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Communiqué No. 03 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz
Starting 5:15pm Sunday 1st September
3 September 1940
Thank you for letters and parcel (which appeared to have been bombed I don't think anything had come over though).
Sunday 1st September 40
Sunday night was the second night slept in my own bed since I had been back. I came to the conclusion that if you reached 10pm without a raid, we would not have to get up. Later this rule has been broken though.
Monday 2nd September 40
I was called at 8. I was contemplating (seriously) getting up, bathing and shaving and having breakfast in comfortable time for outpatients at 9am. I was about to put it into action (yes really) when the siren went at 8:10 and I was still in bed. The result was that after the all clear was a rush, I didn't shave, and I set to O.P.s at 9:45 and was busy until 12 and getting rather hot at bandaging wrists to a certain kind of wrist splint for a septic fingers etc. That afternoon I spent developing a film and 10 plates some of the home portraits were under exposed. A study of a student (vegetarian) looking pensive (highly thoughtful) in pajamas in 1st Aid Post bed came over rather well and in a slow plate too.
I think there was a warning after tea (I forget).
In the evening I was invited to the vicarage and at 10:50 (after the last person in the round had just ordered drinks) the siren went. I escort a locum to our post (he was Tum-Tum) and had to push and slide him on bike the latter part of the way in the very narrow streets and arches (his chain had come off) we settled down rather noisily, I suppose to a comfortable night.
I thought I heard the all clear go (it went at 3) and I also remember thought I was half dreaming. Hearing two bombs drop, apparently quite loudly and Bartlett thought he too (half asleep) had heard two drops. The people on the duty at the door didn't hear anything so we must have been mistaken.
Tuesday, 3rd September 40
Anniversary of the declaration of war. Didn't consider shave necessary before breakfast - shaving in evening will be more convenient I think. It's not worth putting off breakfast for fear the siren will go and the catering coy (whose kitchen is below the roof) Takes about an hour to get a big meal started after all clear - if anything will get our morale down the catering people will.
At 10:30am (when I was hoping to get up to SOPS which start then) I was dressing an AFS who had got hold of a rapidly moving rope. He had got adhesive plaster on a very hairy arm that was holding one of these wrists supports. Being kind hearted and having had plaster myself I was soaking it first with ether water solution which dissolves off the stickiness. The sirens went. I changed soon after to the other method of removing surgical plaster -ripping it off. After bandaging him up and sending him off to be escorted down to the shelter, I reached my bike and set off on the well known route avoiding pedestrians as they are much more thoughtless and careless after that all clear. The route is along a minor road. This afternoon as it was not my week for ENTS, so I get to work cutting up the Windsor and Newton preferred Students Academy block with a razor blade. I have finished it now with the aid of secotine and surgical plaster (for a hinge) and fitted in to plate holder of the enlarger, it holds my vest pocket plates. The plate is held up by a hinged support, the loose end of which is held down by the existing spring support of the original plate holder of the enlarger (if you follow me) it is simple in construction and should be handy to use. The enlarger is at present roped up to the support of a previous (hand made) vertical enlarger in my clinical photography department (extension 210 -not that it works). It is not really satisfactory but I have not got a decent screen yet for horizontal work. One of my fellow workers scooped some very good photos of the fire taken from the hospital roof. I haven't seen then yet but I'm told they were better than any of the press photos.
At 3pm when I was doing at the plate adapter the sirens went. Bartlett and I climbed 7 stories to the top with Dr Collier at the post. It was very hot and hazy with poor visibility. Looking round we could see all the roofs around speckled with people in ones and twos. Mostly with tin hats, and some with special's shelters watching the sky.
We could hear quite plainly and we could each point to the same spot the noise of the aeroplane engine. We could see nothing. We followed the sound with our ears across the sky, shading our eyes trying to adjust our site. Suddenly I saw them. Four fighters flying West in formation. Once caught in our vision in the mist couldn't hide them from us. We assumed they were ours as they wasn't being fired at. Well we'd seen an aeroplane for the first time over London since my communiqués began.
Several people have seen dog fights and planes shot down. I have an ambition to snap a Jerry falling in flames but I don't expect I'll get the chance of realizing it.
Dr Collier told us we'd see enough planes down at his home. It has been damaged by bombs twice. It is on the route to Croydon I believe.
