From 1933 to 1935 Laurence O'Shaughnessy
was Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons
and was at the forefront of research on heart disease and tuberculosis.
In 1936 he founded a clinic at Lambeth Hospital for the treatment of cardiovascular disease,
and also became the consultant surgeon to the Preston Hall tuberculosis sanatorium....
The fact that Eileen's brother was one of Britain's leading experts on tuberculosis
was of no small interest to Orwell, and in the future
Dr. O'Shaughnessy had an important part to play in Orwell's life.
ORWELL BROTHER-IN-LAW DIED AT DUNKIRK
O'Shaughnessy created a new outlook in cardiac surgery and
did more to advance this subject than anyone in England, if not the world.
When war came in 1939, believing that chest wounds needed immediate treatment,
he volunteered to serve at a casualty clearing station
for the British Expeditionary Force in Flanders.
He was killed by a stray bullet during the retreat to Dunkirk.
To Orwell Today,
Dear Jackie Jura,
I was interested to read your webpage on Orwell Today: ORWELL TB DOC O'SHAUGHNESSY
Just a small correction, although it does not alter any of the details about George Orwell. Laurence O'Shaughnessy was killed not in June 1941 but in May 1940, during the Dunkirk evacuation. (George Orwell later wrote in his diary of his vain search for Laurence as the trains carrying evacuees arrived back in London.) And it wasn't a stray bullet that killed him: he was in a house that received a direct hit from a bomb.
My father, who was with him, survived and left a graphic description of O'Shaughnessy's death in his diary.
Thanks doubleplusmuch for pointing out that error in the date that Orwell's brother-in-law, Laurence O'Shaughnessy, was killed -- of course it should be 1940 and not 1941. I've made the correction on that page now.
It's very interesting that your father was with Dr O'Shaughnessy when he died and says it was in a house by a bomb, not on the beach by a bullet. I don't think anyone has ever heard that story before. All biographies -- and reports at the time, including the obituary in The London Times -- say O'Shaughnessy was killed on the beaches of Dunkirk while attending to the wounded.
Below is the entry from Orwell's diary where he describes going to the train station where Dunkirk survivors were arriving to see if his wife's brother (known as "Eric" to the family) was among them, or if anyone had news of him:
Orwell's War Diary
June 1, 1940
Last night to Waterloo and Victoria to see whether I could get any news of Eric*. Quite impossible, of course. The men who have been repatriated have orders not to speak to civilians and are in any case removed from the railway stations as promptly as possible. Actually I saw very few British soldiers, i.e. from the B.E.F., but great numbers of Belgian or French refugees, a few Belgian or French soldiers, and some sailors, including a few naval men.
The refugees seemed mostly middling people of the shop-keeper-clerk type, and were in quite good trim, with a certain amount of personal belongings. One family had a parrot in a huge cage. One refugee woman was crying, or nearly so, but most seemed only bewildered by the crowds and the general strangeness. A considerable crowd was watching at Victoria and had to be held back by the police to let the refugees and others get to the street. The refugees were greeted in silence but all sailors of any description enthusiastically cheered. A naval officer in a uniform that had been in the water and parts of a soldier’s equipment hurried towards a bus, smiling and touching his tin hat to either side as the women shouted at him and clapped him on the shoulder.
Saw a company of marines marching through the station to entrain for Chatham. Was amazed by their splendid physique and bearing, the tremendous stamp of boots and the superb carriage of the officers, all taking me back to 1914, when all soldiers seemed like giants to me. This morning’s papers claim variously four-fifths and three-quarters of the B.E.F. already removed. Photos, probably selected or faked, show the men in good trim with their equipment fairly intact.
[*Eric, abbreviated from the second name, was the name by which Eileen Blair’s much-loved brother, Laurence Frederick O’Shaughnessy, was known.... He was a distinguished chest and heart surgeon, having won four scholarships and studied medicine at Durham and in Berlin. He was a Hunterian professor at the Royal College of Surgeons, 1933-35. In 1937 he won the Hunter Medal Triennial Prize for research work in surgery of the thorax, and the following year he received an honorarium and certificate of honourable mention for a dissertation on surgery of the heart. He produced an adaptation of Sauerbruch’s Thoracic Surgery (1937) and in 1939 collaborated with two others in work on pulmonary tuberculosis. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps at the outbreak of war and was killed tending the wounded on the beaches of Dunkirk. He was by then a major and only thirty-six years old (from obituary in The Times, 8 June 1940). His wife, Gwen, was also a doctor. Her brother’s death greatly affected Eileen.]
end quoting from Orwell's diary
Recently, in relation to an upcoming play about Orwell at Greenwich Theatre, I posted a photo of Dr O'Shaughnessy's house in Greenwich where Orwell's wife Eileen was living when the two of them met in 1935.
Orwell stayed at the O'Shaughnessy home many times when he and Eileen visited her brother, his wife Gwen and their children.
