Dr Bobby Headley interview: Montgomery is transferred

And Montgomery was transferred away from you?

Sooner or later I got transferred to a few different places. I worked on an air base there for a bit. We were constantly using air bases to go inwards like this because these islands were a nuisance too and it took a bit of time before they were all sorted out. Unfortunately at this time the war up the other end was getting under way and nobody really cared for us at all. All of our best troops were taken away, believe it or not. I had a message from General Montgomery. We lost our beloved Montgomery – that was a disaster. “I have to tell you with great regret that the time has come for me to leave the 8th Army. I have taken command of the British army in England under General Eisenhower…” That was January 1944 so we lost Montgomery then and had to make do with somebody else.  He was then in charge of the British army in the north and landed in Normandy.

I got this when I crossed the sea. They have a ceremony when you cross the Equator for the first time - you get ducked in the bath. That was going out to South Africa.

The war took a long time to be won, really. We were then told we had to move from here. I joined the 22nd General Hospital. I managed to get a specialist station there. We then moved from here right up to here. We landed at Trieste and went across to Mestre where we ran a 1000-bed hospital at Mestre which is just outside Venice. By this time the war was pretty well over, you see, not far off it.

Was it easy to apply anaesthetics in those conditions?

We spent a lot of time stationary. We were never really entirely without gases. I can’t say my anaesthesia was of the highest but we never had such things as relaxants or anything like that. We had thiopentone and inhalation stuff, nothing much else. Some people used to work entirely with thiopentone, with a thiopentone drip and just a bit of nitrous oxide. They had a very dilute solution – just drip it in. Some people do that now. I don’t like it but you can see them [and they may] have difficulty getting it round. But it is a way of giving an anaesthetic. We were mainly on fairly crude apparatus but we had it. We had ether. We had chloroform but we never used chloroform, too dangerous. Alright for giving people to put on who didn’t belong to us. Chloroform had a death wish on it. Very good anaesthetic but definitely something which could kill you. The majority of chloroform was used with a rag and bottle and still is.