1938 Meg Paul blog

Meg’s Diary 1938 is published

The next instalment of Meg’s diary, the diary of a young student doctor studying at London School of Medicine in the year before the war, is now published.

1938 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1938

by Margaret Taylor, age 24 years
February to October, 1938

Meg continues as a student doctor, experiencing Casualty, Children’s wards, and Midwifery at the London School of Medicine.

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Monday, February 7th, 1938

Now that I have re-read my last entry after the steadying interval of a couple of months, I would like to cross most of the end part of it out. It reads just as if it were high-sounding nonsense and got up for effect rather than to give vent to real feelings. And I rather think, now, that it was. When Jim and I wrote to each other some time ago, he was criticising my literary, or rather poetical, attempts and insisted that it was essential above all that they were completely sincere.

He was right of course, but not until you have attempted to produce something which you want to be good can you realise how very difficult it is to be quite sincere, or even to know whether you are being so or not. It is no good writing what you would like to think, as if you did think it spontaneously; you only give yourself away, and go hot or cold with shame when you meet the thing later! Also, sentimentality is a dangerous stumbling block. Nothing is so moving if it is rightly used; nothing so nauseating if improperly handled, or if it is merely put on. On the whole, I think, better avoided 

I’m on casualty now, and not certain whether I am enjoying it or not. The post is quite unlike any of the others, and you rely on yourself and are accountable for your actions very much more than on the ward posts. Students give gases, sew up wounds and do some of the minor ops e.g. circumcisions etc. The work is certainly hard while it lasts, but there are slack as well as busy days for everyone, and if you get overtired it is really your own fault, and means that you are not using your time off in giving yourself a well-earned rest.

The first few days on casualty or ‘gate’, are distinctly chaotic, and you spend a good deal of your time either doing what someone else is doing for you, or forgetting to do what the doctor has ordered. There are innumerable bylaws about procedure on different occasions and you learn them one by one – by the infallible method of breaking each in turn and being hauled over the coals for it. Still, the house staff, the nurses, and above all Sister are really most long-suffering, and we do not get really the amount of blowing up and acid comments to which we all lay ourselves open. Perhaps in a week or so, when they have exhausted all their indulgence for the ‘new’ post they will be less kind, but again by then we shall have got over the first petrifying panic of the new surroundings, and be able to hold our own in the face of criticism.

I suppose that it is because children are ruled by their parents so entirely when they are young that they care so intensely what their superiors think of them or say to them. A word of praise is a lasting joy, a reprimand or thoughtless roughness causes intense misery, possibly very deeply rooted and remembered long after the author of it has forgotten. But as the child grows older, fashioning his mind and character and getting slowly accustomed to making his own decisions and acting on them, then he begins to lose the exaggerated reverence for the opinions of others, and grows to rely on his own appreciation of what is to be praised or condemned in himself as well as others.

I seem to have entered a strange state of fatalism recently. Nothing upsets me for long, indeed even at the moment of happening I am oddly unaffected by it  – as if it were happening to someone else and I was merely a slightly interested onlooker. It is very comfortable to have a second self which will ungallantly deny any relationship with the offending member in that way!

I must stop now – no more nonsense!


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Sunday Feb. 27th 1938

Nearly the beginning of another month – they seem to slip by so rapidly, and the three months posts slip by with them, the more is the pity. I have now almost completed a month of the casualty post – that most dreaded of all the posts, and it has turned out to be quite survivable after all. Indeed it gives opportunity more than the other posts for rehearsing the part of Doctor, and discovering the most readily-made mistakes. My dread of stitches and gases is subsiding rapidly and I find that it is true, as I have told myself so often recently, that what others have done must be doable and therefore not to be dreaded.

Last Saturday I sent a copy of a short article I had just written for the magazine, to Jim for his criticism. He hasn’t written yet, and I don’t expect his verdict will be favourable when he does. I have never sent him a prose attempt before, and am interested to hear what he thinks of it. I should very much like to write a book or short stories or articles of some sort when I am older, and settled down in a practice or hospital somewhere, and have got something worth writing about in my head.

Next to my longing – well on the way towards being gratified – to become a doctor, I want to write, and I want to travel. I feel  as if the writing can very well be delayed until I am older, or even till I am ‘getting on’ and need a hobby not as strenuous as a full-time doctor’s work, and that is pretty strenuous as I well know. The travelling I think must come sooner, while I am still young and strong and able to enjoy roughing things and bumping my body against nature’s hard corners. I really think I must be developing a wander-lust in my bones, for nowadays the thought, as now, of setting forth on travelling adventures makes my heart jump up and down with excitement, and my tummy go curiously light in anticipation.

An exquisite short story by Martin Armstrong was read on the wireless today –  it was called ‘Birds of Passage’. After hearing that and after reading Jane Eyre again, as I am doing, my ambitions about writing myself seem a little presumptuous, and at least doomed to failure. Maybe it would be wiser to fill my time with doctoring and if necessary keep a diary as this one, for my private enjoyment, thus giving myself opportunity for scribbling when the mood is present, and denying anyone else the privilege of throwing cold water and perhaps hard words at the resulting drivel.

Bedtime so Goodnight!

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Wednesday April 6th 1938

Two late nights running have dragged all excess energy out of me for the moment, and I am giving myself the easy task of writing here until it is a sufficiently sensible time to drop into bed.

