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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiqué No. 08 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

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Communiqué No.8

Barts, E.C.1

26 Sept 40

Dear Parents

The Barts Bomb, Comm.7, was full of destruction which was news (and incidentally news of value to Germany – they presumably wanted to hit the GPO and CTO)

The result was that the teaching was left and the letter. On Monday Philps the keen eye man gave a lecture to 6 of us and it was good too.

Tues 24 Sept 40 (cont.)

We had the usual ENTs but down in the casualty basement and it was the best one we’ve had yet, which isn’t saying very much but it is a good sign. Only one was an air raid case – perforated ear drum 9 ft from a bomb.

Wed 25 September

At breakfast Evans (who runs the rugger) said that an ambulance was going to Hill End in a quarter of an hour. Rushed breakfast and collected rugger things (which hadn’t been unpacked) and a razor.

We set out from London, 10 patients, mostly air raid cases ( 1 cancer), 6 students, a driver and an nurse. Soon the sirens went. The Green Line bus bumped along – the patients at the back springing up and down on their stretchers.

After a while, the chubby baby faced nurse with glasses came beaming round to cheer the patients with lively empty conversation. A young fat policemen contentedly and lazily ( like Alan) pretended to be asleep and so avoided the nurse’s bright conversation and her grinning face thrust near.

She lifted a woman patient up to see the countryside – she had never been out of London before and life was seeming strange.

We arrived and the patients were wheeled into the reception Hall to be sorted. We went to look at some patients. One ward was the home of the occupants of the “Shack” ( of Mr Barkers ) who had been warded for observation and possible cordite poisoning.

The rumours I had heard about Hill End were inaccurate – it received nothing. A land mine fell 50 yards from the Shack (I mean 50 yrds – it looked like 20) its parachute had not opened and it had made a crater about 30 feet across and 20 deep. Bits of stone were thrown ½ a mile away.

A lot of the windows in the wards near the hole in the earth were broken. Patches of tiles were removed for some distance and the Shack was battered about. Three patients (mental deficients) were injured by flying glass – one fairly severely. The students had found themselves instinctively under their beds. They were pretty shocked and said that another bomb near them would upset them ( this was 24 hrs later). They looked pretty good. At Hill End one ½ inch fibre board black out and anti blast window shutter was split right across.

The landmine was dropped by a bomber that was caught by the searchlights and shot down – nobody thought it intentional. Hill End seems to be on the bombers route to or from London.

The game of rugger didn’t materialise. We messed about, someone called it training and finally played 5 a side which wasn’t as good as a proper game.

Saw Pinocchio again and stayed the night in one of the beds used by the students on night duty. Before going to bed we sat drinking tea from a night nurse during the air raid – they were wearing tin hats. I got a whole hunk of bread and cheese and a huge breakfast next morning.

I only ate one egg, they all had two. ( We hardly ever see them at Barts)

There was just about as much firing there as in London and though very few bombs have been dropped (more in St Alban’s) the planes pass over continuously.

The cancer case died at 10.20.

Thursday 26 Sept.

I did some shopping and saw a lot of damage in London some of it in the last few days.

You have seen photos of the worst damage in the newspapers but seeing it all at once quite impressed me.

I passed Ilfords in Holborn and saw that they were packing up the remains of their stock after a fire and bomb at the back of the building. It is the only place that I can get my plates.

There was a nicely spoken pleasant man at the entrance ( not the usual crowd). He looked around seeking some HP2 vest pocket plates. Then he went into the building and brought back a packet of fine grain slow backed pan plates which he presented me with the compliment’s of Ilford Ltd. He said the plate dept. of the Ilford works had been hit.

