Interview with Dr Marjorie Birch


Interview with Dr Marjorie Birch


Dr Marjorie Birch was born and grew up in London. She was evacuated with her younger sister when war was declared. She later trained as a medical student in London. She describes her accommodation opposite Kings Cross Station and the bombing. She married a navigator with the Pathfinders in 1946, before moving to Lincolnshire.




Temporal Coverage





01:07:26 audio recording


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TJ: This is Tina James I am here in *** Waddington with retired GP Dr Marjorie Birch and she is going to tell us a bit about here experiences in wartime London. So Marjorie can you tell what year you were born.
MB: Yes I was born on the outskirts of London on, in the 29th of June 1924 so I am ninety one now so I can’t complain I haven’t had a good run.
TJ: So your father was he involved in the First World War?
MB: Yes he was in the Royal Flying Corps and a lot of my uncles were in the Army and one or two of them were injured but very lucky no one was killed so you know a fairly big family (interrupted)
TJ: Did they used to talk about their experiences?
MB: No.
TJ: Not even your Father.
MB: No not much at all no. I don’t know why we didn’t question them at the time, I mean looking back I ask why didn’t I question them, you know. No I think in the First World War a lot of them were you know, pretty well upset about everything they say and were not very keen to talk about it were they. No they didn’t, no.
TJ: So where did you grow up?
MB: Well we moved when I was quite small to a place called Bexley Heath which is in Kent and they built eh a lot of new houses. You know we had a spell in Lincoln where a lot of the villages you know building,a lot of building going on. It was a semi detached house with a garage sounds although it was small but the rooms were quite large and we had quite a big garden. Mind you the soil was awful, my Father had a lot of trouble to grow anything much at all. Em anyway we moved there in the thirties I think I would be about, oh I had a Sister who was em, eh how many, emmm, eighteen months younger than me, I have to think. We were pretty close but that’s all we were.
TJ: Just the two of you.
MB: Yes, and my Father was in the Civil Service and he worked in County Hall on Westminster Bridge. Its still there in various departments and ended up by being in charge of the whole of the Fire Force during the War. So when the Fire Fighters were having a terrible time, he was in charge. Anyway em, so we moved to Bexley Heath and we went to em, first of all eh Eirwith Grammar School which I don’t think I don’t know if it is still there,it is probably a Comprehensive now. Because our rent paying area, that was where you went to Grammar School and so em, but it was a mixed Grammar School and after a couple of years they decided to make it just boys only. We were transferred to Dartford Grammar School which was a girls Grammar School. The boys, there was a boys Grammar School incidentally [unreadable] just in passing, not at the time I was there. So then we were there after the war started and because we were in an area where they bombed, the bombers used to come up the, up the Thames to bomb London and we could see them and hear them. Em because they thought we were in a dangerous area we were offered evacuation and em so my Father said yes you can go but you must have a billet together, he wouldn’t have us separated. So I remember, it would have been in 1940, in the summer I think it was June, going to Waterloo Station and I have never seen anything like it, there was just children. The whole station was full of children, varying from little ones with their Mothers eh to, I was then eh sixteen, yes I was doing my [unreadable], The little ones had labels round their necks as you probably know, and trains coming in and filling up and going out. We didn’t know where we were going, we had two teachers with us.There would be about thirty of us to start with and a couple of teachers, we had to take something to eat and drink. Anyway we’d pack on the train and nobody knew where we were going, sounds absolutely amazing, but somewhere to the south. We ended up in Exeter which is a very nice town of course. When you go all day in the train, it was very slow, it took us all day, I think we left about seven O’clock in the morning. Everybody was absolutely fed up, you know, tired and hot, it was a hot day. So the next thing you, you know, we were met by a couple of people who were in charge of finding billets and they got the numbers that were coming, presumably. And we were herded onto the platform and we had to go round with these people and the teachers, going round Exeter dropping off children. You were more or less lined up and they came, and the people who said they would have evacuees came along and chose. Needless to say my Sister and I were the last because most of them expected young children, I think they were a bit taken aback because we were as old as we were. Anyway eh finally we ended up with a Welsh couple in their middle age I would say, who hadn’t any children. They were very nice eh and in Countess Weir which is outside Exeter a very pleasant place to live. Well as I say they were very nice, we, we have always been shown to do a bit of cooking and stuff so we helped out when we could. She had her own ways, they were Welsh and she was lovely really. Anyway em there was er there was going to be, it would be at the cricket ground in Exeter, the Ashes you know were going on at that time and there was a match being played in Exeter. So the husband said to us “do you like cricket?” I was very keen on cricket, we didn’t play it as school, but, you know I liked, I liked it because some friends always took me to the cricket when we lived in Bexley Heath. Anyway so off we go and we walked down the new bi pass to wherever the ground was and at that time there was a large convoy of Americans coming. I thought I don’t know about the dates but they were definitely