Only one more week of Casualty after this one  – I am dreading the end of the post, and the return to the dull round of pathology and wards again. There is a true dramatic quality in Casualty, absent in the other posts. You get a chance of showing your mettle, and also of finding how you react to making mistakes in front of companions and superiors. We are extremely lucky in having had exceptionally nice C.O.s Blenkin and Payne. Blenkin left at the end of last month, and we gave a supper party for her in Evans’ flat. She, Mr Payne and Mr Taylor came, and it was a success – they stayed on till almost midnight. Evans arranged a German supper with all kinds of unusual and good things to eat. Also we imported beer cider-cup and coffee, though we forgot the coffee until we were nearly going home! Blenkin we jokingly have called ‘the Darling’ for that was what one of the patients was heard to say about her. But it suits her exactly, for she is a perfectly natural, unassuming and tireless striver after all things, however trivial, that will help the patients under her immediate care. She treats us students as friends and just hasn’t any superiority, though she has a dignity of her own, and a quickness of perception and understanding that worms pathetic stories by the dozen from willing or unwilling narrators. Her efficiency in all branches of casualty duty is undoubted, and she will tackle absolutely anything that needs doing.

Mr Payne is quiet and sensible, very decent to the patients, and pretty efficient, though not, I think, infallible. What makes me like him perhaps, more than for example Mr Taylor or Le Vay, is that his work does really thrill him; the romance of healing has gripped him, as it does all the really true doctors. I like him ever even more since the supper party, for there it was possible to get to know him a bit unwound from the strappings of authority, and he showed up pretty well, putting Mr Taylor with his affectations and explosive – sometimes beastly – language out of court. Time for bed, so –  Goodnight!

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Saturday June 25th 1938

I haven’t been keeping up this diary at all according to plan, and there are large chunks missing between the entries. But perhaps the chunks are better missing, as everyday events are a bit monotonous. Even now, after about two months, there seems little to say. In spite of bewailings the Casualty post ended, and in spite of forebodings the Pathology post hasn’t been unbearable. We have only another week to go now, and then it’s Children for Jones and me for two months followed by Midwifery in September, October and November. On Children’s post we get Dr Hobhouse’s beds as well as Mrs Chodak-Gregory’s, so there will be plenty of reading to be done. I have really been working fairly hard at Pathology, and have reached the stage of being sorry that I didn’t work harder at Junior Medicine or Surgery. The weather now is really blazingly hot, and that makes me fagged out and uneager to tackle work in the evenings.

Last Wednesday Mum and Dad paid a flying half-day visit to London and we met at Wimbledon for the tennis. It was marvellous seeing them again after being away so long – my last holiday was in January. They both looked very well – Mums seems to look prettier every time I see her, and nobody could be sweeter or more lovable. They are grand parents! It seems however pretty rotten that they should spend all their energy and money on educating and training their children, and yet see so little of them. Such is the lot of most unselfishness it seems – it is its own reward for no other reward appears.

Jones has been elected senior for the Children’s post, and for a little while I was verging on jealousy – it is beastly how competition brings out the worst in people. We have worked together most of the time at hospital, and I consider myself just as good a worker as she is, and I suppose that made me resent the fact that she was preferred to me as senior. I know really that the election makes no difference whatsoever, and that all I have to mind about is that I make myself as good a doctor as I possibly can, let alone what anyone else does, and whether my standard is theirs or not. It is a weakness to want recognition for one’s achievements and honour for one’s capabilities.

Another triumph for Jones is that Dr. Playfair, on behalf of Dr. Shaw who is now head of the V.D. department, has offered her the post of senior assistant there two years after she has qualified. The pay is £300 a year and the attendance only 18 hours a week. So Jones is simply overjoyed, and feels beautifully safe and free from worry about her future after qualifying. She is almost certain to get 3rd H.S. [House Surgeon?] job too if she wants it after qualifying, as she was the only student on Miss Dearnley’s post on Gynaecology and got to know her very well. All this made me, with my complete absence of plans and prospects, slightly green too, but that also is stupid really because I certainly don’t want to specialise in Gynaecology and V.Ds.

Hospital goes on unobtrusively changing round so that students go and residents change so quietly that you never notice the absence of one or the presence of the other. The new house list has just been published, and we shall get Crossley on Children – not too bad but might have been better! Mr Payne is now R.N.O. and Mr Taylor has gone into the blue. It really was time too that he went, for his good name was becoming slightly tarnished, and we were getting very tired of his bumptious presence – poor man, what horrid things to say! Mr Payne is apparently coping adequately with R.N.O. though he hasn’t the experience of Mr Taylor yet. Jones and I attend Minor Meds. with others from the Pathology post, and we get all the work of diagnosis etc. to do as the others haven’t done any clinical work yet.It is good fun. 

Must go to bed now, so Goodnight!

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Wednesday, July 27th 1938


Nearly a month of the children’s post gone now, and a fortnight’s holiday only about three weeks away. I haven’t felt so much in readiness for a holiday for ages, for I’m really a bit overtired now and the work is fairly heavy. But this post is one of the most enjoyable that I have done so far – the children are most fascinating and both the authorities and nursing staff that we meet are very friendly and create a genial informal atmosphere. 

There are only five of us on the post this month – Jones, Burton-Brown, Nuvell and Koluyan and myself. Two others are joining us in August. Nuvell has been away on holiday recently and Koluyan is never on the premises when needed, so we three remaining have been running about and doing most of the work. We have Dr Chodak-Gregory’s, Dr Shelley’s and Dr Hobhouse’s patients, and I have had about 10 cases – new ones – since the beginning of the month, so I have gained quite a bit of experience. 

Dr Gregory becomes nicer and nicer as you get to know her, and we are all sorry that she is going to be away during the whole of August, so we shall see very little more of her after this week. Dr Shelley we have seen extremely little of so far, as she missed rounds and outpatients quite a bit at the beginning of the month, and is away on holiday now until the beginning of August. I hope she teaches a lot to make up for missing Mrs C-G’s rounds etc. when she returns.