There was a large crater in Tottenham Court Road and quite a lot of Oxford St shops had been hit or gutted out. In spite of this there were the usual Oxford St crowd to look at dresses in windows un-separated by glass. Big stores that looked wrecked had notices saying “All Departments Open” and they were carrying on in what space was left as if nothing had happened. ( I’m afraid that sound rather like journalism)

I was very pleased to find that the “Hog in Pound” was unaffected. It served up a simply wonderful rump steak. I was howled down when I described its juice, its redness, its taste as your teeth sunk in, by the other students struggling with the catering coy’s liver.

I had heard that a bomb had fallen through onto people sleeping in the Ticket Hall at Marble Arch – but they must have been just underground in a subway leading to the hall.

Tonight the Vicarage opened again under stricter management.

Friday 27 Sept 40

I am writing this on Sunday and I’ve an awful lot to catch up on and there’s a raid on.

The new plans for Barts students were unfolded today.

As far as they effect me it means this – ( planes overhead – continue [to write this communiqué] on mortuary slab in W.W. basement – using the slab as a desk not as a last resting place.) – I shall stay at the first aid post for 3 months. Half the students there, are leaving and 4 more are coming – probably Perkins Allardice and Story among them.

Another new arrangement is that when the alert goes during the day only one student goes to the post. The others have to be in Barts ( where they can continue working) and if they are wanted they can be called by phone. Everyone sleeps at the post at night. The one off day in four still holds.

The only criticism is that the large number of casualties would be at daytime – but we’d soon know about that without needing a telephone call.

It means that (“all clear”) we can settle down to work, bathing, developing and sundry other little things without the thought of being uprooted and sent flying to our post by ever warning.

The general scheme is that no students will come from Hill End to do S.O.P.s. All the students now doing S.O.P.s that would do M.O.P.s in Oct. will stay at Barts with about ½ the people now doing M.O.P.s etc. So very roughly 1/3 – ½ the people now here will go to Friern to do special subjects etc.etc. There are, I believe, a good selection of teaching cases at Friern evacuated from other hospitals.

You letter arrive today at peacetime rate.

The press cutting is interesting. I am sorry Harry has gone to his “permanent deep shelter” – but he didn’t like war so I suppose his death is classed as “relief”.

I am afraid I can’t answer “my poor old parent” about relieving nature underground. There is talk about providing sanitary arrangements ( Elsans I suppose) but I haven’t seen. Nor have I detected the presence of nature relieved in abnormal sites. I expect they go upstairs to the station w.c.’s when other noises (outside) are quiet or perhaps the L.P.T.B. come round with P. and S. buckets.

Yes I would like my scarf now and the blue shirt.

On Friday afternoon we saw something of the air attack (when 130 were shot down). I didn’t have to go to the post. Some people saw two planes shot down. There weren’t many over but the barrage was going all out for a time for the first time during the day.

Sat 28 Sept 40

In the morning as Ilfords were hit I went round to pick up the V.P.plates. I got two super XX (which have been stopped). They had 4 spools but it seemed rather selfish to collect them perhaps unnecessarily - I have 8 unused spools – ready for emergencies. I am hoping to carry on with plates. I got another dozen HP2 backed but the newest find was a packet of F.P.I. ( Fine Grain Pan with a speed equal to the old H.P.2 (twice the speed of Verichrome) – most fine grain pans are slower than verichrome.

I have only one left but if you come across Ilford FPI plates (4 ½ x 6 cm) preferably backed please snaffle them up. Also any HP2 plates (backed) – I don’t think you will though.

I feel that even if I am unable to print or even develop plates or films that they would keep and be very interesting ( perhaps ) later –after the war.

In the afternoon I got a lift down to Sudbury to play for the A. the bloke took us off the direct route to see damage in suburban areas. Complete houses, here and there were down leaving the next door ones still up. Two cars were completely bent up in front of one house. One house had a crater in the garden – but it had all been repaired and put back like new there were apparently few deaths. At one roundabout on important roads a bomb (or bombs??) had missed all the roads and made craters in the middle of the roundabout. The craters had been sandbagged and roofed and are now shelters.

