by Margaret Taylor, age 28 - 29 years
January - December 1943
In this year, Meg is still working as an Army Medical Officer at the camp at Queensbury, near Halifax in Yorkshire.
- Friday Jan 29th 1943 A sudden visit home to support the family coping with the illness and death of her father, Leslie Washburne.
- Sunday, Feb 7th 1943 Wondering what has happened to David Holland. Feeling out-of-place with her peers.
- Sunday, Feb.28th 1943 It's over! But Meg's not as desolated as she could have been - common sense triumphs over emotion.
- Friday, April 2nd 1943 Working hard - growing respect and a good working relationship with her commanding officer.
- Tuesday June 1st. 1943 Developing friendship with Captain Walsh, but still not feeling at home in the barracks.
- 27th June 1943 A trip to Carshalton and reunited with Leonard, a trip to London. Missing Capt. Walsh when he is posted elsewhere.
- 28th December 1943 A more comfortable lodgings, away from the Barracks, and work continues to be busy but missing the leadership of Capt. Walsh.
Friday Jan 29th 1943
I have put off writing for a week or so, though I knew I must record recent events, however gloomy an undertaking it may be. I had been working at the C.R.S. for about 10 days or so and becoming settled in and comfortable both there and at the billet here - Selway - when the world was upset without warning by a telephone message from Mums saying Daddy was very ill again and would I return home at once. I got off that evening, travelled all night and got back home about 7:00 a.m. Daddy was as he was last time he was very ill - terrible to listen to, breathing with laboured breaths, but cheery and as plucky as ever.
Mums and I took turns in sitting up in the den with him and giving him anything he could take - at first it was double-bakes and bread and milk etc., but he became terribly weak and was soon only having brandy or champagne or orange juice and it was dreadful to watch him getting worse - we almost persuaded ourselves he was improving sometimes, but we didn’t really believe it. Jim came home on Friday night and sat with Daddy till midnight on Saturday night and then I took over. About 2:00 a.m. Daddy just stopped breathing and by the time I had fetched Mums and Pat and Jim he was dying. Thank goodness it wasn’t Mums who was sitting up there just then; it was bad enough as it was. Poor little Mums, she was wonderfully brave, but completely miserable and terribly distressed. Pat was a great help, as she didn’t realise fully what it all meant and she wasn’t so overcome and helped to keep us sane too. She cried of course, but it was mostly for sympathy with Mums and they hugged each other and consoled each other in a wonderful way - it is good that they mean so much to each other, for they will be left together now for some time I’m afraid - anyway till the end of the war. Alan came home on a 2 days compassionate leave, for Tuesday and Wednesday - his safe return to England was a patch of brightness in the dismalities of that awful week. The funeral was on Tuesday at Canford and Uncle Harry and Auntie Tia came down for it and many of the wardens and Dr. Alexander came too. Everybody was overwhelmingly kind and their sympathy was so real that it was hard to face without breaking down completely.
I got an extension of leave for another week and stayed on to cope with registration, visiting the Bank and the solicitors and doing the shopping etc. Mums did not venture out while I was at home - she could not meet anyone without being very upset, but she wrote saying she was going out to the Little Theatre soon after my return here, so she is progressing. She and Pat are going to the farm for a week or 10 days from tomorrow - I know the complete change will do them good and I hope the weather will be fine enough for them to get out-of-doors a good deal.
I am not yet used to the knowledge that Daddy has died - having been away from home so much and for so long, I am used to not seeing him for months on end. But sometimes I realise it starkly and death has come to have quite a new aspect for me since I have known it in the family itself. If it is so disturbing a thing for me I can imagine (though poorly I suppose) how devastating it must be for Mums - they loved each other so truly and tenderly.
Now I am back in my other, work, world and, except for moments of leisure, home thoughts are far away, though they are more frequent recently than before. In the last letter Mums sounds more herself and I am very anxious to see what her letter tomorrow is like.
Must stop now - more meditations and other aspects to follow very shortly.
