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Dr Bobby Headley interview: Early career

Dr Headley, how did you get started in your career?

[I was born 29th March] in 1915 in the early part of the First World War so I have a modest memory of that with air raid warnings at that time and memories of sheltering underneath the railway arches in a pram.

I qualified at St George’s in 1937 and had a series of house jobs – casualty, house surgeon, house physician – and I had contracted to take on a resident anaesthetist’s post when the resident anaesthetist went. In the meantime I finished my resident jobs and I was doing locums in the Midlands. Suddenly about August time 1939 I had a message from St George’s to come quickly and take up my job as a resident anaesthetist as the resident anaesthetist was a reserve officer in the Navy and he had had to go.  I had to ditch the practice I was doing as a locum much to the irritation of the doctor. I said I was terribly sorry but I had been called up so I started at St George's in August 1939 as resident anaesthetist. No sooner had I been there after about five minutes but it was because of the war starting up from below everybody in the hospital got an order offering appointments in the emergencies medical services. The service was created to deal with air raid casualties in civilian areas all over the country.  The staff were mainly composed of hospital staffs in very busy areas that couldn’t continue to run. So most of the London hospitals were partly evacuated except for one ground floor. The rest of the staff were found jobs elsewhere.

I was found a job at the South Middlesex Hospital for Infectious Diseases at Isleworth in Middlesex, West London at a salary which as about six times as much as I had been getting before which was quite a bonus. I was soon out of debt. So I took up my residence there in one of the porter’s houses about the 30th August 1939 as anaesthetist to this hospital which had not really been created. It was full of fever cases. The only sort of jobs they wanted doing was tracheostomies. They used to have all these cases of nasty laryngeal problems. Anyhow, in addition to me and one other anaesthetist at some other hospital, all the rest were consultants from the staffs at St George’s, Westminster, Charing Cross Hospitals and they were all plonked in their place and given a residence. Up the road there was another bigger place called the West Middlesex Hospital which had an equally large number of staff. We were taken out of our homes and plonked in these places.