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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiqué No. 16 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

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Communiqué No.16

Barts, E.C.1

30 Sept,1940

Dear Parents,

Thank you for the letter. No Barts hasn’t been in a flap. There are about 4 wards in use and medical patients stay in Barts a week ( average) whereas the surgical cases are mostly rush to Hill End or Friern.

I am sorry to hear about the grapes – I didn’t realise they’d been stopped. I will try to do something about the Jowett. And have noted your remarks etc.

Monday 2 Dec 40

My camera had its big test today. But I’ll tell you the whole story as a example of harmonious team work by “experts”

On Monday midday Peter Tweedy told me that Morgan ( the rectal surgeon) wanted a photo of one of his cases, a rare type of cancer – a hypertrophic epithelioma of the anus. But Tweedy’s camera although larger only focused to 3’8’’ whereas mine went to 18” and used plates so he asked if he could use mine. At 4.30 we collected an op. theatre spotlight and went to “Harvey” ( where incidentally we saw Perkins isolated with flu).

We had also a standard lamp (to soften the shadows) – we arranged the screens and got the patient to come along. He was up and dressed and spent his time avoiding sitting down. He was what is called a “character” and was a fine looking old man. His cancer was slow growing but inoperable. It was the first time he’d been in hospital and was terribly touch that everyone was so nice and friendly to him.


Two years ago the patient complained of piles to his doctor who didn’t examine him but gave him some medicine ( in case it needs explaining, the piles were actually lobes of his cancer)

Another amateur – Birch – also assisted and after the lighting was arranged I was left to focus and set the camers at 18’’ point blank f3.5 1/5sec on HP2 back plates.

Then Birch suggested another view and I took two of that at 18’’ f5.6 ½ sec ( to get a larger range of focus)

This all took time of course and the man was good as gold and very patient. Then Tweedy – not to be outdone and because he too had not done clinical photography before took several on his film camera.

The man was very proud of this attention and wanted a copy of the photos – we said yes – hoping that one at least of them would come out.

After dinner Tum Tum Rees joined the team and in Tweedy’s room we settled down to develop first one plate – then the other two a bit longer ( 30 mins) as the extra fine developer had cooled ( Johnsons). We examined the plates with bated breath and ill concealed excitement – at first we were disappointed but after carefully washing and wiping patterns of powder off the plates we went into ecstasies over the scrotal hairs that we could see.

The plates were washed under water for ten minutes while we relaxed to buy some lovely warm beef mince pies from the travelling trolley in the casualty basement – I eat two and some coffee 5 ½ d and we returned.

One by one we dipped the plates in 50% alcohol solution and then into pure alcohol 95%. When they came out they dried in two minutes and the emulsion was hardened at the same time.

Then Tum Tum came into his own and with his super lantern projector he threw the image across the room onto a frame hanging from screws on the wall. Once again we danced in ecstasy as we saw the enlarged picture. We all carefully composed the picture to get he true artistic value from what is usually treated so “photographically”.

After test strips we ( or they as I was sitting back by now ) found that 1 second’s exposure was sufficient in “plastika” paper appeared the first almost life size enlargement. We gaped to see the minute veins shown in the skin and for artistic merit we knew it couldn’t be beaten – those artistic curves leading from just a suggestion of the scrotum brought out to the full the epithelioma in all its glory and lobulations.

Even so we found that the direct view had very nice lighting effects. Before they were all fixed Tweedy had poured the hypo by mistake into the developer ( in a tea pot) and we searched the hospital for some hypo which we got with the aid of another student.

We hawked the prints round to admiring and amazed students (and they thought they were good too) and by midnight the enlargements were resting in their washing bath .

I was not present at the end of the story. Tweedy trimmed the dried enlargements and showed them to Morgan on a ward round the next day. He was very pleased with both the views and would like to have smaller copied for a book he was writing.

And so I feel my camera has proved itself at last.

