[ Nursing on the Home Front in the Second World War. ] Typescript 'War Diaries of Nurse K. M. Phipps | (including letters and letter extracts and notes describing wartime England.)'

Nurse K. M. Phipps [ Kay Phipps; Second World War; nursing; Red Cross; Emergency Medical Service ]
Publication details: 
London (Westminster Hospital and University College Hospital), Beechwood, Bradford (Yorkshire) and Devon. Diary dating from between 22 August 1939 and 2 August 1943. Transcription made by author in the early nineteen-seventies (1970, 1973).
SKU: 18022

159pp., 8vo. In good condition, with light signs of age and wear, in a card folder with 'Best Copies | A | Nurse Phipps | War Diaries | (1939-45)' in autograph on front. Each page of the typescript is on one side of a separate leaf. Divided into six stapled sections (each with its own manuscript title-page not included in pagination), as follows: '"The Emergency" and "Phoney War"' [22 August 1939 to 31 May 1940], 28pp.; '"Beechwood 1940" Dunkirk & Battle of Britain' [17 May to 5 October 1940], 31pp.; 'Blitz (1940)' [6 October to 31 December 1940], 23pp.; '"Beechwood & Blitz" [1 January to 31 October 1941], 32pp.; 'Central Hospital in Battledress' [31 October 1941 to 31 March 1942], 18pp.; 'Bradford Royal Infirmary & Basingstoke & Trip to Devon (section)' [May 1943 to 2 August 1943], 27pp. Marginal autograph notes throughout (especially earlier sections), with one of these initialled 'K ', presumably indicating a change of surname through marriage. A missing section, dating from between April 1942 and April 1943, is referred to in an autograph note at the end of the fifth section: 'There is a gap here for "Golden Meadows" | I will send it later'. The transcriptions of the letters and diaries in the typescript were made in the early nineteen-seventies: the third section is preceded by a typewritten 'Note 1970', and the text of the second section contains a passage said to be 'appended in 1973'. The Imperial War Museum possesses a copy of the present typescript, including two missing parts (April 1942 to April 1943, and August 1943 to the end of the war). An extract was published in Richard Aldrich's 'Witness to War: Diaries of the Second World War in Europe and the Middle East' (Random House, 2014). The author comes from a comfortable middle-class background (her mother's London house is in the exclusive Eaton Square, and she is clearly a relation of the Earl of Mulgrave and Marquess of Normanby), and her account of her wartime experiences is vivid, entertaining, percipient and unusually well-written. Of particular interest are her descriptions of the conditions of her patients. She begins on the eve of the war - having recently returned from a short time living in Canada - criticising Chamberlain and hoping for service overseas. She begins as a Red Cross nurse at a First Aid Post in Westminster, and as a probationer nurse at the Preliminary Training School for Nurses at University College Hospital (August 1939 - May 1940). She then moves to the Emergency Medical Service Hospital Ashridge, Hertfordshire (May 1940 - October 1941), and again at University College Hospital (October 1941 - March 1942). (The account should continue here, according to the IWM entry on its copy, with Phipps's dismissal, and subsequent nervous breakdown, followed by time as warden of a Women's Land Army Hostel near Baldock, Hertfordshire.) The present copy ends with an account of Phipps's time at Bradford Royal Infirmary, including two of her poems, the second titled 'Desert Victory'. (After which the text should end, again according to the entry on the IMW copy, with Phipps's participation in the 'Maple Leaf' lecture tour of Devon, speaking about Canada, and posts as an Assistant Nurse at First Aid Posts in factories in Staffordshire and Yorkshire, and at Driffield EMS Hospital, Yorkshire.) A few examples indicate the tone of the diary. A 'Late Note Extra. discovered among papers, and undated', begins: 'Yesterday I arrived at Mulgrave, beautiful weather, lovely food! Was astounded to see in the Library sitting in the fireplace, one of the new incendiary bombs, obviously unexploded. When I asked mother how it got there she said it was her very special souvenir of a recent raid. She obviously had no idea how dangerous such things can nbe, and when I said I'd hand it in for her, she got quite angry. So I bided my time, and when nobody was around picked it up gingerly and carried it somewhat nervously I will admit to the village. At the door of the Vicarage Maudie met me with "Not another of those things, whehre did you find it" . . . . | "In the library fireplace at Mulgrave" | "You're joking!" "Oh no far from it, I had to literally steal the wretched thing, and my heart's been beating at twice its normal rate what with fear of being stopped, or of the bastard exploding" | "Oh well leave it on the doorstep, I don't want it in here, have you time for a cup of coffee".' (An explanatory note explains: 'I think this must have occurred in either late summer 1942 or in 1943 . . . I had been attending some lectures on the "new types of bombs" . . . there was something called a "butterfly" and the "new explosive incendiary" . . I was evidently taking a holiday at Mulgrave, but where from I can't remember'.) In November 1940 Phipps begins an entry, under the heading 'Machine gunning in a London street', 'This must be surely a unique occurrence, unless such incidents are being kept very dark indeed. Z is living at the Czech hostel and insisted I return with her to lunch. We walked there via the little back streets by the Westminster Hospital. I noticed the machine gun post which had previously been camouflaged in stripes which made it even more visible than if no efforts had been made to conceal it. Now it is disguised as a kiosk. I gather it is supposed to protect the approaches to Parliament. | Suddenly without any warning we heard a plane dive. A real stuka type noise like one hears on the old newsreels. Automatically I grabbed Z by the Arm and rushed into a doorway where we stood back to the wall as if sheltering from the rain. [...] We didn't see the plane but zip zip zip down the middle of the street went the machine gun bullets and then it zoomed up. Immediately the sirens went and balloons wobbled up in a great hurry. So we just stepped out and continued our walk. [...] Later at my Bank, the teller said he had heard there had been machine gunning and did I know anything about it. "Oh yes" I said "It's true enough I was there, disgraceful, all these balloons sitting idle in the public squares, when they should be protecting US, [...]" (and in the privacy of my Beechwood bedroom I ask myself, do we all tend to say the same thing when suffering from slight shock!)'. As a final example of Phipps's style, here is the beginning of the entry for 19 January 1943: 'Yesterday when I was having my day off, they admitted a poor old man with internal injuries (a bus accident). He was not expected to live and in fact died while I was attending to him this morning. So I laid him out with the new pro, and then followed a most unpleasant incident. Relatives arrived and accused us all of having stolen a bag of gold sovereigns which the man is said to have had with him.' The police arrive and make investigations, and four days later 'the ward hums with wild speculations, including the wildest that Sister has them buried under her floor'. She next reports a conversation 'between the pro and Steadman, while she was dusting around and cleaning out his locker. I've noticed she has been extra keen on locker cleaning since Tuesday . . . as indeed the ward maid has for swishing her floor cloths round in the darkest most neglected corners of the duty room. And I must admit it wasn't really necessary for me to take out and restack all the extra splints and beams, and check with the list to see if all were present and correct. | They weren't, so I had some excuse to offer Sister after her day off. We are rather slack just now, so it is technically legit to engage in activites for which we normally have no time. . . but the spur was of course GOLD. Could it be secreted somewhere . . . it should be located at once . . . in case the culprit came by night to remove it.' A dialogue between Phipps, 'Steadman' and the 'Pro (who has no sense of humour)' follows, concluding 'Steadman. Well nurse all I can say is, if you've gotem, just spare a couple for me and I'll stay mum. | Me. Well, if I hadem I would, you are our star patient you know.'?>