Dawn-Pattison, Mrs C-G’s H.P., has been extremely decent to us – most approachable and willing to help and not a bit aloof as I expected! Her tutorials on Wednesdays before Dr Hobhouse’s rounds have been awfully funny. She has told us pretty exactly what Hobhouse will say about each case, and how we must reply. And her forecasting has been most useful and stood us in good stead in our many moments of need with him. Crossley is coming on in August instead of D-P, and I rather fear that the atmosphere may be rather different. Still I was wrong in imagining that D-P could not unbend, so maybe I will be wrong about Crossley too – I hope so. 

This evening I have been to a sherry-party at Mrs Williams’ house in Harley Street – for those of us who have done the test mealls and vitamin C tests for her. I had two glasses of sherry, one of tomato juice and a most variegated assortment of eatables. All this made it impossible for me to work tonight, and anyway I have been overworking just recently – so I’ll go to bed.


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Monday, August 1st 1938 [Bank Holiday]

They call them the “long, long thoughts of youth” and I think they are right. Our thoughts are long and rambling and a little restive. Living ‘up’ and rather isolated – partly isolated by choice of course, for there are people I could descend upon – gives me time during the weekends and holidays to take stock of things wider than the daily routine. I think about myself, my future activities, and get a creepy feeling wondering what the future holds in store. And I think of other people and of what and how they think.

Just recently I have acknowledged to myself what I have always up to now I thought nurture –  probably because it should theoretically be nurture. People are stamped definitely in different moulds, and though some characters of different moulds are alike, products of different moulds have nothing akin to bind them together. I mean really that there are some people that I find it absolutely impossible to like, even if I do not actively dislike them. Some people I can, and do of necessity, feel a sympathy with; others I can neither talk unrestrainedly to nor feel a single interest in common with them. It is a very curious fact that it should be so, and it would be very interesting to see if Mendel’s Law applied to such a moulding of mental make-up. Anyway it seems to be pretty true to say that like types appeal to each other, for the friends of those with whom I cannot feel at ease are, almost without exception, those whom I should choose last of all for my own friends. In a way this grouping is worth it, for any dexterity one can steer moderately clear of battles with ones antipathies, and the joy of finding a person in whom one senses true sympathies is doubled.

I’m feeling a bit miserable tonight. I think it is really a bout of homesickness, for Richardson has just departed homewards on holiday, and I’m feeling a bit marooned in consequence. There is nobody else in the house, I believe, except Mr and Mrs Sydney down in the depths. In many ways I like being by myself. I have a strong bump of reclusiveness, and will always rather retreat behind the doors of my room than sally out to make merry in company. I’m not sure that I don’t revel slightly in my independence and the fact that I am quite sufficient company for myself. Really we are most of us humbugs at heart! 

Goodnight !

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Friday, October 7th 1938

Roberts, Nouvell, Kohiyar and I are all at 434 Essex Road* now, doing our first month of district midwifery. Last month we four, plus Jones, were at R.F.H. doing the midwifery wards. Last month I thought was foul, and I was rebelling against the rules and regulations nearly every moment – though usually it was only a mental rebellion!

* The Royal William was situated at 434 Essex Road. This pub has now been demolished and replaced by the office block in the photo.

Living together constantly, and living both a day and night life the whole time was altogether too much of a bad thing to those quite unused to it. I was longing so often to be able to have even a moment’s quiet to myself, and even five minutes with secure knowledge that I would not be rung up to “come immediately”. Bigby the third O.A. with whom we had most to do, did not get along well with us. Her over conscientious sense of duty, her overserious outlook on the most trivial things made even everyday things a duty and a burden. Her moments of lighthearted chatter and amazingly uncontrolled laughter made her even less understandable than if she had always been serious. Sykes and Stokes were very easy to get along with and Sykes especially gave us a good deal of necessary light relief on occasions. ‘Conny’ is an attractive person everyone likes and admires. Professor is our inimitable little Scotchwoman; Moore-White and efficient and entertaining little chatterbox; Shippam is ‘heavily’ nice and really unfathomable. 

In the first month we got 10 cases each, which was good going. So far here we have each had one case and Roberts and Kohiyor have had two. My case was an extremely lucky one. The lady was a Mrs Bastie and within five minutes of our arrival she started second staging and about 10 minutes later the baby was born – no complications. I was very afraid at one time at one time that she was going to have a bad P.P.H. for she started bleeding severely before the placenta was nearly ready to expel. But we held our thumbs for a few minutes and the uterus hardened up and the bleeding stopped, though the placenta did not come out for about 45 minutes. I should have hated having to Crede the thing out.

Essex Road clinic is a weird little place – originally a pub. There are two parts to it, separated by the kitchen. Downstairs is the clinic proper with consulting rooms, sterilising room etc. Sterilising all our own things was a tremendous business at first, but I quite enjoy it. Freath is charming and we get along well with her. She is very nice indeed about letting us do exactly what we want to our patients without interfering or advising.  Enough for the present.

Good morning!

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1937 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1937

by Margaret Taylor, age 23 years
September to December, 1937

Meg continues as a student doctor at Medical College in London.

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Tuesday, Jan 19th, 1937

            A really wonderful opportunity to write here! I have got up this evening for the first time after ‘flu, and I have never known an evening be so long! I’m not supposed to read a great deal, and besides I am awfully tired of reading; I’ve thought of writing letters, but as I have already written home saying all the latest news, it would only be dull repeating if I did.

            ‘Flu was horrid, and the worst part of it was, and still is, the cascara! In a truly misguided moment, I allowed myself to be given three doses of the stuff as it seemed to be having no effect. The result was a series of violent colic attacks during the night, and they made me so miserable I felt I could have dissolved into a pool of tears with ease – and comfort! My tummy is still quite upset, and I have no appetite and feel sick at night time – memories I expect. But otherwise I am pretty well alright – the trouble at the moment is that the cold in the throat has travelled up Eustace a bit and blocked both my ears so that my head feels uncannily cotton-woolly, and I don’t hear properly – what I do hear I hear with my whole head, it seems, and it is very nerve-wracking when it goes on all day. My reward is coming however in the shape of a week’s holiday – doctor’s orders – at home. I am probably going on Friday and will come back for work at college again by the following Monday week. I suppose I will have to wander over to college and see Dr. Dickson and Prof. Cullis about missing this first fortnight of the Primary course. I don’t expect they will be overjoyed, but I don’t think they will try to make me stop – I should not feel much like working for a bit if I did stop, I know.

