desperately to get it changed to no avail  and then discovered that Cabin 13 was the Bridal Suite. The Orontes carried 4,000 troops and those on board had little idea where they were heading.  The captain told them to sleep in their clothes and life jackets as the  ship carrying the Army nursing sisters on the previous convoy was torpedoed and all were lost.  The Orontes arrived in the Mediterranean as the Allies were invading Sicily.  When they arrived at Algiers the ship had to remain outside the harbour all night because of the risk of bombers attacking two warships harboured there, the 'Howe' and 'George V'.   

They were initially transferred to a a boys Boarding school in Algiers but it was filthy and had flies.  Later they transferred to Carthage and took over a hospital in a  terrible condition with no water or sewerage.  By 1944, Betty was at the hospital at Maison Blanche in Algiers.   It was in November 1944 that a colleague, a fellow sister, reported to her in the Mess  that she was nursing an RAF Wing Commander Ogden who was having a cyst renoved from his eye.   Betty recalled that she had met a Pilot Officer Ogden at a dance in Chester at the Freemasons Hall  in 1929 and they had become friends, even meeting his family in Heswall.  However they lost touch with each other about 1933 and Betty was unaware that Micky had left the RAF in 1934 at the end of his Short Service Commission.  They met up after Micky was discharged from hospital and this time Betty was determined she was not going to let Micky Ogden escape again.  There was a slight hitch - Betty was already engaged to be married to a Colonel serving in Egypt. She sent him the ring back and accepted Micky's proposal of marriage.

Her matron at the hospital was outraged and arranged for Betty to be transferred to Naples. This was  as the invasion of Italy gathered pace and she was sent to Torre del Greco, Naples, near Mount Vesuvius.  The battle for Cassino was on when the volcano erupted and the hospital had to be evacuated.  

Click on this photo to see Betty's album

Whilst working in Italy, Betty received permission to marry Micky, who was based in North Africa.  The Catering Officer in Naples made a wedding cake and she flew to Algiers with it in a wooden box marked 'British Red Cross, Wedding Cake'.  The Americans in charge at the airport carried it on to the plane for her.  The wedding was held in the British Consulate and then in the British Church with a reception afterwards in the Sisters' Mess with 25 bottles of champagne at 2/6 a bottle.   Champagne in wartime was in very short supply but Micky discovered that the Christian Brothers could make champagne if they had sugar which Micky then supplied.  The first week of their honeymoon was in the Atlas Mountains with some Norwegian missionaries and the second week they stayed at a hotel on the coast.  When she returned to Italy, Micky used to fly over in a Beaufighter, circling Vesuvius.  In 1945, they both attended a Moral Leadership Course in Rome.  Betty stayed overseas till August 1945, and flew back on a Dakota bringing back injured aircrew from Naples.  Also on the flight were, LAC Venis, LAC Cary, Sergeant Lombie, and Sister Asquith.   Betty was discharged from the RAF that month.