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1945 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1945

by Margaret Taylor, age 30 - 31 years
January - December 1945

In this year, Meg travels with No. 6 General Hospital, across Europe as the war draws to a close. She reaches Iserlohn, Germany, where she will remain until her return home.

  • Tuesday, April 3rd 1945 Settled in Ghent, Belgium for a short time.
  • Monday 2nd July 1945 Shortly after the German surrender, Meg arrives in Iserlohn, Germany after journeying from Ghent via Brussels. The war is over, but the after-effects are still being felt.

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Tuesday, April 3rd 1945

Looking back through this small book makes me feel a hardened war veteran already – Bayeux, Rouen, and Ghent – France and Belgium already, and maybe Germany and Burma to come!

We arrived at Oostakker, Ghent, on Dec 2nd after a fairly comfortable though rather tedious train journey. Peggy and I were delegated to the Sisters' care again while travelling and spent the first few days after our arrival in their mess at the Convent.

We revolted against it almost every moment, though of course we recognised its necessity. The endless and pointless tittle-tattle and petty gossip which is the sole source of conversation got our backs up and irritated us beyond endurance. Yet I can well imagine that we should be doing just the same thing if we had lived amonngst them for many months on end. Anyway, we got shifted across to the unsavoury little pub serving as the Officers' Mess after a few days and settled into our cosy little bedroom on the top floor, with good old cheerful Jock McClean to “mother” us, and we have been installed there (and very comfortably housed all things considered) ever since – 4 months already!

From the moment of our arrival we liked the face of Ghent, and we haven't changed our minds. The town is old and has some beautiful buildings; the shops are numerous and well-stocked and the people friendly and full of good spirits, not like the depression of people and place in Rouen.

The hospital at first depressed us, for it was so obviously unsuited for a hospital – at least the old block was, and that was where the medical division wards were to be. Alterations, adaptions and innovations got done slowly and are still going on, but the first lot of patients arrived within a fortnight or so of our arrival. I started off with D Ward , one of the old and unheated rooms, with no duty bunk and no kitchen worth the name, and sister McKeoun, whom I had at Rouen and would have liked to have been spared! Very soon I was given Ward J at the top of the old block, but a much better ward and Sister Peche, who was an old friend of Bayeux days. But I never got the chance of settling even there, but got shifted again to F Ward, still general medical, and then got Ward E, the infections ward, and one of the best on the medical side. I thoroughly enjoyed myself there and it was too good to last, for one fateful afternoon a month ago Col. Jones said he was the bearer of bad news – I was to be loaned to the Surgical Division which was very short of M.O.s. So for the past few weeks I have been coping as best I could with Ward 6, the big P.O.W. Ward with 120 beds, which are never empty for long and never filled by the same patients for more than a few days at a time. It has been hectic at times, but not all the time and the main hectic-ness has been in writing up documents and rushing rapidly round new cases when convoys have arrived. It hasn't involved much clinical work and I have been more than a little depressed at times, longing to get back into the medical wards to be a doctor and not a clerk. Still, as Peggy said, “it has got to be done and someone must do it”, so on the whole I have tackled it with resignation and as much goodwill as I could muster.

Now I am for the moment leading a bone-lazy existence, doing temporary duty on an ambulance train outside Ghent, at Medbreak. I arrived here yesterday morning and goodness knows when or if the train will go on its next trip. Meanwhile there is nothing to do but relax, and that I am finding rather boring than restful. This morning I went with “Percy” - Miss Percival – into Ghent and made some useful purchases of handkerchiefs and stockings at the officers shop and tomorrow if possible I shall try to get back to No. 6 for the clinical meeting there, and to collect my letters – I want especially to get Mum's letter because she will have just heard about my coming leave on April 23rd and I'm hoping to read what she had to say about it!

Besides work, the last few months have of course been eventful in other ways. Many M.O.s have come and gone, and they are still coming and going frequently. Pop Sanderson went to a Field Hygiene Section. Major Isaac, Lewis, Lucas, Bobby Morton and others have gone forward to Burma and Pop Elliott to a ​​Car Depot. Peggy and I got a terrific shock about 3 or 4 weeks ago, for we received warning that we were to go to the Far East in March – we had a medical exam and spent a week in a weird daze, unable either to believe or disbelieve in the prospect of such an imminent and drastic change. However, after about a week we heard that the postings had been cancelled and we came to life again and resumed normal activities with renewed energy. Luckily we had decided not to tell our families until things had been really settled, so they still don't know how near they were to saying goodbye to us for several more years – it may happen yet, and we had to complete a form about length of foreign service the other day, so perhaps the great adventure was only postponed for a month or two after all.

Although I am officially on the surgical side my loyalties all belong to the physicians, and whatever happens I down tools on Saturday morning and go along for the clinical round from 11 to 12; and enjoy every moment of it – I think it keeps me alive from one weekend to the next! I still read my Lancets and BMJs in the M.O.s room in the evenings so I still see the Office Boys and Col. Jones nearly every day and keep up our bantering in the old style, and all enjoy it. Col. Jones was given the OBE the other week and was simply delighted, and never ever tried to conceal the fact! He is much easier to talk to now and I'm not so frightened of him as I used to be, though my respect for him is even greater than ever, I think. Drury is still “with us”, and a medical specialist “trainee” (so are Grainger and Robertson, the new man, and Pop Elliott before he left.) Dru has done about 2 months now and so has another month and then I'm afraid he may be posted and that would be a great pity, for he is one of the few remaining “old originals” and one of the nicest people in the mess. Major Cameron is still here, though he volunteered for the Far East several months ago and has been promised that he will be going.

A new lady M.O. - Morley – arrived about a week ago and we had met her and liked her at 121 when we were billeted at Bayeux. She could not be nicer or easier to live with; we really are awfully lucky. A third woman might have spoilt things, but she will help and even now she is company for Peggy while I am on this outpost of the Empire. Enough for the moment.

Goodnight!

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Monday, July 2nd 1945. Iserlohn

Yet another move accomplished! We moved into Germany about a week ago and have landed into a paradise as far as scenery is concerned and a semi-paradise of a building for the hospital. This place was a German barracks before, and has been used as a hospital by both Germans and Americans within the past few months. But no alterations have been done and there is heaps of converting , mostly plumbing, to be accomplished before the place starts running properly. We 'opened' officially about 3 days ago, but so far there are very few patients in, though out-patients are beginning to appear on the doorstep in respectable numbers. There are many different opinions as to how busy or slack we shall be as far as work goes, but personally I think, and hope, we shall have plenty of work soon. I have the isolation ward at present and can boast of 3 patients (2 of them convalescent !) so I'm not exactly busy yet. Since we arrived the weather has not been good, except for the first couple of days, but when we get really sunny days this will be a superb spot. The view of the lake and hills from the anteroom is about the most beutiful view I have ever seen, and the whole area of country around is magnificent. The place is in a hollow surrounded by wooded hills, but it feels spacious and open-air and I love it already. in fact I was so overjoyed and excited by everything here that I could not sleep for the first few nights, in case it vanished while I had my eyes closed! There is a big swimming pool just by the hospital gates and we have been down for a dip before breakfast every morning since we arrived, in spite of the weather and the lure of a nice warm bed. We then arrive at breakfast with dripping hair and a terrific appetite adn glowing with warnth and conscious virtue.

We left Ghent on June 21st, with the sisters and spent 3 days in Brussels, lodging at 108, which is a lovely hospital though too big to be a comfortable mess to live in. We made good use of our 3 days there and filled in all the intervals between shows, shopping and sight-seeing with ice creams, strawberries and cherries innumerable. From Brussels we flew in Dakotas to München Gladbach, and from there we came by open trucks the 85 miles or so to Iserlohn. We went through Dusseldorf and several others of the industrial towns, which were merely uncleared rubble for mile after mile - I haven't seen anything approaching such destruction in England, and Caen is the only other district approaching it in magnitude.

Round here there has been hardly any bomb or artillery damage and the town is pretty well intact. The non-patronising rule is in force here still and is causing much ill-feeling and discontent among the troops - I wish they would repeal it - it is quite impracticable and unnecessary too I think. There are shots going off in the woods and a few 'near misses' amongst the troops - probably Russian and Italian hooligans having their type of fun, but it rather squashes our chances of exploring the country, as they are making a rule that women can only go out with an armed escort for the present. Probably it won't last for long though, and we shall soon be free to go as and where we please.

The unit has changed out of all recognition during the past 2 months. The medical side now consists of Col. Jones, Major Bolton (who is going soon) Capt. Tatlow (who is off to Berlin in a week or so), Peggy (who has come over from the surgical side) and myself. Major Cameron was posted with Jordan to 75, which went off to Norway somewhere before we left Ghent. Drury went off to 23 C.C.S. at Hamburg about a fortnight ago and we have no prospects of any replacements, so we shall remain very short-staffed probably, though we are now officially only running 800 beds instead of our original 1200.

Col. Lowdon and Major Newman and Capt. Dornan are still here. Major Sandel is getting his release within the next week. Major John Ross is here, but W.C. has gone. Renata Schulz has joined the ranks of the female M.O.s and is about the nicest foreign doctor I have met. She and Phyllis Morley share a bedroom; Peggy and Owen (the A.T.S. Co. officer, whom we rarely see) and I have separate rooms, so we are in luxury. We also have an M.O.s room each on our wards and can use that as a study - mine is a great source of satisfaction. There are pianos too in plenty; I play nearly every day and think I'm improving!

Goodnight!

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1943 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1944

by Margaret Taylor, age 29 - 30 years
January - December 1944

In this year, Meg joins No. 6 General Hospital, initially in Wales, then across the channel to France and beyond...

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August 3, 1944 Normandy

I can't remember exactly when I wrote my diary last, but this new book begins a new experience, and promises to be the most exciting so far.

September 1st, 1944

That last entry turned out to be a very much aborted effort. I hope this will be better, though I can hardly hope to do more than just sketch the things that have happened recently or else just describe a small part of them have the time.

Newport, Woolaston House, Portsmouth (Cosham).

Anyway I will begin with the time when I went to Newport from Llandeilo, because that was where I left my last entry I think. At Newport, where I stayed for about three or four months, I was at first at the Barracks  - a very big place with an officers mess of about 40 or 50, beautifully organised and better fed than any other mess I have been in. But I wasn't happy there a bit and never got to know anybody except sister Case and one of the A.B. officers who was equally a misfit there. After about ten days I went to Woolaston House EMS[1] hospital and settled down happily, the only khaki doctor on the staff and thinking myself a civilian again. There the permanent staff was small - Dr Nathalian(?), Dr Beswick, Dr Griffiths, Dr Evans and Dr Gibbons. I didn't really feel any great affinity for any of them, but I got on well with them all and thoroughly enjoyed the work  - even the ENT and other jobs with which I was saddled  - it was all excellent experience. Another advantage was that I managed to get back home at weekends nearly every week, until all leave and passes were stopped early in April.

In June I was recalled to No. 6 but managed to wangle a night at home on the way. As soon as I arrived at Llandeilo I was told that I had a temporary posting to Queen Alexandria Hospital at Cosham near Portsmouth and was to leave at 10 a.m. the next morning! I picked up an A.V. battle dress jacket and trousers, beret cap, revolver and sundry other garments from the quartermaster stores and scooted off again, breaking the journey at Bristol again for the night. At Portsmouth I first encountered army surgery for I arrived there two days before D day (June 6th) and for three weeks we got the casualties straight from Normandy.

It was a most useful preliminary to coming over here for it got the initial 'lost' feeling of coping with entirely new work over before joining the unit at work. At Cosham I shared a room with Isme Begbie, whom I liked very much indeed. Others there were Majors Campbell and Brownlee and Capt Hunt and Misses Gray, Tennon, Begbie and me.

Very soon after I arrived we were joined by about eight surgical teams from London  - from Westminster, Barts, St George's and LCC hospital staff. I worked in two wards (C and D upper). One was most efficiently run and collected all the interesting cases; the other was a shambles from first to last, and was avoided by all the surgeons like the plague.

I was happy there and busy by fits and starts - penicillin and Penicillin Pete were my evil stars, but they were not enough to spoil the fun. I shall remember Cosham perhaps chiefly for the rabbits, especially Fritz, a biggish black rabbit of doubtful sex brought back from Normandy by a major who was wounded. The rabbits were brought out into the garden in front of our quarters and we used to let some of them free to skip about on the grass. They kept getting out during the night, too, and chasing them filled up spare afternoons or mornings profitably.

Goodwood House, Chichester

I was the first of the army ones to be recalled from my unit and as my relief arrived before my units were needing me, I skipped off early thinking I could travel on to Llandeilo when the order came through. There came instead a series of frantic phone calls from Cosham, each contradicting the one before, and the last one saying I had to report Goodwood House, Chichester the next day!

So I gathered myself together in a rush and departed back the way that I had come - even going through Portsmouth en route. On the journey home from Portsmouth I had lost my valise and revolver, and had a distressing 24 hours of uncertainty, waiting to see if I should escape a court martial for losing it. Luckily, and to my enormous relief, the railway people found it the day before I had to go to Goodwood and so I was able to sort things out (and jettison heaps of things from my luggage - which I immediately sent for again when I arrived there!)

Goodwood House

We stayed at Goodwood until July 16th or so and the weather was glorious nearly the whole time – I shan't forget the tremendous relief of meeting Peggy Ingham at last – I had missed seeing her at Llandeilo, but had heard about her while I was at Newport. I knew we should be sharing everything in the future and much of the enjoyment of future experiences would depend on how we got on together. From the moment I met her I knew all was well – we could be good friends, and ever since we have grown to like each other more and more.

At Goodwood we lazed about, usually going into Chichester to shop and have coffee in the mornings, and usually had beer-drinking parties at the local pub in the evenings. We had some glorious walks round there too, and visited the little shell-house on the estate – a unique little place and simply beautiful.

The little shell house

We had a dance while we were there and I joined in, in spite of misgivings, and enjoyed it very much. It was an odd time, those three weeks or so, there were so many strange faces to get to know all at once, and nobody was really at their ease – certainly I wasn't.

Across the channel to France

At last came the fateful day we had been expecting and we were confined to the house ready to move off within a few hours. We packed our valises at half an hour's notice and I stowed away most of the things I wanted later on the journey – e.g. pyjamas! The next day we were taken by lorry to the station and had a ten minute train journey to Havant and there Peggy and I left the men (much to our temporary annoyance) and joined the sisters in another lorry drive to the transit camp A2 a few miles north. There we stayed and were magnificently fed, housed in 160 lb tents (we two shared with Matron and Miss Reynolds) and entertained by cinema shows, music by brass bands and drinks at the Blue Peter club. Our lives were ruled by megaphone; every few hours announcements were given out – important, routine and frivolous by turns. We lived in the open for the first time, used our knives and forks etc. and did our own washing up afterwards. Luckily the weather was gloriously fine and we continued our sunbathing in an atmosphere of peace. We met Billinghurst, and Newhouse (from 29th G.H.) there and they left the day before we did. On the 19th July we left the camp and drove back once more to Portsmouth, nearly passing the Uncle's house in Beach Road, and boarded our L.S.I.(s) [2] at the pier. We got on board about 2:00 p.m. and cruised around the harbour for a bit and then moored up to a buoy to await the starting signal from Gosport. There were 7 L.S.I.s altogether in our convoy and we were awfully lucky because we were on the leading one with Squadron Leader N and Captain MacGregor. They invited us into their wardroom and gave us a marvellous sherry (we hadn't tasted sherry for several months and could think of nothing we should enjoy more.) We were all allowed up on the bridge and I spent most of the night and early morning there, wrapped up in an enormous grizzly bear camel hair coat and drinking a succession of colossal cups of tea and cocoa. We skinned our eyes searching for the buoy lights which marked our course, and outline the swept channel to France – I never saw one before the others, though I was determined to do it! They laughed at me when I said I could see through the big telescope, for even the Captain said he couldn't see anything through it himself. And the laugh was on me at first because they had closed up the end with newspaper except for a tiny hole, so of course they thought I was pretending to be able to see when I couldn't! But later I picked out the number of another craft through the telescope before they could read it naked eye and then they had to believe me.

When I went up to the bridge in the early morning it was very misty indeed and we had lost two of the other L.S.I.s – the two Canadians. We thought at first that we should not be allowed to land, but we were allowed to go through into the harbour (Arromanches)[3] and it was a wonderful sight – full of ships of all sizes and shapes and men staring at the ship-load of women in khaki and waving and grinning like mad.

Enough for one night. I'll continue the sequel on French soil another night – cocoa calls at the moment.   Goodnight!

[1]EMS – Emergency Medical Services

[2]LSI(s): Landing Ship Infantry (small). A type of Landing Craft used in WWII.

