Thursday, 16 April 2020


Title: Hold On Edna
Author: Aneira Thomas
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs & History
Publisher: Mirror Books
Release Date: 12th March 2020

BLURB from Goodreads
Hold On, Edna! is a nostalgic tale of community spirit, hardship and family ties, culminating in the greatest change to ordinary working families in modern history.

The birth of the National Health Service – the UK’s greatest asset – coincided with the birth of one little girl in South Wales, Aneira ‘Nye’ Thomas, the first baby to be delivered by the NHS. Born one minute past midnight, the midwives told Nye’s mother to ‘Hold on, Edna!’ – aware Nye’s mother would have to pay for the birth if it happened before the clock hit the hour mark.

Nye’s story follows generations of her family who battled to survive before the NHS was launched, through to those who went on to dedicate their lives to working for the NHS – and also, ultimately, to be saved by it.

An extraordinary, heart-breaking, and yet uplifting testament to a time not so long ago when the value of your life came down to how much you had in your pocket.


When I saw the cover for this book it immediately put the Call the Midwife books written by Jennifer Worth and their covers. The cover depicts a woman standing in her doorway wearing her pinny with her children peeping round the doorway whilst leaning on a broom chatting to two other women. One of the women is leant on the wall near the doorway with her arms crossed wearing her pinny. One of which has a baby on her hip with her blanket round them. The cover of the book would certainly have made me pick the book up from a bookshelf, though, not necessarily for reading myself. When I worked at a large well known, bookstore years ago the cover would have initially made me think of this book being within the romance & saga section, which is a genre my mum usually loved. Having said that I have read romance & saga type book before myself. Anyhow when I took a closer look at this book, I saw it was a true story, biography, memoir so that held m interest. As the book was about the NHS it also piqued my interest as to what life could or would be like without the NHS to rely on.

The book begins with the author’s mother in quite late labour and both the Doctor and Nurse attending telling her to “Hold On Edna” which is perfect as the title for this book. The Doctor and Nurse are asking Edna to wait a minute or two so that when she gives birth it is after midnight, which she does manage to do. This means her daughter who she calls Aniera at the suggestion of the Doctor, after the man that brought about the NHS is the first baby born on the NHS as it becomes operational the 5th July 1948. The NHS a new way for women to safely give birth free of charge. In fact, it is revealed within the book that had Edna’s daughter been born before the stroke of midnight she would have had to pay. Which is why so many people avoided hospitals as much as possible! They basically did not earn enough. This book has some heart-breaking and touching tales from the mining communities of South Wales are the story of how our society changed to one no longer gripped by fear of death and disability. Nye puts it best when she says of universal healthcare: “We see it as a basic human right, but it wasn’t always the case. Sadly, we look at todays NHS and the pressure it is under during this corona virus outbreak. Even before this the politicians were slashing the money they give to the NHS and privatising different sections of it. It sometimes feels like we are going backwards and will have the old system of if you don’t have the money to pay for treatment then you will literally do without. The book goes on with Aneira looking back at her past, tracing her ancestors how they lived, what sort of financial status they had and their experiences of giving birth, losing babies as well as accidents and illnesses and how they were dealt with at that time when no NHS was in place.

One of Aneira’s ancestors we learn about is her great-great grandmother Tory whose father died when she was born, meaning her family end up in the workhouse. We join Tory Churchouse’s story when she is just 9yrs old, making her one of the older children at the workhouse. Tory is slight in build, dark haired and quite pale but is much healthier than some in the workhouse. Tory notices when she looks around that everyone in the workhouse looks ill. Whether it’s a limping leg, missing teeth, slurred speech, hunched backs, or arms inexpertly amputated at the elbow and sewed up again. The workhouse is truly gruesome, but it’s made her tough. At night, screams fill the air coming from the infirmary. Tory is used to hearing the hacking coughs and sneezes from her own ward but they are nothing compared to the shouts of pain that come from the workhouse hospital, where the invalids are kept, locked away. Tory’s sister is in the infirmary, and she longs to see her but it is not allowed. Aniera tells the history of her family from Tory right back down to her being born. It is an emotional story, with happy moments of families being together and births and good times. Though there is also the lack of work, working down dark, sometimes unsafe pits where acccidents are a regular occurrence. There are stories of one of her ancestors being a “midwife” or rather as she would have been called in her day a “handy woman”. In fact, there is a slightly amusing tale where the father of the young woman’s baby is not known, yet when Hannah (Aneira’s ancestor) safely delivers the baby it is totally clear that she has just delivered her own grandchild! The book also reveals that families were large and miscarriages and stillbirths were categorised as “one of those things” there were no tests to find out why the baby was lost. There was also no contraception so women tended to have baby after baby despite them living in poverty and not really having the money to feed them. There was no choosing how many children you wanted, it was a case of it happened when it happened. The book is quite matter of fact about the types of lives Aniera’s relatives had, and
what hardships they had to live though.

The writing style of the book makes you feel like Aniera is there at the side of you telling the story. The descriptions are so good that it makes it very easy to visualise their surroundings and living conditions. From the oldest ancestor Tory, right the way to the present day Aneira you track how the family have lived and started off very poor and how they could die of by todays standard pretty minor injuries or illnesses as they didn’t have the money to pay for medication or medical help. Then you compare all that to the day the NHS began and Edna gives birth to Aniera. Edna’s first hospital birth, because it was free on the NHS.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing this book were that I had on the whole really enjoyed reading the history of the family of Aneira Thomas who was the first baby to be born on the NHS. The title fits the book so well. As you read about Aneira's ancestors you can visualise them and their surroundings along with hearing their voices too. Interesting from a historical point of view about NHS but also as a biography of Edna the woman who had the first baby born on the NHS.

To sum up, on the whole I found the book interesting, even though it wasn’t what I had initially thought it would be like. I had thought the book would be more about how the NHS was formed and Nye Bevin the person who was responsible for it, however, the book was more about Aneira and her family.

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