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A Few Memories and Thoughts of a Physiotherapist Working at The Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, from 1946-48

Expecting to be at The Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital for 2 weeks for a short course about plastic surgery after finishing my training at Guy's Hospital, I was asked if I would like to stay on, as one of the other Physiotherapists had just left. I readily accepted and stayed there for two years.

It was a unique and wonderful experience to be part of all that was going on in the treatment and rehabilitation of the aircrews and other servicemen who were still returning for surgery, although the war had ended the previous year. Some had as many as thirty operations.

We played an important part in their recovery, as apart from treating them we mixed with them socially. I remember The Whitehall Restaurant in the town, where the Guinea Pigs used to meet, and the manager Bill Gardiner. We also went to the racing at Lingfield and to London to watch the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, to mention just a few events. One of the hospital drivers, a lovely person always known as ‘Teddy’ used to drive everyone around. There was also lots of support from the local people and visits from 'celebrities'.

In those days of all the wards in the hospital, Ward 3 was quite famous. The worst of the burns casualties were admitted there, civilians during the time I was there, as a saline bath had been installed. It had been just a wooden hut and quite basic, but McIndoe had everything modernised and made more comfortable. It was a really lovely place as a lot of the original patients were still coming back and an enjoyable place in which to work, and there was always some romance going on with the nurses. At that time 'Annie Get Your Gun' was the popular musical and I still remember the songs from it as they were played constantly in Ward 3.

I can think of a few names of those who were still having surgery: Paul Hart, Bill Simpson, the writer, and Jimmy Wright. All their faces had been badly burnt.

As for the physio treatment, we were mainly concerned with those patients who were burnt on the face and hands, as they had been the most exposed parts of the body. We used large tins of Nivea Creme which we massaged into the new skin grafts and exercised hands which were being rebuilt from stumps.

There were pedicle grafts rolled into a tube and used for face grafts, and very small pieces of skin used over a large area to be later replaced by a permanent graft. The post-operative daily treatment was so important.

The Canadian Wing had been built sometime during the war, and I remember it had lovely pale green wards. The adjoining very large block built by the Americans had the operating theatres with modern equipment and galleries with glass windows where we could observe McIndoe and the other surgeons operating. There were also offices there for the photographic and records departments.

The Maxillo-facial unit was situated next door to the Physiotherapy Department and we used to take it in turns to give a short talk to the dental surgeons, who came on courses, about our treatments, including electrotherapy.

While I was at The Queen Victoria Hospital, The National Health Service took over, Mclndoe was knighted, and Princess Elizabeth was married. I recall watching the wedding on a small television set in the staff dining room. It was the first time I had seen television.

I remember very clearly some of the well known members of the team. John Hunter, the anaesthetist, and Jill Mullins, the theatre sister, to mention just two of them. By this time, McIndoe was spending more of his time operating in London, so we didn't see him so often, but his presence was always felt.

It must have been quite a shock when I first saw the patients who had been so badly burnt, followed by all the skin grafting they had, but in retrospect I seemed to easily accept their appearance and enjoyed mixing socially and going out with them. After that, working in a General Hospital was never quite the same and I never forgot those two years, which had been very special. It was also because the Physiotherapy Department there was such a friendly and lovely place to be part of.

Pamela Viggor - December 2014

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The Oak Tree, Marjorie, the children from Peanut Ward and the Guinea Pigs

Sometimes on a summer afternoon, Marjorie, a sister of Alison Rowles, physiotherapist, would come to find the children in Peanut Ward and ask the Sister if she could take them across to the field on the perimeter of the Queen Victoria Hospital grounds. (Long gone, now a housing estate, but then the field was full of wild meadow flowers, dancing with butterflies).

There this little band would wend their way, many of the children disabled, coping with plasters, crutches etc., but how adaptable are children and there was much laughter. They all had to climb through the horizontal bars of a rickety fence and they settled themselves amongst the roots of a magnificent ancient oak tree at the top of the field. And there Marjorie, so very pretty, would weave her spell of magic with story and songs.

It did not take long before coming to join this little party were many of the Guinea Pigs, and they lay about on the grass, smoking, of course, as was the custom in those days.

Sir Archibald McIndoe liked this idyllic scene so much, and was appreciative, not only of Marjorie’s loveliness but her skill at giving his patients, both children and Guinea Pigs, such enchanted afternoons.

A memory of Nancy Champion (another sister who worked in the Dental Department).

October 2014

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