Americans. And em they were non stop, there were lorries there were cars, jeeps, everything. And you know what they are like, they were all whistling and so what, I was sixteen. This upset the host of house because he weren’t used to having any children or anybody like that. So they approached the teacher and said we were much older that expected and he was embarrassed and so we had to be found another, another billet. This time it was with eh, eh a young woman who was married to a chap in the Army, he must have been very young, she had a two year old child so she was very nice as well, so we used to help her as much as possible. But the child I am afraid, well you can understand it because the husband had been posted missing and she didn’t know if he was dead or alive or whatever. And she slept in her mother’s bed and I say she was about two and half and her Mother was still breast feeding her plus an ordinary diet, in other words the child did as she liked. Well we had a nice bedroom during the day, we had our books and stuff in the bedroom, during the day she allow, she couldn’t lock the door. She was in our bedroom pulling all the books, some of text books were school books tearing out some of the pages, I mean. We would say “well look we will try and put everything out of her reach.” But it was absolutely hopeless, but were there, I think we were there a year or two, a year and a half perhaps, oh now we couldn’t have been because, no I meant months, we were there about three or four months and in the end it got so difficult that we said to the Teacher, we said to her you know “we would like to help you,” because she needed the money, “but we really, we can’t do this these books aren’t ours” Anyway what ever we did it didn’t work. So we were found another billet and this was a couple who lived in Countess Weir in an old monastery, it was absolutely fantastic, divided into two houses and it was right by the river and eh, the husband worked for the gas board and the wife was quite a bit older than him and her Sister and she owned a local paper, you know eh, I don’t know what it was called I can’t remember. Anyway she was a fantastic cook. So we were there for the rest of the time we were evacuated and eh and she eh taught me quite a lot of cooking things which was very nice. And eh, we came back in 1941 because we went down in 1940, came back in ’41. By which time my eh, we’d moved from Bexley Heath down to a small village outside Maidstone. Well it was a small holding, very nice, lots of fruit growing. We had ducks and geese and everything down there, it was really lovely. My Father obviously had to travel up to London everyday. Anyway we moved there so we had to go to Maidstone Grammar School, so I was going there for my higher schools as it was called, in other words A levels because of course I was em applying for University. So we had, so when I got my A levels I applied to all the Medical, I wanted to do Medicine at Top Woman. In those days there were three which were all Women and didn’t take any men. There were Guys, not Guys, Kings and UCH which took half a dozen, so I applied for them all.
MB: What did you parents think about you going into Medicine?
TJ: Well my Father, who was quite strict, he said “girls want to do Careers that are paid the same as men not less.” So he said “you’ve got a choice of Medicine, Dentistry, Accountancy and Law so you had better choose.” In those days it was strange, you know we used to accept things like that. Anyway I had always been quite interested in medicine and had my appendix out when I was thirteen at eh, eh oh dear, one of the London hospitals, it will come to me. I was very impressed and I liked, I liked this and I thought yes I like this, this is good. Eh and my Sister was absolutely bonkers about animals so she wanted to be a Vet. So we both had to take our A levels obviously to get into University. When I was talking about applying for Medical School I heard afterwards that UCH and Kings who were mostly men and half a dozen women. Oh with our application form, when we submitted our application form we had to send in a photograph. Apparently the Consultants looked at the photograph, chose the prettiest girls and that was that.[laugh] Anyway that was the story that went round and naturally I didn’t get in, but I got a place at Royal Free. In my days it was known as the Royal Free for freaks and frumps. I can tell you it wasn’t freaks and frumps in my year there were some goers I can tell you. I mean in London apart from all the other things there was a very ongoing social life, because they had all the Foreign Embassies with all the Troops around and we used to get invitations to all sorts of things, it was quite interesting. Anyway eh so there we were, I went up to the Royal Free, must get this right. I went up in nineteen forty, forty one, forty two, I went up in forty three. I went up in forty three that’s right and em, so em and when you went you had a list of University Properties in London where you could get digs, you know. So I got a room, you only got a room, I mean there was nothing specific like the modern Universities, it was a case of going in where you could get anywhere. Anyway I was in a house with three stories in a place called Argyle Square in a place opposite Kings Cross Station. Well one side of the Square was in the Square, one side was the local red light area, [laugh] they got several houses there. I remember looking out of the window one day, oh I was right on the top floor and I, and I am, the other girl [unreadable] was in the other room and we became great friends. We were friends all the time we were at University. Anyway I remember looking out of the window one day and I could see the prostitutes talking to the American soldiers. I mean you really saw life in the raw. Anyway that was just in passing so, we were in these digs, it was run by a very old New Zealand lady who apparently had been in the New Zealand Hockey Team and she had come over on a tour, this was before the war and eh, met her