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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiqué No. 19B continued by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

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Communiqué No.19B (continued)

The smell of burning lies still in my nostrils while, on the last day of 1940, I go back to gloss over with maximum effect the may vents since Thursday 19 Dec. There has been a lot that I could write pages on (as you know I am able to write fully about nothing) but I shall have to be more sketchy (loud cheers).

I should like to have mentioned more about Goff the F.A.U. bloke. He is very able and keen to get the shelters improved and makes a point of getting the people to organize and amuse themselves – rather than be organized. He was to broadcast on health in shelters but his script was censored as it didn’t correspond with M of H pamphlets and he seemed very interested and would be the sort of person to get it going. He said the City was one of the best areas – whereas Stepney was the worst – as far as local authorities are concerned. He was appalled on seeing the Tunnel for the first time.

I played in the A team against Charing Cross on Sat 21st. We beat them up. They had a wonderful modern club house – they were a lot of shits.

On Monday I took a cheque for £5-5-0 by Ellis - the resident anaesthetist – as security for the side drum and the bass pedal which Boosey and Hawkes lent us for free.

The drum set I made up in a hospital trolley (when the side drum was placed upside down on top) was all on wheels (There was a lot of string in its make up)

Rehearsals and dress rehearsals for the ward shows were in full swing.

The sherry you sent me (S.African Mozilla) was extremely good indeed. But when you send ( to my great delight) chancellor Burgundy you set a problem

On Christmas day we had a dinner ( 1 cracker /person – including chiefs) at 12 midday and 5 ward shows until 7 – the inevitable after show drinking and then a party (and many drinks) at the first aid post in the evening.

And of course Burgundy should be drunk with food.

So on Christmas Eve – when she was off duty – Gwendoline braved the austerity of Barts and we slipped into the West Wing in the afternoon “borrowed” Allardice’s electric fire for toasting and after she had peered down my microscope ( which is one of her joys) we set to with primus to make and Xmas high tea and with S.African crystallised fruits and chocolates and cigarettes after the cheese and biscuits a coffee we did rather well. The Burgundy – yes just that alone – was like being in Paris again.

Allardice was tackless enough to burst in looking for his electric fire – he also had a corkscrew.

Christmas Day was as I have said. We started at 1.30 ( after the very nice turkey – considering) and went on and on wheeling my drums back and forth, setting them up and playing in here and there packing p – wheeling on. There were many changed of costume for the performers and all the props (and footlights and spot light) were moved around on a bed ( also a prop) and a trolley.

The housemen also toured the wards. There was a nice air of informality about the shows and yet the stage managing was first class and without hitches.

The first ward didn’t laugh. The last ward was rather poor – the young sister made us hurry the show. Whereas one ward – with an excellent sister - was just a riot. She apparently gets them in the right mood first. I could see the audience – as I was on the stage all the time and it was very interesting.

The student show was generally thought much better than the housemen and was altogether a great success( as well as hard work).

There was a certain amount of vulgarity in the show and the one place where all the wards had laughed was the verse of a song: “We’re three red rubber air rings

Three red rubber air rings are we
A. I belong to a Duchess I’m quite upper class
B. I belong to a baby its really rather a farce
C. I belong to a Sergeant with a boil on his neck”
( sung all blasé with a little dance between verses)

The pantomime was the best though and the caricatures were especially appreciated (most by the victims who slyly followed the show from ward to ward.)

The party at the post was rather patchy when we got there. Some very tight others not – everyone not knowing what to do. Commandant and Collier were doing their best to make people tight.

Ismay was already merry when we arrived and Hewitt Bartlett and I sat down and roared in uncontrollable hysterics at Ismay who for 40 minutes straight off (with a little encouragement from Collier talked the funniest “cock” I have ever heard and which I couldn’t possibly remember.

As you know there were no raids on Christmas Day or Boxing day when we had the usual post Christmas depression and drank in the evening.

On Friday 27 Dec

After the combined show on the Barts stage and tea in the wards we had a hot night with an all clear before midnight. I was in the tunnel and collected into the 1st aid there a man who had been pensioned with shell shock after the last war and who had had a bomb drop near him and was wound up about it. There was one case in the post.

We returned to Barts at night to find it had a record number of cases, 45 admitted to wards and 40 treated in minor ops. Theatre.

I put on a gown to watch the ops in progress on 4 tables. They were nearly all from a surface shelter and tenement in Finsbury that had been hit and they mostly were suffering from flying glass. There were fractured legs, tendons at the writs being joined up after being cut, the main theme of he cases being flying glass about 1 inch square pieces and smaller. One had a punctured a man’s pseudo pancreatic cyst ( they thought the fluid might have been from his stomach but it wasn’t acid)

Bartlett who was doing a locum in the hospital was assisting Nantan Morgan I stood by the table as they brought in fat gross middle aged woman with multiple cuts from glass ( not bleeding) and with a continuous drip of polled plasma going into her angle vien.

