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  Paul  Rowntree 

Communiquť No. 26 by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz

  Communiquťs - Index  Introduction


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1 Vernon Road


6th May 1942

To Paul at 77 Abbotts Road

Dear Paul

How are you getting on and is Gwen keeping well ?

Before I forget, many thanks for telling us about Dumbo. We loved it. Quite one of the best. Interesting to see some of the ideas left over from Fantasia. ie the Drummers Dream. Mrs Dumbo was charming, also Dumbo, and werenít the other elephants bitches- superb ! Donít tell Michael but we both thought Dumbo like Sybil. I think it was the innocent shy blue eyes. Iím glad you went to see Mrs Winn I expect Joan was as jealous as stink of Gwen. { Mrs Winn was Sybilís, mother and Joan her younger sister. Sybil was Paulís sister in law}

Interested to hear about Sís natural hair. It will be queer not to look out for our little Blondie when the boat comes alongside. I donít know how much Colin told you about York, so forgive repetition. A lot of friends homeless or with only one or two rooms which may not be habitable. Friede, her mother, Wares, Walter Crossly, Mary Cobb, Ferryís, Craigs, Maclellan, without doors and windows. Dr and Mrs Craig were protected by their billiard table after which he operated for 14 hours Ė heaven help the patients. Though a good effort on his part, poor old boy. I didnít get back until Saturday afternoon. Each day seemed to get busier than the last. Especially as Mrs G walked out on us! When his team ended her husband insisted on her leaving with him on the Friday or so she says. Everyone seemed to have worked well and I didnít hear a grumble from the many people I dealt with. All very patient and grateful for any help. A big bosomed bitch pranced past my queue to the back of my desk. I didnít send her to the end of the queue as I thought she might be one of the workers with a message. In a haughty voice she said ďI have a good suggestion to make. Why donít you send then homeless women into our homes as servants.Ē I told her a few of the reasons, but could not have been as rude as I would have liked, being in uniform.

Three of our hostels were put out of action but the others worked well. The Friday night, I moved in and stayed with the Donald Grays. How none of them were hurt by glass is a miracle. The first bomb before the sirens dropped on a house exactly opposite. Roger, the youngest, flung his glass covered bed clothes back and raced in bare feet along corridors though to the school down the main staircase and down again to the shelter under the school before anyone else could turn round.

I wondered whether to sleep in the shelter with Kathleen {Gray} and the boys but it was rather crowded and exactly like my pet nightmare so decided to sleep in the fire watching room with Donald and a couple of FANY fire watchers. One was tough, one refined but the refined voice came a bit unstuck when she asked me the time in the middle of the night. {FANY = First Aid Nursing }

We are expecting Douglas up to assess the damage at Bootham School. He will stay here. I havenít had an SOS to go back yet but I expect I shall put in at least one day, more if I donít stop then Mary Cobb had a nasty turn. Her aunt took some persuading that it really was an occasion for getting out of bed and they only got to the shelter under the flats just in time. She said Innes was fine as a warden. When they came out of the shelter there were five mangled corpses of wardens in the hall of the flats including Harold Colman who did the alterations to Aumitts. She worked like a slave at the WVS without spending a moment on her own wrecked home. She looked a bit shaken and told someone she couldnít have carried on if I had not turned up. So I suppose I was some use. They all said ďwe knew you would be hereĒ. Mary had to beat up Mrs G that morning to leave her flat and report for duty. So I suppose Mrs G just isnít any good; a pity especially as everyone will say it was her lack of class. Which, of course, isnít true as others work well proves. I donít think I have ever felt more tired by the time I got back here. Interviewing is exhausting work and some of the poor things are hopelessly incoherent and long winded. I was entirely alone in our department for a time with the queue getting longer and longer rather like a nightmare. I do hope I havenít made too many errors in the official billeting form or my name will be mud. No help at all from Fishbury Office.

7th May

As previous arranged many thanks for your letter to Colin. We had been hoping to hear about the vivas. If you worst fears are realised about pathology can you take it alone ? I am glad you have seen Montague again and had such a nice weekend. What is his girl like. I hope you will feel better when that tooth is out. Poor Gwen coping with your pain Ė stoppers.

I have heard that the military in York, far from being a help, have been a nuisance. We have a sample. We had orders to open up an empty house as a hostel and collected staff to do this. They reported back to me that they had found some fierce ATS officers (ATS = Auxiliary Territorial Service) so they went to General Bartholomew the Region Commissioner. They returned in triumph to the officers with the keys of six army houses which the commissioner had handed on for the civil population. Mrs Crieghton had been fine. She had even managed to get extra soup out of the food controller. This was suggested as soon as soup rationing came in , but was turned down.

Nothing will do these dear Yorkshire women more good that than being able to clean up their houses. I regret to say some people have been very bad about taking people into their houses, though at the same time a lot of people came to the office to offer houses. Where everyone is going to live permanently. I canít imagine including many of our own friends. Our own street only suffered from broken windows. As fas as I can make out, the hit was on the swank flower shop opposite Colinís garage. Do let us have the exam results as soon as you can.

I hope you are feeling more perky again Gwen now.

I have a touch of lumbago, the first attack for years.I managed to avoid getting stuck with struggling to do exercises , rather painful but I think it does good.

I wish the weather would get really warm. No letter from S.A. for about 7 weeks.Have you heard.

Dearest Love


PS thanks for the Lancets and Journal

York Bombed

Early in the morning of Wednesday, April 29, 1942, York suffered its worst air raid of the war.  It wasnít entirely unexpected.  In the previous few days, the Luftwaffe had attacked two other cathedral cities, Norwich and Bath. 

These were the so-called Baedecker raids.  The story had it that Hitler, enraged by the RAFís attacks on Lubeck and Rostock, picked up a Baedecker guidebook and ordered that every historic place in England marked with three stars be bombed in retaliation.

Unopposed for much of the York raid, the German aircrew dive-bombed ordinary streets, strafing them with machine gun fire.  The assault had greater aims than to terrorise the civilian population and lower morale, however.  The Luftwaffe bombarded strategic targets Ė the railway line, the station, the Carriage Works, the airfield.  York Minster was not touched.

More than 70 German planes were involved in the raid: Junkels, Heinkels and Dorniers. Allied planes shot down four enemy aircraft.  Beginning at 2.30am and finishing 90 minutes later Ė although the official all-clear was not given until 4.46am Ė the raid left 92 people dead and hundreds injured.

Across the city there were scenes of devastation.  Houses were destroyed, schools wrecked, the Guildhall and St Martin-le-Grand Church on Coney Street burnt out.  The Bar Convent had collapsed, killing five nuns.  Pavements were littered with rubble and shattered glass.  Huge craters scarred the streets and Clifton airfield.

That morning the city went back to work.  As the Daily Mail put it: ĎThe gates of York still stand high, like the spirit of its people who, after nearly two hours of intense bombing and machine-gunning, were clearing up today.í