A stay in ‘the infamous, bombed Tobruk Hospital’

One of the famous images of the 'Rats of Tobruk', Australian troops sheltering in one of the caves in the besieged area.

Stephen Dawson was in the garrison of Tobruk, where he had been since the start of the siege. At the beginning of August he started to feel unwell. His diary records his progress:

5th August 1941

Yesterday even the sight of a mug of tea revolted me, so I knew something was wrong, and accordingly reported sick this morning. (Scotty and Pitt – septic poisoning – were in the large party also.) The MO soon diagnosed my case. “Jaundice. Get your kit and report to the MDS. They’ll probably send you to the Base.”

I was driven down to the MDS by Tiny Plane, in a typical Tobruch dust storm. I felt foul. Bumpy, dusty road. Past the wrecked German tank, past the ruined buildings, past the broken Iti guns and past the wrecked British plane with grave alongside..
The MDS examined me and sent me on to AGH at Tobruch. The infamous, bombed, Tobruch Hospital. Mish qwise, I thought.

Lovely white buildings, pock marked or smashed. Gory boots. The ambulance man considered the pillow on his stretcher. “Too much blood on it.” “Dump it?” “Yeah, down by the boots”. A long, white ward. Cots. Men lying on them – all Aussies. Cool. No sun. Two holes in the ceiling, a few splinter marks on the walls. I lay down with a sigh; ease at last! “That number two bed’s lucky,” drawled my neighbour. “We calls that the Alex. bed – they all get sent down from there”.

A dainty meal – but hell! I couldn’t eat, or drink tea. Plenty of water though. Half my thirst went, when I found it wasn’t rationed! Whistle of bombs. Night. Heat.
I lay on the bed in shirt and pants and felt foul. There were many fleas. I lost count of the number of times that bombs fell but it was all high level stuff. About midnight, two men were mysteriously taken away, with their kit. I later heard they’d been evacuated in a destroyer.

I tossed about, browned off, most of the night. Each time bombs fell, the orderlies came along the ward with their flash lights.

Stephen Dawson’s diary has been reproduced as a blog, see Soul of a Poet.

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