Context: Research for Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control
Location: Via telephone
Interviewee: Nightingale Nurse #2 – Senior Sister
Nightingale Nurse #2: a senior Sister who worked for a number of years, in a position of some authority, in Ward 5. From this interview, a different perspective of William Sargant emerges: a great man, a medical innovator, always keen to do what was best for his patients. This individual, a close friend of Sargant’s until he died, reveals some of the details about his involvement with the British Intelligence services
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He was a very dominant character. He had some very good ideas. He was much more compassionate than people gave him credit for. Mostly, he was at the end of his career by the time I was working with him, the last couple of years he actually retired while I was still working with him – from the NHS, not private patients. His ideas at the time were not particularly popular and he had many detractors. But the people that shouted the loudest about how little they valued his work, they were the same ones who referred their patients to him, so you can make of it what you will.
He had a reputation as something of a maverick?
Well, if you were to name some of the people that thought he was a maverick, you’d also find that they also had a reputation in one way or another…of course, all those people are now dead. Most of them. The ones who actually knew him.
Certainly it’s 33 years since I left Ward 5. And the people that were with him were not that much younger than he was, and the younger ones that came after him didn’t know his work or him. They only knew of it – roughly.
He was something of a legend?
(laughs) Well, it would be nice to think that he was a bit of a legend but I think that he wasn’t, unfortunately. Formidable – had some very good ideas. He was intolerant of some aspects of the work that his colleagues were doing. He wasn’t as bitchy about some of his colleagues as they were about him. He certainly stood by his old methods and defended them up to the hilt and people didn’t like that.
You were on Ward 5?
Yeah. I was the **** **** [role]. I was approached by **** ****, probably the last Matron of Thomas, to go to Ward 5 because there had been a very unfortunate suicide and she wasn’t happy with what was going on there… I was inclined to decline, but she was also a very formidable Matron and I agreed to go for 6 months and no longer to sort it out. I stayed till ’72.
What it was like in 196* [when you arrived]?
There were a lot of people that were uncertain of what they should do. They were betwixt and between, it was at a time when there was much more openness in terms of psychiatric nursing and some of them that were on the staff had come from very large mental institutions and they didn’t want to be in such a specialised unit. They didn’t have the necessary skills and couldn’t do some of the work… to deal with things such as modified narcosis. They weren’t skilled enough to do that. And there was this through-put of student nurses who were doing this training… getting psychiatric experience. They were all very, very keen but some of them were out of their depth.
How big was Ward 5?
Maybe – can’t remember – maybe 26 beds, slightly more, slightly less. There were a couple of single rooms for private patients, but most of the rooms were for two except for the narcosis room which was for five.
The narcosis room was already there when you arrived?
Oh yeah, had been going for some time. It was a dormitory with 5 beds in it, lights over each bed, small lockers, and a little recess – not a recess but an area where the nurse sat – there was always a nurse there 24 hours a day, sat with a shaded light, and the patients were actively – active every 4 hours or so, they were up and fed and exercised before they went back to sleep, aided and abetted by some of the medication that they had.