Mae Appleton

Mae traveled from the Philippines, where she was already working as a qualified midwife, to Basingstoke. She arrived to be a psychiatric nurse at Park Prewett Hospital in 1969 and did this in the NHS for 30 years.

Her story is told by her daughter artist Lee Appleton, who has long been documenting and celebrating her mother's journey with her project @pearlsofthenhs

What was your motivation for coming?

Adventure and the dream of a better life!

What was the process?

My co-workers who were already working in Canada inspired me! Initially I was going to join them there and I was waiting for a working visa and the job agent suggested England? So I applied and the English visa arrived first so England it was!

Did you have to apply for a certain type of nursing?

I applied to work as a Nurse although I was a successful Midwife in the Philippines.

When we arrived at the hospital at night the big corridors with chequered floors were silent, no one around except the head of nursing.

We noticed there was a woman hopping from one white floor tile to another.

Tanny and I looked at each other and said

"What kind of hospital is this Mr. Murphy?"

"This is a Psychiatric hospital" he said.


So I had to study Psychiatric Nursing which was a big change from what we know.

Were you scared or worried about leaving home?

Maybe apprehensive?

Excited to go on an adventure but I didn't know anything about England.

I came with my friend Tanny, you can see her in the picture at the airport and in many of my pictures, we worked together in the Philippines. We were so sick on the flight the stewardess kept giving us boiled sweets!

How did your family feel?

They were worried because two Filipina student nurses - had just been murdered by a serial killer in America. It was a big news.

But they were very proud, I was the only one out of seven children to travel abroad.

What were your very first impressions when you got here and how were they different from what you were expecting?

It was bloody cold! And grey. I arrived in February and everyone was wearing coats. It was the first time I'd seen snow. No one met us at the airport as planned, so we were really lost. So different to what I expected. People looked different, but it wasn't too shocking because we saw white people in films! Or tourists in the city. The advantage was we spoke English so could ask for directions or help.

How did you find yourself trying to integrate into English culture? What values from home have you held on to?

I didn't find it difficult to integrate it was the FOOD that was my main problem! Everything was boiled and NO RICE!

I think that's why the Filipina nurses would cook together - for comfort and company. I discovered Cadbury's, peanuts from M&S and that grapes were much cheaper here and just GORGED myself!

In the hospital they adored us because we were tiny to them and we always looked smart. They thought we were Chinese, no one had heard of the Philippines and they were amazed that we spoke and understood English and were already professionals. "Oh these Chinese nurses speak with American accents!"

Sometimes I didn't understand the humour like when people played pranks on me - I felt embarrassed and thought "I want to go home!" but I stood up for myself and they always apologised.

The values from home were BAYANIHAN: the Filipino spirit of helping one another, sharing what we have, be it food or our culture like traditional dances at hospital social events.

And also pride, we were PROUD to be a Filipino.

Were you homesick, what did you find the most challenging?

Of course I missed my family but I was young and on an adventure, and busy working and studying.

When I felt homesick I would listen to Matt Monro! I used to listen to his songs when I was studying midwifery in the Philippines. The director of our college would request me to sing those songs when he came to to visit us.

What has been the journey that led to you still being here now?

I've adapted to the way of life here, now I like the changes of season! I did not miss seeing the poverty in the Philippines.

I met my husband and we had two daughters and I continued to work in the NHS and was content with my life here. And after 50 years, London is definitely home!

Are you proud of your journey?

Oh yes! I was proud to be one of the first Filipino nurses here.

I saw myself as an ambassador for my country and culture, it was important to share and educate, I feel I made a difference?

I'm very proud to have been part of the NHS and to have contributed to it's unbeatable care to the public, we must protect it. It must be able to continue to serve.

Your best moment working for the NHS?

Being accepted by the NHS to come to England was an unforgettable moment for me, it changed my purpose in life.

A huge adventure.

And meeting Princess Diana on the ward was one of the best moments of my life!

Your worst?

My friend Tanny died in childbirth a few years after we arrived. It was so sad, we were both midwives in the Philippines and I just couldn't understand how she could die here in a developed country? She came all this way and died.

Because she listed me as next of kin I was responsible for contacting her family in the Philippines and arranging her to be flown home. That was a difficult time.

What is your legacy here?

I like to think in working hard and giving a good impression of Filipinos I helped those who came after me, in general our NHS has greatly benefitted from the work and warmth of Filipinos.

Personally my family and I have been heavily involved in Volleyball in England, at top National and London level for the last twenty five years!

I was also up in lights at Piccadilly Circus! The picture of Tanny and me was featured in Migration Museum's Heart of the Nation exhibition, a celebration of migrant workers in the NHS, an amazing tribute to us both.

AND my eldest daughter Lee's art work featuring that picture was on Grayson Perry's Art Club, which will now also be shown at Bristol Museum in December!

All these things came about because of Lee's project Pearls of the NHS, exploring and celebrating my journey and her heritage which makes me very happy and proud.

Anything else you would like to add?

I'm grateful for another opportunity to share my experiences as a Filipino immigrant. So to the creators of Ingat-Ingat and the BESEA Heritage month I would like to say Maraming Salamat (Thank You Very Much).