Sunday, Feb 7th 1943
The mood for writing is upon me tonight and the others have all gone to bed and the fire is not in bad repair, so I’ll spend ½ hr. or so scribbling before I go to bed. I have been back at the C.R.S. for a fortnight or so now and am in the rut of it again and back to the stage of thinking over cases and forms etc. in spare moments - often almost unconsciously. Mums and Pat have had their week at the farm and in spite of the rather wet weather have managed to get out amongst the hills most days so they must be feeling much better for the change.
I do wish I could have been with them - a week of country life is what I yearn for now more than anything else. Or maybe what I yearn for, next to hearing from David again in the old style. Since Daddy died I have heard from him only twice - once as soon as he heard about it and then not again until just over a week ago. The first letter was sympathetic and normal in tone; the second, whose delay had made me really worried in case anything was amiss with him, was short, constrained and cold and it hinted at mental worries which were really upsetting him. My reply demanded - no, it gently requested as a matter of fact! - an explanation a little fuller than the nebulous hints he had given me to account for the change over from warmth of companionship to chilly acquaintanceship. I haven’t heard from him again yet and it is 10 days or so since I wrote so there is something serious afoot. I wish he would let me know what it is. I’d a hundred times rather know, whatever it is than be left out in the cold, imagining things worse than possible. But the odd thing is that I find I feel just as fond and sympathetic for him as ever I did - almost more so, in spite of all doubts or even criticisms which my mind produces or coldly surveys. It must be a pretty real love I have for him - I think I love the fine man he could and should be and which I can see clearly standing in front of and overshadowing him as he behaves sometimes - selfishly or thoughtlessly or beneath his best nature. But in spite of the worry over over-due letters or frigid atmospheres I am not miserable, though perhaps I will admit depression occasionally. Whatever happens I feel that while I have days full of interesting work; books to choose and read which bring to life the great ones of all the ages; countryside within get-at-able distance and companions to live with who are not completely uncongenial, maybe wireless and music as well - then I shall never be really unhappy; in fact I would go farther and say I should always be happy, though it might be a rather serious type of happiness sometimes - as now!
In my work here I am happy, for I like everyone at the C.R.S.and the patients behave very well, considering how they might try to take advantage of a young female officer attempting to wield a rather unsteady and definitely unmilitary type of authority. At Selway I am settling down now comfortably with the A.T.S. officers and am more accepted by them now and treated as one of themselves.
Tugwell is more especially companionable - it is funny how much more readily I become friends with older people than with people of my own age. Perhaps it is a penalty for probing a little deeper than the average person of my age - they regard me as a highbrow bluestocking with no zest for the amusements they enjoy. And no more have I the zest for them, so maybe they are right! (I think there is some snobbery, semi-veiled, somewhere in the last paragraph - let’s hope not, but I rather fear so. I’ll register the fact of being ashamed of it anyway!)
My cold will never get better if I don’t dose it up and go to bed - it’s nearly 2358 hrs., so
Sunday, Feb.28th 1943
My first ‘love-affair’ is over - has frittered out unmajestically and left me strangely unmoved. Maybe the recent emotional time due to Daddy dying had exhausted my capacity for strong feelings, but anyway the fact is that David (after another long interval) wrote saying he was in love with another person and although he had daily expected to wake up and find it untrue, he hadn’t woken to date and was beginning to think he wasn’t going to. I should, naturally, have felt the deepest of glooms and despairs, but actually I felt, and have kept feeling, a deep sense of relief from an insoluble worry which had begun to weary me and make me lose my interest in other things. Now I have regained my freedom of emotion and independence, and feel my old self and more comfortable. David still has my love, but it is not a binding one and that is good because he is so unreliable that a binding love would never have been anything but a chafing halter between us. I do hope he doesn’t give his latest lady love the mental tussles I had to contend with - and I hope she survives equally unharmed!
I have said I want to keep up our friendship if possible, for I feel there is a lot we could still learn from each other, but for the present anyway I expect he will be too preoccupied to desire a mere friendship, and it might be difficult to explain too! I am awaiting his next letter with more interest than emotion - I think I am more than a little relieved to know that I am not going to have to take on the job of looking after David and running a home with him - he is loveable but not easy to live with, and the more I saw of him the more I saw straight through him to a deep selfishness which made him behave badly sometimes. It seems odd to love someone and yet to be glad they don’t want to marry you - I think my heart loves him and my head says ‘no’ and my head is on top at present, and may it long remain so!
