Page 1: Biography
Train, Winnifred Sarah
Army and civilian nurse, hospital matron, nurses’ association leader
This biography, written by Jan Rodgers, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 5, 2000.
Winnifred Sarah Train was born at Waitotara on 14 February 1904, the daughter of Hilda Mary Parsons and her husband, Frederick Train, a storekeeper and farmer. She attended Wanganui Girls’ College, and in 1932 commenced nursing training at Palmerston North Hospital. She graduated in December 1934. She went on to obtain a maternity nursing certificate in 1937, gained a diploma of nursing in 1939, and completed her Plunket training the following year.
In May 1941 Train joined the New Zealand Army Nursing Service. She saw active service in the Middle East and Italy as a charge sister with No 3 New Zealand General Hospital, and also spent time at No 70 British General Hospital in Italy and at casualty clearing stations in Egypt. On her return to New Zealand in 1944 she accepted the post of assistant supervising matron at Palmerston North Hospital; in 1952 she became matron.
Train was an active member of the New Zealand Registered Nurses’ Association and held office as a branch council member, president of the Manawatu branch, a member of the dominion executive and, finally, dominion president (1960–64). Throughout her career she worked energetically to improve employment conditions for nurses. In 1955 she took a leading part in the formation of the association’s Economic Welfare Committee. Her achievements included successful negotiations for penal rates and increases in nursing salaries in 1960, and obtaining a 40-hour week for nurses in 1963. She also increased the number of domestic staff employed to take over cleaning duties previously performed by student nurses. As chairperson of the Economic Welfare Committee she focused on the need for better education, insisting on School Certificate as the minimum level for entry to nursing, a proposal adopted in 1966. A forceful woman, she also played a key role in establishing the New Zealand Hospital Matrons’ Association and became its foundation president in 1963.
During her time as matron at Palmerston North Hospital Winnifred Train was in the forefront of many new developments. In 1951 she travelled throughout the United Kingdom and Scandinavia observing nursing education and administration. On her return she implemented a number of changes at the hospital, including the allocation and rostering of student nurses to obstetrics wards and operating theatres. Changes to the national nursing curriculum brought obstetrics into the basic training programme, alongside medical and surgical nursing. A neonatal unit was opened at Palmerston North Hospital, and specialities such as ophthalmic surgery were developed. The addition of these specialities required larger numbers of students, prompting the hospital’s school of nursing to increase its intakes from one to three a year.
Train also kept in touch with practical nursing: each week throughout her period as matron she visited every ward and spoke with each patient. Acutely observant, she was quick to identify those who were especially unwell or disgruntled with their nursing care. In preparation for her visits the apprehensive nurses would clear the surfaces of patients’ lockers, turn in bed wheels and pull blinds to an even level. The nurse in charge of the ward was held responsible and would be told in no uncertain terms if Train thought that the tidiness was not at a satisfactory level. With her blue uniform (which matched the intense blue of her eyes) and striding walk, she stood out from all the other nursing staff in their white uniforms.
Winnifred Train’s contribution to nursing was recognised by her appointment as an OBE in 1965. She is remembered as a dynamic and courageous woman with outstanding leadership abilities, who worked hard to improve the welfare of nurses. After her retirement in 1964 she remained in Palmerston North, where she played golf and became president of the Manawatu Ladies’ Golf Club. She enjoyed arranging flowers and gardening, and attended All Saints’ Church every Sunday for over 30 years. Winnifred Train, who had never married, died on 16 July 1979 at her home in Palmerston North.