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Communiqué No. 12 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz
22 Oct 40
Thank you very much for the letter which again crossed with mine.
Perhaps you had better book me for teeth. I may not be able to get until Monday but I hope to find someone else to do the weekend.
Thank you too for the lamp holder idea- we hadn’t thought of anything like that. We should be able to do the holder without him knowing.
I take exception to your remarks about “shell shock” – it is discouraging to find the lay mind making facetious suggestions about subtle practical psychology.
Sunday 20 Oct 40
Sunday night was the worst night I have had. I took hours getting to sleep.
The ARP men have been moved out of the shelters (one of the directors wants one all to himself ) and now sleep in the 1st aid post. We have made another move. The main trouble was a light shining in the passage outside. There the lift would keep going up and down with a clank at each floor. I got up and turned off the hall lamp and tried again. I found it on again and after getting hotter and hotter with irritation I turned it off and throw off a blanket.
I got hotter and still wasn’t asleep and got up turned off the light again and took the light bulb out of the other one. Soon I met the ARP men who had to get up in shifts during the night and said they wanted the light. So we put up a screen and I somehow got to sleep.
Monday 21 Oct 40
Today I went and bought a shirt. I finally came to Horne’s and saw one in the window. There wasn’t a nice one at 8/6 so got the best I could find ( the right size ) at 10/6. I think it was worth it. They hadn’t a really suitable selection though.
I nearly made a record for Mike’s birthday but couldn’t think what to say so decided to do it later.
There were low clouds and I was at Marble Arch when the sirens went.
The A.A. battery showed little activity but a man leisurely taking the waterproofs off the guns. Then the sound of an aeroplane – rather different – like a motor bicycle, but although we all stared we could see nothing. Then somebody shouted and pointed and nearly overhead we could see a German bomber wheeling out below the clouds. It was the first time so near or so clearly. It didn’t drop anything or shoot. I suppose it was on reconnaissance . the boys on the guns were now pedalling furiously with their hands but the plane went over them ( below balloon height ?) and by the time they could get the gun round, it was too far away and they didn’t hit.
Then they started firing now and again into the clouds and the guns followed round invisible planes waiting for a chance.
I looked up my little book and recognised the plane easily as a Junkers 88 ( perhaps a J 88K) – a smallish fast bomber and reconnaissance machine with a crew of 3 and 3 machine guns. Has 2 x 1,100 h.p. Juno motors and a range of 1300 miles and a speed of 300 mph.
( By k.p.of “Spot Them in the Air!” "Daily Mirror" price 3d at all newsagents )
it certainly didn’t look very small and had a queer shape of wings.
Walking across the park I saw many craters of bombs, wasted – except that some trees were damaged.
In a glade, 100 yards the other side of a rope were a group of soldiers casually digging under a small tarpaulin near a lorry with red mudguards. There was a notice on the rope “unexploded Bomb”.
In another leafy glade parked round the base of a tree, with a light rope keeping you 30 yards away was a quaint rather rusty collection, I should like to have gone nearer. They were an assortment of about a dozen landmines and high powered bombs with their fuses removed.
At night I found a note in my bed warning me that I would be murdered during the night. It had a poem and was signed by three nommes des plumes.
I moved my bed and let Bartlett sleep there and with much laughter we thought a series of booby traps and warning signals as defence against attack during the night.
They consisted mostly of balancing dustbin lids, lengths of string and, the piece de resistance a battery of decontamination roses cunningly aimed so that on the password “piss off” Hewitt could turn on the concealed taps and start a barrage of water jets.
The all clear went earlier than usual and I suppose the leading light of the A.R.P. men didn’t get up – anyway they didn’t attack.
Nor did Collier come in and start defence working. They had a plan which I haven’t discovered yet but which I expect they will try tonight – and they have seen all our defences. So you see how much work we have to do. Incidentally I slept very well.
I think the only worry of us students during raids is that the west wing with our belongings will get hit and there is no reason why it hasn’t been hit already. We feel it is just about due to get something.
Tuesday 22 Oct 40
This morning London was like the London of old. Just to show how little it had changed we had a real fog in the morning. There have been clouds all day, but tonight is clear as usual.
Harris took “children’s” and we saw a pitiful twisted girl who could reach the back of her wrists with her fingers. She had a particularly good mother, I thought. We saw a case in the wards which Harris thought was a T.B. Meningitis but which was excluded by laboratory tests. So Harris thinks she might be a rare case of “Anxiety State” in a child. She had been in a shelter which had a fire and another in which there was a bad case of hysteria.
He thinks the child may have experienced more than she could bear. She was restless, groaning with pains varying in situation daily. But she still has a few constant signs of meningitis and Harris is not sure.
Lectures have started again today in the Morbid Histology Lab. The staircase up looks out on Barts wreckage through doorways and the room itself is normal except for fibre sheeting where some windows used to be.
The night was unusually quiet. The all clear went at 11.00 (23.00). Then there was a warning again at about 1 for only half an hour. The sky was completely clear over London at that time.
With everyone going to bed and getting up at different times I did not sleep so long as we used to. We loose about an hour at either end – even so that means about 7 ½ hours.
Wednesday 23 Oct 40
No cases in MOP’s this morning – a lecture by the chief Ass. (Burrough’s) instead.
I am usually impressed by Lejeunes’ criticisms, but like the other more serious critics she seems over impressed by a historical film of the important subject whether the film ( as a film) is good or not.
She gave “Edison the Man” a very good write up and I dragged Jim Merryfield along to see it – rather than a blood and thunder film.
Spencer Tracy was quite good but the film depended for its success on little human humorous touches which were forced and you could see all the time just what was going to happen next.
In his last speech as an old man (which is very well played) Jim was beginning to get impressed when a woman in the aisle shouted that she wanted a seat further back. The audience came out of the trance, laugh and fidgeted again.
The afternoon was not without interest. There were two warnings ( the above are here again ). During the all clear there was an explosion and the whole cinema shuddered. The effect on the audience was surprising. They didn’t do anything, they didn’t even say anything to each other, they just noticed it and concentrated ( if you ever do concentrate during a film ) on the screen.
The main thing I wanted to see was the M of I short by the G.P.O. film unit that is being shown in America as “London can take it”. It has received extraordinary good notices as the best documentary since “The River”. They have cut out a little from the USA version. There is no siren in the English version which is called “Britian can take it” – as a gesture to the other bombed towns.
The commentary is by an American commentator with just rather a tired voice. The film is extra ordinarily good and very impressive because of its directness and simplicity. The picture is art because it is a picture ( by several artists I suppose). It is very short and you should certainly see it even if it does make London grimmer than it really seems.
I thought my bed seemed deranged and fond about a dozen tintacks in it half way down – so returned them – I think to the wrong person actually not that it made much difference.
We found a nurses uniform and cap and persuaded Hewitt to dress up and walk about the men’s room showing a red light. But they seemed to be mostly asleep and nothing happened. Hewitt who is tall and saddish faced looked superb showing a long hairy leg.
Again it was a very quiet night. I slept round the other side and slept well.
I think I will almost certainly manage to get back by the Saturday evening ( before dinner I hope Nov 2nd)
The cutting about St. Alban’s amused us. The last paragraph gave rise to comments against those students who travel back frequently to St. Alban’s for no apparent reason. I of course was free from comment.
Paul 10.30 24 Oct 40