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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiqué No. 20 continued by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

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Communiqué No.20 (cont’d)

I am terribly sorry that I haven’t sent you a letter for a fortnight but we have been having a very eventful time in the City during the last 3 weeks.

Because I was already out of date with these communiqués and because I have wanted to do justice to the events, I have put off writing to you again and again. I have been very happy though.

I saw a film in a news cinema of the City fires and, except for the commentary ( the cameramen risked their lives to secure these pictures – there was an all clear on)

And the unrealistic background music, instead of the calm silence of the infernos, they were good films.

On New Years Eve I was pretty tired after late nights and decided to go to bed having spent several drinking evenings.

But George Ellis ( anaesthetist) came over and invited us and any other students to a bottle party in his room in the houseman’s quarters. Three of us combined to fill a slop pale with M&B [mild and bitter] from the Vicarage which we labelled “beer only” and took up to the party. Nanton Morgan was there, so were one or two cheery sisters, but mostly they were housemen and mates (sharing one chair and leaving the room at the same time to micturate)

It was a very good party ( a radiologist who is a Major and looks like Ronald Fraham said how refreshing it was to see the young couples and gave us friendly advice that we should marry someone with an equal income – we should also be in love he agreed).

We were a little unpopular when we tried to get photos using photofloods ( but I’ve got behind with developing too).

After the singing and merry making most couples left and we were still doing fine with a table still groaning under bottles of whisky, gin, martini and rum. I was drinking mixtures (mostly rum and orange) out of my tankard. At 2, I was pleasantly mellow and singing tunefully and smoking a manikin.

Suddenly I said “I don’t feel too good” and apparently I turned bright green. Merryfield helped me out but after we had cheerfully avalanched down a flight of steps ( I knocked my head severely – I am told – and remarked “I feel better now” ) Sandiford came to help.

I “parked several coaches” ( vomited) on the way back. Sandiford ( a 1st XV second row forward) was needed to help me – as I “weighed a lot”.

I can remember I was going the right way and I distinctly recognised a picture on my wall. Sandiford was murmuring “be sick in a bowl” – “put your finger down your throat” as I vomited uncontrollably but (I’m proud to say ) in the right places.

I felt as if under an anaesthetic and very shortly passed out on my bed, after my trousers were removed.

Merryfield and “Snake” Sandiford returned to the party – looking in again at 4 to empty the bowl.

Jim Merryfield looked in next morning with some aspirin but as I was tired anyway and as there was nothing to do, I stayed in bed till 3pm when I had 3 cups of tea and one cake.

Well that’s the first time I’ve been sick and I certainly deserved it – but I still think it was a very good party.

Wed 1 Jan 1941

There was a change round in 1st aid personnel with only 6 students ( instead of 8) at each post. All the others went to the Old Bailey ( except Stack who went to Friern). Bartlett was made chief of the posts and as I was the only remains at Gt St Helens was “chief stooge” there. I shepherded the Hill End people down there ( I had picked them all from Bartlett’s list) and brought them into the post “like a hen with chicks” so an ARP man had said.

Fri 3 Jan 1941

I went down to see the Hill End Barts show “Black and White” which was an ambitious revue with a too huge cast. It lacked a producer with a sense of showmanship in fact as a revue it was pretty “punk”.

Sat 4 Jan 1941

During the day we jumped out of our shoes successfully as guncotton charges were fired in Newgate St. to demolish buildings that were unsafe after the fire. The bangs were very loud and always came unexpected ( and during the all clear)

Again there was no rugger because of frost.

Mon 6 Jan 1941

In the medical wards under Dr. Gow. Had a patient having deep X-ray after an op. for cancer of the cheek. He had no cheek. Had never been ill in his life and was rather unhappy at his appearance and inability to eat. I was very pleased to discover that he had always smoked a clay pipe ( till 10 years ago) as this is supposed to cause cancer of the mouth. (He had not been asked about this at Hill End.)

Tues 7 Jan 1941

Gow’s ward round. He has rather an anaesthetic tired voice but I prefer him to the other physicians of repute at Barts as he does seem to want to teach us.

Wed 8 Jan 1941

Under the pretence of wanting to go to Aldermanbury 1st aid post, I broke though the police cordon with Merryfield and toured the devastated City.

I had thought the damage pretty terrific before but I got quite a shock when I saw what it was like North and West of Aldermanbury. I have always tried to give you an accurate estimate of damage in London and you probably thought I was minimalising it. I was not. You will probably believe that when I say that for an area of over a quarter of a mile square all the buildings were completely wrecked. There were bits of walls standing up. It was not all flat but it was not like the complete shells of buildings I had seen previously. All buildings were just completely wrecked. We climbed over streets of brick and stone where black coated business men had come to look at their offices. They were sometimes able to collect valuables – though most of the basements were full of building. One cockney in Aldermanbury asked “which was no.7” and fatuously “the number on the door is rather dusty!”.

