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Communiqué No. 26 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz
31 March 41
Thanks you very much for letter and parcel and also the money that you sent to G. Actually I have not needed the butter as we get plenty (at least I think it’s butter) so I will bring it home and make a pig of myself then.
I tackled Scower on Saturday and he said I would be back at work in not under 3 weeks. ( and I gather not much over 3 weeks either). Asked when I would be able to leave hospital he said the end of next week. (ie this weekend) and mentioned vaguely Fri or Sat. I have been agitating to be up and having been allowed in a wheeled chair the last 3 evenings. Last night I was given a rise and was officially allowed on my feet ( though actually on the first evening I walked to the end of the ward and the w.c. unnoticed). I felt mildly drunk at very first but soon was quite normal on my feet. My temperature has been subnormal for about a week. My blood cells have become more typical of Glandular fever but my Paul Brumnell test is still negative. They did my Wasserman Reaction and that was negative ( I’ll bring a signed certificate if you don’t believe me).
I’m more reconciled to the general ward now. There is a large variety of characters. A tough Irishman who thinks he’s Spencer Tracy I think. He’s rather a trouble maker and the nurses dislike him. I’ve got on alright with him though. In complete contrast there is an extraordinarily nice young soldier – a tall healthy looking lad with a septic finger. All the time he is sweeping the ward, doing the blackout, collecting bottles and ragging and helping Pop ( a wizened little man with life but bad legs). He helps him to walk and even baths him. They are all surgical cases and most of them are able to get up. The only real case for the nurses is the old man lying impatiently on a plaster bed having broken his back. Simultaneously he has had a tidal washout apparatus attached to a permanent catheter, a suction apparatus attached to a stomach tube and saline dripping for days into a vein. He is not always cooperative ( he started shouting “murder murder” one night as a form of blackmail) he cannot see much except the ceiling ( which must be rather depressing), sometimes he starts talking or singing to himself.
Last night I had a bath, though the nurses were not quite sure if Scower would approve because having said I could get up and walk when I felt alright, he next day ticked off a nurse for letting me walk which left them wondering and a little annoyed.
Parkinson came to see me once ( when I was in the side ward). I apologised for being on the wrong firm. He has not braved the foreign ward since and he would hardly look at my board for fear of being unethical. (it’s pity really I’m not on the other firm because Gons and Parkinson would have more cause to remember my name which seems to be an essential before being considered for a house job).
Gwendoline went sick on Saturday morning so as to keep an appointment with Doc Bamforth of the Star and garter. He was very nice to her and said he would like to have her actually at the Star and Garter. ( I think he meant “have her as an assistant” where she could pick up lots from him if “if she was interested” – but he may not have meant that , G said he had a bed on the floor of his office!) Actually too it would have been fairly difficult travel to Mitcham. She might however beg somewhere else in the sector. He would ring he within 3 weeks (which is before registration day) and say whether there was a vacancy which he expects as someone is ill and not likely to return to the job. G does not know whether she likes him or not. He greeted her like an old friend and said he hadn’t had women staff before. He reminded her - that she would only be bottle washing for the first 6 months and did she realize that - so many times that she would have cheerfully have wrung his neck. She would get 20/- I think at first under the Ministry of Health Trainee scheme.
She had also asked for a post in the Postgraduate Medical College (for refresher courses) where she would start at 30/- But nothing is fixed up yet.
While she went to this appointment her father rang up Commandant to say that Gwen felt to ill to come up that morning but that she had no temperature and he thought she would be alright and would almost certainly come in the afternoon. She [The Commandant] spoke honeyed words ( that nearly made Mr. M vomit) how sorry she was. Of course she’d like to say she could take the whole 24 hrs off but that she was rather short staffed you know and that if Miss Marshall did feel alright she would be glad if she could come. Mr. M said yes G. had said she would be alright to come in afternoon.
But when G arrived at the post Commandant said “when I heard you were so ill and had a headache and had vomited, I didn’t expect you to come at all this afternoon. I expected you had caught something (ie glandular fever) from Mr. Rowntree. If you had have done you would have heard about it”.
G was flabbergasted ( not for the first time) said she hadn’t a headache anyway and rang up home to make sure what her father had said. He was furious (having heard all about the Commandant before – as we all have) and wanted G to let him ring the Commandant about her lies as to what he had said and that did she remember G nursing a diphtheria case for about 6 hours last Xmas in the tunnel and that if she had caught that would she have heard about it. But G would not let him.