[3]Arromanches harbour: used for post D-Day landings

Ref: History of the D-Day landings on the BBC website

3rd September 1944 (Bayeux)

If I don't go on with the story soon I know I shall leave it for months, so I'll continue tonight – the paraffin lamp is behaving beautifully and my ward is settled for the night (and I am not washing my hair although I ought to be!)

After we landed on the beach we joined the men again for a few minutes and then we were whisked away with the sisters again in a convoy of lorries, miles and miles through the villages and lanes which looked remarkably like the South coast countryside we had left a few days before. As we went by the Tommies waved and called to us and smiled broadly and we felt that we were welcome and incorporated into the B.L.A. already.  After visiting 79th G.H. where there was no room for us, we set off again and arrived by many and devious routes at No. 121, where we were given the freedom of 4 or 5 big marquee wards. We dumped our belongings on the beds and went off to sleep immediately, some dressed and some undressed.

The men joined us the next day and told us tales of a night out in the open, sleeping under gas capes in the ditches of a so-called transit camp, which was no more in effect than half a dozen open fields. They had had a five or more mile walk with full kit to do before they got there and altogether felt very hard done by, but joked about it all nevertheless.

We stayed at 121 about a week, maybe more, I have forgotten. We often walked up to a nearby hill 15-20 minutes away, to see the equipment arriving and watch the beginnings of our house going up. But for the most part we led a life of sheer laziness, and the weather after the first three days was well nigh perfect. Goodness knows what we did during the days, but eat and sleep, but they sped by. Then we moved over here to our permanent site in the orchard where we are now. We had bell-tents instead of the promised 160-lbers and we were very disappointed about it too. Now we have 160-lbers and the difference in spaciousness and comfort is enormous.

For about two weeks we acted as a "hotel", billeting the incoming hospital O.R. (ordinary ranks?) and sisters and officers until their sites were ready to receive them. We meanwhile continued on our sun-lit holiday, bathed in the river, set up tents, played tenniquoit, washed clothes and filled the time in, unprofitably but without effort, and were quite content. But after a week or two of this we began to fear  that the war in France would be over before we got any cases or saw any wounded at all. But, as the army always does, suddenly we were told that we must make ready to receive 500 odd cases by the next day and we spent a hectic afternoon and evening drawing ward equipment and getting the beds and bedding etc. put up and two wards ready for occupation. On August 8th we got our first convoy and they filled the wards in a few hours - mostly surgical cases and some of them bad ones. We acted as a C.C.S. for a week or so and then went onto full hospital documentation and slowed the pace down a little. Now we have been working for nearly a month and the pace has slackened off considerably. I have 75 beds at present – ward G of 59 beds and H of 25 beds and they are all given over to dysentery cases, of which there is a major epidemic. The work is not hard, though the writing is tedious, and I am enjoying it tremendously. Luckily I have an excellent and friendly crowd of sisters, and we work together harmoniously and things are done with reasonable efficiency and order. I am very glad that I am on the medical side, for there is less temperament amongst our members and the atmosphere is that of keen clinical interest and helpfulness, and enthusiasm is not regarded as mere childishness.  I am slowly aquiring an idea of how to do a sigmoidoscopy[4]  and what to look for and find it is much more difficult than one would imagine! Drury's chest cases are very interesting and I often visit his ward in the evening and help (?) with any aspirations and pick up any clinical tips which may be about.

I have settled down happily to the daily round here and don't feel awkward and out-of-place any more, and am beginning even to feel that I belong in the mechanism. But today especially, there is talk of changes in the not far distant future and that means that we shall soon be off to our winter quarters – whether East Indies, or Germany or even Burma. Goodness knows – it might be home, with the war over, but I think that is only wishful thinking at the moment!

Goodnight!

[4]Sigmoidoscopy: a procedure where a doctor or nurse looks into the rectum and sigmoid colon, using an instrument called a sigmoidoscope.

2nd December 1944 (Rouen)

About 3 months since I wrote last – it hardly seems possible that we have been away from England so long – nearly 4 months altogether.

Pretty soon after the last entry – September 19th to be precise – we set off from our home fields in the early and chilly dawn, and travelled in a convoy of trucks all the way here. We arrived about 4 pm the same day, and were bitterly disappointed with our first sight of our new quarters, for we came into the old quad surrounded by the old buildings! But we soon came under the old arch and saw the new buildings in all its towering red, white and blue glory and from high up in the centre of the third storey a waving mess of arms belonging to Staff Porter Cpl. Spoer, Benny and Hunt welcomed me on behalf of the medical division.

The ride itself was fairly uneventful – we went through many badly bombed towns and villages, and in many of the towns the children clambered up on the running boards clammering for cigarettes and chocolate – they were terribly short of both these things amongst the civilians. I started off in the leading lorry, but it broke down about halfway here, after being “difficult” several times on starting. So I transferred to another lorry, and we bowled along gaily in that, finding our own way, for we had lost the convoy in the delay. But we arrived before the convoy in the end, and never  discovered where or how we passed them.

I can well remember being indignant after tea, sitting with Peggy in a dirty little two-bedded room above the Sergeants' Mess in the old building, and surrounded by our half-unpacked belongings, because the M.O.s who had arrived in the advance party were busy running around taking over the patients in the wards, and nobody had asked me to help or told me what they wanted me to do! But I did not get a chance to nurse that grouse for long because at supper time Col. Jones asked me to visit the prisoner wards in the old block and find out if there were any medical cases needing attention that night. I shan't forget those prisoners' wards – I worked over there for 3 weeks or so and can't say I enjoyed it. Each ward contained about 100 beds or more, mostly high French beds; the rooms were long, dingy and dirty, the floor of rotten planks, the windows grimy, the men and beds untidy, and the language difficulty made friendly intercourse with the patients impossible – a rather dreary job.

That first night I communed, in a mixture of French and English, with the German doctor, and between us decided there was only one really ill medical case – a boy called Krause who had a chest wound and a pl??? full of fluid on the right side. Col. Jones looked at him and aspirated 10 oz of puss from his chest the next day. Then we settled down gradually to normal work, and after a few weeks I got Ward F in the new building, started specialising in throats and really began to enjoy myself. One of the sisters of No. 9 whom I saw before they departed was Sister Selmes, a tiny short burly woman whom I had met at Newport, and who was very amusing and always cheery. Sister Kaye was here too, but I missed her.

Now we are moving again and departing this evening on a train journey which promises to be long and dreary, to a destination unknown and probably unsavoury. Rumour has it that it will be a convent miles from any village and in the flat wastes of Belgium. But things often turn out to be better than they sound, and I still hope it may be so this time. We have been jolly comfortable here tonight – hot water and central heating have worked well during the past month or so, and the lighting, though more than a trifle temperamental at first, had become pretty reliable. During our stay here we made some good friends amongst the French civilians; the one who we know best perhaps is Yveline Pigashe, the pretty little golden-haired French student who came every day during the lunch hour to talk French with us. Then Madame and Monsieur Baillon and their sons and daughters have visited us many times to tea or dinner and were very kind indeed to us. Not numbered amongst our friends is Mdlle. Cauchois, a French woman doctor, who persisted in her friendly demonstrations in spite of our repeated and rudenesses. The afternoon when we went to tea at her large, dingy and eery homestead was a dark day for us, and we felt that we had escaped from prison when we managed to get away again!

There have been many changes in the M.O.s since we came here – Jock Ramsay and Cameron have been posted; Bacchus and Jolly have been loaned out but are rejoining us soon. Others have gone and others arrived, but the medical firm still contains Jordan, Drury, Godlove, Major Cameron and Capt. Sanderson as before. Patterson has gone to 108 – the move is the pity and we have a skin man Semple – and 2 V.D.ites, who we don't feel really belong, although technically I suppose they do.

At one time we heard that there was to be new woman M.O. - a major anaesthetist called Winter, who qualified at R.F.H. (Royal Free Hospital?). That gave us great cause for speculation for a week or so, but then she was posted elsewhere, and we settled down again in our coupled serenity. We manage to get along fairly easily in the mess and though we two are very different indeed in lots of ways, we have much that is fundamentally in common and no frictions ever have arisen between us, and I don't think they will. I have tried to join in the endless parties and dances that go on in the unit, but I can't manage to enjoy them, they just make me feel miserable and very “out of it”, so I am making up my mind to stay well away in future, and rather be labelled as “odd” for not going than “dumb” when I do! Thank goodness for Drury and Col. Jones – their values are the same as mine, and their moral support stands me in good stead when I feel isolated sometimes amongst the others.

To so many of the mess the “gay life” seems the only one and dancing and drinking the only sources of enjoyment, though I think a good many of them are serious enough about their work, and good at it too. Life in a mess is strange and often uncongenial; we live so much on top of each other, and yet there are few who are really good friends amongst us, or who would choose each other's company if we were not thrown together by the war powers that be. It is probably an experience well worth surviving, and I have learnt a lot about human nature in the past few months, if nothing else.

And now for the next chapter of this strange human drama! Goodbye to France, probably for several years!

Tuesday, April 3rd 1945

Looking back through this small book makes me feel a hardened war veteran already – Bayeux, Rouen, and Ghent – France and Belgium already, and maybe Germany and Burma to come!

We arrived at Oostakter, Ghent, on Dec 2nd after a fairly comfortable though rather tedious train journey. Peggy and I were delegated to the Sisters' care again while travelling and spent the first few days after our arrival in their mess at the Convent.

We revolted against it almost every moment, though of course we recognised its necessity. The endless and pointless tittle-tattle and petty gossip which is the sole source of conversation got our backs up and irritated us beyond endurance. Yet I can well imagine that we should be doing just the same thing if we had lived amonngst them for many months on end. Anyway, we got shifted across to the unsavoury little pub serving as the Officers' Mess after a few days and settled into our cosy little bedroom on the top floor, with good old cheerful Jock McClean to “mother” us, and we have been installed there (and very comfortably housed all things considered) ever since – 4 months already!

From the moment of our arrival we liked the face of Ghent, and we haven't changed our minds. The town is old and has some beautiful buildings; the shops are numerous and well-stocked and the people friendly and full of good spirits, not like the depression of people and place in Rouen.

The hospital at first depressed us, for it was so obviously unsuited for a hospital – at least the old block was, and that was where the medical division wards were to be. Alterations, adaptions and innovations got done slowly and are still going on, but the first lot of patients arrived within a fortnight or so of our arrival. I started off with D Ward , one of the old and unheated rooms, with no duty bunk and no kitchen worth the name, and sister McKeoun, whom I had at Rouen and would have like to have been spared! Very soon I was given Ward J at the top of the old block, but a much better ward and Sister Peche, who was an old friend of Bayeux days. But I never got the chance of settling even there, but got shifted again to F Ward, still general medical, and then got Ward E, the infections ward, and one of the best on the medical side. I thoroughly enjoyed myself there and it was too good to last, for one fateful afternoon a month ago Col. Jones said he was the bearer of bad news – I was to be loaned to the Surgical Division which was very short of M.O.s. So for the past few weeks I have been coping as best I could with Ward 6, the big P.O.W. Ward with 120 beds, which are never empty for long and never filled by the same patients for more than a few days at a time. It has been hectic at times, but not all the time and the main hectic-ness has been in writing up documents and rushing rapidly round new cases when convoys have arrived.It hasn't involved much clinical work and I have been more than a little depressed at times, longing to get back into the medical wards to be a doctor and not a clerk. Still, as Peggy said, “it has got to be done and someone must do it”, so on the whole I have tackled it with resignation and as much goodwill as I could muster.

Now I am for the moment leading a bone-lazy existence, doing temporary duty on an ambulance train outside Ghent, at Medbreak. I arrived here yesterday morning and goodness knows when or if the train will go on its next trip. Meanwhile there is nothing to do but relax, and that I am finding rather boring than restful. This morning I went with “Percy” - Miss Percival – into Ghent and made some useful purchases of handkerchiefs and stockings at the officers shop and tomorrow if possible I shall try to get back to No. 6 for the clinical meeting there, and to collect my letters – I want especially to get Mum's letter because she will have just heard about my coming leave on April 23rd and I'm hoping to read what she had to say about it!

Besides work, the last few months have of course been eventful in other ways. Many M.O.s have come and gone, and they are still coming and going frequently. Pop Sanderson went to a Field Hygiene Section. Major Isaac, Lewis, Lucas< Bobby Morton and others have gone forward to Burma and Pop Elliott to a ​​?? Depot. Peggy and I got a terrific shock about 3 or 4 weeks ago for we received warning that we were to go to the Far East in March – we had a medical exam and spent a week in a weird daze, unable either to believe or disbelieve in the prospect of such an imminenet and drastic change. However, after about a week we heard that the postings had been cancelled and we came to life again and resumed normal activities with renewed energy. Luckily we had decided not to tell our families until things had been really settled, so they still don't know how near they were to saying goodbye to us for several more years – it may happen yet, and we had to complete a form about length of foreign service the other day, so perhaps the great adventure was only postponed for a month or two after all.

Although I am officially on the surgical side my loyalties all belong to the physicians, and whatever happens I down tools on Saturday morning and go along for the clinical round from 11 to 12; and enjoy every moment of it – I think it keeps me alive from one weekend to the next! I still read my Lancets and BMJs in the M.O.s room in the evenings so I still see the Office Boys and Col. Jones nearly every day and keep up our bantering in the old style, and all enjoy it. Col. Jones was given the OBE the other week and was simply delighted, and never ever tried to conceal the fact! He is much easier to talk to now and I'm not so frightened of him as I used to be, though my respect for him is even greater than ever, I think. Drury is still “with us”, and a medical specialist “trainee” (so are Grainger and Robertson, the new man, and Pop Elliott before he left.) Dru has done about 2 months now and so has another month and then I'm afraid he may be posted and that would be a great pity, for he is one of the few remaining “old originals” and one of the nicest people in the mess. Major Cameron is still here, though he volunteered for the Far East several months ago and has been promised that he will be going.

A new lady M.O. - Morley – arrived about a week ago and we had met her and liked her at 121 when we were billeted at Bayeux. She could not be nicer or easier to live with; we really are awfully lucky. A third woman might have spoilt things, but she will help and even now she is company for Peggy while I am on this outpost of the Empire. Enough for the moment.

Goodnight!


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Categories
1943 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1943

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.

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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.

Goodnight!

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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

Goodnight!

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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!

Goodnight!

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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.

Goodnight

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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.

Goodnight!

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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!

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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!

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Categories
1942 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1942

by Margaret Taylor, age 27-28 years
January - December 1942

As the year begins, Meg is still working at Queen Mary's Hospital for Children, Carshalton.

She gets called up to join the Royal Army Medical Corps, with training at Aldershot followed by a posting to Queensbury Camp, near Halifax in Yorkshire.

In this year, romance blossoms for the first time in her life, but it's complicated!

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Thursday January 29th 1942

It is quite a long time since I last wrote, so I’ll fill up the gaps tonight. I’m still at Carshalton, and will be till next June anyway. I have been divorced from the surgical team for over a month now, and miss working with Mr. McKeown more than I like to admit. It is not nearly so much fun tootling round by myself, and it is worrying to be solely responsible for the children in six quite large wards - though it is only the two babies wards that really frighten me now. It is difficult, too, being quite new to the job, to learn from an experienced sister, such as Sister Hamilton, without losing control of the children and their treatment. Still all goes remarkably smoothly on the whole and no major tragedy has yet occurred. I have much improved in the anaesthetic line and am beginning to get the hang of it and not be so frightened at the prospect of a ‘dope’. Dental anaesthetics are my latest ground of battle, but Mr. Cardigan likes teaching the technique so he shoulders the responsibility and helps me at the necessary moments.

When I last wrote we thought Broughton was coming as H.S. in my stead, but she got another job and Reeve applied and was appointed instead. She has been here now for nearly two months and has rapidly settled into the mess. She is a cheery personage and full of fun, though she is essentially of lower middle class derivation, and I admit she jars rather often by being a bit uncouth. I am not certain how much I am prompted by jealousy of her, for she has my Mr. McKeown to work with, and she is busy carrying on a very open flirtation with Dr. Ahern, which somehow annoys me, for no real reason.

The rest of the mess are I.S.Q. Dr. Holman has blossomed out quite a lot recently and though he is still only to be described as retiring he occasionally advances much farther than he used to. Dr. Key has been coping with the M.S.'s job for some months now and has everything well under his thumb. He is a great source of comfort to me and I think the evening visits he pays me, and during which we discuss anything and everything from ‘shop’ to ethics keeps us both sane in a mad world of pettiness.

The new M.S.-to-be is Mr. Evans, who is young and full of vigour, but of whom Dr. Key forecasts some heavy breakers ahead. He comes in about a week, so I’ll wait and see. Jolly late so - Goodnight!

