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15 October 2014
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Evacuation at Midnight

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Margaret Sherlock Dunkley
Location of story: 
St. George's Hospital
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 September 2005

From January 1940 until the spring of 1945 my contribution to the war effort was to serve as a nurse at St. George's Hospital, at Hyde Park Corner. One Saturday night in January 1941 as we ran up the steps to the hospital's main entrance, we heard the familiar ’crunch’ of a bomb nearby. We laughed, agreed "That was a near one,” and then dispersed to our wards to report for duty. The first two hours of the night were always busy as we had the routine settling of the patients, and also any work in the kitchen that might make a noise and disturb the patients if done later. At ten O' clock the Night Superintendent came round and told us that a time bomb had fallen in the Medical School, and that as it had not gone off yet we must get the patients ready for evacuation at midnight. Two hours sounds a long time, but somehow we needed it all. There were nearly twenty four patients and they all had to be told first what was happening, then we had to put their notes, X- rays, and belongings, on their beds, and try to make them comfortable for the journey. Drainage tubes had to be clipped off, and two men who had broken legs under traction had to have their weights removed. We had two patients called ‘John Robinson’ and labeled ‘Peptic Ulcer’, so we had to take extra care to give each one the correct notes and X- rays. The blackout curtains absorbed most of the light and made the wards very gloomy at night, except where the reading lamp lit up Sister’s desk.

The patients were wonderful and didn’t grumble at all, although many of them were worried about their relatives coming to visit them the next day and finding an empty hospital. At midnight ambulance crews, medical students, and volunteers started taking the patients down, but as there were only two very ancient lifts it was a slow business. At one point I went down to the main hall for something and one of our patients, an elderly Greek, called me over. He explained to me in an agitated way that he couldn’t find his passport or his papers, which proved he was legally listed as a ‘Friendly Alien’. I was afraid that he might get taken to an ambulance while I was searching for the papers. I eventually found them wedged in a crack in the corner, and I raced down to catch him. He thanked me with tears in his eyes. Sadly we never met these patients again, as they finished their treatment elsewhere.

At about a quarter past two the last patient was taken down, and we relaxed for a few minutes. Eventually two nurses and three young men were the only personnel left, so without a word we made a bee- line for the kitchen. There we had a delicious meal of eggs, bacon, bread, butter and tea. It may sound quite ridiculous to do this only yards from a time bomb, but that is what happened. We had had nothing except a cup of tea since 7pm the previous evening, and we were tired and very hungry. Moreover, we had been working through the nights of bombing, schooling ourselves to ignore any possible danger, so it was easy even natural to continue in the same way. Halfway through this meal, Night Superintendent arrived in the doorway. When she saw what we were doing her eyes twinkled. Then she tried to look severe, and said “Night Sister’s getting cross, she says everyone MUST be out of the building by three O’ clock.” So we hastily finished our meal and washed up.

In the main hall kind people were offering lifts to the Nurses Home, but three of us decided to walk. It was a clear moonlit night, and we enjoyed what very few people have seen I imagine- London in the light of the full moon with no other lights at all and no traffic. We strolled down Knightsbridge, chatting and comparing notes of the night’s work, and enjoying the utter peace.

This story was entered on The People's War Website by Stuart Ross on behalf of Margaret Sherlock Dunkley. Margaret fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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