husband who was in the Navy and em,em he was killed and she was old so it must have been em just before the war and em, she was in charge of the rooms.She had a room right down on the bottom, there were two rooms on the top and three, then another three and another three and the old ladies room right at the bottom. For all these people we had one toilet, we had a bath which was actually in the conservatory at the back of the house, so from my window I could see in [laugh] you see. The whole setup was frightful really but we did have a bathroom em in the premises in, at the Medical School. Now I must explain, the Medical School attached to the Royal Free was called the London School of Medicine and it was in Hunter Street.That is where you had to do your second MB, which is the second lot of exams you took before you before you went into the, into the Hospital and into the Wards. Its quite different now we did Anatomy and Physiology, we had a really thorough grounding. And by what I, I have spoken to the Medical Students at the modern day, you know at the moment and frankly I am not impressed with their training at all, its entirely different. I don’t think they are getting the grounding we had. Anyway, so this took two years, you really had to get down to it, you didn’t have time to have a social life at all, it was really hard slog. Anyway we knew we were there to work, anyway this particular friend of mine lived at Orpington and she used to go home at the weekends, you know it was nice of here to get out of the digs really. I know every Saturday morning eh I used to go down to the local, they called it eh the British restaurant, they had these British restaurants in London where for a shilling, I think it was a shilling, you could have a jolly good lunch. You know rationing was so tight and we had to, you did get a lunch and at the Medical School and em, we had no facility, we just had a gas ring you know to heat up water, so know things were pretty primitive. Anyway I used to go down and get a good lunch at the British restaurant. Anyway one day I was sitting there and a piece of pudding came flying through the air and hit me in the face and there was this old boy saying “bloody rubbish, bloody rubbish,” he was saying because it was the pudding and the food was pretty awful. He was so upset with his pudding he just threw it across the room, unfortunately I was sitting in the wrong place. Anyway that happened.
Anyway you want to hear about the bombing. As soon as we got there the worst of the Blitz was more or less over because we were there in, what did I say, forty three we went didn’t we, yes. Well they had a Blitz, the Blitz was the year before really. But they were still bombing and everytime the siren went, wherever we were, if we were in our digs this old lady used to shout up the stairs “Come down” she was, she wanted us all to come down and go down in the cellar, there wasn’t anywhere else.We got so fed up every night going up and down, when it, the siren went, we just didn’t bother, ‘cause really. I mean we could hear the bombs dropping, we were very lucky, we didn’t actually all that near. But in the morning when we walked round to the Medical School, you could see houses that had been bombed. I mean this is, and the strange thing is people were going to work in their normal way with their cases and so on. After that nights bombing, stepping over the rubbish and just going to work as you would on any other day. People would say why? Well that was all they knew, they got their jobs and they just wanted life to be as normal as possible. And if you happened to have a hit and you were in the house, well hard luck. A lot of people used to go down to the Tube Station which was just down the road from our digs, I, I only went there once, well I didn’t, I went in the Tube early and all these people were lying on the platform rolled in blankets and so forth, it was absolutely crowd. I mean the underground trains were running as normal and all these people on the platforms, it was very difficult to get on the train without treading on someone. Anyway they went in every night and stayed in there, it was so stuffy, so smelly you can understand what I mean. Anyway that’s what used to happen, other people had their shelters, but in London you see there were only yards at the back of the houses. We didn’t have any eh kind of shelter at all. I mean in the suburbs and that they had their Anderson Shelter and their all, you know, but we just didn’t have anything like that. At the Medical School there was nothing there, if there was a raid on we just used to carry on, I mean it sounds ridiculous but we did and we were very lucky. Until, I am going to think if I, there was one little incident em, after one raid eh, some young girl was found in the street, you know, dead. They collected people after a bombing raid to see if people were there, needed attention, if they were dead. So they were taken to the mortuary and they were all free, those that were near and this young girl attracted the attention of the man in the mortuary who’s job it was to take the clothes of all you know eh the dead bodies. He thought, why has she got her knickers on inside out because girls don’t put their knickers on inside out. They were very careful when the PM came and they found that someone had been trying to abort her, you see, she was pregnant and they found that she was damaged. That is obviously why she had died, not from the bombing. Anyway the Police had been trying to find a professional abortionist who they knew had been working in the area. Because they had the address of where this young girl’s body was found,they actually caught this chap because obviously she had died when when he tried to abort her and put her, put her out on the street after the bombing raid. And they caught him, that was just a passing, you know.
TJ: That was very interesting.
MB: Yes these sort of things happened.
TJ: I bet he never thought that he would get caught, if her knickers had been on the right way out.