ISQ - In Status Quo - unchanged.

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Sunday 10th May 1942

I must blow off some steam and misery tonight, and putting it into words will be a relief and get things straightened out I think.

Maybe I have been working too hard or worrying too much, probably the latter. I have five wards of my own now - one of them an adult ward and two of them infants. The responsibility of treating severely ill patients off my own bat weighs on me rather heavily, and when one dies I can’t help wondering whether I did anything wrong, or omitted doing anything I should have done.

Just over a week ago Joan White - a T.B. peritonitis of about 18 years old - died, and this week one baby in AE. 6 died and another is going to very shortly. The last and weightiest straw though was that Jean Playle, the nicest of all the nice kids in E2 has developed meningitis, and within a week of being taken off her frame and put into a plaster spica. That the change of treatment had anything to do with it I doubt, as she was not progressing properly before that, but that it might have caused it I can’t be certain and the possibility sits on my head like a black cloud. I know that if a doctor does what he - or she - seriously considers best, and ill comes of it, no blame attaches morally to the doctor, and I suppose that realisation must comfort me - but still I feel miserable.

Yesterday I seemed to spend most of the day interviewing parents of very ill children, breaking bad news to one after the other, until by evening I felt I was an unclean thing and brought trouble wherever I went or even looked. When Dr. Key asked me in the evening why I had been so subdued and miserable recently it all came to a head and burst into a flood of tears. Poor Dr. Key - he gets the emotional outbursts of the females upon his shoulders. He bore up nobly, was very sympathetic without being sloppy, and I think, now!, was very brave to stay holding the hand of a sobbing and red-eyed maiden in her sitting-room, with the chance of anybody barging in at any moment.

I don’t know why I felt it all so acutely but I do get fits of depression for little cause sometimes, and this time heaps of little miseries had piled up rapidly and made a formidable heap. Anyway my fit of crying was rather a long one, and when I awoke this morning my eyes were still very red and my eyelids so swollen and puffy that I resembled a true-blue nephrosis! Luckily it was Sunday, so I asked for my breakfast in bed, and by the time I had to do my morning round I was more presentable, though far from normal in appearance. I’m afraid they must all have noticed I have been crying - for not much escapes in a mess like this - but they probably think I was worried about Alan, who was overdue (he rang up tonight from Bristol actually, and it was marvellous to hear his voice and hear he was safely back after an exciting trip and a battle on the way to Russia with his convoy.)

Dr. Key says I shall have to readjust my attitude to patients, and not let myself get fond of them or put myself in the patient’s place, because it is an unbearable strain and, more important, it makes good diagnosis and treatment much more difficult, Though that is true and I acknowledge it, I still think that it is extremely important to have at least an interest in patients as individual people and not survey them indifferently from a pinnacle of science. Children, and adults too I think, know jolly well whether you care if they get better or not and can tell if your interest is in themselves as beings - ill beings for the time being - or in their illness only. There is no excuse though for getting ‘soft’ about children’s illnesses, and if it hadn’t been for the rush of tragedies last week I think I could have stopped myself being swamped with misery and making an ass of myself with Dr. Key.

When you dig deep enough I believe all tears are tears of self-pity. I wasn’t crying for the children or the parents last night - only for my part in their illness or death - in case it was my fault for moving Jean off the frame: what the parents thought of my treatment and whether they blamed me or not, and the feeling of being nothing but the bearer of bad news, and possibly the cause of it. If i know I did my level best for the children and brought to bear the requisite ‘normal average of care and skill’ then there is nothing to reproach myself for, and no censure to take to heart even if it is given.

It is sad that a cherished and loveable and only child like Jean should die of meningitis when she was almost at the active stage of T.B. hip, but if all the sad things in life are to upset me so much in future I shall lead a dog’s life - and get pretty dehydrated too!

Goodnight! 

  • spica A hip spica (pronounced 'spy-kah') is a type of cast used to keep the hip or thigh still.

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Tuesday July 14th, 1942

Not so very long since I last wrote, but things have changed at break-neck speed, and the world is a difficult place for me now.

At the beginning of June, Reeve and I both got preliminary notice of ‘calling up’ for the R.A.M.C. Reeve applied for a postponement and got it until next January. I didn’t apply, for it was time I moved and I thought I ought to go into the Army if they were needing doctors - I had done nothing for the war till then; only subsisted in luxury on double or triple rations and not been overworked. It appealed to me too as an adventure coming (we hope) only once in a lifetime and not to be missed. So I am now at home, having had my ‘medical’ at Bath last Thursday and having left old Queen Mary’s for good I expect. I have promised to go back there for a visit if I am near, and show myself off in uniform, and I mean to go, for I should love to see everyone again. I miss the place terribly, and in eighteen months had come to regard it as a second home.

Dr Key
Dr. Key

The other ‘news’ to report is not, like the Army, in the hard reality of daily life, but is as big a change in the mental sphere of existence, and with more longevity I trust. During the last few months, and especially since I returned to Q.M.H. in April after failing the D.C.H., Dr. Key and I have been a lot together, and grown to know each other pretty well to the lowest depths of our minds. I had grown to rely upon him for help in difficulties - mental and medical - and to value his companionship very greatly. He, it seems, had grown to love me, also very greatly. When he told me that, at first I was simply overwhelmed - feelings I could neither analyse nor really understand flooded through me. When I had got sorted out I knew I didn’t really love him, though I had a real and deep affection for him and a joy in his companionship which I have felt for no other man. His love is obviously deep and sincere, and to be the owner of it is a job of formidable joyousness. His wish is only that I should be happy and because of that he is unaffectedly content that my feelings for him should be, as they are, those of friendship only.

Our friendship though is a precious thing to me, and we are very happy when we are together, chatting freely on anything in our heads, or just being quiet together in company. There is no friction between us  and nothing we could not discuss. He has told me frankly that he has loved and still does love Mrs. Key, though he has never had any true intellectual companionship with her, as with me. To him Gill is the most precious thing in life, and anything which would affect her happiness is of prime concern, and knowing Gill I can well understand that she is a child in a million and quite unspoilt. Let nobody tell me that life is not a complicated business - I know better! But I do believe that life if faced honestly and truthfully is a happy thing and this bit of life has added to Leonard’s and my happiness and not detracted from anyone else’s, so I feel that all is very well.

I think, however, an explanation is due to ‘the parents’ for I can’t keep anything from them and still feel ‘straight’. I do hope they will understand - they always have before, but this one is rather a corker!

Goodnight!

RAMC - Royal Army Medical Corps.

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Saturday September 26th 1942

Barracks building from Crookham Camp

Once again, not so long since I last wrote, but things have moved fast and furiously. On Aug. 29th I went to Crookham Camp, Boyce Barracks at Aldershot and was there for 3 weeks. I’ll write more about that if I get the time and the urge to record it. But for the moment I’ll just say that during those 3 weeks I got to know David Holland very well indeed and we liked each other extraordinarily well right from the beginning - and we shared a taxi up to the camp on our first arrival, oddly enough. We went out bird-watching and country exploring, sometimes alone, sometimes with Mr. Beadle, and we had supper and a cinema and a long bike ride back from Aldershot in the dark - with a pause for cigarettes and conversation on the way.

When I was posted just over a week ago he was going on to Mychett the same morning and I missed saying goodbye to him and the others too. (The only other I minded not saying goodbye to was Hodson really.) I wrote saying I was sorry for my rude departure and giving my address and last Friday I got a wire asking me to phone him that evening. He said he had been posted to West Wales and intended to go through Crewe and would I meet him there if possible.

I haven’t time to do the next bit in full, so I’ll leave it till tomorrow and do it full justice!

Goodnight!

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Sunday September 27th 1942

To appreciate and to recreate the atmosphere of that week-end I must start at the beginning I think. The beginning and nearly the end, was that I nearly missed the bus to Halifax to catch the train - in fact I did miss the one I meant to catch, but got one 1/4hr. Later, which landed me at the station with two minutes to spare.  Another obstacle which was surmounted as if by magic was the financial side; for I had only 7/- (seven shillings - about 35p) odd. I rushed into Miss Carter’s office to ask if I need be back before midnight or so  and lo and behold she gave me leave to be off until Sunday night and she presented me with £2 - I asked her for £1 actually, but goodness knows what would have happened if she had only given me £1 - for I got back on Sunday night with precisely 5 pence ha’penny in my purse - another rather miraculous thing.

The train I discovered was packed full but an army lieutenant in the corridor made room for me next to him and we talked a bit and it transpired that his mother was a doctor in Halifax and his sister newly-qualified in Birmingham! He gave me his mother’s name and address and said she would be glad to see me if I called - and I mean to go this week sometime, perhaps after ringing mup first. That was my first travelling acquaintance. After changing at Manchester I shared a carriage with a very fat and jolly-faced Yorkshireman who had retired from the R.A.F. in disgust, and who gave me the low-down on England, its government, politicians, generals etc. etc., and all most convincingly and in great good humour. I found him most entertaining and was sorry when he got out and left me in solitary state.

I got to Crewe soon after 5:00 pm and went to a nearby café for Welsh-rarebit and coffee, and then back to the station to wait. I waited for over ½ hr. And depression settled black about me as the minutes dragged by. After all, it did seem fantastic to expect David to meet me there at that time; a place we neither of us knew, neither of us being sure we would be free to go there, and having no means of getting in touch with each other to alter plans or leave a message. However, before I had quite decided whether I had the audacity to go back that evening, or whether it would be even more nerve-wracking to stay in Crewe for the night by myself, a voice announced David had arrived - he had been waiting ½ hr. down below and getting quite as despondent as I. The complexion of things changed immediately and we started looking forward to a glowing day and a half ahead. David waltzed me off to a hotel and we booked next-door bedrooms without batting an eyelid! I was glad he did it so much as a matter of no moment, for I was wondering if it was really do-able. We had the inevitable and disheartening Yorkshire ‘high-tea’ and then wandered down to the centre of the town, arm-in-arm and perfectly content to merge with the rest of the Saturday-night-outers. We queued for a cinema and got in in time to see the big film, which wasn’t at all bad. Back to the hotel and a good double sherry each completed the holiday feeling. Then to bed after a bath and a prolonged chattering of nonsense together. David woke me at 7:30 the next morning - and Sunday at that! I had another grand hot bath. Then breakfast, dispensed by this talkative waitress, and a visit to the station, which showed I had to catch the 6:15 pm train back. We had already decided to spend the day seeing Chester, going there in the bus and that didn’t leave till 11:15, so we spent the time until then finding a Toc H canteen and having really excellent coffee and cakes there for practically nothing. The bus ride was fun and lasted 1 ½ hrs. - a bit too long really. We had a superb lunch costing 5/- each - at the Grosvenor Hotel and then spent the rest of the time until the return bus was due in walking around the city on the old walls. The views were lovely, the old buildings inspiring and we teased and chatted together in the height of good spirits. David told me about his wife and Judith and Margaret and said I should receive an invitation from ‘Isabelle’ shortly, and I said I wanted dearly to see his family and his house. We hugged like a couple of softies on the back seat of the upper deck of the bus coming home and the sight of it so blatantly done kept the seat clear for us nearly all the way back! My train was late leaving Crewe and we blessed every minute in retard and planned hopefully for meetings at Liverpool or even near Snowdon in the future. The return journey was quite rapid and uneventful except for the fact that the train arrived ½ hr. late and I missed the last bus from Halifax and had to take a taxi - for which I paid, with only 5 ½ d to  spare!

Now, life is a funny thing. Here is Leonard who is married and loves me and I only like him and can feel nothing deeper than that. Then, from the blue, in 3 weeks there grows up David who loves me too in a different way, who wakes a spark of passion in me (and I had begun to wonder if I was made without any!) He is much more forceful by nature than Leonard is or could be; he knows what he wants and does his damndest to get it, yet he is true and honourable and has already told his wife that he has grown fond of me and wants me to meet her and his children. More than ever I am glad I never even tried to persuade myself or Leonard that I did more than feel affection for him, for I now know a little what more is needed before affection grows to love. I wonder if I’ll ever marry - I hope so but even if I don’t I have at least been loved and have brought happiness in companionship with two men whom I admire in very different ways.

How very odd!  Goodnight!

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Wednesday October 21st 1942

There is plenty to tell this time, for the week-end which has just passed has been the most eventful of my life. To begin at the beginning, the week-end I described when I last wrote gave rise to adverse comment by Mum & Dad; they said I was building my pleasure in David’s friendship on the misery of his wife and if I thought it over I would see that it wasn’t the right thing to do. This made me think furiously, and though at the end of my deliberations I still thought our friendship was a fine and honourable thing I realised that if it provoked jealousy and misery in his wife it must be stopped. When I had reached this decision, I got a letter from Isobel and to my delight it said our friendship might be a blessing for them both and invited me to Betws-y-Coed to stay for a week-end with them both and form a Triple Alliance.

I managed to arrange with Hird (and Mrs. Dixon!) to get off last week-end on Friday and return on Monday morning. The journey was remarkably easy - change at Manchester and Llandudno Junction only, and from Llandudno Junction to Betws-y-Coed the country was superb and I got a view of the sea (which I hadn’t seen for months and months.)  I arrived about 6:30 pm and David and Isobel met me at the station and conducted me to my residence - called Coed Pier - and commanded by a Miss Knight. Isobel was very quiet but I liked the look of her and when we had talked a bit together I liked her even more. We all separated for supper and met at Woodlands about 8:00 pm. We went for a walk up by the river and then returned to tea and a bed-rock discussion on the Triple Alliance just before retiring to bed. Isobel said David must not write less to her than to me, we must not let any love-making go on between us and we were not to come across England to see each other, though we could see as much of each other  as we liked if we were posted near together - no more staying the night in the same hotel! David and I put in a few words but  they were mainly asides and minor modifications. I arranged to spend the morning with Isobel and the afternoon with David. Isobel also presented me with the news that she thought she was pregnant again, for she hadn’t been feeling well for several days.

The morning was quite a success. Isobel and I climbed up the hill behind the village and surveyed Lake Elsi and as much of the landscape as appeared through the driving mist. We got soaked through and descended rapidly and had coffee at the local café while our stockings dried on ou9r legs - most uncomfortable. We talked a lot, odd things and serious things and Isobel told me of herself and of David and I told her in all good faith that I didn’t think I could ever fall in love with him, knowing he was married and had children etc.

In the afternoon Isobel rested. I went to lunch at the mess in the Military Hospital and met 5 or 6 of the officers there. It was a most substantial meal. We planned about six alternative expeditions for our afternoon, all the other officers advocating their favourite haunts. Wew ended up however by deciding to walk up the river to Swallow Falls, and have tea there. I looked at the Path. lab. and the wards and a few other rooms in the hospital, and then we started off in the drizzling rain. We sheltered under trees at the river bank when it started pouring hard and we smoked cigarettes and ate chocolate and felt at peace with each other and the world. Talk flowed easily and gaily and then became more intense. David declared again that he loved me and I began to believe, for the first time, that his love was the sort I call true love, solid and lasting. He said quite a bit about his past life with Isobel and I saw they must have had a wretched time together for a long time past. Then David said he wished he had met me first and married me and brought up a family, and asked if he ever broke with Isobel would I come to him. My answer came back immediately and without any time for conscious thought - ‘like a shot’ said I, and from that time I knew that I was really in love and I think that every moment since then I have become more so. But the problem was not solved, it was just beginning! Isobel had a claim on David which could not be ignored and perhaps she loved him, we could not be certain. She said she did, but she did not behave as if she did and her hysterical nature made it difficult to know whether she was even sure herself. Instinctively I knew that time must be left to straighten out the uncertainties and I suggested that nothing should be done about our pact until a year had passed and during that year we both tried to the best of our ability to make the old marriage a success. It seemed so simple then, but now I find it is a sacrifice that is difficult beyond compare, though still I know it is the only possible way to get lasting happiness.

If I had encouraged David to break away at once from Isobel (and he would have needed little persuasion I think) we could not tell what her reaction might be and we could not risk ruining her life. Anyway I wasn’t sure his love for me was a lasting thing, or even that mine was either. So we made it a year of Triple Alliance, a trial for trying again to harmonise husband and wife and children, and I was to be a sort of lubricating oil.

I can’t finish all this tonight, so will leave off here and carry on tomorrow.

Goodnight!

