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Communiqué No. 15 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz
Sun 24 Nov – F 29 Nov 40
The main feature of this week was the return of the raids (with A.A. fire and searchlights into clear skies.) but virtually no bombs. – and rugger fixtures. Several nights have been more normal, with planes ( light ones) overhead, searchlights moving round the starlit sky and the anti-aircraft barrage which is working like the good old days.
But the main feature of this week has been my existence at one end of a telephone wire. I have made over 30 calls and the people I’ve wanted are rarely at the other phone. On Monday I was given a provisional Extra “A” team (provisional because most of those there would play would be taken to replace absentees from the other teams).
There were no fixtures arranged so I set to, to try and get a team and a ground for Saturday. By Tuesday I’d got a fixture for the Saturday after, against Harrow School 2nd and a fixture for the week after that – but it was not until Midday today ( Friday) that I’d got a fixture and ground fixed up and someone at Hill End to arrange for teas and a referee.
There are advantages “Bert” in the pathology lab is an invaluable liaison officer between the three secretaries each in charge of a team from all the hospitals.
But the first and “A” already have a fixture list.
It is colder again now and I wear my pullover and scarf.
I have seen some surface shelters – they are cold, damp shit on the wall at the end and the cement floor covered with piss round the tins with inadequate lids at the other end. For the most part they are never used at night.
The air in the tube towards midnight is quite fresh and in spite of the bright lights for travellers who pick their tiptoe way through the narrow parts; twos and threes share mattresses, blanket and pillows in an orderly and very peaceful array. There are little first aid posts in most stations.
This afternoon ( Friday) I was on duty and we had a man with alcoholic coma perhaps on top of something else. Afterwards I visited the first aid post in the Liverpool Street Station. You turn left along the Central London line platform, the rails stop and you step through a netting doorway where shelter marshals and policemen stand ( to check tickets) and at once you enter ( as if in a Christmas toy shop) a grotto, a long earthy bestraggled cave. As to pass along this fairy land with witches and elves clustered along the sides (it was afternoon) you see ahead the little white cottage. And though you look in vain for the smoke rising from the chimney, you wonder if the seven dwarfs are in residence. The door opens and a Red Cross nurse emerges without (strangely enough) jarring the illusion.
To add to the “immortal” scene is a musty atmosphere which is always there, ( in contrast to the freshness of the tubes where the trains run ). In the hot dusty air many insects and flies and pink eyes midges. The dwarfs house as you’ve guessed is the first aid post or surgery. It contains a long table with a cold water tap and a sink which drains into a bucket. Bottles and cupboards contain antiseptic gargles, cough mixtures, analgesics, M&B 693, some drugs provided by the government, many provided by the doctor.
The doctor ( a N.Z. man and a friend of Collier and nicknamed the “Angel” by the nurses which is appropriate in spite of his appearance) has also provided his own instruments.
There is a patient lavatory behind a curtain at one end. Benches and comfortable chairs and an electric fan at the other end. Round two fly papers buzz the midges and in the case book are 20 – 40 cases a day, several of them “bites” treated with calamine, as well as coughs, earaches, sore throats, cuts, bronchitis and rare pneumonias.
Two nurses were siting there ( the younger one - Gwen – in charge) they had nothing to do but knit.
The elder one plump and very kind hearted pressed tea and sugar on me ( I was protesting suitably but not too much)
Then before tea was finished patients began to dribble in and I became “Dr”. One girl ( who protested that her age was 12½ and not 12) had a bite treated by calamine. She was accompanied by a younger girl who had cut her leg with a saw but would not let me see it – she didn’t want it treated. Eventually she let the younger nurse see it and put on Euflorine (which does not sting) – she was very good with patients and especially children. A policeman wanted a gargle. He had rather a tendency to hang around the post (one of the nurses had been caught flirting and was not allowed to go again) – I shoved a spatula into his mouth.
Another girl brought a finger to be dressed. A mother brought in an infant who had earache. He was patient and listless as he had his ear and mouth and neck examined. He would see the Dr. at his surgery in the evening at 7 o’clock.