MB: They did PMs on, but after a bombing raid, the standards I don’t know or comment on that. They didn’t expect to have a gynaecological examination. That attracted a do, so little things like that. Anyway I was just trying to think if there was anymore em. But what I was saying, the ordinary bombs were dropping and what I was going to, I have forgotten to say when my Sister and I were in Exeter, my own house, before we moved to Bexley Heath had an incendiary bomb on it, and my Mother picked it up, well she tried to wrap it in a rug, it was in one of the bedrooms and throw it out the window. She burned her hands and arms really quite badly. That was a brave but rather a silly thing to do I suppose. But some of those incendiary bombs, I don’t know what dates it was, if you approached them, I mean they were burning, they would blow up. She was lucky it wasn’t one of those. Anyway that was in passing, you know well. Oh I forgot to say, I’m sorry about this, while we were er, in Exeter well er one night there was a tremendous bang and er, a landmine had dropped, they had tried to hit the barracks in Exeter. It had landed very near to where we were in digs, that was what, that was when they young[unreadable] what it was. So that was very unpleasant and also one night we saw this glow in the distance and that was the night that they bombed Plymouth. Plymouth had a terrible night and day when they were bombed. We did see the light from Plymouth and that’s I don’t know how many miles from Exeter but anyway we could see it. We knew something was going on, but that was in passing. So where have we got to.
TJ: You were doing your anatomy and physiology.
MB: That’s right, so there we were in the middle of a … can’t say it, anatomy and physiology, we were having a physiology lecture. We had a lecturer in physiology, nobody liked her she really was a rather unpleasant woman and she used to swear at us. I mean in those days it was terrible having someone swear at you. We were young ladies we weren’t used to, well you know what I mean. Then see everybody disliked her. Anyway in the middle of her lecture there was a God Almighty bang. A rocket had landed on a Presbyterian, I think it was Presbyterian church right next to the Medical School. Our anatomy department was demolished, we were very lucky there was only one student in there, of course she was killed, the rest of the College we were ok. Well the ceiling didn’t come down but the rest of the ceiling on us, well we were standing there and my first thought was, well my Father at County Hall probably had heard that it had got pretty near the Medical School, or on the Medical School because of the Anatomy part. So I thought I had better go, dash down to Kings Cross to get a taxi to let him know. In those days we didn’t have phones or anything like that, so I had better go and see him to tell I were alright. Anyway as I went up to the [pause] oh, well to get my coat, into the cloakroom there was this unpleasant Lecturer, quite a bit of plaster had come down on her head and she was bleeding quite profusely from the scalp. She said to me “oh Miss Hurst, Miss Hurst” oh I had forgotten to say eh, my pre marriage name, my name was Hurst, so when I married I became Birch. We haven’t got there yet, sorry. Anyway “oh help me help me” so I thought poor old girl. So ran the tap in basin and put her head down to clear all the blood to see what was going on, she got a lot of little cuts and abrasion but nothing serious, so I rather enjoyed putting her head under the tap and clearing it all of. Anyway then I found a towel somewhere and wrapped it in the towel. I said “I must go you must see, you know check if everything is all right” presumably she did. Anyway I did go down to Kings Cross and got a taxi. It sounds ridiculous, I mean life went on whatever and you know people can’t understand that, but it did. Anyway I get a taxi to County Hall and go into my em Fathers Office and his Secretary was sitting and she said “Oh my dear whatever is the matter?” I hadn’t looked in the mirror but I had got plaster in my hair, I had got a bigger, one or two, nothing much, I was absolutely filthy. [laugh] Oh I said we had a V2 on the Anatomy Department. “Oh my dear” she said, I said “I’d better see my Father” “Oh yes go in.” Do you know what my Father said “you are in a mess why did you come like that?” I thought so much for caring what had happened to his Daughter, obviously he hadn’t heard. Anyway his Secretary was lovely, she took me into the cloakroom and cleaned me up as well as she could do, So that was that, so anyway,so we, we lost our Anatomy Department so we couldn’t function anymore so we were sent down to Guys. Now Guys was male only you see, no women and what a fuss. We thoroughly enjoyed it and so did the male students but the Consultants were saying, one old boy I can’t remember if he was a Surgeon or what he was “we have never had women walking out ward bababababa.” We always thought it was a great joke. Anyway you never had, these ah, anyway this Lecturer who we all disliked, because we all came down to Guys. She stayed at Guys for the rest of her, and apparently she mellowed, everybody said she was a different women when she went down, stayed in Guys and did,lectured at Guys.
TJ: Perhaps it was the plaster falling on her head.
