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An oral history interview with Vernesta Cyril OBE in Newport, discussing his experience of growing up within a family which migrated from the Caribbean during the 1950's.

“I just look, stand by the sea and see…the sea and the sky meeting, and say ‘I wonder what’s behind that?’”

Vernesta Cyril OBE was born in1943 in St Lucia, and she has spent 30 plus years working in hospitals in Wales. She was awarded Midwife of the Year in 2006 and an OBE for her contributions to the NHS.

“Well, I think it was quite happy…I say bathing in the rain…seeing people digging yams and picking the bread fruit and the ram [nut ram] watching the bats on the ram, cashew nuts… I always wanted to aim for A’s, B’s [in school]… we had to learn all the songs and when it’s the Queen’s birthday and had to go on the square with your flag and say the thing, you know ‘God bless our Queen Elizabeth’…I wanted to do teaching or nursing.”

“My sister came before me… my aunt was there, she encouraged my mother, ‘Oh, send her over, she can do it [exam] over here’. I just thought it was an adventure, I was coming to learn.”

“I worked for a couple of months before I went into nursing. I think it was a TB hospital then, they change it in Cefn Mably [Caerphilly], just as an observer…They wanted me to sit exam again…I’ve come here, I’m invited… I didn’t have to be sent by my government; so I sat the exam… So there’s my nursing career started.”

“I think for me, I found things to do to cushion the way I was treated… I’ll never forget the patient who said to me, she was crippled in her bed, ‘you’re not going to put your Black hands on me’, and Peter’s [Vernesta’s husband] never forgotten, ‘we’re not going to work with you, we don’t want a Black man here working.’”

“You were treated with hostility, even in your work… It shaped me into being someone who is strong.”

 

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