Way back in the 1970s my late uncle, Jack Salmons, who lived in Henguist Gardens, Wickford, told me of the days he served as a male nurse at Runwell Hospital. But what really captured my interest was him relating the events that took place there during WW2. Jack Salmons was a well known Wickford character and, I suppose, my favourite uncle. He talked about the landmines that dropped in the grounds around Runwell Hospital, and the damage they did to some of the wards, Rettendon Ward in particular, which I have photographs of in my album. But just before I go on I would like to say how these photographs came about (those shown here and others not present from the same set). Having spoken with my uncle, I wandered up to the hospital one Saturday morning. I didn’t know where I was going or to whom I wanted to speak, but I had to find out more about Runwell Hospital. I ended up somewhere near Pathology and met an elderly gentleman by the name of Tom, this much I can remember as if it was yesterday, but unfortunately his surname escapes me. I very quickly got talking to Tom about the war and he said, ” I photographed everything that went on here during the war, would you like to see my snaps?”. Oh my God – Easter, Summer and Christmas had just come all at once! Tom produced a set of small pictures showing these and similar shots – damage to Rettendon Ward caused by the mine, bomb craters in the hospital cricket ground and by the nurses home, a photograph of a 1 kg German incendiary bomb still sticking out of the ground where it had fallen, a hospital fireman holding the same bomb (the hospital had its own appliance and small fire force). The only thing Tom never got to photograph was the German Dornier Do217M1 which crashed on the night of 21/22 January 1944, one of the very first aircraft to be bought down in what was then known as ‘Operation Steinbock’. [This, as history has recorded, was Hitler’s last attempt to bring England to its knees and was known as the mini blitz. It was doomed to failure from the start for we now had up to date night fighter aircraft, radar and radar predicted gun sites, and so by 1944 any marauding German aircraft were very quickly and efficiently dispatched.] My elderly gentleman Tom, what a man, and because I cannot remember his surname cannot give him the credit he so rightfully deserves in taking those series of photographs. Obviously Tom let me copy his prized pics and at the time I was a full member of the Essex Aviation Group. I had the copies sized at 10×8, gave Tom his originals back, together with a set of new 10x8s, and a further set to Mr.Barry Addcock, who shared the same interest in collecting old photographs of Wickford. But in my quest for further knowledge of the hospital, luck was to come my way again. You may often have heard the saying, “maybe it was meant to turn out that way” and when my brother got married back in the 1970s he and his new bride moved into Cranfield Court flats in Market Road. They hadn’t been there long when they met an elderly lady who used to be, she told them, a sister at Runwell Hospital during the war. Visiting my brother one afternoon he told me of the lady and introduced me to her. She turned out to be retired Miss M. K. McMullen, MBE. Oh, the stories this lady told me. They had many forms of casualties at the hospital during the war and their blood transfusion unit was working at overtime speed. At the time one of the landmines dropped in the hospital, the machine decided to pack up. So a gentleman known as Mr. Flack, a hospital engineer, very soon discovered that the same metal used in the construction of the landmine could be used to turn a new piston for the blood transfusion unit, hence the photograph showing the broken piston and the new one. Miss McMullen related this story to me and then said, “Come into the garden will you, I have something I want to show you”. There, sitting on the lady’s garden table, was a small bakelite plinth with a very large misshapen object which had been letter stamped. I picked it up and read the legend which said ‘Piece of Landmine, Runwell Hospital, Wickford, Essex, Attacked 16/10/40’. Miss McMullen said, “It’s a good job I met you Trevor as that has been carted about with me since the war. I stuck it out here and was going to throw it away, so when you leave dear you can take it with you.” Apparently Mr. Flack who had manufactured the new piston for the transfusion unit had decided to make Sister McMullen her own souvenir of the event; another wonderful Wickford character who was awarded the MBE for her service to nursing in time of war. I knew her as a sweet lady with a lot of knowledge and a love for a period long gone. So two pictures of a set and I dedicate their existence to my friend Tom whose surname I wish I could remember.
P.S. The photographs as well as the man who took them I dedicated their existence to a gentleman whom I could simply remember as Tom. Having now trolled through masses of paperwork, I came across the report I had originally made out at the time, and can now reveal with extreme thanks the man’s name responsible for a wonderful photographic history of Runwell Hospital at War….Mr. Tom Hall.