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Friday October 23rd 1942

After this talk we walked together to Swallow Falls, both feeling like light-hearted and love-sick children, and we had tea and chatted, partly serious and partly teasing and everything seemed settled to perfection. But Isobel guessed most of what we were feeling and after our return that day and during Sunday she was completely unapproachable and in the depths of depression. On Sunday morning she came down late after breakfast in bed and we then went along the riverside all together and watched some dippers, which thrilled David to the core as he hadn’t seen any before. After lunch Isobel said she wanted to go out alone and would David and I go on up to Lake Elsi and she would join us for tea. We trudged off carrying tea - in a bottle - and wearing Macs. We were glad to be alone together again and climbed joyfully to the top of the hill, pausing en route for periods of analysis of the situation (it kept cropping up in the middle of anything we talked about.) We left the stone monument thing where we were to meet Isobel later and explored the dam and climbed up to the rocks the other side of it, and there lay and ate chocolate and nagged[?] - I have never been so happy as I was the early part of that afternoon. Isobel came up and we waved and called but she didn’t see us and we scrambled back at break-neck speed in case she wandered away looking for us. Then we had tea, but the mist was blowing up and it was getting cold and Isobel was practically mute and couldn’t have any tea, so it was rather a failure. We soon departed homewards and sat in Woodlands till supper time. David and I talked; I tried to draw Isobel into the conversation but it was no good.

After supper it was much the same and I said goodbye to her fairly early and David and I went out into the fine moonshine night for a farewell stroll. We went up past the hospital and a little way up a narrow path into the woods. We talked love and sanity inextricably mixed and saw the moon on the water as it went under the bridge. We agreed again that love-making must be from then on taboo and we must both work all out to make the Triple Alliance a success. I didn’t sleep much that night and had breakfast early - 7:15 - and departed about 7:45 - David hung out of the top window at Woodlands and waved a melancholy goodbye. And so back to Queensbury!

After my return the full meaning of the week-end began to dawn on me and the unimaginable joy of the possibility of ever being married to David alternated with the gnawing knowledge that it was more likely that I never would and anyway my role was to work against the thing I wanted most in the world and push David away, while Isobel pulled him (aided in her pulling also by me!) On the whole, I dwelt on the possible joys of marriage and was happy, but yesterday morning I got a letter from Isobel, full of her love and courage to reform the family unity and make David happy, and asking me please, not to make David fall too much in love with me. Her letter was so sane, showed such uncanny insight and called so strongly to my better feelings that I could no longer picture her as the hysterical and un-liveable-with person I had dubbed her in my happier imaginings and I recognised I was really going to be lubricating oil only, useful and unselfish but hardly blissfully happy. Yesterday was the bleakest day I remember and my head throbbed with the whirling of different thoughts, hopes and dreads.

Today I am recovering and my equilibrium is returning slowly. I am realising that if I am never David’s wife there are years of close friendship with him and Isobel and his children in front of me and the ache for the ‘might-have-been’ is fading.

I’m afraid I wrote a miserable letter to David when I was at the height of my misery, but I sent him Isobel’s letter to show him exactly how she felt and showing she really loved him still, so I may be forgiven.

Enough for the present, I wish I knew what was going to happen next. Goodnight!

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Sunday November 8th 1942

This continued state of mental agitation is more exhausting than any physical combat. If we could all fight it out and get it over I could stand even defeat and be ready to accept the inevitable. But as things are there are everlastingly alternating rays of hope and deluges of despair and I feel seasick to the nth degree.

Last Thursday I got a telegram from David saying he could get the weekend off and could I meet him. I replied by wire but the same evening he rang up and we arranged that he should come and stay in Bradford, for Friday night anyway and possibly we might go further afield on Saturday and Sunday.

On Friday I was hectically busy, having raced down to the station in the morning after sick-parade, to find out what time his train arrived, and then a trip to Westleigh Hotel to book a room for him. Then they wanted me in Halifax that afternoon and I had no good excuse to get out of it - so had to go. I got back from there and had to catch a bus straight away without coming back to the camp to make myself presentable (funny how it worried me at the time!) I arrived at the station in what I thought was loads of time i.e. about 6:30 and I had been told the train got in at 6:50, but I had only just entered the station yard when David hailed me - he had got in at 6:20 and was wondering what to do because I hadn’t met the train! Gosh, it was good to see him again and we chattered so hard and walked in step so gaily that it was amazing that I managed to steer us in the direction of Westleigh at all. Anyway we did get there and David chose his bedroom and I showed him the photos of Isobel and the children, which I had collected in Halifax that afternoon. We then ventured out into the darkness in search of sustenance for David was ravenous; eventually we went to the Sundown Café and had rabbit pie, peaches and custard and coffee - not too bad! Then we sallied out into darkness again - darkness is quite convenient when you want to link arms or clasp waists while walking ! - and found the G.M. hotel by the station . There we sat in the lounge and drank coffee and David had brandy and I had a sloe (not slow) gin, which was jolly good. We talked seriously, discussing emotional problems in amazing calm, and planning for the future as we would have had it, and as we might have it, in a thousand different ways. We decided (or should I say I was persuaded!) to keep nothing hidden between us, for to hold love in check and not express it would distort and possibly magnify it to ourselves and that would have been disastrous. In our conversation I mentioned my diary and David asked if he could read it - for I found it well-nigh impossible to express my feelings for him and I suppose he guessed they would all be there. I gibbed a bit, for after all my diary is a secret thing, but then I decided he could, for it would tell him everything and he would believe it more readily. By then it was about 10 p.m. or a bit later and the last train had gone. We wandered about looking (only half heartedly!) for a taxi and then queued for one in the Town Hall Square. It whisked us back to Queensbury much too quickly and David waited while I fetched the diary and then we said Goodnight and he went back to Woodleigh.

The next morning the cold I had started the day before was much worse - I felt lethargic and a bit sorry for myself. There was the big Hallowe'en party for the Sergeants’ Mess arranged for that night and the C.O. had been so sticky when I asked if I might miss it that I decided I should have to return for it that evening. David and I had lunch together at Westleigh and then went out to the golf-course.

The pro’ lent him some clubs and we played about 6 or 7 holes - he well, I badly - and enjoyed it very much. We had tea there and Mr. and Mrs. Dufton came in and were introduced and were very friendly as usual. We returned to ‘high tea’ at Westleigh and then I had to come back to the party. I felt foul and in despair took my temperature and was delighted to find it was up to 99℉ - so I put myself to bed and had a long blissfully comfortable evening in the overheated hut, feeling sorry for myself!

The next morning I still felt most peculiar and could not face the game of golf we had tentatively arranged the day before. I phoned Mrs. Dufton and asked if we could come to her house in the afternoon to listen to the symphony concert. She said certainly, so after lunch at the R.N. hotel we took a ‘backless’ to their house and were installed in the dining room by Ian, who left soon after with 2 or 3 friends. He and friends returned much too soon, nearly caught David with his hair standing straight up on end - I had just rumpled it! We had tea and left about 6:00 p.m. David came back with me to Queensbury to collect my night things and then we returned to the G.N. hotel and booked rooms there.

We had dinner there and who should be the first person I saw in the dining room - the C.O. !  She was there again for the other meals and what she thought I don’t know and hesitate to imagine - what was worse she met us coming down the stairs and me swinging my bedroom key gaily on my finger! After dinner we sat in the lounge again but could not talk freely because of 3 ladies in mourning who sat almost beside us, looking dismal and saying nothing - it seemed they were waiting for us to entertain them and we didn’t want to! David wanted me to lie on his bed and talk to him after my bath but somehow, though I knew there would be no harm in it, I didn’t feel I ought to, and when I insisted in spite of his efforts at persuasion poor David descended fathoms deep into the dumps, but I couldn’t back out on myself then. We retired to bed early and though I heard a tapping on the door between our rooms an hour or two later I pretended I was asleep and ignored it.

The next morning - our last of the week-end - David appeared to breakfast in a mood so glum I almost despaired of being able to ‘contact’ him at all and that would have made a miserable ending to our week-end. I pegged away with feeble jokes and teasing till at last he smiled and then came a laugh that did my heart good and set me chortling in sympathy. We laughed for a good couple of minutes and then all was well again and we were closer together even than before - it was well worth it and David thought so too.

Since he went away, after seeing me onto the train returning to a Queensbury Monday morning, I have missed him terribly. It seems that only half of me is left here, and I can neither concentrate nor settle down to anything. I long for his letters and I fear that his love is becoming so much a necessity for me that I cannot picture what I shall do if there is no possibility of his breaking with Isobel. A half-and-half arrangement would be frightfully difficult too now, because Isobel’s despicable threat to tell Mrs. Key about my friendship with Leonard has made me feel I can never again be serious friends with her, and how can I be friends with David and not with his wife, if they are to go on living together.

Gosh gosh gosh!

Goodnight!

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Thursday Nov 26th 1942

I’m much happier now than when I last wrote, though there has been little material change since then. In the realm of emotions and thoughts there has been a good deal of progress and things are beginning to become comfortably solid and reliable. The prospect of any settled married life between us is however as much in the air as it ever was. Yet during the past month or so we have probed deeper into each other’s minds and moods, and there has developed a wonderful sense of sympathy and love which binds us together so securely that I feel we shall never regret or forget anything that we have done and thought together.

The knowledge that I have helped David at a difficult time will always make me glad, whatever is to come, and the happiness and new understanding his love has given me is something that is wholly good and that nothing can spoil. Words are pretty well hopeless to express an emotion like love, but my heart is brimming over with it and the thought of this coming leave is causing me more joyful anticipation than anything I can remember since Christmas Eve when I was about 10 years old!

I wrote to tell Mum and Dad about it all in my home letter last Sunday and from then until I got their letters in reply on Wednesday morning I was in a state of anxious fretfullness that was almost unbearable. I should never have doubted that they would show, as ever, their ready understanding and love, but it seemed so much to expect after sending them a terrific tangle like a bolt from the blue. They are both indescribable darlings and the knowledge that they know everything that matters now, and that they are going to meet David in a week or so makes a tremendous difference to me - I feel almost as if I have just managed to come up to the surface for a much-needed gulp of fresh air after tussling for some time underwater.

I haven’t written to or heard from Isobel for weeks now, but after David has been to Ipswich he will be able to tell me what she is thinking now; I’m jolly keen to know.

There will be almost enough to fill the rest of the book I should think next time I write!

Goodnight!

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Saturday Dec 12th 1942

Back at Queensbury again after 10 days leave and a stolen week-end at Chester (the robbery discovered, by the way!)

To do things in order (decently and in order - vide Miss Barry) - I got Hird to cover me on Saturday afternoon and Sunday and departed to Chester for the week-end though my leave, starting on Monday, hadn’t come through when I left. I changed at Stockport and got the wrong train there; had to get out and return to Stockport and try again. I caught the 8:20 train for Chester from Crewe at about 8:27 (the next was 10:20p.m.!) and David met me - about 1½ hrs late, and he had met about 6 altogether. He dodged behind a large man as he approached but I saw him alright and the joke stopped him being angry or peeved and our joyousness flowed naturally from the first minute. David had spent most of the afternoon searching for somewhere to stay and eventually had found rooms at the Peacock (he threatened a double room as the only thing available at the time!) We had supper at the Grosvenor Hotel and caught the last bus to the Peacock and then sat in the dining room by the fire and talked for some time before going to bed. On Sunday morning I had to ring up the D.A.D.M.S. about my leave and he was not a bit pleased to hear I was in Chester and not Queensbury and said he was afraid I’d have to return for Monday anyway as they could not get a relief. This put our plans all awry for it meant returning to Bradford soon after lunch. David decided to come back with me, so we gathered our kit, commandeered a taxi from across the street - we shared it with a lady who insisted on paying all the cost herself! - and after dumping our luggage at the station and finding out about trains we had coffee at the  B hotel and then walked round the city walls and down by the river. I had a fascinating lesson on gulls and sparrows and also some flowers (represented by withered stumps of stalks and a leaf or two in the park flower beds.) Then lunch at the same hotel and a comfortable and mostly private train journey to Bradford. We got in about 9:00 p.m. and had booked rooms at the Victoria Hotel. We had coffee and biscuits and chocolate in the lounge and retired fairly early. I had to get back to Queensbury for sick parade at 9:00 (‘actually’ 9:20) on Monday and David started off for London and Ipswich. Captain Welsh ‘phoned me during the morning and said I could go off after duty on Monday and take 10 days - gosh I was excited. I travelled home, Bradford - Bristol without changing and got in about 6:00 a.m. (I’ve never travelled all night before.) Mum and Dad weren’t awake, but I had just made some tea for myself and them too, as I was terribly thirsty, when they woke and I went in with the tea and sat and told them about David.

On Thursday David arrived and I met him - feeling a bit self-conscious in civilian clothes and sorry he wasn’t in them too. He was very frightened going up in the taxi but he very soon settled into the home atmosphere and suited it perfectly. Podge had been laid up with jaundice but luckily she was down by the time David arrived and was a great help in making for an easy feeling all round. David helped with washing-up and bed-making and shopping and played chess with Dad and music with Mum and Jo and me and we were all merry and laughing practically all the time. We did not get a lot of time alone together but the idea really was to see each other in company and from a different angle, and this we succeeded in doing and it was a success too - more than I had dared to hope. We walked round the Downs and Sea Walls, up by the Observatory, and across the bridge to Abbots Leigh (where we had a pitched battle with a gander and lost it ignominiously!) We visited the Copper Kettle more than once and had 3 concerts on following nights at the Colston Hall - they were excellent. We browsed in George’s and I got a Greek dictionary and a book by D.H.Hudson which David wanted (and which I have kept to read first!) and he got  me Housman’s Last Poems which I wanted.

David had to go on Tuesday evening and I saw him off with a heavy heart and not much of a beam of sunlight on the horizon. It seems Isobel is holding fast to the stalemate position and there seems no answer to it except migration to America and that is a big thing to face. Mums said she would rather I gave up David now completely rather than risk giving my love to him in vain and so perhaps missing happiness later on. She doesn’t trust David altogether - she thinks him too attractive and I think possibly a little unscrupulous. Dads said he liked David but he saw little prospect of our ever being married - a brick wall in front all the way! I feel I shall wait for this year which we had appointed and then if there is no advance and if I can still face the idea of saying it perhaps we will have to say goodbye. My love is very real and growing deeper and wider and saner and it would be a terrible waste if we both had to wither up such a wonderful sympathy as we have found in each other. Still, we’ll wait and see and hope.

Goodnight!

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Sunday December 20th 1942

Before I leave Queensbury I want to record a bit about it, or I shall forget it later on. Recently my writing has been so much in the realm of personal feelings and relationships that the background of daily work has been omitted from the picture. Yet I have learnt quite a lot and met a good many people recently - there are many advantages in being pulled into the army, and Hird and I agreed the other day that we certainly did not regret it having happened.

Queensbury is a largish mill town typical of all Yorkshire mill towns, but perched up 1100ft and much too bleak and exposed for a hutted camp really. The school consisted of about 600 A.T.S. - about 150 or so permanent staff and the rest trainees coming for either 3 weeks as S.B.O.s or 6 weeks as I.P.O.s . There were about 12 - 15 permanent officers and the mess was a jolly and usually very smoothly-running affair. I settled in quite easily and was soon on friendly terms with all of them, though intimate with none. The officers changed so rapidly that after being here less than 5 months I am already almost the oldest inhabitant. Perhaps the one I knew and liked best was Johnnie, and that only because she was a companion-loving, sensitive and lonely person who needed someone to hang on to and who related me as a suitable prop. But she was very quick-witted and entertaining and I liked her well, especially during the last few days of her stay here when she was ill, had fainted and cracked her scalp open and I had to look after her. Smithy - the messing officer - I also developed a soft spot for. She was so transparently straight-forward and a rather muddle-minded and kindly person who accepted all things, albeit with a good deal of mumbling comment on occasion. One could (and did) rely on her to do all the little odd jobs you didn’t like to ask anyone else to do. Her bedroom was next to mine in the end Nissen hut and she made a good ‘stable companion’ as she termed it.

Of the others there is little to say and nothing worth recording (though that rarely deters me!) The new C.O. - Mrs. Hollis - was showing promise of being a really interesting and unusual person and Tansley-Witt who had only newly arrived on the scene, also attracted me, but they have both departed now to Strathpeffer and I shall not be able to get to know them after all.

At the moment the school is practically empty - about 20 people are here, half A.T.S. and half incoming Signal Corps people. The place is upside down and sleeping in the old company offices  and feeling quite out of place. There is no work for me to do and I feel restless and listless too. My new job is to be at the C.R.S. at Stafford Rd. and that is a pleasing prospect.I shall be working with Capt. Walsh and I like him very much and he likes me too I think. He is a middle-aged, odd-looking dark man, very efficient but not coldly so; in fact he is very kindly and has a good sense of fun and doesn’t stick too firmly to red tape - at least he knows when it is safe to ignore it!