MB: Eh It was the male surroundings, that was what I heard in passing, so there we were at Guys and eh we were very, very lucky when you think about it. If they hadn’t stopped the Rockets London would have really suffered, I mean they were dreadful, there was no warning it was just this terrible bang. Oh I forgot to tell you I did an edited course in Anatomy because I hated it and I wasn’t doing very well. So in the first two years we had a holiday, we had a holiday in the summer, before we started Clinical because when you started Clinical you did three months of ENT, three months of skins, three months of every department of Medicine you did three months because that’s when you were learning about it. Anyway well, before I started that, where did I get to. I know, I was doing this extra course in Anatomy because I had not been doing very well in our Anatomy exams. So what I did, we were living in a, I used to catch the train from where we lived to London Bridge and then catch the bus to the Royal Free [possibly means Guys] in Gravesend Road. One day we were sitting there and we were coming into London Bridge, there were two other people in the Compartment on the other side. I looked out of the window and there was this Buzz Bomb you know the V1 travelling exactly parallel to the train. I knew as we approached London Bridge the track curved round. I thought my God that is going to cross straight over the line, you know as we come into London Bridge. And I never knew, I knew what people knew by paralysed with fright I couldn’t speak. I was trying to tell the people “look, look” and you couldn’t hear it because of the noise of the train, the trains, the trains made a lot of noise. It was about as far, I am not very good a measuring, as my fence.” can you see my fence?” about as close as that.
TJ: That’s about twenty feet.
MB: That’s where it was, it was very close and I thought “Oh my God” and I just sat there paralysed with fright and these two completely unaware. Suddenly if I had, had a camera, we didn’t have anything like that in the War. It turned on its side, went down, blew up a couple of houses. The train swayed really badly and I thought it was going to come off the rails, swayed from side to side because of the blast and stayed on the rails and carried on. And when I got to London Bridge I couldn’t get out. My knees were going clickty, clicky, I couldn’t tell the other people what they’d missed,they’d no idea, completely oblivious of all this drama. So when I got to Guys a friend said “God you look awful are you all right?” Well I said “Oh deary Oh me” If fait hadn’t have turned the damn thing there it could easily have done it on the line and blown us all to bits. Sorry about that I am a bit out of. So where have we got to, oh yes the V2 and going to Guys. Well it was ok down at Guys we had quite a good time and then eh. From there eh doing the Clinical it didn’t have enough things going on in the Hospital, we had Emergency Hospitals in those days. We had to go, my friend and I down to Letchworth, because we had to do three months ENT at an Emergency Hospital and three months skins and three months something else. So we went down there and we had digs in Letworth and em so we got away from the bombing. And eh that was ok and we were alright and we had nice digs with a local shopkeeper. So we were a alright and we always had plenty of butter and stuff like that and we were always short of food and we did alright. When we were there we eh, we used to get invites from the local RAF stations and eh we had an invitation, for the dances I mean. And I went to one dance, oh eh we went to one at the Emergency Hospital and the RAF Crew would come you see. Snobs we only sent invitations to the Officers Mess. Anyway em and that is how I met my Husband, he was one of the Aircrew, he was a Navigator in Bomber Command at that time and eh and that’s how I met him. And eh, so this would have been about nineteen forty five I would think. I must tell you, on D Day I happened to be in Kent at home for some reason and I saw the planes pulling all these gliders on their way to France. I have never seen such a sight in all my life and I thought to myself “these poor men, sitting there in those gliders, waiting for them to crash” They are supposed to land gently but you know what I mean, that is absolutely terrific. I mean how brave were they, I am not saying anybody else wasn’t but that was really [interrupted]
TJ: And there was a lot of them?
MB: There were a lot, the whole sky was absolutely full of them, so that, that was interesting, I, I never forget that, but I felt so, it really struck me then, I mean. Oh and the other thing, I forgot to tell you in the thirties, this is going back a bit. The Zeppelin the R101 was being built at I think it was Bovington or Cardington one of the places in, in Hertfordshire where they were experimenting with Zeppelins, this was in the thirties. This R101 was going over to France, so we had a, it came right over our house. What amazed me it travel it travelled really low, you could see the little, I think its called the basket and the people in it. And you know and it and you know it was going so slow and the old propeller was going like mad. I thought we if they are shooting at it, they couldn’t miss it. Anyway they weren’t , the War hadn’t started. Apparently that night, I don’t know how long after that it crashed in France and they were all killed. I don’t know how many people were in. I always remember that as a child, that would have been about nineteen thirty six, not quite sure. You know sorry I ought to put things in no I.
TJ: No it doesn’t matter, so lets go back to D Day did you get news on what was going on day to day?
MB: Well, it was very difficult ‘cause we were at, what forty four em, no I must have been at home so we didn’t. Well you got the news, the Radio news and they said they announced I can’t eh, I can’t tell you how it was, how it was put because obviously they have got recordings of what they em of what they were saying on the Radio. But they did tell you that em, didn’t give you any details I don’t suppose they knew very much at first.
