Marjorie Alison King was born on 17 April 1930, at home to Jessie Rebecca and Arthur William Herbert King of Napier. She was a ten-month-old baby in her cot when the 1931 earthquake rattled Napier’s bones. As the earthquake became part of her and her family’s mythology, one of the stories that stayed with Alison and was passed on to her children was the terrible fate of the Napier Hospital Nurses’ Home. Night staff were still sleeping when the quake struck on a hot mid-February morning. The many-storied building fell like a pack of cards and twelve nurses lost their lives.
Alison was a prefect at Napier Girl’s High school in 1948, and then in 1949 she caught the train to Wellington to train to be a nurse at Wellington Hospital, boarding at the Kilbirnie Nurses’ home. She gained registration at the end of 1951 and then spent two years doing her maternity training at Kawakawa Hospital in the Bay of Islands, by the end assuming a position of some responsibility. She particularly loved working with the local Māori women during this time.
At the end of that year Alison left Kawakawa and prepared to go overseas to London with her nursing friends: Jennifer North and two others, Maureen and Mary.
On the 2lst of January 1954, Alison left on the SS Rangitoto from Wellington’s Glasgow Wharf. Thirty-one days later after a wonderful trip of concerts and deck games, celebrations crossing the equator and stops at places like Pitcairn Island, Balboa in the Panama Canal and Curacao, Venezuela, Alison and her fellow nurses disembarked at Southampton on February 20th 1954.
The following day the New Zealand nurses were shown to their future place of work (sorted before they had left) on the corner of Harley and Marleybone Street. This was The London Clinic – a leading private hospital established by a group of Harley Street doctors in 1932. Still one of London’s leading private hospitals today, the clinic’s patients have included royal families, dignitaries, politicians, captains of industry and celebrities from across the world. The most famous patient Alison nursed at the London Clinic was T.S. Eliot. In her journal of her overseas trip she writes: “Saw T.S. Eliot’s play The Confidential Clerk. I have since nursed the author – a humble sincere person of extraordinary intellect.”
The matron at the London Clinic let Alison and her friends work two weeks straight then have two weeks off. After lots of sightseeing around London including getting up early one morning to watch the new Queen’s return from her first Commonwealth tour, the nurses began boldly hitchhiking further afield. A diary entry dated 7.5.55(54) Devon and Cornwall reads: “To commence our first big hitch-hiking tour, we left London for Wimbledon, Mary and Maureen together, and Jennifer and I together. After a mile of heavy labour we were picked up by a sandman who took us to Hampton Court. After several further rides we reached Winchester.”
There were trips to Oxford and Cambridge, to the Isle of Wight and then on the 20th August the four nurses began a tour, hitchhiking around Europe through Italy, France, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Holland. One of the last entries in her diary of that trip is headed: “Screaming Italians 1.9.54 Wednesday. Spending the night in a Continental train with screaming Italians talking at one all night, can become rather tedious.”
In either November 1955 or early January 1956 Alison boarded the Shaw Saville Line’s new Dominion Monarch bound for New Zealand via Capetown.
She returned to Napier to live with her family and was employed at nearby Napier Hospital as a ward sister. In May 1957 she married Jim Redgrave and gave up her nursing career to become a full time mother and housewife.
Alison Redgrave circa 1951
A copy of the full manuscript written by Alison's daughter Tess Redgrave can be found here: