Sardines were never packed so tight!

On Wednesday 2 November 2016 I will be presenting a Patient Voices/ #DNAOfCare film at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (follow #DNAofCare #Exp4All on the day to see tweets about the event; more info here). I recorded the film with Patient Voices, sponsored by NHS England, in April 2016. Though I originally intended to speak about my current work, I was encouraged to develop a “leadership story” and the film that emerged explored my inspirations and route into Medicine, specialising in Public Health.

Watch film: 🎥

The film is about my connections with my Grandfather, K.G.F. Mackenzie and his encounters with Public Health (including typhus, TB, meningococcal disease and much more). The summary of his life, in his own words, is provided below (with thanks to my Father, Bruce Mackenzie, for providing this).

I will be approaching The BMJ to ask if, 16 years too late, they will accept this as an obituary for Kenneth Mackenzie and his wife Helen Gordon.


My Grandfather and me, Shotley Bridge, 1971

This experience has helped me capture my professional raison d’être. The reflections cover the three domains of Public Health – Health Protection, Health Improvement and Service Improvement – as well as key public health topics including poverty and inequalities.It also illustrates the point that Public Health involves a wide workforce, in the NHS and beyond. I plan to use the film to explain the purpose of Public Health work, and how while everything seems to change, some things remain the same.

Graham Mackenzie (@gmacscotland on Twitter)

Consultant in Public Health

31 October 2016

Cynergy_Graham MacKenzie_509 (1)

Watch film: 🎥

The Short Tale of a Surgeon 26th February 1985

Born 20th June 1911 at Brookwood in Surrey, son of Captain John Mackenzie, RAMC, medical officer at Guards Depot, Caterham. Family was posted to India in 1913, when I was 2 years old. My sister, Peggy, was born in Darjeeling on 18th November 1915.

The family went to Australia, via Madras, Singapore, Java, Celebes, Port Darwin & New Guinea for almost a year in 1917/18 as my father had been very ill with dysentery and sprue. His life was despaired of and he was advised to try a diet of strawberries, so we lived on a farm near Hobart in Tasmania. Father made a good recovery, served to the rank of Colonel and died in 1970 at the age of 94. We returned from India in 1920.

We moved around the country, depending on father’s postings, at first in Sandgate, Kent and I went to school in Hythe. Then to Ireland, where we lived in Kingstown, near Dublin, and I was at boarding school in Dalkey. Then to Chester and I boarded at a school in Pennanuthro, North Wales. Uppingham School followed from 1925 to 1929: my House was Farleigh.

Cambridge, Gonville & Caius College 1929-32: Natural Science Tripos at the end of 3 years (Preclinical medical training). Then to St Thomas’s Hospital, London 1932-1935. Qualified MRCS, LRCP 1935.

Commissioned in RAMC 24th October 1935, but seconded for a year to do resident appointments at the West London Hospital during 1936. Joined Junior Course at the College at Millbank and then on to RAMC Depot at Crookham. Posted to QA Military Hospital, Millbank after that. Completed my MB,       B Chir (Cantab) in 1936/37 and then, after doing a short course at St Thomas’s, my FRCS England 1937.

Posted to Palestine and went out in S.S. California in January 1938, calling at Malta en route. Worked at Reception Station in Haifa, messing with 2nd Battalion Royal West Kents. Also had responsibility for visiting civilian hospitals in Northern Palestine, where sick and wounded soldiers, result of bandit activities, were being tended.

Temporary posting as surgical specialist to RAF Hospital, Sarafand, after the murder of their surgeon, Squadron Leader Aldenson, by Arab terrorists on the coast road south of Haifa, possibly mistaken for a Jew. I was also RMO to the Royal Scots at that time.

Then back to Haifa when a relief RAF surgeon arrived. Whilst there, on one occasion I spent several hours digging metal out of the face of Captain [Orde] Wingate. At that time he was organising Special Night Squads to waylay bandits, and later of course he achieved fame as General Wingate in the Burma campaign.

