10th July 1957
Guernsey nurses go on hunger strike
What looked like being an isolated incident turned into something far more serious on 10 July 1957, when the Guernsey Board of Health fired 12 hunger-striking nurses. The nurses had been employed at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital.
They had fist gone on hunger strike (or “food strike” as they called it) the previous day when they refused to go into the dining hall. According to the Lancashire Evening Post, the nurses were being fed tinned tomatoes for breakfast, despite Guernsey producing 50,000 tons of tomatoes every year. Lunch was “the usual stew with a bit of pastry to disguise it”.
The situation deteriorates
The Board of Health called in nurse Dorothy Harrison to act as the nurses’ representative when discussing the matter. She was fired, which only made matters worse. Twelve nurses (some sources say fourteen) signed letters warning that they would resign if Harrison wasn’t reinstated. The Board accepted their resignations and asked them to work out their notice.
According to The Guardian,
The Board of Health last night [11 July] called in each of the fourteen separately and this statement was read by a member of the board: ‘We wish to inform you that the board finds it impossible under any circumstances to reinstate Staff Nurse Harrison and, as you support her, we have no alternative but to accept your resignation as from to-day with a month’s pay in lieu of notice.’ The fourteen were ordered to leave the nurses’ home by noon on Monday.
According to the Daily Mirror, the Transport and General Workers’ Union threatened action by all 4000 members on Guernsey if Harrison wasn’t reinstated. A court of inquiry was swiftly set up by the Bailiff, Ambrose Sherwill, to investigate.
After three days’ investigation it recommended that the dismissed nurses should be reinstated. The Birmingham Daily Post quoted,
In these circumstances it was right for the nurses’ spokesman, Staff Nurse Harrison (as she did), to press with determination and even importunity for a discussion of the nurses’ grievances… the Board [of Health], by a serious error of judgement, decided instead on a course which was bound gravely to aggravate the trouble. Whatever faults can properly be attributed to Staff Nurse Harrison they fall far short of those justifying summary dismissal.
On the last day of the month, once the nurses had been reinstated, every member of the Guernsey Board of Health resigned.