A short sample of the diaries of Joan Lockyer, from the book:
Operating theatre at Mersa Matruh
June 5th Fri; Two new sisters arrived. Nicholls from No 8 and Ransome.
June 6th Sat; Matron made me dig at my tent with a pick and shovel all the evening. [Probably a disciplinary measure.] Piet came to say goodbye as he had to go to Knightsbridge the next morning. Went down to the sea.
June 9th Tues; Ward 1 took over some black boys [we assume this to be a medical term], and now we have 24 black beds, 24 surgical and 24 skins, with Capt Flood looking after them.
June 11th Thurs; Six more sisters arrived from 15th Scottish and No 9.
June 12th Fri; I was bitten on my finger and it’s going septic.
June 14th Sun; Went down to the sea with Mary, Din, Pinky and John Apsley, a Medical Officer from the Greys.
June 15th Mon; I thought my finger ripe for opening so I reported it and got put in the Sick Sisters’ ward. It’s lovely there. I watched the natives making a road and being whipped by their foreman.
June 16th Tues; Soaked my finger all day and had a lot of pain. I couldn’t sleep and got Captain Ross up at 1.30 to open up my finger. Major Bennett gave me Pentothal. I cried a lot when coming round.
June 17th Wed; Slept most of the morning. Went for a swim with John the Doc in the afternoon. I was seen coming in by Matron.
June 18th Thurs; I was sent down by ambulance train, destination unknown. It turned out to be No 1 Gen at Quantara. I was the only sister on the train and got thoroughly spoilt, and had meals with OC Major Stewart IMC, who was very nice. I had the carriage to myself.
June 19th Fri; I was called with tea and biscuits at 7am. Breakfast with the OC [Officer in Charge]. I talked to the boys all morning and arrived at Quantara at 2pm. Very hot. Had a bath of sorts. Finger much better.
Joan at Port Said, June 1942.
June 20th Sat; Went into Port Said in a Red Cross bus with some sisters and a few officers. Talked to a patient called Kenneth in the RHA who was very nice. Shopped and ate large ices.
June 21st Sun; Up for an early service. Kenneth and I went to the Bengal Club in the afternoon where we roasted and swam. Poor K had her arm bandaged and couldn’t go in. It was boiling hot, about 120 degrees and very pleasant there. No blackout here.
June 22nd Mon; I heard today that I may not return to my unit. It worried me all day and I didn’t go out. The Germans have taken Tobruk.
June 23rd Tues; Another quiet day – very hot. Several sisters are in the ward, including an Indian sister evacuated from Matruh. I met Kenneth in the evening and we went to the garrison picture house. My instructions are to return to No 1 if no other news comes through about the 58th.
June 24th Wed; Tommy took me to Cairo in a three ton truck. I went straight to the Gezira and swam and then on to Mena House, which was as pleasant as ever. Had lunch at the French club at Ismailia and supper at St James’ in Cairo. Strawberries and cream. Saw the film The Prime Minister.
June 25th Thurs; Breakfast on the balcony and then into town to bank and to shop. I bought two beautiful bathing costumes for £6 altogether! Tried to ring up Robin. Caught 4.30 train to Alex. Stayed at the Summer Palace Hotel in Jean and Dickie’s room. Rang up the Windsor Palace where the 58th are staying. Saw Robin.
June 26th Fri; Saw all the girls and Matron. I told her I expected to return, and it was all right. Spent the day with Robin. We swam in the afternoon with Jean and Janet and two more men. Went out to the Union Grill to dinner with Robin and Mary.
June 27th Sat; Spent the day with Robin at the POW camp at Agency. He took me to Ikingi in the evening, where half a dozen of the girls are. News came today that Mary, Jean Parry and Sandy are posted to No 2 at Quassassin [near Suez]. Very upset about it.
June 28th Sun; I helped in the mess all day and worked in the wards in the evening. The remainder of the girls came down, with a very bad-
June 29th Mon; News came that the Germans have taken Mersa Matruh. All camps around us are choc-
Nurses packed and waiting to move.
June 30th Tues; News that Jerry [the Germans] is at Daba. We had to pack up the hospital, get the patients off and pack up ourselves. I am very weary. We slept on the verandah on hard benches – fleas in the blankets which kept me awake most of the night. Noises of tanks and guns off and on.
July 1st Wed; We sat about and waited. News came that we are back in Matruh, not confirmed. Actually, the fighting was 16 miles this side of El Alamein, about 20-
July 2nd Thurs; We re-
July 3rd Fri; I spent a very lazy day – had tea at Beau Rivage. Got in touch with Jim Scorer and heard that Peter is at Maryopolis, near Amarya.
July 4th Sat; Went on duty in hut 2 surgical ward – quite enjoyed it. At lunchtime I heard that we were to leave at 4 o’clock. Packed up and caught the ambulance train, which left at 6.30. Very well looked after and we lay two on a stretcher. Arrived at the 27th General at 2am. We slept on chairs and got eaten by mosquitoes. Breakfast at 6am on Sunday and then to bed till tea time. Went to evening service. Very hot and mosquitoes bad.
July 6th Mon; Kal went off sick today with tonsillitis. I went on duty in the acute surgical ward with Jim Potter. Two nice sisters were there, a pleasant MO and 20 grand patients – 3 on Dangerously Ill List and 6 on Seriously Ill List – that was some real nursing. Two orderlies, two Italian POWs and a Palestinian AT.
July 8th Wed; Jim, Clare and I went to the cinema and saw Old Maid. I didn’t care for it.
July 11th Sat; Fin and I hitchhiked into Ismailia and swam at the V S Club. Later joined by Con at 11am. Jean, Mary, Dim, Parry, two SAs and two of our MOs also joined us. Very pleasant there. On the way home I collected piles of mail from Moascar.
July 14th Tues; Off at 8pm. Went to a party at 31 RSV, somewhere near Amassassin. Mary and Jean were there – it was rather dull. George Rens, now back with 10 MAC, came to see me.
July 16th Thurs; Con, Jim and I hitchhiked into Cairo – we were picked up by two naval officers. I met Fin for lunch at Shepheards (walked into Matron Holland), and we sat in the cool in the afternoon. Shopped again and returned in an ambulance. I had bought all sorts of things. Poor Con got a gippy tummy and a bad headache.
July 17th Fri; Con went off sick. I went on duty but we were told at 10am to go and pack. Left the 27th about 2 o’clock and set off for Moascar in a truck. Four new sisters from the 62nd were there already. I found it a little cooler and the mosquitoes were not so bad. Matron started slave-
July 18th Sat; Had a pile of mail – Koffie has some shrapnel in his knee. Letters from Doug, Mum, Robin. Jim, Clare and I hitched into Ismailia on a truck. Swam at the US Club. It was terribly crowded and we couldn’t get tea. We were taken over the Suez Canal to the Sinai desert and given drinks with 158 SAEC. Not much of a crowd, though they were quite kind.
July 19th Sun; I was sent on duty to empty wards. Went to a party at 70 Squadron with Margaret and Becky. We met many nice lads there and among them was one John Windsor Garraday, the MO who knew Denis Fowler and Dr Magg, and was stationed at Filton [near Bristol].