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Communiqué No. 22 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz
27 Feb 41
Thank you for the clothes (and 2/6 ). I hope Daddy gets a decent job in the R.E.s [Royal Engineers] The wireless has suddenly dimmed so the warning may go any minute, before I’ve finished this letter. It’s now 8.45pm.
Mon 24 – Tues 25 Feb 41
I have still only slept one night at the post since I have been back and then I needn’t have done. Normal life goes on. I sent off the subscription to U.H.S.C. [ University Hospitals Sailing Club], I hope to the right address.
Wednesday 26 Feb 41
The tide will not be right for another fortnight and I was off duty and had only one lecture to do all day, I got Story to sign me up and with a rucksack full of jerseys, shirts and extra trousers Gwen and I rushed to Mitcham to collect suitable clothing. She had already borrowed golf jacket from one stretcher bearer and a sweater from Dick Gutteridge ( costing 2 kisses and no questions asked )
We caught a trolley bus to Hammersmith. There had almost been a fog in the early morning when there had been no wind but now the sun had come out strongly and although the leaveless trees barely moved my anxious eye had been noticing the ever increasing blowing of smoke from chimney tops.
We know high tide was about 4 o’clock and that we couldn’t get the boat off until a certain height of tide but if we wanted to get far upstream we should leave moorings as soon as possible. So we hurried and bought some buns and confidently approached the London Corinthian Club – knowing that we might get chucked out – or even that the boats might be already out.
[ The London Corinthian Club is located on the North bank of the Thames between Hammersmith Terrace and Hammersmith Bridge ]
The man at the bar bowed slightly as he ushered us towards the waiting hospital dinghy. It was about three when we finally heaved and tugged and got the boat stern first into the Thames. With wind and a nearly full tide, we sailed past the empty moorings off Hammersmith Terrace and past Chiswick Eyot, almost under water.
( It is 10.20 – I’ve listened to the news, mended Story’s electric fire, drank coffee and talked shop and the warning hasn’t gone.)
The South East wind was gusting past the line of trees, but later houses cut out most of the wind. We were sailing slowly and drifting more rapidly, as we happily looked around when I suddenly remembered “Barns Bridge” more consciously and realized that I didn’t know what happened at bridges. The tide was high and over the road on the south bank and although our mast and gaff seemed much higher than the bridge, I knew it was deceptive.
The crew was bundled forward to get ready and lower sail if necessary. My nerve didn’t hold and it was lowered ( necessarily it turned out) and we blow crabwise and under the bridge.
We hoisted again and got straight but the wind was blanketed as we drifted leeward towards a big stream of barges surging round the corner and overtaking us downwind. I had forgotten about tugs, too, and although he didn’t swear, the tug man looked as if I had trodden heavily on river etiquette, as he changed course and avoided us.
We passed under Chiswick Bridge ( not so low) and the railway bridge successfully, lowering each time. We sailed between the boats and the footpath along Strand on the Green, passed Picton House ( with my old bedroom window latticed with paper). Pedestrians were picking their way along the half flooded path.
There was very little damage noticeable. The house from the City Barge to the Hubbard’s house by the railway had their windows smashed and were all evacuated, except the pub. At the end, near the laundry, ½ a house was demolished. But everything seemed very much the same – but smaller than I remembered.
I went and bought some food leaving Gwen bailing ( as she didn’t want to be seen shopping in yachting clothes). A woman stopped and asked sympathetically and in mock surprise “ Has your husband left you to do all the bailing?”
Gwen mournfully answered “Yes”.
The tide change while I was buying “tea” and at 4.45 ( after discovering the City Barge opened at 6.00 ), we drifted passed the little steam boat with a funnel ( joy of my childhood) under the railway bridge and set sail into a fresh wind towards Chiswick Bridge. Skilfully ( with the wind now against the tide) we picked up a buoy and started eating and then realised how much the river had dropped and that if we didn’t hurry the rafts would be high and dry and we should be unable to haul the boat up back again ( safe from parachutists).
So we rowed under Chiswick Bridge and sailed down with the tide. The wind was mostly lightish but with patches of gust.
Consciously we peered round the corner to see if the rafts were dry. There still seemed a chance although we knew we were late. Pulling up centre board and rudder we drifted gently over the shallow water out of the tide up to one of the rafts. Hurriedly we unpacked everything movable and towed the boat round ( one boat leaking) to the raft where it belonged.
