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Communiqué No. 09 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz
Horrific. Adults Only.
Monday 30 Sept.
Tuesday 1 Oct.
It is impossible to write of “life on the London front” as episodes from day to day - unless I wrote down when each siren or all clear goes. That would be boring, and anyhow I’ve forgotten.
Life has settled down to a regular unexciting routine.
The siren goes fairly often during the day. Aeroplanes can be heard, and sometimes seen, but it is very rare to hear a bomb drop. In the last sentence two bombs have just been dropped very near (Leadenhall St.?) and shaken the floor with two loud crumps. People away from the wireless could hear the whistles as they fell, from down in the 1st.Aid Post. (9.15pm)
Also during the day, you may hear delayed action bombs go off, quite loudly but never near.
Then of course there is the after dinner siren - and that means something. A few minutes after that goes ( or sometimes before) the barrage starts tuning up. It doesn't seem to go at any regular hour, but somehow I seem to time it almost instinctively. Without knowing the time I have twice just entered the post when the siren started. Another time it has gone when I was on the way, and again when I was just collecting my bicycle. Tonight I was half way there when it started. You seem to cultivate a sixth sense in the dark as well as a sharp eye to detect pedestrians ( who always prefer the road to the pavement). Coming through the archway to night I thought I should tinkle my bell and soon after came upon a pedestrian moving out of the way. Perhaps it is understandable that in war time we should develop our more primitive talents.
The street lighting is very helpful - it is enough to see where you are going. Often we cycle to the post after the barrage has started, because we've not had enough warning, perhaps ( though seldom) because we have been drinking, or because of shaving etc. You can tell if it is too hot and sometimes we wait a bit, but usually the ride is uneventful, except for bangs and flashes round about.
I have yet to hear shrapnel falling - and I have yet to get my tin hat- actually we've almost forgotten about them because they don't seem so necessary now.
Until those bombs, which have just fallen now ( there may have been a D?A? among them (no) ) there have been no bombs near here or Barts, since the ones I wrote about previously. Tottenham Court Road has been the nearest recently.
Today, being the beginning of another three months, we are in a period of transition. Four people have left and four new people have come into the post:-
E.S.Perkins -mother joining father in N.W.England.
Ismay - from Jo'burg. New photographer.
Jimmy Knott - Plays music & jazz on piano.
Hewitt - Quiet, tallish, pleasant,
the remaining ones are:-
D.Bartlett- Our new chief ("Pal") rot him.
Phillipps -"A Nigger & a gentleman”-tells Englishmen how to be English.
Graham Stack - Also a child mentally-Stage manager & mosaic curtains.- & myself ( of course).
At the hospital too we have changed. Today we started doing M.O.P's down in the basement in the rifle range, and this afternoon we did "childrens" through two warnings, in the safety of the surgery basement.
Allardice has the room next to mine. He and Storey and Merryfield are at Aldermanbury first aid post - they're welcome.
J.F.Pearce (who was Mause at 77 Victoria Street) is also now in the West Wing.
We also do skins,V.D. and I believe psychotherapy. As no one else is doing S.0.P's we have the run of the surgery O.P dressings and minor ops. as well as the look in on the E.N.Ts. eyes, orthopaedics, etc.
They aren’t running in the previous manner but if we peck about you can usually find a lot to learn.
Yesterday afternoon I found a surgery ward round ( there are about four wards almost full of S.& M. patients). Naunton Morgan was talking about gastric & duodenal ulcers perforating. There were two cases in the ward. During the talk, a perforated gastric was brought into the ward and then we went to the theatre to see a strangulated hernia about to be operated on. Before I had only heard of such things.
Tomorrow there is a practice game at Hill End, and at midday Harris is to talk to us on the teaching under the new conditions. In the best Gram Swing or Priestley manner - Good Night.
2 Oct.40. ( Early morning 1.15.)
The building has been hit. We were all asleep. We all woke to hear the bang. There was very little shaking. There was a noise of roofs and glass falling. Ismay jumped out of bed - but couldn’t see anything from the doorway but dust. Everybody started talking excitedly, not a note of fear, but excited.
We’re off to untrap a man
2.15 a.m. Back to bed. War has come to Gt. St. Helens. Story in morning.
Written 40 hours later.
After we were woken by the bomb we started talking.
Then Dr.Collier came in and asked the two students on call to dress and go to the post to be ready for casualties.
Then I started writing the reactions
of the students on the spot but I was interrupted and was only able to
scribble down - we're off to untrap a man.
It was roughly five minutes after the bomb had dropped and I was writing when Dr.Collier again came in with another man. There was an atmosphere of seriousness when he ( the man) explained that the building had been hit and a man had been trapped and would we come and help to get him out.
