Len Norman’s talk – a real pot boiler!!


On Friday 20 March, Len gave a packed garden room a fascinating talk covering his two and half decades at St Luke’s, including adventures on site as an electrician dealing with maintenance emergencies and adventures with the Austin Seven club that took us across Europe (avoiding all the motorways, of course!)

It was also a chance for volunteers and supporters to catch up for the first time in 2015. Len and Stella Goodwin (below) both appear in the photographs behind them  – Len taking part in one of the fun-runs he organised to raise funds for the hospital and Stella in a photograph taken to mark the last patient to leave St Luke’s in 1996.

Mary Barnet (with friends below) helped Liz Lloyd, Valerie Wells and Jane Thomson with the catering and the all important washing up. John and Gina Redpath were on hand as always to make the evening run smoothly.

Thanks to everyone and especially to the star of the evening, Len!!!

Stella Goodwin and Len Norman Len's talk 20.03.15Mary Barnet and Mr Shorto



Florence Desmond – a short biography by Liz Lloyd

Click here to see Florence Desmond performing with George Fornby:Florence Desmond ‘Riding around on a Rainbow

Florence Desmond

The name “Florence Desmond” may be familiar to those who have attended the Florence Desmond Day Unit at the Royal Surrey County Hospital but not so many people will remember her for her acting talent during the first half of the twentieth century.
Born above her father’s cobbler’s shop in Islington in 1905, Florence Desmond was performing on stage as a dancer from the age of 10. She later became known as a singer and comic actress and as an excellent impersonator of famous actresses such as Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. In her obituary in the Independent in January 1993 she was described as, “Not only the best impersonator of her generation, but by far the best.” She demonstrated a satirical talent without any cruelty to the people she mimicked.
In 1928 Florence performed in, “The year of Grace,” a revue written by Noel Coward and she accompanied the production to New York where she danced with him. She was to take New York by storm 18 years later at the, “Blue Angel,” night club with her witty and accurate impressions of Hollywood stars using minimal props. Miss Desmond participated in the Royal Variety performances in 1937 and 1951 and she was the leading lady in two films starring George Formby. Mr. Formby called her, “an inimitable comedienne.” Florence also acted with Gracie Fields and frequently starred in pantomime as a principal boy.
In 1935 Florence married Tom Campbell Black, an aviator, but she was heartbroken a year later when her husband died at Speke Airport in Liverpool after his plane struck an RAF plane on the ground. Her second husband, Charles Hughesdon, was also an aviator and in 1937 they set up home together at Dunsborough Park in Ripley. During the Second World War Florence toured army camps with ENSA. Her peaceful post war life was upset by a daring robbery. Luckily Florence and her husband were away from home and the household staff disturbed the burglars, but not before they had stolen a mink coat and stole.
In 1963, Florence Desmond began fundraising for the purchase of a Betatron electron therapy unit to be installed at St Luke’s Hospital in Guildford. She stated that, “If Betatron had been available, cancer might not have killed my beloved father.” The Betatron, made in Switzerland, the first of its type in the UK, was used to treat primary malignant cancer. £200,000 was required, of which Miss Desmond personally contributed £9,000. Fundraising events included Hospital Fetes, coffee mornings and children laying pennies the length of the High Street. The climax of the fundraising was a Royal Gala on the stage of the Odeon in Guildford in October 1964, attended by Princess Alexandra and her husband Hon. Angus Ogilvie, with performances by Vera Lynn and Max Bygraves.
The Betatron was officially opened at St Luke’s Hospital on May 3rd 1967 and the occasion included a Luncheon with Consomme Alexandra, Salmon Betatron and Fillet of Beef Desmond on the menu. The Betatron remained in service at St Luke’s Hospital for 22 years. A ward at St Luke’s was named Desmond Ward in recognition of her considerable achievement. Florence Desmond spent her retirement at Dunsborough Park, enjoying the attractive gardens and the farm where she was once pictured in the Evening Telegraph with her sow and 10 piglets. She died in Guildford on January 16th 1993 at the age of 87.

Florence Desmond Florence phto (762x1024)
Staff at Christmas 1967, Florence Desmond Ward, St Luke’s HospitalNursing staff 1967

Helen Lloyd and the WVS in Surrey

In 1938 when the Woman’s Voluntary Services were established, Helen Lloyd, a 39 year old resident of Albury, where she lived with her parents, volunteered to take charge of the reception of evacuees in the Guildford Rural District.  We are able to discover a great deal about her ever widening responsibilities for the WVS through the diaries she wrote for the Mass Observation Archive.

