London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Bermondsey 1944

Report on the sanitary condition of the Borough of Bermondsey for the year 1944

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July, 1945.
From the middle of 1938 to the outbreak of war we lived in a
state of spiritual oppression, common to most other folk throughout
the country: we lived and wondered and feared. I cannot say that
the effect of this strain upon the physical condition of our people was
noticeable, though by all the canons of medicine it should have been.
Certainly a few broke down, but generally the older people were
quieter and more sober-minded, the youthful were mostly bent on
pleasure and the children, though not wholly without apprehension,
seemed little affected. There was, however, a noticeable spirit of
helpfulness abroad and though tempers were sometimes short a spirit
of kindliness and a desire to help the more burdened and the less
fortunate was manifest. This was particularly noticeable at the tirpe
of the Munich incident when evacuation was in the air, and hundreds
of people were pressing for registration. War actually brought a
sense of relief and people went about their work preoccupied, it is
true, but also with a certain cheerfulness which before had been
Immediately prior to the war the population of the Borough was
about 100,000; the Registrar-General's estimate to 30th June, 1938,
was 97,420. By the middle of June, 1940, the population was estimated
to be 71,500, and twelve months later it had fallen to below
45,000. These figures are estimates and may be too low, but it is
probable that the population was as low as 45,000 in the autumn of
1940, and it had only shown a comparatively slight increase up to the
end of 1944. This substantial exodus included large numbers of
children and a fair proportion of old people, while many of the young
and fit, of both sexes, left the Borough to join the Forces or to do
war work.
There was a corresponding depletion of the staff of the department
and of the active membership of the Council, and I am the more
pleased on this account to be able to record that the two committees
which are most closely associated with the work of this department —
namely, the Public Health and the Maternity and Child Welfare
Committees, met throughout the war with peace-time regularity. So
many problems arose requiring immediate solution and so much
abnormal responsibility had to be accepted that it was a comfort to
be able to report at regular intervals to a committee and so share the
responsibility and receive advice, instructions and occasionally reproof.
The Chairman (Mr. Gibson) and the Vice-Chairman (Mr. Weightman)
have held office throughout the war and both having had long