1941 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1941

by Margaret Taylor, age 26-27 years
January - November 1941

Meg qualifies as a Doctor, and starts her first job as House Surgeon at Queen Mary's Hospital for children, Carshalton. This is still in the era before the N.H.S. was formed in 1948. Later she gets promoted to A.M.O.

She shares her assessments of colleagues, often without holding back (after all, this was her private journal).

  • January 1st 1941 First job after qualifying - Trying to assess her new colleagues, their characters, motivation and what they think of their new recruit.
  • June 18th 1941 Promotion, salary increase and more thoughts on colleagues.
  • June 22nd 1941 A well-meant but unneeded morality lecture!
  • November 20th 1941 Death of a colleague, moving to medical side.

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January 1st 1941

Again I have neglected this book for months. But there is not an awful lot to add, though my life now is very different from when I last wrote.

In November I passed B.S. and so became ‘duly qualified’. Staynes, Wilkins and I applied for the junior anaesthetist job at R.F.H. and Wilkins was appointed. I was a bit depressed at the time but applied for the H.S. job at Carshalton which I had heard was vacant several weeks before the results came out. I had very little hope that the job was still open, but hoped that there would be another one soon.However Dr. West rang up the following day and I arrived here about three days later - having registered and joined the B.M.A. on my way down through London!

A first job I knew would not be easy anywhere, but I knew I should enjoy myself here better than anywhere, for I knew and liked the hospital and knew that the residents were bound to be nice people. I am enjoying myself here very much, and could ask for no kinder work-mates than I have. But there are also a good many bleaker moments when I long to get away from it all, for no special reason; I am always inclined to feel that I am a ‘misfit’ and an outsider in any community. I don’t ‘mingle’ easily or let fling wholeheartedly as many people manage to do when living together. Anyway I don’t think the others dislike me, though they are older and more adult in their activities and outlook - so sometimes I do feel left out, because I don’t sympathise with them.

Dr. Thornton is the only one who was here when I came down in January. He is a loveable little Yorkshire man who is teased unmercifully and thoroughly enjoys it. He is very kind to me and I am missing him now he is away on holiday. Dr. Colwin is middle aged and an outspoken gentleman. I think I like him, though he can be very prejudiced and rude, and he is behind the drinking parties which have been an estranging and depressing influence for me just recently. Dr. Key is not yet sized up in my mind. Outwardly he is a quiet, highly strung and kind person but occasionally he shows himself to harbour ill will and criticism which is vented behind the culprit’s back. I never feel I quite know where I am with him, and whether he thinks I am an awful fool and nitwit whom one must needs be kindly to. Dr. Last is an elderly gentleman who is in the mess but whose interests are outside it, and he is seen mainly at meal times and when he is in search of someone to be on duty for him while he goes out. I think he is a harmless old man and in his rather slap-dash way an astute clinician. But he does eat noisily!

Dr. May is unpopular here, chiefly because she is very tactless and rather staid and slow. But really she is very well-meaning and kindly, and keen on her work.

Dr. Ritchie is of the ‘modern school’ and a gay spark, but she is a first-rate children’s doctor and a sympathetic personage. Dr. Cordin is Scotch, I think, or partly so. He is attractive, well built and cheery, but his sense of humour is of the lowest and he was roaring drunk the other night when he and Bruno invaded my bedroom to wish me a Happy New Year. I want to like him, for he is fundamentally nice I think, he plays music well and loves it, and he is excellent with children and very fond of them. But his low humour and his like of drink are repugnant to me and I end up with mixed feelings, but an inclination to give him the benefit of the doubt. Bruno, Dr. Angleman, is a square little Jew, clever and quiet usually, though he follows Dr. Cordin’s and Dr. Ritchie’s lead when there is fun afoot. He gets teased continually about girls, but is quite innocent on that score I’m sure, and too shy to push himself without encouragement - moral or liquid.

