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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiqué No. 14 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

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Communiqué No.14

Barts, E.C.1

This Communiqué was sent after Paul’s return from York

It is while he is in York that Paul gives us a strong inkling of his feelings towards Gwen, his wife to be.

The first of three letters from Paul to Gwen was written on the 4th November 1940 from Stonegate, York where Paul was having a short break until the 18th November. This letter, as with the other two of the 9th and the 15th , was written in a very caring style and Paul himself remarks on aspects of their sentimentality, however reference is made to the fact that Gwen was expecting to be contacted by Kenneth on about the 18th or 19th November. Kenneth was the person that she was engaged to despite the fact that she was still only nineteen.

In the third letter Paul delights in using a little wind up on Gwen, when he refers to sleeping in Nadine’s bed, then explained that she and her husband were sleeping elsewhere. Nadine was obviously special to the family and there is a photograph of her wedding in 1939.

Dear Parents

Thank you for the letter and Ration Book. I found licence and spotting book in another pocket of my jacket after I sent the postcard sorry you have been troubled.

 

Monday 18 Nov 1940

Monday left a great impression which I’m afraid is rapidly fading in my memory.

Nevertheless although it have been rapidly eclipsed as I have slipped back into normal routine again, I think it is interesting.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The oldish well spoken sailor in the train and the signaller wearing last war medals hardly spoke at all, all the way to London.

In the silence we read and dozed and the train passed into fog through which you could see for a hundred yards.

As you know in the previous letters I have tried to impress you with the “normality” of London life. This may sound an incongruous way of describe it; sleeping in shelters may not seem “normal” but somehow it is. Wrecked buildings may not sound normal and yet they do not prevent life remaining normal. I think the houses pulled down in say York seen much more wasted than in London. Slum clearance is more complete and does not leave perfectly good houses ( and windows) nest door.

As you know I have listened to the radio news of London as you have done with the difference that I have been in London recently and should have known how to translate wireless news into one person’s experience.

I felt really as if I was returning to the “front line” with its heroic fighters walking cheerfully about the wreckage (as the newspapers would like you to believe).

I wondered with apprehension what new wreckage was likely to be added to the long list of buildings I knew already to be hit ( forgetting in an endeavour not to underestimate, the incredible large list of places that haven’t even a broken window.

As the train moved on to London we could see for a quarter of a mile but it became darker. I searched the passing houses for a wrecked one to herald my return to London and I became a bit impatient before I, at last, saw one. We had been told that the train would stop at Finsbury Park but was going on to King’s Cross.

By then the sky was heavy and yellow with a solid rain cloud. Carriages and trucks moved in silhouette against the unnatural stormy light.

We peered apprehensively through the rainy windows at London in the middle of a storm and the train at last drew into King’s Cross.

We moved in slow procession through the train till we reached the platform and passed through the group of blank waiting faces at the collector’s gate.

And then it happened.

There was a policemen griming and waving goodbye to a woman who’d lost her way. Everywhere people were smiling and happy, instead of wearing the brave resignation of good morale under fire.

There were some tired faces among the Londoners as I passed, there were some young men wearing Salvation Army uniform (without looking self conscious) but mostly there were just ordinary people walking through rain sodden London looking content as if conscious that they knew what to do and that they were doing it and that there seemed no point or no need in wondering or worrying about the future.

I was back in London and it seemed like being “home” again and by now I was singing aloud.

I boarded a trolley bus out of the teaming rain and passed along Grays Inn Road. I peered from the window to see anything new. But instead I saw the usual shops, the tobacconists, the cake shops, the little tea room with people having tea. I began to suspect that the owners of these little luxury shops did not read their papers and they did not seem to realize they were targets of the modern civilized hell that we had feared and avoided for the months of expectation and crises when people’s spirits were at their lowest.

The bus turned to Holborn and there on the corner, to convince me that London was not after all mad or ignorant of the blitzkrieg, was a neat newly painted wooden hut to give people information on how they should travel back to their homes through the ever shifting channels of London’s transport.

Instead of the greater damage that I had expected I (who had been here only a fortnight before) was really amazed at how little damage there was. Here I was seeing street after street without even a broken window. It seemed (although this was impossible) that there was considerable less damage than before.

This because in the receptive air of York, my impressions and memories had run away from the truth, so that even I began to believe that London was far worse than it is.

I know now that as far as personal feelings are concerned I am far happier being in London then being away from it and wondering and imagining what was happening to it. That was something I did not realize before; but I do now. I feel sorry now for you two. I am afraid I can do little in these letters to help that. As a matter of fact I consider you in York to be in equal danger (such as it is) to me in London and this, though you may not believe me is quite serious.

Note:
York was badly bombed in April 1942 and Mary, Paul’s mother, was in the middle of it. See Letter from Mary

As a mater of fact, my impression that London was even less damaged may not have been completely a result of bad memory. Damage I had known was all tidied up and not replaced by new. As I approached Barts a bombed building was boarded lightly round so that it seemed like an ancient ruined wall.

It was still drizzling as I turned the corner to see “St Bartholomew’s Hospital” and below in fiery colours “Help Urgently Needed” were it had been for as long as I can remember.

I turned in the gate with “Staff Entrance Only” chalked crudely on the stonework and passed into the hospital. It was 3.15.

I went to the lecture at 3.30 and many people greeted me and made rude remarks that they hadn’t seen me for months. I asked about the blitz that had flared up again while I was away. They seemed surprised – it had been very quiet. Yes, they admitted that they had heard that Friday was the worst raid on London but they hadn’t noticed it. It must have been in the suburbs they said.

