A blogged interview with Flight Lieutenant Patricia Leslie Mason (Pat), State Registered Nursing Sister, State Certified Midwife and aeromedical certificate.
“I loved it”
From ushering new lives into the world, to evacuating injured soldiers and treating them mid-air: Pat “Loved it.” So much so, she smashed through tradional gendered career barriers.
Pat advises “And if you don’t like something, like me, being at school, oh I hated it… Move to something else. Because there is something that you will shine at.”
“I loved being a nurse.”
Pat began nursing training at 15, in 1959. “Training involved 2 years as a cadet nurse, and I spent about a year in the pharmacy..then in records…I loved it.”
“I came top of the class, because it’s what I like doing.”
“And then I did my 3 years of training. Which was very hard.” Pat explains “I lived in the nurses’ home, about 3 years, because we had to do so many hours of prac.[sic] teaching and so many hours of hands on, and lots of exams and things, anyway, I came top in everything!”
Midwifery training took another 12 months, 6 of them on the road. McIntosh (2014) argues that District Midwives of the era took great pride in their ability to cope with heavy workloads.
“I was a District Midwife on my bicycle. With my gas and air machines hanging off the handle bars” Pat explains “We lived in a dormitory, and the phone used to go and we used to have to go and boil the instruments on the cooker, go to deliver the babies, and come back and go to bed and then off you go again.”
“In 1965 I joined the Air Force.”
Keen to explore the world, Pat took her midwifery skills to a new level by joining the Royal Air Force (RAF) with a friend. “And we were both officers, because we were trained. And I loved it, really good life, the pay, accommodation, went all round the world. Wonderful.”
“And then they asked me if I was interested in being a Flying Sister.”
Flying Sisters are an elite group of the Royal Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service, specialising in aeromedical evacuations- the retrieval, evacuation, in flight treatment and delivery home of wounded soldiers (Mackie, 2001).
Pat describes being a Flying Sister:
“All the gunshot wounds and people blown up and what not, they put them all on an aeroplane, and I used to fly them home. And I would look after them in the air…, like an ambulance, but it was a VC-10 aeroplane. Which was a big aeroplane. And there would be about 30 or 40 patients in it. So, they took all the seats out of the aeroplane and put stretchers, 3 above each one. And put them on. So I used to fly in…get off the aeroplane and be escorted with the guns and the military to pick up people up, get them back on the aeroplane and fly them home.”
“And then I used to have to go in a helicopter from London to the various hospitals, and take them to wherever they were going.”
“So, I did that for 2 years. It was wonderful, wonderful. Yes, a really good life. I gained a lot of experience doing that.”
Pat met her future husband, Geoff Mason, during an RAF flight stopover in Gan, where he was based as a Movements Officer.
“…then we decided to get married. So, I had to leave the Air Force, because you weren’t allowed to be in the Air Force when you were married. But! But! I went to the big boss and said “I want to get married, but I want to stay in the Air Force because I love it, and I was the first one ever to be able to stay in the Air Force and be married.” “We were both posted to Singapore, and lived there as a married couple.”
Sherrif (2013) argues that historically, service conditions, regulations and policies on postings. All active duty employees within the RAF were employed under the regulation that they would be available to be posted anywhere at anytime This, combined with the option for newly married women to be discharged immediately after marriage, effectively formed a barrier for women to remain in the RAF after marriage.
Allowances for Pat to be posted to the same location as her husband were likely extremely rare.
Pat reflects on the impact she has made.
“I think I’ve made a difference to thousands of people, but I can’t put an absolute number on it. And I’ve delivered thousands of babies.”
“People are in the Air Force now are allowed to stay in when they are married. There are lots of married couples in the Air Force. And I was the first one.”
- Mason, Patricia. Interview by Katie Smith. Digital audio recording. Sydney, Australia, December 12 and 15, 2016.
- Mackie, Mary, Sky wards: a history of the Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service, London, Robert Hale, 2001.
- McIntosh, Tania, ‘I’m not the tradesman: A Case Study of District Midwifery in Nottingham and Derby 1954–1974’,Social History of Medicine; May2014, Vol. 27 Issue 2, p221-240
- Members of the 791st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron monitor patients during an aero-medical evacuation mission from Balad Air Base, Iraq, to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Feb. 25. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Scott Reed). Wikimedia Commons. Accessed 16 December 2016.
- Sherrit, Kathleen, The Integration of Women into the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, Post-World War II to the Mid 1990s, London, King’s College, 2013.