YOU HAVE UPSET THE PATIENT

Cyril Pearce - Pilot
142, 70 Squadrons
Cyril died in 2006

I did my second tour of ops, still on Wimpys, with LXX Squadron from Tortorella, near Foggia, in Italy.

My crew was given four days leave just before Christmas 1944. My bomb aimer, Bob Lewis, had a sister who was a nurse in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and was stationed at the military hospital at Taranto in Southern Italy. He wanted to see her and as my wife was about 2,000 miles away in Blighty, I decided to go with him. We borrowed the Squadron jeep which itself had been borrowed from the American forces, when parked in Foggia, and been given RAF markings.

Bob’s sister, Brenda, was engaged to be married to a RAMC major, the chief anaesthetist at the hospital. We were made temporary members of the RAMC officers’ mess and boarded and dined with them.

The members of the mess were all brown jobs and had had very little contact with aircrew. They were naturally very curious to know what life was like on a bomber station and we were able to shoot a line or two.

Both Bob and I were police officers before joining the RAF. I had spent five years at Bow Street and Bob six years at Snow Hill with the City of London Police Force. We had both dealt with dead and injured people as a result of accidents, suicides and the appalling casualties of the Blitz. These facts emerged during our conversations and the chief surgeon asked us if we would like to watch an operation. We agreed to do so.

The following morning we reported to the surgeons’ dressing room. We were told that a naval rating was about to have an appendectomy and we could watch it. The theatre sister was exceedingly displeased that we were about to invade her sanctum and told us that if we fainted we would be kicked to one side and totally ignored.

We were dressed in all the operating gear – white Wellington boots, gown, cap, surgical mask and gloves and entered the operating theatre. The patient was lying, fully prepared for the operation, on the table. He was fully conscious having been given an epidural anaesthetic and was dead from the waist down.

The surgeon told Bob to stand on his left and me on his right. He made a cut about six inches long in the abdomen. Clamps were immediately placed on the blood vessels and retractors pulled the flesh wide open, exposing the stomach muscle. With his scalpel he scraped a thin layer of skin from the muscle and cut into it. More clamps and retractors were applied which exposed the gut. He then stuck two fingers into the aperture, fiddled about and pulled out a piece of gut, which I presumed was the appendix.

The operating theatre was already warm, but suddenly it started to get very hot and began to revolve very slowly. I knew that I was about to faint so I made a rapid exit and slumped into a chair in the dressing room.

About fifteen seconds later Bob staggered into the room and fell into a chair. His face was a shade of green that I thought the human countenance could never achieve. He looked at me and said, “Jesus! I hope to God that I don’t look as bad as you”.

A minute later the theatre sister came storming in. She shouted, “You bloody idiots have upset the patient. I have got to give him some brandy”. The naval rating was only a young lad and he had seen two of the operating staff suddenly dash out of the theatre and had got the wind up. He really should have been pleased with us for he got a free brandy.

We were very subdued in the mess that night but the ribbing was very mild.

Links & Notes

See also John Puttock's story, Life on an Italian Airfield in 1944

Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service WWII http://www.qaranc.co.uk/qa_world_war_two_nursing.php

page last updated 22 June 2010: ACA Surrey Branch 2010