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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiqué No. 02 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

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Communiqué No.2

Barts, E.C.1

Thurs. 29 Aug. 1940
8.45. p.m.

Please note that communiqués are Consecutive (not a day is missed)

Dear Parents,

The sirens are due to go in the next hour. I have packed sleeping bag, pyjamas, my pillow (a valuable luxury) and “I would be private” ready to bike to the 1st aid post.

I have not slept in my own bed since I have been back. Tuesday night raid started about 9.30 and I hurriedly collected pyjamas and sleeping bag. At the first aid post we found that the Red Cross nurses had been pushed off to sleep. The night before two had fainted when the casualty arrived, after they had been awake doing nothing for 24 hours.

Sleep was encouraged Tuesday night which is a very sensible idea. In fact I seem to go to bed earlier now - soon after the siren goes. Tuesday night we all dossed down on stretchers and camp beds, the others in their ordinary clothes, they will soon learn.
The all clear went in a few hours (12.30) I was only half awake. There was some talk of returning to Barts - but we stayed put - I am told there was a later raid lasting -2-3 hours- I heard nothing of it. I woke later - someone discovered it was ¼ to 9 and we rushed back to get to breakfast before 9, and carry on with the normal day, after shaving after breakfast.


Last night ( I had been to the flicks, it was my day off duty) I had just finished dinner at 8.55 pm. and the sirens went before emptying the coffee cup. I went bed hunting. I was at first determined to sleep in my own bed at last, but finally decided on a canvas bunk in the basement of the George V. medical block.

The aeroplanes pass overhead a lot and they might just drop a bomb on the West Wing. Having bagged a bunk it seemed early, so I played an atrocious game of billiards with Bartlett (who was also off duty). We also had a pint to help us- the Vicarage is itself a shelter (in fact). We finally turned in after looking disappoint­ingly at the sky which was so clear and starry that searchlights seemed insignificant. By the time the other bunk holders had turned in, it may have been twelve. That is the trouble with this sleeping business - people stop you from sleeping early.

We heard some bombs. I slept and I woke sometime or other to hear a German quite loudly - otherwise I slept very well. I read in the papers it was a 7 hour raid. Was up earlier and had bathed and shaved before 9 a.m. ready to meet the day.

It is 9.10 p.m. and no sirens. If they don’t go by 9.30 p.m.

I shall be disappointed in Jerrie’s punctuality.

Doze in chair.

9.45 No raid. Regret efficiency and fetch up pillows from bicycle. Read and sleep in bed for first time.

Friday 30 August

8.30a.m. Get up. Everybody asking whether there was a raid last night. Everybody slept. Apparently there wasn’t one.

Saturday 31August

6. p.m. No letter has arrived to date. Since waking up yesterday after a full night in my own room, I am now writing in the first aid post during the eighth raid since then. Friday mornings S.O.Ps. was interrupted by a wail from the sirens and a cheerful groan from the students. My first daylight raid. It lasted about ½ hour or so, as all the day raids have. I can’t quite remember when the second one was - before lunch I think. After tea I was going to the dark room with Tum-Tum Rees. I had got the fireman and keys to open the photography dept. We were walking across the square when the sirens went. Then there was a night one. Bartlett and I wandered up to the Barts roof before 9 p.m. .Night was falling all around. Stars shone from a clear sky above. After 9 p.m. we could just discern a searchlight beam due south.

Soon after we saw a single white flash about a third of the way up from the horizon, soon after we saw flashes on horizon in quick succession from the west, a flash from the N.W. and the siren went. We heard no engines. We descended rapidly in the lift and cycled at leisure to the post where we settled down on canvas beds with mattress, blankets and pillows. The first aid post seemed to wake at 6 p.m. which was irritating. I got up soon after 8 a.m. this morning. ( Sat 31st) ( the all clear had gone about 4.30 a.m.)

I cycled to Barts in time to shave, have breakfast in time to take a patient at S.O.Ps. at 9.30 a.m. BUT two minutes after I reached Barts, the sirens went. I cycled back conscientiously. I swore. It lasted only a short hour. Break­fast took a long time (due to an angry (?) mental deficient wait­ress). I shaved rapidly and got up to S.O.Ps. (bleeding) at 9.45.

No patients had arrived. No patients did arrive. The sirens are bad for trade. There is very little sign of air raids.

Only once have I thought I heard a bomb. I haven’t seen any damaged build­ings yet. I haven’t seen a German plane yet. We hear of damage done via various members. The Dr's house has bee damaged. Beckenham received bombs yesterday we hear. Yesterday afternoon Girling Ball rang up from Mill Hill to say a terrific air battle was in progress ahead. It must have been the same one that a student who is here, watched y'day at Friern Barnet. He saw a plane shot down. It is rumoured Dulwich College grounds have been hit. Allardice said that a bomber had been shot down in Hyde Park (only Allardice said this and we were sceptical). Never­theless when S.O.Ps. were cancelled at 10.15 a.m. Merryfield and I decided to go for a ride. We were going to Lewis’s Library to change a book and then on to Hyde Park. We had passed through Bloomsbury and were across Woburn Place when the sirens went and we had to turn back to get to our posts. After the all clear we met and set off again. We reached Lewis’s, we cycled along Marylebone Road; down past the old London Office, Marble Arch and into the Park. The weather was superb. Hot sunlight sprinkling through the waving trees. People were sitting out in the usual deck chairs. We passed the Serpentine - people were rowing in bathing shorts. As we hadn’t come across an ice cream man (nor the bomb), we had 6d.worth of ice cream of course in the shade at the open air restaurant. We felt it was lunch time and rode back down St James's St., through Admiralty Arch, round Nelson (and his column) and down to the river. By Blackfriars Bridge the sirens went, and we went to our posts hungry. Lunch was at 2.15.

Written Sunday

After tea we had another siren. Usual Saturday visit to the Vicarage. Merryfield was in a Id. sweep.

{1 penny sweep stake – gambling on air raids and siren times}

If the siren went between 10 and 20 minutes past the hour, he would receive 6d. The siren went at 9.50 or so, just after the round was completed.

We got to the post. I changed my plates in an empty shelter and we settled down to a comfortable bed in a more airy part of the low­er basement. The all clear went and we went to sleep (after having cold Horlicks at a Milk Bar) There was (apparently) the sixth raid of the day just before midnight.

I was shaving today (Sunday) after breakfast (about 10.30.a.m.) and heard the usual sound of a plane above, and the sirens went before I finished. Some people saw the white cloud following a plane overhead. After lunch was another short warning. We had heard that Stepney had got bombs including ( I think) Stepney Underground Stn. We found a cordon round it but found a way in and were allowed to pass along the road that had received a bomb on the tramlines - they were being mended. The Underground didn't look damaged. There was a lot of glass blown out along the road and there were probably other bombs there ( 2 or 3 altogether). The only other interest to report is that y'day (Saturday) people in the Barts square at about 5pm actually saw a German plane and also a parachute des­cending in the direction of Dagenham. Report has it that Hackney Green received bombs (or bomb) last night.

The weather is very perfect now. Most people read a text book during a day raid and more work is therefore being done than usual. Otherwise there is little evidence of war. People are not in any way nervous but they do tend to pick up sirens or an accelerating engine very quickly. Have received no letter- do write.

Much love, Paul.

5.15pm Sunday 1st.Sept,1940