I am impatient to get settled down in my new billets - probably the A.T.S. officer’s mess in a converted house near the C.R.S. I must stay on here though until the new M.O. for the Signal Corps arrives next Thursday (Christmas Eve!) though I may wangle it that I live at Halifax and come in here each morning when necessary. Then I could get used to the A.T.S. officers before Christmas - otherwise I’m going to have rather a miserable Christmas this year I fear.

It isn’t lunch time yet, so for a change I shall have to say - 

Good morning!

Categories
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!

Goodnight! 

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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

Goodnight!

Categories
1940 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1940

by Margaret Taylor, age 25 years
June 23rd 1940

There's only one entry this year, but quite a long one.

Thoughts about war and morality.

A lot of health issues in the family to worry about.

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Sunday, June 23rd, 1940

Nine months or so since I wrote last, but the situation is unchanged as far as the apparent imminence of air raids is concerned. Those we dreaded at the beginning of the war never materialised, for Hitler has been busy in other directions. Now, however, with nearly all Europe in desolation and miserable subjection to him, he is almost certain to start his long anticipated invasion of Great Britain by air, sea or land. We are prepared now and not downhearted, for the series of catastrophes which have so far represented the Allied side of the war have not been due to our failures, but to those fighting with us, and amazing they have been. The evacuation of Dunkirk was so incredible and magnificent that it converted a defeat into a moral victory, and gave us all fresh heart to strive ever harder in the face of disaster.

Now the French have signed the Peace Treaty with Germany, and are negotiating one with the Italians. That which all swore would never be - the separation of England and France, and the capitulation of the French people - has happened. And with this undreamt-of desertion fresh upon us, we are already enumerating the advantages of fighting all together in our own territory, and almost persuading ourselves that perhaps the clouds have all got the proverbial silver lining. If any people ever deserved to win a life or death struggle I think we British are those people. No nation can be completely good or completely bad, and certainly nobody can judge his own people justly, but, all allowances made, I feel more proud of being English and more determined to resist as far as I can Nazi conquest and influences than ever before.

The old question of the unforgivable crime of killing human beings, whatever may be the quarrel with them I have recently given up, as being beyond my power of reasoning at present. Logically, there is nothing under heaven which will absolve a man of killing another, if the standard of values accepted in true civilisation is used as the basis of argument. But in politics, and especially in power politics, the arguments used are certainly not based on the tenets of true civilisation, and to cope with the actions of those following power politics it seems that civilisation must drop back to the lower standard. It is really perhaps that we cannot take a long enough view. Civilised thought and values are based on ultimate right and wrong, and the rewards it brings are immediate only immaterially, in harmony of mind, whilst the material rewards are often long-delayed though just as sure. Jesus only triumphed mentally over the Romans at the time of his death. Then they seemed to have the material victory. Later it became obvious who had really won, for might can never conquer right, only obstruct its development.

At present men cannot be content with the knowledge that however great the forces of degraded blood-spillers and power-graspers may seem, if they maintain their own spirit uncorrupted and free, expressing their individuality fearlessly, the victory of the enemy will be temporary only. Man is a short-lived creature, and can see only glimpses of the infinite age of spiritual things, and to him subjection, even though material only, to evil seems a betrayal of civilisation. Yet a material victory over evil means war, killing, and employment of the very methods which civilisation has condemned.

Truly, it is a tough nut to crack!

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About my personal history there is quite a lot to say, for once again I have reached a ‘jumping off place’  in the pilgrimage. I took London Finals in May, and failed in both parts of B.S. and passed in M.B. I found it a very bitter thing to accept, that I had actually failed Finals. For so long I have worked hard, and told myself I must know enough to be certain of passing, for failure was unthinkable. Yet now I know that there were bits I shirked because they didn’t interest me - and behold they ploughed me straight away! There was some bad luck in it too, and that helped me towards resignation, but even now, after about three weeks, I am only just above pitying myself. One of the most difficult lessons to learn is that whatever label and grade the others give you, whether they look up or look down on you, you are just the same and of just the same value as before. 

If you are honest you are never satisfied with yourself, and it should be this striving to satisfy your own standards for yourself, and not desire for the acclamation of others, that prompts progress and learning.

So now I am at home, reading surgery and gynae in the evenings, and helping Mums in the servantless abode in the mornings. There is really too much for her to do alone, though without me there would be only three people, so I don’t like to skoot off back to London, though I should be attending all O.P.s etc possible.

In October last year No. 9 was sold, and Staynes and I migrated into the hospital to live in Mary Scharlieb under the emergency scheme. I have been ‘living in’ in hospital ever since then, in the ward until a month or two ago, and then in Sister’s room of Queen Mary Ward, and a very comfortable little room it has been. After being alone a great deal in my room at No. 9 the communal way of living in hospital was cheerful and enjoyable, and we have become real friends, some of necessity, some of inclination!

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Family news has been plentiful also since I wrote last. About January Jim got influenzal meningitis and was in hospital in Exeter. Dad was ill with ‘flu and stayed with Pat while Mum and Alan went down to see him. Jim, after a desperate two or three days during which our lives consisted of telegrams and waiting for telegrams, was pronounced out of danger and recovered completely at record speed. Mum returned to find Daddy very pulled down by ‘flu, and far from well. His chest troubles increased and he got pleurisy and then hypostatic pneumonia with failing heart, on top of an attack of asthma. He became dangerously ill and they phoned for me to come home at once, and bewildered, feeling in an unreal and nightmarish world, I arrived and was met by Alan somewhere around 8 a.m. The week which followed I can’t describe, and there would be little point in doing it. Mum and I took turns in sitting in the bedroom and often my legs and body were shivering so violently I could not keep them still for more than a minute or two. I didn’t take in a word of the book I sat with, and I never even turned the pages. Daddy was cheerful and never complained of pain or anything else though he had bilateral pleurisy part of the time, and had to change his position every five or ten minutes. His attacks of coughing literally exhausted me, and I dreaded the beginning of each one. Mum and I knew several hours before Dr. Alexander told us that he was getting better. We stood and looked at him and whispered excitedly that his cheeks and ears were pinker, and so they were!

Alan left for naval training at Skegness about a week ago, and is enjoying himself immensely: they seem very decent to their men in the Navy, and the contrast between Alan’s converted holiday camp, and Jim’s strenuous drudgery is very great.

Mums is really the heroine of the piece, but there is nothing else one can say about her without getting sentimental.

Goodnight!

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Categories
1939 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1939

by Margaret Taylor, age 25 years
April to September 1939

Meg is still studying to qualify as a doctor at the London School of Medicine. She gets to perform her first surgical operation.

Everything changes at the outbreak of World War II

(Second edition: updated 20th Sept 2020)

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Sunday April 30th 1939

Bulkeley and I have just spent a wonderful day in the country staying with Miss Ross, to collect foliage for decorating the common room of L.S.M. for a formal dinner. I have just written about it at length in my letter home and as it is a day I want to remember, I am going to reiterate it all here. 

We left hospital soon after 4 pm, taking our pyjamas and toothbrushes according to instructions! Miss Ross drove us out at a furious rate, and although it was showery the bright intervals between the showers were glorious. She lives at Herons Gate, about 20 miles out of London and near Watford and Rickmansworth. The house was a small one not far from the main road, but so secluded that it was difficult to realise that civilisation was anywhere near.

We met Miss Ross's sister on our arrival, and though we smile at our Miss Ross and think she dresses rather oddly, it was difficult to refrain from laughing outright at her sister. She had a khaki outfit on, tunic and short skirt and the collar of a shirt-like garment strongly resembling pyjama tops appeared at the neck. She had a long thin face with parchmenty skin and very wrinkled like our Miss Ross’s, but she was much stouter, in fact almost barrel-shaped, and her hair was not cut in an Eton-crop, but stood out wavy and stiff all round like a greyish golliwog’s.  Her voice was identical with Miss Ross’s - very deep and strong, in fact we never knew which was speaking when they were both in the room.

Our Miss Ross soon changed into her house clothes, and though they did not seriously rival her sisters they were outstandingly countrified. We wondered whether all Scotswomen at home in their highlands dressed similarly.

Anyway we thanked our stars that we could let all visiting manners fly to the winds, and felt at home immediately.

We were each provided with a pair of strong pruning pliers and taken out within five minutes of our arrival. Miss Ross pointed out the best woods for birches and beeches and directed us as to what to do when we got lost! She then said come back when we wanted to, and they could keep supper for us, and left us standing at the top of the open field behind her house, gazing across at the miles of greenery in front.

The country was really interestingly lovely. We met a gypsy encampment at the end of the lane and they said “Good evening, Miss” as we passed. The pony did not look so polite, but he didn’t do anything. There were whole carpets of bluebells and some clumps of primroses scattered about, and more violets than I have ever seen growing wild. We climbed fences and clambered over gates and through hedges. It started raining pretty hard at one time, but we just couldn’t waste time sheltering, but turned our coat collars up and took no more notice. We cut heaps of birches and beech boughs and as we hadn’t any string it was difficult to carry them, but we only enjoyed carrying them more because of it, and even having to toss the bundles over the gates and hedges before climbing them was great fun. We did not go back till it was nearly dark and as we crossed the field to the back gate of the house several of the cows we passed started following us, and we wondered frantically whether they were merely expecting us to feed them with our hard-won foliage, or whether they didn’t like the look of us and would charge. We certainly covered the last 20 yards at more than normal walking pace and were glad to shut the gate impolitely in their faces as they arrived there about 2 seconds after we did.

Supper was badly cooked by the other Miss Ross but we were ravenous and enjoyed every bit of it. Afterwards we sat by the log fire and listened to the news, and then helped Miss Ross by reading through and checking the references in the latest edition of her textbook, which is in the process of being printed.

Bulkeley had first bath and went to bed fairly early as she was tired and was conserving her strength for finals on Monday.

Later Miss Ross made tea and we all had a cup before retiring. My bedroom was small, and the walls were whitewashed blue. There were two windows, and a veranda in front of one of them. Both looked out onto miles of countryside, and I hadn’t the heart to close the curtains though leaving them open made the room rather light, and the moon was reflected in the panel of glass in the wardrobe.

I slept so soundly that it took me several minutes to remember where I was after Bulkeley had shaken and me awake about 7 a.m. We dressed in about three minutes and set off to collect bluebells to carry back with us. Miss Ross called out to us as we were going that we could take an apple each out of the apple shed at the end of the garden. We accepted the offer with relish, and the apples were heavenly. The wood was still very wet and frosty, and the fields looked so much more inviting in the sunshine that we walked a long way across them before we returned to the woods and the bluebells. Miss Ross came out with one of the Sealyhams, to collect us for breakfast, and after breakfast we tied up the branches in bundles and stowed them away in the car. Then we waved goodbye to Miss Ross’s sister and had a hilarious ‘zooming’ ride back to London and sanity. We are both longing to be asked out there again!

Goodnight!

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Sunday, June 11, 1939

I feel really worn out just now, and am joyfully anticipating 10 days or a fortnight’s holiday at home, to start tomorrow. The main reason has been futile worrying over Mum’s thyroid trouble. About three weeks ago, like a bolt from the blue, came a letter asking advice about which surgeon to consult, as she had been having ‘attacks’ of pain in the neck and some mild pressure symptoms.

This worried me very much indeed, for although I guessed the reason for the symptoms was very probably an oedema with recurrent haemorrhage into it, I just could not get the possibility is malignancy out of my head; and I had heard that Aunt Jessie died of something sounding suspiciously like a malignant thyroid.

Then came the relief of Mr Cooke’s report, and the knowledge, too, that he was such a charming person and an absolutely reliable and able surgeon. I arranged my holiday so that I could go home just before Mums had to go into hospital; but the day before my scheduled departure came a letter from Miss Mollen calling me to an interview with the Scholarships Committee on Monday June 12th -  two days after Mum’s operation.

It was impossible to return for the interview for less than £1, so I have just to make the best of staying up here during the weekend, when I would have been of the most use at home, and when I was longing to be near at hand to hear of her progress. Daddy rang me up last night to say that Mr Cooke was very pleased with Mums, and that she had had paraldehyde pre-op and was sleeping peacefully when he saw her in the afternoon. Podge’s high-pitched little voice chattering away was a real tonic, but to hear from Dad that he had been in to see Mum made it all seem so real that the whole thing stared me straight in the face for the first time, and frightened me a bit. Before that I had not been able to realise fully that it was really Mums who was having the op. we were all planning so busily. Anyway, it is mostly over now, and well over too, thank goodness, so no more worrying. Daddy is sending me a postcard tonight and I am wanting that, for it was too early to say much really last night. Mrs Beaman rang me up this morning  - she turns up trumps every time.

Since my last entry on work, I have done Junior Comb. and I’m now almost finishing Senior Surgery on Mr Norbury’s post. Junior Comb. was good fun though not wildly exciting. Mr Venall is an interesting and likeable old-fashioned type of doctor, with a refreshing amount of common-sense. He was the main attraction on that post, and his outpatients were the pièce de résistance each week. Horton disappointed me bitterly. I had read a small amount of psychological medicine before I went there, and had found it fascinating and stimulating reading. But Horton is a dreary old and most unfriendly place, at least when visited in the winter, and the patients were just as dreary, and appeared ill cared for and like animals rather than people. In fact ‘lunies’, though of great interest in the abstract, I found most uncongenial in the flesh, and my tentative speculations on delving more deeply into that branch of medicine came to a speedy dissolution. Dr. Heald with his electrical therapy and his exasperatingly slow and ambiguous conversation, reminded me of the Middle Ages and reliance on witchcraft and a bit of luck thrown in. He never diagnosed a case while I was with him  - though admittedly he gets all the undiagnosable chronics the hospital owns.

It is, I suppose, good for my soul to have to acknowledge that such an apparent fool is recognised by those well qualified to judge, as a very clever person! Mr Williams, X-ray expert(?) was an unfailing source of entertainment, but supplied no information whatsoever on X-rays. Sister Win was a rather bulky but very luminous star on the horizon throughout the post and her duets with Mr Venall on Tuesdays and Fridays were occasionally magnificent.

And now I am in the third month of Mr Norbury’s post, and am enjoying it as much as any post I have done, and more than any except Casualty or Junior Medicine perhaps. I was made senior, not because I was properly elected by a majority vote but because Westerman, who was elected, had transferred to the Cancer, and the other three seniors were all taking exams. But I certainly have been doing a full senior’s work, and it entails quite a lot of organisation and overseeing.  I have been fully repaid for my troubles though, for the juniors come to me all the time for advice, and obey instructions willingly though their conscientiousness is remarkable for its absence on many occasions. Even at school I could manage to be an authority without ‘bossing’ too much, and it is working just the same here, though perhaps I treat them too much like schoolgirls. It is gratifying when they say how they will miss me when I go on holiday - but I know too well what those compliments are worth to get swollen-headed about it!

Mr. Norbury is a person I shan’t forget, for he embodies most of my ideal qualities of a doctor, and is yet our inimitable Mr. Norbury at the same time. He is like a perky grey-haired little bird, hopping round and chirping joyfully day in and day out.

No patient is merely a ‘case’ for him, and no two ‘appendices’ are exactly alike. Surgery, one feels, is just as thrilling for him today as it was on his first house job, and his humility has not gone with his increase in knowledge and experience. There is nothing which stamps a fine person so surely as their humility (c.f. Mr. Joll !!)

I shall be sorry to miss the next 10-14 days of his post, but I want much more to go home, so go I certainly shall. E.N.T.s is to be the next 3 months’ effort - + pathology and fevers. Exams seem dangerously near, and I am working pretty hard now-a-days, to prevent a hectic scramble just before November. 

I think I’ve written enough for today…

Goodnight!

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Sunday, July 23rd 1939

I feel I want to write a little tonight, just to communicate my first real operation in a theatre - I have done a few ‘minor ops’ in casualty before of course.

On the last Wednesday on the Norbury post Mr Norbury asked me whether I would like to do a small operation. This is a reward he offers his seniors now and again, but not every senior gets it, so it is quite an honour.

Of course I said I should love to, and as it was the end of the post he said I must remind him about it and come back and do it later. I asked Bottomley to remind him and he said I could do a lipoma or something equivalent. This damped me a little, as I had been helping him for an appendix or a hernia, but still I was excited about it, and very qualified for the opportunity. Bottomley wrote specially for a lipoma case from the General List and one came in last week.

It was only a small lipoma of the thigh, but it was unusually deeply situated, and was causing pain in the leg so the patient wanted it removed, though Mr. Norbury when he saw it advised her to keep her leg intact.

