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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiqué No. 18 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

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Communiqué No.18

Barts, E.C.1

12 Dec 1940

Dear Parents,

Thanks you very much for the pen. It is very nice to have one that works decently.


There did not seem any point on doing stereoscopic photo – a plain photo showed the characters ( which very very obvious although rare) and anyhow the book will not have other stereoscopic photos. Uncle Berties work was more detailed and 3 dimensional and specialised. Also Morgan did not ask for a stereoscopic.

Uncle Bertie would have been Albert Alexander Gray of Glasgow who lived for a while at 5 Hammersmith Terrace, a few doors away from Colin Rowntree’s father Frederick Rowntree.

The only other reason we didn’t was because we did not think of it.

Everyone is as emphatic in liking the N.Z. Dr. ( as they are of despising Collier’s surgery) both as a Dr. and as a man.

He is not perfect as a Dr. but is not small minded and is usually ready to learn. He is never on guard against what we students (or anybody) might think of him – in other words he is real.

He went to Guy’s and played in the 1st rugger and tennis until he dislocated the outer end of his collar bone when he took up hockey. He comes from Auckland and didn’t really know Napier( his name is Shallom (phonetically)

Napier is where Sam Begg, Paul's Grandfather, came from.

Re Joan Platts

“I’m sure I don’t know” ( which ends that).

I have just read your PS again and having just bought a new battery to fit the gas lighter, I read that it is a new top that you want. You’d better have it as it will not, I think be of much use to me unless I can adapt it for something. It’s the burner you want isn’t it ( not a whole new top)

Mon 9th Dec 40 and Tues 10th Dec

No raids at night.

Wed 11th Dec 40

There was a siren and one or perhaps two planes came over and the guns widdled a bit of ach-ach once (or perhaps twice) during the night.

No one heard any bombs, so it was nothing “to write home about”

I attended “surgery” in the tunnel, which is now thick with Xmas hangings. One man had a gramophone pick-up and wireless to brighten the people I suppose, except they played dreary records – I thought.

There was a very small attendance (perhaps 20) with a large %age of foreign accents. The more interesting was a lump of cotton wool in a blubbering child’s ear. With the aid of my electric auroscope, Shallom was able to remove it ( his own auroscope would not allow the passage of an instrument).

There was also a woman pickle worker who has got acid ? into scratches which festered and a Billingsgate porter with a draining cellulites of the hand after cutting himself on a fish box.

We annoyed the sleeping ARP men by our talking at night. We had a very lively conversation with much playful back-chat and badinage mostly with sex as the basis. Incidentally I thought I came out rather well. I am developing the happy technique at making verbal thrusts at each person’s weak points – successfully. They usually laugh.

(It’s supper time 6.30 – a plane has just passed over so I will go and eat to the accompaniment of A.A. if it keeps going.)


Thursday 12 Dec 40

After dinner tonight the girl at the cash desk handed me a heavy plain cardboard box. I wondered if it was some kind of joke. Then I snatched at the piece of paper and saw the words “Burgundy” and “Sherry”. Then I came out of a stuporous rapture to look again – to make sure the note wasn’t a bill. No it just said “please receive” which I did – after refraining from kissing the girl in the cash desk. She seemed to think I might too, - she had a homely smile.

I haven’t opened the box to see the first bottles of wine I have ever owned but tucked them away safely in a cupboard under the window. I’m beginning to wonder why I didn’t think of having Christmas away from home before. It will seem different but I think ( now especially) that Christmas day will still be distinguishable from other days.

Well to go back to the rest of this day.

This morning I went to the old Bailey to give my first injections to cure V.D.

In the afternoon I wandered along the packed pavements of Oxford St. to try and get inspiration for Christmas presents.

I saw for the first time a party of AMPS ( or perhaps engineers) demolishing a building. Yet they seemed familiar. A work party of the inmates at Cell Barnes Colony work exactly the same – but they don’t wear uniform.

Cell Barnes Hospital was built by Hertfordshire County Council to provide care for those with learning difficulties and learning disabilities (the 'mentally deficient' or 'mentally handicapped') - being those who had been ill either since birth, or an early age, and who were seen to have no prospect of a full recovery. The Hospital adjoined Hill End Hospital where Paul worked and studied.

They stared in groups like true British workmen and tried not to notice the large admiring crowd on the other side of the poles.

As I was near and as it was M & S’s wedday I decided to make a record and before I had a chance to change my mind I walked quickly into the “pleasure” arcade and pushed in the 6d, pressed the needle and waited for the needle to move to “START”.

M&S are Michael Rowntree, Paul’s brother and Sybil who had got married on 12 December 1936. Sadly this was at the time against their Colin and Mary wishes and cause such an upheaval in the family that not family member was invited to the wedding, including Paul which must have hurt him. Sadly Michael died in a motorbike accident in South Africa on 10th July 1942.