TJ: But you did know there had been an Invasion.
MB: Yes, we knew it was on. I knew when I saw the gliders I knew you see. I think the Government were trying to keep it very secret when they were preparing all these thing. But I mean, I don’t know how many of these gliders landed successfully without them being killed. It was a sight as I say I shall never forget. Yes eh I am just trying to put things into chronicological order, it’s a bit difficult. Sorry where did we get to? Oh yes we were in digs in Letchworth and then we came back to the Free to continue our Clinical, because you had to do every part of Medicine and then you took your Finals and that was that. Then you took your house jobs and everything else. So came back to Guys and I was feeling really rotten, you couldn’t put your finger on it but anyway in the end they found I had a Pleural Effusion. Eh I hadn’t had a cough or anything like that. Anyway in those days anything in the lungs like that must be Tubercular because there was a lot of tuberculosis around at that time and after the War and eh, all my X rays were clear but no “you must take a year they did in these days, they’d take a specimen of the pleural effusion of you lung and inject it into a guinea pig because guinea pigs were very sensitive to the, to the tubical bug and I knew a lass in the path lab and she let, said to me “your guinea pigs very healthy” so I didn’t have TB but they wouldn’t accept they said “you must take a year off” so I went down and stayed in my Parents house at, near Maidstone for a year. So I lost all that, all the friends because you are together for about five years and you become like a club, you know. Everybody knows everybody else and its really nice because you feel part of a group, we stayed together. Well,of course when I had to take it out, I missed everybody especially my particular friend. ‘Cause they were a year ahead, so they qualified a year before me. I qualified in 1949 finally and, but I was married in 1946 which as a Student was very unusual in those days, because when my Husband came out of the, when he was demobbed we managed to get or find a flat in London in Balm. Well finding a flat in London after the war was like gold dust. Anyway we decided we would get married because we got a flat. In those days you didn’t live together, so we got married in a[laugh] in eh eh Wandsworth Registry Office. We queued up at quarter to nine in the morning and there were marriages going on twenty minutes each. Next one please, next one please, next one please[ laugh]. My Father had strongly disapproved of my Husband to be because he didn’t have enough money according to him. He didn’t come to the wedding my Mother came and my Aunt and Uncle from Orpington were wonderful, they really helped me because my Mother would have to come up by train because she was, were living near Maidstone then. Anyway she brought some of the things she managed to get from the country as far as food and everyone,well there was Bills particular friend my Husbands particular, my particular friend from Guys, my Aunt and Uncle, my Sister and my Mother. Oh no of course not I’d forgotten, my Husbands Parents she didn’t approve either so they weren’t going to come either. I was a sickly girl from the south because they lived in. Oh I must tell you this, when we were engaged, we were engaged in the year before, nineteen forty five my husband to be said eh “you must come up and meet my parents” they lived outside, in a village outside Halifax in Yorkshire. So I brought some photographs of my Family so they could see. So there was one of my Sister and myself, gave it to my Mother in Law to be and she said “is that your Sister” and I said “yes” “she’s very pretty isn’t she” I said “yes” then there was a long pause and she said “you are not a bit alike are you?” [laughs] So that was how we started a glorious friendship. Anyway because they were Yorkshire they were both overweight both eh his Father and Mother. But my Husband was tall, quite different, I mean there were some tall people apparently in his Fathers family but his parents were rather dumpy and overweight. Eh when they saw me they did not approve, I was a sickly girl from the south, I was rather slim, in fact I have always been a bit thin. So anyway that started and over the years, oh I won’t tell you about when we got married, you wouldn’t want to hear all that. ‘cause we went up and lived in Yorkshire. My Husband did some of his house jobs in Bradford Royal Infirmary and I did a Casualty job there and Philippa our first child was born. You don’t want to hear all that but eh I just remembered about my Mother in Law.
TJ: So was your Husband had he started his Medical Training before the War.
MB: No when he came out he said eh Aircrew could get grants for University ‘cause he didn’t really want to go back into the Civil Service he only done a year anyway. They offered him his old job which actually was in London but he said “no I am going to do Medicine” I said “are you sure?” because by then I was half, I was doing my Clinical by then. When we were married I was still doing my Clinical but we got this flat in London and he got eh what? I got a small grant from the Grammar School, they did have grants for going to University. So I got a small grant given the condition that my Father paid the same amount. I don’t think it was very much, anyway he agreed to it. So anyway that was how I got, how we got the money and then he said “I am going to apply for a grant, I tell you because I am going to do Medicine” I said “are you sure.” So he applied on the grounds of outstanding em oh eh outstanding bravery or something like that because he was given the DF eh DFC no DFM because when they were awarded they were still not eh em that hadn’t been given their Commission, that was it, when the appoint. But the Canadians, Australians and all the others who were in his Crew, they were all given Commissions straight away so they were all given the DFC. But because the English, there was Bill and the Rear Gunner who was English, because they were English they weren’t give their Commissions, till six months after, so they lost out on that, which is typical really isn’t it? Anyway er where did we get to?
