Veteran Stories:
Margaret Guildford (née Bartlett)

Army

  • Margaret Guildford (née Bartlett) thought she'd been stood up by this Canadian airman when he failed to show up for their date, until receiving this letter months later. In fact, he'd been shot down, and had become a POW in a German camp.

    Margaret Guildford
  • Enlistment photo of Margaret Guildford (née Bartlett) in her nursing uniform.

    Margaret Guildford
  • No. 1 Neuro, Plastic Surgery and Psychiatry hospital, stationed on the property of Lord Camrose at Hackwood Park, near Basingstoke, Hants, England.

    Margaret Guildford
  • Margaret Guildford's (née Bartlett) wedding. She was married on the grounds of the No. 1 Neurological and Plastic Surgery Hospital- the estate grounds of Lord Camerose - in Basingstoke, England, 1945.

    Margaret Guildford
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"Then we started receiving the people from the concentration camps, and that was horrible. The army had to go in and rescue them because there must have been a camp near our hospital"

Transcript

The Red Cross started looking for volunteers to go to England; and so I said, oh yes, I’d like to go; and I signed up as a nurse, and went off to England. Then when I got to England, they said, oh well, you can’t work as a nurse here until you get your registration for England, which will probably take a few months. In the meantime, I had met two girls going back to England on this ship and when they heard that I couldn’t work, they said, oh, come home with us for the weekend, which I did.

It turned out that they were living on an estate outside of London. Their father was the head of the Bank of England, Sir Edward Peacock. So I was starting at the top; and I told him my story. He said, oh, I know the matron at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London and she’d love to have you. So Monday morning, bright and early, we went to St. Thomas’ Hospital and I was introduced to the matron and started living in their residence, and working there as a volunteer.

The first of January, a doctor that was working in the clinic there, where I was stationed, was from Canada; and he said, why aren’t you in the Canadian army? And I said, oh, I wish. He said, well, I know the matron of the Canadian army, I’ll call her. The next day, I went to her; and I was in the army the next day.

We had a burn unit and a lot of the men had lost a large percentage of their skin. They would all have to be grafted after; and they used even pigskin to graft on them because they wouldn’t have enough of their own skin left. Also, people who had lost fingers on their hands, they had toes grafted to their hands and this was done by, you had to keep circulation going, so the toe would be embedded up into their belly and they would have what they called tentacles or something like that, it would be a roll of flesh. And then it would be grafted to the hand and all sorts of new stuff like that. And on the faces, people that would have lost part of their faces, they would try and graft. If they had lost parts of their jawbones and things like that, all that kind of work was done in plastic surgery.

Well then in the neuro [neurology] part, that was people who had spinal and head injuries. And there wasn’t too much that they could do to improve that, but head injuries, a lot of them, had to be taught to walk again and all that. They didn’t call it post-traumatic stress in those days, it was more shellshock. They would get a certain number right off the, you know, that had been in battle and then they just went berserk, and they would send them. And I can remember having one ward that was just, would be two rows of beds, probably 30 men. They would have all been screened and they would have decided that these people could be re- [returned to the battlefield] whatever, could be treated, so that they could go back and fight again.

So what they were using in those days was insulin shock. The patients would all be given a shot of insulin at a certain hour in the morning and then they would have been left to sleep for another hour or so. And then they would get them all up and then they would feed them; and they would give them as much as they wanted to eat because most of them would have been worn down, and they would eat like crazy because of the insulin in their systems. And then they would get them dressed and outside, and then they would give them all sorts of activities and playing ball, and they kept them busy and just sort of hype them up. This would last for a month or so. And by that time, most of them were ready to go back and take on the Germans.

It was winter and the armies were all dug in because they couldn’t do much fighting in the mud, and all that sort of stuff. So this regiment or I don’t know what you would call it, but it was a big camp of men and they were on the Rhine. They were dug in there and looking for something to do; and they came to our matron at the hospital and asked if some of the nurses would be interested in coming to a party there. And oh yeah, they’ll go. It was quite a distance, but we were taken by our hospital in the backs of the trucks to this party; and they had gone to so much trouble to arrange this big party. They had big tents and they’d gone around the countryside; and they had beautiful Persian rugs, and they had chesterfields, and electric lights and they had a big dance floor. They had the band from the army that was playing music; and they had dug a pit, and they were roasting an ox in the pit. They’d had it going for a couple of days.

And then they warned us when we first got there, now they said that, on the other side of the Rhine, the Germans are embedded and if they should cause too much trouble, these are the slit trenches that we all have to get in. The Germans could hear all this music going and every once in a while, they’d let off a lot of gunshots, but nothing came across the river. But we thought that was one of the biggest parties that we ever would go to. It went on most of the night and we just got home in time to get our uniforms on to go to work. [laughs]

When the war ended, it was announced that the war, because we were out there, you didn’t have radios and stuff, you didn’t know what was going on. But it came over the hospital that the war was over. So there were no more casualties and they opened up the champagne; and everybody was given a glass of champagne. Then we started receiving the people from the concentration camps, and that was horrible. The army had to go in and rescue them because there must have been a camp near our hospital; and they would go in and wrap them in army blankets, probably strip off what clothes they had on and they would just be on litters. They would just bring them in and leave them on the floor; and the doctors told us not to try and touch them, they were all, you know, they were all next to death. You couldn’t tell, they were hardly breathing. And they all looked alike, they were all grey and their mouths were open, and you just dribbled fluids by the teaspoon in their mouths.

If they lived through the night, they transferred them back to a more permanent hospital. And this went on for a few days until they were all … The ones that were more mobile, they would have been taken directly back to a permanent hospital whereas just the worst ones came to us, and quite a few of them didn’t survive the night. But you couldn’t tell them that the war was over or anything, they were beyond that. I often wonder when I meet a Jewish person on the street or anything, but there’s no way of knowing. They all had the numbers on them. Today, I can see those people coming out of the concentration camps. I can’t forget that. I can see them. And some of the patients that you had that were so badly wounded, you can still see them. And my husband was, he and I were lucky because we could talk, but so many men coming back went back to their former lives and homes, and they had a hard time because nobody understood what they went through.

Follow us