It's been conjectured, in many biographies, that if Laurence O'Shaughnessy hadn't died at Dunkirk -- but had instead survived the war -- that Orwell would have lived longer too because his brother-in-law was the best tuberculosis doctor in England and he would have overseen Orwell's treatment.
"...Perhaps it is fruitless to speculate on what might have happened if O'Shaughnessy had lived, but rarely does one encounter such a strange working of fate in the interconnected lives of two distinguished men - one brother-in-law a writer who would die of tuberculosis, the other a leading chest specialist who died young on a battlefield where he had gone to learn more about his speciality. But, given the way that Orwell neglected his health, even Dr O'Shaughnessy might not have been able to save him...."
If you have your father's diary in your possession perhaps you could transcribe that entry where he describes the death of Laurence O'Shaughnessy to share with ORWELL TODAY readers -- and any reminiscences he may have told you.
All the best,
PS - Below is a BBC overview of the Dunkirk Evacuation for readers not familiar with the event:
INTRODUCTION: In the closing days of May 1940, just months into World War II, Britain teetered on the edge of military disaster. The German army had advanced across Europe and penned the British forces into a tiny area around the French port of Dunkirk. Hitler’s tanks were just 10 miles away and the capture or death of the 400,000 troops seemed imminent. Yet by 4 June, over 338,000 men had been evacuated to England in one of the greatest rescues of all time.
TRAPPED: When war broke out against Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939, British soldiers, known as the British Expeditionary Force, were sent across the channel to help the French and later the Belgian armies against invasion by the Germans. But the Allied forces underestimated the strength of Hitler’s army, which used tanks and bombers to smash the Allied defences and drive them back into France. Overpowered, the BEF was ordered to beat a hasty retreat towards the port of Dunkirk.
OPERATION DYNAMO: As they trickled into Dunkirk, the troops found themselves stranded without shelter or supplies. They were also under constant attack from the air. On 26 May, the British Admiralty responded by launching Operation Dynamo - the evacuation of the BEF by sea. This enormous rescue mission was led by Vice Admiral Ramsay, who rounded-up a huge fleet of vessels - from tiny tugs and barges, to lifeboats and navy destroyers - to send to Dunkirk.
UNDER ATTACK: As the allied rescue ships approached Dunkirk they were easy targets for the German Stuka bombers. The narrow sea approach with its deadly minefields left little room for evasive action and the harbour was under constant bombardment. It was left to the smallest ships to pick up soldiers from the shallow beaches and transport them to the destroyers and transport ships waiting offshore. Of the 850 vessels which took part in Operation Dynamo, 235 were sunk.
HOME AT LAST: The soldiers were packed onto the ships like sardines for the hazardous journey back to Britain. When they arrived, exhausted, at the ports of Dover, Ramsgate and Margate they were greeted as heroes. The BEF lost more than 68,000 men at Dunkirk, but a third of a million troops were evacuated, making it the greatest mass rescue of all time.
NO SURRENDER: By 4 June 1940, Dunkirk was occupied by the Germans. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was determined that Britain would not be demoralised by the defeat and he gave fiery speeches to rouse the spirits of the British people. Despite heavy losses, the BEF soon regrouped and became the nucleus of the new alliance which, five years later, won World War II.
To Orwell Today,
Thanks for your message. Eventually I shall put the full story out for everyone to see - but I hope you will understand that for me it is a labour of love and right now I want to keep the details close until I have everything written up.
PRESTON HALL ORWELL ANIMAL FARM
ORWELL'S TB DOC O'SHAUGHNESSY (...As the consultant surgeon at the Preston Hall sanatorium, Laurence O'Shaughnessy visited Orwell once each week and made every effort to determine whether his brother-in-law was, in fact, suffering from tuberculosis. Dr Arnold Bentley, the physician who preserved Orwell's file at Preston Hall, and who made it available for this biography, believed that 'quite searching and for the time adequate investigations' were made at Preston Hall to detect any sign of tubercle bacilli in Orwell's lungs. If Dr O'Shaughnessy could not make the diagnosis, then it is doubtful that any other lung specialist of the time could have proved otherwise. At the very time that he was attending his brother-in-law, the doctor was in the middle of writing, with two other men, an authoritative textbook on the disease....)
SIGNED COPY OF 1984 ANYONE?
ONE GEORGIE ORWELL LONDON MUSICAL
Orwell Diaries 1938-1942, The Orwell Prize
VISITING ORWELL'S WEDDING CHURCH (...On Tuesday, June 9th, 1936, Eric Arthur Blair married Eileen Maud O'Shaughnessy. He was 33 and she was 30. Godcidently, it was almost exactly thirteen years later, on June 8, 1949, that "1984" was published..... See See ORWELL'S BOOKLOVER'S CORNER and ORWELL'S 77 PARLIAMENT HILL and ORWELL'S TB DOC O'SHAUGHNESSY
12.Ministry of Peace & 11.Ministry of Plenty
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