Tuesday 3 Dec 40

We have now an arrangement with the shelter doctor that the one on duty if he wishes will be welcome at the evening surgery. I went down with him a 7.15. Actually it as quite a small evening but I did get a chance to use my electric nasal speculum. There were a lot of bites but not so severe ones as usual. He was trying to use the ephedrine on the American theory that it was an allergic reaction. Looking over his shoulder was Prof. MacPhee who had been sent by the ministry of health to study mosquitoes infestation. He is an upright, shy, tall looking very likeable sort of man. He is from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and has spent a lot of his life getting bitten in different parts of the world. Dr. was very brisk (but not rude) to some people who had come in again and again for medicine when they could go to their own doctor. But he was absolutely fair to them all. He was very kind to a German ( Austrian) girl who suffered from giddy fits due to fear of the traffic and living in a shelter. She hardly knew a word of English.

We had tea and walked along one tunnel and back along the other. We saw side by side the only two taps ( for drinking water only). The lighting was very bad, the only places light enough to read were the lavatories which had electric bulbs strung over them. Most of the tunnel was light by hurricane lamps.

He stopped and sharply told a boy in almost complete darkness that he would lose his eyes in a week if he continued to read.

He shined his torch at all the children he could see and would ask the parents if they were alright if they looked ill – then walked on if they said yes.

Here and there all along the route between the feet people would recognise him out “good evening Dr”. One said “look at all the little pansy faces” and pointed to five fair curly haired pretty looking children sleeping side by side in the gloomy stench.

Another complained about the mosquitoes and Dr. said she should be in the tropics and she would know what it was like. This amused her a lot and she was still laughing and repeated what he’d said as we walked on in a solemn procession of two.

Beneath the wet iron rings circling the tube a man playing a big accordion while two girls danced shyly in trousers.

The little refugee smiled very brightly on seeing her friend the Dr. again.

And so we went on from one smell to another running the gauntlet of staring faces looking from either wall. They all seemed pleased to see the doctor however whom they treated with some reverence. Hung up along parts of the tunnel in a gallant but very pathetic attempt to brighten their home were paper Xmas decorations; while a man was finding a place to hang the bunch of mistletoe.

The Dr. noticed a little baby who was very ill with a cough and vomiting. He was surprised the mother didn’t realise she ( the baby ) was ill enough to see a Dr. and he persuaded her to bring the child along to the post ( otherwise he explained he would be called out in the middle of the night).

The baby had a temp of 102.6 F and vomited on the floor.

We passed out into the tube station which seemed like a Barts ward in comparison to a slum bedroom. People however seem to prefer the “tunnel” where they can leave their belongings all day and where they can stay all day as some of them do.

I think the tunnel is the most depressing part of the war I have seen, and yet – as everyone will agree – with very few exceptions indeed, the temper and cheeriness of people is marvellous and constant, considerate and kind.

Although it was a warm evening it seemed cold out in the night air where the guns were bursting away now and again. We went into a pub and each gulped down a pint of mild and bitter ( which the Dr. paid for).

Collier was in a temper because Phillips and Ismay had not come down yet. If they didn’t come by 11.00 he would report it. Then he extended it to 11.30. Stack rang up and they arrived just in time and settled down to a lively discussion.

Collier is again trying to get a room for us in the building where we can work ( as a result I think of Phillips complete rudeness to him – Phillips is book for the fountain)

Thursday 5th December

I have received the Oakham cheque and also a letter from Starky saying he will put my application before the next school committee in January and will let me know the result then. He goes on to say that he cannot hold out any hope as all of the several similar requests in the last few years have been refused mainly because of limited resources.

Did I tell you I was doing my vaccination course of 6 lectures ( as requested by Govt.) but which Harris is making as short as possible ¼ hour or less. I have been vaccinated – a ¼ inch scratch with a needle last Monday which has taken and is running to schedule, which is

Thank you again for the nice long letter.

Much love Paul

2pm 7h 5 Dec 40