Leonard, by contrast, writes as fondly and characteristically as ever, and it is a comfort to have his letters and hear all about Carshalton and the little world there that I know and can picture so well.
Work is an absorbing item - it absorbs all my energy and my thoughts just now, and I grudge it neither. Capt. Walsh delights in giving me as much and more than he thinks I can do, and I won’t give in and he won’t relent, so I feel I need a holiday at the moment! He is a grand person and kind in the best and most reassuring way, under the disguise of terseness. He still frightens me sometimes, but I quite enjoy it!
Friday, April 2nd 1943
Things go on much as they did when I last wrote, but I want to overflow onto paper, nevertheless, this evening.
I’m on duty so there is no point in going up to bed till midnight - I have been dragged out of bed too many times recently to want to risk it again! But I’m awfully tired; too tired even for reading, so I thought I’d write here instead, by way o f relaxation.
I haven’t heard from David for several weeks, and he is beginning to fade from the foreground of my thoughts. I am still glad that affair is over; it carried no prospects of a happy future, but I’m glad it happened, for I learnt a lot in the emotional sphere while it lasted. From Leonard I had a letter like the old ones, contented and frankly written and I replied with a long letter in the same vein, telling him of all my activities here. And my activities here increase almost daily, till I am beginning to feel that upon my shoulders rests the weight of at least ¾ of the ills of the British Army! I worked pretty hard during January and February, and after having a cold for over a month I got bronchitis, (never have I had anything of that ilk before!) and I departed home on leave and spent the first 3 - 4 days of it in bed recuperating.
Alan and Jo were home too, and it was good having the house full again. I was treated as an invalid and made the most of it, for a lazy time was just what I wanted most. I returned in pretty good trim though a little below par, and within 2 days had started another cold, which I have still got and which is going strong, after a good fortnight - truly Halifax air is deadly! Capt. Walsh left for his leave the evening I returned and was sent for a Tropical Medicine course in London in the middle of his leave, and he will not be back in Halifax till next week sometime. I sent him a couple of rhymes and some nonsense lines parodying the independent reports * on the draft men, and when I got no reply I was afraid I had offended him by being too familiar or unorthodox. But no, I got a friendly letter from him the other day, describing the Tropical Medicine course etc. and that pleased me a good deal, for it showed he was as good a soul as I had thought. Capt. Magauram has been doing the S.M.O. job in Capt. Walsh’s absence and I have worked with him easily enough - he is pretty efficient. But I can’t say I like him awfully though he is kind and cheerful which are the important things as far as work goes. As a person, though, he is not one I should make good friends with - he likes pubs and racing motor-cars and dirty jokes and doubtful language and chews over a bit of gossip with more relish than many a garrulous female of bad repute! Gosh, I have made him sound awful - it isn’t really as bad as that.
A message came through saying Capt. Walsh was to be posted the other day, and when I thought he was going and Magauram was taking over the C.R.S. I thought I shouldn’t mind being posted myself - there is something about Capt. Walsh which makes me respect him - I call him ‘sir’ without thought - and makes me care whether I do my job rightly in his eyes and gives me pride in it too; but I have never called Capt. Magauram ‘sir’ and never will, and the way I do my jobs under him is the way I do to please myself, and I would make no extra effort to gain his approbation, or get any real kick out of it if he gave it to me. Anyway tonight another wire came which cancelled the first, so probably the posting is off, or at least delayed, and Capt. Walsh will be returning so I feel relieved. I have been working like a slave during the past fortnight - there has been a real epidemic of ‘flu and pneumonia and the C.R.S. is full practically to the last bed - and past the last pair of pyjamas! Must go to bed now.
- Humorous rhymes sent to Capt. Walsh - probably these in Meg's Poems: The Sapper's Lament and Inspections Advice
Tuesday June 1st. 1943
About 2 months since I last wrote, but little new to record. I am going home for leave tomorrow and that thought is making me restless and unable to settle to reading - and I am jibbing at the thought of washing my hair, as I had originally planned, so this book has come as an outlet valve again.
