James Walter Manson

In October 2017 I received a lovely email from Clare Manson who wanted to share her father's memories about the time when he was working at Netley and later on at Hilsea.


This is a very informative document describing life at Netley at the beginning of WWII.


I am very grateful to Clare for sharing it.






             In October 1939 I was called up as a result of having joined the British Red Cross at Cirencester, in company with my landlady's son : we had joined in order to get into the cinema free, and had signed to serve with the T.A in the event of hostilities.


            I was posted to 4 Co. R.A.M.C. Netley Hospital, a vast building on Southampton Water, with its own pier and railway station; and a corridor a quarter of a mile long. It was believed to have been designed for India! There were coal fires in the wards, which had huge windows with enormous blackout boards, facing Southampton Water. My first accommodation was an old dining hall, thick with dust, and allegedly last used in 1924. I was given two blankets and a palliasse full of chopped straw. After being sworn in I was issued a uniform and drilled a bit.


            Next morning we were woken about 5 a.m. to attend an ambulance train in the station. B.E.F. sick and injured were on board, most of the injured being the result of road traffic accidents. Four of us were given a Welsh Guardsman on a stretcher, in full marching order, complete with rifle and a spare pair of boots. Despite having a broken leg he refused to part with any of his kit! There were no working lifts, so we had to hump him up two winding flights of stairs to a ward, as we had been instructed, to be greeted by sister who told us that it was the wrong ward. We took him down again, but at last got rid of the rifle, as a sister (who was a Lieutenant) told him "We can't have rifles in here - this is a hospital". He reluctantly parted with his rifle, and we took him down one floor accompanied by much cursing, and eventually found the right ward.


            After this we went to breakfast, which was allegedly Japanese boiled liver. There were Eastern markings on the containers, but it was probably Argentine liver which had been diverted. It tasted horrible.


            We were paraded to be appointed to jobs, and having my Red Cross certificates I was sent as Nursing Orderly Class III to the T.B. wards, where there were sixty patients in semi-isolation in two Nightingale wards. I was greeted by an elderly sister who said "You are much too young to work here on the wards: you might get T.B." I was relegated to the ward kitchen, washing up and helping sister dish out food which I and another orderly brought up by trolley from the main kitchen.


            The food was excellent, but many of the patients were very ill, and would not eat it. Occasionally sister would keep back some treats like chicken or jelly and cream, but once food had been in the ward no one would touch it. It was very distressing when offering chicken dinner to patients to have to take it away untouched, having been told "Take this muck away, orderly". It had to go into the swill bin.


            We worked very hard. The shifts were 6-2 and 1-8, or split 6-10 and 5-8. The staff varied, but usually consisted of one sister, two V.A.D. nurses, and six nursing orderlies who did all the cleaning and domestic chores in the wards, brought up the meals and in winter time brought in three cwt. of coal in three two-handled wash tubs which had originally been on iron wheeled trolleys, but eventually were replaced by pneumatic wheeled trolleys. After the former these were a great luxury!


            I have not touched much on the design of the building, but as far as I remember it was of Victorian design, three stories high and the main corridors were a quarter of a mile long. These ran along the front of the ward blocks, giving access between the wards and service areas, sister's office, ward kitchen, isolation ward etc. Each division specialised in particular facets of hospital care, and usually consisted of ninety beds in three wards. The centre part of the corridor was built up front and back, and contained administration, x-ray equipment, sister's quarters, operating theatres etc., and on the ground floor were the main kitchens, linen store and orderlies mess rooms.


            There were two hydraulic lifts, wonders of Victorian engineering, on which the two upper floors were entirely dependent for all services in the way of food, linen, fuel and stretcher patient movement. If the lifts failed it meant that manpower had to take everything up and down the winding stairs. The lifts could carry two stretchers and attendants, but could run out of power if the weight was too great. They were counterweighted in the usual way, but were operated by a hydraulic piston about 18 inches in diameter, which rose up out of its cylinder in the basement, pushing the lift up when water was let into the bottom of the cylinder by the lift operator pulling up cord which opened a valve from the tanks in the roof. On pulling the 'down' string the valve closed from the tanks, and another valve opened which allowed the weight of the descending lift to push the water back up into the top of the tanks. As the gland in the basement used to leak when the lift was heavily loaded it was difficult for the operator to stabilize it at intermediate floors.


