• Pauline Stansfield celebrates the launch of her memoir.

To Russia and Back

Pauline Stansfield was born on the North Shore nearly 80 years ago, and grew up in Birkenhead. Last month at Takapuna Library she celebrated the launch of a memoir that recorded a fateful Minitrek holiday in Russia that she made while living in England in 1969, and that shaped the rest of her life.

Appropriately named Russia Changed My Life, the book was launched at a gala occasion attended by about 80 friends, family and members of the community. Written by Pauline over many years, it details the minivan crash that left her paralysed, the primitive treatment she received in a Russian hospital, and the long rehabilitation when she finally returned to England, as well as some of the political intricacies involved in her repatriation there at the height of the Cold War.

Pauline’s lifelong friend, Elaine Blick, was one of the speakers at the launch. She travelled to Russia and provided support to Pauline after she had the accident that left her paralysed, and had long encouraged her to write the book. She adds her voice to the book in an epilogue that outlines how she heard of Pauline’s accident, and the challenges she and Pauline faced in dealing with Russian officialdom and hospital practices.

Pauline’s sister Briar travelled from Wellington for the launch, and her brother Frank Stansfield spoke; before Pauline’s trip he had been on the first international motorcycle trip to Russian, and he visited Pauline in Vyshni Volochek hospital from where he was living in London, as did their 70 year old father, making the journey from New Zealand.

A surprise speaker was Seeby Woodhouse, son of Takapuna Library manager Helen Woodhouse, who recollected his time learning piano as one of Pauline’s students.

Pauline was an accomplished musician, but trained as a nurse in New Zealand before shifting to England and becoming a nursing tutor at Royal Free Hospital in London. After a long period of recuperation, she retuned to Royal Free Hospital for a year, before returning to New Zealand to a position teaching senior nurses in Auckland. She then moved to Wellington where she spent a decade before returning to Auckland as her father’s health failed. Back in Auckland, she fulfilling her long-held ambition to make a carer of music. She began teaching piano and was also instrumental in establishing the Disabled Persons’ Assembly (DPA) on the North Shore. One of the many projects the DPA undertook while she was secretary was distribution of beach buggies (like a reclining chair on wheels) to all the main beaches on the North Shore.

Pauline also became, and remains, a JP.  In her memoir, she looks back on her life and says, “Nothing has been wasted – neither my nursing training or music qualifications; both have provided me with gainful employment. My JP duties bring me into contact with people who need help so I am still able to fulfil a useful role in the community.”