Childhood memories of Dunkirk Days
Phyllis Halpern recalls living at Hill End Hospital during the Dunkirk evacuation
By C D
Extract from The Hillender October 1982
St Albans Museums
Childhood Memories of Dunkirk Days
By Phyllis Halpern District Transport Secretary
The television coverage during June 1980 of the Dunkirk evacuation brought back sharp recollections of Hill End’s role during this traumatic but exciting time. It was a strange mixture of defeat and triumph which moved the whole population.
At that time I was a child living on the Hill End estate. My father, Sid Papworth, was senior nurseryman under John Duffus, and my mother Margaret was a domestic in what was then called Quarters II (two), which by coincidence is where I am now employed. Hill End was at that time an annexe of Barts, so that as well as the usual quota of psychiatric cases it was taking a great number of general cases, including war casualties.
During the days following Dunkirk wounded and exhausted servicemen began arriving at Hill End in every conceivable kind of transport. There were army lorries, open trucks, double decker buses, and of course, ambulances for the seriously injured.
On the Sunday morning following the evacuation my parents, along with many other people, went to the Hospital to see if there was anything they could do to help. I accompanied them, and the scene at the Main Entrance will remain with me forever.
Mercifully, the weather was fine. All the serious stretcher cases had been taken into the Recreation Hall for immediate attention until beds could be found for them. Ranged tidily around the flower beds were the less urgent stretcher cases, waiting to be moved into the Hall, and the car park and lawns were crowded with tired and disorientated men of many nationalities whose prime need seemed to be rest and refreshment.
Many of the soldiers were French colonial troops, who on top of all their other discomforts, had communication problems, and I remember that someone had been round affixing flags and labels of identification to assist with language difficulties.
I recall that there was no shortage of cups of tea and sandwiches; this must have been due to the WVS, who are always on the ball in this respect.
Apart from offering cigarettes, which being in short supply were soon exhausted, we found we could offer little practical help. However, what all the wounded and exhausted wanted most was to let their families know they were back alive, so armed with pencil and paper I believe my parents managed to do this for a number of people.