On one occasion the lift was heavily overloaded with four food trollies, one of which had four buckets of rice pudding on the top. At the first floor the operator stabilized the lift with difficulty, and the orderly with the rice pudding trolley got half way out when the lift rose a little. The orderly would have been wise to have made a run for it; however he stopped. The operator panicked and pulled the 'down' string. The lift shot down. There was a splintering of wood, and rice pudding shot all over the lift and its occupants! I cowered behind my trolley at the back of the lift and escaped unscathed but the T.B. ward lost its lunch. Twenty gallons of rice pudding, plus sixty servings of meat and gravy in the lift must have taken a lot of clearing up! By the time of this incident I was on a surgical ward, and was thankful to have escaped with my patients’ lunches.


            Leave was non-existent, even though it was the phoney war, however the sister would always try and arrange in the case of a patient being discharged home for him to be escorted by someone who lived in that vicinity, and for it to take place on a Thursday or Friday. I was lucky, and had to escort a patient home to (I believe) near Tredegar, so I was able to get a week end at home: we had a wonderful train service in 1939!


            By November '39 we had been moved from the old dining hall to a proper barrack room, converted from old married quarters. It was over the linen stores, backing on to the station platform. We had blankets, biscuit mattresses, slide-up beds and two W.C's. on the veranda outside. The army in its wisdom or lack of it decided that these loos were to be locked at night. This of course caused dissatisfaction, especially on Friday nights - pay day - beer nights, and it became the practice of some of the lads with beds near the back windows, which were fairly high, to stand on their beds and relieve themselves through the windows on to the station platform below. Unknown to the lads, it was the practice of one of the orderly sergeants, when on night duty, to retire to the platform for a quiet smoke, and listen under any opened window, presumably hoping to gather information on matters requiring disciplinary action. On one occasion the chap in the corner bed relieved himself through the window, and caused an explosion of wrath from below, followed by the sound of army boots along the veranda. The culprit was caught almost in the act, and was duly charged. The charge was "conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, in that private X did urinate through the barrack room window in such a manner as to fall upon the head of the orderly sergeant".  I cannot remember the exact punishment, but 14 days C.B., and extra duties sounds about right.


            It rarely snowed at Netley, but I remember an incident in the night duty room, where we were all sleeping. About 5 a.m. one lad, a ginger haired Liverpudlian, partly Irish, was carried in his slide-up bed along the veranda, down the stairs, and deposited in the middle of the snow-bound parade ground, where he woke up only with his bed clothes and shirt. He never found the culprits, and eventually accepted the funny side of it, having returned to the barrack hot foot through the snow room clad only in his shirt.


            I was transferred to the surgical division sometime in November '39. My duties, apart from cleaning my thirty bed ward and bath room annexe were to help make beds, give bed pans and bottles, enemas and shaving patients prior to operation, help distribute the meals, and generally attend to the patients needs. The nursing orderlies had the same status as the V.A.D. nurses, and went with them for training, although they had a 'courtesy pip'. The staff nurses and sisters of Q.A.M.N.S had two or three pips according to seniority. The first thing that struck me on entering one of the wards was a most awful stench. On enquiring what this was I was introduced to Sgt. Turner, with a leg enclosed completely in plaster of Paris, and allowed to suppurate to such an extent that it was hermetically sealed. This was truetta treatment, developed in the Spanish Civil War by a surgeon named Truetta, there being no dressings or time to apply them he encased wounded limbs in plaster of Paris, and left them for months: an amazing number of patients recovered. Sgt. Turner was allowed one small bottle of beer a day, strictly limited as he was on M & B 693, the only antibiotic then in use. He saved twenty four bottles under his bed, planning a gorgeous booze-up, but alas they were discovered by sister!


