Generation: D

William Mackay

Born: 1897 Died: 1963
Father: Donald Mackay
Mother: Mary Currie

Eileen Cruikshank, M.A.

Died: 1970

[Home] [Index] [Picture Index]

William, the elder son, a very quiet lad, was my friend throughout all his life. He had five years in War I, went to the University with me, and later became a consultant physician at Salford, near Manchester. In 1963, he retired to the perfect house beside a little stream at Dunblane, with his wife Eileen Cruikshank. Eileen was a language teacher. After only two months there he died from a coronary thrombosis. Alas, they had no children. Like myself and some other of my cousins, he was a bit of a heretic by Calvinistic standards.


Serum Treatment of Lobar Pneumonia, Lancet April 3rd 1937. Rheumatic Fever with Myelocytosis, Lancet April 7th 1928. Cancer of Pancreas, Lancet Dec. 24th 1927. Polycythaemia Vera. Lancet April 13th 1929. Blood Platelets. Quarterly J. Med. April 1931. Pneumonia--Agglutinins. Quarterly J. Med. April 1936.

RLM remembers Bill Mackay well from the time of the death of Bill's parents around 1907-8. He was then a strong lad, able to hold his own in the rough and tumble, but never aggressive. Rather he was somewhat shy. He left school early, probably before taking his 'lowers' and went to live with our Aunt Helen Nicolson in Argyle Street, Glasgow.

I seem to remember family discussions about what job Bill should do. Our Uncle John ("Ben Reay") of the Police and my father, George, seemed to desire for him a job with security and a pension, an important matter in those uncertain days. At any rate he obtained a post in the Public Health Department of Glasgow Corporation as a junior clerk, and attended night classes to improve his position. These he attended right up to the outbreak of War I.

Meanwhile, he had joined the Territorial Army, in the R.A.M.C. and being keen he was soon promoted. On mobilisation in August 1914 he was a sergeant, and I think, possibly had a horse, as he was attached to a field ambulance. At this time he was a strongly built lad, well turned out, with a good honest face and pleasant smile. Active type, but not the kind to run round wasting his energies in useless activities, so far as these could be evaded in the Army.

We did not see each other for 5 1/2 years, as his unit was sent to Ireland where there was "trouble" and then to the Middle East. By this time he was a warrant officer Class II, as unit Quartermaster-Sergeant, and serving with the 52nd Scottish Lowland Division with Allenby. I know he was through all the campaign with this division, in Palestine, and moved around widely. He took note too of the biblical associations of the places he visited, his horse being a great asset therein. I forget the details of his experiences there. He was not wounded, and he was very fit throughout.

On demobilisation in the Spring of 1919 Bill, like so many of us, did not wish to be tied down to an office or laboratory job for the rest of life, and he therefore set about vigorously to become a medical student, studying hard at the subjects of the Entrance Examination, to make up for the defects of having left school so early. His desire was certainly encouraged by his two uncles (John and George) and by his aunt Helen Nicolson, who once more found a place for him in her own home, usually a very crowded one, for she had two sons and an adopted daughter, (Leda).

Assisted by what I expect was a fairly good ex-service man's grant from the government after his long service, Bill commenced Medicine at Glasgow University somewhere about September 1919, about six months after my own switch into that faculty. Although we were never in the same classes or clinics I saw a lot of Bill then, joining him in walks through the University grounds, or in coffee in the Students Union. He took no part in student life as an office bearer, nor mixing with the ladies. Nor do I recollect him at dances or dinners, nor mixing with the student "rags" of those days. He indeed devoted most of his time to his studies, to make up for the years that the War had taken. But he had good friendships with the men in his year, although apart from Bill Ramsay he did not maintain these contacts through later life to any extent.

Both in the years before the First War and after, Bill went to Bonar Bridge to spend some holiday with our Uncle John, ("Ben Reay"), now retired and named after his new house there. He narrated to me how Uncle John used to awaken him in the morning, with a gruff voice, telling him it was time to get up. He'd then go downstairs, have a whisky with the old man at the old sideboard, and walk round the garden with him until the daughter Margaret had prepared breakfast and was calling them to come in. No more whisky would be taken, so far as Bill knew, until next morning when the ceremony would be repeated.

Bill was to get Uncle John's gold hunter watch on the old chap's departure from this earth, a very handsome and valuable piece presented to Uncle on his retirement from the Glasgow Police Force. A watch in due course arrived at Bill's Glasgow address. Bill put it away in a drawer, as it was valuable, and forgot all about it. One day, later when Bill was a bit hard up he decided to pawn the watch, but when he went to the pawnshop, the pawnbroker told him that the case was only made of brass, and the watch therefore was worth about 5/-. Who swiped it?

De mortuis nisi bonum! - in 1967!

Discipline was very strict at Ben Reay. Lots of good advice. There was a daily reading of the Bible too, I believe.

Bill qualified M.B., Ch.B., with Commendation in 1924, and took resident jobs in the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, lasting for about a year. Then he had to face the same problem, perhaps, as I had to face in 1924. What to do, and where to do it? Our solutions must have been different. Perhaps our problems or ambitions too, for our ways parted a bit thereafter and we met only at intervals either at his home or mine.

I suppose that around this time he met at the University the lady he afterwards married, Miss Eileen Cruikshank, an honours graduate in languages, now a teacher, who had attended the same Sunday School as my wife, Margaret, in Scotstoun.