One businessman said it was very like some Belgian towns after concentrated shelling for weeks. “yes” (he tried to convince us ) “ it was almost as ruined in Belgian in the last war as this” – (pointing to the City of London.)

The ruins stopped at Whitbreads Brewery to the North ( they weren’t out for military objectives) Gresham St to the South, Aldersgate to the West – as a rough indication.

Between Aldermanbury post ( which was intact – amazingly ) to Whitbreads was the worst. Of course there was a lot more ruination elsewhere round ST Paul’s – in Cheapside and Specially Newgate St. – but the ruin here is not so impressive.

Scattered all over the place were many squads of soldiers pulling down walls with rope and lorries and tractors and mobile cranes and with gun cotton. It is a a peaceful scene and there were few casualties and there is a chance for a complete rebuild of this area of the City. I do it is done completely.

Sat 11 Jan 1941

Mawe wanted to buy a filter for his Zeiss so we toured the remaining camera shops ( many have disappeared or have just closed).

Kodak in Regent St sent us to Wallace Heaton who had thousands of filters but none would fit. We were told we had “foreign” camera and would not be able to get any.

We managed to get what we wanted at the Westminster Sale and Exchange in Oxford St after bullying a wet youth. Besides getting one to fit it was also an interchangeable type – so I was pleased. It cast 7/- (which is very reasonable).

I went down to the post after chimes as the raid had been on since 6.15pm and found that Shallom was on leave and Collier was doing his “surgery” in the tunnel. Commandant deserted her post so as to be with him down at Liverpool St. I was the first down and found a man with a burn of the forearm – he had been waiting for over half and hour. I caused some surprise by asking for ordinary hot water and ordinary soap to wash him down before going on to Acriflavine and Tannic acid and then Tannic acid jelly on gauze ( after cleaning the normal skin with alcohol) . He had gone to an ordinary incendiary which flared up.

Before I had finished, Loveless had arrived and I was called to the phone. It was Commandant to say that they had had a bomb at Liverpool St Stn and wee snowed under with cases. Would I send a student and an ARP man as a messenger. She and Dr. Collier would not be back for some time, so I would be in charge. Loveless went down.

Then casualties began to come in. McGrigor had arrived by now and together we set to work as the cases came in. They were nearly all shrapnel wounds but there were a few cuts. I would get started on one and in the middle a more severe case would be brought in so that I would have to go and see how urgent it was. Macauley came down ½ hour later ( he had been playing rugger).

Soon we were in a mad rush – or at least I was. I was running round palming off minor cases with instructions to nurses who were behaving marvellously (as Commandant was not there to fuss them.) I would rush into the office to find A.T.S., morphia bromide tablets and local anaesthetic. It took some time and some phoning to find the key to one cupboard where I got bromide and A.T.S. The other cupboard was locked and although Collier agreed to A.T.S. he didn’t want me to use local anaesthetic (which would aid sepsis) and because, he went on, it was surprising what you can do without it. He had already pulled out all sorts of things satisfactorily. Nor could I get any morphia. So I agreed and decided to do “battlefield surgery”.

One cheery old man had a lump of clothing it seemed (actually is was covering shrapnel) at the front of his left wrist with skin over the centre third. I could not pull it out so warning him it was going to hurt him I snipped though the live skin quickly and removed the piece. It left a dirty jagged wound which needed excising. We could only remove the obvious dirt and wash with flavine. We gave him A.T.S. (3000 units).

Then there was a youngish man in great pain with two penetrating wounds on the left buttock to the left and in front of the left thigh.

The ant. One [anterior] was occupied by a glistening piece of shrapnel, the other was just bleeding. Inspired by this time to action, I risked causing haemorrhage by removing the F.B. ( asyou may) and after tugging and cutting and tugging I removed that too. It was about the size of a prune. I have kept these pieces. This man was called Caffel. He got A.T.S. and bromide.

He was the most shocked and in the greatest pain. The others were surprisingly good.

We learnt by this time that Liverpool St. Station had received a landmine and a bomb and that dead were lying on a platform We also learned that a bomb had landed fair and square on the Bank Underground Station and that a bus had stopped with its front wheels over the edge of a huge crater which almost completely filled the large circle of the Road between the Bank, Royal Exchange, Mansion House in fact that part which is over the large ticket hall, rather similar (though not so strong ) as Piccadilly Circus ticket hall.