            After a short period on 'days' I was transferred to night duty on the same ninety bed surgical division. My domain was the ward kitchen, where I made hot drinks for the patients, and 'rested' in an armchair requisitioned from sister's office. Staff consisted of one civilian sister (reservist), one V.A.D. nurse and me. Every patient was looked at every twenty minutes: sister did rounds on the hour, the V.A.D. nurse at twenty to, and myself at twenty past the hour. Our working hours were 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., and we took our one hour meal break in turns. We were visited at least once nightly by the night superintendent and duty M.O.


The civilian sister was suspicious that I was not doing my rounds, and occasionally used to follow me round, which I found annoying. One night I went to the bedside of a fifteen year old boy - "military family" - who had a recent appendicectomy and was not doing very well. He had screens round him, and as I went to his bed in the dim blackout lighting I saw the sister appear from behind the screens. I thought no more of it, but when I finished my round I said to the V.A.D nurse 2 I'm fed up with that sister Griffiths. She's always snooping round me". She replied "It must have been the night superintendent; sister G. went to her meal ages ago. I wonder why the night superintendent did not call and sign the book." I went to my meal break, and when I returned the V.A.D. said that it couldn't have been the night superintendent, as she had just been.


            Again, I thought no more of it. On my next visit to the lad I found him wanting to be sick. He brought up 'coffee ground' vomit, indicating part digested blood in the stomach. I fetched the sister, who called the duty M.O. and they both remained with him. By this time it was 5 a.m. and the V.A.D. nurse and I had to start the morning washings, bed making, enemas etc. I went off duty, and heard the next evening that the lad had died. During my meal, discussing with the other orderlies I enquired whether there was a new night superintendent, and recounted my experience. I was soon told "you have seen the Grey Lady of Netley. She always appears at the bedside of any dying patients on that ward". The story is that a sister accidentally killed a patient with an incorrect injection; I believe towards the end of the First World War, and then committed suicide by jumping off the balcony at the end of the division. I still have an open mind on the supernatural, but I had no knowledge of the ghost story prior to that night.


            Sister Griffiths left, and was replaced by an Australian sister whom we nicknamed S or B. At that time we had an elderly (to us) patient from a home service unit guarding Southampton docks. Pte. Williams was diagnosed as probably having cancer of the pancreas. He was in agony nearly all the time, and could pass nothing from his bowel except concrete peas in spite of oils, medicines and enemas. I used to have to spend most of my nights with him. He was on massive doses of morphine, and one night the Australian sister said to me "Manson, I must do something for Williams, he can't go on like this". She got the duty M.O. to write up extra morphine - as much as she could get, and didn't reveal that he had already been written up for extra in the day book.


            I went on leave shortly after, and when I returned I saw Williams in the N.A.A.F.I. in a wheel chair. I was told he recovered enough to go home, but they had had to cure him of morphine addiction! I have never believed in euthanasia since.


            I call to mind Armistice Day 1939, standing outside the Company Office looking at orders. A clerk came out and posted up a notice detailing twelve night duty men, myself included, for parade at 11 a.m. Armistice Sunday, I expect the S.M. had to scrape the barrel a bit as it should have been our sleeping time. Anyhow, within seconds another clerk came out and posted a notice completely covering the parade detail.


            I told the remaining eleven, and we all decided we hadn't seen the notice and would remain in bed. The S.M. duly turned out at 11 a.m. and found no parade. All hell was let loose, and we were hauled before the C.O. on a charge. We all said "We didn't see any orders, Sir", and after about the fourth 'culprit' had said so the S.M. hauled us all out to the notice board to show us the orders - in no way visible. I think that there were some unhappy clerks in that office after that! All cases were dismissed.


            I think that the S.M. smelt a rat and suspected me, but couldn't prove it. However he had his revenge later. On returning from Christmas leave and reporting for duty he said "Ah, Manson, no ward duties today. I have just the thing for you - 'Married families' coal round". It was just the job for a wet January day: I finished at seven o'clock and there were no lights in the bath house which had a glass roof.