At the end of 1938 the Military Hospital Haifa was set up in an Arab school, situated between the RAF airfield , oil tanks & the railway workshops, and was later to become No. 61 General Hospital.

In February 1939 I went ski-ing at the Cedars of Lebanon & on return had my first glimpse of Nursing Sister Sheila Joyce. She developed a seriously infected thumb for which she was admitted to hospital. She had, however, to give up her room to General Montgomery who was admitted from his command of 8th Division with a serious chest infection under the care of Major Hargreaves, the medical specialist – and we used to visit and chat to general Montgomery. Unfortunately his lung infection got worse & he had to be evacuated to England, where he made a speedy recovery.

On one occasion during this spell there was a big fire in the vehicle park at Nablus Fort, when very many soldiers received severe burns. I was rushed out with an escort of two Rolls Royce armoured cars: they were brought into our hospital and we spent the whole night treating them in the operating theatre, & of course for many weeks afterwards. For this I was mentioned in despatches!

During the summer of 1939 I returned to England on leave, on HT Dorsetshire, calling at Malta & Gibraltar. Also on board was Sister Sheila Joyce, invalided home with her septic thumb. I saw much of her on board, despite strong competition, and we became engaged to be married soon after landing in England.

I returned to Haifa in August 1939. On 3rd September war broke out & Sheila was posted to France with the British Expeditionary Force. She developed a meningococcal mastoid & was invalided home for operation. She was very ill, but after a slow recovery her surgeon advised convalescence in a warm climate. She travelled across France too Marseilles just a few days before the German invasion, and shipped to Haifa.

We were married on 9th May 1940 & honeymooned in the Lebanon. Next morning in Beirut we heard that the invasion of Holland & Belgium had begun, and we were recalled from Damascus before the end of our leave.

Because of its dangerous siting & the start of Italian air raids, the hospital, now the 61st General Hospital, was later moved to Nazareth to a pilgrims’ rest home riddled with bed bugs, and we had a marvellous marble-halled flat.

In the summer of 1941 the 61st GH was moved from Nazareth and parked temporarily in Sarafand where we helped the 23rd Sottish General Hospital. Meanwhile, Sheila had been moved to South Africa and shortly set up house in Durban with Alison Mollan and another evacuated wife. The 61st GH went now via Bombay up to Basra in Iraq. Major Airey and I were sent with an advance party and the hospital equipment on a separate ship from the main unit. The weather was very hot with maximum humidity and very rough seas, and the stench of Indian troops cooking in ghee on the forward deck!

The temperature was 128 degrees F [53.33C] in the shade the day we landed in Basra in August 1941. The captain of our ship was just back after his first attack of heatstroke in 30 years of sailing the Gulf. Our advance party was sent out to Shaiba, in the desert, with 20 other ranks, where we had to unload a train full of our equipment every day as rolling stock was very short. We also had to dig slit-trenches as the Germans were fighting in Persia, but no work was allowed in the middle of the day because of the excessive heat & humidity. A tented camp was set up first & then a surgical unit was established in the semi-underground buildings belonging to the Iraq Levies, who guarded the RAF airfield.

In the autumn of 1941 Sheila had a baby which died in South Africa & Sheila was very unwell. I managed to get leave & with the assistance of the Senior Naval Officer Persian Gulf a passage was arranged on an oil tanker from Abadan, the oil-terminal in Persia, to Durban. Sheila was restored to health by a holiday up at Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg in November 1941.

Then we returned to Durban to await my return passage. After several false alarms I departed in a large convoy on Christmas Eve 1941. Half the convoy went to the Far East, and presumably into Japanese hands, & our half returned to the Middle East.

On return to No.61 GH at Shaiba, I was promoted to temporary Lieut. Colonel, Officer i/c Surgical Division. Soon afterwards trouble which had been brewing for a very long time between the C.O. & other officers came to a sudden head & the Unit was broken up. I was posted to 8th General Hospital in an Arab school in Alexandria. I travelled by bus (meant to be air-conditioned, but this one was not!) across the desert to Damascus. From there I went on the Hejaz Railway (the one which engaged so much of Lawrence of Arabia’s attention in the 1st World War) to  Haifa, & then by main line railway to Egypt.