When she was anaesthetised Mr. Norbury could not locate the lump, and for a few minutes I thought it was going to be a complete wash-out. But at length he felt it, and made a scratch marking its position. I made an incision where his scratch mark was, about 4 - 5 ins long, and went on through the subcutaneous tissues. He and Bottomley secured the bleeding points, for I had enough to do to just perform the cutting part. I had to go very deeply for the lipoma turned out to be within two adductor muscle sheaths, and I was dreading that every bleeding point as it arose might be the femoral vein or artery which I had slashed! Mr. Norbury told me what plane to dissect on, and after several minutes wandering amongst fatty subcutaneous tissues the upper lobe of the encapsulated lipoma popped out from the muscle sheath, to be greeted with joyful exclamations by Mr. Norbury and a sigh of relief by myself. I then dissected out the lipoma, cutting where directed, and causing Mr. Norbury some anxiety by my determination to cut the muscle fibres rather than the lipoma - goodness knows why - perhaps I wanted to keep the specimen intact, or had vague fears that it might puncture like a cyst! On removal it turned out to be about 2 ins. in diameter, and it was most satisfying after the former doubts, that there had really been something there to remove.

Mr. Norbury left Bottomley to help me sew up while he started on the next op - a fistula-in-ano. I had some difficulty in getting the ligatures to sit over the end of the Spencer Wells and not at their tips - a difficulty I had never anticipated, or noticed other surgeons experience! But it felt very grand to be handed ligatures by the student doing instruments, and putting on the Michel clips fulfilled an ambition I have harboured for ages.

Those who knew that I was going to do an op said how dreadful it would be to have to perform in front of the assembled Norbury post, but actually I was too completely absorbed in the work on hand to even think of the others watching me. I didn’t do it very well, and must have appeared very amateurish to anyone watching, but I don’t think Mr. Norbury was annoyed with me, though I don’t think he could have been very pleased. Anyway I didn’t feel at all nervous, and my hands certainly didn’t tremble or fumble overmuch, so it was not as bad as it might have been. It was very nice of Mr. Norbury to think of letting a student do an op which to him must seem absolutely childish, and it must be very aggravating to keep your hands to yourself when you can do perfectly what someone else is making a great to-do about.

Well, that was what I wanted to say, so

Goodnight! 

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Saturday, Sept. 30th 1939

Not so very long since I wrote last, but things have changed somewhat! The war has been in progress for nearly a month, and we are beginning to lose the initial tenseness and are resigning ourselves to a prolonged period of hostilities and frightfulness. Thank goodness we all got our holidays just before all this began, for otherwise we should have been verging on nervous wrecks I expect - I feel already that I should enjoy another holiday!

Somehow all the prophecies and gossipings about the chances of war , that have been current for months past, did little or nothing to soften the shock of the actual outbreak of war when it came. 

The quiet, determined and fatal tone of Mr. Chamberlain’s speech at 11:15 that Sunday morning we shall all remember for a very long time. Air-raids we have not yet experienced, and I for one am dreading them with heart and soul.They are, I fear, almost inevitable; but the thoughts of the injuries and destruction they cause are too vivid to contemplate.

The most  helpful attitude at present seems to be one that recognises only each day as it comes, and looks no further. Thank goodness we students here have enough to occupy our days, and keep us from mooning. The hospital staff remaining - Dr. Hancock, Miss Barry, Miss Vaux, Miss Ball, Mr. Quist, Mr. Adler, Miss Moore-White - have taught us liberally and we feel that this horrid time of waiting about for air raid casualties has not been wasted.

Arlesey plans have collapsed more or less completely and now they are arranging for us to start posts as usual at R.F.H. next week. Goodness knows how long we shall have undisturbed. At present we volunteers are having all meals free, but next week I suppose we shall have to return to paid rations.

London is changing its old unchangeable face. Great sandbag edifices rise up all over the place, while paint is daubed on kerbs, railings and lamp-posts, and windows are decorated with thick black curtains of paper. The streets are lit only by the moon, and on a moonless night a walk is like Blind Man’s Buff, and crossing a road is done at your imminent peril - as our many casualty cases demonstrate. When peace comes again we shall certainly know how to appreciate it.

What a crazy world!   Goodnight! 

Categories
1939 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1939

by Margaret Taylor, age 25 years
April to September 1939

Meg is still studying to qualify as a doctor at the London School of Medicine

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Sunday April 30th 1939

Bulkeley and I have just spent a wonderful day in the country staying with Miss Ross, to collect foliage for decorating the common room of L.S.M. for a formal dinner. I have just written about it at length in my letter home and as it is a day I want to remember, I am going to reiterate it all here. 

We left hospital soon after 4 pm, taking our pyjamas and toothbrushes according to instructions! Miss Ross drove us out at a furious rate, and although it was showery the bright intervals between the showers were glorious. She lives at Herons Gate, about 20 miles out of London and near Watford and Rickmansworth. The house was a small one not far from the main road, but so secluded that it was difficult to realise that civilisation was anywhere near.

We met Miss Ross's sister on our arrival, and though we smile at our Miss Ross and think she dresses rather oddly, it was difficult to refrain from laughing outright at her sister. She had a khaki outfit on, tunic and short skirt and the collar of a shirt-like garment strongly resembling pyjama tops appeared at the neck. She had a long thin face with parchmenty skin and very wrinkled like our Miss Ross’s, but she was much stouter, in fact almost barrel-shaped, and her hair was not cut in an Eton-crop, but stood out wavy and stiff all round like a greyish golliwog’s.  Her voice was identical with Miss Ross’s - very deep and strong, in fact we never knew which was speaking when they were both in the room.

Our Miss Ross soon changed into her house clothes, and though they did not seriously rival her sisters they were outstandingly countrified. We wondered whether all Scotswomen at home in their highlands dressed similarly.

Anyway we thanked our stars that we could let all visiting manners fly to the winds, and felt at home immediately.

We were each provided with a pair of strong pruning pliers and taken out within five minutes of our arrival. Miss Ross pointed out the best woods for birches and beeches and directed us as to what to do when we got lost! She then said come back when we wanted to, and they could keep supper for us, and left us standing at the top of the open field behind her house, gazing across at the miles of greenery in front.

The country was really interestingly lovely. We met a gypsy encampment at the end of the lane and they said “Good evening, Miss” as we passed. The pony did not look so polite, but he didn’t do anything. There were whole carpets of bluebells and some clumps of primroses scattered about, and more violets than I have ever seen growing wild. We climbed fences and clambered over gates and through hedges. It started raining pretty hard at one time, but we just couldn’t waste time sheltering, but turned our coat collars up and took no more notice. We cut heaps of birches and beech boughs and as we hadn’t any string it was difficult to carry them, but we only enjoyed carrying them more because of it, and even having to toss the bundles over the gates and hedges before climbing them was great fun. We did not go back till it was nearly dark and as we crossed the field to the back gate of the house several of the cows we passed started following us, and we wondered frantically whether they were merely expecting us to feed them with our hard-won foliage, or whether they didn’t like the look of us and would charge. We certainly covered the last 20 yards at more than normal walking pace and were glad to shut the gate impolitely in their faces as they arrived there about 2 seconds after we did.

Supper was badly cooked by the other Miss Ross but we were ravenous and enjoyed every bit of it. Afterwards we sat by the log fire and listened to the news, and then helped Miss Ross by reading through and checking the references in the latest edition of her textbook, which is in the process of being printed.

Bulkeley had first bath and went to bed fairly early as she was tired and was conserving her strength for finals on Monday.

Later Miss Ross made tea and we all had a cup before retiring. My bedroom was small, and the walls were whitewashed blue. There were two windows, and a veranda in front of one of them. Both looked out onto miles of countryside, and I hadn’t the heart to close the curtains though leaving them open made the room rather light, and the moon was reflected in the panel of glass in the wardrobe.

I slept so soundly that it took me several minutes to remember where I was after Bulkeley had shaken and me awake about 7 a.m. We dressed in about three minutes and set off to collect bluebells to carry back with us. Miss Ross called out to us as we were going that we could take an apple each out of the apple shed at the end of the garden. We accepted the offer with relish, and the apples were heavenly. The wood was still very wet and frosty, and the fields looked so much more inviting in the sunshine that we walked a long way across them before we returned to the woods and the bluebells. Miss Ross came out with one of the Sealyhams, to collect us for breakfast, and after breakfast we tied up the branches in bundles and stowed them away in the car. Then we waved goodbye to Miss Ross’s sister and had a hilarious ‘zooming’ ride back to London and sanity. We are both longing to be asked out there again!

Goodnight!

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Sunday, June 11, 1939

I feel really worn out just now, and am joyfully anticipating 10 days or a fortnight’s holiday at home, to start tomorrow. The main reason has been futile worrying over Mum’s thyroid trouble. About three weeks ago, like a bolt from the blue, came a letter asking advice about which surgeon to consult, as she had been having ‘attacks’ of pain in the neck and some mild pressure symptoms.

This worried me very much indeed, for although I guessed the reason for the symptoms was very probably an oedema with recurrent haemorrhage into it, I just could not get the possibility is malignancy out of my head; and I had heard that Aunt Jessie died of something sounding suspiciously like a malignant thyroid.

Then came the relief of Mr Cooke’s report, and the knowledge, too, that he was such a charming person and an absolutely reliable and able surgeon. I arranged my holiday so that I could go home just before Mums had to go into hospital; but the day before my scheduled departure came a letter from Miss Mollen calling me to an interview with the Scholarships Committee on Monday June 12th -  two days after Mum’s operation.

It was impossible to return for the interview for less than £1, so I have just to make the best of staying up here during the weekend, when I would have been of the most use at home, and when I was longing to be near at hand to hear of her progress. Daddy rang me up last night to say that Mr Cooke was very pleased with Mums, and that she had had paraldehyde pre-op and was sleeping peacefully when he saw her in the afternoon. Podge’s high-pitched little voice chattering away was a real tonic, but to hear from Dad that he had been in to see Mum made it all seem so real that the whole thing stared me straight in the face for the first time, and frightened me a bit. Before that I had not been able to realise fully that it was really Mums who was having the op. we were all planning so busily. Anyway, it is mostly over now, and well over too, thank goodness, so no more worrying. Daddy is sending me a postcard tonight and I am wanting that, for it was too early to say much really last night. Mrs Beaman rang me up this morning  - she turns up trumps every time.

Since my last entry on work, I have done Junior Comb. and I’m now almost finishing Senior Surgery on Mr Norbury’s post. Junior Comb. was good fun though not wildly exciting. Mr Venall is an interesting and likeable old-fashioned type of doctor, with a refreshing amount of common-sense. He was the main attraction on that post, and his outpatients were the pièce de résistance each week. Horton disappointed me bitterly. I had read a small amount of psychological medicine before I went there, and had found it fascinating and stimulating reading. But Horton is a dreary old and most unfriendly place, at least when visited in the winter, and the patients were just as dreary, and appeared ill cared for and like animals rather than people. In fact ‘lunies’, though of great interest in the abstract, I found most uncongenial in the flesh, and my tentative speculations on delving more deeply into that branch of medicine came to a speedy dissolution. Dr. Heald with his electrical therapy and his exasperatingly slow and ambiguous conversation, reminded me of the Middle Ages and reliance on witchcraft and a bit of luck thrown in. He never diagnosed a case while I was with him  - though admittedly he gets all the undiagnosable chronics the hospital owns.

It is, I suppose, good for my soul to have to acknowledge that such an apparent fool is recognised by those well qualified to judge, as a very clever person! Mr Williams, X-ray expert(?) was an unfailing source of entertainment, but supplied no information whatsoever on X-rays. Sister Win was a rather bulky but very luminous star on the horizon throughout the post and her duets with Mr Venall on Tuesdays and Fridays were occasionally magnificent.

And now I am in the third month of Mr Norbury’s post, and am enjoying it as much as any post I have done, and more than any except Casualty or Junior Medicine perhaps. I was made senior, not because I was properly elected by a majority vote but because Westerman, who was elected, had transferred to the Cancer, and the other three seniors were all taking exams. But I certainly have been doing a full senior’s work, and it entails quite a lot of organisation and overseeing.  I have been fully repaid for my troubles though, for the juniors come to me all the time for advice, and obey instructions willingly though their conscientiousness is remarkable for its absence on many occasions. Even at school I could manage to be an authority without ‘bossing’ too much, and it is working just the same here, though perhaps I treat them too much like schoolgirls. It is gratifying when they say how they will miss me when I go on holiday - but I know too well what those compliments are worth to get swollen-headed about it!

Mr. Norbury is a person I shan’t forget, for he embodies most of my ideal qualities of a doctor, and is yet our inimitable Mr. Norbury at the same time. He is like a perky grey-haired little bird, hopping round and chirping joyfully day in and day out.

No patient is merely a ‘case’ for him, and no two ‘appendices’ are exactly alike. Surgery, one feels, is just as thrilling for him today as it was on his first house job, and his humility has not gone with his increase in knowledge and experience. There is nothing which stamps a fine person so surely as their humility (c.f. Mr. Joll !!)

I shall be sorry to miss the next 10-14 days of his post, but I want much more to go home, so go I certainly shall. E.N.T.s is to be the next 3 months’ effort - + pathology and fevers. Exams seem dangerously near, and I am working pretty hard now-a-days, to prevent a hectic scramble just before November. 

I think I’ve written enough for today…

Goodnight!

Categories
1938 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1938

by Margaret Taylor, age 24 years
February to October, 1938

Meg continues as a student doctor, experiencing Casualty, Children's wards, and Midwifery at the London School of Medicine.

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Monday, February 7th, 1938

Now that I have re-read my last entry after the steadying interval of a couple of months, I would like to cross most of the end part of it out. It reads just as if it were high-sounding nonsense and got up for effect rather than to give vent to real feelings. And I rather think, now, that it was. When Jim and I wrote to each other some time ago, he was criticising my literary, or rather poetical, attempts and insisted that it was essential above all that they were completely sincere.

He was right of course, but not until you have attempted to produce something which you want to be good can you realise how very difficult it is to be quite sincere, or even to know whether you are being so or not. It is no good writing what you would like to think, as if you did think it spontaneously; you only give yourself away, and go hot or cold with shame when you meet the thing later! Also, sentimentality is a dangerous stumbling block. Nothing is so moving if it is rightly used; nothing so nauseating if improperly handled, or if it is merely put on. On the whole, I think, better avoided 

I’m on casualty now, and not certain whether I am enjoying it or not. The post is quite unlike any of the others, and you rely on yourself and are accountable for your actions very much more than on the ward posts. Students give gases, sew up wounds and do some of the minor ops e.g. circumcisions etc. The work is certainly hard while it lasts, but there are slack as well as busy days for everyone, and if you get overtired it is really your own fault, and means that you are not using your time off in giving yourself a well-earned rest.

The first few days on casualty or ‘gate’, are distinctly chaotic, and you spend a good deal of your time either doing what someone else is doing for you, or forgetting to do what the doctor has ordered. There are innumerable bylaws about procedure on different occasions and you learn them one by one - by the infallible method of breaking each in turn and being hauled over the coals for it. Still, the house staff, the nurses, and above all Sister are really most long-suffering, and we do not get really the amount of blowing up and acid comments to which we all lay ourselves open. Perhaps in a week or so, when they have exhausted all their indulgence for the ‘new’ post they will be less kind, but again by then we shall have got over the first petrifying panic of the new surroundings, and be able to hold our own in the face of criticism.

I suppose that it is because children are ruled by their parents so entirely when they are young that they care so intensely what their superiors think of them or say to them. A word of praise is a lasting joy, a reprimand or thoughtless roughness causes intense misery, possibly very deeply rooted and remembered long after the author of it has forgotten. But as the child grows older, fashioning his mind and character and getting slowly accustomed to making his own decisions and acting on them, then he begins to lose the exaggerated reverence for the opinions of others, and grows to rely on his own appreciation of what is to be praised or condemned in himself as well as others.

I seem to have entered a strange state of fatalism recently. Nothing upsets me for long, indeed even at the moment of happening I am oddly unaffected by it  - as if it were happening to someone else and I was merely a slightly interested onlooker. It is very comfortable to have a second self which will ungallantly deny any relationship with the offending member in that way!

I must stop now - no more nonsense!

Goodnight!

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Sunday Feb. 27th 1938

Nearly the beginning of another month - they seem to slip by so rapidly, and the three months posts slip by with them, the more is the pity. I have now almost completed a month of the casualty post - that most dreaded of all the posts, and it has turned out to be quite survivable after all. Indeed it gives opportunity more than the other posts for rehearsing the part of Doctor, and discovering the most readily-made mistakes. My dread of stitches and gases is subsiding rapidly and I find that it is true, as I have told myself so often recently, that what others have done must be doable and therefore not to be dreaded.