We heaved the bow up a yard high onto the raft and pulled and tugged and sweated. We tried hitching the tow rope though a ring to stop the steadily tilting boat falling backwards. It seemed a hopeless job and I went into the club for help. There was a barmaid and two old members (L.C.) one with a fractured arm who said we should have been back earlier.
The barmaid said yes it would be alright on another raft, which although not floating was only 2 ft out of the water. So we stared again on the other raft and got the bow up again after both straining ( Gwendoline’s period had started at midday).
We found a roller and put that under the bow. I managed to lift the stern up and we were surprised how easily the heavyish boat slid forward onto the raft and we were pleased at managing it.
Night was gently falling as we packed away and changed into shore clothes. When we left we could just distinguish the slinking shape of a police boat moving silently down stream.
We walked to Hammersmith Broadway eating fish and chips (4d cod 1d chips) and Gwen said she’d never felt better before ( which was a relief)
We trolley bussed back to Mitcham passing Fulham Hospital which we had seen damaged when coming. A raid started. I was accused wilfully and wrongly of showing a lighted match, the conductor didn’t stop soon enough so we had to walk further back across Mitcham Common, (where people suffer murder or worse than death). We saw about half a dozen flares, like bright stars falling imperceptibly until they were shot into showers of falling pieces.
Gwen’s parents were very friendly and insisted that I should share a double bed with father – while Mrs. shared Gwen’s double bed. He said I didn’t wake him during the night. – but I am not sure.
Gwen has been writing round to LCC and all general hospitals to see what work and /or training she can get in a path lab. with the hope that the new call up will mean a better chance.
She received a curriculum for a 9 months course, at what seems a pretty bogus sort of college – mostly in very elementary stuff – and costing £40.
University college has no vacancies. Harris does know if there are coming vacancies but has forwarded her letter to Prof. Hadfield at the Sector Labs at Hill End., who has been some little time in not replying.
On the day that she was to enter Scotton Sanatorium, Emu received a telegram from the doctor saying “admittance cancelled” – “not postponed”- “am writing”. She hasn’t received a letter to know why not or whether she will go in later on.
[ Scotton Banks was a Tuberculosis Sanatorium ]
Thursday 27 Feb 41
“Birds Eye view of Strictures by Kenneth Walker who seems an old man now. He is about 65. he talks well but as if tires and gives the impression always of being slightly drunk with all his movements slightly uncoordinated.
In the evening Sheen took three of us in his sports car to Mary’s where we swam for the first time this year. J.F.Pearce (who was with Mauve in 77 Victoria St S.A.) is now secretary.
Friday 28 Feb 41
The three call boxes in our cloakroom are now all working on the priority number AVEenue 2849.
“Fred” will take messages 9am-4.00pm. but I think casualty dep. Will still take messages day and night on the hospital number of CLErkenwell 1141.
Thank you for letter and pants and stamps. The previous pair pant arrived Wed. and a pair of Colin’s on Monday I think. So that I now have 3 pairs in all or 4 when the other arrives.
Bugger Bradley hasn’t written yet. I do hope the Jerries aren’t hotting up for a blitz in York. I hope that you too will send a telegram or (P.C.) ( if of course you are able) to say that you are alright after any blitz in a N.E. town.
Have you filled up the window at the end of the passage beside the medical room so that you can sleep in the safer passage? Ought you to ?
I like Douglas’s poem. Who are Aunties May and Flavia ?
I reprimanded Gwen for wasting such a lot of good sweets on you, unnecessarily, I thought - But she didn’t take much notice, but still thought you deserved to have them.
I don’t know if you (Mary) or you (Colin) are better separately – it is impossible for me to know – but I shouldn’t think so especially as you are referred to as “ColinandMary”.
I expect Nadeen is away with Ruth but they would be back by 1st March.
This morning I was asked to fill a gap in the “A” against the Preclinicals at Cambridge. We have to get to Hill End by 10 tomorrow morning, where Dr Joan Ross ( HE Pathologist – does the PM’s) and Prof. Christie (med.) and Prof. Hadfield will take us by car to Cambridge.
Hadfield has written to G saying no vacancies at present and suggesting she should write to pathologist sector 8 at the Star and Garter Hospital.
Must do to ward round.
Much Love Paul 2pm Fri 28 Feb 41 P.S. I hope you like lengthy letters.