A Canadian Year
In 1960, I boarded a flight to Melbourne after a hectic few weeks getting organised and saying farewells. Sadie had given me a beautiful Zeiss Ikon Contaflex camera to celebrate our engagement, a camera I treasured for many years.
The following day the Lockheed Super Constellation left for Fiji where I boarded a Boeing 707 bound for Hawaii.
I remember the Constellation took off late afternoon and as the sun faded I became conscious of flames coming out of the two engines beneath my window. I was distinctly nervous but was reassured by the hostess that that was normal for that aircraft.
The Constellation refuelled in Auckland and I was happy to renew my acquaintance with old New Zealand friends John and Barbara Taylor who came out to the airport to catch up. Sadly it was the last time I would ever see them as they had become close friends.
Jet services had not yet come to Australia in 1960, only reaching as far as Fiji, and so it was with some excitement that I changed planes. My first impression was how little room was provided between the seats compared with the Constellation. However the roar of the four jets was exhilarating and the flight was like nothing I had ever experienced. In 1960 international travel was still very much sea voyages with air travel battling to get a foothold.
A touchdown in Hawaii and then on to Vancouver where I boarded the train for a three day trip through the Rockies and across the prairies to Toronto. My most startling recollection of this trip was the rudeness of a Canadian or American woman, travelling by herself, towards the negro porter, and his acceptance of her treatment.
On arriving in Toronto I made contact with the Anatomy Department at the University. I met Professor John Duckworth, the Head of the Department, and took an immediate liking to the man who was modest and kindly, with a gentle Edinburgh accent identical to Hugh Robson’s. He offered to help me find accommodation. The students at that time were still on summer vacation so he offered me temporary accommodation in one of the University Colleges which I would have been very happy to keep.
True to his word John Duckworth picked me up and we checked the notice board offering student board and lodging. He drove me around looking at various options and we finally settled on a Scottish couple in St Germain Avenue close to transport – Doug and Bertha McLeish – they made me one of the family during my year-long stay. Doug had been a Mounted Policeman but had come off his horse and could no longer ride. The McLeishes quite enjoyed showing off their Australian guest with his quaint accent to family and friends! Bertha was a good cook and the room was very comfortable.
The Department of Anatomy was an interesting collection of individuals, some of whom were quite eccentric. The Professor was the nicest of them all and must have been aware of the feeling of resentment against him from the rest of his staff. They had resented JCB Grant returning to Edinburgh to choose his successor from the Edinburgh University rather than selecting someone from his own Toronto staff.
JCB Grant graduated in Medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1908. While at Edinburgh he worked under the renowned anatomist Daniel John Cunningham of ‘Cunninghams Dissecting Manuals’ fame which we all used as students. Grant enlisted in the army as a medical officer during the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross in 1916 and the Military Cross with Bar in 1918. He was appointed to the Chair of Anatomy at the University of Toronto in 1930 which he retained for 26 years until his retirement in 1956. It was at Toronto where his famed books of anatomy were written. He published his Method of Anatomy in 1937 and Grant’s Dissector, now in its 16th edition, in 1940. In 1943 he completed Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy, now in its 13th edition. Grant was a very popular teacher, year on year his students voted his class in anatomy as the most popular in the faculty.John C. Boileau Grant – Wikipedia
To a man, I found the staff vindictive towards their professor and sarcastic behind his back. As a result, there was always tension in the department. For my own part, I was well treated by all the staff. We organised a regular lunchtime bridge four which included Tom Leeson, the histology Associate Professor who had written the text book the students used, Les Adamson, a fellow demonstrator who unbelievably had already passed the Primary for the English Fellowship, and the fourth whose name I forget but who was a Senior Lecturer in the department. They were all fairly ordinary bridge players but terribly keen.
The professor invited me to join the students in his classes in which he used coloured chalk to build up the anatomical layers and it was done very artistically but I found him a dull lecturer. I also attended Tom Leeson’s histology lectures, as the Primary Exam in Glasgow for which I was preparing included histology.
For the rest, I kept a little way ahead of the students in their dissecting with my reading and relearning Cunningham’s Dissecting Manuals. The daily teaching load was not very onerous and quite enjoyable. I was asked to a few fraternity parties and was on good terms with all my students. At St Germain Avenue I studied anatomy every night and wrote a letter every day and received one in return.
As autumn turned to winter in November I helped Duncan McLeish put up the double glazing on all his windows upstairs and downstairs. The McLeishes asked me up to their family cottage in Northern Ontario for a family weekend on one occasion and on another occasion I had a trip down to the Niagara Falls.
For the most part I kept my head down and slogged my way through my anatomy. Les Adamsom became a good friend and gave me some anatomy tutorials which were helpful. For the life of me I could never understand how anyone could go to all the trouble of passing the London Primary as had Les, and then not go on with surgery. He just said he enjoyed the challenge.
John Duckworth invited me to several functions. He was a navy man and asked me to accompany his daughter to the annual naval ball which was probably my biggest social function in Canada.
