Celebrating 85 years

Braemar Hospital is celebrating its 85th birthday this year. To mark the occasion, we would like people to send in their memories of the hospital during its early years in Hamilton. Two people who had an early association with the hospital were John and Sally Coles from Karapiro.

The ColesJohn Coles’ mother, Doris, gave birth to three of her six children at Braemar’s maternity hospital in the 1930s.

So, Doris and her husband Thomas (Tom) Coles saw firsthand how hard it was for the nursing staff who had to hand-wash and hand-wring the newborn babies’ cloth nappies.

John Coles, who was born in 1933, says his parents decided they wanted to help. So they donated a hand wringer (mangle) for the nurses to attach to the old wooden tubs.

“There were no washing machines or driers in those days. It was all done by hand. The nappies would have been boiled and then rinsed and wrung manually. Dad decided to donate the hand wringer to make it easier for the staff,” says John, who now lives with his wife Sally on a property near Karapiro.

He thinks the wringer would have cost around two pounds, a considerable sum in those days.

 At the time of John’s birth, the maternity hospital, sited in Tainui Street, was known as “Waione”. It was built as a private maternity hospital in 1931 by Frances Young, a nursing sister, who had previously bought and converted the adjacent property into Braemar medical and surgical hospital. Later, as demand for private maternity care declined, “Waione” became a nurse’s home for Braemar.

John Coles and his wife, Sally, 74, were both born at “Waione” on the Braemar hospital site. Like many Waikato people, their association with the hospital spans many decades.

 John says he was a healthy baby and he believes his birth weight was around 8lbs. His Karitane nurse was Jean Chandler, whose family owned Chandler House, one of Hamilton’s iconic high end shops for many years. “She apparently told my parents I was the most beautiful baby she had ever seen,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.

Sally, who was a national representative swimmer as a younger woman, was born at ‘Waione’ four years later. She says at that time women were confined for two weeks, very different from today.

There were other differences in those days. John’s mother had her first child at the relatively mature age of 30. Her last child was born when she was 43. “The war was responsible for that,” says John.

John and Sally, who have three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandson, say their association with Braemar has always been positive.

John, who last year was awarded a QSM for services to the community, says it is lovely to know his father’s gift made a difference in the hospital’s early days.

These days, Braemar Hospital no longer has a maternity unit. And nurses do not do their own laundry. The new hospital on Ohaupo Rd has a fully fledged commercial laundry on the premises, which serves Braemar Hospital and Braemar Day Hospital in Knox St. It has seven part-time staff who work across two shifts.