TV shows often draw their inspiration from real life and just as Chummy, the much loved character in Call the Midwife, heads to Sierra Leone as a missionary with Church Mission Society, her story draws parallels with real life midwife Eve Vause, who “got the call” back in the fifties.
In the first episode of the current series, Chummy, played by Miranda Hart, is seen sticking a stamp on an envelope addressed to the Church Missionary Society in Salisbury Square, London – the organisation’s name and address at the time the series is set.
The experiences of the midwives in the BBC1 drama are familiar to Eve, who was pedalling around the streets of post-War Southampton as a midwife. However, she felt called to meet the needs further from home and in 1958, headed to Sierra Leone by cargo ship.
In the fifties, the difficult conditions meant that only short-term placements were permitted. However, unlike Chummy, who returns to Britain in the show, the year in Sierra Leone marked the beginning of nearly a quarter of a century in mission service on the African continent.
The call upon Eve’s life would take her to Nigeria, Congo and Uganda, where she lived through the Obote and Amin years.
Eve Vause, when she was a missionary midwife in Uganda in 1973 (Photo: Church Missionary Society Archives)
Recalling her experience in Uganda, she says: “One time I was certainly relying very consciously on God was when the army had been attacking our child health and maternity centres, and they had attacked and raped the midwives in one place.”
When one health centre was evacuated, the midwives refused to leave. “They had the ward full of mothers. They didn’t want to go,” she says.
“We knew the effect on the village would be devastating if we suddenly took their midwives away. So we left them… but that was a time I was leaning dramatically on God.”
Today, CMS is still recruiting healthcare professionals, including midwives, particularly for the training of nationals. Penny Stradling, CMS vocational recruitment officer, said there was still an “urgent need” for healthcare professionals to share their skills.
“The chance of a mother dying in childbirth is up to 100 times greater in some parts of Africa than in the UK,” she said.
Eve has encouraging words for a new generation to rise up to the challenge of serving. “The gospel is a gospel of wholeness – of body and mind as well as spirit,” she says. “I think it’s up to us to share the good news that we have in Jesus.”