Diana Lawrenson

— Writer —

Diana Lawrenson Pages to Places Blog

Welcome to my blog that takes you from pages to places. Come and discover some quirky, little-known, or loose-but-relevant links from books to places around the world. You might even like to add a book suggestion of your own to the topic.

30 November 2017 | Buda, Budapest, Hungary


Horsehair BlanketThe bus departed from the Pest side of the Danube, crossed the Chain Bridge and zig-zagged up Castle Hill on the Buda side. Since I spoke no Hungarian to ask directions, I hoped I’d recognise the stop for the hospital — one of the most unusual in the world. A young Hungarian woman saw me looking at my map and asked in English if I needed help. It was one of those moments that enrich a holiday as we talked the rest of the route.

My previous post, Through Magda Szabo’s Door was about Pest. This post takes you to Buda, the other half of Hungary’s capital.

The top of Castle Hill affords a magnificent view of the Danube and the House of Parliament. But beneath the hill and its castle lies a network of linked limestone caves stretching kilometres. Prior to World War 2 local residents used the caves for storage, but in 1939 it was decided to turn them into a hospital, under the auspices of the Red Cross, for 60 patients — civilian and military. Besides wards, an X-ray unit, laboratory, admitting room and operating theatres were built according to a cave’s size, and a generator was installed.

When the 50 day Siege of Budapest befell the city in 1944-5, patient numbers rose to over 600 who topped and tailed in bunks. Cross-infection became rampant. Only a single shower existed for the entire hospital, for a while two operations were carried out simultaneously in one theatre, and bandages were re-used. It was an extreme time.

Hungarian Revolution Memorial, BudapestAfter the War the hospital closed, only to re-open briefly during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Soon after, during the Cold War, it became a secret nuclear bunker, complete with ventilation filters and gas masks for protection should there be an attack. Plans to re-open it as a hospital again were made, but thankfully that wasn’t necessary.

Today the complex of caves is a museum with lifelike wax figures of medical staff and patients as if going about a day in their hospital during war-time. It’s graphic. In the distance is the faint warning wail of an air raid siren that adds to the reality of the scenes.

I exit past photos of doctors, nurses and others who cared for the sick and wounded, marvelling at their stoicism and commitment under such severe circumstances.

Photographs are not permitted inside the hospital, but images can be seen online.



The Reconstruction of Warriors: Archibald McIndoe, the Royal Air Force and the Guinea Pig Club by E.R.Mayhew, recommended by Christine Russell (see synopsis below)

Hospital Ships of World War II by Emory Massman

War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Lee Fink (The Bosnian War)

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (World War II)

The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop by E.E.Dunlop (World War II)


  1. Book blurb for The Reconstruction of Warriors: Archibald McIndoe, the Royal Air Force and the Guinea Pig Club
    The history of the Guinea Pig Club, the band of airmen who were seriously burned in aeroplane fires, is a truly inspiring, spine-tingling tale. Plastic surgery was in its infancy before the Second World War. The most rudimentary techniques were only known to a few surgeons worldwide. The Allies were tremendously fortunate in having the maverick surgeon Archibald McIndoe, a NewZealander, nicknamed the Boss or the Maestro operating at a small hospital in East Grinstead in the south of England. McIndoe constructed a medical infrastructure from scratch. After arguing with his superiors, he set up a revolutionary new treatment regime. Uniquely concerned with the social environment, or holistic care , McIndoe also enlisted the help of the local civilian population. He rightly secured his group of patients dubbed the Guinea Pig Club an honoured place in society as heroes of Britain s war. For the first time official records have been used to explain fully how and why this remarkable relationship developed between the Guinea Pig Club, the RAF and the Home Front. First-person recollections bring to life the heroism of the airmen with incredible clarity.

  2. I agree with Pauline. Fascinating Diana, as your stories always are. I think you should compile all of these wonderful stories and some more, in book form.

    1. Nice thought, Corinne!

  3. Another fascinating read – and don’t you just shudder at the appalling conditions that the doctors and nurses tried to work under.

    1. Yes, they were absolutely dedicated, Pauline. https://paulineluke.com.au

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