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The Americans at Frenchay Hospital...
The Royal Party & Escort
Left to right: Col Maddock, Chaplain Crowfoot, Mary Barnes, Lady-in-waiting, Margaret Shaeffer, Queen Mary, Col Kirksey, Evelyn Harwood, Col Sheldon.
The Dowager Queen Mary visited the 298th US General Hospital at Frenchay in July 1943
The following account was written by eyewitness, Lois White Monroe, an American Red Cross Nurse with the 298th.
We met the Dowager Queen Mary
It was July 1943, Frenchay Park. Our Chaplain Crofoot was sometimes asked to take the pulpit on Sunday evenings in neighbouring churches. On one such occasion he preached in the village of Chipping Sodbury, where the Dowager Queen Mary stayed during part of the war. She was in the congregation and asked to have him presented to her after the service. Chaplain Crofoot did the gentlemanly thing and invited Queen Mary to visit our hospital at Frenchay. Thus it came about that a number of us got to meet her.
Nothing in our training had prepared us for this. None of us had ever been presented at court. Some knew who had, and contributed what they could remember. But that was really no help. This was not court. This was not even a formal situation. The Queen was coming to see a US Army Hospital in action. She would want to see us at work, everyone agreed.
The question arose: should American officers (nurses) curtsey? It was decided that as we were not Subjects, this would not be appropriate. It was concluded that those in charge of a ward or department should do as they did in any military situation: step forward as soon as the inspecting party entered and salute, giving their name and rank.
There were other questions of protocol to be worked out as well. Naturally we would want to offer Her Majesty some refreshments before she left the post. However, the neighbours who had been advising us warned that, in these austere times, the Queen would not condone refreshments being prepared especially for her. If it were customary for us to have tea in the middle of the afternoon, they assured us, she would be happy to join us. But we should not, nor should we expect the Queen to contravene wartime public policy.
The Chief Nurse’s Office was assigned to make it look as though it were a matter of custom for us to stop work every afternoon and drink tea. She must plan a scene in which a group of decoys were to be assembled in the Nurse’s Recreation Hall and give the impression of having their customary afternoon tea. The Royal party would be asked to join in with the others, and all would be well.
Yet there remained one more detail to be arranged. Our British friends said that it was required that we prepare a special rest room for the Queen’s visit. Medical minds at the hospital assumed that this was due to the gracious lady’s being elderly. The handling of this matter was also delegated to the Chief Nurse’s Office. A very special polishing and decorating job was done on the room in the Reception Building that Her Majesty would be invited to use. Miss Shaeffer was left to work it all out.
At last the Administration felt that everything had been thought of and arranged for. The Post had undergone the spit-and-polish job of its life. Patients with chest colds and other ignominious ailments were transferred to the back ramp, and battle casualties were put up front where they would be easily accessible. There was not a wrinkle in a bed, nor an unpressed uniform anywhere. The Chiefs of the Departments were lined up in front of the Reception Area with Col Kirksey, Captain Shaeffer and Chaplain Crofoot in front. The Queen and her entourage rolled up, were ceremoniously assisted from their cars, and the introductions were made. There was a pause while the Queen, arrayed as we had always seen her pictured – in light lavender coat, the famous hat and plume, the tightly furled umbrella and the concave heeled “opera slippers”, - surveyed the scene – and Miss Shaeffer sighed. Nudged by the Colonel, she stepped forward and asked, “Your Majesty, would you care to step into the ladies’ room before we begin the tour?” Her answer was a surprised but nonchalant, “Thank you. No.”
And so, with only a vague look of incredulity, the colonel led off the tour. Actually, nothing went quite like it had been planned that afternoon. Certain doors were opened for the Royal look, and others, it was understood, were to be left closed. But this Lady was an experienced hand at inspections, for her umbrella gestured more than once towards the doors that had been passed by. She did not want to disappoint the men in the back wards, and went in and spoke to them, never mind why they were where they were.
The last stop before tea was at the Red Cross Recreation Hall where pictures were taken. From there the party made its way to the Nurse’s Recreation Hall where the appointed were waiting by the small but laden table to lift cup to lip and munch on dainty sandwich. As the party entered the room and surveyed the group, the Queen’s gentleman-in-waiting took one horrified look, dashed forward, and in a very audible stage whisper exclaimed, “Ladies, please! No one eats before the Queen!” Trying not to look too crestfallen, the nurses put their cups down and sandwiches on plates. The Royal party were invited to “Please join us in a cup of tea.” Graciously our guest accepted, and had a chair drawn up to the small serving table. About a dozen others were obliged to follow suit and do likewise. To paraphrase Churchill: Never had so many been crowded into a space intended for so few.
At several stops throughout the post, the Colonel had insisted that the Queen be given renewed opportunities to visit the ladies’ room. Each time, with unfailing aplomb, her answer was the same. “Thank you. No.”
But somehow the tour seemed to go off moderately well in spite of the inner agonies of the Administrative Staff. The Queen apparently enjoyed herself and her victory over the attempts to coerce her into the ladies’ room. The staff enjoyed the privilege of having had tea with the Queen, and the rest of us basked in the warm glow of the reflected glory.
When all was over and the Royal party departed, we all set to with vigour to get our day’s work done – each in the back of his mind probably planning how he would tell this to his grandchildren.
The above photograph and text were included in a type-written booklet entitled "Frenchay Revisited 1942-1992"; and produced in 1992 by Lois White Monroe, American Red Cross, 298th General Hospital.