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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiqué No. 13 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

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Communiqué No.13

Barts EC1

25 Oct 40

Dear Parents

Visibility remains good but weather is cold – so much so that if you haven’t a coat you can’t really go outside without a pullover.

Thursday 24 Oct 40 (cont)

I went to Strauss’ psychology this afternoon for the first time. It was a very good afternoon, their were about 8 patients and we finished at 8pm. If only I knew more about types etc it would have been very instructive. I don’t think any case was the result of air raids – just the usual things.

Friday 25 Oct 40

On going to “skins” in the medical block I was mildly surprised to see a small evening newspaper van stopped where the ambulances stopped.

Barts had one severe air raid casualty today – but perhaps I’d better begin at the beginning. I heard the story after skins while having lunch with Picton. He is in our bunch, was at Finchley and Hill End. He is a smallish tubby mild sort of person. He was cycling as usually to Barts and at 10 this morning he was on the south side of the river passing under a railway bridge.

Five seconds later he could not have passed under the bridge. Three bombs dropped, the third (only slightly ) damaging the bridge blowing over trams behind him, blowing out glass in front of him and blowing him a little faster forward.

At the same distance from the bomb as he was, he saw a man with all his lower jaw sheered away with his tongue hanging out. He was bleeding and making a pool of blood but not spurting. He was obviously still conscious and was groaning with pain. He had be hit by a bomb splinter.

There were some first aid people about but this man was too much for them so they went and messed about with minor cases – Picton, saying that he was a medical student, prevented them from doing too much to some of these later on.

So Picton and a man were left with this man. A decent Fleet Street van driver offered to drive the man to hospital but when he saw what the man looked like he said no, he wasn’t going to take him. Picton persuaded him, “yes he was” and they huddled him into the little van. He reached hospital within ten minutes of the bomb, instead of bleeding to death.

Picton cycled on to the hospital. He said it was an unpleasant business and that he wouldn’t feel quite so casual about day ride, but even knowing him well he didn’t show one sign of being the slightest upset or worked up. But he was rather annoyed that his smart suit had blood over it.

Barts has been working hard on the case. He went to the resuscitation room and he’s being watch by many physicians and surgeons. This afternoon they operated on him. They made a sling of grisle under his tongue. More than that I do not know. He may died yet I suppose – personally I should have thought pleasant death the best thing. Picton may get regret having saved his life –but he could hardly have left the man dying in pain on the pavement – as the first aid people were doing.

Two (perhaps more ) people were killed under the bridge and trains (which were empty but for the drivers and conductor)

There have been long lasting raids today, one from 12 – 4, but except for one or two bombs this afternoon I don’t think an others have been dropped. ( I haven’t heard any at all)

Tonight compared with previous nights is noisier but not “hot” yet.

Saturday 26 Oct 40

There was quite a lot of firing last night (fairly hot). Picton’s bomb was the news of the day’s raid - it appears to have been the most severe of the London “incidents”.

There have been long alerts today again and they have the trick of sounding the warning within a minute of the all clear. People forget if there is meant to be raid on or not and go by whatever they can hear or see for themselves – which is of more value anyway.

The warnings during the day seem to be useless. The spotter system is of value and that is being developed for bus drivers now, but people are far better left on their own anyhow so that it works out alright. The warnings are taken as being of “academic” interest only.

In a small town or near a single military objective which was pretty obviously going to be the target the warning system would be of real value.

But when enemy planes can drone incessantly for hours over the city the size of London and do very little damage people just don’t think it worth getting out of their bath, stopping their work or disorganising their day.

If the raid were short and sharp then people would take notice but the nuisance tactics don’t have that effect.

This afternoon I helped carry down the tops and legs of the large heavy tables from the old hall. The fire had been cause by one of about 8 incendiary bombs – it had caught in a place they couldn’t reach. The floor of the hall was an inch deep in charred woodwork and bits and the plaster from the ceilings of the rooms below covered all the floors and desks after the flood of water from the A.F.S.

We could not see any damage to the floor but it may be charred in one corner. The tables were ok. Harris was working with us.

