Lives of the fellows

Alan Dumergue Charters

b.26 March 1903 d.? Oct 1996
BA Cantab(1924) MRCS LRCP(1927) MB Bchir(1929) DTM&H(1932) MD(1933) MRCP(1946) MA(1958) FRCP(1958) MRACP(1970) FRACP(1974)

I first met Alan Charters in January 1944 in Nairobi at No 1 General Hospital where he was a captain and I had been selected to play tennis with him for the hospital against the 87th General Hospital. Our paths crossed again later that year when Alan was posted as officer in command to the hospital in Mandera, British Somaliland.

If at that time tropical medicine was the main focus of his career, he began life in more mundane surroundings. He was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, the son of a school teacher. He attended Sedbergh School and later went on to Cambridge. From 1929 to 1931 he was a medical missionary in Ngora, Uganda. He went on to complete his diploma in tropical medicine and his MD.

In 1941 he joined the RAMC and was based in Abyssinia and Somaliland. He served for four years, reaching the rank of major. His duties included treating the Emperor Haile Selassie and the Empress of Abyssinia. His interests at that time, with which I was concerned, as one of his junior officers, were the incidence of typhoid fever in vaccinated personnel, ‘catarrhal’ and other forms of jaundice, tick-borne relapsing fever and tropical ulcers, in which he thought nutritional considerations played an important part.

It was not until 1954, when in the Colonial Medical Service, in Nairobi, that our acquaintance was again renewed. By this time Alan was established as one of the leading physicians in private practice and was honorary consultant physician at the Rift Valley Province Hospital, Nakuru, and the King George VI Hospital, Nairobi. From that time, until Alan left to live in Australia, we had a close clinical and sporting (tennis) association. I had hoped to beat him at tennis before his departure to the Antipodes (he was ten years older than me). It was not to be, he won in straight sets.

Alan was not always a physician, he ran a general practice in Nakuru. General practice in Kenya in those days was not like it was in the UK, but included general surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology as well as medicine, and Alan was a ‘dab’ hand with a knife!

He left to live in Australia in the early sixties. He was a visiting physician at Wooroloo Hospital in Western Australia between 1963 and 1969. In 1966 he was appointed a reader in medicine at the University of Western Australia, Perth. Three years later he was appointed consultant physician at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth.

He had interests other than medicine and had a wide knowledge of plants, insects and small mammals. It could be a dangerous exercise driving around East Africa with Alan. With a sudden scream of brakes, he would leap out the car, and while you would be disentangling yourself from the windscreen, Alan would have captured some rare specimen. On other occasions it might be a train at a level crossing that he hadn’t noticed, with unfortunate results to his old car.

A gentle, serious man, with a religious upbringing, he had an encyclopaedic knowledge and produced a prodigious output of clinical papers. He was a president of the Kenyan branch of the British Medical Association, a founder member and early president of the Association of Physicians of East Africa, and was, I think, the most respected clinical opinion in Kenya. I must say, however, he wasn’t much good at looking after himself. When Maude, his wife, whom he married in 1928, was away, his kitchen was awash with opened tins!

J Harries

(Volume X, page 62)

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