I think Bill's ambition was to become a chief in his own hospital, The Royal Infirmary, in due course, i.e. to have charge of wards and carry out student teaching. The chance of becoming such in the Glasgow of that time, was, I believe, enhanced if one belonged to the right party or club or school or social set. Bill, an absolute independent, owed allegiance to none. But he stayed on, hopefully, in the Royal as a supernumerary member of the junior staff, teaching "tutorials" and doing research on blood platelets and pernicious anaemia, largely unaided by any grants or special assistance. He acted as part-time assistant to a sub-chief Dr. Smith in Dennistoun area, who himself was hoping for a chief's post, but was still in general practice. After seven years in the Royal Bill had become an extra-dispensary physician to Out-patients, for which he received 200 per annum. He had also gained his M.D. with High Commendation, and come to realise that prospects of a chief-ship were dim indeed, at any rate in Glasgow.

His meticulous and detailed studies on blood had to some extent been rendered irrelevant by the discovery by Minot and Murphy of the cure of pernicious anaemia by giving the patient raw liver, and later by the use of vitamin B-12. Although he was enjoying his teaching and clinical rounds still, and had good friends, he saw it was time to move South from Scotland. He had by 1928 the additional qualification of Fellow of the Royal Faculty of Physicians of Glasgow, which showed that academically he was now of consultant status - although not in his own hospital!

About 1932 he was appointed chief resident medical officer and assistant medical superintendent to Hope Hospital, Salford. I do not remember whether he at first lived in the hospital, but when we resumed our meetings with him, he and his wife were living in Victoria Road, Salford, and he was working in the hospital as a consultant physician.

His habit there throughout the tenure of this post was to leave home "on the clock" in time to deal with his hospital correspondence at 8.30 a.m. At 9 a.m. prompt he would appear on the first of his ward rounds, taking each in rotation - so his residents had to be up betimes! Equally he finished his rounds "on the dot". He would have a coffee either in the middle of the round or at the end, and a chat with his lads. Then lunch and a punctual start to the afternoon session, which might be Out-patients. It is reported that he was a member of the hospital hockey and tennis teams, although I do not remember him speaking of these activities. We did have a round or two of golf, but he had little real interest in that game.

He was a great reader of the professional journals, keeping them well arranged on his shelves. But he was often very critical of the value of the kind of work reported in them. He had little time for theory not backed up by hard easily demonstrated facts, nor for ultra-modern forms of therapy until these were shown worthy of further trial. At the same time he was equally critical, with good reason, of the methods of treatment handed on to him by his own teachers in Glasgow. While in Salford he published work on pneumonia and its treatment by serum, and he also devoted increased attention to cardiac disease and to diabetes.

Bill was greatly but not obsessionally interested in theology and had read widely and deeply on that subject. He had gone through at least once the whole 1000 pages of Robert Graves' "The Nazarene Gospel Restored", a heavy tome, now in my possession. We frequently exchanged views on dogmatic religion. He would best be described as an agnostic, having no time for the miracles, resurrection, assumption of the Blessed Virgin, etc. But equally he was not intolerant of those who cherished these things. We agreed cheerfully that the formal church would label us both as heretics. If the Trinity or the Godhead could be fractionated I'd say the part of it which he would most venerate would be Truth.

I do not remember ever hearing Bill swear, nor even damning the Government of the day. He was not a grumbler, nor a reformer nor an agitator. Medical politics did not appeal greatly to him. The time lost in the war years made him anxious to use whatever time remained to him in good quality work and study. The acquisition of money or of honours did not interest him.

He and his wife made a happy home, and they were excellent hosts to their visitors. He appeared always to rise at the same time each day, and would bring tea to the bedroom. I was always embarrassed (but not for long) by his insistence on taking away our shoes to clean them himself, to reach the standard of his own! A practice I have never followed in our house, alas!

In his fifties his main form of exercise appeared to be his morning and evening walk with his dog. We always had a sherry at his house, and later in the evening a whisky or two. He smoked very little then, and I think always the same number of cigarettes, probably six, and at the same times each day. He was rarely if ever ebullient, but he did enjoy a joke. Smut he had no time for. At the theatre he would laugh, but only if there was a really good cause for laughter. I heard him speak once at a masonic dinner in Wolverhampton, and he was excellent in delivery and matter and not too long. He had not much time for fools, and I remember well the two of us leaving half way through a University Dinner because the Chairman (who was not on the toast list, but some distinguished guests were) spoke for 45 minutes about himself and his discoveries.

Sometime in the nineteen fifties the two of us motored up to Sutherlandshire, putting up at the Lairg Hotel and visiting Durness and the Reay Country. He did most of the driving, as the car was his. He liked cars which were fast and of good lines, e.g. a Riley, or a A.C. I think he also had a Rover at one time.

(Our visit to Ben Reay will be described in the picture of "old Ben Reay" , later).

Bill from time to time, after some persuasion, would visit us with his wife, a visit we always enjoyed. But he never remained long. We would see him fidgeting with his watch (a familial action that!) and when we saw that we knew he was determined to go back to his home.

During World War II he was a key person at Hope Hospital. During a bombing raid on Manchester the hospital was badly damaged, the Superintendent and some other members of the staff being killed. I heard later that Bill had acquitted himself well during the crisis.

Some three months or so after he had retired from his post in Salford to a delightful little house by a stream on a hillside at Dunblane in Scotland we were stunned to learn that he had died suddenly while digging in the garden. He would be in his 66th year.

It was a tribute to the man himself, and his memory that two parties, at one time on the hospital staff with him, came all the way from Bournemouth for the funeral. Five full cousins, all of a pattern in appearance and age were there - Alec and Frank MacDonald, Willie Nicolson, Dr. John Buchanan and myself. And young Dr. George Buchanan, Neil's son also. When she saw so many at a glance so much alike, Eileen unconsciously exclaimed aloud "Oh! Where's Bob?". I was glad to be there.

[Home] [Index] [Picture Index]