Haslar Heritage Group

Under Ground Theatres Royal Hospital Haslar

Memories of Phyllis Pearson VAD D-Day 6th June 1944

I was 20 and assigned as one of several VADs at Haslar to work specifically in the operating theatres in anticipation of D-Day as we were to be the Port Hospital and to deal with the seriously wounded.

VAD Operating Theatre staff prepare for surgery in the cellar operating theatres.

One of the two underground Cellar Operating Theatres designed layout by Surg Read Admiral Sir Cecil Wakely.

There were 3 operating tables per theatre and 6 patients could be dealt with at a time MASH style. Boyles anaesthetic machine can be seen in the right hand picture.

On the 6th June I went on duty in the underground theatres at 1800
And we were rostered to work 12 hours on and 6 off.

My most vivid memory is of a severely wounded Canadian Soldier. Just before he was to go into theatre he muttered as I passed him ‘Be an angel and get me a drink’. As he couldn’t have anything by mouth I wrung out a gauze swab and held it to his lips. He sighed ‘You’re an angel!’ Those were is last words as he did not survive surgery.

To reach the underground theatres we had to go down the staircase in the centre block and walk through the dimly lit cellars. One day our first case was an amputation of a very gangrenous leg. Whilst having a coffee break and before the next case the Surgeon Commander asked if I was alright. ‘Yes thank you I replied’ He pursued the question again and I finally said ‘Well if you must know as I was coming through the cellars I passed three dead mice’ and promptly burst into tears!

When I came off duty I showered and slept for 4 hours and went to the galley and there were strawberries and being June and the season we had strawberries as a treat. However the smells of ether and gangrene were in our cloths and since that day I have never been able to eat a strawberry. Even seeing them on roadside stalls these days brings home to me the smell of the theatres and those operations.

VADs nursing patients

St Luke’s Church a place of Peace and Quiet for all staff and visitor’s for prayer and reflection.

Mrs Sylvia Bell VAD Recalls

When we were able to take a brief respite from the wards, many VADs found solace in St Luke’s church. The organist would often play soothing music and one could pray for the patients and also ask for the strength to carry on, however tired one felt.

Mrs M Hining VAD – Personal memories written in 1984.

I served at Haslar and some 6 weeks prior to D Day I was put in the Resuscitation team and I attended a course of lectures so we would know exactly what to do when the time came We would be given many casualties to look after maintaining and taking blood pressure’s, IV infusions etc.

I remember the evening prior to D Day we were allowed to walk the Haslar sea wall, the Solent was full of craft. When we went to breakfast on the 6th June we were told that D-Day had commenced. There was not a sound and not a craft to be seen. The rest of the day at Haslar was a very quiet day, every one just sitting waiting.

Casualties did not arrive until the second evening. The hospital ships used to arrive about midnight each evening. Casualties came through casualty clearing station then on to resuscitation, remaining with us until strong enough to go to theatre, or to a ward.

The men were still in their uniforms. We did not know what we would find when taking off their uniform and the horror of finding that legs, or arms had been torn off. I can remember one VAD saying she did not mind what she did once the patient had been washed and in his pyjamas, but she could not bear to take off their uniforms finding arms, or legs hanging off. The men, or should I say the boys were in great spirits, so high and said they were going back to fight in spite of their ghastly injuries and being near to death.

As the patients became strong enough, they were moved by ambulance trains North to make room for more casualties, this took place mainly at night. During this busy period we never knew if we should be able to sit through a full meal. When the signal went we had to return at the rush to the Resuscitation rooms, sometimes still chewing our meal.

In the midst of a very busy ward Surgeon Lt Cdr Clegg persisted in whistling a tune. Sister told him in no uncertain manner to be quiet, but he still whistled as he worked and he sometime replied ‘I’m in charge so I’ll whistle’.

At night we slept in the cellars, in bunks with a name tag for whatever team you were in would be tied to the bunk – we had ‘Resuscitation’ so we could be called when required.

When HMS LAWFORD” was in Portsmouth my friend Marie and I often got a call to the Mess to madam (Miss Wastell Commandant VAD’s) to hear that we had been invited on board. To save going through the Dockyard, one of the Officers came to Haslar jetty in one of the small boats so we could go straight to ‘HMS LAWFORD’. One evening while on board a signal came through to say D-Day was to commence it was false The Captain said if it had been the real one, he would have had to take us to France we often think what might have happened.

Sadly HMS LAWFORD was hit whilst acting as an HQ Ship off the Normandy shore line the MO was killed trying to save people. I met the Captain about a year later as a patient in the Naval Hospital in RNH COLOMBO Ceylon.

A few days after D-Day I received a phone call from my brother in Southampton he was on a tank landing craft, his craft had been damaged and was being repaired before landing further troops. Marie and I being off duty and with permission we had tea on his craft and could hardly talk with all the noise of the Landing Craft being repaired. It was not a very pleasant ride on the narrow roads which were extremely busy with all the Army Lorries etc.

So much happened during this period and with all that happened I find it difficult in putting memories to paper.

Scroll to Top