LaurenceOshaughnessy  OShaughnessyGraveStone


In Memory of
Major Laurence Frederick O'Shaughnessy
Royal Army Medical Corps
Who Died Age 39
on 27 May 1940

To Orwell Today,

Dear Ms. Jackie Jura,

May I bother you on a minor issue: while researching on early cardiac surgery for a research paper I am writing (about surgery in children), I found discrepancies about the date of death of Dr. L. O'Shaughnessy. In one paper by a surgery professor in the USA ("Cardiac Surgery in the Age of Dinosaurs", by R.L. Replogle) he implied that Dr. L. O' was killed in WWII action at Dunkirk 3 months after he [Dr. O'] had written a letter to a Dr. Robert Gross congratulating him on his successful surgery of a PDA in a 7-year-old girl, putting the date to May 1939. However, I think it is clearly wrong, as I found a different date referenced in Dr. Harold Ellis's paper (surgery professor at School of Biomedical Sciences, London) mentioning O'Shaughnessy's tragic death, and on your webpage: ORWELL BROTHER-IN-LAW DIED AT DUNKIRK

I think Dr. Replogle was in error by one year. Perhaps Dr. Ellis was also wrong since he puts the death as 21st March 1940. Basically, it is 1940 for sure, and either the last days of May 1940, since Orwell could not find Dr. O's return on the latter's diary entry of June 1, 1940.

Any clarification you can provide me would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks so much,
Tonse N. K. Raju, MD, DCH
Deputy Editor, Journal of Perinatology
Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics

Greetings Tonse Raju,

Thank you for your enquiry about Orwell's wife Eileen's brother, Dr Laurence O'Shaughnessy, about whom there have been many discussions over the years on ORWELL TODAY and yet no one has ever said exactly what day it was that Doc O' died.

Back in March 2012 I received that email from Richard McNab, the son of doctor George McNab who was with Laurence O'Shaughnessy when he died, and I posted our discussion on the website, which you reference having read, ie ORWELL BROTHER-IN-LAW DIED AT DUNKIRK.

In his email McNab corrected mistakes on the website regarding the place, month and year O'Shaughnessy died -- it was in May 1940 during the Dunkirk evacuation -- and O'Shaughnessy died in the town, not on the beach. McNab didn't specify the exact date O'Shaughnessy died. At that time McNab was in the process of publishing his father's war-time diary which would go into detail about the death of Laurence O'Shaughnessy.

Then in November 2013 McNab sent an update saying he'd finished the book -- RETREAT FROM RIVIERE: THE DUNKIRK DIARY OF MAJOR GEORGE MCNAB -- and sent a website link to share with ORWELL TODAY readers -- but there were no excerpts there about the death of O'Shaughnessy and I didn't order the book at the time.

That was six years ago and since then the topic of O'Shaughnessy's death hasn't arisen -- although there have been several other discussions and articles by admirers of his life and his work.

But since your enquiry I've researched and found the exact date Laurence Frederick (Eric) O'Shaughnessy died -- it was May 27th, 1940.

Godcidently that's three years, almost to the day, that Orwell almost died after being shot through the neck in Spain on May 20th, 1937 and O'Shaughnessy had consulted on his treatment.

My sources for the date of O'Shaughnessy's death are the DUNKIRK MEMORIAL and COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES COMMISSION websites.

DunkirkMemorial GravesCommissionSeal

Another thing I learned, or hadn't realized before, is that O'Shaughnessy hadn't come over on one of the boats during the Dunkirk evacuation but had been on active duty in France since signing up for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in September 1939. A major in the Royal Army Medical Corp (for soldiers whose wounds would need his expertise) O'Shaughnessy was with the BEF during their retreat to Dunkirk after the German blitzkrieg began on May 10, 1940.


The evacuation of Dunkirk -- Operation Dynamo -- began on May 26 and ended on June 4, 1940. O'Shaughnessy died the second day, on May 27th. There's a headstone/gravestone/plaque in memorium to him at the Dunkirk Memorial which stands at the entrance to the British War Graves Section of Dunkirk Town Cemetery in France. It commemorates those of the British Expeditionary Force who died or were captured there and have no known grave. The memorial was completed some 17 years after the events it marks.