I was of course annoyed that Commandant should think of blaming G for visiting me on her off duty under hospital conditions. ( If BARTS thought it was ok who was she to say no) But she was never a reasonable woman. I have also been annoyed because Commandant cornered G and very “pleasantly” asked her if she’d broken off her engagement with Kenneth ( to whom she had been engaged for years until “she grew up” and “realized” how incompatible they were). G had not told the post because she knew what a good story it would make and how the nurses would talk. Actually one of the nurses had guessed as much (having been similarly engaged and then disillusioned) and when asked point blank G had not lied to her.
Well Commandant asked her about Kenneth and was very joyful at getting the news out of her that the engagement had been off ( G like a fool didn’t not take the chance of telling Commandant to mind her own business – such is the power of discipline.). She then went on to ask about me. ( on a previous occasion she had made G white with anger by accusing her of leaving a patient so as to come over to me with another – which I need hardly say is completely untrue though perhaps Commandant really believes her own lies. G and I had ( as you probably can guess) been over conscientious about things at the post and Commandant has helped by making sure that G wasn’t given a chance to help me. Well that was before she now pointed asked about me and did G think “Mr Rowntree was serious….”
Commandant returned joyfully from the tunnel to the post and according to her custom proceeded to discuss her latest news with the nurses there. She announced with a flourish that Miss Marshall had broken off her engagement – the sensation she expected was rather spoilt when the chief nurse said she’d known that weeks before. (But it takes a lot to shut Commandant up)
Is it possible that the City are getting wise to Commandant. G said that Dr. White ( the MOH) seemed to speak quite sharply to her and question her sharply when he inspected the tunnel post. He also insisted on referring to her as Mrs Butler which seemed to have the expected effect of making her very small.
But we have realized for some time that they do not love each other. She told me how glad she was that after the Guildhall fire, Dr White did not have to come and sleep at the post.
Well I’m sorry to bore you with post gossip but there is really an incredible amount of meat among the characters there.
One stretcher bearer ( married) is known to be living in sin with an ex nurse who got in with the Commandant then fell out of favour ( as is usual) and finally resigned. Another just “lives in sin” with a Billy. Another nurse is married with a husband in the army ? She manages several lovers ! which have been called up but now has managed someone in a reserved occupation. Yet another has been weekends with a Harry who is a fireman, I believe, and eats at the same canteen as Gt St Helen’s nurses. Another nurse had lossed her fiancée ( I believe killed – some sort of tragedy anyhow). She was sure she would never fall in love again. Then she fell ( rather surprisingly ) for a St John’s Ambulance man at the post. He already had a girl and although he liked her he avoided he rather obvious net and made a point of being nice to other nurses in front of her. ( the nurses thought is was rotten of her to try and get the advantage over this man’s girl who was at a disadvantage). Well that sad little story continued. They both had holidays. He came back to say he’d broken off his engagement and was ready to love her with a free conscious. She had met a New Zealand airman had fallen and was engaged to him within the week. It is very sad as the rather decent little St John’s man still thinks an awful lot of this girl.
Then, of course, there is Collier and Commandant with their official matches in the North of England. And there’s the other nurses shift, about which I know nothing except for the religious maniac in charge.
Then there is the half French night nurse (she answers the phone there) She is a bitch to the girls who dislike her but gives ( or gave) us tea. She is thought to be “in love” with Commandant ( who doesn’t return it I gather). I wouldn’t have believed this at first but it may be true.
Well of course the characters, and situations are much more detailed and amusing than this crude sketch of the more lurid lives would lead you to suppose.
The weather is fine now and as lectures have stopped all last week it has made enforced convalescence seem rather irksome. Not that I am really bored but it does seem rather a waste of fine weather and free time. Before I had usually 2 lectures and a ward round on my off duty day ( except when it fell on a Sunday or Wednesday afternoon.)
I’ve had a letter from Nadeen. She was sorry not to be able to come and see you but she started a job in a racing stable ( including riding I gather) as soon as she got back from holiday with Ruth in Westmorland. Her address is c/o R Renton Esq Ox close Ripon Yorks.
George (=Alaztar) has passed his medical A.T. and P.O. (potential officer). He is waiting to be called up into the OCTU West Yorks. After which he hopes to transfer to mechanised cavalry. P.Lodge is let.
I had written to Emu who had asked about “the people who lived near Scolton” and as well as Margot, I suggested Nadeen might visit her.
Enough chatter I think.
A sparrow is again flying around the ward and sitting on bedside tables. Gwen’s red tulips are opening wider in the centre of the ward.
Much love Paul.