TJ: He started to do Medicine.
MB: Yes so eh he applied for a grant, they said no he didn’t , he didn’t qualify. So my Father said to him because we were living with my Parents then em em, “well go and see your MP” So we went up to Halifax to see the MP there and he said I, “I’ll see what I can do, because you were decorated you are entitled to a grant” Anyway he did and he was given a grant, we were fine then. So we had a small grant, I think we paid eighteen shillings a week for our flat and we had an income of three pounds a week which we thought was really jolly good. So then he applied for Medical Schools and because he had been in the RAF he was accepted for all, for all the the you know London Hospitals. When he went for an interview to Guys there was a Surgeon there called Tony Bear who has written a book, very ancient now and he said to Bill “ do you play rugby boy” he said “yes I played rugby at school and I played rugby for the RAF” “right he said your in” [laughs] So I am not saying he got in at the others that was Guys because . he went to Barts, St Marys and all others and I tell you he was accepted for them all so he had a choice. He decided to go to Guys and eh he did play rugby all the time he was there. But I got fed up when Phillipa was born in nineteen fifty and eh I got fed up with him coming home every Saturday night in an Ambulance because he was always injuring himself. [laugh] I said “now you’ve got a family you have jolly well got to stop playing rugby, you know” He loved his rugby so that was it. Anyway he, he was in Bomber Command as a Navigator and he was offered a place in the Pathfinder Force as he always said “the em, the em Navigators in the Pathfinder Force were the crème de la crème” We were, I was offered this you know, offered this place in the Pathfinders so he took it. He was in Mosquitoes, he was in 109 Squadron which was one of the Pathfinder Force, eh Squadrons. Em and eh they had the very modern radar called Oboe which actually, what they did was lead the whole Bomber Group in, into the Target and drop flares at right on the Target. Because this Oboe absolutely pin pointed the absolute, say you were bombing a factory, and pin pointed that factory. The idea was to stop killing eh civilians if they could. So they would drop flares and the main Bomber Force would come behind them and drop the Bombs hopefully on the factory or whatever, whatever the Target was. So that was quite interesting and eh in the Mosquito they had a Pilot and a Navigator, not like the Lancaster which he was in which I think they had eight in the Crew. Anyway so eh I only saw the Mosquito once when they were celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Pathfinder Force and they, there was a little seat, two little seats and I said to my Husband, how did you fit in, because he is tall with long legs. He said, I had a small Pilot [laugh]. He was a New Zealander. Anyway so that the War, when he demobbed, he was still on Mosquitoes. Oh and he was on the raids that took part to, to Holland Manna it was called.
TJ: Operation Manna.
MB: That’s right he was on that quite a long time, well for the whole time it was going. That was his last presumably, Operational time. So that was, that was interesting yeah em yeah em I don’t, I do think of odd things I can tell you about, but its.
TJ: I am wondering what did your Sister do, did she become a vet?
MB: Oh well first of all she didn’t manage her A Levels, she was a practical girl. I mean she wasn’t so good on the academic so that disappointed her. So what she did, she got a place at em, eh, oh it’s a College off Nottingham University, Agricultural College, its got a name, anyway she got accepted for that and done a degree in Dairying instead. ’cause she hadn’t got the appropriate A levels to be a vet. She would have been a jolly good vet but there you are. She didn’t have the academic you know. Anyway that’s what she did and when she was at Nottingham University she met her Husband who got a degree in agriculture. And they went out to Tasmania eventually with their six children and I always remember when they emigrated. We were all in a hotel the night before they sailed, because in those days you went by ship. And someone said “I see you are going to Tasmania, are you going to populate it then?”[laugh] and actually she’s go she has Grand Children and Great Grandchildren out in Tasmania so you can say they put their share in populating Tasmania yeah. So that was right and she is still there and she rings me up and we are both staggering on She is only a year, eighteen months younger than me.
TJ: What is she now eighty nine.
MB: Yeah she had her ninetieth this Christmas and she wanted me to go out, she was having a jolly big party out there, so, I couldn’t face the flying there, its such a long way.
TJ: And what about your special friend from Guys, did you keep in touch with her?