Yesterday I attempted to order Richard McNab's book RETREAT FROM RIVIERE (his father's Dunkirk Diary) but got notice back from Amazon that it's "out of stock" and "out of print" according to the author.

All the best,
Jackie Jura, August 2019

OshaughnessyOutstanding Laurence O'Shaughnessy: outstanding thoracic surgeon, killed in the retreat to Dunkirk, British Journal of Hospital Medicine, May 2015
This year we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the death of Laurence Frederick O'Shaughnessy... O'Shaughnessy joined the Royal Army Medical Corps Territorial Branch and was called up for service at the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. He was promptly posted to France with the British Expeditionary Force, as surgeon, first to the 13th General Hospital and then, now promoted to Major, to a casualty clearing station. In the early days of the retreat of the British army to Dunkirk, O'Shaughnessy was killed by a bomb during a German air raid. His body was never recovered and his name is engraved on the memorial to those with no known grave at Dunkirk...

DunkirkBookMcNab Retreat from Riviere - the Dunkirk Diary of Major George McNab, by Richard McNab, published 2013
Richard McNab set out to retrace the route of his father George on the retreat to Dunkirk in May 1940. Armed with contemporary maps and George's enigmatic diary he rediscovered the roads and the buildings and reconstructed the adventures which George had recorded. The meaning of George's diary finally became clear as the story emerged of the fate of an eminent surgeon and the answers were revealed to a question which has tantalised the medical profession for seventy years.

ObituaryOshaughnessy Obituaries of Dr Laurence Frederick O'Shaughnessy, Dublin Evening Mail/Sydney Post Record/Irish Times/Times Weekly/Irish Independent, Jun 5-12, 1940

GravesCommissionNotice Death of Laurence Frederick O'Shaughnessy, 1901-1940. London Times, Wednesday, June 5, 1940
In May, 1940, in Flanders, Laurence O'Shaughnessy, M.D., F.R.C.S., R.A.M.C., husband of Gwen O'Shaughnessy, 24 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London, son of the late Laurence O'Shaughnessy, and of Mrs O'Shaughnessy, 65 Pevensey Road, St Leonards-on-Sea...

ObituaryNewYorkTimes Noted Heart Surgeon Killed in Flanders: Lawrence O'Shaughnessy Among Officers Lost by British, New York Times, June 6, 1940
LONDON, June 5 (AP)-- Laurence O'Shaughnessy, a noted Harley Street heart surgeon, has been killed in Flanders, where he served with the Royal Army Medical Corps, it was announced today...

DunkirkPainting Dunkirk Evacuation: The Evacuation That Saved the British Army During WWII
From May 26 to June 4, 1940, the British sent 222 Royal Navy ships and about 800 civilian boats to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops from the seaport of Dunkirk in France during World War II. After eight months of inaction during the "Phoney War," British, French, and Belgian troops were quickly overwhelmed by Nazi Germany's blitzkrieg tactics when the attack began on May 10, 1940. Rather than be completely annihilated, the BEF decided to retreat to Dunkirk and hope for evacuation. Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of over a quarter million troops from Dunkirk, seemed a near impossible task, but the British people pulled together and ultimately rescued about 198,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian troops. Without the evacuation at Dunkirk, World War II would have been lost in 1940...

To Orwell Today,

This is fantastic! I will send my paper once it is accepted for publication. I am glad I said that Dr. O' died on the final days of May 1940. Will add the date in the galley.

Tonse, August 2019


LaurenceOshaughnessy OShaughnessyGraveStone
(remembered with honour at Dunkirk Memorial)
Email, Aug 2, 2019

ORWELL DOC O'SHAUGHNESSY HEART OMEN (...Attached find a copy of a little paper that appeared in the esteemed Annals of Thoracic Surgery on February the 1st, 2015... O'Shaughnessy spawned the idea of bringing in tissue with excellent vascularization abilities and devised the route to get it to the ischemic heart...)

