Woman of the Week, Miss Muriel Rabbitts, R.N., Evening Telegram, 1946, March 30, p.8
Miss Rabbitts trained first at the General Hospital here and afterwards at the East End Maternity in London, where she has worked ever since. She was in charge of the medical side of the hospital all through the war. “Technically speaking, I was matron, but I had a voluntary woman working with me,” she said. “She supervised the housekeeping and administrative side, and I had the responsibility of the medical side.”
The East End Hospital was a training school for midwives, with sixty beds. Clinics were held there at all hours, and outside emergency cases were treated. There was an Emergency First Aid Unit and after a buzz bomb there would be from thirty to forty cases needing attention.
“We were in about the heaviest bombed area,” continued Miss Rabbitts. “It was bad. We had to open twenty emergency beds in London as well, to take care of the overflow from the hospital. We had to work under great difficulties. Often, during a raid, the lights would go out and the telephone would be useless. We’ve had to cook for the patients over a small grate like that,” and she nodded towards the fireplace before which we sat comfortably. “It was like living out in the wilds somewhere.”
“Early in the war, incendiary bombs just about made a wreck of the place and we had to evacuate. It was utterly impossible to make further use of it again. We had two flats burned off the top of the hospital. The whole thing just caved in. Ceilings came down, doors fell in, and there was nothing but plaster and broken glass as far as one see. However, the lower part of the building remained standing, and we carried on. We had no very serious casualties. We had a very fine air-raid shelter underground, and it was quite safe there. There were lots of casualties outside, though!”
“Evacuation of the hospital kept us busy, which was a mercy. We saw to the transportation of the mothers to the country in about 38 weeks.”
“The Billet House, where expectant mothers waited before entering hospital, suffered from direct hits by three bombs in one night.”
“It was awful,” said Miss Rabbitts, very seriously “awful is the sort of word one uses without realizing the dreadful meaning behind it. ‘Awful’ things happen only books, never to people. But it all did happen, to lots and lots of people.”
“It makes one wonder,” she continued solemnly, “what use civilization has been, when one sees mothers having to seek shelter in the air-raid shelters with tiny babies and whimpering children.”
“But nothing kept them down,” she smiled. “They are wonderful people, London Cockneys. A cup of tea puts them on top of the world. We had a piano, and the crowd would gather round and sing. The only thing that makes up for the six years of it was the people.”
“The destruction in London was incredible, Miss Rabbitts observed, “with streets and streets and not a house left standing. The chaos was awful. The food situation is desperate, too.
It seems wrongs somehow,” Miss Rabbitts said quietly, “to come back here, where food is so plentiful. And we suffered from the cold too. We had so many nasty accidents from broken glass that we had to have rag windows. It was safer but pretty chilly.”
“This is the first time I’ve been home since 1940,” she went on, giving her slow, attractive smile. “I meant to stay home then, but somehow, I didn’t. I’ve been trying to get home ever since last August, but there has been considerable difficulty in getting a ship. More than anything else, I want a good rest. I feel tired and bewildered. This life is not much like what I have been used to. Why, there were weeks on end I didn’t even see a bed. However, I shall probably go back.