            It is dreadful how being absolutely lazy and resting in bed infects you with the germ of idleness, so that when you get up, behold you have no initiative or ‘go’ at all, but just sit still and wish there was something worth doing (conveniently skipping in your mind anything feasible which crops up).

            It is very odd, because I can’t hear my pen writing, although I know it is making the usual sort of noise alright. I can hear my watch ticking if I hold it right against my ear, but if it is more than an inch away, I can’t hear it at all. I have to listen to people, when they talk to me, very carefully or I don’t understand what they are saying. The sounds reverberate so that nothing is clear-cut but everything runs together in a buzz – not a 1d Buzz!

            Last Saturday week, Alan had his 21st birthday party, and his and Peggy’s engagement was announced officially – by a gramophone record he made at Alexandria. Everything was a tremendous success that evening, and they played ping-pong in the dark with phosphorescent balls, and phosphorescent false noses – it seems to have gone awfully well.  Pat wrote me a long letter describing how she and Betty got up again, after having been put to bed, and prowled about the landing until the guests arrived for supper about 1 a.m.! They saw all the dresses etc. and listened to all the revelry until about 2 a.m. when they crawled back to bed – and fell asleep at once I’m sure! Pat will be simply overjoyed that at length she will be able to let people know about Peggy and Alan, and not have to put them off with tactful half-truths all the time – rather difficult for a youngster who is dying to let them all into the precious secret!

            I have spied a pack of cards, and if I can remember, or make up, any games of patience I think that is an excellent idea. Yes, no?


footnote: Cascara

Cascara sagrada is a herbal remedy that used to be a common ingredient in some over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives.

The bark comes from a tree called the California buckthorn. This tree grows on the West Coast of the United States and parts of South America. Historically, it was used by Native Americans to treat a host of issues, including:

  • constipation
  • digestive problems
  • joint and muscle pain
  • gonorrhoea
  • gallstones
  • dysentery

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Saturday, April May 1st 1937

            Writing May instead of April has given me rather a nasty moment. Primary starts on May 31st, and to be actually in the fateful month is rather frightening when it comes upon you suddenly.

            I have nothing special today to commit to paper; the reason why I dug out this book was because my mind just refused to settle down to work for a bit, and I have made a sacred vow not to read non-work books from now on. My conscience should doubtless revolt against my writing here as much as reading novels, but at the moment I’m stifling it!

            Working for Primary has been much better fun than I thought at first it would be. Luckily, Jones and I get along together very well, and these three months have made us much greater friends, and we really know each other well now. We have a great deal in common in thoughts and ways of doing things. I like her very much, but she will never be the truly ‘friend that I know could exist for me’ – Whatley I think is about the nearest I know,  but then again I don’t see much of her now, and she has many other friends. It is funny how very few people you meet you can really want to get to know intimately. Generally, you can tell them almost at once though when you do meet them. Whatley is one I have felt that for, Ileene another and – less approachable – Professor Keene and Dicky. Another kindred spirit is Maud. By the way, those two words “kindred spirit” just about hint at what I meant, as Mr. Rochester says our minds are “something akin.”

From quoting Mr. Rochester, I can’t resist going on to my pet theme of Jane Eyre. No other book touches me as that one does, and only the others by the same author evoke even an echo of the response that Jane Eyre evokes. I know there is nothing original in praising this book – it is the pet of thousands of people. But that only means that others feel it as I do, and though perhaps that brings a tiny ray of grief that others have uncovered and gathered up the precious spirit that feels so personal a discovery, yet I know that really I am deeply glad that others do know and love her as I do.

 I doubt if men would respond to her mind as women would, but then I think rather the type of mind is called for rather than the sex. A person is living there in the leaves of that book, and to read the book with sympathy is, I think, to know Jane Eyre better than the majority of our friends. She has the sense of letting you into her heart, without having a special spring-clean and redecoration to make it unrecognisable for you when you enter. That is the secret of true living – to be founded upon a rock, true always to yourself and others in big and little things. That is what gives you the courage to face anyone or anything with a steady eye, and dispenses with all need of “pose” or affectation or concealment. It sounds easy, but if it were more people would succeed in achieving it.

I think perhaps Jane herself shows what it may cost you to keep the clear bubbles in the soul-springs. Her struggles to carry out what she knew her true nature demanded are described so perfectly that you struggle in sympathy as you read. It is so easy to slip over the slight dividing line, and just miss the harmony of a nature absolutely in tune in all its chords. Yet to possess such a nature, whatever it costs you to retain it, is to live as no others could and enjoy a sense of peace with life nothing else could give.

 Now having got so far, we come to a pitfall. Realising the truth of what we’ve said, do we pat ourselves quietly on the back and say, “And that is what we are like”?  It is very easily done, and I rather imagine I may have done it in the past. To understand and sympathise with that nature seems almost to confer the nature on oneself, but although of course it doesn’t, yet it helps in that direction I’m sure.

 I can’t go any further into the mists of reasoning; it is getting a little too thick, and with one last glance at the pitfall we will turn aside and sit till it clears a little.

And meanwhile I must go and do some shopping or the shops will all be shut!

Good night!

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Thursday Jun 10th 1937

It seems incredible, but I have got three days in front of me before I return home, and no work at all to do all the time! The secret is that Primary has just been completed, and I am staying up till Monday to see the results – I wouldn’t believe anybody if they wrote to tell me, I must see it actually myself!