            After Christmas '39 the phoney war continued. I was still on a surgical ward, and was now allowed to give injections and pass catheters as well as apply circumcision dressings, which I found a most awkward job and did not relish.


4 Company R.A.M.C. supplied nursing orderlies to a large number of detachments, including M.I. rooms on sea forts off the Solent, staff for hospitals on troop ships, hospital ships and small hospital carriers which were converted channel packets.


            Many including myself volunteered for all sorts of jobs to get away from working under the sisters, some of whom could be very trying. I volunteered for Singapore, but was No. 13, and didn't go. Lucky 13 this time!


            I spent some time riding ambulances to Portsmouth and Southampton, transferring patients and collecting and transferring medical stores. Our drivers were ladies of the F.A.N.Y. (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). Little did we know that this was a cover for resistance operatives, some of whom would soon be parachuting into France. One of these brave ladies was a colleague of mine on the County Council, although I had not met her before. She was arrested by the Gestapo in Paris for looking right at a road crossing. She survived, and subsequently wrote a book "I looked Right".


            Spring was on the way, and so was Hitler. We had had practically no air raids up to the start of Hitler's offensive, but one Saturday he had a good go at Southampton docks and the Spitfire factory at Woolston. A butter warehouse at Southampton was set on fire and burned for five weeks. The Spitfire factory was hit, but fortunately the vital jigs had just been dispersed. There were casualties in the Bofors battery defending the factory, and one gun commander was brought in very ill, and could not be diagnosed. It was found that a sliver of steel the size of a needle had gone up under his steel helmet, just above the nape of the neck, and entered his brain. He died.


            We transferred as many patients as possible to the ground floor for safety. Air raids on the area were stepping up, and even though we had large Red Cross flags out in the grounds, and (I believe) painted on the roof, we could always have had a chance hit.


            I was on night duty, and during the day we used to sleep on the hospital beach on Southampton Water, and watch the aerial activities such the odd dog fight. Southampton Water seemed to be full of people, many of whom we took to be Belgian refugees. The flying boats at Calshot opposite provided a bit more interest. Little did we know what was happening at Dunkirk.


            One night I came on duty, having been asked to come in an hour early, and found our surgical division absolutely heaving. The whole hospital had been evacuated to Park Prewett near Basingstoke that afternoon, leaving forty English patients, and receiving three hundred and fifty casualties from Dunkirk, mainly French army, but including a few British servicemen. We also had five shot down German airmen under armed guard. They were very arrogant, and told us that Hitler would soon come and release them. They also told the sister that they weren't going to take orders from a housemaid! Their cigarettes were stopped, and they were not allowed to go to the air raid shelters as many of the patients who were able to walk were. They were given a guard whose whole family had just been wiped out in an air raid on Liverpool. He always kept 'one up the spout', and hoped that they would make a run for it. We found that they soon calmed down.


            Language was a problem. most of the patients were suffering from shrapnel wounds, all were suffering from neglect, lack of food and battle exhaustion. Indeed, we had to lift them in and out of the baths as they were so exhausted.


            I found that they were very fond of Ovaltine as a supper drink, which they called "Chocolat". I made gallons of it. They were rather a mixed crew, some of the crack Chasseurs Alpin, some matelots, and a few Moroccans. They brought all sorts of loot with them, which they deposited under the beds. The sisters had a blitz, retrieving a fair quantity of wine, five gallons of rum in a sailor's suitcase and a bag of human ears, battle trophies of one of the Moroccans! General De Gaulle spoke to them on the hospital re-diffusion. Many were in tears after his speech: some agreed to join him, but many were repatriated after the fall of France.


            I had an excellent but forceful night sister in charge of the ward. One night I heard her talking to a nineteen year old six foot Scots boy from one of the Highland regiments. He was dying with pneumonia, and five machine gun bullets in his back, the result of a bayonet charge on a German machine gun nest. She was giving him a good cursing in Gaelic to make him pull himself together. He lived!


