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Object Lesson IX

Damage to the Hospital and Casualties

During the war there was damage to the Hospital but virtually no casualties among patients or staff. The Croydon area was subjected to frequent air raids throughout the war. However morale among Hospital’s staff remained generally good. The Treasurer made a speech to staff on New Year’s Day 1941 in which he said

“I think probably 1940 has been the worst year of our lives and I pray that 1941 will be better. During the past year of great hardship you and those working with you have never failed to meet the difficulties and troubles which the Germans were kind enough to bring us. Thank God you have all survived……. All of us have had personal hardships, some dangers, happily so far as I am concerned I have had no bombs nearer than 100 yards away from me, which is as near as I care about and is highly disturbing to one’s sleep, but troubles of this sort I know will never affect your duties which you take so seriously.”

There were air raids on the night of 9/10 March 1941 when 39 incendiary bombs fell in the Hospital grounds. Following this the Hospital received a letter from Queen Mary’s Private Secretary saying that the Queen was much relieved to learn that, in spite of number of incendiaries, there were no casualties beyond minor burns to one member of the nursing staff.

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There was bad damage to many buildings from raids in the summer of 1943 and particularly, of 1944. There was some discussion about closing the Hospital but the Governors decided that, as long as patients were willing to accept the “exacting conditions”, they would continue. Gresham House, in particular, was very badly damaged. In addition a personal account from the time records that the doors of Tyson House were blown off and windows were hanging on their hinges. A wing of a flying bomb was found in Sister Sawkins’ bedroom in Fitzmary House. Gresham House was not finally fully repaired until 1951 (6 years after the war ended). As a result of this bomb damage the bed capacity of the Hospital was reduced and for a period, new admissions were not accepted and some patients were evacuated to other Hospitals.

There was clearly a high level of staff commitment to saving the Hospital. One night when incendiary bombs were falling the ARP squad found the Head Gardener in the dark, without any protective clothing or helmet, trying to put out fires with a garden hose producing a trickle of water, because of the low water pressure.

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However there were distinct challenges as some patients needed to be persuaded to enter the air raid shelters and some patients couldn’t cope with them at all. These patients and the staff looking after them carried their gas masks at all times and remained on the wards during raids.

Finally there was a second air raid casualty at the Hospital. This was at the time the flying bomb fell near Tyson House when a patient of long standing from Tyson East received a cut on the forehead from a piece of flying glass. The injury was attended to and the patient was given a cup of tea. However Matron noticed that, even by the third cup of tea, the patient was not showing signs of improvement. When she asked him what was wrong he explained that, despite the incident with the flying bomb, the laxative he had taken that day had not worked.