Categories
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...

Go to top

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!


Go to top

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.

Go to top

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!

Go to top

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!

Go to top

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!

Go to top

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

Go to top

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!

Go to top

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!

Go to top

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!

Go to top

Categories
1943 Meg poem

Inspections Advice

The Sapper's Lament

Said the S.M.O. to the J.M.O.
With a frown "Now, did you say
Four hundred skin inspections are
Too many on one day?
Now listen, I will tell you how
Inspections can be done
Efficiently and only take
Ten seconds for each one -
Nearly four hundred in an hour.
(Don't shake your head I pray
I tell you it is simple if
You do it as I say.)
Teach them to follow fast in turn
And glance as each goes by
At hands, axillae, chest and back
Their teeth, then turn your eye
In rapid survey o'er the girl.
If any should look ill
Or if they have symptoms to air
Tell them to wait until
The end, then you can spend what time
You have, or like, on each.
Oh, inspections are mere child's play if
You practice what I preach!"

Margaret Taylor 1943

Categories
1943 Meg poem

The Thyrotoxic Lady

The Thyrotoxic Lady (1943)

The lady sitting over there
(with proptosed and unwinking stare)
Is thyrotoxic. It's not hot
But note that she perspires a lot;
And if you chanced upon the sly
To knock her knee as you went by
(I recommend you take the risk)
You'ld find her knee-jerks rather brisk.

If you sat next to her, and dared
To take her hand you'ld think her scared
For 'twould be trembling; her pulse rate
Might rise to dizzy heights; a state
Of palpitations in the chest
Would come upon her if you pressed
Her fingers - be not over-bold
Her feelings cannot be controlled.

In fact it is because her nerves
Are so on edge that all the curves
Of female form have worn away
And left her thin and far from gay.

Though she (it cannot be denied)
Eats like a horse, something inside
Must take all value from her food,
It never does her any good.
(Only her neck's circumference
Enlarges fast at her expense).
All told, the thyrotoxic state
Is one, I fancy, she must hate.


Published in "The Lancet" 1943 (received £5 !)