Roberts has been up here, sheltering from the thunderstorm which has been raging for the last hour or so. And now it is time for bed, so this must be postponed until tomorrow – and tomorrow we have ‘test meals(?)’ again, no peace at all these days!


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Monday, August 16th 1937

I can’t work tonight – too tired, so this seems just the thing to tide me over till a reasonable bed-time. It is no use trying to fill in all the gaps between my entries here, besides it would be dull reading I should think. But anyway, I will say that I failed Primary – not very badly, but then most of the failures were on the verge I imagine.

Since then I have had six weeks’ holiday. Of that I spent 16 days in the middle of Ireland with Ileene Allen at Hightown. That I had a marvellous time needs no saying, for I always enjoy every moment in her company. We may well call ourselves twins, for, though that is not true physically, mentally we have twin feelings, and we are always in good humour in each other’s company, and the more we see of each other the more we want to see. I don’t think I shall easily forget the night-time talks we had as we lay in bed, both in the same room in the little wooden bungalow. How ‘deep’ and muddled we got, and what solemn nonsense we pronounced! Ileene produced the winner of the series by keeping half awake at something to one o’clock proving that Newton’s laws of mechanics were false! She knows no mechanics, and I am supposed to, but she won easily, and we had a wonderful nonsensical time arguing it, and nearly going off to sleep in the middle of logical propoundings.

I wish I knew that I would find someone who ‘fitted’ me perfectly; to many it seems silly to worry about that – there is loads of time, and I am certainly not in a hurry. But I can realise now how inexpressibly happy a really harmonious married couple could be, if their minds held the sympathy which real friendship, such as mine with Ileene, has. And a home life of that kind too – I would love the assurance that it is coming, though there is no hurry about it. I wonder often – shall I marry or not, and I always hope I shall, for I know there are men whom I could love, as love should be between husband and wife; who would keep each other’s hearts young.

Never mind, I can’t write it. Still I wish it would happen, and that I could know now that it would. I feel that either I shall marry and it will be the truly right person, or I shall remain unmarried, and let work take up all my time. I certainly don’t feel that I shall have an unhappy marriage, or any terrible love tragedy – perhaps I’m not impulsive enough!

And I was supposed to be writing about my six weeks holiday! The time I spent at home was spent mainly in playing tennis. It is tantalising how each year I get a few weeks’ holiday, just enough to get into the hang of tennis, and then back to work and all out of practice until I get another few weeks later on! But it is harder on those who play with me than on me myself.

Now, rather sketchily, I think we are about up-to-date, and I can say gently that at the moment I am at hospital again, doing Junior Surgery under Mr Joll and Miss Beck. And that explains why I am too tired to work this evening, for Monday is Joll’s operating day, and we have had five good hours of it in the theatre, striving madly in the atmosphere of quite unsubdued thunder, conjured up by Joll and Beck, both of whom were in great form as far as fury goes. And it goes miles with both of them!

Nobody pretends that either of them is good tempered, but they say that it is worthwhile getting their harsh words if you get their technique at the same time.  Besides I lop-sidedly enjoy surviving some of Beck’s tantrums, and to think that her scathing remarks have no power to make you miserable takes all the sting, or most of it, out of her venom.

Her bark is many times worse than her bite, and as she bites us all almost indiscriminately we very soon forget about it. I have always had a terror of hard words, because I suppose I always reasoned that they were merited and therefore to be taken to heart. But now when half the time you are sworn at for someone else’s mistakes and the other half of the time for mistakes you did commit from sheer ignorance, then the torment ceases to overwhelm you, and you bob up again cheerfully instead of slowly rising from a whirlpool full of misery, only to be submerged again almost immediately. Besides, and more to the point, if Beck sees her blazing utterances don’t upset your equilibrium she doesn’t produce nearly so many, and you score both ways. Still, good old Beck, she is a marvel of efficiency, and what our famous – or infamous? – Mr Joll would do without her nobody knows!

That’s enough for tonight, we will continue, or rather reopen the ‘shop’ another time, there is heaps to say about Junior Surgery I assure you!


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Friday Oct 22nd 1937

When I last wrote it was near the beginning of the Joll Post. Now we have nearly reached the end and Gynaecology comes upon us in just over a week. These three months have passed very quickly indeed, and I am sorry to think that they are almost past, for I for one have thoroughly enjoyed their passage. It has been a very novel experience, and the thrill of surgery works its way into your bones amazingly quickly. I prefer surgery to medicine; it is much more straightforward, and the results are more spectacular, and so many lives are undeniably saved as they could not be by any other method. Whereas in medicine so much seems to be patching up things for a variable length of time, or waiting patiently for the disease to cure itself. I never thought that I should be enrolled in the band of those who ‘want to get on with it’, for I always used to be a marvel at letting things slide, and of putting off till the very last moment anything which I could persuade myself could be postponed.

I am very glad that on Gyneacology, we get a great deal of theatre work, for I should miss it dreadfully if I dropped it all together now.

The infamous Mr Joll has really turned out to be, at least superficially, quite a likeable man. He has, undoubtedly, a temper, but he very rarely exhibits it, and during his Friday rounds has time after time shown himself patient in the face of blank stupidity, and helpful to those trying vainly to produce a fairly intelligent answer. He is also undoubtedly an extremely clever and competent surgeon, and his knowledge outside the scope of surgery seems to be exceedingly extensive and accurate in detail. He teaches well too, for he has a very clear mind, and one that always founds even the most difficult problems on the simple fundamentals. Beck, too, though I wrote reams about her tantrums, can be, and has been, very kind and forbearing with us on many occasions. At the beginning of the post, I wrote about their faults; at the end I modify that by adding their good points, and that is how it should be, and helps to  prove the old moral, that there is some good in even the worst – how flattered they would be to read this! 