I have been working at the C.R.S. for over 5 months now and have come to feel that i really belong there. I look forward to each day’s work, and though I am pretty glad to knock off at the end of the day I know I would gladly do anything left that needed doing before I knock off. I hink that it is the kindly, keen atmosphere there that makes me happy - no shirking is allowed; the work is done briskly and efficiently; all hard work is appreciated - all those making mistakes are first rigorously blown up and then forgiven and laughed at if possible. Th emale staff are naturally biased in favour of anything feminine and I get spoilt and my faults overlooked more than I deserve. The V.A.D.s treat me with a respect which I still cannot believe in, and Capt. Walsh treats me more kindly and shows more deference for my clinical fancies than ever.He is becoming a really good friend to me and tonight I plucked up courage to ask him to help me with my income tax form and he was ready to do it at once and teased me about applying for deductions on loads of little things like membership of the B.M.A. and The Lancet or insurance companies etc. Cpl Watkins was in the office part of the time and he joined in the ragging - he is an awfully kind and honest person and one of the nicest of the men staff - I wish he didn’t come so close to me though , when he brings me sick reports and things to sign! (It annoys Capt. Walsh too when Watkins hangs over on top of me, for he often calls him away on any old pretext!)
But it was really about Selway that I wanted to get a load off my chest. The atmosphere here isn’t so friendly, or rather it is not homogeneously friendly - there are undercurrents of feeling, often only partly expressed, which make me uncomfortable sometimes. The others think of boy-friends and social activities as the only other topics or possible interests after A.T.S. affairs are finished. My desire to listen to the symphony concerts, to read Goethe or anything even slightly serious is regarded as ‘rather odd’ and I consequently feel rather odd about it. I can’t stand drinking parties, and as all Army parties or gatherings of any sort are always of the drinking variety, I make an unwavering rule to avoid them. Hence I am labelled (truly) ‘antisocial’, and it doesn’t seem to occur to them that it is only their brand of sociability I am rejecting - in my own peaceful way I can be quite sociable, but pubs and mess-rooms aren’t the environment I choose. It is a funny thing, for although I know perfectly well that I wouldn’t like to think and behave as they do, yet when they are all sitting round in the drawing room with their boy-friends neatly paired off, I feel a bit out of it. Still I feel less out of it now when the weather is warmer and I can come up to my room and be quiet with my friends - the Lancet, the B.M.J. and the Bradford Library book of the moment!
I had a good letter from Leonard the other day - I might go to Carshalton for a day or two of my leave - I’ll have to think it out and see.
27th June 1943
Well, I did go to Carshalton during my holiday. Better still, I induced Mums and Pat to accompany me up (for Whitsun weekend). They stayed with Auntie Tia and I stayed at Q.M.H. They were much the same at the hospital - Queenie, Holman, Dr. Thornton, Dr. Last still there as well as Leonard and the P.D. On Saturday Mums, Auntie, Pat and I had lunch at Maxim’s Chinese Café and then went on to the Academy. Leonard found us there and then we had tea and on to see ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’ at the Savoy. Leonard ‘mixed’ easily into the party and enjoyed it all I think. It was good to see him again, but still there was no real depth to my pleasure, and I’m afraid he knew and was hurt by it. But I couldn’t help it, that is how it affects me and it would be stupid to pretend otherwise. He is a good friend, but somehow not a completely satisfying one, for there are a great many little things about his behaviour and whole mental outlook which don’t harmonise with my feelings, there is lacking a depth and breadth and above all an open-heartedness. But it was a successful weekend and I think that both Mums and Pat profited a good deal from the change, short though it was.
This wasn't really what I started off to write about though - I wanted to tell about the sad news that Capt. Walsh has been posted and is leaving tomorrow. He only heard on Saturday and in spite of seeing Major Muressett about it this time the decision was irreversible and he is really going. The thought of the change from Capt. Walsh to Capt. Magauram at the C.R.S. makes me despondent, and the thought of losing touch with ‘the SMO’ just after having made good friends with him makes me feel really sad. He was about the only person I know here whom I respect and like sincerely - the only others anywhere near that category are some of the V.A.D.s. None of the Army officers have anything in common with me and I cannot visualise being friends with any of them - except maybe Major Baker from the Barracks.