Last Saturday I sent a copy of a short article I had just written for the magazine, to Jim for his criticism. He hasn’t written yet, and I don’t expect his verdict will be favourable when he does. I have never sent him a prose attempt before, and am interested to hear what he thinks of it. I should very much like to write a book or short stories or articles of some sort when I am older, and settled down in a practice or hospital somewhere, and have got something worth writing about in my head.

Next to my longing - well on the way towards being gratified - to become a doctor, I want to write, and I want to travel. I feel  as if the writing can very well be delayed until I am older, or even till I am ‘getting on’ and need a hobby not as strenuous as a full-time doctor’s work, and that is pretty strenuous as I well know. The travelling I think must come sooner, while I am still young and strong and able to enjoy roughing things and bumping my body against nature’s hard corners. I really think I must be developing a wander-lust in my bones, for nowadays the thought, as now, of setting forth on travelling adventures makes my heart jump up and down with excitement, and my tummy go curiously light in anticipation.

An exquisite short story by Martin Armstrong was read on the wireless today -  it was called ‘Birds of Passage’. After hearing that and after reading Jane Eyre again, as I am doing, my ambitions about writing myself seem a little presumptuous, and at least doomed to failure. Maybe it would be wiser to fill my time with doctoring and if necessary keep a diary as this one, for my private enjoyment, thus giving myself opportunity for scribbling when the mood is present, and denying anyone else the privilege of throwing cold water and perhaps hard words at the resulting drivel.

Bedtime so Goodnight!

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Wednesday April 6th 1938

Two late nights running have dragged all excess energy out of me for the moment, and I am giving myself the easy task of writing here until it is a sufficiently sensible time to drop into bed.

Only one more week of Casualty after this one  - I am dreading the end of the post, and the return to the dull round of pathology and wards again. There is a true dramatic quality in Casualty, absent in the other posts. You get a chance of showing your mettle, and also of finding how you react to making mistakes in front of companions and superiors. We are extremely lucky in having had exceptionally nice C.O.s Blenkin and Payne. Blenkin left at the end of last month, and we gave a supper party for her in Evans’ flat. She, Mr Payne and Mr Taylor came, and it was a success - they stayed on till almost midnight. Evans arranged a German supper with all kinds of unusual and good things to eat. Also we imported beer cider-cup and coffee, though we forgot the coffee until we were nearly going home! Blenkin we jokingly have called ‘the Darling’ for that was what one of the patients was heard to say about her. But it suits her exactly, for she is a perfectly natural, unassuming and tireless striver after all things, however trivial, that will help the patients under her immediate care. She treats us students as friends and just hasn’t any superiority, though she has a dignity of her own, and a quickness of perception and understanding that worms pathetic stories by the dozen from willing or unwilling narrators. Her efficiency in all branches of casualty duty is undoubted, and she will tackle absolutely anything that needs doing.

Mr Payne is quiet and sensible, very decent to the patients, and pretty efficient, though not, I think, infallible. What makes me like him perhaps, more than for example Mr Taylor or Le Vay, is that his work does really thrill him; the romance of healing has gripped him, as it does all the really true doctors. I like him ever even more since the supper party, for there it was possible to get to know him a bit unwound from the strappings of authority, and he showed up pretty well, putting Mr Taylor with his affectations and explosive - sometimes beastly - language out of court. Time for bed, so -  Goodnight!

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Saturday June 25th 1938

I haven’t been keeping up this diary at all according to plan, and there are large chunks missing between the entries. But perhaps the chunks are better missing, as everyday events are a bit monotonous. Even now, after about two months, there seems little to say. In spite of bewailings the Casualty post ended, and in spite of forebodings the Pathology post hasn’t been unbearable. We have only another week to go now, and then it’s Children for Jones and me for two months followed by Midwifery in September, October and November. On Children’s post we get Dr Hobhouse’s beds as well as Mrs Chodak-Gregory’s, so there will be plenty of reading to be done. I have really been working fairly hard at Pathology, and have reached the stage of being sorry that I didn’t work harder at Junior Medicine or Surgery. The weather now is really blazingly hot, and that makes me fagged out and uneager to tackle work in the evenings.

Last Wednesday Mum and Dad paid a flying half-day visit to London and we met at Wimbledon for the tennis. It was marvellous seeing them again after being away so long - my last holiday was in January. They both looked very well - Mums seems to look prettier every time I see her, and nobody could be sweeter or more lovable. They are grand parents! It seems however pretty rotten that they should spend all their energy and money on educating and training their children, and yet see so little of them. Such is the lot of most unselfishness it seems - it is its own reward for no other reward appears.

Jones has been elected senior for the Children’s post, and for a little while I was verging on jealousy - it is beastly how competition brings out the worst in people. We have worked together most of the time at hospital, and I consider myself just as good a worker as she is, and I suppose that made me resent the fact that she was preferred to me as senior. I know really that the election makes no difference whatsoever, and that all I have to mind about is that I make myself as good a doctor as I possibly can, let alone what anyone else does, and whether my standard is theirs or not. It is a weakness to want recognition for one’s achievements and honour for one’s capabilities.

Another triumph for Jones is that Dr. Playfair, on behalf of Dr. Shaw who is now head of the V.D. department, has offered her the post of senior assistant there two years after she has qualified. The pay is £300 a year and the attendance only 18 hours a week. So Jones is simply overjoyed, and feels beautifully safe and free from worry about her future after qualifying. She is almost certain to get 3rd H.S. [House Surgeon?] job too if she wants it after qualifying, as she was the only student on Miss Dearnley’s post on Gynaecology and got to know her very well. All this made me, with my complete absence of plans and prospects, slightly green too, but that also is stupid really because I certainly don’t want to specialise in Gynaecology and V.Ds.

Hospital goes on unobtrusively changing round so that students go and residents change so quietly that you never notice the absence of one or the presence of the other. The new house list has just been published, and we shall get Crossley on Children - not too bad but might have been better! Mr Payne is now R.N.O. and Mr Taylor has gone into the blue. It really was time too that he went, for his good name was becoming slightly tarnished, and we were getting very tired of his bumptious presence - poor man, what horrid things to say! Mr Payne is apparently coping adequately with R.N.O. though he hasn’t the experience of Mr Taylor yet. Jones and I attend Minor Meds. with others from the Pathology post, and we get all the work of diagnosis etc. to do as the others haven’t done any clinical work yet.It is good fun. 

Must go to bed now, so Goodnight!

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Wednesday, July 27th 1938

           

Nearly a month of the children’s post gone now, and a fortnight’s holiday only about three weeks away. I haven’t felt so much in readiness for a holiday for ages, for I’m really a bit overtired now and the work is fairly heavy. But this post is one of the most enjoyable that I have done so far - the children are most fascinating and both the authorities and nursing staff that we meet are very friendly and create a genial informal atmosphere. 

There are only five of us on the post this month - Jones, Burton-Brown, Nuvell and Koluyan and myself. Two others are joining us in August. Nuvell has been away on holiday recently and Koluyan is never on the premises when needed, so we three remaining have been running about and doing most of the work. We have Dr Chodak-Gregory’s, Dr Shelley’s and Dr Hobhouse’s patients, and I have had about 10 cases - new ones - since the beginning of the month, so I have gained quite a bit of experience. 

Dr Gregory becomes nicer and nicer as you get to know her, and we are all sorry that she is going to be away during the whole of August, so we shall see very little more of her after this week. Dr Shelley we have seen extremely little of so far, as she missed rounds and outpatients quite a bit at the beginning of the month, and is away on holiday now until the beginning of August. I hope she teaches a lot to make up for missing Mrs C-G’s rounds etc. when she returns.

Dawn-Pattison, Mrs C-G’s H.P., has been extremely decent to us - most approachable and willing to help and not a bit aloof as I expected! Her tutorials on Wednesdays before Dr Hobhouse’s rounds have been awfully funny. She has told us pretty exactly what Hobhouse will say about each case, and how we must reply. And her forecasting has been most useful and stood us in good stead in our many moments of need with him. Crossley is coming on in August instead of D-P, and I rather fear that the atmosphere may be rather different. Still I was wrong in imagining that D-P could not unbend, so maybe I will be wrong about Crossley too - I hope so. 

This evening I have been to a sherry-party at Mrs Williams’ house in Harley Street - for those of us who have done the test mealls and vitamin C tests for her. I had two glasses of sherry, one of tomato juice and a most variegated assortment of eatables. All this made it impossible for me to work tonight, and anyway I have been overworking just recently - so I’ll go to bed.

Goodnight!

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Monday, August 1st 1938 [Bank Holiday]

They call them the “long, long thoughts of youth” and I think they are right. Our thoughts are long and rambling and a little restive. Living ‘up’ and rather isolated - partly isolated by choice of course, for there are people I could descend upon - gives me time during the weekends and holidays to take stock of things wider than the daily routine. I think about myself, my future activities, and get a creepy feeling wondering what the future holds in store. And I think of other people and of what and how they think.

Just recently I have acknowledged to myself what I have always up to now I thought nurture -  probably because it should theoretically be nurture. People are stamped definitely in different moulds, and though some characters of different moulds are alike, products of different moulds have nothing akin to bind them together. I mean really that there are some people that I find it absolutely impossible to like, even if I do not actively dislike them. Some people I can, and do of necessity, feel a sympathy with; others I can neither talk unrestrainedly to nor feel a single interest in common with them. It is a very curious fact that it should be so, and it would be very interesting to see if Mendel’s Law applied to such a moulding of mental make-up. Anyway it seems to be pretty true to say that like types appeal to each other, for the friends of those with whom I cannot feel at ease are, almost without exception, those whom I should choose last of all for my own friends. In a way this grouping is worth it, for any dexterity one can steer moderately clear of battles with ones antipathies, and the joy of finding a person in whom one senses true sympathies is doubled.

I’m feeling a bit miserable tonight. I think it is really a bout of homesickness, for Richardson has just departed homewards on holiday, and I’m feeling a bit marooned in consequence. There is nobody else in the house, I believe, except Mr and Mrs Sydney down in the depths. In many ways I like being by myself. I have a strong bump of reclusiveness, and will always rather retreat behind the doors of my room than sally out to make merry in company. I’m not sure that I don’t revel slightly in my independence and the fact that I am quite sufficient company for myself. Really we are most of us humbugs at heart! 

Goodnight !

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Friday, October 7th 1938

Roberts, Nouvell, Kohiyar and I are all at 434 Essex Road* now, doing our first month of district midwifery. Last month we four, plus Jones, were at R.F.H. doing the midwifery wards. Last month I thought was foul, and I was rebelling against the rules and regulations nearly every moment - though usually it was only a mental rebellion!

* The Royal William was situated at 434 Essex Road. This pub has now been demolished and replaced by the office block in the photo.

https://www.closedpubs.co.uk/london/n1_islington_royalwilliam.html

Living together constantly, and living both a day and night life the whole time was altogether too much of a bad thing to those quite unused to it. I was longing so often to be able to have even a moment’s quiet to myself, and even five minutes with secure knowledge that I would not be rung up to “come immediately”. Bigby the third O.A. with whom we had most to do, did not get along well with us. Her over conscientious sense of duty, her overserious outlook on the most trivial things made even everyday things a duty and a burden. Her moments of lighthearted chatter and amazingly uncontrolled laughter made her even less understandable than if she had always been serious. Sykes and Stokes were very easy to get along with and Sykes especially gave us a good deal of necessary light relief on occasions. ‘Conny’ is an attractive person everyone likes and admires. Professor is our inimitable little Scotchwoman; Moore-White and efficient and entertaining little chatterbox; Shippam is ‘heavily’ nice and really unfathomable. 

In the first month we got 10 cases each, which was good going. So far here we have each had one case and Roberts and Kohiyor have had two. My case was an extremely lucky one. The lady was a Mrs Bastie and within five minutes of our arrival she started second staging and about 10 minutes later the baby was born - no complications. I was very afraid at one time at one time that she was going to have a bad P.P.H. for she started bleeding severely before the placenta was nearly ready to expel. But we held our thumbs for a few minutes and the uterus hardened up and the bleeding stopped, though the placenta did not come out for about 45 minutes. I should have hated having to Crede the thing out.

Essex Road clinic is a weird little place - originally a pub. There are two parts to it, separated by the kitchen. Downstairs is the clinic proper with consulting rooms, sterilising room etc. Sterilising all our own things was a tremendous business at first, but I quite enjoy it. Freath is charming and we get along well with her. She is very nice indeed about letting us do exactly what we want to our patients without interfering or advising.  Enough for the present.

Good morning!

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Categories
1937 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1937

by Margaret Taylor, age 23 years
September to December, 1937

Meg continues as a student doctor at Medical College in London.

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Tuesday, Jan 19th, 1937

            A really wonderful opportunity to write here! I have got up this evening for the first time after 'flu, and I have never known an evening be so long! I'm not supposed to read a great deal, and besides I am awfully tired of reading; I've thought of writing letters, but as I have already written home saying all the latest news, it would only be dull repeating if I did.

            'Flu was horrid, and the worst part of it was, and still is, the cascara! In a truly misguided moment, I allowed myself to be given three doses of the stuff as it seemed to be having no effect. The result was a series of violent colic attacks during the night, and they made me so miserable I felt I could have dissolved into a pool of tears with ease – and comfort! My tummy is still quite upset, and I have no appetite and feel sick at night time – memories I expect. But otherwise I am pretty well alright – the trouble at the moment is that the cold in the throat has travelled up Eustace a bit and blocked both my ears so that my head feels uncannily cotton-woolly, and I don't hear properly – what I do hear I hear with my whole head, it seems, and it is very nerve-wracking when it goes on all day. My reward is coming however in the shape of a week's holiday – doctor's orders – at home. I am probably going on Friday and will come back for work at college again by the following Monday week. I suppose I will have to wander over to college and see Dr. Dickson and Prof. Cullis about missing this first fortnight of the Primary course. I don't expect they will be overjoyed, but I don't think they will try to make me stop – I should not feel much like working for a bit if I did stop, I know.

            It is dreadful how being absolutely lazy and resting in bed infects you with the germ of idleness, so that when you get up, behold you have no initiative or 'go' at all, but just sit still and wish there was something worth doing (conveniently skipping in your mind anything feasible which crops up).

            It is very odd, because I can't hear my pen writing, although I know it is making the usual sort of noise alright. I can hear my watch ticking if I hold it right against my ear, but if it is more than an inch away, I can't hear it at all. I have to listen to people, when they talk to me, very carefully or I don't understand what they are saying. The sounds reverberate so that nothing is clear-cut but everything runs together in a buzz – not a 1d Buzz!

            Last Saturday week, Alan had his 21st birthday party, and his and Peggy's engagement was announced officially – by a gramophone record he made at Alexandria. Everything was a tremendous success that evening, and they played ping-pong in the dark with phosphorescent balls, and phosphorescent false noses – it seems to have gone awfully well.  Pat wrote me a long letter describing how she and Betty got up again, after having been put to bed, and prowled about the landing until the guests arrived for supper about 1 a.m.! They saw all the dresses etc. and listened to all the revelry until about 2 a.m. when they crawled back to bed – and fell asleep at once I'm sure! Pat will be simply overjoyed that at length she will be able to let people know about Peggy and Alan, and not have to put them off with tactful half-truths all the time – rather difficult for a youngster who is dying to let them all into the precious secret!

            I have spied a pack of cards, and if I can remember, or make up, any games of patience I think that is an excellent idea. Yes, no?

Good-night!

footnote: Cascara

Cascara sagrada is a herbal remedy that used to be a common ingredient in some over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives.

The bark comes from a tree called the California buckthorn. This tree grows on the West Coast of the United States and parts of South America. Historically, it was used by Native Americans to treat a host of issues, including:

  • constipation
  • digestive problems
  • joint and muscle pain
  • gonorrhoea
  • gallstones
  • dysentery

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Saturday, April May 1st 1937

            Writing May instead of April has given me rather a nasty moment. Primary starts on May 31st, and to be actually in the fateful month is rather frightening when it comes upon you suddenly.

            I have nothing special today to commit to paper; the reason why I dug out this book was because my mind just refused to settle down to work for a bit, and I have made a sacred vow not to read non-work books from now on. My conscience should doubtless revolt against my writing here as much as reading novels, but at the moment I'm stifling it!

            Working for Primary has been much better fun than I thought at first it would be. Luckily, Jones and I get along together very well, and these three months have made us much greater friends, and we really know each other well now. We have a great deal in common in thoughts and ways of doing things. I like her very much, but she will never be the truly ‘friend that I know could exist for me’ – Whatley I think is about the nearest I know,  but then again I don’t see much of her now, and she has many other friends. It is funny how very few people you meet you can really want to get to know intimately. Generally, you can tell them almost at once though when you do meet them. Whatley is one I have felt that for, Ileene another and - less approachable - Professor Keene and Dicky. Another kindred spirit is Maud. By the way, those two words “kindred spirit” just about hint at what I meant, as Mr. Rochester says our minds are “something akin.”