Helen Lloyd by kind permission of SHC 1532/9/1
Helen Lloyd by kind permission of SHC 1532/9/1

From 1939 till 1940, 1100 evacuees arrived in the Guildford Rural District, many in 1940 having been moved from the south coast where they had first been housed.  Apart from the logistics of finding homes for the children, Helen commented in her Narrative Reports to the WVS headquarters that Enuresis (bed-wetting) was a severe problem for families taking care of the children.  Many solutions were suggested throughout the country, such as not allowing children to pick dandelions, but Helen believed, “All that is needed is a legion of old-fashioned nannies who love the children dearly but who stand no nonsense from their charges.”  She may have followed this herself for she remarked in her diary that she had happily replaced a bath and a drink before dinner with a session reading a story to the four boys residing with her family.

The WVS centre for Guildford Borough was organised by Mrs Eileen Leach, but Helen’s base was also in Guildford and she had regular meetings with Mrs Leach.

Though not specifically connected with Warren Road Hospital, Helen often went there in her role as WVS district organiser.  Her diary entry for

June 15th 1940

“Took a car full of teapots and cruets to Warren Road Hospital.  Mrs Thomas objected to appeals being made for the hospital as it made public the fact that it was badly equipped – which of course was the case.”

October 26th 1940

“To Warren Road Hospital to give blood.  Had to wait 40 minutes but enlivened the time by gossiping with Mrs Cooper who was taking records.  The operation was extremely simple and I felt ashamed of having a fluttering head.  The doctor was charming and I admired and wished to emulate his bedside manner.”

Helen was concerned that the London boroughs made no attempt to forward the children’s medical records or spectacle prescriptions , but the main medical concerns were obvious.

December 30th 1940

“Had to take two of Mrs Strachey’s children to Warren Road Hospital with impetigo and nits!”

January 31st 1941

“Eight cases of scabies and nowhere to put them; 3 measles contacts and no billets; an expectant mother imminently expecting; a child admitted to Warren Road for impetigo has measles there and no-one is told; a second child of Mrs Strachey’s has scarlet fever though the school doctor pronounced it to be nothing.”

The highlight of June 1940 was the arrival at Guildford station of men evacuated from Dunkirk.  Mrs Leach was in Helen’s office organising food for the trains when there was a message for them to go to the station as soon as possible.  There they found chaos as train after train of hungry and thirsty English, French and Belgian soldiers stopped en route from the south coast.  “The waiting rooms on the platform were transformed into larders and pantries and were filled with people cutting sandwiches.  Churns of hot tea ladled into tins, jam jars, anything that would serve as a cup.”  For four days the WVS continued to serve the soldiers with the, “enthusiastic support of Guildford tradesmen willing to be knocked up at all hours to give goods at a discount of sixty per cent.”

After Dunkirk, the Guildford scheme was instigated, “Whereby we shall keep a list of lodgings, free or otherwise, for the wives and relations of wounded (servicemen) on the danger list.  These people are, if necessary to be met at the station and taken to the hospital or billets.”

Meanwhile the rural WVS were to supply ashtrays, handkerchiefs, drinking beakers, books and games for the injured soldiers at Warren Road Hospital.

Helen Lloyd with Canadian soldiers in June 1945 (with kind permission of the SHC 5380/1/12/1)
Helen Lloyd with Canadian soldiers in June 1945 (with kind permission of the SHC 5380/1/12/1)

On one occasion Helen recorded that a family had been sent from Bristol because the husband was dying of cancer at Warren Road Hospital.  His wife and six children were sent to Ockham Park which made it impossible for them to visit the hospital so she persuaded the Billeting Officer to find them a council cottage in Shackleford.

Later in 1941 Helen Lloyd reported that 3 bombs had dropped near to Warren Road Hospital killing 2 people, injuring 9 and making 200 homeless.  In October 1941 a British Restaurant was opened in Charlotteville.  This was a communal feeding centre, a cafe where a full hot meal could be purchased for one shilling, served and washed up by the WVS.  At the same time WVS members were knitting scarves, helmets, socks, sweaters and gloves.  By 1941 almost 3,000 children had been evacuated to the 22 parishes in Helen’s Rural District.  In January 1942 when there was thick snow on the ground, Helen skied into Guildford from her home in Albury.

In June 1942 there were 542 WVS members in Guildford Rural District and 1,005 in the borough of Guildford.  An editorial in the Surrey Times of 29th October 1943 expressed the opinion that, “While the grey uniforms of the members of the WVS are seen mingling among the crowds in our streets, few of the public are conscious of the valuable work they undertake.”

Article by SLHHP researcher Liz Lloyd


Warriors at Home 1940-1942” edited by Patricia and Robert Malcomson
Women at the Ready: The remarkable story of the Women’s Voluntary Services” by Robert and Patricia Malcolmson.
The Surrey History Centre, 130 Goldsworth Road, Woking, GU21 6ND