A poem for Joll

The other day Joll did his five-thousandth thyroid, and Sister A.2. wanted a poem to celebrate the occasion – apparently Sir James Berry had a poem when he had done only three thousand! Anyway, I was commissioned to produce a poem, and last night I tackled the rather delicate operation. I achieved a rather poor result, but it had to do, and we persuaded Registration to type it for us on R.F. headed paper. Sister A.2. has, it is rumoured, got a special cake for the occasion of his celebration, and both cake and poem are to be presented to him on Monday afternoon. I don’t know the details yet, but I hope that Mr Joll will have the grace to stop for tea, and not rush through the list, and finish gasping somewhere near suppertime. It would upset poor Sister dreadfully; she quite worships the man.

Hospital life is still a bit of a strain at times, and some aspects of it still upset me, though the kind of upset that used to worry me most – the horrid sight kind – have completely disappeared, and I am hardened into iron as far as pain for others is concerned – sounds callous I know, but it’s only self-protection, and has to be screwed on top, and I could unscrew it any time. But what does still ‘unrest’ me are the post-mortems on patients I knew when they were alive. It is just a little too far for me, even now, and it raises such great and deep wonderings, such as the separation of body and mind, or body and soul, and the query of life after death. It is only seen in the post-mortem room, how the belief in life after death could arise so spontaneously from the sight of a friend lying lifeless, yet so nearly as you knew them alive. It seems impossible that the personality that you knew, and had intercourse with, has just evaporated and become, in a few hours, non-existent. It seems an insult to human life that a human being, with its almost unlimited possibilities and ideas, should degenerate in so short a time into something that the pathologist’s knife divides into exhibits A to Z.

Something has so obviously left the body. Call it ‘life’ if you like, but it is not life in the meaning of simply the driving force that made the protoplasmic wheels go round. It is the personality of the person himself, the thing that made him the person he was, and which distinguished him from the millions of humans with similar organs and tissues. It seems natural to suppose that this ‘something’, the really essential being that we knew, has survived the running down of the organic frame containing it, and has flitted away into its own world of unfettered freedom.

Yet, a mind with no means of expressing itself, or giving vent to its faculties seems meaningless and unintelligible, and we return to our original state of profound query, which leaves us restless in mind, and still worried by the memories of the evacuated bodies of the post-mortem room.

Much too late for ghost stories, so Goodnight!

Footnote: Mr Joll

Cecil Joll worked at the Royal Free Hospital, in Pond Street, in Hampstead, performing thyroid surgery from 1911 until 1945, when he died at the age of 59.

The surgeon was known for performing up to 14 operations a day and taught hundreds of students and many surgeons to the highest standards.

He also established the hospital as London’s leading thyroid centre. Professor George Hamilton, professor of surgery at the Royal Free said: “Cecil is internationally known for his work in thyroid surgery.

“His name lives on with the instrument known as the ‘Joll extractor’ which is now universally used. The Royal Free is proud to display this in our surgical seminar room.”

Meg was commissioned to write a poem for the celebration when Mr. Joll achieved his 5,000th thyroid operation. See the poem here.

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Saturday Oct 23rd 1937

After yesterday’s outburst perhaps I should lie low for a bit, but I’m not going to. Being on surgery brings up other big things besides the post mortem worries. The thing which haunts you is cancer, and the tragedy is not only that you meet it so often, but that in so many of the cases you see for the first time the growth has gone too far for hopeful operation, and the prognosis is in terms of a few years at most. If only, you sigh, they would come earlier, and give you, and themselves, a chance. But the reply is always the same – “It didn’t hurt me, Doctor, so I didn’t take any notice of it”.

Joll, talking of this said that every method had been tried to get lay people to co-operate with us in that way, but he said that nothing was any good, and nothing would persuade a patient to confront a doctor with a lump and no symptoms.

A carcinoma of the breast which came into A.2. only yesterday said that she really went to her doctor about her legs, and only happened to mention the drawback to old age being that you get lumps and bumps everywhere. On being asked more about the said lumps and bumps, she said she had one – nothing at all really – in her breast. The doctor made her show him the lump, and so she was packed off to us almost immediately. Perhaps the greatest tragedy though, is to watch their faces, dreading the first signs of their realising what is the matter, and wondering how they will take it. The scared, tearful ones are pathetic, but the dazed and attempting-to-be-brave ones are worse. There are always the arguments for and against knowing everything about your condition, and in these cases it is I think, almost worse for them not to know, for their terrors and imaginings I should think must be terrible, when they suspect cancer.

I remember so well that about a couple of years ago I was sure that I was not a bit afraid of dying, and I remember saying I would not mind dying at all, I think I even said that the death of very near relations and friends would not upset me, as I knew they would be happy and nothing terrible had happened or would happen to them. I remember Whatley saying that unless you actually had experienced such a death you could not realise what it was like, and that really it was for yourself, and for the gap they left that you were miserable. I know I felt pretty cheap preaching away, with no experience, on matters in which I had no knowledge, while remembering she had lost her father, of whom she was extremely fond, not long before. But I know I owned up to talking through my hat, and that remembrance soothes me a little now.

For myself I own I am now less eager to die than I was two years ago. In fact I should be very, very sad, and probably panicky about dying if I knew it was coming soon, and going to cut off all my beautiful castles in the air for my future. But still I don’t honestly think I am afraid, and my experience of death, which has been pretty thorough during the last year, has inclined rather to reassure than upset me. It isn’t such a dreadful thing, and is rather a leaning back and relaxation than the tearing, rending agony that lurid literature pretends. A violent death perhaps would be very painful, but it comes quickly and unexpectedly and is over fast. Indeed a merciful Povidence surely turns all our tragedies into mercies in disguise – certainly nothing is ever so bad as you fear, experience has taught me the profound truth of that, and the knowledge of that truth helps you to give up worrying or meeting troubles even quarter-way.