So at the moment I am looking forward to a difficult and rather lonely period. I only hope that Magauran will not want to be too friendly, and try to get me to go out to lunch etc. with him, for since he lives in his own house he has quite a lot of meals ‘out’. He would be asking me merely as a practice board to keep his conversational tallies up to the mark and I shouldn’t be flattered or amused.
Working with Capt. Walsh was good fun - there was plenty of teasing and bantering recently and I was getting bolder and venturing on answering back. And more important, we had been discussing cases more recently and he had taught me a lot of useful things, especially treatments and tips for diagnosis. We had good fun setting up a drip transfusion apparatus the other day, and I have shown him two poems I wrote since I came back from leave. He enjoyed the one about the A.T.S. inspections, it tickled his vanity and sense of humour. I mean to write a skit on the staff at the C.R.S. and send it on to him as a farewell offering.
Work during the next month or so will be heavy - there is no replacement for the S.M.O. and so there will be only Magauram, Paulett and myself, and we shall be kept running about I expect.
Hang this war business, it shifts things round just when you are getting settled down and comfortable - maybe that’s why it is done!
It’s no good venting any more spleen or woe tonight, so I’ll shut the safety valve down again and just wait and see how things progress.
Hang everything! Goodnight!
28th December 1943
The fact that it is six months since I last wrote here shows that things did not turn out so badly as I feared six months ago. For it is when I am unhappy, unsettled or worried that I reach for this book and dissipate troubles through the fountain-pen nib. If I believed in Providence I would say that Providence must pride herself on the regularity with which she provides compensations or substitutes when the need is greatest. All that that grand language is leading up to is the thought that not long after Capt. Walsh left, and I found myself in rather alien mental territory, I left the A.T.S. mess (which was enlarging beyond its cubic capacity) and came to Elsinore, ℅ Mrs. Hirst.
Here I have been ever since (August - December) and I hope I stay here until the war ends! The atmosphere is homely and kind and cultivated, and as unlike Selway as it could possibly be. There are no boy-friends, no blazing jazz, or undercurrents of animosity and gossip and I have a lovely big sunny sitting room with a grand fire and all the privacy I want (and could never get at Selway).
My evenings are those I longed for ever since I struggled into Khaki and Aldershot - a warm room to myself - wireless of my own - and more reading to do than time to do it in.
So you see even if there is no Providence the somehow it was managed very neatly without her, and almost as soon as the poor little doctor was left in an arid mental desert she was rescued and planted in a congenial and very comfortable oasis again. For which, let me say, I have constantly been truly thankful.
Work at the C.R.S. is outwardly the same, actually quite different. I have complete care (not charge) of the wards - Capt. Magauram keeps daily lists of patients and sees I send them out by the 10th day! I have got complete charge of the 700 odd A.T.S. - now three companies (J, E and A) and 170 A.A.P.s and have 08:30 hrs. sick parade every morning (which means getting up before 0700). I am in medical charge of the R.S. at the barracks and cope with the Medical Boards on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the sick-or-leaves and the O.P.s Altogether it keeps me pretty busy , especially in the mornings; often the afternoons are not full unless we have a busy time on. The night work is very tiring when it comes round more than once a week and means staying up late or getting up and dressing and plodding to the C.R.S. and back in the cold and blackout. But this is much the same as it ever was, the difference is in the atmosphere of the place. The brisk efficiency and alertness, the ‘spick and span-ness’ of the place has departed with Capt. Walsh and Capt. Magauram has imported a lazy, easygoing and rather sly air which sits heavily on the building and slows down the wheels till it’s hard to know whether they are turning or standing still at times. Sister and I do our best in the wards to keep things active and efficient and we do fairly well, but the rest of the staff are beyond me and I cannot and do not try to exert any authority over them. They are always pleasant to my face but I should not like to venture to guess whether they would do anything I told them if they didn’t want to! It is the S.M.O.’s job to keep the place running efficiently and if he does not object to a slack working medium, I can’t either (officially!)
No time for more rhetoric tonight, but I’ll fire off again tomorrow night! Goodnight!