I reverted to Major & surgical specialist on arrival in the spring of 1942 at Alexandria, where the O i/c Surgical Division at the 8th GH was Lieut. Colonel Debenham, a Consultant from Birmingham.

We received daily casualties from the Western Desert & with the fall of Tobruk & the retreat to Alamein we received a large convoy of wounded every evening & a smaller one about midday. The only 2 surgeons were Col Debenham and myself: it soon became obvious that we were becoming exhausted & could not cope on our own. Soon several surgical teams were drafted in & several operating tables were in action every night.

We worked 24 hours on & had 24 hours off – a most peculiar way of life, with anything up to 18 hours operating in 2 spells in one day & 2 sleeps the next day, separated by a bathe in the sea & a rattling good dinner downtown!

In August 1942 , just about the time that Generals Alexander & Montgomery took over in the Middle East, I was posted to the Hospital Ship “Atlantis”, which used to be a Royal Mail cruise liner, at Suez, & we sailed for Durban, calling at Aden en route.

On arrival the “Atlantis” went into dry dock for about 5 weeks. During that time, on 18th September 1942, No.1 son, Keith, was born in Durban. He was christened 6 days later with Alison Mollan present as his Godmother.

The “Atlantis” sailed for England soon after and we then did 3 round-trips – England to New York, carrying wounded Americans & Canadians (many Dieppe raiders on one occasion) – New York to Durban via the Cape, carrying American medical personal for onward transmission to the Middle East – & then from Durban back to England, usually Avonmouth, but once Liverpool with British casualties.

Meanwhile Sheila, Keith & Alison Mollan had moved up country to near Pietermaritzburg. When we reached the Cape I sent Sheila a message & she & Keith awaited our arrival at a hotel in Durban. During our last trip home in the “Atlantis”, Sheila & Keith also sailed for home: their ship was pursued by “U” boats [for 10 days] almost to the South Pole before returning via steamy Freetown to the UK.

On one occasion in New York the “Atlantis” was berthed next to the upturned “Normandie” after her disastrous fire in the harbour, & on another next to the ”Queen Mary” which had just come across the Atlantic in the same storm as ourselves. She had carried away a gun and been awash on her bridge, which was level with the top mast on the “Atlantis” – but the Q.M. had been zig-zagging at full speed! We had a grand tour round the Q.M.

During my last trip on “Atlantis” we called at Gibraltar where I saw my sister, Peggy, who was serving there in the Q.A.I.M.N.S. [Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service] & then on to Algiers, & so home.

In the autumn of 1943, just as “Atlantis” was about to sail for Gothenberg in Sweden, I was posted off to the Military Hospital in Buchanan Castle in Drymen (N. of Glasgow) & billeted temporarily with the Duke of Montrose until I found digs in the Tea Rooms on the green in Drymen, where Sheila & Keith joined me & we lived there for many months before moving into a flat.  Bruce was born in Glagow [Royal Infirmary] on 25th November 1944 & christened in the chapel of Buchanan Castle, with the Duchess of Montrose as a stand-in godmother [for Peggy who was still serving in Gibraltar].

In February 1945 I was posted to the British Liberation Army (B.L.A.) & the family went to stay with friends in Southampton, but that did not work out  & they moved to Worthing where my mother & father were living, & rented No. 16 Hailsham Road, West Worthing, next door to Mrs. Topping (Aunty Tops). It was here that later Elsie Bell, ex-Staff Sergeant [Auxiliary Territorial Service] A.T.S, joined Sheila to help with the family.

I joined a 200 bedded mobile hospital (?82nd GH) in Belgium, at first I think in Bruges, & moving later to Tournai, but not functional at either site. From Tournai, where the nightingales used to keep us awake at night, we watched planes with columns of gliders in tow filling the skies for the Rhine crossing in March.

