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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiqué No. 06 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

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Communiqué No. 6

Barts EC. 1.

20 September 1940

Dear Parents

Thank you very much for the registered which I got this afternoon /Friday. I wasn't really very worried you can take “it”, even so I thought a ultimatum might do you said! Answers to letter

Why did you send the £1 - it was to go towards the camera . (that isn’t really an answer) Even so you will not find the £1 returned in this letter. !

1. 6 students are on duty at a time. There are eight altogether. Two go off from midday to midday. The following night those two are on call. One is first call, the other second call alternatively. It is our arrangement so that if one or two casualties came in, only one person (or persons 2, are woken during the night). Nearly every night now one is called.

2. No there is not a warden’s post at the same place. There is a control room, which no one has seen. Office watchman or fireman are spotters on the roof (except when bombers are overhead when they get out of the way) There is someone at the main entrance – a first aid ARP man during a raid. Then there are the office super shelters (where we slept at night) and the first aid post itself in which sleep Dr Collier and Commandant (suitably separated). Nowadays there is a night nurse on duty. All these places are linked by phone to control each other and I believe the post (first aid) has an outside phone (which connects with the ARP centre and through which red's and whites and purples and yellows emerge.) The man at the door rings when a casualty arrives.

3. Dr Collier is a Guys man whose home is in the country. He works during the day in the city and comes to the post on a warning or at night to sleep. When we was away evacuating his family, we were in charge of cases.

A (slightly abnormal) student - he was stage manager of the plays whether we liked it or not elects bits of stuff from all his bits of stuff, shapes that round hundreds of hexagonal shaped cards (old DS tickets) and sews them together to make “mosaic curtains” -see?

4. Pat did say about Dennis. I don't remember details but he was all right then and had not been bombed recently.

5. I think I said in the last Comm (Which crossed with you letter) that Teddy, fed up with living alone, was living with his father at his house. Probably quite a good thing really. Letters would take longer reaching him. Yours wasn't at Ossulton Way when I went on Tuesday.

Thursday, 19 September 1940 (10:45 AM)

It was raining like cats and dogs (mostly dogs) all afternoon. I proudly lead a tour to see “my department”. The studio (yes that's the official name) had its floor just flooded with water which was dripping from the plaster ceiling. I thought it might be just natural, but we decided to have a look at the roof as a shower of shrapnel had made holes in much of the glass roofing to OP’s etc. We found the cause, hole in the lead roofing caused by one of the incendiary bombs falling on the hospital. It had been extinguished earlier by scornful students. They put it in a bucket of water and successfully after it had been spotted (by students). The water drained from the roof through onto the plaster ceiling which was otherwise intact. After such a direct challenge from Hitler I have decided to fight the war to the bitter end.

During the afternoon a plane, machine-gun fire, and two bombs were heard but no siren went and though it was rumoured that one at Kings was sounded. I arrived at the post one minute before the night siren sounded. Nothing special at night -barrage, some bombs, no casualties - complete sleep. (There were no sirens during the day at all).

Friday, 20 September 1940

There was a siren in the morning, but you wouldn't see much change in the public or the traffic. Today I cycled past St Pancras and saw the crater just by the goods station there. The buildings are bent inwards. The comparatively small crater is in the road but traffic is not stopped. The effects of blast are amazing and spread all around –a long way. All the windows of the office building opposite are smashed and the frames knocked silly. Merrifield said that a woman was half a mile away (maybe a 1/4) on one side of a bar and found herself at the other side after the big bang. It was caused by a land mine dropped by parachute on a clear moonlight night. A warden told him that the AA people could have exploded it in midair but that they hadn't received permission.

Friday night was uneventful as far as I can remember. In the afternoon I successfully broke into the Charterhouse College cloakroom through an unlocked window and unlocked my old locker there. I retrieved my squash racket (and ball), my cut throat, and some rugger boots (which I've had adapted and which fitted me comfortably). That being so I arranged to play rugger next day.

Saturday, 21 September 1940

No SOPS.

Travelled down to Hill End for the trial match - the first game of the new season. After changing we appeared slowly in groups onto the playing field ringed round with groups of nurses sitting in group's, sisters, a few of the staff and most obvious of all, because of their cat calls, remarks, cheering and general heckling, a crowd of blue uniformed convalescent soldiers. Once the game got underway there were amazingly quiet - they probably didn't understand most of the game. There were more than two teams full. We played four quarters of about 15 minutes each with changing round in between. I played all the time. The people quietly sitting around were hot, we were swimming and straining in sweat.

I enjoyed it and felt pretty good after it - through by the evening I had to souse an approaching headache with aspirin etc.

We had the usual after rugger evening in the pub and rather than have to walk home from St Pancreas I managed to get a bed at the shack where the students live in at Cell Barnes. [in St Alban’s]. They were a noisy, practical joking amusing gang and I didn't get to sleep until relatively early. I just had a huge breakfast and came back in time for today's duty.

I was paying excess on a day return ticket, at St Alban’s when a train full of children passed through station going northwards. Some of them gave a cheer as they went by. It may perhaps have been the effect of a slight hangover, but I felt an amazing sudden wave of physical pleasure (well it's weird to explain) at seeing the children from London. It was very surprising.

The youngish matter of fact ticket collector murmured to the world at large “wish I could get at him - the old bustard, I'd make him pay for all this”.