MB: She married when she was on an anaesthetic course she met a Rhodesian who had been in the War and and married and she went out to Rhodesia. And then when all the trouble started they moved to South Africa. And then from South Africa they moved back here, so I, and they live near Malvern so Bill and I went to see them when they first moved in and they came to stay with us. So it was lovely to see, to see her again. And she is still living, her Husbands died and eh Bill died in nineteen, no in two thousand and two and her husband died about the same time. And we keep saying we are going to get together and we don’t, she said to meet her in London. I don’t think in my present state, I am gradually loosing my sight, that I would be able to manage London, not on my own, you know I would have to go with somebody. And eh so I don’t know wither I shall see her again or not, we keep in touch. And I was going to ring her up and verify some of the [unreadable] [laughs]
TJ: You did some, obviously you did your House Jobs.When did you decide to go into GP work?
MB: Well when were, when we were married we, we were in London first and then we moved to, Bill decided to go into Public Health instead of going into General Practice. In those days they had a Medical Officer of Health, well he, he got a job as a deputy in Watford and soon got another job in Lindsey. And he was going for interviews all the time we were living in London then. And em he came home one day and said “I’ve got job in” he’d been for interview because I lost count where he’d been. He’d been to Devon and Cornwall and various these things. I said “yes I’d quite like to live in [unreadable]. Anyway he said “I’ve got a job in Lindsey” I said “where the devil is Lindsey I’ve never heard of it” [laugh]. And he was a, Medical, Medical Officer of Health in Lindsey and then the Medical Officer at Kesteven was going, so he got and that’s what, that was his job and eh.
TJ: And that’s when you went into GP work?
MB: Oh yes, and then we moved up to Lincoln, that’s what I was thinking. We moved up to Lincoln, we moved up to Lincoln in nineteen sixty and we lived in Heighington for thirteen years and then we moved to Waddington, and then em what was I going to say. As soon as I came to Lincoln I had been casualtying for a while from eh just daily, not a, not a resident in the eh eh.
TJ: Lincoln County.
MB: Yes, Lincoln County, so eh I did that a couple of times a week that was all. Because the children were still, oh we had four children and, and we had, you know trying to do, to do everything was difficult. But I did do some General Practice and in the end I went into a Practise with three other men down at St Catherine’s and em, but I was only part time there. And em so em what, no I hope to get this right, yes and then em no I was working full time for about eleven years and then, then I argh when I left there after I worked for eleven years and I worked part time, doing surgeries basically for other practices. So I didn’t do a lot of General Practice because it was a bit difficult with four children. We got them going to school and going to University and all that, you know.
TJ: Did you ever, going back to the War years again, did you ever do any casualty work in London?
MB: No not in London no.
TJ: You didn’t have to deal with Bomb Victims?
MB: Not people who had been damaged in bombs, well you, it would be routine when you were on, wouldn’t it? You were on in the morning and you would get the aftermath of what had happened in the night. No I didn’t not in London.
TJ: It was a good job then really.
MB: Mm well I qualified in, what did I say forty.
TJ: Forty nine Mm.
MB: So em, and then we moved up here you see, no we moved to Hemel Hemstead first then we moved up here in nineteen sixty. So when you think I, I haven’t done a great deal of work really but em I say it wasn’t very easy with the four children. So anyway.
TJ: So you are going to be invited to the official opening of the Spire in October.
MB: Yeah that will be nice and Phillipa my daughter, the oldest one is coming with me so yes that will be very nice. But I mean we belong to the 109 Squadron Association and we used to go to Bedford. They had a weekend in Bedford every year where everybody used to get together. That was very nice but it is still around a bit it’s a, they don’t go, well I think they do go to Bedford. It is very difficult because everybody is gradually dying off you see. Em, I don’t go anymore but yes they were very nice weekends. Oh and the other thing we used to do was go to the Pathfinder Ball, they had it near Christmas every year in London. Be either the Dorchester or somewhere with the RAF Dance Band and we would have a weekend in the RAF Club and that was really enjoyable, we really liked that. You know because we used to enjoy ballroom dancing. Bill was a good ballroom dancer because he had had lessons, when he went to London in the Civil Service he went to Madam So and Sos Dance School to learn how to ballroom dance properly. He was a good dancer I just had to follow him really. So eh, no they were lovely weekends those Pathfinder Balls and em as I say you had everything, the RAF Band. And eh we used to know a lot of eh the Squadron people in the Association. I’ve lost touch now, they still send me the little magazine they have, because they, they have a meeting at the ex, oh he has died now. The CO of the Squadron in his home, you know in eh, its Hertfordshire or somewhere like that, I don’t know, I’ve never been. They try and get together you know, some of them.
TJ: Well thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.
MB: Well I don’t think it was that interesting really.
TJ It is was fascinating.
MB: Do you think?
TJ: Yes absolutely fascinating. I’ll just add, I don’t think I put it at the beginning it’s the 11th of August 2015. Well thank you Marjorie very much.



Tina James, “Interview with Dr Marjorie Birch,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 13, 2024,

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