He told us that tonight he was going home and was going to shoot the dog, chloroform the cat, ring the necks of the ducks and remove his family to a spot that was not quite so hot. It must worry him a lot (it is now 10:30pm I shall repair to bed having reached this far in communiqué 3 which you'll agree is very hard working of me. Not that there is much to write about) (I have just eaten my last biscuit)
I think that was a warning in the morning - I have forgotten last night, the bloke next door woke me up having just heard a siren. We dressed he came back to say there had been a 10 minute “raid” and that it was the all clear that had woken him. We undressed and slept the rest of the night peacefully.
I got a patient in SOPS with a lot of old notes. He had got gonorrhea 1895 was passed fit for the Boer War. He was now complaining of passing water through a hole at the root of the penis -as a result of the gonorrhea An unusual cause, the man was an amazing character,oh, and he had a large prostate (on examining P.R.) too.
At lunch Merrifield said he was going to see Arthur Askey in Charlies (Bighearted) Aunt. He wanted me to come to. I managed to get someone to do from 2.30 -5:00 it was then 1.30 so we rushed it and went to the stall. After a while the curtains closed on the screen. The sound went off. Then the lights went up on the stage. After a while a man emerged from the side with a microphone which he placed on the stage and waited for the tall solemn Manager who took a breath and said “ladies and gentlemen” - with dignity “we have received news of an area aid. Anybody wishing too may proceed to the shelters. The performance will be continued and we advise you to stay in this strongly built building.
I thought I'd better go so rushed down from the gallery (after asking if I could get in again) borrowed Merryfield’s borrowed bicycle and peddled perspiring in low gear to get Gt. St. Helens. I was there equal first. It was late after the all clear had gone that I realized that a bloke was doing a locum there for me and that I was doing a locum at the old bailey and I should have gone there!
I returned and saw the film through again. I had missed the stage show - a contralto. There was a warning again at night but my locums had returned and slept in the Old Bailey anyhow. I slept in West Wing peacefully.
It is now Saturday
Since the above there is a notice that Dr Harris does not want us to sleep in W Wing between warnings and all clear. I spent my off duty at St Alban’s (Which was a change from bombing of London ) There was a crazy ball at cell Barnes last night. There was a red warning but it was not stopped. A previous dance at Hill End was stopped by Kimber because of a Purple Warning. I heard a story about Kimber . There was a warning and Kimber went to Hosford who was operating and told him to stop. He did. In that the next theatre Boris (the gynecological man ) was operating. They went and told him to stop the operating. Boris refused. He could not stop in the middle of the operating. The anesthetist was then ordered by Kimber to stop administering anesthetic. He did. Boris ordered his house surgeon to remove his gloves and administer anesthetic. He did. It is only an “unconfirmed report” but reliably reported I think. Mrs Wilmot put me up and fed me and would not think of accepting money. There were no patients for S.O. P's this morning. I was to Spences M.O. P.'s
There has been no warnings today (except in the very early hours) I am now sunbathing on a hot couch mattress on the roof. There is not a cloud in the sky, but is terribly hot hazy and the wind is not cooling. I can hear aeroplane engines.
The sirens are liable to go and I should have to put trousers over my swim shorts.
The suit arrived this morning. It looks very nice though different in effect to the pattern. I have only tried the jacket on.
The vicarage is being closed down (to Carius Wilson’s delight ) because people have not closed it early enough. Seems unlikely now that Harris can save it again this time.
(Written 9:15am Sunday)
Well folks your pet reporter has some hot news. He has seen German Aeroplanes for the first time, he has seen the fire of London.
X X X X X X
Of course I knew something would happen when I was without my camera. It was left in a handbag at their dance somewhere in the dance ( A special envoy will travel to Hill End and carry it back to me tomorrow with luck).
I was on the roof under an oppressive sun. -Scorched shy wasn't I ? Well I woke and got up at that 3:30 pm. Dressed and then went with Tum-Tum to casualty where a waitress or kitchen maid had cut her fingers on a cup and a youth had dislocated and fractured his elbow. Then we went to tea at 4.45. We hadn't ordered when the sirens went at last. The catering coy. locked up and we were able to eat a full tea rapidly and then I set off for the post. In the square two people were looking up through a gap between the buildings. There could be seen silver wings curving in the sky among Brown smoke from A.A. fire. We watch and saw a dark coloured formation (of about 30) fly across the scene in the true H.G. Wells's shape of things to come style. I could hear the ach-ach guns but no bombs and regrettably I left the good position and biked off to the post.
