Blood donor sessions

Also see
Medical Aid for Vietnam
North London art exhibitions


From the beginning of MACV, people working in the arts were particularly active, and nowhere more so than in North London. Barbara (Bobbi) Cartlidge[1] in Hampstead took on the responsibility of collecting blood donated by ordinary Londoners and sending it to Vietnam. The sessions provided a unique opportunity to support the Vietnamese people in the most tangible of ways.

The first one was held in Hampstead on 12 March 1967 and 56 pints were collected with the help of members of the local National Blood Transfusion Unit. After giving blood at Swiss Cottage Library donors were offered the customary cup of tea and biscuits.

The logistics of the collection, storage and onward transport of the blood were complicated. Bobbi ensured that the donated blood reached her quickly after each session, was stored appropriately, and delivered to LOT, the Polish airline, which flew it to Berlin. There it was processed into dried plasma and then sent to Hanoi in North Vietnam or Phnom Penh in Cambodia, and by road to the South Vietnam Liberation Red Cross Society.

To be honest, I felt pretty sick the first time I handled the body-warm fluid in its soft plastic container. Moreover, on the first few occasions I had to cool it down in my domestic fridge and forgot to tell my husband – who recoiled with horror when he opened the fridge door to get a pint of milk. We got quite professional soon afterwards, with special boxes which had frozen inserts to keep the blood at the right temperature. The inserts had to be prepared 24 hours ahead in a deep-freeze, a task which I entrusted to our local ice cream manufacturer [Marine Ices, Chalk Farm Road]. Packed with inserts and full of blood, each box weighed 24 kilos, and I grew muscular like Popeye humping them in and out of the car. The routine for many years, sometimes every week, was to get the blood to Sutton [the National Blood Unit] on Sunday night after a session then fetch it again the following Thursday, leaving home at 6am, and deliver to LOT, the Polish airline, at London airport. If the flight was delayed, they would telephone me and I would have to go back to Heathrow, collect the boxes and return them to Sutton, because even in those special containers, it could not remain for longer than eight hours.[2]

In 1967, 500 pints were collected. In 1968, it was 3,968 pints, mostly from London and the southeast, although sessions were held across the country. In October 1970, an Anglo-French Vietnam weekend was organised by the Kent Council for Peace in Vietnam and the Kent Area of the National Union of Miners. Two thousand people attended, including 300 French visitors, and 48 British and 21 French miners gave blood.

By the end of 1971, a total of 6,567 pints of blood had been collected at 53 sessions, after which the need for blood plasma reduced, partly because the route to the south via Phnom Penh was no longer available. This brought an end to what had been one of the most important activities of the MACV.[3]


[1] Barbara (Bobbi) Cartlidge was born Emma Feistmann in Berlin on 2 September 1922 and escaped Nazi Germany with her mother Luise in September 1938. After three months alone in Copenhagen she joined her mother in London. Bobbi married Derrick Cartlidge on 9 September 1944 at St Pancras Town Hall and they had three children, Tony, Michelle and Katrin (1961-2002). Derrick died 15 December 2010 and Barbara died 27 February 2017.
[2] Chadour-Sampson, Beatriz, and Janice Hosegood (2016). Barbara Cartlidge and Electrum Gallery: A Passion for Jewellery. Stuttgart: Arnoldsche Art Publishers, p. 46.
[3] Shellard, E. J. (1990). Medical & Scientific Aid for Viet-Nam, Laos & Cambodia, 1965-1990: Twenty Five Years of Devoted Support. Hounslow: MSAVLC, pp. 10-11, 17-19.

Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, Deputy Head of the South Vietnam delegation to the Paris peace talks, visiting a Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam blood donor session in Camden Road, North London, 6 April 1969. Courtesy of British Pathé

Leo Abse MP giving blood at the South Wales Branch of the MACV’s first blood donor session held at Transport Hall, Charles Street, Cardiff, on 5 October 1968. Photo courtesy of Lewis/Mirrorpix/Alamy

Barbara (Bobbi) Cartlidge, c.1968. Courtesy of Tony Cartlidge

error: Content is protected !!