Once people had come to the post they seemed to enjoy coming again, but they seemed to have an instinctive fear of first entering the door of the little white house.
Saturday 30 Nov 40
The train in which I went to St Albans arrived ¾ hour late and the army and my boys were changing.
I discovered that the sec. of the 1st XV who lived a Hill End and who had promised to arrange ref. and tea etc. had casually asked one of the team at midday to see about it.
So before the game we hurriedly got someone to phone up a café and after another rush around we managed to get two referees – one had his leg in a plaster and stood on one touch line and another was recovering from a operation of a knee cartilage – he stood on the other touch line with the whistle. Neither could walk.
One of our ¾ ‘s didn’t turn up but we got started.
They had about 5 officers in their team which was from a territorial regiment.
Their captain, a forward was a first class player and was our main worry.
In the set scrum we heeled the ball usually but in the loose they were liable to break through. Also we were short of a ¾ and another crocked his shoulder and couldn’t tackle (although he tried) .
We discovered though that our forward rushes were effective as their defence and especially their back was weak.
They scored two tries but failed to convert them.
Someone suggested that all that was really needed for us to score was some encouragement so I started to lead the forwards with gusto.
So effective were my shouts that it drew one of the nurses to the touch line where she stood alone – waiting.
We then started to do better and one of our men went through to a brilliant try.
Then our back drop a goal and we were leading 7-6. finally we scored two more tries and they one. None were converted.
Afterwards began the difficult task of collecting the 1/6 from each of the team to pay for the visitors. Many (although they had not to travel at all) were very peeved at the idea. There were only two of us who went to the café to entertain the troops, the other being Ismay ( also at Barts).
Luckily the café turned to served up a really good tea which pleased the army very much.
We retired to the pub but the officers had a kitty to pay for four rounds and only let us buy one round. Then one of the men came up to say that he would like to buy a round – but it was time to go. They wanted another game but it would have to be in the next fortnight that was not possible.
So I returned to Barts victorious and 15/- out of pocket and rather fed up with the Hill End students (who wanted more of the games there).
The 1st XV drew against Guys and the “A”’s game was cancelled.
I’ve just been listening to the postscript by Lord Elton in which he marvels at the amazing “normality” (his own words) of towns that have had severe raids and of England as a whole. I am rather jealous that he should say the same things that I have thought and have tried to write about in previous communiqués at the same time it is encouraging that other people should really think the same and that it is not faulty observation or calculation on my part. He said a lot more, all of which I thought appropriate.
I have sometimes read newspaper reports of recent raids in London which people away from London must lap up in their thirst for news and have been very struck with the complete difference to personal experience. I don’t mean of course that the press actually exaggerate damage and hardships or that the news is untrue but the incident or wreckage is spread over such a large area and the readers fill in their own pictures of the effects that they get a very exaggerated impression. And of course people talking or telling a story, rely (as the papers do) on the sensational features.
The papers say that the raid on Friday was much greater than previous ones on London – that is true but even so it was very small compared with even the original raids. And up till Friday although we’ve had siren, we’ve virtually had no raids at all.
Don’t fall into the natural and human error ( which is often a good fault ) that the wireless news says less than actually happens.
Fairly often now we sleep at Barts – and could do more. The all clear has gone again tonight, but we’re too lazy to go back when there is a chance that we might have to come back.
Well, the all clear has been on for about 2 hours but even as I wrote the alert has been reported from the door – then the message from ARP control and the “Stavilles Stag Party” has gone off the air.
The ballot for going to Friern didn’t materialize. Instead the people who are not now living in will go and most of the others who weren’t due to go are staying at their posts. There will be two changes here. I’m not trying to change to the hospital. Arrangements are in hand for us taking it in turn to assist the N.Z. Dr. at his evening surgery in the Liverpool St. tube. I’m hoping they will allocate us to other shelters but there is no sign of that happening.
So I am going to Friern in April - and take conjoint surgery probably in June.
Enclosed is shelter magazine – it might interest you.
I have the new shoes (and the washing) – have the shoes been paid for.
Much love Paul
PS I’ll give you 2/6 for your old Blackbird if you are buying another – I do
want a pen.