The Nightingale Girls - By Donna Douglas

About the Book

In at the deep end

Three very different girls sign up as trainee nurses at a big London teaching hospital in 1934.


Leaves her overcrowded, squalid East End home for a better life. But has she got what it takes to keep up with other, better educated girls? And will her hated stepfather ever let her go?


Born for the job, her brother is a doctor, her all-powerful mother a hospital trustee. But will Helen’s secret misery be her downfall?


An aristocratic rebel, her carefree attitude will find her up in front of Matron again and again. Will she ever care enough to make a nurse? Or will she go back to the glamorous life she was born to?


What have they let themselves in for?

About the Author

Donna Douglas is a freelance journalist and – as Donna Hay – had a number of successful romantic novels published by Orion.

The Nightingale Girls

Donna Douglas

Chapter One

‘TELL ME, MISS Doyle. What makes you think you could ever be a nurse here?’

After growing up in the slums of Bethnal Green, not much frightened Dora Doyle. But her stomach was fluttering with nerves as she faced the Matron of the Nightingale Teaching Hospital in her office on that warm September afternoon. She sat tall and upright behind a heavy mahogany desk, an imposing figure in black, her face framed by an elaborate white headdress, grey eyes fixed expectantly on Dora.

Dora wiped her damp palms on her skirt. She was sweating inside her coat, but she didn’t dare take it off in case Matron noticed the frayed cuffs of her blouse.

‘Well—’ she began, then stopped. Why did she think she could ever be a nurse? Living on the other side of Victoria Park from the Nightingale, she had often seen the young women coming and going through the gates, dressed in their red-lined cloaks. For as long as she could remember she’d dreamed of being one of them.

But dreams like that didn’t come true for the likes of Dora Doyle. Like any other East End girl, her destiny lay in the sweatshops or one of the factories that lined the overcrowded stretch of the Thames.

So she’d left school at fourteen to earn her living at Gold’s Garments, and tried to make the best of it. But the dream hadn’t gone away. It grew bigger and bigger inside her, until four years later she had taken her courage in her hands and written a letter of application.

‘What have you got to lose?’ Mr Gold’s daughter Esther had said. ‘You’ll never know if you don’t try, bubele.’ She’d even lent Dora her lucky necklace charm to wear for the interview. She could feel the warm metal sticking to her damp skin beneath her blouse.

‘It’s a hamsa,’ Esther had explained as Dora admired the exquisite little silver hand on its delicate chain. ‘My people believe it brings good fortune.’

Dora hoped the hamsa’s powers weren’t just extended to Jews. She needed all the help she could get.

‘I’m keen and I’m very hard-working,’ she found the words at last. ‘And I’m a quick learner. I don’t need telling twice.’

‘So your reference says.’ Matron looked down at the letter in front of her. ‘This Miss Gold clearly thinks a lot of you.’

Dora blushed at the compliment. Esther had taken a real chance, writing that reference behind her father’s back; old Jacob would go mad if he found out his daughter was helping one of his employees to find another job. ‘Miss Esther reckons I’m one of her best girls on the machines. I’ve got the hands, she says.’

She saw Matron looking at her hands and quickly knotted them in her lap so the woman wouldn’t see her bitten-down nails, or the calluses the size of mothballs that covered her fingers. ‘Grafter’s hands’, her mother called them. But they didn’t look like the right kind of hands to soothe a fevered brow.

‘I have no doubt you’re a hard worker, Miss Doyle,’ Matron said. ‘But then so is every girl who comes in here. And most of them are far better qualified than you.’

Dora’s chin lifted. ‘I’ve got my certificates. I went back to night school to get them.’

‘So I see.’ Matron’s voice was soft, with an underlying note of steel. ‘But, as you know, the Nightingale is one of the best teaching hospitals in London. We have girls from all over the country wanting to train here.’ She met Dora’s eyes steadily across the desk. ‘So why should we accept you and not them? What makes