I was interested in the bomb damage by the railway towards St Pancreas. There were about four that I saw - everyone had fallen where it could do the minimum possible damage - one had fallen on a wall between canal and goods yard.

The roof of St Pancreas might have made rather a good picture. With sunlight outside lighting up the end wall of windows, the crowds below were lit here and there by numerous stationary spotlights coming from shrapnel holes in the blacked out glass roof.

The trolley buses carry on now along varying routes sometimes using their batteries and frequently having their sticks maneuvered by cheering people with long poles.

This afternoon I lay in my room on my bed. At 4:15 PM the all clear woke me up (the alert had gone at 2:45). I had failed in my duty.

Another warning went after tea and tonight’s warning started at 7:10 (or 19:10) but I had finished dinner. When winter draws on there seems to be more competition between siren and dinner.

Tomorrow Billy Ball is to talk to us and ask our opinion (as if that would make my difference) on evacuation of the hospital (partial or almost complete) and the continuation of teaching. No one knows what's in the air. For myself I would rather stay and be kept and be in at the kill rather than more when move clinical material is not at all a certainty.

I feel that either things will quieten down and the outpatients department will fill up again (we wouldn't get OP’s elsewhere) or else things would get worse with the possibility of daylight bombings in the city when we should be of use.

The position of the ordinary student is different - they feel a duty to rapid qualification and at the moment they get little sleep, less security and practically no teaching.

I am on first call tonight. The barrage is only vaguely audible here and we have had no work to do.

Monday, 22 September 1940 9 PM

The King is speaking again (on a recording) for the second time tonight. At the National Anthem some ready fools started standing up and we all followed (cursing) so as not to hurt feelings. I suppose they'll go through the necessary ceremony again. As I have written the above the light have dimmed down twice to quarter strength, flickered for a time and came up light again. The three of us students have agreed to a sit down strike. (Unnecessary-they didn't play G. S. the King). The lights were turned on in our shelter at about three this morning and Dr Collier was seeking student with knowledge of gynecology. One of the locums went and made his diagnosis. Dr Collier had suggested moving the pregnant woman, who had walked into the shelter, to friends but she were to Barts in the end, by ambulance during the raid. A whistling bomb sounded as the ambulance waited at Barts for the stretcher bearers and the woman struggled walking in herself. A flourishing boy was born in the ward half an hour later. (The student had thought two hours).

The lights in our building failed so our special shelter dynamo worked by a diesel motor was started. It works the seven anti-gas air conditioning plants to the shelter and all the lights. (All the lights are all right now).

Girling Ball addressed us this afternoon. It is difficult to make a commentary so soon. After it, most people considered it 95% hot air. He didn't seem to have anything difficult to say. He seemed more concerned that Barts should stand as Barts (Colonel Blimp for Barts attitude). It was a typical politician's speech George Binns (the efficient canoeist and camper) struck home when he asked Ball whether he considered it was better to be taught by Barts teachers with few patients or other teachers with a lot of patients. Put that way he was unable to answer. Some Cambridge students wanted to go to a Cambridge hospital (where there was not a lot of patients) - but if they did they would lose their Barts studentship. The ordinary students are fed up with the lack of patients and teaching at Barts, but Ball seemed to consider they had the jitters (which is an amazing suggestion) partially as he said he hadn't. I should think that he has (in spite of living at Mill Hill).

The students who would have come up to do SOPs from Hill End will not do so. There is a possibility that most students would be evacuated and billeted to Hill End and Friern and possibly the Royal Northern. Most students do not think that that means much availability material and would rather be apprenticed or allocated to LCC or provincial hospital (which Ball would not consider). There was an official suggestion that the City first aid post would no longer receive our assistance but that has since been changed I believe. It was, I think, thoughts by Harris that there would not be sufficient people willing to man them. The situation is obviously doubtful. There were very few out patients last week (304?) But they may well increase. At any rate nothing definite has been arranged and it's not likely to be for another week when events may have changed. Roonie James (of the students union) is very good and I think it will all settle out okay. So you see the whole thing was as indefinite as this has led you to think.

All we first aiders want is to carry on being kept, get as much “out patient” experience as possible (and probable) at Barts -and of course we should like tin hats.

My mind is sterile tonight -I have push the pen. As you probably guessed I've lost my fountain pen. The sleeves of my new pyjamas have concertinaed up to my elbows. And that's about the end of the conversation for tonight.

The truth is that I haven't really made up for the sleep lost at the weekend and also that there seem to have been more chatter and noise than usual tonight.

There is a game on Wed (at Hill End) and as its my day off I shall probably play -I think it is a good idea to get exercise and a change of air and interest. I have been put down as reserve for the Barts “A” match at Chislehurst on Sat. (Will have a bus to take us down)

Any questions? Any subjects of life in London that you would like me to bring into the spotlight. It is getting hard to know what to talk about without repeating. Life is much the same. Perhaps it is even rather boring. Perhaps I will go to bed.

The usual quiet uneventful night. The barrage was going as usual I suppose. The warning has gone again this morning before we got back to breakfast. Two of us are staying while the rest nodle off. The stop watch arrived yesterday and seems to be absolutely okay. (Except that it is set 1/5 sec behind zero -which matters little.) How much did it cost? Thank you for getting “Rose Window”. Will send p.o. next time

Much love Paul.