Our hospital later crossed the Rhine too & opened up in buildings in Celle, N.E. of Hanover & treated casualties there until the war ended. A few days after the release of Belsen concentration camp, whilst a few of the inmates were still there & the mass graves were still open, I went round it. It could only be described as an unbelievable nightmare.

On V.E. Day, 8th May 1945, our hospital moved up to Rotenberg, between Bremen & Hamburg, & all day the German army rumbled past us in the opposite direction, on its way to surrender, complete with tanks, guns & even lorry-loads of their women.

We took over a German hospital, which had been a fever hospital for Bremen & Hamburg. We were sent 6 or 8 ambulances to evacuate the child patients. The 2 local doctors, one German & the other Dutch, both ardent & very scared Nazis, insisted on evacuating all the hundreds of children in these few ambulances in one journey, despite our protests. Sardines were never packed so tight!

Our 200 bed hospital opened shortly afterwards to take in the inmates of Sandbostel, one of the smaller concentration camps, where a C.C.S. [Casualty Clearing Station] was already bursting at the seams. The patients were all passed through the ‘human laundry’ back at the camp before coming to us. Several patients in the first convoy to reach us had died in the ambulances en route. Altogether, we took in 1700 patients with all sorts of ailments, including TB, typhus, guillotine amputations & all degrees of starvation. We employed whom we could as interpreters, as we had Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Germans & many other nationalities. We had to protect ourselves very carefully with DDT, as lice & typhus soon reappeared. Altogether I think we lost about 300 of these patients. Before we had completed this rather gruesome task we opened a British section for our sick & wounded as well.

(…continues below…)


Eventually we were asked to evacuate the various foreign nationals, country by country. This proved a surprisingly difficult task as a great number of them had changed their nationalities since admission, for various political or private reasons. After this I was transferred to Brunswick, which was a shambles from the bombing. Almost the only building standing in our area was the Luftwaffe’s HQ Hospital, a very fine modern hospital which we had taken over as a military hospital & where I was again Officer i/c Surgical Division.

Whilst there I went home on leave to Worthing. I was suffering from a duodenal ulcer, which got steadily worse. So on return to my unit I was evacuated to England as a stretcher case in a Dakota & admitted to Leicester Royal Infirmary for six weeks treatment.

After some leave I was posted to the Military Hospital Cowglen, Glasgow but went before a Medical Board in June. In August I was invalided out of the Army with effect from 21st December 1946, after leave due in interim & with the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

I started work at the North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary at Stoke-on –Trent as Casualty Officer & Deputy Resident Surgical Officer (RSO) about September 1946 on the magnificent salary of £250 per annum. The RSO left soon afterwards & I was promoted to RSO. I remained there for 3.5 years & was very lucky in getting tremendous surgical experience. I got occasional week-ends with the family in Worthing. As we had a disagreement with Sheila’s obstetrician in Worthing, Sheila came up to Stoke & Robert was born in the N. Staffs Infirmary.

Sheila then took Robert home to Worthing, but about a year before I finished at Stoke the family came up & we moved into a house inking Street, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

In March 1950 we moved north & I started work as consultant surgeon to the North West Durham Group of hospitals. After a short spell living in a huge flat at Beamish Hall we bought Meynell House in Rowlands Gill in June 1950.

Sheila & I moved to smaller quarters at 69 Woodlands Road, Shotley Bridge on 30th November 1968. Sheila died peacefully in her sleep in the early hours of 23rd January 1970, having survived a severe coronary thrombosis in 1963.

Dr Helen Gordon & I Married on 6th March 1971, & we both retired from the NHS in July 1974.

And we are enjoying our retirement very much indeed.

KGF Mackenzie 1985


  1. Father died peacefully in his sleep on 20th January 2000, having moved into Summerdale Nursing Home for temporary respite the previous day. Helen had been a resident there for a number of years and Father had visited her twice a day throughout, until her death on 4th January 2000.

Typed from Father’s manuscript,


6th May 2016

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