An escalator fell apart so that people on it fell through.

As luck would have it, there was one train in one platform (Central Line) as the bomb exploded while on the other a train was coming in. The blast (which was strongly felt at Liverpool St tube) blew people off the platform before the incoming train which was smashed up. The windows of the other train were smashed up too.

courtesy of ww2today.com

The mobile unit from Unilever House was out and they carted their unwieldy cupboards about. They got down another way and started a 1st aid post which was also rapidly filling as a mortuary. The morphia was all in one chest and it was some time before both morphia and syringes were found. The student who told me was furious with the organisation of the mobile unit – which wasn’t planned with almost a “pit disaster “ in view. He said he would see Dr. White and suggest a satchel for each student with a syringe and morphia so they could work independently.

On the stairs they found just unrecognisable bits of people and also men women and children trapped under the beams. They are very subdued and quiet when they talk about it. One said it was difficult to tell who was dead. He had to walk on dead bodies to get to another when the “dead” one groaned.

They don’t know how many have been killed, but a reliable estimate is 100. They are still retrieving bodies and bits of bodies from the crater.

This is just part of the story which you read in the papers as a subway ( which is accurate really) being hit.

Cases are rushed to Barts and some trickled into our post though not many. One woman had a cut from her eye down to the right side of her face. She had been in one of the trains in the Bank. McGrigor stitched her up and made a very good job of it. (She would not have been at the Bank if she had not quarrelled and broken off with her fiancée – he appeared full of remorse but wisely was not allowed to see her until morning. – he was rather a wet and deserves all he gets if he marries her)

Well, it was all very nice for me, having the free run of the place though it was rather a responsibility deciding how many should go to Barts. A lot should normally go to a hospital but if Barts were full up and busy (as they might be) it would be better to keep them in comfort at the post. As the hospital was off the phone (and still is) there was no way of finding out.

I decided to send two – Caffel who was in pain and Goldsmith – a tough middle aged Rescue leader who calmly sat in a chair while having a wound ( through his cheek, a long but not deep wound in his chest wall, that we weren’t sure about, and a piece of shrapnel going right into his tongue ( about 1”x 1”x 3/4” ) ) . He let me snip at his tongue with scissors and pull away at this jagged piece of shrapnel ( which I foolishly let his pal keep – not thinking at the moment I should like to have kept it ). The “shrapnel “ must have gone through his open mouth ( For shrapnel – read anti – aircraft shell casing or bomb splinter.

As Commandant didn’t ask me or the students (after she and Collier finally arrived back after we’d finished) (She couldn’t even remember who she’d asked.), they took the wrong two cases. So finally we sent 5 to Barts. Three of these were warded (Caffel, Goldsmith and Patterson.)

Altogether we had 25 cases in perhaps two hours or less.

Barts admitted 139 cases and warded 99 cases ( apart from minor ops). 18 went to the mortuary next morning. They had a bumper evening – at one time with two surgeons, one removing each leg. We got to bed at 2 – most of the Barts boys were 4 or 6 am. Some had not been to bed by midday next day ( and were not even on duty).

The City mortuary was either overflowed or bombed as they piled corpses in one of the streets and removed them by dust carts. One of the mortuary “keepers” fainted – either with overwork or just strain.

Well these are the gory details. Liverpool St. Station lights went out on their second explosion and Collier etc were working by hurricane light. The marshals kept people from rushing about and panicking. I could hear the noise over the phone.

Gwendoline told me that for days after, mothers would come to the post ( in the tunnel) and enquire for news ( as they couldn’t get any news from Barts etc.)

One mother had already lost two of her children before. She thinks her last one was with a party of children playing as usual in the underground. They were apparently playing on the escalators at the Bank at the time.

She had just been sitting, completely dazed, starring, taking no notice of her surroundings – until several days later when Gwendoline was surprised and pleased when this mother recognised her and smiled (“hopelessly, as nothing mattered any more”) before sinking back into her solitude in the crowded tunnel.

The papers next day had headlines “Enemy fire raid thwarted” – Allardice (who had been down at the Bank) nearly vomited on hearing the bright cheerful tones of the announcer who did not tell of the terrible unlucky disaster of the night before.

Well, I must stop there on the morning of :
Sunday 12 Jan 1941

There has been nothing special since then (and no cases at the post) We have been having snow and ice continuously this year but the thaw set in yesterday. Today it is pouring down rain continuously.

Much Love Paul Mon. 20 Jan 41.

P.S. another reason why I’ve been so late in writing is that I wrote a full one to to Mike and Sybil.