Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The night of the play and Lavelle.

I first met Lavelle in the boat club at University College in 1939.  He was in his last year of medicine and had already been rowing number seven on the senior team for two years.  I had joined as a cox and got to know him and his family very well.  They had lived quite close to us in Rathmines.  Lavelle was obviously senior to myself and had left the club by the time I had become an active cox and later, oarsman.  I had no contact with him until 1947 when I joined the hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in London. 

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth
This was a bad time for a newly qualified doctor to join the ranks of the profession as the war had just ended and the profession was awash with young doctors who were being discharged from the forces.  After leaving St Vincent’s, I was left for five months without an appointment except as an assistant to Dr O’Reilly in the Dept of Local Government and Public Health.  It was before the Dept of Health was established. 

During the five months I received the handsome sum of one pound a week.  I was about to consider going to America as had most of my colleagues until a friend of my fathers, a London surgeon from a well-known Dublin family invited me to do a one-month locum at very short notice in the hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in St John’s Wood in London.  I came across Lavelle again when he was doing a locum in Hampstead in the same area.  A few days before I was due to finish my locum Lavelle called me and invited me to join him at a play in one of the London theatres.  At that time it was customary for theatres who where not fully booked to contact the local hospital or local doctors and offer the tickets for free.  At the last moment I got a call from Lavelle to say that he had two tickets for a play in Piccadilly and would I like to join him.  

Picadilly 1947
He was driving a very old and dilapidated Rover at the time.  He picked me up and we parked close to Piccadilly.  We were at the play in good time but after one act we found it so thoroughly boring that we retired to the bar in the playhouse.  We remained there until we were asked to leave.  We moved to a very well known underground pub in Piccadilly where again we remained drinking until we were asked to depart.  By this time we were well stoked but nevertheless showing no serious signs of drunkenness.  Lavelle drove the car from Piccadilly to the University Club close to Victoria where there were no strict rules about departure times!  We remained there until about 2.30 or 3am. Even in my inebriated state, it was obvious to me that he was far too drunk to be driving a car.  Nevertheless, the more he drank, the more he insisted on driving the car home to my hospital. I had grave doubts about accompanying him but I realised that it would have been frightfully disloyal of me not to remain with him as he was in such a state.  We drove the short distance from the club to Hyde Park Corner and I recall striking the back of a red post office truck in front of us at this point.  I recall that he backed the car away and turned right and blindly crossed Hyde Park Corner.   

The type you might come across...
What happened after that, I do not recall until I woke up to be hauled out of the car by two policemen. I recall that the car was lying upside down in a building site.  We were transported to the police barracks in Hampstead which was of course, close to my hospital and also close to his surgery.  I slept fitfully most of the night in the barracks but I was conscious of Lavelle shouting and roaring and abusing the police, particularly in connection with the Irish and the treatment the British establishment give to the Irish.  There were also several rude and abusive remarks shouted about the North of Ireland and its British occupation.   

The next morning I and my sore head was put into the police car and driven to my hospital. The hospital had a grand entrance with the nun’s residence and the church on one side and the nursing home on the other. We were facing the hospital and I was pushed out of the back of the police car just as the nuns, in rows of two, were leaving the nunnery and walking to the church. Nothing was said by the bobbies as I followed my lonely and embarrassed path to the front door of the hospital.  Nothing was mentioned about this event until later that afternoon when I was asked to meet with the chairman of the medical board, the chief surgeon.

In days gone by at St Johns and St Elizabeths.
When I arrived at the meeting he said that he was deeply sorry that I had behaved so badly and particularly as other young doctors had applied for my job and therefore my departure from the job was inevitable and I was promptly sacked.  However, he followed this by saying that there was no suitable candidate immediately available because the others arranged alternative employment and therefore I could stay for a few days.  As I left the room in shame, he continued to look suitably strict and authoritarian; however I am sure I saw him wink!  I never heard another word from him or the nuns and I continued on in one way or another in the hospital for the next two years! 

Lavelle also remained in his surgery without a word being said.  A tribute to the London bobbies who treated the Irish with the same respect as the locals despite the abuse from the vocal Lavelle! I never heard anything about the fate of the dilapidated Rover!

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