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.
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.
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!