The lucky ones will be those who die quickly: Autumn 1944

A letter from A N Symons, Medical Services Officer, to the President of the Controlling Committee of the States of Guernsey, September 1944. From the Priaulx Library collection.

The President, The Controlling Committee of the States of Guernsey, Hirzel House

19th September 1944

Dear Sir,

It is my considered opinion, that should relief not be forthcoming in one form or another, the condition of the inhabitants of this Island will become one of great danger in the near future.

The date cannot be given with exactitude. To prophesy is always dangerous. Much will depend on the weather. Also when we look back afterwards no one day will be said to be the date of change. I am suggesting that after some day about mid November life here will become unbearable for the population as a whole. The main reason will be the want of fuel: whether gas, electricity, coal or wood for cooking, lighting, and/or warmth.

During the last four years, the people have only just kept above the danger line; further deprivations must submerge the majority.

Coal has finished, coke is rapidly coming to an end, the wood supply cannot be but totally inadequate. To talk of communal cooking for the whole population or the greater part is only an attempt to conceal the seriousness of the situation. There is no possibility of erecting or maintaining sufficient kitchens. There are over 23,000 people to feed. Even if the population were contained in barracks with a thousand to each barrack, it would be beyond our powers of organisation to feed them properly, but the scattering of a dozen kitchens in different parts of the Island and expecting all, old and young, sick and infirm, to proceed anything up to a mile or more and to carry home the rapidly congealing vegetable stew (some weight if for a family) is puerile.

I have not got the exact dates but most of our more important supplies finish in or about November, fuel, flour, gas, electricity, important medicaments. Also sugar and coffee substitute, etc.

If there are potatoes and other vegetables, for example swedes, they are of no value without the fuel to cook them properly. Let us consider the position in December, the cold, nearly sixteen hours of darkness, practically no artificial illumination, half-cooked vegetables to eat if lucky, medical services almost at a standstill: no work to occupy the time, for how is work possible under such conditions; the worry and mental distress engendered by these conditions. It there are to be many weeks of these conditions, the lucky ones will be those who die quickly.

The following represents the position of our Medical Stores:- Medical supplies are rapidly nearing depletion. The following are listed as finished though it is not a complete list. Chloral Hydrate. Hyoscine Hydrobrom. Exract of Ergot. Cotton Wool. Campolon. Tincture of Nux. Vomica. Glycerine. Olive Oil. Castor Oil. Cod Liver Oil. Coramine.

Spirit, which is largely used in the operating theatres and surgical wards, is very difficult to procure, costing approximately £6 a gallon.

Catgut for sutures is only expected to last until the end of October; when this does finish all minor operations must cease.

The Surgeons' rubber operating gloves are in a bad state.

Without Compolon, mentioned above, all cases of Pernicious Anaemia must expect to die. The want of Coramine will be a serious matter in certain heart disease.

As fuel ceases the Hospitals will be unable to function as Hospitals in the ordinary meaning of the word. The beds will still be there and no doubt the Doctors and Nurses will do what they can, but without the operating theatre, the laundry, proper cooking, and very restricted lighting and warmth, the patients might as well remain in their own home.

I say 'without' these essentials, but this is not saying that all will cease to function in one day, but efficiency in each case must gradually deteriorate, reacting on each other until some date probably in November when these institutions can no longer be claimed to be functioning as modern hospitals but rather as medical sick houses.

These are some of the reasons why I say, that after October and if without relief, a very dangerous state for the health will exist in the Island.

Yours faithfully,

A N Symons

Medical Services Officer