Before he had finished speaking we were up and pulling clothes on over our pyjamas. We set off, following one of the office firemen in uniform. There wasn't much talking. The trapped man was a roof watcher, his legs were visible sticking out and he was talking, that was all.
We climbed up and up in file, the doctor following me, shining our torches on the stairs and lighting up scruntching glass. The man in front said nothing but "keep your torches down - most of the windows have gone".
On we climbed up nine floors. No one felt like singing or joking but just climbed up steadily wondering what we should see. We reached the top floor and trampling across bits of wall and ceiling we reached the bottom of a small flight of iron steps that lead onto the roof.
We came out into the open. The stars were shining, a wind was blowing and we could hear aeroplanes overhead and a searchlight lit the sky two miles away. The raid was still on. We could see the fire now across on another part of the building. The fire was burning out a room on the top floor and the one beneath. The firemen had already damped it down but it was still blazing.
We walked round the bend in the roof towards the fire passing the word down the line whenever we came to some steps up or a step down. We joined the group of firemen.
They were talking to Jock and told him that the Doctor had arrived.
Then we joined in and helped get him out. We could see his two legs sticking up at 45 degrees with his toes uppermost. His face and body were hidden by a huge slab of concrete (roughly 6ft. square and 18 inches deep)
The man with the torch was directing operations. I went to a scaffold pole that they had already wedged under a corner of the slab and prepared myself to put my whole weight on it. One of the men on it warned me not to press hard as the pole might break. These men impressed me as very good indeed - I think they were either the office firemen or probably A.F.S. The official rescue party didn’t arrive until after we’d finished.
We levered a bit, a man pulled on the legs, another man held him. The man with the torch and the other men encouraged jock to help as they strained to get him out. It looked an impossible job. Another man said his clothes had got caught. People said cut it. Eventually after about five minutes they had got him right out. They rushed to lift him and the doctor went to him. He cannot have been taking the weight of the block which seemed to have prevented him falling backwards and down. ( It was dark except for the torches and it is difficult to be sure of all the details) He was not obviously maimed. The doctor went down as Jock was carried down supported on two men’s shoulders.
But there were two roof watchers and people began to ask whether "Mutty" was downstairs or had he been up there as well. We began to look around. Very soon some one shone a light on the upturned gaze of Mutty. His face looked flat and seemed to match the dust and sand bags which lay on his legs and body.
He did not make any movement and someone said in a matter of fact way- “He's done for”.
They thought of sending for the doctor. Then someone suggested that one of the students could make sure he was dead. I must confess that I didn't jump at the suggestion. Hewitt walked forward from the circle of men and held a torch over his mouth to see if his breath fogged the shining metal. He also felt for his heart. I followed and had a look. He had a knock through his frontal bone just above the eyes and death must have been instantaneous.
We left him and went down. The firemen carried on with the fire that had been blowing smoke onto us. I nearly lost myself going back in the building which was now dripping.
Down in the first aid post Jock was being treated. Commandant was flapping about fidgeting round him. Collier was treating his abrasions. Jock seemed able to move freely although a shoulder wars painful. He wasn't stripped for examination but given morphine and A.T.S. and a cigarette. Later in the night he was taken to Barts.
We felt we were just standing around and merely being in the way, so we went to bed, an hour after the bomb. we had been on the roof about ¼ hour.
Later two other casualties were given first aid, one a fireman who had a stitch put in his lip.
Mutty was brought down from the roof and layed in the garage underground. The whole business wasn't exactly nice- but I'm glad I didn't miss it.
We fidgeted and turned and got to sleep in half an hour.
Wednesday 2 October.
Talk from Harris about teaching and clinical material.
As there were no people doing S.O.Ps. and although patients were in a short time there was a rapid turnover and a chance to examine acute cases ( which we could not see in peace time with the large number of students). There are now 70 students at Barts ( about 50 living in).
This and the slower running of trains made me late for rugger. I played about hour, as wing three quarter, in a rag game - and even touched down.
Saw "Pinocchio" yet again with a party. Getting to know the film fairly well now.
Thursday 3 October.
At night we slept in the same shelter as the 1st.Aid A.R.P. people. Phillips and Ismay rather snobbish about it. Actually I didn't sleep so well because they work two hour shifts at the door and the light they leave on was by my bed.
Friday 4 October.
We had asked Collier and he took us onto the roof to see the wreckage from different angles. The scene of a moonlight kiss, though recognisable, doesn't look the same in broad daylight. A picture doesn't look just the same as just a photo and although the impressions I got on seeing it at night were sometimes inaccurate, it was interesting and enlightening to see the empty stage this morning. It is useful to have a "photographic" record as well as a “picture”.
