The autobiography of a doctor -- tropical medicine
specialist, colonial Governor, and first war army
surgeon, who experienced imprisonment, torture and
sentence of death -- yet survived it all -- might well be
expected to reveal a life of unique interest and this it
does in full measure.
Moreover it is written in such a continuously
readable and interesting way, that it becomes hard to
put the book down before reaching the last page.
There is a photographic frontispiece to the book
showing a farewell garden party in Accra -- then capital
city of the Gold Coast Colony. It reveals Selwyn-Clarke feted by a very mixed group of locals comprising
African chiefs and "intelligentsia", European Senior
Colonial Officials and common mortals, black and
white all linked in promoting Red Cross Services for
local people of all races, colours and creeds. If this
seems supererogatory to the modern reader, then he must
be informed or reminded that it was in fact a very
remarkable feat in 1936 to get such diverse social
groups to work together to establish maintain and
support what, after the country's independence became
the Ghana Red Cross Service. Little wonder therefore
that the market place in Accra is still named after
Sir Selwyn has occupied a long life in selfless service
to people and causes in many parts of the world. His
activities, adventures, successes, disappointments,
delights and tribulations are here related in a detached
matter-of-fact way that starkly highlights events and
induces in the reader the feeling that he is present and
The author is revealed as a master of good English,
modestly unaware of his own excellence or of the
uniqueness of his extraordinary courageous experiences.
This is in keeping with an unrecorded affectionate
remark by his wife, years ago, that "He's sometimes a
bit difficult to live with -- its like living with a saint."
The ravages of first-war 'Spanish flu' and outbreaks
of plague, smallpox, malaria, typhus and yellow fever
are described with expert on-the-spot precision.
His Japanese prison and death cell experiences are
detailed in an undertone, with generous emphasis on
the unexpected brave kindnesses shown by some enemy
individuals rather than on his own or his comrades'
Selwyn-Clarke's original devotion to a caring God
came to be abandoned after witnessing the sufferings
and death of soldiers and civilians during the 1914-18
war. Yet his religion and belief were restored following
his 1939-45 experiences.
One learns from this book of personal adventure,
much about medical history, social administration,
political government oddities; of man's self sacrifice for
man, of man's appalling inhumanity to man, of
improvements in tropical hygiene from the provision of
windows to the abandonment of human sacrifice --
and much much more beside.
The intimate history of war time Hong Kong; its
horrors and suffering are set down with restrained
comment while the account of its post-war recovery
provides a more cheerful sequel.
Selwyn-Clarke was a medical student at St.
Bartholomew's Hospital at the expense of his grandfather
Henry Clarke whose life is epitomised by Sir
Selwyn as "one who truly served his generation...
the friend of all the world", a tribute which fits the
grandson just as accurately.
'Footprints' the title Sir Selwyn chose for his book is
borrowed from the poet Longfellow's 'A psalm of life'.
It may truthfully be matched by this reviewer's
quotation from Wordsworth's description of a man he
admired and bears remarkably apt transposition to
Selwyn-Clarke's own personality as seen in these
'A full life, shining with the golden light of summer
ere the season of sere leaves.
See cheerfulness undamped by stealing time.
See studied kindness flow with easy stream.
Illustrated with inborn courtesy
And an habitual disregard of self
Balanced by vigilance for others' weal.'
Here then is an autobiography of barely 200 pages,
which from title page to colophon provides a
fascinating personal memoir of the travels through 80
years and five continents, of an unusual life and a very
readable account of the events, thoughts, acts and
adventures that filled those years.