She had a bad cut into her left cheek bone and a cavity which was just full of bits of broken glass. ( which amazed Nanton). She had other head cuts and also cuts above her sternum.

Morgan was chatting to her and reassuring her and said he would talk to us about her after she was under.

They gave her an anaesthetic by mouth and then changed over to nasal intratracheal tube during which she started to cough. Then the unexpected happened . through the hole above the top end of her sternum gushed wave after wave of blood. Some glass in her wound – moved by coughing had cut open her jugular vein where it enters the chest from the neck.

We waited for death ( which is always worse when the person has just been talking like an ordinary person)

There followed a fight which one only expects to find in cheap fiction ( or A.J.Cronin) or Hollywood Dr. films. I saw it all happen.

Morgan stuck in his thumb explaining what had happened and that she would die and they couldn’t do anything about it. But her didn’t give up Hunt left the other table and between them they managed to pick out two bits of glass and somehow managed to get the vien from the pool of pouring blood and tie it. The audience waiting for the end looked very serious and raised resigned eyebrows to each other.

Nanton went one tro remove bit after bit of glass from her cheek bone. The plasma was finished – they dripped in whole blood ( gp1r) to try to replace some of the lost blood.

Her condition was getting very bad. Straight away the sister went through the prefatal ceremony of filling a syringe ( with Coramine?)

Asepsis was ignored in the frenzied fight for life ( frenzied in fact though not so much in lay eyes)

The other wounds were loosely tied with one stitch and she was moved off to the wards while her condition was greatly improved (amazingly perhaps)

And so Mrs Chapman left the theatre in her bed, with a transfusion drip and with her life.

I don’t know whether she still lives.

I went to bed at 2.30am leaving the theatres hard at it.

Saturday 28 Dec.

We played old Wandsworthians with a side containing many soccer players. They were very good and yet played dirty ( unhindered often by the ref.). They won 29-3. there were no hot baths afterwards and no tea. We returned dirty to have a bath at Barts.

Sunday 29th Dec 1940

It was obvious before dinner that there was a big raid on. Incendiaries were banging down on roofs ( one exploded on the roof above Ismays head as he stood in the little dark room. It didn’t come through.)

Bartlett and others thought better to take a tube from St. Paul’s to Bank and walk the rest so that we could hear falling missiles. I thought a quick cycle run would really be simpler ( and take less time) and thought they were taking the raid rather too seriously. But my cycle lights were not working properly so I agreed with them. They ran like stages from Barts gate to St. Paul’s tube ( when nothing happened) with me panting and cursing behind. I wanted to linger and admire the golden glow reflected from St Paul’s dome.

Down in the tube people were standing expectantly and chirping away like a bird house.

We boarded a crowded train and at the bank very slowly edged our way up narrow winding staircases with two way traffic – and people sleeping on the steps.

We finally reached the ticket office and were about to go up the steps into the open when bang and crash and flying glass ( which I have learned to respect greatly) came falling in the entrance. – mixed up with a soldier and girl (who clasped each other). We had rather sheepishly but hurriedly thrown ourselves on the floor ( I believe I only bent actually being furthest form the door)

The tube officials began shooing everyone down to the masses underground. Bartlett and co. wanted to wait down in the station but I pointed out that now was our best time to move as the plane had gone over and that anyway it was our job to get to the post where even now cases were piling in ( which was not true but my fertile imagination only)

Having said before that on no account would I run from Bank to the post without provocation I ran with them at considerable speed to the post, where we uncovered our sweating shirts and washed in cold water.

A Happy New Year to You

We did a very brisk trade at the post reaching the unprecedented total of 25. one man had a puncture wound 1 inch long down to his muscle above the knee ( presumably from a splinter) but without a tear in his trousers. We packed the wound with Eusol on gauze and gave him 3000 units (3 cc’s) of A.T.S.

We left about 4 cases in our little “hospital” in one of the shelters on stretchers. There were a lot of AFS men led in blindfold complaining of grit in their eyes. We washed them with saline, folded the lids back and removed the colourless specks and put in castor oil drops – which gave them almost instant relief.

Then the all clear went between 11 and 12 and we went up on the roof to look at the fires, the whole sky was aglow and it was as light as a foggy day. It was easy to read small print in my diary. The main fires were towards Barts. There was also one in the direction of Tower Bridge (Trinity House).

We watched one church spire ablaze and as we watched the stiff breeze blew the flames across to a second fire which in a short time was completely ablaze. Although we didn’t know it at the time we were witnessing the fir spread from St Lawrence’s ? Church and setting fire to Guildhall.

A telephone was ringing and we were called down to six more firemen. In spite of goggles they’re eyes were blinded. One of them told us there was a shortage of water as the mains had been hit.

I was tired but Duggie Ismay ( who is also a photographer) finally persuaded me to come and look at the fires and see if Barts was still there.

What did we see?

What happened to the other first aid posts?

What happened to Allardice?

What happened to me on New Years Eve ?

Read the next communiqué – you lucky people.

Much love Paul.