From quoting Mr. Rochester, I can’t resist going on to my pet theme of Jane Eyre. No other book touches me as that one does, and only the others by the same author evoke even an echo of the response that Jane Eyre evokes. I know there is nothing original in praising this book - it is the pet of thousands of people. But that only means that others feel it as I do, and though perhaps that brings a tiny ray of grief that others have uncovered and gathered up the precious spirit that feels so personal a discovery, yet I know that really I am deeply glad that others do know and love her as I do.

 I doubt if men would respond to her mind as women would, but then I think rather the type of mind is called for rather than the sex. A person is living there in the leaves of that book, and to read the book with sympathy is, I think, to know Jane Eyre better than the majority of our friends. She has the sense of letting you into her heart, without having a special spring-clean and redecoration to make it unrecognisable for you when you enter. That is the secret of true living - to be founded upon a rock, true always to yourself and others in big and little things. That is what gives you the courage to face anyone or anything with a steady eye, and dispenses with all need of “pose” or affectation or concealment. It sounds easy, but if it were more people would succeed in achieving it.

I think perhaps Jane herself shows what it may cost you to keep the clear bubbles in the soul-springs. Her struggles to carry out what she knew her true nature demanded are described so perfectly that you struggle in sympathy as you read. It is so easy to slip over the slight dividing line, and just miss the harmony of a nature absolutely in tune in all its chords. Yet to possess such a nature, whatever it costs you to retain it, is to live as no others could and enjoy a sense of peace with life nothing else could give.

 Now having got so far, we come to a pitfall. Realising the truth of what we’ve said, do we pat ourselves quietly on the back and say, “And that is what we are like”?  It is very easily done, and I rather imagine I may have done it in the past. To understand and sympathise with that nature seems almost to confer the nature on oneself, but although of course it doesn’t, yet it helps in that direction I’m sure.

 I can’t go any further into the mists of reasoning; it is getting a little too thick, and with one last glance at the pitfall we will turn aside and sit till it clears a little.

And meanwhile I must go and do some shopping or the shops will all be shut!

Good night!

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Thursday Jun 10th 1937

It seems incredible, but I have got three days in front of me before I return home, and no work at all to do all the time! The secret is that Primary has just been completed, and I am staying up till Monday to see the results – I wouldn’t believe anybody if they wrote to tell me, I must see it actually myself!

Roberts has been up here, sheltering from the thunderstorm which has been raging for the last hour or so. And now it is time for bed, so this must be postponed until tomorrow – and tomorrow we have ‘test meals(?)’ again, no peace at all these days!

Goodnight!

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Monday, August 16th 1937

I can’t work tonight – too tired, so this seems just the thing to tide me over till a reasonable bed-time. It is no use trying to fill in all the gaps between my entries here, besides it would be dull reading I should think. But anyway, I will say that I failed Primary - not very badly, but then most of the failures were on the verge I imagine.

Since then I have had six weeks' holiday. Of that I spent 16 days in the middle of Ireland with Ileene Allen at Hightown. That I had a marvellous time needs no saying, for I always enjoy every moment in her company. We may well call ourselves twins, for, though that is not true physically, mentally we have twin feelings, and we are always in good humour in each other’s company, and the more we see of each other the more we want to see. I don’t think I shall easily forget the night-time talks we had as we lay in bed, both in the same room in the little wooden bungalow. How 'deep' and muddled we got, and what solemn nonsense we pronounced! Ileene produced the winner of the series by keeping half awake at something to one o’clock proving that Newton’s laws of mechanics were false! She knows no mechanics, and I am supposed to, but she won easily, and we had a wonderful nonsensical time arguing it, and nearly going off to sleep in the middle of logical propoundings.

I wish I knew that I would find someone who 'fitted' me perfectly; to many it seems silly to worry about that - there is loads of time, and I am certainly not in a hurry. But I can realise now how inexpressibly happy a really harmonious married couple could be, if their minds held the sympathy which real friendship, such as mine with Ileene, has. And a home life of that kind too - I would love the assurance that it is coming, though there is no hurry about it. I wonder often - shall I marry or not, and I always hope I shall, for I know there are men whom I could love, as love should be between husband and wife; who would keep each other’s hearts young.

Never mind, I can’t write it. Still I wish it would happen, and that I could know now that it would. I feel that either I shall marry and it will be the truly right person, or I shall remain unmarried, and let work take up all my time. I certainly don’t feel that I shall have an unhappy marriage, or any terrible love tragedy - perhaps I’m not impulsive enough!

And I was supposed to be writing about my six weeks holiday! The time I spent at home was spent mainly in playing tennis. It is tantalising how each year I get a few weeks' holiday, just enough to get into the hang of tennis, and then back to work and all out of practice until I get another few weeks later on! But it is harder on those who play with me than on me myself.

Now, rather sketchily, I think we are about up-to-date, and I can say gently that at the moment I am at hospital again, doing Junior Surgery under Mr Joll and Miss Beck. And that explains why I am too tired to work this evening, for Monday is Joll's operating day, and we have had five good hours of it in the theatre, striving madly in the atmosphere of quite unsubdued thunder, conjured up by Joll and Beck, both of whom were in great form as far as fury goes. And it goes miles with both of them!

Nobody pretends that either of them is good tempered, but they say that it is worthwhile getting their harsh words if you get their technique at the same time.  Besides I lop-sidedly enjoy surviving some of Beck’s tantrums, and to think that her scathing remarks have no power to make you miserable takes all the sting, or most of it, out of her venom.

Her bark is many times worse than her bite, and as she bites us all almost indiscriminately we very soon forget about it. I have always had a terror of hard words, because I suppose I always reasoned that they were merited and therefore to be taken to heart. But now when half the time you are sworn at for someone else’s mistakes and the other half of the time for mistakes you did commit from sheer ignorance, then the torment ceases to overwhelm you, and you bob up again cheerfully instead of slowly rising from a whirlpool full of misery, only to be submerged again almost immediately. Besides, and more to the point, if Beck sees her blazing utterances don’t upset your equilibrium she doesn’t produce nearly so many, and you score both ways. Still, good old Beck, she is a marvel of efficiency, and what our famous - or infamous? - Mr Joll would do without her nobody knows!

That’s enough for tonight, we will continue, or rather reopen the 'shop' another time, there is heaps to say about Junior Surgery I assure you!

Goodnight!

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Friday Oct 22nd 1937

When I last wrote it was near the beginning of the Joll Post. Now we have nearly reached the end and Gynaecology comes upon us in just over a week. These three months have passed very quickly indeed, and I am sorry to think that they are almost past, for I for one have thoroughly enjoyed their passage. It has been a very novel experience, and the thrill of surgery works its way into your bones amazingly quickly. I prefer surgery to medicine; it is much more straightforward, and the results are more spectacular, and so many lives are undeniably saved as they could not be by any other method. Whereas in medicine so much seems to be patching up things for a variable length of time, or waiting patiently for the disease to cure itself. I never thought that I should be enrolled in the band of those who ‘want to get on with it’, for I always used to be a marvel at letting things slide, and of putting off till the very last moment anything which I could persuade myself could be postponed.

I am very glad that on Gyneacology, we get a great deal of theatre work, for I should miss it dreadfully if I dropped it all together now.

The infamous Mr Joll has really turned out to be, at least superficially, quite a likeable man. He has, undoubtedly, a temper, but he very rarely exhibits it, and during his Friday rounds has time after time shown himself patient in the face of blank stupidity, and helpful to those trying vainly to produce a fairly intelligent answer. He is also undoubtedly an extremely clever and competent surgeon, and his knowledge outside the scope of surgery seems to be exceedingly extensive and accurate in detail. He teaches well too, for he has a very clear mind, and one that always founds even the most difficult problems on the simple fundamentals. Beck, too, though I wrote reams about her tantrums, can be, and has been, very kind and forbearing with us on many occasions. At the beginning of the post, I wrote about their faults; at the end I modify that by adding their good points, and that is how it should be, and helps to  prove the old moral, that there is some good in even the worst - how flattered they would be to read this! 

A poem for Joll

The other day Joll did his five-thousandth thyroid, and Sister A.2. wanted a poem to celebrate the occasion - apparently Sir James Berry had a poem when he had done only three thousand! Anyway, I was commissioned to produce a poem, and last night I tackled the rather delicate operation. I achieved a rather poor result, but it had to do, and we persuaded Registration to type it for us on R.F. headed paper. Sister A.2. has, it is rumoured, got a special cake for the occasion of his celebration, and both cake and poem are to be presented to him on Monday afternoon. I don’t know the details yet, but I hope that Mr Joll will have the grace to stop for tea, and not rush through the list, and finish gasping somewhere near suppertime. It would upset poor Sister dreadfully; she quite worships the man.

Hospital life is still a bit of a strain at times, and some aspects of it still upset me, though the kind of upset that used to worry me most - the horrid sight kind - have completely disappeared, and I am hardened into iron as far as pain for others is concerned - sounds callous I know, but it’s only self-protection, and has to be screwed on top, and I could unscrew it any time. But what does still ‘unrest’ me are the post-mortems on patients I knew when they were alive. It is just a little too far for me, even now, and it raises such great and deep wonderings, such as the separation of body and mind, or body and soul, and the query of life after death. It is only seen in the post-mortem room, how the belief in life after death could arise so spontaneously from the sight of a friend lying lifeless, yet so nearly as you knew them alive. It seems impossible that the personality that you knew, and had intercourse with, has just evaporated and become, in a few hours, non-existent. It seems an insult to human life that a human being, with its almost unlimited possibilities and ideas, should degenerate in so short a time into something that the pathologist’s knife divides into exhibits A to Z.

Something has so obviously left the body. Call it ‘life’ if you like, but it is not life in the meaning of simply the driving force that made the protoplasmic wheels go round. It is the personality of the person himself, the thing that made him the person he was, and which distinguished him from the millions of humans with similar organs and tissues. It seems natural to suppose that this ‘something’, the really essential being that we knew, has survived the running down of the organic frame containing it, and has flitted away into its own world of unfettered freedom.

Yet, a mind with no means of expressing itself, or giving vent to its faculties seems meaningless and unintelligible, and we return to our original state of profound query, which leaves us restless in mind, and still worried by the memories of the evacuated bodies of the post-mortem room.

Much too late for ghost stories, so Goodnight!

Footnote: Mr Joll

Cecil Joll worked at the Royal Free Hospital, in Pond Street, in Hampstead, performing thyroid surgery from 1911 until 1945, when he died at the age of 59.

The surgeon was known for performing up to 14 operations a day and taught hundreds of students and many surgeons to the highest standards.

He also established the hospital as London’s leading thyroid centre. Professor George Hamilton, professor of surgery at the Royal Free said: "Cecil is internationally known for his work in thyroid surgery.

"His name lives on with the instrument known as the ‘Joll extractor’ which is now universally used. The Royal Free is proud to display this in our surgical seminar room."

Meg was commissioned to write a poem for the celebration when Mr. Joll achieved his 5,000th thyroid operation. See the poem here.

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Saturday Oct 23rd 1937

After yesterday's outburst perhaps I should lie low for a bit, but I'm not going to. Being on surgery brings up other big things besides the post mortem worries. The thing which haunts you is cancer, and the tragedy is not only that you meet it so often, but that in so many of the cases you see for the first time the growth has gone too far for hopeful operation, and the prognosis is in terms of a few years at most. If only, you sigh, they would come earlier, and give you, and themselves, a chance. But the reply is always the same - "It didn't hurt me, Doctor, so I didn't take any notice of it".

Joll, talking of this said that every method had been tried to get lay people to co-operate with us in that way, but he said that nothing was any good, and nothing would persuade a patient to confront a doctor with a lump and no symptoms.

A carcinoma of the breast which came into A.2. only yesterday said that she really went to her doctor about her legs, and only happened to mention the drawback to old age being that you get lumps and bumps everywhere. On being asked more about the said lumps and bumps, she said she had one - nothing at all really - in her breast. The doctor made her show him the lump, and so she was packed off to us almost immediately. Perhaps the greatest tragedy though, is to watch their faces, dreading the first signs of their realising what is the matter, and wondering how they will take it. The scared, tearful ones are pathetic, but the dazed and attempting-to-be-brave ones are worse. There are always the arguments for and against knowing everything about your condition, and in these cases it is I think, almost worse for them not to know, for their terrors and imaginings I should think must be terrible, when they suspect cancer.

I remember so well that about a couple of years ago I was sure that I was not a bit afraid of dying, and I remember saying I would not mind dying at all, I think I even said that the death of very near relations and friends would not upset me, as I knew they would be happy and nothing terrible had happened or would happen to them. I remember Whatley saying that unless you actually had experienced such a death you could not realise what it was like, and that really it was for yourself, and for the gap they left that you were miserable. I know I felt pretty cheap preaching away, with no experience, on matters in which I had no knowledge, while remembering she had lost her father, of whom she was extremely fond, not long before. But I know I owned up to talking through my hat, and that remembrance soothes me a little now.

For myself I own I am now less eager to die than I was two years ago. In fact I should be very, very sad, and probably panicky about dying if I knew it was coming soon, and going to cut off all my beautiful castles in the air for my future. But still I don't honestly think I am afraid, and my experience of death, which has been pretty thorough during the last year, has inclined rather to reassure than upset me. It isn't such a dreadful thing, and is rather a leaning back and relaxation than the tearing, rending agony that lurid literature pretends. A violent death perhaps would be very painful, but it comes quickly and unexpectedly and is over fast. Indeed a merciful Povidence surely turns all our tragedies into mercies in disguise - certainly nothing is ever so bad as you fear, experience has taught me the profound truth of that, and the knowledge of that truth helps you to give up worrying or meeting troubles even quarter-way.

Talking of violent death I must record that during the last year or two I have blossomed into a thorough-going Pacifist. So far my knowledge of Pacifism has been negligible or non-existent, but my belief in it has rested simply upon the fact that nothing in the world, that I have yet met, would persuade me to kill any human being against whom I had no feelings of personal hatred. Thus I would not take part in a war, and I reject war as an indefensible piece of conduct, for nothing, to me, can justify such meaningless destruction of innocent human beings. This simple conception of war - i.e. just viewing your own part in it - is popularly disregarded, and men - and women - brag noisily of national policy, security and defending their country. Surely it is more reasonable to look first to the step in front, and not speculate vaguely about what happens at the top of the hill. It would not be permissible, would it, to walk on and trample down fellow men, because hey happened to be lying just where you wanted to pass to reach the view? You could prattle as much as you liked about how important it was to see the magnificent view, and the beauties of nature it would reveal, but I should still think you shouldn't have trodden on anybody to get there.

What's the good of metaphors anyway!!

Goodnight!

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Saturday, Dec 11th 1937

 My mood is a curious one tonight. I am very very tired,  but restless as well and languid - in fact full of the vague wonderings that usually prompt me to unearth this tome and scribble in it. There is nothing special that causes this upheaval of mental waters now and again, but some days the people and things around me are lit up by a different light from that of everyday, and I have time to sit back, as tonight, and let my thoughts run away, this this mood is conjured up. If only I had something to say it would be better, but there is nothing tangible enough for a pen to write, though the desire to write something, or anything, is great.

My gynaecological work keeps me on the go day after day, starting directly after breakfast and sending me fagged out home to supper and a welcoming bed. Perhaps the dramas, hardly even fully registered, during the daily rounds, work up fermenting in my mind until they bubble over. Certainly one sees life, and all sides and sorts of human nature at a big hospital. And though I am now 23, that is not really a vast age for the easy receipt of other people’s troubles, anxieties and murky secrets, and for an effortless assumption of dignity and authority among numberless adults looking to you as ‘doctor’ to help them.

This afternoon I saw the film “Queen Victoria”. It was frightfully good - very like Lytton Strachey’s biography. History is very real in the films, and there, even more than when considered in the abstract, conjures up questions about life and death that are enough to send anyone’s thoughts woolgathering in the limitless space of the mind. Those people who are, or were, so real have gone, all of them, and nothing can stop time stealing us away one by one after our allotted time. First you must go to school, then you must leave it, however much you want to stay, then you must choose something to do for your lifetime, and lastly you must die, and the whole population of which you were a unit will change till the world will be full of other people with whom you share only the fundamental qualities of humanity.

The BBC Theatre Orchestra are broadcasting, and to my tired senses their music making is like a mother’s hand clasped by a fretful child - soothing and calm, beautiful and rather lumpy to the throat. I should delight to be able to play music well, is a way of compassion that cannot be excelled. I should delight too, to be able to appreciate it as musicians proper can.

Goodnight.

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