And then I started chatting off. I hadn’t decided what to say and I hadn’t anything written down. There was no sign (like a yes) at the other end of a phone to know how I was getting on; only the mercilessly moving needle moving rapidly across the lighted dial and the knowledge that everything I said and the coy pauses were being recorded beyond my control.

And they I played it over. I was rather surprised to hear Lord Elton ( who chats on the wireless) speaking in a short hesitant voice which sounded rather old and not very cheery. But whereas he says what he wants to, I had said – mumbling the first things that had come into my head and as if I was facing a silent examiner.

Well, maybe I’ll send it you for your amusement and you can send it on if you think it will not depress them too much – it seems a pity to waste it anyway.

(It may have helped if I had not been alone but had someone to hold my hand)

Friday 13 Dec 40

In the morning I went with Graham Stack to try to beg borrow or steal a set of drums for the Xmas show. (Nuts and Crackers). The first place was very helpful but as he had no drums but only orders for them ( Glasgow wanted 10 drums for a band), it was not very hopeful. We tried Boosey and Hawkes and the man started off to explain how difficult everything was, they weren’t able even to hire out drums now for fear they would be lost. He asked us if we could raise £5-5-0 [5 guineas] as security and was probably surprised when we said “yes” and promised to let us have a side drum and a foot beat we could use on tympani 3 days before the show. He seemed convinced that we were doing the best with anything we could get hold of and after a little more conversation from Stack, he gave us two drum sticks and two wire brushes ( both second hand)

We have been hunting round and I have now 3 sets of toy drums ( from which I am making 1½ unbroken drums, 2 halves of a castanet, a triangle, two small cymbals and a silver meat cover which gives some lovely effects.

The show is 9/10 musical, some plain singing, one unusual sketch which is a pantomime to all sorts of tunes and is called “Cinderella and the Sleeping Houseman”.

It concerns a sleeping Houseman, who it transpires has been bewitch by the ugly sisters and can only be cured by a kiss. The disease baffles the chief. A porter finds a dainty shoe outside the houseman’s door – every one is horrified and decide to find the owner who confesses her love and being sure of her house physician kisses him (regardless of being sacked). However the houseman seems to think she won’t be sacked and sings “I’ll walk beside you though the wood tonight” in a very sentimental ending which ends the show. It is of course full of topicalities and representative of actual people. The ugly sisters has superb pantomime.

The show will probably start with the roof watchers song ( to the tune of “in the Balalaika”) “in my balaclava” leading on to “Hi diddle-de-de a students life for me”.

The music is by Jimmy Knott ( who is a really first class pianist) and some rhythm by the drums.

They will be left pretty quiet though except for the rumba “six lessons from Madame Le Conga ( where the words are not all important)

We are trying to get hold of a record so as to get the rhythm right as this although sung from the stage – is primarily a band number.

I was wondering if you could post “The Cuban love song” with the other number on the reverse side of the record as that is the lecture on rumba rhythm and effects. If you think it might break don’t risk it. But it would be useful to have ( and as soon as possible)

Saturday 14 Dec 40

As it was Gwen’s birthday, the sherry was broken into. I had had some ( sherry I mean) at Finchley and liked it and Gwendoline too liked it very much indeed. There is still a lot left.

As you will probably have seen, although the papers have not made much of it Barts beat Mary’s 1st. Merryfield saw Hamer who was playing in the A match ( which they won) and arranged a meeting after Xmas I believe. Bartlett was playing in the 1st and is now wearing a sling as he sprained his acromio-clavicular joint ( the same as Dr. Shallom).

The Ex”A” (weakened) lost to a very strong side from Middlesex Regt. Depot ( I wasn’t playing)


Sunday 15 Dec

Rehearsals again with Piano this time.

I have been picking up what is wanted.

To assist the singing Tum Tum fixed up his projector shining onto a sheet in front of the performers and wrote out the words on blank slides.

People keep there heads up and have no need of written copies in their hands.

The all clear ( as usual ) went at about 10pm.

When Collier and Commandant were in the tunnel a girl came in with what I thought might be a Colles fracture of the forearm. It needs X-ray to make sure – it probably isn’t a fracture actually.

Then we had a woman (from a synagogue) with a wonderful asthmatic attack which we all listened to. I injected 3mg adrenalin (Drs orders) and she improved. She should probably have had more judging by the results.

Monday 16 Dec

Raids are very slack and quite rare nowadays (though not so rare as in York)

Everyone is very pleased or rather amazed at the successes in Egypt, but aren’t at all excited by it – just pleased.

Thank you very much for the long interesting letter. I didn’t want to go to the W.C. before reading it.

Gutteridge didn’t remember Gann – he’s never said he had worked at Smithfield

Much Love Paul

M 16 Dec 1940 (3.30)