            I have already told you that language was a problem. Our total linguists were a Persian-French V.A.D. and one Monmouth School Rene Camaus (sp?) taught orderly. I did eventually find out that to give an enema required "Je vous donnerais une lavement", which was rarely well received - sometimes with "merde", which was the object of the exercise.


            I was asked if I would do special orderly on Aircraftman R. who was too ill to be moved to the air raid shelter. If there was a raid it would mean sticking it out with him. Special orderly was a cushy number, but I was a bit concerned when I heard that I had had three predecessors.


            When I saw him I was shaken to the core. He had been riding in the back of an R.A.F. truck loaded with cans of petrol: they were machine gunned, and the petrol had gone up. He had horrific burns from waist to head. He had lost an ear and an eye and most of his nose. His legs were also burned. Some one in France had sprayed him all over with tannifax, a sort of thick cold tea, containing tannin. He had gone septic underneath, and could only bear a sheet over him. We had to keep him under a mosquito net to keep the flies off.


            He was consious and rational most of the time, except during air raids. His mother and father and fiancée, who was expecting his child, came to see him. His father after one look said that the ladies were under no circumstances to see him. One night he said to me "What did you have for supper to-night orderly?" I only remember that the sweet was bread pudding. He said "I fancy some of that", so I went up to the dining room and got him a piece which he ate. Two days later he died of tetanus, believed to have been brought in by a fly. We had kept him alive for three weeks, and were very sad to lose him.


            Shortly after this, having done a long spell of night duty, I went down with shingles and spent one week in hospital followed by two weeks sick leave. On my return I was given light general duties which mainly consisted of drinking tea in the N.A.A.F.I. and watching the preliminary dog-fights of the Battle of Britain. We always assumed that those coming down by parachute were German, and were elated when we saw one fail to open. This cushy number was not destined to last: I was spotted by the S.M. again. "You're a nursing orderly aren't you Manson". "Yes Sir". "Well get back to the wards "After a short spell on surgical I was posted to Detachment 4 Company,R.A.M.C., Military Hospital, Hilsea Barracks, the depot of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.


            So began another era. We were a small detachment under a staff sergeant. The hospital consisted of a military families and maternity hospital, now converted to 25 beds, and a sort of glorified doctor's surgery called the M.I. room, with a short stay ward of about five beds attached.


            The main function of the M.I. department was medical grading and inoculation and vaccination of intakes of recruits to the R.A.O.C.depot to which we were attached, and also medical care of them while receiving their basic training. All this was presided over by Captain (M.O.) Dr. S. It was not unknown to have as many as four hundred lined up for medical grading: usually an afternoon job! You may imagine that Captain S. usually marked "A1" if they could walk, and hoped for the best. After his grading they came into the treatment room for inoculations and vaccinations, usually given by the corporals. My job was usually to dab on the surgical spirit and slap on a dressing.


Knowing Capt. S's prediliction for "A1" we were surprised when one chap came through "B1, excused marching". He said "Is that Dr. S. in there", and when told that was the case, he remarked that he was very nice to him. "Hello sonny, how is your father - O.K. I think we'll put you B1, excused marching, and if you feel like a day off come and see me". It transpired that Capt. S. owed the lad's father, who was his butcher £20 for meat!


Another chestnut of Capt. S.:- During morning sick parade a gunner Mc. B. reported to Capt. S. " I've got a discharge sir". "We'd better have a look at it, sonny. Can't see much there. Squeeze the end of him - that's not enough - let me squeeze him. Can't find anything wrong. When did you get it?"  "Last night Sir, all wet and sticky, and all over my belly".  "Ho, ho; don't worry about that sonny, you've had a wet dream. All good soldiers get 'em until they become sergeants, then they can afford something better".


            All treatment was a bit basic, and usually consisted of Mixt. Expec. Sed., Mixt. Expect. Stem (?), Mixt. Asp., Mixt. Pot. Cit. and Mag. Sulph poultices. It is amazing how we did with simple remedies, or perhaps they gave up.