It was very evident that Jock had been saved by a miracle of circumstances. The block was supported by loose lead (?) water piping. Below him was an almost certain fall to ground level. The block prevented him from falling. The block itself did not seem so big. It was about 4 ft. by 5ft and was the thickness of a layer of bricks surfaced on either side by concrete ( or is it cement)
The scaffold pole belonged to builders who had been painting the building. At night we had all thought that what we had been standing on was as firm as a rock. That was the biggest calculation that daylight changed. The opinion of most people (but not architects) was that if we had seen how unsafe it was we would not have ventured by the edge of the building.
I am not so sure that it is so unsafe, There were no sand bags near Mutty ( merely broken brick dust etc.). The look out post, a reinforced bell shelter surrounded by sandbags, was untouched. It doesn't give good visibility and they were standing outside. Apparently they did not hear the bomb.
The steel framework has stood up to it all.
Thank you very much for the letter and scarf and shirt which arrived to day. Your bit about Miss Steele made me absolutely wild. It is really treason. Quite apart from the fact that she shouldn't talk about such things officially - that is relatively unimportant - but for a person of position (who people would believe as having inside knowledge) to give out completely false information is just super fifth column work whether conscious or not. I have felt like writing a snorter to Miss Steele but obviously I can't, but dammit I ought to know what Barts looks like and if she will pay the £50 fine, I'll get photos to prove it. Sorry- but it is rather disheartening to know how rumours can spread. I expect though you were glad to get these communiqués. If you get a chance you might give Miss Steele a swift kick on her flannel parts- not that it would effect her usefulness much. Her news of Thomas's too is of course all wrong. I believe that two of the seven blocks have been hit- but you needn't tell her that (it's useful information) but you can say definitely that she is wrong.
So please don't believe any other rumours that you may hear about London. In a very few "generations" of conversation they are inaccurate and it only makes it more difficult to find what it was that started the rumour. Unless the person you question has first hand experience, you should ignore all other evidence of authenticity as valueless and merely wait to confirm it later.
As you know I have written of all the interesting rumours that have reached me - they are of some value if valued in correct proportion, but as you know some of them have proved either untrue (land mine at Hill End) or (which is worse) slightly true and very misleading.
We started skins this morning with Roxburgh who is good. At lunch to day we received a most amazing letter from Girling Ball. Everyone is just astounded at the blatant waste of paper and the pompous trumpet blowing of the one Barts person who seems to have the jitters and who I expect will be a Lord or a Bart at the end of the war.
Yes I had noticed the lunch time ballet and have been thinking of going. I remember seeing E.R.Cook’s letter. I vaguely remember him as being a sixth form bright minded seedy bodied boy with glasses. I believe he was appointed prefect (possibly head) after I left of course. ( Sorry I see he says he’s head prefect in his letter- I’d forgotten) He was more of a classics person than an O.T.C. enthusiast I should imagine. I didn’t realize he was quite so bad as his letter shows.
I personally think that it is the most emotional type of women who stick it better than the more "sensible" type when it comes to the actual point. The imaginative people worry a lot before hand, but are more prepared for it when it happens and do whatever there is to do. But I have not had much experience to strengthen this solemn opinion.
I am on duty at the post now, the warning went soon after lunch (12.30) and the all clear hasn't gone yet (tea time). Although I am missing my tea, I have not missed clinical experience. A man was brought in on a stretcher in deep coma, able to speak but not intelligently. He was a diabetic having quite a large dose of insulin. He was suffering from too much insulin in relation to the amount of food he had had. He had not eaten his lunch which was in his bag. We made him sip down strong sugar solution and he was quite cheery when someone relieved me for tea. I got more chance of studying him and his pulse etc. as there were no highly efficient Barts nurses to discourage.
The raid is still on. I've had tea and will post this on the way back to the post. ( Enclosed cutting and Ball's letter). There is a longer newspaper story of "our bomb" in. the Evening News- I will get a copy or copy it, so that you can compare it. All clear going.
Much love, Paul
P.S. Here is quote by London Evening
News Wed Oct.2nd. 1940, occupying
Beginning of Quote –
On the roof of a six storey office building in CENTRAL LONDON a doctor and two helpers worked early to day to rescue a man who had been trapped by wreckage caused by a high explosive bomb.
The bomb crashed near a well in the centre of the building. On the roof were two staff watchers, one of whom an elderly man named Griffiths was killed instantly. The other was trapped under about a ton of debris. The doctor at a first aid post on the ground floor (not true, P.R.) heard the explosion and said "We must see about those spotters"
With two other men he went to the roof. There was danger of further collapse of wreckage at any moment, but the three worked feverishly (insult P.R.) on the edge of the six floor drop to free the trapped man. (It was only next morning that they realised the danger of further collapse. P.R.) Eventually they drew him to safety and he was taken to hospital.
Mr.Griffiths, who had been on the firm's fire fighting staff for ten years, was keeping watch for incendiary bombs.
A friend stated-“The old fellow insisted on doing the work. He considered that it was his duty.”
End of quote by E.N. Alert has gone again.