Walking Back to Happiness: Meet Mo Hemming one of the hospice’s first ward sisters

Published on: 29/06/2023

Mo pictured with current Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside, Mr Mark Blundell Esq DL

One of our very first Ward sisters, Mo Hemming,  joined us for our Summer Fair on the anniversary of the hospice’s opening 40 years ago.

Mo remembers the weeks leading up to the opening of what was then St John’s Hospice and the official opening on 24th June, 1983.

“The idea of a hospice for Wirral had been gathering momentum for a couple of years before it was formally presented to the Wirral Area Medical Committee in 1978 and, once it was agreed, the wheels were soon set in motion for finding a site and raising funds.

Under the steady hand of our first Chair, Mr Eddie Hebron, with considerable help from his wife Helen and many other wonderful people, the whole Wirral community rallied round to help to raise the initial funds we needed to open.

 By 1981 Dame Cicely Saunders, the accredited founder of the modern hospice movement, had launched the initial fundraising appeal for us and a site had been found. There were 15 beds in what had been converted from the old children’s Wendy Ward of Clatterbridge Hospital. I’d actually spent some time in there, as a child, with Scarlet Fever and remember my mum having to wave to me through the window!

By our opening day over £750,000 had already been raised so that we could open our doors.

It was the weeks leading up to the opening that which are clearer in my memory. Alongside matron, Joyce Jones, were administrator, Reg Worthington, a secretary, Ursula Boston, appeals organiser, Celia Eden, handyman, Stan Smith, staff nurse, Sulwen Owens, nurse, Iris Alkins and myself. We were tasked in setting up the hospice so it would work in practice. When that was almost complete the rest of the nursing and domiciliary staff joined the team, followed by a two-day induction course. Then the hospice was opened for the general public to come and look around guided by staff and volunteers.


The original members of the staff team were my co-ward sister, Brenda Williamson, Myself, matron Joyce, Sulwen Owens, Bridget Maharaj, Thelma Williams, Audrey Byrne, Anita Cheung, Jane Keogh, Dorothy Lewis, Irene Vanwoerdekom, Penny Vernon, Sue Evans, Carol Wallace, Sue Lemon, Iris Alkins, Helen Williams, Carol Morris, June Worthington, and Mary Southall. Medical director Jill Brock, Dr John Aitken, Dr Steve Pillow and Jean Quinn. 

The day after the official opening our first two patients, Vera and Muriel, were formally admitted and we couldn’t wait to get started.

Only two of the nurses had spent time in a hospice although Matron Joyce had a wealth of experience as a well-regarded radiotherapy sister. In the following years the SRN’s undertook relevant palliative care courses.

Most of the staff remained for a long time and soon became a family as much as a team. I didn’t know Brenda Williamson until we met at the hospice, but we very soon became close supportive colleagues and the best of all good friends.”

Mo is pictured here on the immediate left of the then Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside and Hospice president, wing commander Kenneth Stoddart. The group from left to right are, Brenda Williamson, Dot Lewis, Irene Vanwoerdekom, Lady Stoddart, Eddie Hebron Lord Lieutenant Stoddart, Mo, Matron Joyce, Anita Cheung and Helen Hebron.

Mo remains friends to this day with Dr Jean Quinn, now a Wirral Hospice St Johns Trustee who was an original on-call GP for the Hospice 40 years ago.

She tells us about an informal walking group which was formed for staff members in the 1980’s which is still meeting once a month although the numbers are now down to about 12 members, led by Gill Costain and Penny Vernon and now goes under the title of Happy Hikers.

We bump into some people who are still at the hospice and whose careers overlapped with Mo; Cheryl our pharmacist, Margie one of our cooks, therapy assistant Tracy and facilities manager, Mark. A smile comes on all their faces as they hug Mo. Just like old friends reunited (which they are!)

Mo’s got time, and a story, for all of them and you can see why she must have been an incredible nurse and a mentor to the hospice team.

At 84 and 85 years young (and it is no exaggeration to use that phrase), Mo and Michael are 62 years married with plenty more in the tank if our meeting is anything to go by.

There are a thousand, if not more, fascinating and enthralling memories that we could just listen to, forever.

On the day Mo visits she’s due to stay for an hour but, some hours later, she apologises because “there’s lots more but I’m off to visit former colleague, Irene Emery, and she’ll be wondering where I’ve got to.”

Thank you so much for the fantastic memories Mo and come back soon, we know there’s more, plenty more!