Talking of violent death I must record that during the last year or two I have blossomed into a thorough-going Pacifist. So far my knowledge of Pacifism has been negligible or non-existent, but my belief in it has rested simply upon the fact that nothing in the world, that I have yet met, would persuade me to kill any human being against whom I had no feelings of personal hatred. Thus I would not take part in a war, and I reject war as an indefensible piece of conduct, for nothing, to me, can justify such meaningless destruction of innocent human beings. This simple conception of war – i.e. just viewing your own part in it – is popularly disregarded, and men – and women – brag noisily of national policy, security and defending their country. Surely it is more reasonable to look first to the step in front, and not speculate vaguely about what happens at the top of the hill. It would not be permissible, would it, to walk on and trample down fellow men, because hey happened to be lying just where you wanted to pass to reach the view? You could prattle as much as you liked about how important it was to see the magnificent view, and the beauties of nature it would reveal, but I should still think you shouldn’t have trodden on anybody to get there.

What’s the good of metaphors anyway!!


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Saturday, Dec 11th 1937

 My mood is a curious one tonight. I am very very tired,  but restless as well and languid – in fact full of the vague wonderings that usually prompt me to unearth this tome and scribble in it. There is nothing special that causes this upheaval of mental waters now and again, but some days the people and things around me are lit up by a different light from that of everyday, and I have time to sit back, as tonight, and let my thoughts run away, this this mood is conjured up. If only I had something to say it would be better, but there is nothing tangible enough for a pen to write, though the desire to write something, or anything, is great.

My gynaecological work keeps me on the go day after day, starting directly after breakfast and sending me fagged out home to supper and a welcoming bed. Perhaps the dramas, hardly even fully registered, during the daily rounds, work up fermenting in my mind until they bubble over. Certainly one sees life, and all sides and sorts of human nature at a big hospital. And though I am now 23, that is not really a vast age for the easy receipt of other people’s troubles, anxieties and murky secrets, and for an effortless assumption of dignity and authority among numberless adults looking to you as ‘doctor’ to help them.

This afternoon I saw the film “Queen Victoria”. It was frightfully good – very like Lytton Strachey’s biography. History is very real in the films, and there, even more than when considered in the abstract, conjures up questions about life and death that are enough to send anyone’s thoughts woolgathering in the limitless space of the mind. Those people who are, or were, so real have gone, all of them, and nothing can stop time stealing us away one by one after our allotted time. First you must go to school, then you must leave it, however much you want to stay, then you must choose something to do for your lifetime, and lastly you must die, and the whole population of which you were a unit will change till the world will be full of other people with whom you share only the fundamental qualities of humanity.

The BBC Theatre Orchestra are broadcasting, and to my tired senses their music making is like a mother’s hand clasped by a fretful child – soothing and calm, beautiful and rather lumpy to the throat. I should delight to be able to play music well, is a way of compassion that cannot be excelled. I should delight too, to be able to appreciate it as musicians proper can.


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1929 diary Meg

Meg’s Diary 1929


Margaret Taylor, 12 Osborne Rd, Clifton, Bristol
Age 14 years
Begun Friday, July 20th 1929
Finished Saturday, November 25th, 1933

Friday, July 26th, 1929.

This new book was bought for me by Dad, he had said before that he would buy the book if I would write the diary.

There is only one more exam left now – geometry. It will need a lot of revision but I will have all the week-end to do it in.

I have one of the dolls that are given to anybody who will undertake to dress them. They are for the club children. There is lots of time as they need not be given in ’till the beginning of next term.

The third lost their match against The Colts which was truly awful. I made a duck, but retrieved my honour by taking three wickets. I don’t know for how many ’cause Vere King took the books home to work over.


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Saturday, July 27th 1929

There is no time really to write tonight, it has just struck eleven. We have been listening to a revue on the wireless. It was very good – especially Mabel Constanduros, if that is how she spells her name.

I must not spend any more time now, for me have all arranged to go to the baths Kingsdown are open on Sundays, before breakfast tomorrow. Oh dear I wish I hadn’t said I would go, but I expect I will enjoy it when I get there.


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Wednesday, July 31st 1929

We broke up yesterday, so, of course, it has been pelting off and on all day. Jim is not coming back for about a week because he has gone to camp with the O.T.C, at Tidworth where all the other public schools are camping together, there are thousands there. Jim is lucky, he won’t have much hard work to do as he is now a Lance-corporal.

I will buck up and get into bed and then get on.

Now I am ready again. Yesterday Suzanne Oliver came to tea, and we went to watch a tennis tournament in which she was playing the next day (today). We discovered she was playing that day after tea so she dashed home, changed, had tea with me, and was back again in time. She with Cherry Peter beat their opponents, both High School girls 6-2, 6-2 So they will be in the next round. I did quite well in the exams. Mary was by far the best – she had (out of the ten exams) eight firsts (over 70) and two seconds (over 50). I came next with six firsts, and four seconds. There was nobody else near us, I think. So I am quite sure of my remove next term. The form-mistresses are Miss Davidson and Miss Thomas. I don’t know Miss Davidson very well, she does look shapy though. I am longing to go into Miss Thomas’ form, she is really fine, the best mistress in the school.

Examination Results

History Grammar Literature Geography French Latin ScienceII II II II I I IAlgebra & Arith Geometry ScriptureI I I
Exam results

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Monday, August 5th Bank Holiday 1929

I have been waiting until something really happened before I wrote here again, so now here you are! It began, I think, on the day that Ashman (a dreadful prig) came to take Alan for an afternoon on the river at Saltford. When he came back he was full of it, how lovely it was, and we ought to go.