At the entrance was the Commandant, her two nephews student and 1 or 2 ARP people looking through the very narrow slit (the width of a one track street) between the two high buildings. We stood there getting very excited. We saw groups of planes lurking and chasing each other in one large open dogfight. Now and then, and in perfect formation would come the German planes about 30 in each (It seemed like 50) passing N.W. and out of our sight. The conservative Dr at Barts said he reckoned there were at least 200 planes altogether. The ach ach fire was bursting all around the planes (except when our fighters were on a GP) it was hard to know what was what, though only one plane was observed to be hit A.A. fire. I have not heard of more. Later we saw the plane slowly coming down and going south from the city under control with white smoke trailing behind it. We hope it wasn't one of our fighters.
Then we could observe planes following each other and wheeling around and down and out of our view. We thought they might be bombing, and the docks were in that direction but we could distinguish no bomb explosion.
Later it was fairly quiet. We still watched and soon above the level of the building we saw an orange brown smoke cloud rise up above 2 miles to the east. The spotter on the roof, who had a very envied view, said there was fires stretching from the Tower Bridge North for about 20 miles (which was exaggeration).
As the all clear went we went back to Bart's and up on to the roofs. We could count six or seven separate sources of smoke which united to form one big thundercloud blue blowing slowly north-east.
The main view was hidden by the high control telegraph offices. Only one seemed dark enough to be oil. I thought one or two may have been gasometers. At one place flames boiled up high enough to be visible.
We had to admire their work and observe that it would mean a good line of beacons for a raid that night in spite of the solid mass of a A.F.S. and fire brigade that had tinkled across London towards it. It was after seven we had been on the roof for half an hour. All the time we could see a nurse adjusting her hair and cap in the front of the glass. We saw the result - a mop of hair in tiny curls - It seemed a waste of time. (Have just had shaven and Bath - will continue. 11am)
During dinner (sat night) our special observer - Ian Hill (Badger) had done a survey. Our other observer (A. R. James) had also investigated - though his report was more of a morale nature.
It appeared most northerly fire (according to Ian Hill) was on docks on the left but below Tower Bridge. The others he thought were either on the right or left bank round the bend. He had counted about one dozen fires.
The main objective was in a cockney (Aryan ?) area and the people were just looking at the fire unperturbed. Moving north you suddenly come into the Whitechapel area where everyone was running in small circles. There was a queue 100 yards long carrying mattresses and blankets outside one station. You can hardly blame them wanting to get away before the night raid - but the Jews seldom seen to panic very easily. In normal times they have been queuing up outside shelters with deck chairs or sleeping things at 8.00 each night - and the shelters don't often till a warning goes -and that's not every night.
After dinner it was getting dark and coming out of the building, the sky to the east was a brighter pink. We ascended the lift with the other trippers. Where the smoke had been coming from was (artistically) a very beautiful view of yellow and orange on a cloud of whitish smoke with the skyline silhouetted clearly. The rest of the sky was a deep blue with the black dots of balloons. The balloons over the fire of London were lit up. People with cameras were taking photos but really it needed colour to catch it accurately. The fires seemed more marked certainly not less.
It was 8:30? and was dark enough for them to come over. The sirens went.
They seemed to be coming over in ones or twos. We could hear a lot of bombs. After a time we got tired and went to bed (at the post of course) and I regret to say that your pets reporter went to sleep and the loud and near bombs failed to wake your PR.
Only one casualty came in through the night. A lacerated forearm not very severe.
The mobile unit was not called out. Barts received three or four patients only. It sounded as if a bomb had fallen behind our post (so I was told) but when we came back for breakfast there was no shrapnel, no bit of bombs nor a broken window to be seen. Apparently the whole of the East End got it rather badly. Our Jew student was rather worked up about it and this morning he was being rather hearty about everything which is irritating. Nevertheless when the casualty come in he was awake and dealt with it quite well I should think. Apart from that there is no sign of nerves at all, rather of curiosity though if a bomb is heard dropping (they take several seconds), there is no hesitation in shifting into the building at top speed. But of course we haven't experienced much yet, so we can not really say much. More fires were also started in much the same area. It is thought some “delayed actions” were dropped. It is said that Westminster got some. Elephant and Castle Road got some. The more cretinous of the waitresses was in a shelter several hours Friday night before being dug out. She thought she was going to die. She had never said her prayers and wasn't going to start now.
Commandant has said we are going to be given tin hats as quickly as possible (? Months)
If anyone has thought London was in ruins, he will have had more reason to think that now and I had thought of sending a telegram this morning. But haven't become
Strikes me I've written rather a lot but as it is exclusive (and I think you should keep the fact strictly is yourself they are probably of value) it might make interesting reading one day if you keep the communiqués. I'm not writing any other diary. Please say when letters reach you.
Look after yourselves much love Paul.
8. 9. 1940. 12.00 midnight Sunday