SPOTTING an advert for a well-paid nursing job led to an adventure of a lifetime for a group of women.
And now people can read all about Ponteland resident Gwenda Gofton’s epic trip across North America with four friends more than 50 years ago as it has been made into a book.
Gwenda Brady, as she was then, always wanted to be a nurse and began her training in January 1952 at the Newcastle General Hospital, which is where she met Pat Small (nee Beadle) from Wallsend.
The pair became firm friends and were soon to buy the first of several cars they would own together.
They were working at the London Hospital for Tropical Diseases and were planning to go to Africa on a programme to nurse leprosy patients until they were told no places were available.
But when they saw the advert offering £90 a month, compared to the £6 a week wages in England, for a 12-month contract they could not turn it down and in February 1957 they found themselves in Cleveland, USA, working at the large Mt Sinai Hospital.
Gwenda and Pat soon became owners of a 1949 Ford V8, christened Flatus 3 as they carried on the tradition of calling their cars after a medical term for wind, and on their days off they explored much of the eastern seaboard — including trips to New York, Niagara Falls and Florida.
But they wanted to see even more of what the continent had to offer, so after their year of service was complete they set off on a cross country road trip with three new-friends, Molly Adams from Glasgow, Maureen Houghton from London and Celia Greene from County Tipperary in Ireland.
The quintet were happy to get jobs other than nursing – from waitressing to nut picking – as they went from state to state and up through Canada to Alaska before heading down the west coast.
As well as visiting places, they lived in the wild and did a range of activities such as hiking, skiing, skating and abseiling.
They even managed to get to Hawaii and Mexico before heading back home some 18 months after leaving.
Gwenda, who was 23 when she headed off to America, said: “It was a wonderful experience and certainly the adventure of a lifetime.
“We were able to do so many things that we wouldn’t have been able to in the UK. And even though abseiling down a mountain in the Grand Teton National Park was a bit terrifying before we did it the first time, it was so much fun that we all did it again and again.
“The people were very generous and we made a lot of friends who we stayed in touch with.
“In Cleveland we came across a garage when we had a puncture and the guys there were so helpful. We left the car there a number of times to go shopping or to the pictures and they ended up attaching special windscreen wipers, a heater and other items mostly without charge.
“When we worked at an old people’s home in Colorado, one of the residents gave us his prized stag antlers which we attached to the front of our roof rack.”
It wasn’t quite all fun and games, as Gwenda – who did most of the driving as she gets car sick as a passenger – fell asleep at the wheel when travelling along a dust track to Alaska and Flatus 3 got stuck in a ditch. Thankfully, no-one was injured.
And they were in for a major shock after meeting the owner of a guest house at a ski resort they were visiting, who had quickly showed his gun skills by shooting a bullet through each of the group’s cowboy hats.
Gwenda said: “He woke us at 3am by saying he had a tray of tea for us. We said no thanks, but he then brought out his gun and we had no choice but to humour him and drink the tea. It was a frightening experience and thankfully he soon left our room.”
In August 1959 they arrived back in Cleveland where they sold Flatus to two new British arrivals. The car had clocked up 90,000 miles since they bought it.
Gwenda returned to nursing on her return and in 1961 married Alder Gofton, who was training to be a priest.
She later gave up nursing to become a vicar’s wife and the couple lived in parishes in Elswick, Gosforth, Ashington, Fenham and finally Whalton, bringing up their four children, Barbara, Sarah, Ruth and Mark. They retired and moved to Ponteland in 1996.
Eldest child Barbara Fox, who has worked as a journalist in London, was inspired to write a book after reading her mother’s dutiful letters home to her parents.
She also read Pat’s letters, spoke to the surviving women — Maureen died several years ago — and did a lot of research about 1950s culture.
Bedpans and Bobby Socks, available in bookshops and online, was published by the Little, Brown Book Group earlier this year.
Barbara said: “When I read my mum’s letters I experienced the feeling of being on the road with them. I could see it all vividly and that allowed me to write the book in the first person as if I was Gwenda.
“It was amazing to find out about the adventures they had and the risks they took, which have also really surprised the friends she has made later in life.”
The author and Gwenda will be doing a book signing at Waterstone’s in Morpeth on Saturday between 2pm and 4pm.