The British Empire Library

Colonial Window: A View from the Past: Being the diary of a doctor in HM Colonial Medical Service 1951-1975

by Dr J D Macgregor

Courtesy of OSPA

Tom Russell, CMG, CBE (Former Financial Secretary and Chief Secretary British Solomon Islands Protectorate Solomon Islands service 1948-74)
Colonial Window by Dr James (Jimmy) Macgregor OBE, provides a mine of information for researchers into development of medical services in British Dependencies.

Having graduated MB ChB, Dr Macgregor was one of a small number of young doctors who could do their National Service either with the Armed Forces or with the Colonial Medical Service. He opted for the latter, and served in Sierra Leone from 1951 to 1954. After taking a Diploma in Tropical Medicine in Edinburgh, he returned to Sierra Leone until 1957. During his first tour he honed his skills as a single-handed surgeon which eventually led to appointment as Assistant Surgeon, Freetown in 1952. In his second tour he served as District Medical Officer at Makeni, continuing surgery described in detail on pages 46 and 47. After his Diploma course in Edinburgh he was Medical Officer in charge of Hill Station Hospital. In late 1955 he was posted to Magburaka to commission a new 62-bed hospital, having to cope with a smallpox epidemic, a campaign to eradicate yaws and a nursing crisis.

At the age of 29, after only three tours of service, he was promoted to Senior Medical Officer in the Solomon Islands. In his first tour the author had travelled to all parts of the Protectorate, identifying on arrival tuberculosis, leprosy and malaria as the main problems. Yaws was already the subject of a mass campaign. When he left the Solomons in 1975 malaria had, for the time being, been largely eradicated, dressers in rural clinics had been upgraded by training to the level of medical assistants and nursing training dramatically improved with assistance from WHO. Government hospitals at Gizo, Auki, Malu'u, Kira Kira and Honiara had been rebuilt or improved.

Dr Macgregor was an official member of the Legislative Council and participated in many WHO or South Pacific Health Service conferences. He continued to undertake emergency surgery until 1966 when Mr Tony Cross was appointed as Surgeon Specialist, and indeed as need arose on many later occasions. He was appointed a WHO consultant on malaria eradication to advise the Governments of Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Patients crippled by an earlier polio epidemic were assembled for examination by Professor Huckstep, an expert in their rehabilitation, many to undergo surgery by the Professor and Mr Tony Cross, who continued the work and helped to form a charity to assist with post-operative care.

Routine work, such as the preparation of the Annual Estimates, was increasingly time-consuming. He nevertheless found time, in conjunction with Dr Avery, to prepare a learned paper on Malaria Transmission and Foetal Growth published in the BMJ, and to invent an introductory needle for use with plastic intravenous catheters. His outstanding service brought him the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1966 and the QBE in 1971. He describes the many official functions which he and his wife were obliged to arrange or attend.

To readers primarily interested in the development of medical services, maintenance of cars and yachts, menus and family activities may seem superfluous. This is a consequence of diary form and portrays vividly the author's lifestyle. The diary format tends to concentrate on facts and to inhibit evaluation of policies other than in brief, summary form. Where statistical matter is introduced it is well summarised. The improvement of medical services took place in parallel with that of other Government Departments over a twenty-year span of the development of the country. The reader who has not served in the Pacific may not see the development of medical services as part of a wider national picture.

If the Memoir is republished it would benefit from a few Appendices. One might have maps showing the distribution of government and mission hospitals, clinics and leprosaria throughout the Solomon Islands at the author's years of arrival and departure. Another could give the statistics, if available, for cases of yaws, malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, minor and major operations.

These comments do not detract from a most informative and readable Memoir, spiced with gentle humour and totally devoid of pretension. Dr Macgregor's personality and complete dedication to his profession, and to his family, are writ large on every page.

British Empire Book
Dr J D Macgregor
The Memoir Club
1 84104 147 5


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