Haslar Heritage Group

Personal recollections of D-Day and days following at Haslar

All letters are courtesy of the QARNNS Archive
Miss  Beatrice Stobbs VAD

I arrived at Portsmouth harbour station in the late afternoon of the 6th June 1944. The whole place was agog with talk of the invasion of France, which had taken place in the early hours of the morning, a complete surprise to all. I was 19 years old and had recently spent 9 months at the Ministry of Pensions hospital and with experience in nursing amputees and I was very pleased that I had arrived in time to play my part and be of some use.

I will always remember looking across the water towards Haslar and seeing dozens of submarines side by side like a vast black carpet, an amazing sight.

On arrival at Haslar I was met with a very luke-warm reception and I realised that I had arrived at a very busy time and consequently I stood back. Within a day of arrival and once the Commandant understood my nursing background, the Matron had me placed on a ward immediately.

Haslar following D-Day was at first hectic but as time went by things started to tail off within a few weeks as troops commenced their advanced into France. My ward was mostly injured British and American troops who once they had their operations and recovered were moved inland, mostly at night by ambulance train.

All patients arrived covered in mud, sand and grime and generally very dirty and their clothes had to be cut off them. One patient came in unconscious, was cared for and fed orally, never choked and able to swallow food, he left us still unconscious for another hospital.

Another patient was suffering shell shock and was ranting and raving and it took many SBA’s to place him on a stretcher for theatre, all very distressing and sadly he died on the operating table.

Not being able to leave the hospital we would (when off duty) climb on the hospital boundary wall overlooking the Solent and look out for hospital ships passing this way  and you knew that it would not be long before more wounded would arrive and we’d be on duty again. We would be rung at all hours of the day.

We all had memories of the Flying bombs (Doodlebugs) flying overhead of us. Air raid warning would go off and patients had to be taken to the cellars. At night, which was mostly the case, off duty VAD’s asleep in the dormitories were also to go to the cellars, except for those who lived on the ground floor as there was not enough room for all to shelter in the cellars. I lived on the ground floor and we were meant to put our helmets on and hide under our beds. Not many of us were keen to do that and as our dormitory faced the sea and we would sit in our bed clothes and watch from the windows as the Flying bombs approached, heard the explosion some time later and pleased to find ourselves alive. One bomb did drop in the grounds.

After some weeks I was moved to a senior officer’s ward and cared for many a senior naval officer. Haslar at the time was very much run by the naval tradition and everything was ship shaped and polished, and should a patient’s bed be found with the anchor the wrong way round during matron’s rounds – there was trouble.

All ranks had their own messes. Our VAD mess was presided over by the Red Cross Commandant Miss Waistell who had been a VAD in the 1914-18 war. We had our own Red Cross cooks, who were by all accounts the best cooks of all the messes. We were certainly the envy of every mess because in those grim days we were the only mess who had strawberries and cream for sweet at dinner, not once but two or three times. Where our commandant got them from I do not know but get them she did. (reported to have come from Hammond’s nursery at Stubbington.)

Life was strict but our Commandant looked after her girls and we all worked hard on the wards and in the operating theatre, laboratory, x-ray, having to be in bed by 10pm and a late pass until 10:30 if applied for once a week.

Some three months after joining and as Haslar returned to normal and I found myself being posted on my way to Liverpool and the western approaches.

Note: In 1945 following VJ day Beatrice was to play a part in ‘Operation Magic Carpet’ onboard HMS Glory the greatest transfer of human life post war in the Far East.

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