Pioneer and surrogate mother to many future Bermudian nurses
In the first of a series of profiles to mark Nurses Month, Cecille Snaith-Simmons tells the story of Bermudian nurse Lorraine Lauretta Dyer-Bizek SRN, SCM, QN, HV, who braved war and moving to a new country to become the first Bermudian Queen’s Nurse.
Lorraine Dyer-Bizek, born in 1915, was the youngest daughter of Edmund and Helen Dyer, of Ingham Vale, Pembroke West. She began her early education at the Central School under Miss Edith Crawford and later moved on to the Excelsior Secondary School, where she became an active member of the 1st Excelsior Girl Guides.
Lorraine had always expressed a keen interest in nursing and it was no surprise that she would enrol in the Bermuda Nursing Home, located on Curving Avenue, for training. In 1936, the Bermuda Nursing Home moved to Happy Valley and was reorganised under the Bermuda Nursing Home Act of 1936. The name then changed to the Cottage Hospital Nursing Home. It was at this point that Lorraine decided to further her training abroad.
In September 1937, she bravely set out by ship to begin her general training at Birmingham General Hospital, England. Unfortunately, she required eye surgery in London which delayed her training by three months. Despite the delay, the hospital allowed her to join the new training group.
During the second year of her training, catastrophic events occurred as the Second World War began in earnest. Birmingham, considered an important industrial and manufacturing location, was heavily bombed by German forces; in fact, it was the third most heavily bombed city in the United Kingdom. As many as 800 people died, 2,345 were injured and more than 200,000 civilians were left homeless. Five days before this there was an air raid on nearby Coventry. It was described in November 1940 as the single most concentrated attack on a British city in the Second World War.
Lorraine Dyer was among the nurses rushed to Coventry when Birmingham Hospital was completely filled with the injured. Patients had to be evacuated to Lichfield Military Hospital for safety. When the British Royal Navy organised a rescue mission to get troops back to Britain from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, Nurse Dyer was assigned to assist in the care of the wounded from this episode as well.
Despite all of this upheaval in her studies, she completed her training on time and received her State Registered Nurses’ Certificate in 1941. In that same year, she was selected as a delegate to represent student nurses of Birmingham Hospital at a conference in London. She then returned to the hospital for an additional year to specialise in casualty, diabetes and venereal diseases.
Shortly thereafter, she was accepted by the Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland, and later gained her State Certified Midwifery qualification in 1943 from the University of Edinburgh.
The Elsie Inglis Maternity Hospital was set up in 1904 by Dr Inglis, a pioneer surgeon and suffragette. She worked tirelessly to improve the medical care of women and set up this small, 50-bed maternity hospital to cater to Edinburgh’s poor and staffed it entirely with women.
The Bermuda Welfare Society, a district nursing organisation in Bermuda formed in 1925, required all district nurses to have the Queen’s Nursing Certificate. No Bermudian nurse held this qualification. This inspired Lorraine to enter the Central District Home, Castle Terrace, Edinburgh, to train for an additional 18 months. The first phase was for six months followed by a year of probation. In June 1945, she was awarded the Scottish Queen’s Nurse Certificate. To become a British Queen’s Nurse, she was required to undertake an additional year of service. Undaunted, she transferred to Lancashire, England, and successfully gained this additional qualification.
In 1947, she surprised her family by returning to Bermuda via British South American Airways, for a four-month holiday. It was her first visit in ten years.
British South American Airways was a state-run airline in Britain during the mid-1940s. It was responsible for services in the Caribbean and South America.
After her vacation, she returned to England to pursue yet another nursing qualification. She enrolled for six months in Public Health Services at Burnett House, Oxford, where she received her Health Visitor’s Certificate.
In health visiting, Lorraine found her niche. She loved this area of nursing and for two years she worked in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, before transferring in 1950 to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset.
Lorraine Dyer married Wladek Bizek, a Polish national, in 1952. They made their home in Bristol, but she continued her work as a health visitor in Weston-super-Mare.
The happily married couple welcomed many Bermudian nursing students into their home and encouraged their pursuit of nursing in a foreign and unfamiliar land.
Some of the nurses she nurtured and assisted at the beginning of their career were:
• Moira Cann, the nurse Dr EF Gordon received special permission from KEMH to care for him until his death.
• Her nephew Edward Dyer, retired Commissioner of Prisons.
• Barbara Ann Astwood, retired tutor within the Bermuda Hospital Board’s Educational Department.
• Joan Dillas-Wright MBE, JP, who served as director and administrator of Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute and later as the Bermuda Hospital Board’s consultant and CEO. Mrs Dillas-Wright is now President of the Senate.
Had this Bermudian nurse returned home after her extensive training, she would have experienced difficulty in finding suitable employment owing to the racial segregation of the era. Fortunately, she lived long enough to see changes in the employment of qualified black nurses. In 1958, King Edward VII Memorial Hospital employed Barbara Wade and in 1963, the Bermuda Welfare Society employed Bermuda’s second Queen’s Nurse, Leonie Harford.
Lorraine Lauretta Dyer-Bizek died in 1991 and, as requested, her ashes were scattered with those of her husband in the Garden of Remembrance, England.
During this Nurses Month, let us not forget this phenomenal Bermudian — Lorraine Dyer-Bizek , State Certified Nurse, State Certified Midwife, Queen’s Nurse, Health Visitor, role model and surrogate mother to many Bermudian nursing students.
With thanks to Edward Dyer and the family of Lorraine Dyer-Bizek for sharing photographs and this invaluable nursing and family history.
Cecille Snaith-Simmons SRN, SCM is a retired nurse, writer and historian.
References:Bermuda Recorder March 4, 1944; TheRoyal Gazette March 7, 1947 and March 9, 1992; CARE: 100 years of Hospital Care in Bermuda by J. Randolf Williams (1994); and Wikipedia: Birmingham Blitz 1940