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Communiqué No. 05 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz
Barts EC 1 15/9/40
The usual life continues on breakfast on a Saturday morning (14 September) we heard that a barrage balloon had descended and had been nestling against the Henry VIII gate and the nurses home during the night. It was not there when I looked later in the day. There were no patients in SOPs. Last night (or evening) consisted of purples and whites and one or two red warnings changing every few minutes. During a white we found the nearest bomb. The young curate (from the nearby church - a wet) was sleeping in our shelter that night so we had to keep our barrage of jokes earlier. The slump in jokes that are new to me has disappeared due I suppose to meeting new consultants.
A heavy bomb was dropped on Gamages in Cheapside during the night. Although the women heard it I have not yet met a man at Barts or at the post who heard it. Gresham St. is spread with little bits of glass that have avoided the cleaners brush. More windows were broken than by any previous bomb. Streets a quarter of a mile away were littered with glass. I have not been to see the damage. Tum Tum Rees was in the entrance to the shelter near Trafalgar Square at 12:15 today (Sunday) quarter of an hour after alert. He saw a huge, attack by fighters. It was hit and fell following by black smoke. Two bailed out and parachuted down. Then the bombs exploded while it was high up and the plane fell in bits, the wings, twisting over, taking the longest to fall. The crowd was cheering with enthusiasm and tried to rush through the gap in the barbed wire of Admiralty Arch. Some parts landed at the bus station outside Victoria station. Another bomber was also shot down and seen by another student. One parachutist was drifting the towards the city. With my usual luck I saw nothing of this.
I have heard that a bomb has fallen in Bryanston Square but not near the office.
One hears that work shelters are choc a block some with four times the capacity with people seeking sleep at night . One student has just returned along the Central London Line and each platform was lined with people sleeping with their heads to the walls 2 ft apart leaving room to walk between their feet and the trains. They were mostly Jews - He thought probably from the East End. Apparently the ban on underground as shelters has at least been partly raised officially.
I have not heard any more near bombs for a week, I haven't seen any bits of shrapnel in the street. We are realizing that we are sitting (or sleeping) very pretty. We have not got our battle bowlers yet but I think somebody is rushing them through.
I can hear bangs of the barrage. A few minutes ago (while I was writing) I heard louder ones (bombs) and the lights have dimmed down and up once or twice.
The girls have gone to bed.
Dr Collier and Commandant are sleeping separately from us ( and each other of course) by partitions. The one nurse who has to be up all night is popping about silently. She made us some tea a short while ago. She looks relatively pale faced, but is full of life. She doesn't seem to get much sleep during the day. So everything is very peaceful and quiet, with the alarm clock on the wireless filling the room with its almost hypnotic ticking.
The game of bridge has quickly broken up and some of the students have stalked off to bed carrying stretchers to C2 - our shelter. I will go up to listen to the night upstairs, where the man is on duty to receive cases at the door and then settle down to bed.
Dr Collier has just started to snore. My pipe has gone out in my mouth. I have found a tobacco that I really like. Rothmans Everest curly cut ( 1/4 1/2 ). It was very fresh and so on this peaceful scene of ours I will lay down my stumpy Woolworth pencil.
11:20pm Sunday, 15 September 1940
Going upstairs I began to hear anti aircraft barrage running across the sky. An aeroplane engine is droning slowly away from us. I am seated on the stairs on the ground floor. The guns are going off rapidly and continuously -sometimes 4 a second. It is said that planes have been going towards Westminster and also they have been diving. They think one plane has been exploded. Everyone is pleased and amazed at the 165 (later 185) planes that were bought down today.
The continuous noise of the planes and the continuous noise of gunfire are moving away.
Outside the white stone building is lit up by a bright moonlight sky veiled thinly by light clouds. After a heated argument on the base of a bomb dropping (and the speed it is traveling forwards when it reaches the ground) the boys descended to the quiet of the shelter and they go noisily to bed among merry quips sprinkled with swear words.
I heard an awful story from an ARP bloke. A brick shelter was filled with people so that they could just move about standing up. Not many had gas masks. A bomb dropped and injured no one but the air was filled with rubble and dust. Some idiot shouted gas.
40 people were killed in the stampede. (I cannot of course vouch for it and the man wasn't there). The days are now very wet and because of the rain and because of the sirens we've slept most of the day at the post. This afternoon the alert was at 3 ½ hours and we missed anything to eat at tea - the first meal I’ve missed as a result of sirens.
There is very little teaching at Barts. There were no lectures anyway and SOPs and MOPs lack patients. I have been reading quiet a lot reclining in a deckchair in the post.
I went to Dirty Dicks today, it is a very odd pub and looks it.
[Dirty Dicks exists today at 202 Bishopsgate, City of London, EC2M 4NR.
