80th anniversary of the Normandy landings: the Irish hospital of Saint-Lô (after the war, 4/8)

80th anniversary of the Normandy landings: the Irish hospital of Saint-Lô (after the war, 4/8)
80th anniversary of the Normandy landings: the Irish hospital of Saint-Lô (after the war, 4/8)

By Frédéric Patard
Published on

May 4, 24 at 7:44 p.m.

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It’s young Red Cross Irish (founded in 1939) that comes from the initiative. As early as 1943, it considered proposing the installation of a medical Center complete in continental Europe, when the war will be completed.

After the release from Paris in August 1944, the proposal came to fruition, and the Red Cross Irish company begins to recruit staff. In spring [1945a reconnaissance mission comes to France to decide which city, from Brest or Saint-Lô, will be chosen. It is ultimately the latter which is retained.

Wooden huts

An agreement was made between the France and the Irish Red Cross: on a sloping ground on the edge of the town, barracks wooden will be installed by the Ministry of Reconstructionwhile the Irish Red Cross takes care of the equipment and personnel.

25 huts begin to rise to the East of the city, which open their doors to Saint-Lois in September 1945.

A hundred bedsaround fifty people (doctors, nurses, administrative staff), a material efficient (a specialized unit for premature babies, a pediatric department, widespread use of penicillin) and above all free care:hospital Irish appears as a blessing to the Saint-Lois, in this difficult period ofafter war.

The inhabitants are well aware of this, who assiduously frequent thehospital Irish, to the point of sometimes abusing it: we come to consult for a yes or a no, since it is modern and free…

Bonds of friendship

Not only does the Irish hospital offer medicine competentappreciated by the Saint-Lois (22,398 consultations, 1,427 admissions in less than a year and a half). But he still offers medicine warmsince the Irish staff are unanimously praised for their kindness and his humanity.

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Many links of gratitude, but also offriendship are woven between the Saint-Lois and “their” Irish. On the Champ de Mars, Mr. and Mrs. Théot hold a coffeewhich quickly becomes the “pub” where people meet in the evening Irish rest and their Saint-Lois friends.

And it is said that during this period (and even in subsequent years), many small Saint-Lois born in Irish barracks, were baptized in Celtic Patrick’s first name…

Samuel Beckett, the Irishman from Saint-Lô

Storekeeper, interpreter and driver: Samuel Beckett is the handyman at the Irish hospital in Saint-Lô. Samuel Beckett? Yes, Samuel Beckett, author among others of the famous play “Waiting for Godot”, and Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1969. What is he doing in Saint-Lô? He had already been in France during the war, where he participated in the Resistance. Having become a member of the Irish Red Cross, the Irish hospital in Saint-Lô represented for him the opportunity to return to the country.
What remains of Saint-Lô in Beckett’s work? A poem entitled Saint-Lô (the verses of which can be read, carved in stone, on the wall of the Saint-Lô Cultural Center), and a text written for Irish radio and entitled “The capital of the ruins”. More generally, we can think that Beckett’s Saint-Lois experience – the war, the suffering, but also the meeting and discovery of a whole range of different personalities – can be found in his general inspiration. It was after his stay in Saint-Lô that Beckett really began to write.

The Irish will stay in Saint-Lô until late 1946their departure being marred by an ugly controversy : some Saint-Lois doctors, furious at this harmful competition for their customers, requested their departure…

The Irish staff left, the barracks and the equipment remain (taken over by the French Red Cross), the only structure sanitary local until 1956, date of the inauguration of theMemorial Hospital.

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