10th July 1957

Guernsey nurses go on hunger strike

What looked like being an isolated incident turned into something far more serious on 10 July 1957, when the Guernsey Board of Health fired 12 hunger-striking nurses. The nurses had been employed at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital.

They had fist gone on hunger strike (or “food strike” as they called it) the previous day when they refused to go into the dining hall. According to the Lancashire Evening Post, the nurses were being fed tinned tomatoes for breakfast, despite Guernsey producing 50,000 tons of tomatoes every year. Lunch was “the usual stew with a bit of pastry to disguise it”.

The situation deteriorates

The Board of Health called in nurse Dorothy Harrison to act as the nurses’ representative when discussing the matter. She was fired, which only made matters worse. Twelve nurses (some sources say fourteen) signed letters warning that they would resign if Harrison wasn’t reinstated. The Board accepted their resignations and asked them to work out their notice.

According to The Guardian,

The Board of Health last night [11 July] called in each of the fourteen separately and this statement was read by a member of the board: ‘We wish to inform you that the board finds it impossible under any circumstances to reinstate Staff Nurse Harrison and, as you support her, we have no alternative but to accept your resignation as from to-day with a month’s pay in lieu of notice.’ The fourteen were ordered to leave the nurses’ home by noon on Monday.

According to the Daily Mirror, the Transport and General Workers’ Union threatened action by all 4000 members on Guernsey if Harrison wasn’t reinstated. A court of inquiry was swiftly set up by the Bailiff, Ambrose Sherwill, to investigate.

Inquiry result

After three days’ investigation it recommended that the dismissed nurses should be reinstated. The Birmingham Daily Post quoted,

In these circumstances it was right for the nurses’ spokesman, Staff Nurse Harrison (as she did), to press with determination and even importunity for a discussion of the nurses’ grievances… the Board [of Health], by a serious error of judgement, decided instead on a course which was bound gravely to aggravate the trouble. Whatever faults can properly be attributed to Staff Nurse Harrison they fall far short of those justifying summary dismissal.

On the last day of the month, once the nurses had been reinstated, every member of the Guernsey Board of Health resigned.


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Other events that occured in July

Guernseyman Edward Tupper killed by cannibals 1st
Alderney is occupied by German forces 2nd
Seigneur of Sark, Michael Beaumont, dies aged 88 3rd
Guernsey hosted the Island Games 2003 closing ceremony 4th
New coins are minted for Guernsey 5th
Royal Guernsey Light Infantry Museum opens 6th
Victor Hugo statue is unveiled in Candie Gardens 7th
First Commando raid of the Second World War 8th
Birth of Sark-based writer Mervyn Peake 9th
Guernsey nurses go on hunger strike 10th
ITV broadcasts first episode of Island at War 11th
A Guernsey man posted himself to Sark 12th
Murderer Peter Robin sentenced to death 13th
Victor Hugo plants his United States of Europe oak 14th
Point Law runs aground off Alderney 15th
Racing yacht Westward is blown up off Guernsey
BBC made its first ever Channel Islands broadcast 16th
The Star received some “grave” news 17th
The Guernsey Martyrs were burned at the stake 18th
Prince Charles and Camilla visit Guernsey 19th
President Garcia is re-floated in Saints Bay 20th
Typhoid suspect holidaymaker flies home 21st
Guernsey Controlling Committee’s Sir John Leale died 22nd
Alderney to Guernsey radio connection established 23rd
Val des Terres was first opened for traffic 24th
The BBC broadcasts from Sark for the first time 25th
Guernsey court escapee was caught again 26th
Braye du Valle was gifted by the crown 27th
Murderer sentenced to death in three hours 28th
Guernsey bought Herm from the mainland 29th
Albert Lamy appointed Guernsey Police Chief Officer 30th
Guernsey to Jersey plane crashed into the sea 31st