I wish frequently that there were some girls of my own age and outlook here for company, but even at the best of times and with full opportunity I often withdraw into privacy rather than join any party that is going on, so maybe it wouldn’t make much difference.  Mr McKeown I haven’t mentioned yet and he is the person I have most to do with, for I work in the same wards as he does and we do all the ward work and routine operating together., He is a little Irishman, not out of the top drawer but as kindly and sympathetic and helpful as any H.S. would wish. Whether he regards me as an incumbens to be carted round in his shadow, or as a companion in arms, or as a nuisance which is unhappily unavoidable I really can’t discover, but he treats me very kindly and I am happy helping him and never mind bothering him for help or consulting him over difficulties however trivial.

Dr. West, the presiding giant of the casualty, is an odd man, fundamentally very nice and certainly very able, but he has his moods and he has his idiosyncracies, to which all must comply. He thinks and acts sometimes exasperatingly slowly and occasionally quite illogically, but you can’t help liking him and wanting to be in his good books rather than his bad ones.

I’ll write again soon. Goodnight!

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June 18th 1941

I meant to write again soon but as usual left it longer than I intended. Anyway there is not a great deal to add. I am still at Carshalton, and just embarking upon another term of office here, and the prospect gives me great joy. I have never been happier anywhere than I am here; both the work and the daily life I am enjoying tremendously and now summer has really started and it is scorchingly hot at last, I feel like singing all day - though mostly I moderate it to a whistle to save the others unnecessary discomfort!

After I had been here 6 months, I still wanted to stay on, and would cheerfully have renewed my H.S. job, but Dr. West and Dr. Key arranged that I would be promoted to a Grade II A.M.O., jumping my salary from £120 to £250 a year and that was grand. But thank goodness I have not become completely mercenary yet and I said I would rather stay as H.S. on the old basis than get a budge up and be given no practical work in the theatre on Mr. Lambimunde and Mr. Yeter Bell’s cases, which are the most interesting in the hospital to my way of thinking. They arranged it that I got my cake and ate it too, for now I am doing the same work, but am nominally (and monetarily!) on a Grade II standard. I am not sure what will happen in August when Mr. McKeown’s EMS contract is renewed, for he may leave or become part-time here , and that would mean more work, but it is quite uncertain as yet.

The mess has changed quite a lot since I came. We have had several locums:- first Dr. Bradwell, who lasted only a few weeks, and whose departure did not fill my heart with anguish, then Dr. Stewart, who came at the same time but stayed about 3 months, and whom I liked very much and still miss. She was small, dark, pretty, very good company and cheerful and original. She lives in a flat in Chelsea and I sometimes go and visit her there. One dayI am going to down to her house in Ewhurst near Dorking. Then Shumball came here for about 3 months; she was pregnant , and when she left baby was only a few weeks away. I never liked Shub. overmuch at the time but after living at close quarters with her I now like her a good deal, though she is certainly an odd person and takes a lot of knowing. ‘Casual’  is the word that fits her better than any other, but I think her clinical work was definitely good and her heart was in the right place, and she would be a good friend (which is the true test of any character.)

These three have thus come and gone, and Dr. Ritchie and Dr. Cordin have both gone too - to join the R.A.F. - staff capacity only! - and good riddance to them say I, though that sounds worse than I meant it to. They didn’t really fit in, they were too blasé, too darn lazy and too sophisticated for the rest of us, and the air is healthier now they have gone. I wonder if they will get married; I rather expect they may.

Dr. Colwin has moved to the Downs as their M.S. but he comes in here often and still has cases under his care in hospitals. This occasional Colwin dose is all right, concentrated Colwin is definitely all wrong  and I find it rather nauseating.

Additions to the mess who are still ‘with us’ are Dr. Ewards who has been here less than a week and Dr. Ahern who arrived tonight. Dr. Edwards is typical R.F.H. and I fear rather uninteresting though not at all a person to dislike - in fact rather tepid altogether. But it is too early to judge and maybe I malign her.

Dr. Ahern looks all right but his misdeeds have raced him here and I expect him to reveal a strong tendency to liquor fortes and maybe some other vices, but there is no hurry to label him yet either.

