Welcome to Tobruk Hospital

The coastal town of Tobruk had been shattered by constant artillery bombardment and bombing, August 1941.

Ralph Marnham was a surgeon with the Royal Army Medical Corps when his unit was transferred from Cairo to Tobruk, still under a state of siege. After the overnight sea journey he arrived at the main Garrison hospital, which had ‘more dirt and disorder’ than any hospital he had ever seen. On 13th October he was met by the Commanding Officer, Colonel Spears:

Colonel Spears and I were walking from the Main Gate of the Hospital towards the Officers’ Mess, a distance of some 50 yards when shells began dropping in and around the Compound. The Colonel proceeded at an unhurried pace and I, having no alternative, with him.

At the same time there was a scurry of orderlies from the Administrative Block making for adjacent slit trenches. I can still see one of the junior clerks, a tall thin man with a high stepping gait, leading the rush and still clutching the ledger in which he had been entering the admissions. ‘Get back to your work’ shouted the Colonel, ‘look at me, I am not hurrying’.

A voice from the trenches rang out ‘Neither would we if we were your age, you silly old b—. What have you got to live for anyway’. No action was taken, all the Colonel said as we pursued our leisurely way was ‘High spirited lads aren’t they!!’

That night when I joined the Colonel for a drink after dinner I found his sergeant clerk already there, both in their shirt sleeves. ‘Don’t worry’ said the Colonel ‘he is my stock broker when we are at home.’

Quoted in Witness To War: edited Richard Aldrich

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