International phone calls were a luxury and rarity in those days and the only calls I made to Sadie were at Christmas and on her birthday. Bertha McLeish forbade me using the home phone so I had to go down to the street corner and use the public phone and feed in a pile of quarters and wait while the Vancouver exchange managed to get a connection. On one of these occasions Vancouver left us connected and then demanded I put in another twelve quarters which I didn’t have. I told them it was their fault as I only wanted three minutes. They wanted my home address which I eventually gave as the Anatomy Department. Over the next few days they kept ringing the department but eventually gave up the unequal contest!
Exam time eventually arrived towards the end of April 1961 and the whole department was mobilised to sit around the long library table and mark multiple choice questions. The whole exercise was completed in one afternoon and was quite painless.
I had booked my airfare from Toronto to London via New York and was happy to say farewell to all my Toronto friends as it was a step closer to getting home to our wedding. I did keep up my connection with the McLeish family for many years thereafter but by the time Sadie and I revisited Canada in 2005, some 45 years after my stay with them, Bertha and Dunc had died.
I had developed quite a close relationship with John Duckworth but was quite overwhelmed when he presented me with a copy of Farquarson’s Anatomy text book on my departure.
I did spend a couple of days in New York seeing the sights – Times Square, Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Harlem, Central Park and many other highlights. All interrupted by an air raid practice alert when everyone had to get off the streets and into shelters.
On arrival in London I was met by my sister Lesley and her husband John, whom I had never met before. They had one child born in England, Stevie, aged two, and Lesley was heavily pregnant with the next. I stayed with them in Acacia House at Rochford, adjacent to the town square. John at the time was surgical registrar at Rochford Hospital, having passed his English Fellowship a year or so earlier.
I had timed my arrival to coincide with the Glasgow Primary so in due course caught the Glasgow Express and stayed in the Bath Hotel, Bath Street, in Central Glasgow. My attempt at the Primary met with failure – not surprisingly, as I was totally ignorant of what was expected of candidates. Nevertheless, it was a useful experience. By the time I arrived back in Rochford, John and Lesley had left on their Grand Tour of the Continent in their little Ford Thames van which we later inherited.
My funds were sorely limited, so from Toronto I had organised a passage home as a ship’s surgeon with the Shaw Saville and Albion Line. They allocated me to a cargo ship, MV Arabic, carrying no passengers, leaving from the Pool of London en route to Melbourne, stopping only in the Suez Canal and at Aden to bunker, and taking some five weeks for the voyage.
The Arabic was a small refrigerated cargo ship of 6533 tons built in 1956 and eventually broken up in 1983.
On the appointed day I went aboard in the Pool of London and introduced myself to the captain and first mate who both seemed amiable enough. The ship itself seemed to be a bit of a tub but who was I to be choosy and look a gift horse in the mouth. I was given a nice cabin to myself and we set sail.
We sailed down the Thames and past the town of Sheerness at the mouth of the Medway River. I was to learn some 40 years later that my great grandfather had been a twenty-year convict in chains, imprisoned on the hulk Fortitude at Chatham in the Medway River at the age of 18. His allotted transport vessel, the Lady Nugent, on charter from the East India Company, took on board convicts at Woolwich on the Thames, sailed down to Sheerness, where she took on a further 100 convicts, including my forebear, who were transported down the Medway River in a cutter from the hulk Fortitude and then transferred to the Lady Nugent at anchor in the Thames at the mouth of the Medway at Sheerness. The Lady Nugent then continued on her voyage, following part of our route across the Bay of Biscay, but then diverging from it to follow the winds to Rio and then using the roaring forties to sail eastward to Botany Bay where Sam Johnson served out his 20 year sentence as a convict for life. Our ship fortunately was not at the mercy of the winds and so we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal.
I was called upon to do very little work, seeing no more than perhaps one of the crew each day with minor problems. I took the opportunity to study every morning as my enthusiasm for passing the wretched Primary had not diminished. Every afternoon I was called upon to join the captain and first mate in deck games. I had the impression they were both thoroughly bored and that interlude was the highlight of their day.
The food was ordinary and I remember being introduced to ‘black pudding’ for breakfast, a revolting concoction which is a type of blood sausage made from pork blood, with pork fat or beef suet, and a cereal, usually oatmeal, mixed in. The crew seemed to love it.
We stopped at Port Said and Suez with the inevitable gulli gulli men coming on board – highly skilled Egyptian conjurors who were able to produce day old chickens from their robes. Then later, Aden, a cheap place to bunker, and I went ashore and purchased all manner of goods with the intention of selling them back in Australia to boost our funds. Cameras, electric shavers and other goods which were half price or less than one would pay in Australia.
The only other incident of note on the voyage was an engine breakdown in the middle of the Indian Ocean. For two or three days we tossed about in the swell while the ship’s engineer worked on the problem. There was complete silence and it was quite eerie with no engine throbbing which I had grown used to.
Eventually, after five long weeks, the ship arrived at Port Melbourne. Sadie had made the trip over to Melbourne to meet me and it was a joyful reunion after an absence of nearly one year.
 Ross Johnson, Sentenced to Cross the Raging Sea, Openbook Publishers, 2004