HOW ORWELL DOC O'SHAUGHNESSY DIED ...It is from the Royal College of Surgeons of England Scientific Report for the Year 1939-1940, published 1st October 1940, and written by the College's Director of Research, John Beattie (also Professor of Experimental Surgery). On page 20 of the report Beattie writes: "It is with a great sense of loss that the death of Major O'Shaughnessy has to be recorded, as the result of enemy action at Dunkirk. When assisting in the treatment of wounded men in a street in Dunkirk, he was gravely wounded in the thorax by a bomb splinter. He died shortly afterwards from his wounds. As a research worker at the College, Dr Laurence O'Shaughnessy maintained his enthusiasm for work on the problems of intra-thoracic surgery, and made contributions which have been of prime importance. His originality and fund of new ideas made him a most stimulating colleague. In the midst of a continually growing practice, he always found time for at least one day a week of laboratory work at the Farm. There he did most of his research, and, in association with Dr Slome, worked on the problems of shock and adrenal innervation. He was interested in almost every new development in experimental surgery. His loss to the present generations of surgeons is great, but his work and the stimulus he gave to others will be his most fitting memorial."

ORWELL BULLET THRU NECK (...When Orwell was wounded and permanent loss of voice was feared, Kopp wrote this letter at Eileen's request, to her brother, an eminent surgeon, as neither he nor Eileen were fully confident in the local doctors...)

ORWELL DOC O'SHAUGHNESSY GIANT IN FIELD (...We are in the process of writing a little paper on some of the giants in cardiothoracic surgery, amongst others, Laurence (aka Eric) O'Shaughnessy, George Orwell's brother-in-law. In particular, we are interested in the circumstances surrounding his death...)

ORWELL BROTHER-IN-LAW DIED AT DUNKIRK (email from Richard McNab: "...Laurence O'Shaughnessy was killed in May 1940, during the Dunkirk evacuation. 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... I have now published my book "Retreat from Riviere" with a section in it about Laurence O'Shaughnessy, and George Orwell" ... "Retreat from Riviere" relates how George McNab tried vainly to save O'Shaughnessy and how this left its mark on him for the rest of his life. His heart wrenching description was the only eye witness account of an event which rocked the medical profession. Richard McNab found that after seventy years it was still surrounded by rumours and speculation. His book sets the record straight"...)

PRESTON HALL ORWELL ANIMAL FARM (...I believe my father ended up looking after Eric's dog Marx because Eric was told he could not have his typewriter with him but could have his dog to take for long relaxing walks. My father provided a domicile at the top of the Hall grounds. The Preston Estate was about 250 acres and about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide...)

ORWELL'S TB DOC O'SHAUGHNESSY (...As the consultant surgeon at the Preston Hall Sanatorium, Dr 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. At the very time that he was attending his sister's husband, the doctor was in the middle of writing, with two other men, an authoritative textbook on the disease....)

VISITING ORWELL'S HAMPSTEAD FLAT (...One of these guests was a slender woman with broad shoulders and dark brown hair. She was nearly thirty and was a graduate student working on a Master's degree in educational psychology. Her name was Eileen Maud O'Shaughnessy, and Orwell was attracted to her from the moment she walked into the room. They spent much of the evening talking, and at the end of the party he walked her to the bus stop. When he came back to the flat, he went to Rosalind's room and announced to her that Eileen was "the sort of girl I'd like to marry". This woman, who would indeed become George Orwell's wife, was an exceptional person. She came from a proud Irish family who had come to England in the early nineteenth century and had settled on the Tyneside. The daughter of a Collector of Customs, she was born on 25 September 1905 in South Shields. There was only one other child in the family, her older brother Laurence, and she was devoted to him. Both children received excellent educations. He studied medicine at the University of Durham and in Berlin, and was the winner of four scholarships. At the age of twenty-six he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. She was educated at Sunderland High School, and then won a scholarship to one of the women's colleges at Oxford - St Hugh's - from which she received her degree in English Letters in 1927... At the time she met her future husband, Eileen was living at 24 Croom's Hill, which borders Greenwich Park. The house belonged to her brother and his wife, Gwen, who was also a doctor. It was a Georgian house with elegant bay windows on two of its three floors, and was originally the home of an astronomer at the Royal Observatory. Eileen was happy there, and enjoyed playing at least a small part in her brother's brilliant career, but she was also looking forward to having a career of her own as an educational psychologist. And then Orwell came into her life....

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~