            Captain S blotted his copy book once while I was on leave. He took the whole of the M.I. room staff, about five of them, on a St. Patrick's Day booze-up, after morning surgery, and they returned all paralytic after lunch. Capt. S. fell out of his car and broke his ankle. There was a queue of four hundred, which had been waiting about two hours for medical examinations etc.and in the end it was all done by the corporal and orderlies. Capt. S. then sat behind his desk at future surgeries. "You want excused duties? NONSENSE! I'm working, and I've a broken ankle!"


            Hitler was by this time changing over to night bombing, especially if there was anything of interest in Portsmouth Harbour. One night instead of going to the pictures I was allocated evening duty in the M.I. room. The cinema received a direct hit on the operating box, killing the projectionist. There were no other casualties, except a great queue of people with bits of plaster embedded in their scalps and grit in their eyes. The A.T.S. girls seem to have suffered most: I can only assume that they were in the snogging seats right at the back near where the bomb fell.


            One night when I was on leave the barracks were plastered with a stick of bombs, none of which went off. One hit our barrack room, and went through the bed of a chap who had just got out to shave, and it made a small hole in the floor.


            The lads reported it to the R.E's as a dud incendiary. The victim salvaged his bedding as best he could, and all went to bed at about 2 a.m. When the R.E's arrived they found a dud 250 lb. H.E. which they defused, and all was well!


            By this time we had got rid of Capt. S. and had a young Canadian M.O. from Windsor, Ontario. He seemed too keen to have a go. I remember him cutting off a huge blister caused by an incendiary burn. Of course it immediately went septic, and caused awful trouble.


            I was then transferred to duty in the hospital proper. This was quite an up-market little establishment, where all general run of the mill operations were performed. In charge was an ex I.M.S Colonel, with two surgeons, one civilian doctor, matron, several sisters, staff nurses and about six orderlies.


            The civilian doctor was a real Victorian. Straight as a ramrod, about sixty five years of age, and he wore a stiff collar and pin-stripe suits. He was an expert with a microscope, which he used in diagnosis. He saved the life of a sergeant with Bright's disease by his early diagnosis. He used to try and teach us orderlies to recognise the different bugs etc., but I am afraid that we weren't very good.


He used to give the anaesthetics by the old-fashioned method of sprinkling ether on a mask. This sent most people to sleep, including himself, as he was partial to a glass of port with his lunch.


            One afternoon while the surgeon was stitching up an appendicectomy the patient was snoring well, and the anaesthetist was sleeping peacefully on his stool, the surgeon said "Not dead yet is he Doctor?"  The startled anaesthetist began fumbling with his stethoscope and fumbling for a pulse. "Oh no, he is perfectly all right!" was accompanied by unseen laughter from behind the masks of the theatre personnel.


            On another occasion the same surgeon, while rummaging around to repair a hernia, pulled up a small white tendon with his forceps. "And this ladies and gentlemen is his spermatic cord: you don't have to cut this. If you do he won't thank you for it!". He then released the cord back into the abdomen, accompanied by glares from behind the mask of an elderly V.A.D. nurse.


            By this time in the winter of '40-41Hitler was giving Portsmouth plenty of stick, and tempers were getting frayed. Beds had to be down, and lights out by ten o'clock in the barrack room. One Friday night I was just finishing putting my bed down at about two minutes past ten when in walks the wardmaster, one "Shagger" Cpl. White, ex-mortuary attendant R.R.I. "Lights out you lot". Beer talking. "O give us a minute Shagger". "No. I said lights out". There was a voice from a bed "You silly old B. Shagger, you can't say boo to a goose unless you have a skin full of beer"...followed by further invective. The result was that Manson and the voice in bed were on a charge before the C.O. - witness one Pte. Brown from Ebley, Gloucestershire.


            "I was laid in bed sir, and Cpl. White instructed Pte. Manson to put lights out, which he did not do, then Pte.X and Pte. Manson started a cussin' Cpl. White and abusing of him." The result was 7 days C.B. for the parties concerned. However, the rest of the lads took a dim view of Brown, who was quite a dandy, with an immaculate pack and suit of blues. They wrapped up a brick and concealed it in his immaculate pack, wrapped up in his blues. We believe that he took it home to Ebley before discovering what had been done!