Beer was 4 pennies]
Downstairs (where all is only 4d) hanging curious parched rabbits and swordfish swords covered with the dust just below the ceiling. It has the air of an old time smugglers den. The floor is covered with sawdust. Old theatre bills and a whole variety of antiques and junk litter the place. Apparently it has a lot of prostitutes in it at night. The only evidence of them was notices requesting unaccompanied ladies to not to remain longer than was required to drink (end of quote by Dirty Dick) (the exact wording was neater). The siren went while we were there. I was with a student who was going to be a vicar once. Then he took up seriously the art of a wine merchant - reading the art too. He had seen lots of high up people and had been into the private room of the director of the Bank of England on business etc. He could not stand the son of the businessman with whom he would become a partner and took up Medicine. He has lived and worked in the distressed East End and thinks that marvelous. The clergy there just aren’t able to be wet. One Famous one runs and serves in a pub. A siren has gone while I was bathing, but tonight I had just put the shaving cream on my face. I shaved quickly and had one cut with the new blade. By the time I set out the barrage was in full blast. It wasn't directly overhead but near so I didn't stop on route. It has been going solidly since. Some bombs have been dropped and one whistling one has dropped near without exploding. Everyone is thrilled by the removal of the ton bomb by St Paul’s.
Tuesday, 17 September 1940
Thank you for your letter and for M and S letter which was very interesting. [Michael and Sybil letter from South Africa]
Went to the flicks today. It had been blowing 2-3 gales today.
This afternoon rang up Teddy and asked him if I might collect football boots (his) and oilskins from Ossulton Way. He is now living with Banger. I went up by trolley bus and saw the evidence of only three bombs in the way. The last was a small one in Falloden Way causing the buses to drive up Ossulton Way, which is convenient. It had landed in the middle of the road - more of the shop windows were broken. The warning came and went while I was there. Going by the bus to Highgate, I thought the conductor was being a very cheery. After a time when he said something I realized that it must be because he thought the raid was still on.
Oldish women queuing into a tube station tended to be irritable when pushed by others. But otherwise people are very tolerant. The girls of London seem more attractive or more numerous then usual.
When I entered Highgate Archway tube at 7:20 tonight I saw the crowds camping there with my own eyes. They were everywhere even at the slopes beside the escalators. Every station I went through (except Chancery Lane) were almost full - but leaving plenty of room to move. Except for St Paul’s I did not notice Jews in large proportions. They were quite quietly settling by down on their bits of rugs as if they were on a picnic. They consisted mostly of women and children, older women, young women, many young children and here and there a son or a husband. Really it is rather a sad sight that leaves you feeling sick or resentful - I don’t quite know why. They certainly are not the broken frightened people you would expect to find there.
The barrage started at 8:15 tonight and it has been going very hard indeed. The full moon is giving a dazzling light through a clear sky with only small puffs of cloud. By the way I have got the extra bit on my own civilian duty respirator. My one that always hangs at the door has always had one. I have been meaning to pack suits and other valuables in a suitcase and part them in the basement. It would be irritating to get them hit and Barts is about due to receive a bomb somewhere -judging by the number of other ones hit. We have been amused by the newspaper writings on the hospitals and nurses carrying on their work of mercy and stepping over rubble passing from ward to ward still carrying on and a photo showing surgeon pushing a bed among the wreckage. -Hardly a surgeon I think. One flowery article ended up by saying that they (hospital staff) deserve a lot. Well they would probably be pleased with a tin hat or so.
Wednesday, 18 September 1940
I am sorry I haven't posted this letter yet. I have been meaning to but before I have found someone with a pen and finished off the letter a siren seems to go. By the way thank you for the stamps. The 8th warning today went at 8 o'clock (the record so far) the ones that went before midday I could ignore without a twinge of conscience as I was off duty. We had an hours SOPs this morning with one very interesting case. The sirens stop it. Girling Ball is going to talk to us on Monday on the possibility of evacuation of the main body of students and the teaching.
There are rather mixed feelings about Dr Collier and his methods of treatment. If we are allowed to do any stitching or other treatment we get no say as how it should be done and we don't usually agree with his ideas completely. We are also treating septic cases down here. We are, I believe, meant to give first aid only - the patients are meant to be sent to their panel doctor or outpatients.
There is no real asepsis here or even kaolin or sodium sulphate for suppuration yet we are treating septic cases who will probably spread infection to otherwise clear wounds. I've seen to be a lot of strange ORP nurses in the post tonight –none of them lovely -most of them ill tempered -they all knit.
I don't really know what they are expected to do. It doesn't take them long to clean the place out. They haven't been let near the patients we have had yet - luckily (We've had about 20 cases altogether) what they will be like to work with if there is a rush -God knows. The old hens have now been shooed off to roost.
Thursday, 19 September 1940
No casualties last night. In bed and before going to sleep we heard about 3 near bombs but no shaking. I believe they landed in Houndsditch or Shoreditch or somewhere.
Days are all coldish now with occasional long lasting drizzles. People seem to be developing throats and colds in the post. Will post this at last.
No sirens yet today
Much love Paul
10:45am 19th of September 1940