He was so awfully keen on it we said we would go, on Saturday. Well Saturday looked very cloudy and rainy and so we put it off, Alan was mad about it.

After all it turned out quite a decent day, which made him worse. The next day we did set out although it did look cloudy again. Mum and I took our macs, and Pat’s, but Dad and Alan said they did not think it would rain. When we were nearly there, on our bikes, it began to fairly pelt, and we were forced to shelter because the men (if Alan can be included in ‘men’) where without macs. It looked as if it had come to stay, and after waiting, it must have been quite an hour, Dad said he would rummage round and see if anybody would look after our bikes while we bussed home. At last he managed it, some very posh people, with a fine garage, offered help, and Dad promised to call and collect them next day if it were fine. We arrived home very bedraggled and weary, and now Saltford is another name for the baths.

Today was quite fine, and so we decided we would have another go at the river while we were there. So we bagged the best part of the day by packing out tea, and leaving about half-past-eleven.

We collected the cycles on the way, and then went down to the river. It was absolutely fine, and no crowd at all, even though it was a Bank Holiday. We rested by a bank and had lunch, without anyone passing, and we weren’t quick. The scenery was beautiful, and there wasn’t much current. I rowed for most of the time, chiefly one oar, but for a short time with two. It is more than twice as tiring with two than with one.

My wrist is getting so tired I will have to stop, ‘though there is lots more I wanted to say. Never mind, tell it another time.


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Saturday August 10th 1929

I have ever so many things to write about that I had better start right at the beginning of the day and go onwards.

I am afraid there is nothing exciting, but everything is important (to me, now).

Firstly we (Dad, Alan and I) went to the open air baths before breakfast. It was lovely and warm. I stayed in much longer than either of the others.

Secondly I went with Mum (and of course, Pat) down to Bobby’s to see their new winter, or rather autumn, hats. There was not one small enough to fit Mums; not the right colour, so she is leaving it for a few days, as they will be having a lot more. I bought one, red, a lovely one, and I like it more than any other one I have had. Then we came back to Clifton and we bought a pair of nice light brown shoes, strap, for me again.

Thirdly Dad went with me to see The Cricket match, Gloucestershire versus Northants, at the College. They are very even, and I don’t know which will win. They have only just started, this being the first day.

Fourthly (and lastly, I believe) I saw a book of Jefferey Farnol’s* ‘Black Bartlemys Treasure’ in a stationary shop selling for 9d, as a surplus library book. I bought it, and so have realised a dream I have had for a long time, to own one of Jefferey Farnol’s books. He is easily my favourite author and has been for three or four years.

Ian may come next. There is no third.


*John Jeffery Farnol (10 February 1878 – 9 August 1952), was an English author, known for his many romantic novels, some formulaic and set in the English Regency period, and swashbucklers.

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Thursday, August 15th 1929

Dad and Alan came home today. Oh, I don’t think I even told you they went away, I’ll tell you (that’s me) now.

Dad went up to London to demonstrate the game to the buyers of the big stores, Barkers, Gamages, Selfridges, Harrods, and others, and he took Alan, as he is the most proficient, up to demonstrate with him. Harrods and Selfridges are most keen, and say it should go well at Christmas. The Kum-Bak people have offered Dad to manufacture them, and give him so much on each one they sell, and also a minimum so they will not be able to stop selling them. We don’t know whether to accept or refuse, but I should say accept.


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Monday, August 19th 1929

We (children) went to the pictures this evening. We saw the first talkie performed (of rather had) at the Triangle. I had never seen or heard one before, neither had Jim. Alan did when he was in London with Dad. It was ever so good, especially the plot. The talk was rather gramophoney, and not always clear. Alan said the one in London was much better. We all have headaches now through listening to it for so long.

A man (in the talkie) made a bet to speak only the truth for twenty-four hours, and he got in a dreadful mess by the end of it*.

I am awfully tired so-


*Nothing But the Truth (1929) is a sound comedy film starring Richard Dix. The film was remade as Nothing But the Truth (1941) starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.

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Sunday, September 8th, 1929

We are at the farm now – minus Dad, who had to go to London on business (about the game), a day or two after we arrived, and will only come back on Wednesday evening – we have to go on Friday.

The old car we hired, a Standard, was so hard to drive that Mum could not do it, so Dad took it back to Bristol with him, and is going to return in it to drive us back.

The life here is absolutely different from our life at Bristol, and we will feel quite queer getting back to it, I expect.

Every morning we go for a walk with Pat, and try to make her go to sleep, or else she is crabby later on. Every afternoon we walk down to Seaton beach and take our tea with us. We usually bathe once before tea, and once after.

When we have anything to buy we get it at the store at Seaton, or if we are not able to get it there, we (usually Alan and I) walk to Looe, about 3 or 4 miles, and all hills and valleys.

There are only candles to take to bed. At supper we have an Aladdin lamp, which is very fragile and we have to be very careful with it. Every night she (Mrs Perrys) tells us the the mantle costs eighteen pence, and the burner (as she calls the wick) two shillings; and if we play Dad’s game, or my skittles, she carefully changes the table-cloth to an old holey one.

On wet days, and sometimes fine ones she turns the mats upside down, so we shall not spoil them – that’s what Mrs Perrys is like!

It was my birthday about a week ago, and I had ten shillings from Mum & Dad, and a fine table skittles game from the boys. Everyone remembered me, and that was fine.

We are none of us longing to go home to the old life, and we think this is the nicest holiday we have had, excepting France.

No more time now – my candle is getting low!

Flying officer Waghorn won the Sneider Trophy* for England against Italy for twice in succession. The average speed was 328 m.p.h   HURRAH!


*Flight Lieutenant Richard Dick Waghorn AFC (1904–1931) was an English aviator, a pilot with the Royal Air Force who flew the winning aircraft in the 1929 Schneider Trophy seaplane race

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