After the lecture I had tea. The captain of the “A” came up and persuaded me to run the Ex “A”, the main reason being that he couldn’t find anyone else mug enough to do it and as he was due for exams he didn’t want to run two teams. He is at Friern. The sec. of the 1st is at Hill End so I will be the Barts sec. I have to find fixtures too. However badly I run it, it doesn’t matter because I can resign but only if I can find someone to take my place – which will be a threat enough to any critic.

After tea I went and eat my lunch in my room.

And so, after supper I cycled down to the post but without the usual accompaniment of drones, guns and bombs which seemed all wrong.

Commandant and others took great delight in telling me all about the scarf Gwen had been making and which was now finished ( Gwen herself had said nothing about it in her letters)

It was they all assured me very soft and warm which I though was as it should be.

And so I returned to my stretcher in London after the rest and the luxury of a bed and “broncho” and so ended a remarkable day.

Tuesday 19 November 40

Lectures are going at full steam.

From 10.30 – 12. I attended MOP’s ( though it was not my day) 12 –1 lecture on Pharmacy

1.30 – 3.30 Children ( Harris)

3.30 – 4.15 Lecture

Then tea.

Gwen was on duty at the post at night and presented me with the scarf which she had hoped would be a surprise. It is extremely nice. It was 6 foot by 10 inches double thickness (with PR on it)

She presented a bill in which the last item is 9/3½ (including the needle). She has said she will do me a blue one for when I go in the Navy – I hope she remembers

Wednesday 20 Nov 40

London is changing with the seasons. The trees in the square are bare of leaves which no longer lie on the tarmac.

Everywhere drifts of sand are being dug away and new sandbags put in their place. Most uncovered bags had been sprayed after being laid but they have rotted in the middle of the piles.

I have been wearing your sweater but soon found that London was much too warm and close. The streets are mostly wet and there is often sunshine. Women walk about the streets without coats.

Thursday 21st November 40

I am well and truly sunk in the old routine and from now on letters, instead of being accurate accounts of London life will be instead the petty little grumbles and grouses.

The really important aspects and the really interesting sides of London today will be taken for granted and forgotten.

The man who controls the London sirens has a perverted sense of humour – though he carries it out well.

At 11.45 today the alarm sounded, I left MOP’s and cycled to the post. I entered the building but before I reached the post the “all clear” sounded. I cycled back to Barts and entered the gates but before I reached the West Wing the “alert” sounded. I cycled to the post and settled down to glance through a weekly. Before I had turned over half the pages the “all clear” went and I cycled back and had lunch. ( thereby forgetting a lecture) There was no sign of a raid at all.

I don’t know how I forgot but we had a visit from the Bishop of Kensington last night. The first I knew of it was when one of the ARP men warned me that we should not swear loudly. He had just been covering a large cupboard sign “Women First Aid Treatment” with a towel so as to leave the message “Women First” on the bishops stretcher. He was quite a nice old man and chatted pleasantly to us all. He asked as he left in the morning as we lay in bed whether we had been dreaming of doing operations. We replied dreamily – no we hadn’t been dreaming of surgical operations.

Friday 22 Nov 40

-------

Saturday 23 Nov 40

I played rugger today in the “A” ( the Ex “A” game was cancelled). Both the 1st and the “A” were playing London Hospital at the Crooked Billet in N. Walthamstow.

I had heard first hand that this area had got it pretty badly and I was amazed ( I always seem to be amazed) to find how little it had been touched – less it seems than most parts of London. It would be very bad luck indeed if the Jowett has been hit.

Both teams beat London Hospital decisively. The only try their 1st scored was while the guns were firing at a bomber which some thought dropped a whistler – one of their men ran through whilst everyone else was standing and looking at the sky. The same happened in our game except the man tripped up and failed to score. In spite of the unusual Barts double victory, it doesn’t seem to have been put in the paper.

After tea I was busy copying down names and positions and teams for next Saturday, and it was late before I left so that I would not have had anytime to call on the Bradleys. I will write.

Note:
For interest, it is worth mentioning the Gwen’s cousin, Elsie lived in Walthamstow and there is archive material about the war damage to the area in WW2

After supper Merryfield and I retired to the Vicarage intending not to stay long. There was singing and much attempts at harmony. There was an incredible variety of students and houseman sitting round and one strumming a banjo.

There were quite a lot of songs new to me – some incredibly funny, by funnies men.

There is in Barts records a reference to the St Bartholomew's Vicarage Club

Sunday 24 Nov 40

A quiet day. Peter Story and I with Merryfield played with two little tanks that belched sparks from their gun turrets. This evening for the first time since I have been back has been more normal.

It was absolutely clear as usual and the guns were firing away at a single plane. But even so it was nothing like the “good old days” At breakfast time his morning after the M.O. had left Commandant woke Bartlett to go to the tube shelter where he diagnosed a case of bronchitis (with possible pneumonia) in a man with a temp of 113 F. he lived in a Salvation Army place and it was only with difficulty that the police removed him by ambulance to Barts. They said he was on private property and could either walk or be carried. Commandant promised to go with him to Barts where they promised he would be able to leave if he insisted. He stayed as he was too weak to argue. Commandant was surprised to learn that you couldn’t compel anyone to enter hospital.

The “all clear” went about 9 pm but we didn’t risk going back to Barts – though it remained all clear throughout the night. There is chat in the papers about improved A.A. defences which may have something to do with it and also it was a good night for searchlights.

Thought cuttings might interest you

Paul 2pm 25 Nov 40