            Due to enemy activity we had to add fire watching and P.A.D. to our normal duties. My fire post was in the central attic, between the attics of the single story wards, where it was hoped that I could attack any incendiaries in the attics with sand buckets and stirrup pump. I think that the powers that be had more confidence than I did.


Thursday night was my usual duty night. The boys said that I acted like a magnet to the bombers. Even the Matron used to come up and bring me 1 a.m. cocoa, and we used to admire the flares over the dockyard at Portsmouth. The hospital escaped unscathed except for a piece of shrapnel through a gas pipe, which nearly gassed the matron.


            One night I was on night duty, and doubling up. We had no fire watcher as things had quietened down. With me was the sister and a young V.A.D. nurse. There appeared to be a lone bomber about, but nothing much happening. I was having my meal about 1 a.m., and the V.A.D. nurse was upstairs just in case. About half way through my meal the bomber seemed to be cruising near our area, so I went upstairs to give the nurse a bit of moral support. I soon heard him start his bombing run. I said "Put your tin hat on Nurse": "But I've just had a hair-do".  "put your bloody tin hat on" I said. She did, and we quickly went out into the corridor, away from the windows. Bombs came whistling down:  nurse in corridor followed by Manson on top of her! Crash, bang, everywhere. Then another bombing run followed by a great fire on the R.A.O.C. barracks. I said "We will be busy tonight, nurse".


            We went down stairs. I got the tea urn going, and shock blocks out at the foot of all the empty beds. Sister was on the 'phone. I asked her how many casualties there were. She told me five. I said "Thank God for that", but she had got it wrong. It was fifty five! We were quickly overwhelmed. The fire bombs had hit a wooden wooden militia 'spider', and the incendiaries had been followed by H.E. There were a lot of bad burns cases. However, within ten minutes the matron had turned up. She had our sister who had gone to pieces at the door with her, and was checking identities and next of kin. Sister was giving shots of morphia to each patient. I was on the hot sweet tea for all who could take it; another orderly was cutting the hair of all with head injuries. Three surgeons had arrived, together with other staff, so that within about two hours everyone had had some treatment. Most were in a bed, but some had to stay on stretchers. The next morning the Colonel had a large number evacuated to Park Prewett hospital. I believe five died on the way, and he was highly critisized.


            However, he may have been right, as he could not have known what the next night would bring now the Luftwaffe had found the R.A.O.C. barracks. One of the sisters told me that in the nurses quarters the young nurse had said "Of course Manson was a hero. He forced me to put on my tin hat, and threw himself on top of me to protect me".


            Christmas at Hilsea was good fun. We were woken by the Staff Sergeant bearing mugs of tea with rum in it, then over to the wards for drinks with the patients and sisters. I was deputed to kiss Sister Evans, a glamorous Welsh lady, under the mistletoe. "O.K. Manson, but not nearly passionate enough! Do it again". I did.


            In the midst of it all the theatre had to be opened up for an emergency appendicectomy. Everybody except the patient was very merry. The surgeon whipped it out, and then went on to carve the turkey. The patient lived.


            Later, when on night duty with sister Evans I went into the private ward one morning to find a young officer in bed. As patients were not allowed to get out of bed until seem by the M.O. I took him his washing and shaving water, and breakfast in bed. He said "What time does matron arrive, orderly?" I told him about 8.30. He said "I'd better get up then". I told him that he must not get up until seen by the M.O. He said "I'm not a patient; I'm a friend of Sister Evans, and she put me up for the night". I said "If I'd known that, you wouldn't have got your breakfast in bed".




            I was always a fairly useful amateur electrician. At various times I had repaired the Colonel's electric fire, the physio's electric shock equipment, and had also had a go at the hospital's emergency lighting.


            When a request came for people suitable for training in electronics the Colonel decided that I might do so. I was sent off on a course to West Hartlepool Technical College to train as a wireless mechanic, and that was the end of my two years under the Red Cross.


Walter Manson, 1995

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