He showed us two unfired incendiary bombs. They are cylindrical in shape about 2 feet long and 3 inches diameter with fuse at one end and the other end blank. They are made of aluminium or magnesium. One was dated 1936 and the other 1937. the were beautifully made. Apparently the newer ones are more cheaply made. They said you could get very near them ( 2 feet) when alight and were easily put out but of course you can miss them or they may land where they can’t be reached. There was a water shortage and the pressure of the building hydrants wasn’t enough to reach the roof – which as a result became an inferno before the firemen arrived. There were a lot of fires that night ( 80 in one area of allocation ) and they were all treated separately and stopped spreading which is really pretty good. They think it was from a Molotoff bread basket – they heard it falling.

I think I am getting tired and really need a holiday. We are more cooped up now at the post and there is not enough room for the varying tastes. I find I am getting very irritated by some of the students – but then they’re very irritating. Some of them have lights on very late and they wake up early and talk pseudo highbrow nonsense – which is too much in the morning. The thin partitioning of the posts gives the illusion of many rooms. If we were in one big room everyone would have to live much the same. The partitions in fact are quite inadequate against sound, light or draughts. In the next war I hope scientifically minded designers will realize the value of soundproofing in the first aid posts – to say nothing of the value of asepsis too.

Bartlett went on holiday to replace the low in Lowestoft. I believe I am nominally in charge of us students while he is away. Three of us (Perkins, Hewitt and I ) slept in the duty room thus getting a quiet night again.

My first job as liaison officer was to relay to Ismay ( who had requested the air conditioning ) Commandants explanation why it could not be turned on when Collier was away. He is terribly fussy and inadaptable and irritates the Commandant and nurses who have nicknamed him “slow motion” which is extremely apt.

Confession – I have been christened “the camel” – they can’t always be accurate.

Commandant has the deplorable habit of discussing people behind their backs to the nurses and us. We have a dug out of a Dr. as a locum to replace Collier who is away this weekend. She [Commandant] dislikes him as much as she adores Collier and distrusts his old fashioned tendency to put iodine on all wounds and sprains and pains. We think Collier’s ( and her) methods of treating septic ( and not yet septic) cases are deplorable and as out of date as the old Dr.

Commandant told us how she had tried to treat a septic case of Collier’s rather than let this old locum because she knew all about how to treat his boils as he had been coming to the post with his boils for six months. We remained polite.

Sunday 27 Oct 40

A quiet day in spite of air raid warnings. And fairly cold. While walking saw a lot of damage that was new to me. Near one important but undamaged ministry were two craters in the road causing no other damage. The traffic went by.

There was also a lot of bomb damage on buildings near another equally important ministry which still stood.

Holborn had still more damaged buildings ( there was a huge mobile crane resting in the ruins of one place) and being Sunday the street was empty and dead. But as a sign of the weekdays, buildings just next door to others wrecked level to the ground had notices “business as usual”.

It has been cold and wintry today, with a wind in the evening to make you seek shelter. Nowadays the evening siren goes at 6.30 or 7.45 so that we never finish dinner before the raid – but we’ve got our hats, there’s no hurry mostly ( as tonight) there is not any gunfire.

Monday 28 Oct 40

Thank you very much for the letter and cutting. It arrived as I was about to go to the post the third time this afternoon. On the way I passed a double decked bus from Leeds. Several have come from the provinces to aid the greater bus traffic.

In what way might I have considered the article phooey – I don’t think it is just quite so rare in Hill End as the article might lead you to think. But was neuroses even to mild degrees is ( as far as I know ) very rare.

And the bit about work and being with people as resisting war neuroses I agree with.

I’m interested in your remarks about age and agitation. I’m not sure though that I recovered easily from late dances !

I should not be surprised if the Dr. who advised the cockney mother to take her child from London was Dr. Franklin – he is always telling mothers that it is no place for children – even so he does not approve of badly suited grandparents etc. being in charge of the children. Bombed London is preferable to over strict foster parents.

Girl in the shelter

“Hey ! Take your hand away –
no, not you, the man on the other side!”

We have been appalled at the methods and administration of surgical treatment at this post but as we can’t argue about them in front of a patient we have felt in a bad position to improve maters. Tonight Dugggie Ismay started treating a boil in the modern way as taught but all our surgeons (who particularly teach against the medication and squeezing of Collier).