One gas works ( near a hospital and a school) had received fire bombs and later high explosives. A car was standing but it had been put out of action. Apparently 6 roof watchers were killed.

The rugger pitch was fairly hard but not so hard as the bits of shrapnel we picked off it. We were playing the wasps. It was our first match and was quite an enjoyable game but their scrum were better but not completely so. I played wing forward which I like very much but have a lot to learn. It is a semi ¾ position and has lots of possibilities. We were beaten 29-0. we discovered afterwards that we were playing the Wasps 1st XV not their A team.

I think it unlikely that I shall be a regular member of the A. We will have a practice game on Wed – real this time. Chislehurst is impractical – it is “full of shrapnel and German bombers” and is more difficult to get to. They are hoping to use Mill Hill or perhaps Friern as the home ground.

Coming back 6.30 – 7.00 on the tube the stations were just as chock full as they could possible be allowing for people to lie or sit down and for passengers to pass. There were a P.C. or more to each station to see fair play.

Epidemics would spread rapidly – except that there is quite a draught of air through the stations.

Although the people are crowded in most of all platforms, if they were spread out evenly over the space taken by the lines they would not seem so crowded. The tubes are probably not as unhealthy as most people imagine.

Sunday 29 Sept 40

A quiet day with little done.

Just before writing this comm.. in ink, I found a telephone message from Joan Winn – she had phoned yesterday. So I have just rung up Gt Barnard St. Joan was not there. Knowing how depressed Mrs Winn could be, I asked without enthusiasm to speak to her. I knew Guildford St and all that area had got it bad.

She was amazing – she was quite cheery. She asked after you two and was glad you were safe in York. She had not had a letter from M and S for 3 weeks – had I heard from them – she did hope they were alright. I was rather amused and suggested they were more likely to be worrying about her.

Of course I didn’t know what she was doing now so that she told me she was working at Frascati's [restaurant] getting paid well, not a hard job, with plenty of good food. It was something to do with the fruit.

I asked about the bombing in Bloomsbury – yes, she had been in a private shelter ( she described laughingly how it had been used to grow mushrooms – but they had cleaned then out now). Yes, a bomb had fallen ( she described where – it sounded about 50 yards or so as far as I can remember ) but it had “only shaken them” ( and that only physically I gathered).

She had been at Frascati's when the big bomb had gone off in Tottenham Ct Road near the Dominion Cinema ( mentioned earlier in the letter).

She said how they all thought it was coming for them. They got a terrific blast and they found themselves all covered with dirt so that they looked like niggers so that they all laughed……

Then the siren went at identical times at both ends of the wire. We felt rather awkwardly that we ought to stop using the phone. She said how nice it was to hear my voice and so after arranging that Joan would ring when she was up next Sunday we rang off. I was amazed as I walked back and began impatiently writing the Comm. up to date.

You can tell Sybil that apart from the danger of her mother being actually hit, she is alright.

We have heard good rumours that Friern Hospital was hit last night. It seems that about 6 looney patients were killed and about 3 nurses ( not Barts) killed or seriously injured and likely to die.


Mrs Winn also said in the call that she had been sleeping at Frascati's but they’ve stopped doing evening meals now so she is off in the afternoon.

So last night she slept in an unused part of Chancery Lane Station. She said it was not crowded there and that it could take four times the number of people. She had slept well last night. Normally she didn’t sleep at all – but snatched a few hours during the day ( all quite cheery) I gathered all was not well with Joan.

At dinner tonight people who were in “Barts in Herts” the great Hill End Xmas show were talking over the squabbles and fights and successes they had last year. They then talked of a show for this year which would probably be a mobile affair that might go on an ARP tour. It seems that we are chock full of talent and probably too much. It doesn’t look as if there will be any nurses in it this time. – not that they could act ( that is to say the ones who were in B in H. So perhaps I may worm my way as a “female” part and recapture my former glamorous years.

Much Love Paul 8pm Sun 29 Sept 40