My views on the ‘old stagers’ haven’t changed much. Perhaps I would add that Dr. Thornton can be an old and very exasperating fool over clinical cases, but that doesn’t affect his resident assets. Dr. Key has been extremely kind in heaps of ways and I owe him a lot for getting my promotion. Yet I still feel that his manner does him more than justice and he is not completely the frank great-hearted gentleman he thinks he is - but then he is not far short of it most of the time so I like him quite sincerely. Dr.McKeown I like more and more , the better I get to know him; there is nothing but kindness in him.

Dr. Last is oddly conceited, but rather a dear; Dr. Mobel I can’t fathom at all; Dr. May is an exasperating chatterbox, but quite entertaining if you can bear to listen. Bruno is nice, but I fear I can’t like him as much as he wants me to! Dr. West I have a hearty respect and liking for.

That’s about the lot and it is after midnight so - Goodnight!

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June 22nd 1941

I must write a short note tonight to record a poorly camouflaged moral lecture given to me by Dr. Key this evening! He really is rather a dear to take enough interest to want to keep me onb the straight and narrow path. I had known all the afternoon that he had something he wanted to talk to me about, for he kept asking me what I was going to do and was I going to sit out in his garden.

Anyway I went into his house with Dr. and Mrs. Last to hear the news and Mr. Churchill’s speech to the nation (incidentally Germany invaded Russia today!) and he said ‘don’t go’ when they went, so I fetched my sewing and settled down, ostensibly to listen to the music on his wireless, which had just been newly plugged in and set in working order.

After a good deal of chat about nothing particular we delved a bit deeper into abstract things, as we usually manage to do if left for any length of time. Cunningly weaved into the generalities I received the information that Dr. Ahern is engaged, that he believes firmly and unalteringly that woman’s place is in the home, and that he would not be troubled by a filthy house to live in, he would not even notice it! All this, I fear, was prompted by the fact that I have been sitting at the small table with Dr. Ahern alone for lunch for 2-3 days, that we have chatted freely and amusingly together, and that on his second day here I went with him into Sutton to get some tennis shoes! I am feeling well and truly abashed now, and am wondering if everyone thinks I have been throwing myself at the fellow’s head. I shall have to be awfully careful I can see, everyone gossips so much for so little reason. Actually I had thought he was quite nice, but beyond that I hadn’t ventured, and he is not a person I think I would ever want to marry, as he is too rough and too Irish.

I didn’t show Dr. Key that I saw through his gentle little plot, and whether he thinks I did or not I don’t know. I am grateful to him for bothering to act the role of guardian; I wish I could let him know I am grateful but that would be a ticklish job!

How very complicated!


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November 20th 1941

Dr. West died tonight. He had a ‘stroke’ on Monday, and did not regain consciousness at all. It has shaken and depressed us all profoundly, and we can’t forget the tragedy of it wherever we go or whatever we are doing. The whole hospital is running on the soft pedal, though work proceeds almost normally and outwardly there is no change.

It seems incredible that there is no longer Dr. West - “the Fuhrer” we nick-named him recently - to consult about our own more difficult or worrying cases, and nobody to walk with short little strides past the dining room window punctually at 9:30 every morning. His inimitable little notes and copies of his letters to parents are scattered profusely amongst the children’s notes, and they bring his dry sense of humour and his great simple humanity very vividly to mind. His notes were his speciality and nothing could be more characteristic of him.

Four days ago he was having meals with us and everything was pleasant and settled. Now we shan't see him any more; Mrs. West and the boys are left alone, a family with no head to it; and there are many changes brewing for the hospital, and they mostly sound most unattractive.

We are bound to get another superintendent shortly I imagine - Dr. Key, after coping valiantly with floods of work for a week or two will have someone from outside planted on him over his head. I only hope it is someone nice - not Dr. Colwin, who is most difficult to get on with and who rubs Dr. Thornton, Dr. Ahern and Dr. Key the wrong way; and not a surgical man who would rob Mac. of his job.

I am swapping over to the medical side in a week or two. In many ways I shall be sorry, for I thoroughly enjoy working with Mac, and Mr. Lambrinudi and Mr. Yates Bell are jolly nice to me too. But I think I ought to learn some medicine while I am here and if I don’t change now I never will. Broughton is probably coming as H.S. - I wish it had been almost anybody else, but it can’t be helped!

I’ve got my tenth lecture tomorrow, and it is very late so