He had to ask Collier for something which he had. So Collier came over to see the case who was one of the post ARP men. Collier didn’t agree with Duggie’s treatment so we all got up one by one from our books and standing in a semicircle round the patient we very politely poured shit on Collier from a dizzy height ( to use a medical expression). He was obviously rattled though seemingly unconvinced by this barrage of discussion on the treatment of boils. Nevertheless ( on Duggie’s risk and responsibility ) he allowed the standard modern treatment to be carried out.

We’ve just had a bit of a comic pantomime. A little tough who had walked into some sandbags and didn’t like the look of the strapping on his face accompanied by a tall lanky fair haired hysterical W.R. policeman and a stocky fat Irish policeman – all chatting and back chatting in a genuine cockney comedy. You wouldn’t have believed it if it had been on a stage.

Altogether it has been quiet a good evening

To bed – actually it will be awfully nice to sleep in a real bed again after all these weeks. I’m looking forward to my holiday away from “ the centre of the forefront of the battle”.

Tuesday 29 Oct 40

One of the demolition workmen was in today while I was on duty. He had a small cut which Commandant treated after she and Collier had probed it, pressed it and prodded it about with tweezers instead of washing it under the tap. Oh yes they also put ether on it to make sure it didn’t heal quickly. His money went into the guy’s hospital collecting box ( which Collier has no right to have here in my opinion – it is not a voluntary first aid post)

But a fortnight ago some more concrete had fallen on a finger which had hurt since then. He had been working and hadn’t had any treatment.

I diagnosed it ( correctly ) as a fracture of the middle phalanx of the rt forefinger and Collier either didn’t know or agreed so he was sent to Barts as “fracture” and the X ray confirmed it. The funny part was that he was a Yorkshireman from York and was thrilled when we discovered. The reason why he hadn’t had his finger seen before was because thought that nowadays people shown carry on with their work. It has been splinted so that he can still wield his hammer.

Saw a Hull bus today. Our treatment of boils seems to be catching on. Last nights ARP patient has bought Dugie Ismay a tie which we have not been able to put into the Guy’s collecting box so he’s keeping it.

A M.D. nurse was brought to us by Commandant to have a boil treated our way – we took the chance to emphasising that on no account should she squeeze it or press it.

Time marches on.

I’m afraid these letters have descended to pages of “shop” but there’s little other news.

A plane was up overhead tonight as we cycled down. Many search lights pierced the crystal night sky as we sped to our post. There is little firing and no bombs – which was all to the good with us below. Even so buses and taxis were also running normally.

Wed 30 Oct 40

3 patients in MOP’s this morning. At the rate we are going, I shall be lucky if I take 3 patients in MOP’s during 3 months. The physicians manage to fill up the morning with extensive chatter on each case.

It is evening and I am sitting with Sangal ( a very nice and cultured Indian who is doing a locum for Bartlett) in our “smoke room”.

The post itself is very stuffy and we’re not allowed to smoke during a raid so we sit at the bottom of the stairs where we make ourselves extremely comfortable and at ease with the world. The other people can’t get over it and every time anyone passes and sees us they invariably think us mad and make rude remarks asking if we couldn’t find a more draughty spot.

At dinner tonight for no reason at all ( except male intuition) I announced it would be “howl” tonight. Well, there have been one or two bombs near enough to shake the place tonight and two casualties came in covered in soot ( a chimney had been hit) and suffering from shock and also minor injuries. They were treated by the usual methods. They were forced to have a “nice cup of tea” and made to sit up.

Then while shivering (in spite of two hot water bottles and one blanket – but they were too busy to notice the shivering) they subjected the soot covered woman to rubbing by wet towels so that she was shaken backwards and forwards for a quarter of an hour while her legs and arms and face were cleaned. Her body was allowed to remain dirty. Incidentally the two nurses giving the “shock therapy” realised it was all wrong to clean her then but they had their orders from Commandant and they had to lift the patient up again while they dripped water down her neck. In the end both patients got bromide and spent a comfortable night at the post. If only we cold lock Collier and Commandant in the office ( they’d be useful for signing forms) we could train all these nurses and make the place quite reasonable ( quite apart from the lack of sterilized dressings)

I think there is a train at about midday which should arrive by tea time ! I shall try and catch that but you had really better “expect me when you see me”

I’ve got permission from Harris etc etc

Much love Paul 31 Oct 40